The International 2016 in my view

DSC09960

The International 2016 was from late July to mid August of 2016 in Seattle, and was to date the largest esports tournament in history. My intent here is to try and reflect the sentiment and emotions and moments that stand out throughout the event as viewed and experienced through my own perspective, and write it all down in text, so here goes.

DSC01661

Gogo TI6

Saturday July 30   

Today is the first official day of ‘actual’ TI stuff in that this is the first day that teams and talents are arriving. It’s a big day, and though this would be the fourth TI at which I’ve worked, it is the first time I go to the airport to help pick people up. Before heading to the airport to swap out fellow translators Jack and Helen who have been there for the morning, I get some lunch at the hotel where Valve has set up the usual lounge room with catered meals and screens to watch for when the games get going later on in the week.

All of Wings sit at my table to eat lunch. Well, it’s not my table at all really, I just got there first. The room’s kind of just filling up around me. Anyway, it’s my first actual time meeting them in person, and they’re an interesting bunch for sure. My first impression is that they’re so small. Like, they’re physically kinda small, or diminutive at the least. And then there’s the age thing: a bunch of teenagers plus bLink (who’s the ripe old age of 24), they act far more mature than their age would suggest, yet at the same time exude some kind of casualness that the many of the more mature players don’t have either. They dislike the buffalo chicken wings, citing a weird taste. On the other hand, most of them like the pulled pork sliders. Normally I like buffalo chicken wings, but this time I tend to agree with their evaluations.

The entire day is a constant flow of arrivals, and every year it’s nice to see old and new faces alike, united in the same spot, by a common passion. I’m at the airport for the good part of the afternoon and early evening, then I’m back to the hotel where there’s plenty more for me to do as checkins at the front desk are in full flow.

The unluckiest of the day are the majority of LGD, the earliest of whom only arrive in the late afternoon/early evening after most everyone else has arrived already, with half of them not landing until much later towards midnight. According to their manager, they’d spent nearly 40 hours travelling at that point due to being delayed on connecting flights, etc.

DSC01641

First night welcome dinner thingy

It’s a hectic first day, but everything goes smoothly. There’s a bit of an occasion in the lounge at the hotel this night, as there’s an open bar and food for the ‘welcome dinner’ (whereas usually it’s just food) — and pretty much everyone that has arrived in Seattle already shows up to eat and hang out. The room is lit up in some kind of atmospheric pink and for a moment it feels more like a casual party gathering rather than the first day of the leadup to the largest tournament in esports history.

Sunday July 31

With the first day out of the way and everyone mostly situated, it’s time to get into the work of the tournament. This year they have the group stages at the Meydenbauer Center

DSC01643.JPG

Meydenbauer group stage

in Bellevue, which was a short five minute walk away from our hotel. It’s actually kind of nice to have a real reason to walk outside during these days, as from past experience the group stage days can be some of most grindy days, so getting any kind of exercise or fresh air is well appreciated. This year is already not as bad as a few of us have been recruited to start subtitling video content weeks prior, but still — the subtitling and player profile production at the Meydenbauer takes up a large portion of my attention for the next few days.

It’s rewarding nonetheless: if I can’t watch any other TI content, I still try to watch the player profiles because, hey, I help work on some of them, but more importantly they’re always a really cool look into the players as people and not just IDs on a screen… That’s one thing that I think this year has been really good about (amongst many other improvements), the efforts put into humanizing the players and making the entire scene as a whole more ‘approachable’ to the average fan or viewer.

After a full day at the Meydenbauer, walking back to the hotel I come across MMY outside, smoking. He sees me, and somewhat unexpectedly he waves and loudly says HI!! It’s unexpected because that’s not really his personality, usually he’s really quiet and reserved, shy even — and even though through the years of events we’ve both been at I’ve probably come to know him decently, it still came somewhat as a surprise for me. But perhaps with the years that Dota grows, the players — and all the rest of us as well — are growing, or at least changing too.

Monday August 1

It’s mostly more subtitling and background stuff at the Meydenbauer today. There’s also media day where Valve gets the players and teams and shoots the content that they use for the player intros with the hype intro music (everyone loves the fact that they used the

DSC01667.JPG

Media day for VGR

intro music again from last year, plus added a new track too).

Later at night, there’s the official welcoming dinner/party that Valve traditionally holds at a fancy restaurant near to wherever the hotel is that year — this year since we’re in Bellevue again, the dinner is at El Gaucho, which is the same spot as the one they used for TI4. Year on year, I notice more and more Chinese players being at least somewhat interested in coming to check it out. Given that the food is typically quite Western in general style and taste, I think it’s nice. This year I walk over with some of VGR — ddc, END, Nono. They stick around a bit and check out the spot, but pretty soon END is like, “Go go go! As he rushes to the exit, physically dragging ddc along with him, apparently having been convinced by others to go for dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby.

DSC01669.JPG

El Gaucho dinner

Grabbing food at the dinner with Black^, we note that the food available is nearly exactly the same as in 2014, which isn’t a bad thing at all — more just a thing that popped into the conversation, kinda like a peripheral way of being nostalgic or something, I’m not sure. It’s the same spot where the 1v1 mid tournament took place prior to TI4, and when that is mentioned it’s definitely a bit nostalgic. Midway through all that, we see none other than

DSC01678.JPG

There was an Aegis cake

Gabe Newell coming up the stairs. I’m still a bit intimidated (because it’s Gabe Newell!!), but I say “hi” rather cheerfully, and he responds “hey” back. It’s not really a significant moment maybe, or maybe it is, but it kind of sticks in my mind even now as I write this.

Tuesday August 2

At breakfast this morning, I’m kind of sluggishly digging through a little bit of whatever it is I’ve put on my plate (I forget) when Wings again comes to sit at the same table as me. Or was it the other way around? They’ve come as five again, as expected of them at this point. BLink, I think it was, has put ketchup on his scrambled eggs, and the rest of them are marvelling at how he’s ‘so Western’, because I guess it’s not really a thing to put ketchup on eggs in China…

After a little while, END and ChuaN show up and plop themselves down at the same table. END loves to talk — he’s the kind of  guy that can probably make friends anywhere, anytime. Kind of just a chatterbox, but a friendly one whose first and primary expression is to have a giant smile on his face. Anyway, after a while of him chattering on and on, ChuaN cuts in on the conversation as well, and happily jokes at END, “You guys who are here for a one-round vacation should just stfu!!” It’s a bit savage, and meant as a joke and END takes it as one too, but I guess it also kind of reflects a general lowered expectation for VGR already before the event has begun…

The rest of the day goes by mostly at Meydenbauer as we’re actually managing to get close to finishing subtitling most content, a bit ahead of schedule.

Wednesday August 3

This year Valve has provided teams with a total of 32 passes each to share with friends and family who want to come watch at Key Arena. Upon learning about this, old eLeVeN of

DSC01701.JPG

at Meydenbauer group stage

EHOME is saying, “I’m gonna take all of them and sell them! I’m gonna go to the main event just to be a ticket scalper!!” I ask him how much he’s gonna be selling them for, and he replies “I can get $500 each!!” Then I ask him if he’s gonna be doing that instead of, you know, actually competing, and he laughs. Of course not, and we soon see that EHOME is here at TI6 to play as they’ve not only made it through the Wild Card yesterday, but end today with a solid 3-1 record in group stage day 1.

Talking to iceiceice later, he’s just like “I’m just happy I made it to TI… wooo” But I think he wants more than that… that was just a minimum to achieve.

In some newly found free-ish time, I can actually watch some of the streams as the group stage goes on. I’m tabbing between two official streams, in-game, and when I can, I sneak over to the BurNIng/rOtK stream as it’s actually hilarious.

Later in the night, probably close to midnight, I’m getting some late night food at the hotel restaurant with EHOME, who are discussing — what else could it be — the day’s matches. eLeVeN is remembering the scenes against Liquid, where old chicken ate

DSC01690.JPG

Dinner with EHOME

repeated arrows to the face. “Chicken bro is not one to mind these kinds of seemingly minor details,” old eLeVeN states matter of factly, “I, however, am,” he continues.

Afterwards, Fenrir asks me about anime, and he, old chicken, their team leader, and I chat a bit about anime. Fenrir’s asking me for recommendations, and it’s not like I’m an anime expert or anything. So I’m showing him my MAL, telling him about stuff like K-on, Monogatari, stuff that’s kind of slice-of-lifey (or really slice-of-lifey). He’s recently finished watching Your lie in April and he’s telling me how it’s a series that makes you think about life, and that’s what he wants from his series so I tell him to go watch Garden of Words or 5cm per second or something…

Old chicken’s not really talking, but he’s kind of listening in, and it’s obvious he’s an anime fan too as his Steam profile pic is One punch man. What he is actively doing, however, is stealing everyone’s french fries that came with their burgers — when everyone’s getting up to leave, he happily announces that he is ‘the french fry reaper’ and there is nary a leftover french fry to be seen.

Thursday August 4

It’s group stage day two, and the teams that are in form and the ones that aren’t in form have begun to become apparent.

