‘Dota 2’ stars converge on Seattle ahead of biggest-ever esports tournament

With more than $10 million in prizes, Valve's once-a-year Dota 2 mega tournament, The International, is already shaping up to be one of the most competitive and heavily spectated events in esports history

Image via Valve

With more than $10 million in prizes, Valve’s once-a-year Dota 2 mega tournament, The International, is already shaping up to be one of the most competitive and heavily spectated events in esports history.

And central to the event is a cast of personalities as big as the game they play. As they arrive in Seattle, tensions are high, aspirations are lofty, and luggage is lost. The games haven’t even started yet, and this is already turning out to be a great tournament.

However, only one thing is on the mind of these storied competitors: the Aegis of Champions—and the $4 million that comes with it.

If The International is about building a legacy, then last year’s champions, Alliance, need no introduction. Comprised of Jonathan “Loda” Berg, Gustav “s4” Magnusson, Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg, Jerry “EGM” Lundkvist, and Joakim “Akke” Akterhall, the grey-clad “Sons of Odin” have held together through thick and thin, and look now to repeat their remarkable performance from last year.

While the practice hours have been long and arduous, it’s clear that last year’s champions are well taken care of before the matches start.

In addition to getting their names etched into the Aegis of Champions, the Swedes were well rewarded for their performance in 2013 with over 100 cheeseburgers in their presidential suite upon arrival in Seattle.

VALVE surprises us with 100 burgers in the presidential suite ;D #TI4 THEY KNOW US WELL!! Burgers!! pic.twitter.com/DdFwRLxBOE

— Kelly Ong Xiao Wei (@kellymilkies) July 6, 2014

To some die-hard fans, last year’s championship was somewhat tainted. Alliance are known for playing a style called “rat” Dota, in which victory is obtained not through head to head fights, but by focusing on objectives and avoiding fights. The team, while aware of their reputation, are comfortable poking fun at the designation whenever possible.

To warm up for ti4 ill be staying in the sewers, not even a presidential suite filled with burgers can change who i really am.

— Henrik Ahnberg (@AdmiralBulldog) July 7, 2014

Their competitors, and the North American hope for the championship, Evil Geniuses, were equally comfortable on their flight north from their team house in Arizona. That is, except for Saahil “Universe” Arora.

everyone but universe got upgraded to first class Keepo pic.twitter.com/UIcuzliIMN

— Artour B (@Arteezy) July 6, 2014

Not that Arora isn’t comfortable taking one for the team, of course.

The team later touched down in Seattle, ready to take on all comers. With a combination of confident (or, in Artour “Arteezy” Babaev’s case, sometimes over-confident) play, innovative strategy, and a string of impressive results, Evil Geniuses are looking to prove that the best Dota is played in the United States.

However, not all organizations have been sipping champagne flutes and flying first class. This tweet from Finnish player Kalle “Trixi” Saarinen is enough to make any frequent flyer cringe.

Apparently luggage can get stuck on the conveyor belt. RIP in pepperonis luggage. #notevensurprisedanymore

— Kalle Saarinen (@fnaticTrixi) July 6, 2014

And shortly thereafter…

I lied. Our luggage wasn’t stuck, it’s still actually in London. #aintevenmad

— Kalle Saarinen (@fnaticTrixi) July 6, 2014

The team did manage to land in Seattle, though the ultimate destination of their luggage remains a mystery.

With nearly $5 million in prize money awarded to the top finishers, every organization is looking to make a respectable showing. Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling recently provided anxious fans with a tour of North American organization Cloud9’s International accommodations and practice space, leaving no doubt that the crowd-pleasers are bringing their A-game.

For many teams, the journey to the United States will be brief. For the Chinese participants, however, all roads point to the finals. This includes powerhouse Team DK, whose mix of technical mastery and inspiring creativity have made them a favorite headed into the competition.

Perennial fan favorite Natus Vincere also hit Seattle with a smile on their faces, despite a rough couple months headed into July. And smile, they should; Ukranian Danylo “Dendi” Ishutin (center) and Estonian Clement “Puppey” Ivanov (far right) have lead their team to the finals each of the past three Internationals, winning one championship along the way.

Team Empire, comprised of Airat “Silent” Gaziev, Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok, Andrew “Mag” Chipenko, Ivan “Vanskor” Skorokhod, Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko, were in the venue early, practicing strategies and keeping their minds sharp against Team DK.

The boys from @team_empire are hard at work scrimming @DKdota2 #TI4 pic.twitter.com/NkD5NsbS4E

— Toby Dawson (@TobiWanDOTA) July 6, 2014

The mix of Russian and Ukranian players has looked stellar in the several weeks preceding the tournament, usurping the once-undisputed Natus Vincere as kings of eastern Europe, and pushing even powerful Chinese teams to their limits.

And some teams are simply happy to be in Washington. CIS-game, while not a particularly strong contender, faced remarkable adversity outside of the game, seeing their applications for visas to the United States denied three times before finally receiving acceptance.

Regardless of their individual route, travel trials, or expectations upon arrival, each team is faced with the monumental task of defeating the world’s best in order to claim the championship. But perhaps more impressive than the task at hand or the gilded shield to be claimed at the end of the road is Valve’s preparation for the event.

Valve has seriously built a LAN Center in the middle of our hotel! #TI4 HYPE! @DOTA2 pic.twitter.com/vmVVGFlqZL

— Aaron Chambers (@ayesee) July 6, 2014

VIP spectators have received equal attention, with four enormous screens to watch the flurry of early round action.

I have arrived at the #TI4 check out the viewing area! pic.twitter.com/lNdDFlCU6K

— Toby Dawson (@TobiWanDOTA) July 6, 2014

For a more in-depth look, Salome Soe Gschwind-Penski, Toby “Tobiwan” Dawson, and Austin “TheCapitalist” Walsh recently published this tour of the venue.

More remarkably, these preparations are simply the precursor to the main event, held in Seattle’s Key Arena on the 21st. Simply put, the best is yet to come.

With esports biggest prize on the line, and Dota’s biggest stars converging on Seattle, The International 2014 promises to be one for the ages. You can catch all the action July 8-21 on Twitch or Dota 2‘s in-game client.