In 2003, an unassuming developer by the name of “Eul” released a new kind of custom game on unsuspecting Warcraft 3 players. It might have seemed like another banal bit of video game tinkering—a mod that maybe a few thousand fans will play obsessively, or maybe just disappear as a footnote in the annals of gaming history. It didn’t. Defense of the Ancients swept across the world. And in the process, it birthed an entire genre.
Twelve years later, Dota’s subtle strategies, distinct heroes, steep learning curve, and elegant play have grown to heights that “Eul” can’t possibly have imagined. In 2013, mega-game developer Valve threw its weight into the Dota world with the standalone title Dota 2. And under that iteration, the game has gone on to attract millions of players and esports fans. It fills stadiums, and boasts the largest esports prize pool in the world—the $11 million up for grabs at The International. Numbers like that are what are traditionally thrown around to boast about Dota 2.
But for serious fans, there’s a better advertisement of Dota’s appeal: Exquisite, unbelievable plays.
And these are the best we’ve ever seen.
10) Chrono into Exorcism
Vici Gaming vs Cloud9 – The Summit 2
The Summit 2 was more than just another tournament on the path to The International; it was the event that catalyzed the Great Western Shuffle of 2014-15. Between Team Secret‘s third-place finish, Evil Geniuses‘ clear lack of chemistry, and Cloud9‘s ninth silver in 11 finals, the intimate affair was a wake-up call for the West’s biggest contenders. Nothing better personified this changing of the guard than Vici Gaming‘s double-Chronosphere into Exorcism to seal the championship for China’s second-best side.
9) Trademark Zai
Alliance vs EG – The International 2014
In the course of every player’s career, there comes a moment that fully encapsulates their contribution to the game. Ludwig “Zai” Wahlberg has experienced this plenty of times. But perhaps none were more important than the game-deciding Black Hole against Alliance that put the Swedes out of the running and Evil Geniuses into the coveted second-place slot. Despite his recent departure from the squad, this signature moment on his signature hero captures Wahlberg’s time with Evil Geniuses better than perhaps any other moment in his tenure.
8) The infamous “fountain-hooking incident”
TongFu vs Na’Vi – The International 2013
Michael Jordan’s push-off to decide game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals lives in infamy because it violated a fundamental rule of the game. Danil “Dendi” Ishutin’s match-salvaging maneuver lives in infamy precisely because it did not. While combining Pudge’s hook with Chen’s Test of Faith—capitalizing on an intentionally un-altered bug in the game’s mechanics—lies on the more controversial side of the spectrum, the clutch strategy put Natus Vincere one step closer to the coveted Aegis of Champions in 2013. It’s that legacy of creativity, poise, and performance on the biggest stage in the world that has made them fan favorites time and time again.
7) Lanm’s Earthshaker
Speed Gaming vs Team DK – MLG Columbus 2013
Major League Gaming‘s 2013 Columbus event was a seminal moment in the formation of Western Dota. It was the tournament that made Artour “Arteezy” Babaev a household name while showcasing what would later become Cloud9’s first Dota squad. But when the hour looked dire, Team DK‘s Zhang “Lanm” Zhicheng single-handedly held the line. His Blink into double-Echo Slam stopped a charging Speed Gaming in its tracks, turning a sure loss into a victory while demonstrating the significance a single moment can have on a competitive match.
6) Alliance trademark Dota
LGD vs Alliance – The International 2013
In 2013, Alliance were dominant in a way that no team, before or since, has been. Winning six straight tournaments from April through August, their play-style, exemplified by this critical moment at The International, garnered as many fans as it did detractors. Truly, this moment does not signify the importance of a single play, so much as it demonstrates the significance of both execution and confidence when the moment matters most. Two years ago, the Swedes had both in spades, and it earned them the victory even when other teams would have folded unceremoniously.
5) “They’re all dead!”
Orange vs TongFu – The International 2013
Part meme, part magic, “they’re all dead” has defined both the Orange-TongFu match of The International 3 and the career of David “LD” Gorman. TongFu’s apparent Bane-catch turned into a clinic in execution. Chong “Ohaiyo” Xin Khoo’s Vacuum, Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung’s Storm Hammer, and Lee “Kyxy” Kong Yang’s Illusory Orb into Waning Rift tore the Chinese side apart. Now, this footage stands as a testament to the legendary Orange Esports side that blew The International 3 wide open.
4) Rosh pit Black Hole
TongFu vs Na’Vi – The International 2012
Natus Vincere appears three times in the top four, and for good reason. Consistency, creativity, and moments of brilliance defined this team from 2011 to 2013. While TongFu looked to have the upper hand at the Rosh pit, attaining a picture perfect setup to boot, Dmitry “LightofHeaven” Kupriyanov’s Vacuum/Wall combo followed by Clement “Puppey” Ivanov’s Black Hole were the stuff of legend. Perfect execution from the team that defined excellence in Dota 2‘s early days, the moment is forever connected to the team that started it all.
3) The Roshan bait
No Tidehunter vs Evil Geniuses – DreamHack Winter 2012
No Tidehunter, despite their comically tongue-in-cheek name, were a terror both before and after their contract with Alliance. But while most teams make their name with niche picks or unconventional deployment, No Tidehunter’s psychological warfare shocked the Dota world for its brilliance and originality. By feeding one player to Roshan—a death that is announced on the screens of opponents—Alliance were able to take advantage of Nature’s Prophet’s secondary teleport and the confusion of Evil Geniuses to secure two kills as the horn sounded.
2) “The Play”
Invictus Gaming vs Na’Vi – The International 2012
If you haven’t seen it yet, get ready to put “The Play” on a loop. In addition to being one of the best plays in the history of Dota 2, Ishutin’s Ravage steal combined with Kupriyanov’s flawless Black Hole to reverse a perfectly executed ambush is inarguably one of the best plays in the history of esports. From total disaster to a full five-man wipe on the biggest stage against the biggest opponent with the crowd on their feet, “The Play” is the sort of thing that turns gamers into esports fans.
1) The Million-Dollar Dream Coil
Alliance vs Na’Vi – The International 2013
A moment so big it’s become a cosmetic, there’s little that can’t be said about the biggest play in the history of professional Dota 2. Alliance dominated all comers heading into the grand final of The International 3, but a scrappy Natus Vincere worked some serious magic to force a deciding game five. While Alliance’s split-push tactics had undone Na’Vi on previous occasions, they won a few fights to turn the game on its head, threatening to push the most dominant Western side in history off the summit.
What followed is now deeply ingrained in esports’ legacy. With one man down and Na’Vi posturing at Roshan, Alliance threw a trademark Hail Mary, sending Jonathan “Loda” Berg and Jerry “EGM” Lundkvist’s Chaos Knight-Io tandem into the base to steal the win from the Ukrainian side. While Na’Vi scrambled to mount their defense, Gustav “S4” Magnusson stopped one teleport with a Scythe of Vyse and then jaunted over to Ishutin and Ivanov, stopping their escape with a game-deciding Dream Coil, allowing Berg, Lundkvist, and Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg to inflict fatal damage.
In the deciding moment of the deciding game in the biggest tournament in the world one spell sealed the deal—that’s the legacy of Dota 2. With The International eight months away, fans will wonder what game-defining moments await them in Seattle. If the past is any indication, then their anticipation is well-founded.