DSC01709

VGR

VGR has been doing kind of poorly, and I run across them before they’re set to head into their day’s games. They’re loosely hanging out with some of Newbee, casually socializing and watching the games before theirs. Fy comes over to me and kind of just pokes me a couple times. I poke him back, then as he’s going with his team towards the elevator, I say “win a game, yeah?” kind of just whatever came to my mind at the moment, like a good luck or whatever. And he’s like “Yeah. Win a game, win a game,” kind of to me, but also I think kind of to himself.

Later that night, heading back to the hotel, I run into Fy again at the hotel. This time I go and poke him, “You won a game! Three even!” He smirks a bit at me and goes, “Four, actually”.

Then at the lounge, ddc is there and he immediately asks me where Tiffany is. END, not missing a beat, loudly voices his suspicions of why ddc would be so directly asking about a girl, but all ddc wants to know is how to say “I miss you” in Minnan (a Chinese dialect), and Tiffany might know since her family is from Taiwan, where they speak a version of this dialect — ddc wants to send a message back home to his girlfriend, that’s all.

Friday August 5

It’s the last day of group stage. By this point I’ve spent probably 30+ hours at Meydenbauer either doing subtitles or helping with subtitled content that goes into player profile videos, so it’s hard to remember much else visually apart from a bunch of computer screens. Nonetheless, it’s fine as I actually like subtitling.

DSC01698.JPG

Group stage period lounge for watching games at Meydenbauer

At the Meydenbauer, I find Fenrir again, talking about mobile games this time. There are group stage games on the screens, but he’s playing something on his phone, and I ask what it is. Is it the kind that needs money? “Yes it is. The more you pay, the stronger you are,” he explains. “I’m invincible already.”

Mikasa and Fy come by. They yell at Fenrir, who they’re going to play against later in the day’s group stage games, “Go easy on us later okay!!??” Mikasa threatens him further, adding “I was the one that brought you into the scene!! Remember that!!” Of course, it’s all in a joking manner, and EHOME fairly comfortably 2-0s VGR.

Having finished the group stage top of their group, EHOME is pretty laid-back. Iceiceice is bored, so I show him the game that is agario. He sits there playing with his balls for an hour or so before he decides to go get apple pie at the hotel restaurant, but unfortunately their kitchen is closed by the time he decides he actually wants the pie and tells Nutz to go order it for him. So we go downstairs to the common area where midnight food is laid out to see what’s up. Zai appears and we chatter a bit about stuff here and there — Zai has grown a lot taller and both iceiceice and I make note of that fact, though ice proudly proclaims that “I will always be taller!” Chat a bit more about other stuff, like how Zai did IB (international baccalaureate), two years of it in one year of time, and took a bunch of hard stuff too. Physics and stuff. I say I took IB as well, but I took all the easy shit and didn’t even go for the certificate in the end.

Then we find a bunch of the Chinese casters playing mafia, except they’re way super serious and two of them are streaming it with their phones too. It’s cool but also kind of scary. They spend probably 2-3 hours on average per game, they’re debating everything and everyone. Fy is there, though it seems from what one of the casters is loudly declaring, Fy doesn’t know how to play. Nono is there too but he’s just hanging out, and he comes over to chat for a bit. He asks to learn some English phrases, so we teach him how to say certain things, like how to say hero names.

He was 10 years old when I was graduating from high school, and by the time he was 12 he was playing Dota. We shared some experiences — skipping school to play, thinking of excuses for coming home late after a day at the internet cafe… He said he actually had good grades in elementary school, but then the Dota started… I can relate. I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

Saturday August 6

DSC01721.JPG

Press day TI6

This is Press day. Interviews with lots of people, such as Demon, Swindlezz, Arteezy, Faith_bian, y`innocence. The Wings captain is one I haven’t met before, but he impresses me with his openness to taking interviews, and after each interview he says thank you to the interviewer and shakes their hand.

Iceiceice wants pancakes — he’s apparently been asking to go for pancakes for a while — but I’m busy with interviews so cannot go with him. I point him to a nice place and

DSC01747.JPG

Sharing a look

he goes with Black and Tiffany.

Before he went to get pancakes, though, we gave him a camera so he could entertain himself… or maybe entertain everyone else. I don’t know, I wasn’t the one that gave him the camera. But he takes a bunch of pictures, so here’s intermission: iceiceice’s professional photography debut.

 

 

 

 

Sunday August 7

Rehearsal day, check in at Key Arena. Look at stuff, etc.

It’s ‘rehearsal day’ for casters and on-air people at the Key Arena, where you figure out process flows and where things are. I like to memorize paths and locations as early on as

DSC01785.JPG

Rehearsal day

possible so I have all the information at hand throughout the event so it’s a useful day for me even though the rehearsal is more specifically geared towards the analysts, casters, hosts, etc, who have much heavier burdens to prepare for and shoulder.

Back at the hotel, I’m casually browsing my compendium and lamenting forgetting to set fantasy cards on a previous day when Fenrir invites me to group for pubs — international ranked. He hasn’t finished the necessary games to get calibrated, he explains, and I haven’t even played any. Fenrir, LaNm, and old chicken are in the group and they easily carry me to victory. The only time anyone talks is when LaNm goes on voice chat to laugh at my slow reactions, to which I reply I’m terribad and he laughs some more. In my slightest of defenses, by this point I’m probably averaging 5 hours of sleep a night over a week and a half now.

If TI is a rollercoaster ride, the time in between the end of group stage and the beginning of the main event is like that lull right before you hit the loops and twisty turns and stuff: it’s a calmer moment, but you know what’s coming, and you’re going towards it all at a pace that you sometimes wish would slow down a little bit, if only for more chances at the small moments where you find someone and can have a chat, or a laugh, or anything.

Monday August 8

DSC01810.JPG

It begins

It’s the first day of the main event and the crowds are insane. It’s more packed than last year at the same time; it’s definitely more people than I recall anyway. Valve’s arranged team buses for each team, and the red carpet entrance on day one is, I guess, a tradition now. And it’s a cool one, I think.

The opening and all that ensued was a blur — is a blur — Lindsey Stirling plays an electrifying opener and then, boom, the main event has begun. OG loses to MVP, which not many expected, while Wings beats DC despite losing pretty badly with a Pudge Techies draft in game. Perhaps indicative of how the rest of the tournament might be: upsets of big names, along with infinitely inventive and solid play from the likes of Wings…

DSC01817.JPG

Center stage

In the BO1 elimination matches in the Lower bracket this night, VGR are first up. Backstage, END sees me and grins his wide grin, braces and all, and cheerfully demands, “Don’t forget to cheer for me, oh!” But VGR loses, and coming through backstage again afterwards, he looks at me and he’s still grinning — as if he doesn’t know how to show any other emotion — but he sighs a bit and his shoulders are drooping, so in his smile there’s something else, but I’m not sure what that something else is.

And then LGD’s up and I go over to their waiting room to be on standby in case something is needed. LGD are watching their team’s interview — with MMY this year, who is notoriously difficult to get for interviews — and they’re laughing. Kind of laughing at MMY, who’s standing behind them all, poking fun at him, and MMY’s like “fuck you laughing at”. They win, and it’s a very brief reprieve as they can at least go back to the hotel this night knowing they can fight on.

Afterwards, I’m backstage talking with Conrad of Twitch, and Dendi walks past with his team, about to go on stage for their BO1… Dendi’s still all smiles and puts his fist out for a fist bump, which we gladly oblige.

Tuesday August 9

DSC01873.JPG

EHOME vs Alliance

It’s a day of 2-0 victories for teams as EHOME beats Alliance, EG defeats Newbee, TNC continues their fairy tale over OG, and DC gains momentum in eliminating LGD.

I tell LaNm that I’ve watched all the games they’ve won at TI6 (and when they lost I hadn’t been watching any of those), and he looks at me with a serious look on his face and says, “This is very important. You need to keep watching us then.” Superstition is an interesting topic in sports in general, and I think esports is the same. In the past, I’ve heard of players wearing lucky underwear, there’s obviously LaNm’s red VICTORY sweater, and many Chinese teams only somewhat jokingly refer to certain restaurants in Seattle or Bellevue as lucky or unlucky, depending on who ate there before a major win or an upset. As in, one team hears another team ate at a place before winning today, then that night the first team will actually weigh that into their discussions when deciding where to eat. Of course, I think there are varying degrees of superstition and it probably isn’t that definitive a factor for even the more superstitious, but it’s interesting. Later on, I hear that iceiceice has worn the same EHOME shirt for the entirety of the event for similar reasons.

This year at TI, Valve has implemented an in-game drop system where those who have linked their Steam account to their badge and have been scanned into the venue are eligible for drops whenever first blood occurs. On the first day at Key Arena, I’ve somehow broken all expectations for my luck (I’m not lucky when it comes to anything random) and gotten four drops. Today, after EHOME defeats Alliance, Fenrir is again just chatting with me and mentions he wants a crimson version of the Drow Ranger item and he’ll trade me a golden one for it. I haven’t gotten one from my drops yet, and of course I proceed to get zero more drops for the rest of the day and the entire next day as well.

Another thing available at TI6 is an autograph location with various personalities and

DSC01852.JPG

Autographs

players. Today there’s an Fy signing, and despite losing the day before, he seems to be in alright spirits and pretty happy to meet fans. The autograph booth was really well done this year, I think — people got tokens to be eligible for the time slot first, then just came at the time slot and waited to meet the person. There were digital autographs too that you got by scanning your badge, overall a pretty smooth experience I think.

