So it begins…
In just two days time the group stage for the 9th instalment of The International will begin. The International is the most anticipated and prestigious esports event of the year, every year. This tournament has earned its legendary status through the years by creating a unique atmosphere packed with jaw-dropping moments at the pinnacle of competition for a prize pool most gamers can only dream of. Even those who don’t usually watch or play DotA 2 will be tuning in to see the action unfold. The event is far-reaching in its audience, and has gained increasing attention outside of the gaming world, being covered in mainstream media and receiving recognition in the form of two of last year’s winners, OG’s Topson and Jerax, being invited to meet the president of Finland.
Venue, Prize Pool, Schedule and Format
This year sees a dramatic shift in venue to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, one of the most highly populated and thriving cities in China, as part of a continuing trend to host TI in different regions with a large DotA 2 following. The event was originally hosted in Cologne, Germany in 2011 before being held in Seattle, Washington, USA for TI2-TI7, and Vancouver, Canada last year for TI8. For western audiences this usually means staying up for some late night excitement. This year, for anyone not living in an eastern time zone this will require flipping your sleep schedule to watch the event live. If you don’t have time off work and don’t want to run into spoilers I highly recommend avoiding social media and turning the tournament spoiler block on in-game until you’ve watched the replays!
The prize pool as it stands is a mighty $33,000,000, and comprises 25% of all battle pass sales. The winning team will receive 45.5% of this pool, which currently equates to roughly $15,000,000. The money alone guarantees that the winners will all be millionaires, but most players are chasing something which money can’t buy – status as an International winner. Winning the International is something which enshrines a DotA player’s legacy and puts them in an elite group of TI winners, the crème de la crème, who have had their name inscribed on the Aegis of Champions. For DotA professionals, this is the ultimate aspiration. So far nobody has claimed the Aegis of Champions more than once, and for the select few who have won The International before there’s a secondary race to become the first person to do it twice. Amongst the contenders for this challenge is our very own Secret.Puppey, whose reputation and results precede him. To mention his TI history alone, Puppey has been in three TI finals, winning TI1 and finishing second in TI2 and 3 and we’re sure he’s going to fight his heart out with the rest of the team over the next two weeks to claim the ultimate prize once again.
The group stage this year will take place over four days from August 15th-18th. The eighteen competing teams will be split in half into two groups of nine, playing best of 2 round robin. The top four in each group will advance to the upper bracket, the bottom team in each group will be eliminated, and the remaining bottom four teams will enter the lower bracket. The groups will be announced either today or tomorrow. After a one day intermission the main event will take place from August 20th-25th in a double elimination bracket. The first round of the lower bracket will be best of 1, the grand finals will be best of 5, and all other rounds will be best of 3 matches.
Predictions, frontrunners and expectations
The only thing guaranteed at The International is a fantastic viewing experience and the best DotA you can possibly see. ‘Well, obviously!’ I hear you say.. Well, the thing about TI is that it has historically proven to be one of the most unpredictable tournaments as far as results go. Many times a team has been performing well throughout the year only to find a disappointing early end to their TI run, and likewise teams who have barely been on the radar have made amazing TI runs. Last year, most people wouldn’t have even thought about OG as a potential winner following their last minute roster changes after an unfortunate series of events. Their qualification through open qualifiers was barely an afterthought, and yet they brought their own unique metagame and flawless execution to take the tournament by storm, producing an unforgettable comeback story. Previous TI runs have seen similarly outlandish occurrences, most notoriously when Wings Gaming showcased baffling panache with a selection of drafts comprising whatever heroes they felt like, and proceeding to pick apart their opponents with ease, leaving them completely bamboozled and intimidated. Teams felt their own plans failing, and no amount of draft homework or sheets of notes offered any help against Wings’ versatility.
The ultimate point I’m trying to express here is to expect the unexpected. Any team good enough to make it to The International can win the tournament outright, so don’t count anyone out. Those who rise to the occasion and ride the immense pressure will have a distinct advantage over those who succumb and flounder in it. Simply watching the draft phase and hearing the crowd clap alongside an Earthshaker pick on the main stage is enough to feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. What this must feel like as a player on that very stage is unfathomable.
All of this being said, my predictions for the top four teams who are most likely to lift the Aegis would have to be Secret, Liquid, Virtus.Pro and Vici Gaming. The reason for this is that each of these teams has demonstrated versatility and composure at the top level of the game, two of the most valuable assets going into TI. It’s also worth mentioning that with TI being in China this year, the home crowd advantage is going to be with Chinese teams, though it also brings added pressure and expectation alongside that cheering. A phrase you’ll be hearing a lot from the crowd will be ‘jiayou! (加油)’ which means ‘add oil’!’, and is the Chinese equivalent of ‘come on/let’s go!’
Heroes and drafting
All of the teams will have been brewing and hiding their best strategies since the last major, which means that carefully looking at patch 7.22d, e and f will be the best indicator for meta adjustments. For the most part, the TI meta is currently hidden and will develop and evolve rapidly as the tournament progresses and teams adjust appropriately. Moreover, they won’t want to give everything away during the group stage unless their hand is forced, so expect to see stable drafting at first followed up by some experimentation if teams know their place in the upper bracket is secured. However, wild trump card strategies can and will appear from teams facing elimination (The first round of lower bracket bo1 eliminations is an absolute firecracker and avoiding this death trap is a huge reward for a strong group stage performance.)
I think we will certainly see a continuation of Ember Spirit, Grimstroke and IO amongst the most popular picks and bans on the basis of their raw strength at the moment. Other picks we can expect to see frequently throughout the tournament are Death Prophet, Alchemist and Windranger (especially from Liquid). For the more surprising pick predictions, keep an eye out for Slark (and Bloodseeker in response to this), and Bristleback being played as a carry (yes you read this correctly!) as two potential breakout heroes.
Are you ready?
The answer should be yes.. no… yes! At this point, it’s time to stock up on snacks and drinks, get your cozy setup sorted and get hyped up for The International 2019 to begin. We’ll be cheering loudest for the boys representing Team Secret – Puppey, Zai, Nisha, YapzOr, MidOne, and coach Sunbhie all the way on their journey to claim the Aegis of Champions and we know they’ll do us proud. We wish you, the viewers at home a fantastic viewing experience this coming two weeks and hope for some awesome plays to bring you to your feet and hear the crowd roar!
–by Duncan James