The International: What we know now

Seattle has unknowingly become the nexus of one of esports most prolific clashes: Valve's The International, a Dota 2 championship with a prize pool of nearly $11 million

Image via Valve

Seattle has unknowingly become the nexus of one of esports most prolific clashes: Valve’s The International, a Dota 2 championship with a prize pool of nearly $11 million.

Half the field of 16 is already home for good, and the remaining teams must somehow differentiate themselves from the pack, dodging upsets, mistakes, and self-doubt along the way. With the field narrowed, the main event of The International is taking shape. Here’s what we know so far.

The field is set

If you’re a betting person, avoid this tournament at all costs. The matchups and mind-games alone are enough to render bracket prediction nearly impossible. But while we may not know who will lift the Aegis of Champions at the end of the tournament, we do know who’s still in contention.

After a grueling pool play that broke the backs of even the strongest teams, and an equally taxing elimination bracket to narrow the field, the last remaining teams include Chinese powerhouses Vici Gaming, Newbee, Team DK, Invictus Gaming, and LGD Gaming, Europe’s last hope Natus Vincere, and the North American upstarts Evil Geniuses and Cloud9.

This field is, for lack of a better word, tough. Every Chinese side matches aggression with brilliant drafting in a way that’s both dazzling to watch and infuriating to play against. Cloud9, the innovators from North America, can take a game from virtually any side in the world. Natus Vincere, the 2011 champions and 2012/13 runner’s up always seem to find a higher gear when it matters most. Finally, Evil Geniuses is a force to be reckoned with, and probably the West’s greatest hope for a championship. Each team is a force, and every game will be hotly contested.

No one is invincible

Each of these names carries weight to the seasoned Dota 2 spectator, but arguing that one team reigns above any other is questionable. Evil Geniuses, the North American hope, dropped a pool play game to the now-eliminated Team Liquid, while showing remarkable poise and execution en route to a 2nd place finish.

Invictus Gaming looked the part of champions headed into the tournament, but accrued five losses in pool play and ultimately landed in the loser’s bracket of the main event. Most remarkable: Last year’s runaway champions, Alliance, failed to even make it out of pool play, despite impressive form leading up to the event.

The International is looking more and more like that paragon of parity, the NCAA Tournament. Whoever shows up, whoever matches up well, and whoever has the most grit on any given day can find themselves ascending the summit, regardless of the prestige of their opponents. There’s absolutely no doubt that once Key Arena is filled and the crowds are cheering, drafts, towers, and kills will merely personify the ambition and brilliance of the players involved.

The East has come to play

Last year’s International was a European affair. Ukranian team Natus Vincere and Swedish side Alliance clashed in one of the most memorable grand finals in history. With that came questions of China’s waning strength, despite their long track record as kings of the original Dota.

However, 2014 has proven that 2013 was a wake up call for the beasts from the east: 75 percent of remaining winner’s bracket teams are Chinese, and 50 percent of loser’s bracket sides hail from the world’s most populous country. Newbee is primed for a fight, DK looks innovative and hungry, and Invictus Gaming looks to prove that their 2012 International championship was just a start.

Evil Geniuses is legit

Oft-maligned and frequently doubted, Evil Geniuses entry to The International was met with mixed reviews. While pundits from major esports sites pegged them as a top four team, the spectator community at large remained unconvinced that the quirky, sometimes volatile, and often brilliant quintet would make it happen once pool play started. A day one that ended with a 3-2 record nearly confirmed that suspicion.

But the “Boys in Blue” would not let speculation do the talking. Totaling an 8-2 record over the ensuing three days, Peter “PPD” Dager and his merry men would ply their patented style to near perfection, losing only to two top Chinese sides during that stretch. Now, their work is rewarded with a direct berth into the winner’s bracket semifinals and a guaranteed placement of no worse than sixth, locking down $644,000 in the process. Obviously, EG won’t accept this result, and anyone that doubts their abilities against truly top-level competition is either living under a rock or completely unfamiliar with the game of Dota.

Every decision counts

In the end, The International will be decided in the game, not in forums, dreams, or predictions. With the release of a new patch, modifying character abilities and strengths, prior to the tournament, playing the game in the best way possible has become a real and recurring challenge.

During pool play, less frequently selected heroes Razor and Skywrath Mage became overnight must-picks. This left teams reeling. However, just as Razor appeared to be an essential to any team composition, the hero netted his team 0 wins in 6 games in phase three.

If nothing else, this shocking shift in draft priority shows just how delicately The International is balanced. The Rikki selection in Evil Geniuses’ game against now-eliminated Team Liquid led to an early deficit and, eventually, a loss. The margin by which EG missed the No. 1 seed? One loss.

With half the field already sent home, the margin for error is officially zero. Teams with deep pools of talent and multiple weapons at their disposal will still need to deploy those weapons in the best way possible to take home the grand prize. To call the International’s remaining field a meat-grinder is an exercise in understatement, but with nearly $5 million on the line, every moment is a chance to separate, rise above, and breathe truly rarified air.