In the late evening, LGD lose to DC. As I’m walking by their suite on the suite level, they’re shutting the door with everyone inside — seemingly to hold team meeting. What was said in there, who knows, but I think it’s fair to say there were expectations for them to place higher than they did this year. I think they really missed September’s play on that team.

Wednesday August 10

It’s day three of the main event, and things are really starting to speed up, heat up, and just generally get more intense. Fnatic, after a disastrous group stage, have managed to steady the ship and they continue their TI6 by eliminating Alliance. Liquid, in a similar situation as Fnatic, do the same by eliminating Newbee. Meanwhile, Wings makes it look almost easy against MVP, while EG stops EHOME and knocks them down the lower

DSNF_20160811_163519.jpg

EHOME contemplate

bracket.

In all of these matchups, I think, the importance of momentum — and being able to maintain it, and ride it, and harness it — is shown as exceedingly important in modern day Dota. Fnatic and Liquid both were on upwards trajectories by winning their BO1s, while their opponents, having fallen from upper bracket would have been stuttering a bit. Wings, on the other hand, simply maintained what worked for them (which was everything, in an all-around kind of way, I guess). As for EHOME, they lost game 1 in a ‘no one has ever come back from mega creeps at TI’ kind of way, taking all of their momentum out and never looked like winning game 2.

So the importance of maintaining momentum, or being able to manipulate it and stopping someone else’s momentum, seems to be an overarching and important undertone this TI…

The actual atmosphere in Key Arena for TI6 these few days has been intense. Angry? The atmosphere is electric, a silly — or perhaps overused description — but it’s apt? Maybe. There’s an energy, but it’s more of an aggressive one. There’s an edge to this tournament. Not simply electric, but more like… fiery.

After Wings beat MVP, they come down from the stage, and backstage they’re just yelling

DSNF_20160810_182453.jpg

Wings

at — and with — each other. Memorably, there’s an outright joy and brightness about their energy. It’s as if the weight of the tournament, and the expectations and hopes — both their own and fans’ — aren’t there. I’m sure it’s all there, but the way they carry themselves… They’re laughing about the things that happened in the games they’ve just played, they’re making jokes about each other, and for them it’s actually like they’re just playing a game, like they can’t see the cameras all around them, that they can’t hear the fans screaming, the tournament admins’ serious faces, that they can’t feel the ever-mounting pressure from back home in China as more and more people are labelling them “The Wings that protect Chinese Dota”…

End of day, and this is the halfway mark for the main event. Including the group stage, this is more than two thirds of the entire thing, and I realize I have barely really been able to catch up with some old faces. I come across Yao at Boiling Point in Bellevue, a hot pot place, with Nic — the LGD manager. We talk a bit, about streams and whatnot. I ask Yao why he’s not finishing his food, and he’s saying “just look at me!” And he points at his belly. He’s like, it’s time for me to work out. Then we reminisce a bit about when I first saw him… that would be at TI2, when I was only there as a fan. “Didn’t you think I was really good-looking, and really good, back then?” Yeah! Yeah…We share some laughs and it’s a nice way to unravel from the extreme energies swirling in the air at Key Arena.

Later back at the hotel, Sylar is coming downstairs. He’s there to meet someone, who told him he would be there. That person is Yao, who is still walking back from the restaurant — so Sylar stands around a bit and we talk about who’s gotten more Crimson Witness item drops at the venue so far. It’s easily Sylar who’s gotten more (6 in three days). A few minutes later Yao is still nowhere to be seen, so Sylar goes outside to wait for him, and upon not seeing him anywhere he loudly exclaims to the night sky, “This guy is always doing this to me!!!”

Thursday August 11

Fnatic win, eliminating Liquid. I can’t really feel too happy about any result anymore, as I’ve gotten to know a lot of the players on a lot of teams and in the end when one team wins, another loses — so one side continues their dream and the other one has to postpone their dreams to next year, or for some, to another place altogether as TI is never a given for anyone. Still, I see Mushi later and he high fives me, and I’m still happy for him…

Ultimately LaNm’s request that I watch all their games comes to naught as they lose to DC in successive games and end their TI: I do watch their games as I’m on deck to do the post-match interview if they win, but they don’t win.

DSC01946.JPG

Mix of players

Then the All-star match happens, and I have no idea what’s going on and I think a lot of players don’t know either. It’s not bad though — everyone just kind of hangs out and converses, mingles. For some moments, it’s another of those windows where it feels like an ‘eye of the storm’, so many players are gathered together in one spot and ever so briefly they don’t quite need to worry about matches, or reflect on defeat.

All of Wings are at the venue today even though they aren’t playing at all — except for shadow, who is supposed to be in the All-star match. In the end he wasn’t really needed there either, so they all leave together once he’s done.

DSC01989.JPG

Wings unity

I also see lots of LGD at the venue due to the all-star match, and towards the end of the day, Jeremy Lin is hanging out with them in front of their room. They’re chatting in Chinese and it seems pretty lighthearted. Jeremy says to them, if you’re ever in New York let me know and they’re like yeah. It seems like xiao8 is at this point pretty familiar with Jeremy Lin; it’s just a cool scene in general, when stars from different sports come together. Kinda like the Olympics, which are on-going concurrently with TI6.

At night, a bunch of LGD are eating at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We come across them as we’re also searching for a late night dinner. It seems fans are everywhere this night, everywhere we go we see Dota fans — all across Bellevue. It’s iceiceice and us, and we go to eat some ramen/curry instead of waiting what looks like an hour at the Chinese restaurant. It’s okay — better than waiting that long, anyway.

We talk about the games and stuff… I mention that for their second game against DC, they could’ve picked Invoker instead of Lifestealer. Safelane Invoker… iceiceice thinks it would’ve worked too. He suggests Spectre could’ve been better as well. Well, anything better than Lifestealer really. But in that kind of pressure, people lose the boldness to try different things, or something. iceiceice remarks, “Oh yeahhh I’m TI 6th place. I’m better than a lot of people!!”

It’s one of the more eventful overall days, not the least because the main event is more than halfway over, and the majority of participants are actually eliminated. So while some people will be in their rooms thinking about where it went wrong, others will be out ready to forget. The hotel is abuzz with activity as players, talents, and more are milling about, going in and out.

 

Friday August 12

On the way to Key Arena this morning, I sat next to 71. Talked a little bit about the EHOME loss, and this TI. “Sigh, forget about it. The thoughts are all tears” They could’ve gone further, it wasn’t really meant to be, I guess.

Wings win again, giving the best possible response to a tweet that was, to put it lightly, poorly received in the Chinese community.

Without such a tweet, though, the narrative would’ve been a little less intense. So I don’t think of it as a negative. Sometimes you say something and it works out, other times it doesn’t, but it’s all part of the sport — or esport — as a whole.

Jpeg

Chinese panel during TI6

Either way, Wings wins again and I’m hearing people around me, myself included, mentioning this team as one of the best, and most dynamic teams since Team DK. They’re like what DK would have been if they could’ve conquered themselves. What other team has plain and simply styled on opponents in such dominant fashion, playing their own game and forcing others to not only come along for the ride, but to watch helplessly as the passengers on a one-way trip to their own defeat? DK at its peak, perhaps that month surrounding that Starladder run… and then it’s Wings. But Wings is going further than DK at this point; they deserve their own conversation now, when maybe just six months prior hardly anyone had heard of them.

Saturday August 13

Wings win. They’re the mercurial yet utterly invincible underdog-turned-destroyer that in many minds is the most deserving TI champion ever. In a meta where teams are closer than ever, they manage to look like they’re a level above everyone else.

Wings win. They’re laughing, boisterous. The crowd is insane. In this timeline, the entire world is in this arena, and this arena is the world at that moment. Or at least, all the energy is there, concentrated. If there’s an alien race somewhere out there silently monitoring our little civilization, their equipment is suddenly lighting up with extreme levels of human emotion, energy. And then it releases — with the pyrotechnics and smoke, and confetti and applause, and echoing screams of “Wings, Wings, Wings!” it gradually permeates into the warm Seattle night… into the skies.

DSC09960.JPG

Wings take flight

The Wings players are all smiles, but practically speaking, they don’t seem much different than after any other match they’ve played. Most of them are too young to even drink, so they don’t even bother coming to the afterparty.

DSC09978The afterparty is a blur. It’s a loud bunch of haze and noise, punctuated by meaningful encounters with people I’d been meaning to catch up with. If only for a fleeting moment — Kuroky, Jerax, FATA… I come across Jerax, and we’re chatting about travelling and Finland and Finnish (perkele) when FATA comes over, kicks a cup on the ground so it rolls through Jerax’s legs, and then celebrates. It’s a nutmeg and FATA is now 1-0 up, but Jerax just smiles like ‘look at this kid’. Some of EHOME have shown up, they’re playing on some random Wii Us that are for some reason set up. Fly and Evany are there, as are most (I think all?) of OG. We catch up a bit, but the night is too short and moments are fleeting.DSC09986

Kotlguy talks about the matches and meta of the tournament, seemingly still shining with the aura of the analyst panel that he so expertly anchored. Sylar is there, wandering around, a bit bored but still there, because as I reflect to him, “It just kind of feels right to end the event with something, something like this afterparty. It’s nice to have a start and an end to things.”

