If there’s a Winner’s Bracket, there has to be a Loser’s Bracket, and the first round of it, consisting of best of one series, is the hardest game to lose. For TNC Pro Team, Vici_Gaming Reborn, Team Secret, LGD-GAMING, Fnatic, Escape Gaming, Natus Vincere, and Team Liquid, this might be the only game they play on the main stage this year. For four of them, it will be. To leave the biggest tournament in Dota2 history, that every player has been working towards and dreaming of since last year’s, that every roster change and tournament victory was in pursuit of, after only one game, is heartbreaking. This year, there are a lot of veteran players who are paired off against each other, ensuring that one of Puppey and xiao8, Kuroky and Dendi, and Era and MuShi will be in last-place after tonight.
The first game was between TNC Pro Team and Vici_Gaming Reborn, and both teams gave they’re all in a back and forth struggle to maintain the gold advantage. Kuku’s Tinker squared up against mikasa’s Storm Spirit in the mid-lane, with Eyyou on Elder Titan and Fy on Mirana providing some backup support on either side of the river. The game swung back and forth over the first thirty minutes until an unfortunate team wipe by TNC allowed Raven’s Terrorblade to seize control and demolish two lanes of barracks. At 22-16 and after 36 minutes, VG.R bowed out of the tournament. DeMoN’s captaincy has really allowed the four Filipino underdogs to stretch their wings, and it’s a shame that their continued success at their first TI comes at the cost of Fy’s continued involvement. TNC will continue on to face OG in tomorrow’s best of three.
Secret and LGD had a long fought game, stretching into the 69th minute, with stellar performances by Maybe with Juggernaut and Arteezy with Alchemist. Agressif and EternaLEnVy both got to play signature heroes in Ember Spirit and Terrorblade, respectively. The early game went disastrously for Secret, though, who couldn’t manage one kill on LGD until after twelve minutes while giving up eight themselves. Arteezy also gave up a weak first blood in mid, which sparked off Maybe’s absolutely dominant run, farming up an additional five kills on Secret in a rapid seven-minute stretch. After that, it was a downhill slope for Puppey’s extremely greedy draft. BuLba had a hard time performing on Beastmaster, even as xiao8 made his off-lane Mirana look like she got position one farm. The game was firmly in LGD’s pocket, but thanks to Arteezy’s Sisyphean efforts and pieliedie’s godlike support on Shadow Demon, Secret stayed in it for five high ground defenses they should have lost. In true meme fashion, EE threw away die-back after die-back with poor positioning and a stubborn refusal to use his Black King Bar, Metamorphosis, and Sunder. LGD couldn’t have hoped for a better game, and even as long-time fan favorite Puppey takes his first last-place finish at a TI, xiao8 and his team of Chinese superstars claw back into contention. LGD will head into tomorrow’s matchup against Digital Chaos.
Fnatic showed the bursts of genius that MuShi- can achieve in their game against Escape, but it was MidOne on Templar Assassin who dominated the match for the Malaysian squad. Escape came into the tournament looking to be the weakest team, left the group stage in last-place, and couldn’t turn the tide around in this game to prove anyone wrong. Era and KheZzu failed to produce with Lifestealer and Slardar. syndereN’s Silencer and YapzOr’s Nightstalker had difficult games as well, but their counterparts in Dj and 343 on Shadow Shaman and Bounty Hunter played very well, with Dj even taking home a modest portion of the MVP vote after the fact. qojqva’s Axe played his heart out, but in the end, it wasn’t enough, as Escape called “GG” and settled into the last place after 26 minutes and a scoreline of 13-7. Fnatic advanced to the Loser’s Bracket 9th/12th Round to face the loser of EHOME and Alliance tomorrow.
The final match of the night had Erstwhile teammates KuroKy and Dendi face off in the Liquid versus NaVi match up. ArtStyle went all in on the early game lineup of SoNNeikO’s Oracle, his own Enchantress, Dendi’s Queen of Pain, Ditya Ra’s Nature’s Prophet, and GeneRaL’s Faceless Void, but a costly team fight at twenty-seven minutes led to a string of bad fights and pickoffs that allowed Kuro’s far safer draft of his own Bounty Hunter, FATA-‘s Death Prophet, JerAx’s Shadow Demon, MinD_ContRoL’s Axe, and MATUMBAMAN’s Naga Siren to take control and take the game. MinD_ContRoL shined on Axe, ending the game second in net worth and with a 13-0-8 record. He hit every clutch Berserker’s Call and was such a disturbing presence in any place NaVi wanted to set up that MATUMBAMAN was safe to take his squishy Naga deep into fights, shredding through ArtStyle and SoNNeikO before isolating Ditya Ra and GeneRaL. As NaVi games so often go, once the yellow fellows felt they had fallen behind they played more and more aggressively, gambling and, in this case, losing. NaVi exits their second TI in a row at the first opportunity, conceding after 35 minutes and a score of 27-16. Team Liquid will have to face either Evil Geniuses or Newbee in tomorrow’s best of three, depending on how that particular Winner’s Bracket Quarter Final goes.
All in all, after the first round of eliminations, this TI is as much about fresh new faces and upcoming stars as it is about the returning dominance of past winners. Dendi and Puppey, the two most popular players in the western Dota world and former teammates, have landed in the last place together, along with the polemic RTZ and the brilliant Fy-god. Escape Gaming’s Cinderella run ended a few days shy of the grand ball, but they had to beat out several very talented teams in the European Qualifiers to make it this far and even sent compLexity Gaming home in the Wildcard stage. For a ragtag group centered around syndereN’s return to competitive Dota after a long while as an analyst, Escape really did break out of what they should have accomplished. That’s a good takeaway for all four teams eliminated today. Coming in 13th/16th place at The International means they are already at the top echelon of the sport, and even though disappointment runs deep right now, with some anger and blame mixed in, it won’t be long before we’re all looking towards next year’s TI and all but the winner will be forgotten from this one.
For now, we’ve still got five more days filled with the best Dota of the year, possibly of all time. There’s a lot of money ($20,139,258 at the time of writing) and even more glory to be won.