SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve not watched the replays yet, don’t read on…or log on to Twitter
In the early hours of Monday morning, around 5:15 (GMT), Swedish eSports team, Alliance, lifted the much coveted Aegis of the Immortals trophy and pocketed a cool $1.4m – the biggest ever prize in eSports history – after defeating opponents Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) in the final of the third annual DOTA 2 International tournament.
Having managed to remain undefeated throughout the group stages, losing their first match to DK in the quarter finals, the pre-match Twitter-verse was bustling with predictions of a 3-0 victory over 2011 International champions and fan favourites Na’Vi. Na’Vi hadn’t been playing to the best of their ability in the tournament so far, relying more on the mistakes of their opponents to seal a victory, and after suffering a 2-0 loss to Alliance in the earlier stages of the tournament, the chips were stacked against them.
Still, the legion of Na’Vi fans showed up in force on the night to cheer on their favourite team – outnumbering Alliance fans at least 3:1. Na’Vi evidently capitalised on their earlier clash with Alliance, taking time to sit back and analyse their opponents, as they stepped up in the final to give a glimpse of the skill we’ve come to expect from the Ukrainian team. As game one kicked off at around 12:45 AM, nobody was prepared for the an aggressive back and forth, evenly matched slug-fest that would come right down to the wire.
Na’Vi began the first game with an extremely strange line up that had no clearly defined roles and relied on surviving to the late game to get the most out of the heroes. The commentators and crowed seemed confused by their actions, expecting them to have thrown the game. Unfortunately, they were correct and Alliance capitalised on the opportunity, forcing Na’Vi into calling “gg” before the 16 minute mark. At this point in time, the predictions seemed to be on track, and though surrendering this early seemed to be a display of weakness from the Ukrainian team, the willingness to try something unusual, realise when it doesn’t work and move on from it un-phased is commendable.
Going into the second game, whether they intended it or not, the earlier choices made by Na’Vi had given Alliance a false sense of security that would cost them dearly. Not only did the Swedish team allow Na’Vi to secure the exact line up of heroes they needed to facilitate their aggressive play style, they appeared to be mocking their opponents by mimicking the unusual picks they made in the first match. It was as if the Alliance intended to bait Na’Vi with the threat to beat them with the selection of heroes they had lost with. Had they won, it would have been a crippling blow to the confidence and morale of the Na’Vi team, but even then – while only the five guys in the booth know the exact reasoning behind their choices – if this was their intention, it was an un-professional play. As it stood, they lost. Na’vi took full control of the second game and smashed through the Alliance defence to seal a 20 minute victory – although the game was over long before the “gg”.
The third game saw more of a return to form for both teams as they started to settle down and the reality of the situation began to sink in – there was everything to play for in and the big guns had to come out.
Game two saw the first time Alliance had been out-rightly dominated in this tournament, and it left them seemingly shaken. Having fallen to the might of Alliance’s capabilities with support heroes like Chen and Keeper of the Light in their previous games, Na’Vi were taking every opportunity to ban out these choices. Being unable to access their preferred play style and take full advantage of their jungle meant Alliance was put on the back foot a little. Na’Vi came out with a strong team in the third game and were it not for AdmiralBulldog’s (Alliance) skill with Lone Druid the game would have ended sooner than it did. It seemed Alliance had put all of their eggs into one basket, relying too much on that bear. Still, bears can win games and neither team were performing poorly here, Na’Vi simply played better in the third match.
Going into the fourth game Alliance fans, myself included, were scared. Na’Vi were showing the level of skill that had earned them their massive and dedicated fan base and the Alliance we saw during the earlier stages of the tournament were nowhere to be seen. The tension was high as Na’Vi were one game away from lifting the title, but Alliance were not out yet! After not performing so well during the laning phase, s4’s (Alliance) Nightstalker pick capitalised on the setting of the sun to aggressively put pressure on Na’Vi and pick off straggling heroes. Combine this with excellent use of IO’s relocate ability and Gyrocopter’s output from being well farmed and Alliance synched an early team wipe, snowballing from this point and beginning to demonstrate the level of situational awareness that had secured them a place in the final; knowing when to play aggressively or defensively and limiting their opponent’s movement around the map. Although Na’Vi is a team that has been known to come back from worse, they couldn’t muster the strength to contend with Alliance in this match and the final was sent to the fifth game for the first time in history.
Going into the final, there wasn’t much change in the type of picks and bans being made, as each team tried to play their preferred heroes and deny the enemy theirs. Alliance made the sensible choice to go with IO. Most would argue because of the ganking and support capabilities of her relocate ability, but the superstitious wouldn’t be able to ignore the fact that she’d been on the winning team in each of the final’s previous four matches. Alongside this, s4 was able to snag his favourite hero, Puck, but it was Dendi’s (Na’Vi) Templar Assassin pick that got the crowd roaring – it was a shame not to see him choose Pudge in the final, as he demonstrated his exceptional ability with the character in an earlier game against TongFu, but he’s not a one trick pony and can be a joy to watch with a number of heroes.
Alliance showed some signs of slipping during the early game. Not only is Templar Assassin an excellent solo mid hero against Puck, but Alliance overextended themselves a couple of times when trying to bring down XBOCT’s (Na’Vi) Alchemist, trading multiple of their own team members to secure the kill. This was thanks, largely in part, to XBOCT’s amazing dodging amongst the trees underneath his tower. Throughout the early and mid-game, the blows being traded between the two teams were frequent and visceral and Na’Vi pressured Alliance, seeking out team fights and forcing them to get through a number of buybacks. As expected, Dendi performed amazingly as Templar Assassin, setting himself up quickly to dish out a tonne of damage and using his traps to maintain an excellent level of map awareness that Alliance would have had to applaud.
After recovering from an early upset against Roshan, Na’vi appeared to be gaining the kind of momentum that crippled Alliance in the second game. At around 30 minutes in, they had the win in sight and made a push for the middle barracks, looking for a fight to take the game and the championship. Unfortunately for Na’Vi, Alliance showed no interest in defending their base and instead AdmiralBulldog, Loda and EGM, continued to apply pressure with the split push against the top and bottom lanes – but by the time Na’Vi claimed the tower, they realised what was happening. The damage to their own base had been done and an absolutely phenomenal coil from s4’s Puck prevented three of the Na’Vi team from being able to teleport back to base to do anything about it. The table had been turned and suddenly Na’Vi were gasping for air.
Being left without towers or barracks in the top and bottom lane left them exposed and in a sticky situation. At this point, Na’Vi desperately needed to hit back against the Alliance but truthfully couldn’t leave their base as any number of factors from AdmiralBulldog’s pushing, EGM’s relocate or s4’s coil could end the game before a team fight could even occur. Na’Vi made the call to go for a Roshan kill but lacked the time and damage to do so as the push came down from the top lane. Na’Vi did their best to teleport back to base to defend, but another superb play from s4 prevented Puppey and Dendi from doing so and their fate was sealed as Alliance threw everything they had at the Ancient to take the game and the final.
The fact that the final didn’t turn out to be the whitewash everyone was expecting made for the perfect outcome – even if I wouldn’t have said so at the time. If you haven’t had chance to watch the games yet they’re a sight to behold and they kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire four and a half hour duration. Even if you know the final outcome there’s a lot to be learned from watching each side, irrespective of your DOTA skill level, as both teams brought their A game. This truly was a clash of the titans and an historic moment that bought the highs and lows you’d expect from any sporting event, helping to further cement eSports as a valid competitive environment.
Congratulations to Alliance on their victory.