DSC09983.JPG

Sylar

Towards the end of the party — which is too long and too short at the same time — I catch up a bit with various people, guys from BTS, random players, production crew people… all appreciated. I grab Kuroky for what I feel like is a tradition post-event now: a picture with him. I don’t really know why or how but it’s just something, and we share the sincerest of well-wishes and ‘see you next times’ and then the afterparty is kicking everyone out.

A few of us, iceiceice, Black, Nutz… we go and get some late late food. The chatter is idle sometimes and at other times irreverent. We’re all tired, probably, but there’s some energy in the way that only happens when you know you’re finally done with a really gruelling task and you can relax again. Everyone agrees that Wings are really strong. More comparisons are drawn to 2014 DK.

Back at the hotel, a small crowd is still outside in the smoking area, hanging out. It’s well past 3AM by now but the energy of the tournament still lingers as I head upstairs. Not to sleep immediately, but to reflect, and to write some of this down.

Sunday August 14

Sharon of Valve, our translators’ main liaison this year, along with Ronald (also of House Valve) takes us out to lunch. We go to Kizuki ramen, which is nice because hot noodles and soup is always nice during or after these events. And it’s also nice just because it’s nice.

Then it’s back to the hotel, where there’s still work to be done despite the actual event being over. I help Wings do tax info, as it’s their entire team’s first time in the US (they stayed after TS5).

DSNF_20160814_161220.jpg

Rings for Wings

Wings get measured for rings. People are chatting about random stuff in their training room, earlier this year Wings were trying to get some media attention for their players. Media outlets in China were saying that Wings would have to pay them to get featured in any interview… 10k RMB at that. Now the same outlet is messaging their manager nonstop, asking for interviews, and he’s like “I’m not even gonna respond”.

The weather outside is a blazing sun, but Fenrir’s out there again just hanging out. It’s his third TI and I think he’s become much more one with the whole tournament life, going with the flow of things sometimes. He asks me to go to a bench and we sit there, just talking about stuff. Nothing really of import. He talks about 3DS games, how he’s been playing Pokemon.

We’re bored so we think to go over to Seattle and do something, so Fenrir, Black, Tiffany, and I go and first we go to karaoke at Fenrir’s suggestion. I’ve heard that he’s a good

DSNF_20160814_184404.jpg

Karaoke

singer, but he’s actually quite good, and he’s like “See, this can be my second job” and I think it’s not implausible.

Then we go to an internet cafe because Fenrir wants to play battle cup, but we miss the deadline so we just play unranked pubs. We lose our first game, then Fenrir says “I gotta get fighting heroes.” he picks Earth Spirit, Black picks Pudge, and the two of them roam the entire map killing people and every time they kill someone or win a fight, they go “wa caoooooo (哇操~)” which is kinda like going “fuck yeaaaaaaa” but in a really silly voice. It’s funny, and we win despite me not doing much of import in any of the games, but it’s cool because Fenrir teleported to save me in lane and gank my lane, and Black left me to die once but he was like “sorrrrrrryyyyy”

Monday August 15

This is the day that most everyone leaves, and I’m down at the hotel lobby in the morning to say bye to people and also make sure people don’t need anything, etc. I think it’s here that I find Matumbaman too, and I briefly chat with him about pesapallo, that Finnish version of baseball, before he’s leaving to the airport too.

I talk with Mind_Control, who’s just sitting around. We talk a bit about TI, how he’s made it here this year and that was his dream, but now he wants to win more. We talk about football (his fav is FC Barcelona), how he used to play, and how Dota came and now he doesn’t play anymore. The old days of Dota, how we got into it and things from the past. It

DSC00005.JPG

This is from the afterparty but whatever

was a really fun chat on that morning in the hotel lobby. As he’s finally leaving on one of the later shuttles to the airport, he goes, “Let’s make a soccer team next time!” Kuro’s getting on the same shuttle and he gives me a hug and then they’re on their way.

A lot of the Chinese teams have left already in previous days — some home, some to a short vacation somewhere.

People are trickling away, each half hour taking another group to the airport on their way to somewhere else. To Finland, Bulgaria, Canada, SoCal, Sweden, Germany, and of course, China. It’s really amazing that a game has brought so many people and so many forces together, and it’s even more amazing what TI manages to achieve and show every year.

Thanks to all at Valve, everyone at the venue, all the teams, players, fans, and really just everyone. This year and always, it’s been a pleasure. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts.

You can follow me at
http://twitter.com/Dotaland or http://twitter.com/AutumnWindz

DSC09992.JPG

The Summit 4 in my view

Another tournament, another writeup! TS4 took place in December 2015, and was a lot of fun and went by entirely too quickly as as result. Here’s a glimpse into the behind the scenes from my point of view…

Tues Dec 8

After an early morning flight, we’re in Ontario airport in Southern California once again.

Right away we’re shuttled off to BTS house – it’s a new house and significantly roomier, though it is further away from Ontario airport (with the tradeoff that it is closer to LAX, which means everyone flying in

Jpeg

Southern Californiaaaaa

internationally gets a shorter trip from airport to house, which is nice). Once I get to the house, I’m informed that I’m needed for an interview, done with theScore esports (where I am behind the camera and their guys later transcribe/subtitle things based on what I say) first with LaNm and then with old chicken. LaNm seems to grow, or evolve, with each event I see him at, and he just seems to be more and more comfortable with the camera, media, and whatever gets thrown at him. Kinda the veteran aura, I guess. When he first sees me, he stares me down a bit then grins his big grin when he’s laughing, and then he actually laughs and we greet each other before we go to his interview where I’m translating for him…

Next up is old chicken, whom I’ve never met before, and who hasn’t been to that many events before either. Despite his relative newness, he doesn’t seem nervous, but nonetheless his answers in his interview are kind of short, though it’s more because it seems like he just doesn’t think he needs to say much more. Yet he’s always giving his answers with a kind of smirk on his face like he thinks something is really funny. This was the guy that, after all, made a joke about Chinese Dota being dead on stage at the Frankfurt Major.

After that, media day requirements for EHOME are done and they split off to their own thing. Some of them go shopping, the EHOME coach 71 wants to go get a tattoo of the EHOME logo on his shoulder: “This is something I’ve thought about for a long time now, and it is something I want to do”. EHOME has been his project and, well, home in esports for the greater part of a decade now and his words seem reasonable as I help him figure

2015-12-09 12.13.06

New kids on the block

out the logistics of it all over the phone later that afternoon…

 

What follows is some relatively carefree catching up with various people through the day – KotLguy says hi and we chat about his recent travels and work in Dota: “I do like hosting, but I also like casting because that’s what really rewards me for doing my research on the game and knowing about things.” Winter wants to go bowling again (callback to the time we went bowling with some of DK during TI4…), LD says hey buddy! in his usual friendly way, Slacks already wants me to help him with a completely goofy but somehow interesting interview with kaka and 71 of EHOME, I congratulate Kuro on his Defence win and Fly on his Frankfurt win…

The completely unserious interview that Slacks had me help him with was one where I would marginally ‘teach’ him how to ask certain questions directly in Chinese, and the interviewees would answer to the best of their ability based on what they thought they would be hearing out of Slacks’ mouth. In the end I don’t think this piece aired because it probably doesn’t transition very well at all onto a stream, but it was kind of funny seeing 71 and kaka from EHOME trying to figure out what Slacks would ask. One question was “Do you wanna go to the zoo?” and after some deliberating they thought it meant something to do with food, or something…

Jpeg

The crown prince and the emperor

Then VG arrives for their media day stuff. While filling out forms, VG’s players do absolutely nothing and leave it all to their poor manager JaL, who to his great credit, has all of their relevant bank and personal information on hand to fill in for them. When he asks them to double check it, even when he warns them that he might have certain things incorrect, they all tell him “no need! we trust you!” Instead, they spend all their free time playing, as usual, free to play mobile games that are more pay2win than they are free to play. Asking some of them how much they’ve spent on some of these games, and the figures are relatively obscene.

Then it’s nighttime and the sun has set, and we head back to the hotel.

Jpeg

A bright ending

EHOME guys want to eat, and of course they want to find some Chinese food. The only place within walking distance is a Mongolian Grill place, and they have fun putting together their dishes and having the cooks there cook it up, marvelling at the cooks’ skill in sweeping the ready food in one swoop off the grill onto their bowls. At the table, chatter is boisterous and loud as is often is, with LaNm and 71 going at each other with casual banter and insults: “shabi!” rings out frequently and it’s just as well that we’ve gone to the restaurant near closing hour, as their shenanigans threaten to disturb no one else as we are the only customers still there. The topics vary widely but with some guys it seems topics often run backwards in time, and LaNm and 71 spend a good part of the night reminiscing about old players they’ve interacted with: Ksss, xiaot, and so on…

2015-12-08 19.58.25

EHOME eating

Weds Dec 9

VG 2-1 VP, then VG 2-1 OG. Games are close and relatively interesting, where BurNIng in particular plays well. For post game interviews, it’s relatively hard to get them to come out for interviews – VG often plays a game of ‘let’s push the interview onto someone else’ until someone inevitably shouts that everyone will have to do an interview at some point so putting it off today just means you have to do it tomorrow, and then Super gets to do an interview. This kind of thing has been happening to Super since his time with DK at TI3, at the least. (Back during TI3 they even tried to send their manager before finally Super was the one forced into an interview)

After their matches, iceiceice notices the shirt I have on and goes, “whoa. Nice shirt.” It’s a DK iceiceice shirt and it is indeed a nice shirt!

Attach2703

This pic is from later but that’s the shirt and that’s the iceiceice

Thurs Dec 10

 

EHOME go first against Liquid, and before the match they’re just chilling. Half of them are watching random Chinese streams and the chat. There’s some girl streamer that some of them are currently particularly infatuated with. Kaka is practicing his Wisp and 71 points at him and says “professional wisp”. Hah. They see old chicken’s pose on the BTS stream and all laugh at him for a minute while LaNm and CTY run down to imitate the pose on the camera downstairs by borrowing Tiffany’s glasses for the task.

2015-12-10 14.08.53.jpg

Teaching moments

EHOME lose and afterwards LaNm is immediately loading up the replay and gathering his players around him to debrief, pointing out everything he sees as the other players listen… “Come here and watch the replay!” is the command and the rest of them obediently gather around their captain.

 

VG went shopping in the day because iceiceice made his team promise to go shopping with him if they won on the previous day. Fenrir has a Gengar t-shirt on and I say that’s my favorite Pokemon, and he says hey, me too! The rest of them lounge around, except for BurNIng who is apparently shopping some more on his own (shopping addict). Fy and I play some Pro Evo Soccer, but evidently according to Fy, Benzema is imba and after two games Fy calls it quits in the face of laughter from their manager JaL, who finds it funny seeing Fy lose.

2015-12-10 15.41.33

Another Summit, more Pro Evo..

Later there is an iceiceice cast in which he pretends to be muted for the first minutes, but isn’t actually muted.

2015-12-10 18.59.28

Heh

Fri Dec 11

On the way to the house this morning, we’re riding with VG. They are discussing their respective ages, with BurNIng wondering if he should be considered 27 or 28. “My mom calls me and always tells me I’m 28 now,” he says somewhat resignedly. That’s kind of old, especially in esports, but I’m thinking that these guys are all mostly younger than I am anyway so what are they complaining about? I think, honestly, age doesn’t and shouldn’t really matter as much in Dota. As an entire generation of players are growing older, and perhaps finally realizing that they needn’t force themselves to retire (we ended TI5 without nearly any premature retirement announcements, after all), we may see a lot of these players going on into their 30s.

Jpeg

Captain LaNm

After their match against DC, EHOME present LaNm for the post-match interview on the couch. After that, there’s another interview with theScore esports, and it’s once again LaNm. I comment that he sure does get interviewed a lot, especially on this team. Compared to when he was on DK, it’s a lot more interviewing, but his role in both teams has always been pivotal – it’s just that with EHOME he is much more visible because he’s surrounded by newer players that are still learning to come into their own in the scene…

Late afternoon and some of the VG guys want a snack, so Grace makes them some chicken nuggets in the oven. Fenrir eats, by his own admittance, probably 50% of the entire tray of chicken nuggets and announces that he is the “chicken killer” because

2015-12-10 19.19.32

\o/

he loves eating chicken.

 

At night, it’s the Gang Beasts tournament, which was pretty hilarious even though it had little to do with any of the other happenings at TS4. Tiffany wins it all in the end, and a few of us do in fact go to In-N-Out afterwards.

Sat Dec 12

Kaka wonders how much a house around LA costs, and 71 says, “after you move here I’ll come visit you, and I’ll tell you to come pick me up at the airport but you have to come in a helicopter, cuz I don’t wanna be seeing any plain old car picking me up.” I wonder aloud if kaka has a rich family or something, but it remains unclear whether or not he does, as at first he strongly denies it, but then later thinks that spending 50 euros on a single cigar isn’t necessarily expensive at all. I’m no expert in modern cigar pricing but I think that’s kind of a premium level price for one. Or maybe it’s ‘esports inflation’: everyone in the scene is making a lot nowadays?

The EHOME guys are pretty casually getting themselves into the atmosphere of their big match against OG, or rather, it would seem the match isn’t that much more important to them than an average match. After all, LaNm has said that they still need to grow a lot as a team and their newer guys are still undergoing that process. According to their coach, he already briefed them on what they needed to know last night and so today he isn’t going to be doing anything additional – a pretty large contrast with the high pressure world of an International, for example.

Jpeg

The King of Fighters

They’re playing classic King of Fighters, LaNm vs eLeVeN, but LaNm loses pretty much every single game yet they continue playing for an hour. Seeing a Lycan in the Liquid vs VP matchup, CTY pipes up that his Lycan would be most excellent in this situation, claiming that he’d build Blink Dagger and Vladmirs – to which the rest of his team laughs at him heartily.

RTZ and 71 chat upstairs on the balcony – RTZ says “why’s CTY so crazy? control your players!!”, specifically mentioning CTY’s TA in an earlier game and 71 laughs and says, “it’s okay, he just wants to play aggressive… mostly”

Later in the evening, after EHOME has lost to OG, iceiceice and Fenrir show up, and seeing some EHOME guys in the kitchen, iceiceice quickly points and laughs at 71. 71 feigns outrage but iceiceice points out that EHOME had done the same to VG when they had lost in Frankfurt, and soon the next match is underway.

2015-12-12 17.45.35-2

Yes hello

Everyone chatters animatedly while watching the VP-OG matchup. At one point Fenrir is talking about iceiceice’s Night Stalker from the day before: “One minute after the game starts, we hear from his part of the room – oi! I can’t play anymore! Help!!” and 71 points out that every time they put iceiceice solo against Universe, he gets owned, and furthermore laughs at VG’s decision to put a Night Stalker solo against a Brood at all.

Upstairs, the rest of EHOME are on practice PCs just hanging out again, with LaNm feverishly practicing King of Fighters alone while eLeveN has been downstairs watching the games with us. Observing the two of them playing King of Fighters again later, LaNm still loses far more than he wins but his enthusiasm remains throughout.

At night back at the hotel, we’re going again to get In-N-Out and EHOME’s 71 and LaNm decide to come along too after hearing that

2015-12-12 22.13.38

More In-N-Out

In-N-Out is a California classic and staple of the local scene. While waiting for 71 to get ready, LaNm is playing some Hearthstone on his phone – he plays it very casually, he says, and he’s running what he calls an unorthodox deck so if he loses, it doesn’t matter, and if he wins then it’s funny.

 

True to his attitude towards the game, when 71 is ready we leave the hotel right away and thus LaNm loses connection to the hotel wifi and disconnects from his current Hearthstone match without a worry about ranking or record. On the way to, during the meal, and then on the way back the two of them are chattering about Dota and their team. These two are the masters and veterans of the team by far and there’s a steady strategic strand to their conversations as they flutter from one topic to another, never straying far from how everything relates back to their team’s performances and status.

Sun Dec 13

It’s the last day of the tournament, and by the time I’ve found a spot in the house to comfortably watch the first series, VG are already one game down. Before long, they’re two games down – and thus out, and so they head out to the back yard behind the house where they spend an hour and a half wanderingly discussing, and debating what went wrong while Fy kicks a soccer ball around next to them.

fy

Fy

I join him for a bit here and there, but mostly it’s to enjoy the California sunshine and get some fresh air. Then VG want to leave the house – some want to go back to the hotel, others I hear are going to the stores, or the casino, or something or other. Iceiceice is, almost as always, the only one of them to stay behind… so we hang out for a while in kitchen, bullshitting about this and that, here and there. When VP finally loses a game, ice remarks “VP’s on cooldown now..” and unfortunately for them, their CD ended up being really long and the night ended, again, with EG taking the title.

Iceiceice casts one of the games, but not before he tries to say that he’ll only cast if I cast (???), which came after he said that he would solo cast in both Chinese and English (a much better idea).

The night at the house winds down gradually but happily. Iceiceice and I play some Gangbeasts at some point, where we team up against the two other players and basically wreck them, which was fun because for once I wasn’t going against everyone else in the game.😛 And then someone turned off the fun stream… so, sorry stream. I hope you guys had some fun when the stream was actually active, which I think it got more active as the week went on.

Jpeg

Enjoying the end

In the late evening it pours down rain rather uncharacteristically aggressively for Southern California, and after the rain stops we’re ready to head back to the hotel. I make a round around the house to say my thanks and goodbyes – Kuroky wonders if I’ll be at the Shanghai Major, to which I reply “maybe.” He goes, “come on man, don’t give me maybe” I ask him if he’ll be there, and he’s like…. “maybe.” So I point out that “maybe” is a good word and he seems to agree, and he and I and a few others chat for a few minutes before I run off elsewhere in the house…

Back at the hotel, LaNm is enlisting my help to make a late evening trip to the store to help him find things he needs to buy for his new baby. And, well, apart from my ability to read English labels I’m (far) less well-versed than he is in baby-related things so we spend a while looking for stuff at the store but mostly get everything that he needs. On the walk back, he looks up and seems surprised: “are those stars?! I haven’t seen those for years in China.” Thus the conversation lands for a while on the topic of air quality in China, or the complete lack of any sort of quality thereof.

2015-12-13 22.30.52

LaNm buying stuff for his kid

Afterwards the topic changes: “Wow, I think a Chinese team hasn’t won a LAN since D2L Season 5…” I believe he’s right, or close to it. LaNm goes on, “But time eventually changes things, so after a long enough time even the best can become the worst.” Back at the hotel, we bid our good nights and thus another Summit comes to an end.

Mon Dec 14

EHOME and VG are scheduled to leave the hotel at 8:30 in the morning to head to LAX for their flights, so we go down to the lobby around that time to send them off and make sure everything goes smoothly for them.

Goodbyes are exchanged, everyone says “See you in Shanghai!” even though I don’t know if I’m going to Shanghai or not, and it’s a long ways away anyway.

Summit 4 was undeniably a success, amazingly well-run, and overall just a smooth experience. As BurNIng says, it’s an iconic tournament at this point, the fun-filled foil to TI and the Majors in some ways, but in production value and competition it doesn’t lose out at all. All in all, I have to once again send my thanks and appreciation to everyone at the event that made it happen. Every Summit is the best yet but somehow you guys manage to keep upping the standard. So thank you to everyone at BTS for putting on another great show, and thanks for having me at these events.

Thanks for reading.

2015-12-12 17.11.18

 Follow Dotaland on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Dotaland

EHOME coach 71’s thoughts on the Majors, and coaches in Dota

The original Chinese version of his thoughts were sent to me via email. A Chinese version has also been published here: http://dota2.replays.net/news/page/20150810/1949948.html

TI is a a hallowed stage, and it is always the greatest event in each year. The players are treated like gods, spectators enjoy a live experience bordering on NBA-quality.

As a coach it is very difficult to be able to say anything that influences the game’s balance changes, or to have input in just exactly how transfer regulations and substitute player rules are set. Indeed, it’s only now – the 4th time I’ve been at a TI that I’ve finally gotten an International jacket that has my ID on it, and gotten a chance for a collective media interview (and unfortunately, because of the first question I ended up spending 3 minutes, or more, sobbing like a criminal being interrogated). So even though the coach position isn’t seen as that important with Valve and some clubs, I still want to say some things, and hopefully connect with those that agree with us as coaches.

First of all, you should know that coaches can have a very large amount of work both in and out of the game – a coach in many cases also acts as a team’s team lead and statistician. He needs every player to show up to practice on time, show up to matches on time, and hopes that the players can understand the style you’ve set for them. Creative drafts, offensive tactics, defensive must-knows, etc, etc, etc.

Our work can allow matches to become smoother, more pleasing to watch. In some ways, a game can be a fight between two coaches. But you must understand, in reality during a game, we as coaches have no idea how the players are communicating inside the booth, where problems may arise – whether it’s a mistake of the team in reading a situation, or lack of detail from an individual? I can only go off experiences collected from practices and make guesses, constructing the scenarios in my head. For every one of EHOME’s matches at TI, our team lead and I would sit backstage next to the players’ entrance to the stage and watch on a screen there: one printout map to record warding positions, another piece of paper to write down the opposition’s weaknesses and the types of adjustments they make, one more to record our own mistakes, and one last one with my thoughts on how I want us to adjust our style and draft.

At TI, there are only five minutes between games during a match. This includes the time given to use the restroom, so I have to stand next to the entrance and await the players, and shout over the live venue noise in order to relay the information I have recorded on the four pieces of paper during the previous game. Additionally I must control my speech tempo and emotions, I cannot give them pressure when they’ve just lost, or allow them to loosen up if they’ve just won. During these five minutes, Valve’s staff will also remind me to not touch the players at all as a rule. I’m unclear on what other teams’ coaches do as their work, because the two teams use different entrances, but I truly feel that in all this the amount that I can help the team is much too little.

How much I’d hoped, that at that moment IceFrog would walk through that corridor and see the imagery of that scene. See the look on my face when Josh told me that it might be best to hide those four pieces of paper, to prevent them being inadvertently filmed…

From 2003 when I first began coaching in Counterstrike, to today, it’s been 12 years (TI3 I took a break for the ACE Alliance). Many people will only say that in 2010 when EHOME won ESWC we had six people, and six versus five is lame on our part. Then you really should have checked out ESWC’s Counterstrike competition every year – they would always give me a computer, a Steelseries noise-cancelling headset with six meter extension cable for me to watch and give commands to the team. To this day I remember that, and the level of respect that came with it. Any and every professionalized competitive discipline has coaches, so I don’t believe that this is a pure 5v5 game. Teams that lack a coach should work to fill this void, or groom someone for the role. This is something they should be doing.

After TI5, we’re about to see the beginning of the Majors system. Valve will be giving every team two substitutes on the roster, so I want to know will these two players be free for coaches to swap in and out of any given game? Can we make subs in between games during a given match against another team? I believe that this is an interesting experiment, because like this, two teams and the competition between them has another added layer of considerations and it becomes even more difficult to counter and plan for an opponent. Matches will have even more variables, leading to even more exciting competition. But if this is only to try and prevent poaching of players and team-hopping, I do not believe it will be truly effective, and could even lead to teams eating themselves from inside (waste of talent).

I can imagine how much IceFrog and Valve love their child (Dota 2), I can imagine the looks of disappointment on their faces when the TI4 finals manifested in the form of a half hour push and push-defense game. But I would like you to listen a bit to this one coach’s words. Dota is also our child, or at least – I have fought for it for six years now, I hope to truly participate in it, be a part of it, and receive that respect.

The International 2015 in my view

The International 2015 (TI5) took place from late July 2015 through August 8 2015. Like previous TIs before it, it broke existing records for being the largest tournament in esports history. Once again, I had the unparalleled privilege of being behind the scenes and involved in many ways. I’d like to share the experience, or at least slivers of the experience as I can remember and write down.

This is TI5 from my point of view…

July 22 (Weds)

The entirety of TI5 group stages and media days took place at the Westin Seattle this year. In previous years it had been a combination of either moving from Westin Bellevue to Seattle after group stage, or simply shuttling teams from Bellevue to Seattle each day (as was the case at TI3). The pros of this were that it was easier logistically, and it also seemed that more

Info booklet for 2015

space was available at Westin Seattle as we took over practically three entire floors during the group stage. The cons were that it seemed like most players I spoke to preferred Bellevue a little more – either due to closer proximity to what they deemed to be better shopping (Bellevue Square, etc), or somewhat quieter surroundings.

Walking into the hotel building that morning a wave of familiarity washed over me – hotels tend to have a distinct smell and ‘feel’ and having spent much time at the Westin Seattle last year for TI4, I was immediately brought back to some of those moments. Running into BurNIng in the lobby, talking to rOtK late at night… but this was 2015 and as much as things felt the same all of a sudden, things would be different.

July 23 (Thurs)

Equipment set up day. LaNm has spilled coffee on one of his keyboards, but Helen, I think, has manged to fix it with some canned air. EHOME’s carry YJ (zyf), in his rush to get his settings straight for recording onto the SSDs that Valve uses, speaks in Chinese to a

non-Chinese speaking Valve staff. Not just a bit either, but a couple full sentences, and then he pauses waiting for a response before his team makes fun of him “This guy is real talent” “I bet when he sleeptalks tonight, he’ll be wondering why the guy didn’t understand him”

The other part of the story being that YJ is a prolific sleeptalker, and his topics are quite specific as well: He’s playing Dota in his dreams and his sleeptalking is making shot calls in game. According to their coach 71, once he shouted, “I’ve ulted them! I’ve got 4 of them in my ult! 5 actually!!!! I have Mask of madness, I’m going in!!” 71 then told me that the next morning he asked YJ whether he was playing Void in his dreams, and YJ incredulously asked how?? How did you know?!

Very helpful schedules in the booklet

And that’s when it became apparent to him that he’s got a sleeptalking problem.

Anyway, the EHOME team policy since then has been to room the member of the team least likely to be affected by a loss of sleep with YJ – and at TI that meant their poor team manager.

The rest of the day went similarly, as teams got around their jetlag, became settled in their settings, and went for their scheduled equipment setup times. In between, people ran around asking each other for scrims – I helped Newbee and a few other teams coordinate a couple times, but at the same time teams declining scrims were nearly as common as teams working to set them up. I won’t pretend to understand the reasoning/logic behind all this though; I only tried to help as an intermediary on occasion.

Being someone who’s lived in Seattle for quite some years, I’ve become a ‘local expert’ as people are asking me where they can buy certain things, where they can find X type of food, how to get to places, etc. Through the event, two places in particular in Chinatown became heavy favorites with the Chinese players: Hong Kong Bistro, and a Sichuanese restaurant called Seven Star Pepper that was praised as being ‘very authentic’.

Having had their visas slightly delayed, iG only arrived this morning. Yet by the evening, two of them had still yet to get a room arranged at the hotel. BurNIng appears in the lobby alongside ChuaN, who quickly spots me and shouts out “Hi!” I figure out their purpose for being downstairs, and we finally get BurNIng his room and room cards, he’s obviously a bit tired and walks back off to the elevator with a thanks and a “I’ll be heading upstairs, then.” The Westin Seattle is beyond booked out for most of the duration of TI5 so I suppose the room that had been assigned to BurNIng hadn’t yet been cleared when they first arrived in the morning.

July 24 (Friday)

Newbee having some fun before the serious business begins

This is the first day of real TI5-related stuff happening for Chinese teams: media day. Interview material is filmed in bulk today, with Kaci doing the interviews with Western teams, while long-time Chinese commentator BBC handles the Chinese side of things. For each player profile video or interview that was aired during the main event, there was probably 5-10 times more in terms of raw footage shot and worked with, maybe more.

Anyway, it’s another relatively light-hearted day as the Chinese teams arrive down at the media room one by one for their scheduled time slots. Compared to previous years, it felt as if the Chinese teams had loosened up somewhat, especially players that had had reputations for being introverted or closed off. Everyone seemed to have a good time in general. Perhaps with so many TIs having gone past already, with many of these players having experienced them, this would be normal – because as for many Chinese players, familiarity breeds a kind of comfort where they feel more at ease loosening up.

In the end, things go so smoothly that I’m able to work with the media people to move the schedule forward by over an hour and a half for the Chinese teams.

Which is all the better, because with the footage shot and ready for processing, one of my biggest projects during group stages was yet to come: subtitling for the videos of the Chinese teams and players. We have a small team of Chinese-English speakers available – one that seems to grow by a little bit each year (but probably not at the same rate that the content increases).

The only hiccup in the day was that xiao8, who was originally scheduled for an in-depth interview with BBC, had run off to grab lunch. I manage to get in touch with their manager Nicholas to reschedule, and it all works out. When he comes back to do his interview, I’m at work on subtitling videos already, and xiao8 sits behind me for some time watching and commentating my work. He’s with some LGD and CDEC players and they take turns trying to pronounce the English words I’m typing out for their subtitles. It’s an interview with BurNIng that they’re watching me work on, and they’re all like “wooo Big BurNIng!!”

Newbee.Banana admires their rings from TI4

Xiao8 asks me if I’ve done the one with him in it, “They came to my house to film! But I want to see it, you have it?” He’s enthusiastically asking about it, but before I’ve shown him it, it’s time for his interview and he’s whisked off to another floor.

At 7pm this night, it’s the traditional player’s dinner Valve holds each year before everything kicks off in earnest. This year it’s at Aqua on the Seattle waterfront. Once again it’s a chill atmosphere, and year-on-year there are more Chinese players coming compared to last year (while last year had more than the year before that), though the larger part of them still do not come, either preferring dinner elsewhere or whatnot. Some of Newbee come, and see their champions’ rings from the previous year. Apparently no one from iG makes it to the dinner, where their player jackets with IDs printed were distributed, and as I learn later, someone has stolen the ones with BurNIng and Ferrari_430 on them…

At the dinner, iceiceice keeps eating ahi tuna crisps, which are admittedly very good. Between him and myself, we probably eat a third of the crisps brought out. I chat with people randomly – Fly, Pyrion, Kotlguy, LD, Winter, Cyborgmatt, Merlini… Kotlguy asks me if I’m

At the player’s dinner, TI5

doing a writeup again, and here it is! They have some really old arcade machines setup at the restaurant set to free play mode: San Francisco Rush, some Simpsons game, some pinball machines.

The sun sets in a glorious blaze of red and orange as sunsets commonly are at this time of year in Seattle, and by 10pm I’m back at the hotel doing more subtitles. This time for a piece shot with CDEC’s shiki, who is decently well-spoken and quite laid-back for a first-timer at TI.

July 25 (Sat)

This is the first of two scheduled media days in which Valve requires every team to show up and make themselves freely available to gathered media outlets for around 1 hour during their timeslot. This year, media access has been very much limited compared to previous years, with media passes not being granted access to any of the areas that players would typically gather. Perhaps this is a reaction to the drama last year, characterized by one infamous incident in which a Chinese media outlet recorded and then posted, without permission, a video of DK’s draft and discussion during the

iG hang around during their media day slot

draft. A worthwhile consideration, if this was indeed what Valve had in mind – and the group stages were cleaner and less crowded/messy with fewer people milling around, I think.

The media day is essentially all day, so I am essentially there all day as well coordinating with the Chinese teams and making myself available to help with interviews as needed. As it turns out, only about a third of the media that would be present at TI5 were there at this media day as it was so early in the event, so things were very quiet with some teams arriving and leaving all within half an hour as there were no interviews to be had. Nonetheless, I had a good time as it was my first real chance to catch up with people – the media day requirement practically brought them all to me one by one, and so I could say hi one by one.🙂

EHOME interviewed by Chinese media

July 26 (Sun)

It’s Wild Card day, and CDEC prevail as most people thought they would. Chatting with others, though, I went one step further – my predictions for best Chinese teams at this TI were LGD, EHOME, and CDEC, with VG possibly figuring things out and making a good run later on. Not necessarily in that order, but even I was amazed at how the following days would turn

Ramen with Fnatic

out.

It’s Johnny of Fnatic’s birthday and for dinner I show them a nearby Japanese place. In Asian culture it is really customary for everyone to share everything that is ordered, practically, and they each help themselves to each other’s food as it arrives one by one. Ohaiyo orders an udon and keeps calling it ramen. Since it’s Johnny’s birthday, I put an extra gyoza on his plate and wish him “Happy birthday!” and he eats the gyoza and everyone laughs. Mushi asks for a wireless hotspot, then gets on his phone to play Hearthstone, while the rest of us chatter about random things. Of course, Black^ has tagged along.

It’s the last of the casual atmospheres, as the next day Group Stage for TI5 would officially start and by the time we’re back at the hotel, everyone has more serious faces on as they prepare to pack in for the night and get ready for the most important morning of their year.

July 27 (Mon)

It’s day one of Group Stage. One particularly noteworthy matchup was seeing LGD and Cloud9 play. After long, back and forth games, LGD comes out 2-0. As the teams come out of their respective rooms, EternalEnvy approaches xiao8, and they

Fucker!

shake hands and then hug. Envy shouts “fucker!!” but he has a giant grin on his face, they laugh and then it’s off to the next set of games.

Fnatic drop game one against Secret, but win game two in a convincing fashion. Mushi and the rest of the team come out of their room and head downstairs buoyantly. As they disappear down the escalator to the first floor, Mushi suddenly turns around, smiles at me and flashes a ‘peace’ with his hand.

Newbee plays their games, surprising perhaps some people in that they didn’t actually lose everything and looked like they belonged – but the truth is that they’ve been very hard at work and in the days leading up to TI from what I could tell, were probably in the top third of teams in terms of time and effort spent training.

VP and Newbee awaiting their respective matches

Later at night, EHOME comes to play their match against Empire. They’re early – and LaNm is raring to go even as their match room hasn’t been cleared from the previous round. Pre-game, their coach 71 drills them on key points, and then a team which features two of Chinese Dota’s brighter newcomers is once again on the big stage, carrying one of the most storied names in esports.

Finally, in MVP.Hot6 vs VG, the two coaches of the teams fighting it out come together – or perhaps, back together, as Black^ and 357 sit on the floor watching, at times practically rolling with laughter joking about the game. Even as the VG on-screen was much different, things off-screen felt like they may have just half a year prior – if only for a brief time. Before the match ended, the coaches were back off to their teams.

Old times

July 28 (Tues)

It’s another day of Group Stage, and things get a little more tense each day as results come out and stakes rise with each additional game. Still, after each day’s matches there is that tiny bit of time for loosening up, recharging, and strategizing for the next day.

Tonight I go to dinner with EHOME. In typical fashion – one that is standard to these two who are, and have always been

EHOME

leaders of their teams – LaNm and rOtK are shouting with each other about their latest matches. Note, they are shouting with each other – not against or at each other. The topics they agree on, their opinions largely match, and they are mostly supplementing each other as the other three players listen rather quietly while eating. They are essentially two trains heading in the same direction, but on different tracks, and the EHOME journey is picking up speed. Afterwards, EHOME decides to walk back to the hotel from Chinatown.

After I make absolutely certain they know the way and have people with them that can help if need be, I let them go and then head back to the hotel, as there is more work to be done with subtitling.

July 29 (Weds)

iG lose badly on this day. They leave together, but it is deadly, deadly quiet.

On the interviews and subtitling front, I’ve finished subtitles for all the pieces I’ve been working on and moved to reviewing other subs.

One of the few Chinese interviews with Hot_bid this year, we got Newbee’s Banana around lunchtime. It’s relatively more difficult to get Chinese players for these interviews due to various reasons, but I think a major goal of mine if I’m back next year is to try and work with them beforehand to set up more of these more fun interviews. They’re receptive to them nowadays – at least much more so than, say, in 2013 – but it’s all about actually having someone to work with them on it and make them comfortable, I think.

Banana is a big football (soccer) fan, and his favorite teams are Barca and Bayern. He’s supported Barca since he was little. Back in China in the late 90s and early 2000s, the only things on TV were Italian and Spanish leagues, with some German league games here and there. We chat football a while, as I also follow and play the sport a lot. His idol is Batistuta, has been since childhood, and his Steam profile picture has reflected as much since pretty much forever.

VG

CDEC rising, and I’ve started a mini CDEC fan club as we watch their games. Agressif is impressive, I say, and various pros all agree. EHOME do well, remaining one of the few teams to not have had a Best of 2 defeat yet.

Dinner again with EHOME, as they’ve invited me to come along. Later on, VG appears at the same restaurant and sit at the table next to us. Worker at the restaurant wonders – what are these teams? Upon being told they are Chinese teams playing at an international tournament, he raises his thumb and happily says “Go China!”

I don’t stay long, though, as there’s still work to be done back at the hotel with subtitling stuff. On the way out, I catch coach Mikasa of LGD and say hi. He’s here with just a friend, as LGD and CDEC have opted to simply get burgers from across the street from Westin, as they have matches early in the next day.

July 30 (Thurs)

It’s the last day of Group Stage, and the crunch for finishing player profile videos and content for the main event is here. Having finished making raw subs, I’m on subtitle review duty and spend half the day going through various things.

EHOME confirms upper bracket after an impressive Group Stage showing with a rising trajectory, while VG continue their struggles and barely fail to avoid lower bracket.

iG play early in the day against NaVi, a meaningless match at this point in time, but iG seem more relaxed and to be having more fun. ChuaN does the coin toss, and cheerfully comes back after winning it, announcing that “We won! The coin toss, I mean! But that means we also won the match!”

BurNIng gathers himself before iG vs NaVi

BurNIng sits quietly until suddenly, he exclaims, let’s do a cheer! But the other players point out that it’s not yet time to start the match, so BurNIng instead moves himself in the lobby to the top slot when he’s usually not, declaring “It’s time for a change of scenery.” A brief fight for the other slots ensues before BurNIng quickly rules, “Alphabetical order! Get in line!” Then he carefully counts the letters down in the alphabet, pausing slightly to separate Faith and Ferrari properly, and off they go into the match against NaVi.

This night we have dinner with Fnatic again, all the way off at Din Tai Fung in University Village. It’s an hour-long wait for a table there, so Mushi and Ohaiyo take the opportunity to buy some jewelry for their girlfriends all the way back home in Malaysia. At dinner we realize that 4 out of 5 of their players are the youngest in their families, and the remaining one, Kyxy, is second youngest. An interesting coincidence, I suppose.

July 31 (Fri)

Not much is planned for the day, as Group Stage has ended and the Main Event is a few days away with Valve carefully having planned some days of rest time in between. Some players are raring to go at it, but others appreciate the rest time – and I think all the staff working the event so far do too. I’ve been exhausted thus far with the long days of helping teams before, during, and after matches and then doing subtitling stuff in between (often into the late night) so I appreciate the rest time too.

Newbee Bugattis

After the intense, and somewhat unpredictable, Group Stages, the days in between always feel like an eye of the storm. Still, it’s a reprieve and almost everyone shows up enthusiastically to go to the scheduled Secret Shop early access day today. I’m one of the last to get through the early access Secret Shop line. Heading out, I find rOtK who is mysteriously standing by himself by the streetside, double fisting some Starbucks coffees. He’s got the Dota 2 sunglasses on, with a whimsical look on his face. Seeing me, he shouts “Hey Josh!!” and rushes over and hands me one of the coffees. “For you!!”

I ask him where his team is, and he shrugs casually and takes a sip of the coffee. Then he sits down and declares, “This coffee sucks! It’s bitter!” Apparently he’s ordered some straight up coffee when he was trying to get frappuccinos, and in the process his team has deserted him. Not one to let unfortunate circumstances get the best of him, he stands back up and asks me to take a picture of him on his phone with the coffee and sunglasses against another shining Seattle sunset as backdrop.

“Okay, let’s go then!” he gestures towards the last shuttle bus back to the hotel and the last few of us climb in.

Aug 3 (Mon)

The red carpet at TI5

After some peaceful rest days in which I try my best – and fail – at recovering from a pretty bad cold that I’ve caught during the Group Stage, the Main Stage arrives like a storm and the first day is hectic as everyone is getting to know their roles. I’m floating around helping the Chinese teams, not being needed just yet to do interviews with players. It’s a similar story to previous TIs for me, but the sheer scale of this TI means that things are just that much bigger, and I’m binging on vitamin C and cough medicine just to keep from being overwhelmed. Nonetheless, the cold is something I fight for the entirety of TI5.

LGD watching, and making fun of xiao8

LGD beats Empire, and CDEC take down C9. We’ve taken to calling CDEC ‘mini-LGD’, not because of their styles, but because they’ve both been so reliable this TI in results, plus they’re sister clubs. In Chinese they call CDEC ‘xiao-Gan Die’ which is practically the same meaning, but more clever in terms of pronunciations.

VG beats NaVi in a do-or-die situation, one which VG having been early favorites were unexpectedly found in. I’m backstage before the game begins and Fenrir looks back at me, smiles, and says “Come give me some energy!” and hugs me, nods, and a little bit later they’re off to compete with their tournament lives and hopes on the line.

Jeremy Lin is at the venue most of the day, and apart from appearing on stream in various capacities, he’s also just been hanging around watching the games. Towards the end of the day I catch him on the VIP suite level (shared with all the teams) and catch a picture with him – basketball is the most popular sport in China and I played through my middle school and high school years, so it was pretty exciting to meet an actual NBA player like that.

Jeremy Lin

Aug 4 (Tues)

I’m with EHOME while waiting for their match. ROtK is playing some Chinese rock music and singing along, “Let’s rock together~!!” and CTY joins in for a bit. After a while, they get hungry…

EHOME waiting

The delays mean they get to go hang out at the Valve lounge. LaNm and rOtK sleep for a while, the others mess around and try out the yogurt down there. After a while, LaNm wakes up and tells me, “Who can tell IceFrog to hire some Chinese chefs for the main event!??!” in a somewhat joking manner. “The food is always Western!!” Even though the food variety has been vastly improved since TI3, I suppose he means that even the Asian-inspired food is kind of Westernized, and he’s not completely wrong. I tell him he can, and he thinks about this knowledge before going back to making fun of 71 for something or another. The food today is Mediterranean and I suppose not to their tastes. Soon it’s time to head back to the waiting room for them, and back in the room even though the players seem relaxed, the pressure builds as Complexity falls closer to losing game two. Eventually the room becomes more quiet and they’re all gathering their wits and focus, and then they’re ushered to the stage entrance where 71 shouts some last-minute advice and instructions.

rOtK and Kaci

EHOME beats Secret 2-0, convincingly. 71 has been asked to an interview after the win, and he’s clearly emotional – “they asked me, you must’ve heard the EHOME chants? What was it like? when was the last time you heard those chants?” He continues, “three years, I said to the them” and then he pauses and the topic drifts away.

At the end of the day the two strongest Chinese teams seem to be EHOME and LGD, reminiscent of days from half a decade ago.

After the win, rOtK is electric, buzzing with energy. He’s asked to do an interview with Kaci, and I tell him, we’re going to try without me on screen. Just off-screen, I’ll help, but it’s mostly you. And he shakes his head, hesitating, and then he’s like okay! So off he goes. When he’s pausing on camera he’s looking to me to help him out, and I do my best and the interview goes decently, but then at the end I’m told to step in and help out anyway, because it seems like he’s gotten stuck. So I do, and it all ends in fun and laughter. I hope the same came through for those of you watching on stream!

Afterwards, rOtK and I walk back to the EHOME suite, and he’s talking, talking about the games and how he feels. “I am so excited. I am so hyped. This is amazing.” There’s a clear edge to his voice and he is intent on continuing the winning. His team’s hard work has paid off as they’d told me they’d been up to 3am the previous night making preparations…

Back at the EHOME suite, LaNm walks over chewing on something. He’s chewing on a mouthful of ice cubes, very satisfied

Fy God

with himself. “They say old people like to chew ice cubes,” I tell him. He says he knows. I say I like to chew ice cubes too. We laugh.

VG takes C9 down. Fy comes out from the stage, to the backstage area, supremely confident with a grin on his face. It’s a huge burden off their shoulders and VG feels like they’ve found themselves again. Super is wanted for an interview, then he isn’t anymore as they cancel the interview due to the night being very late – then VG is mobbed all over for autographs and pictures, and the night ends in positivity for Chinese teams at a TI where not many of them were predicted to be very successful.

Aug 5 (Weds)

I meet Kunkka again, along with some other workshop artists – T_vidotto, Yi, ike_ike, Danidem, etc. I forget some names but everyone was, and always is, really nice and in a lull for my duties some of us catch one of the matches today together. It’s one of my few experiences as a ‘fan’ at TI where I can just sit back and watch, and it was the BurNIng Anti-mage game.

Prior to going on stage, BurNIng had been watching games backstage in the waiting room. Remarking on Anti-mage play at the event thus far, he said “The AMs here have brought shame for all AMs!” So, the biggest impression I have of this day was watching BurNIng’s Anti-mage against Secret. A nearly flawless game, it was classic 1v9 from BurNIng and I think half the venue hoped for another Anti-mage in game two. It was not meant to be, however, and iG ultimately lost and ended their TI run.

CDEC win again, continuing the greatest fairytale run in recent sports, electronic or not. The team has maintained a

Agressif and CDEC

composure and calm, almost aloofness that belies their age and experience. Others say that the lack of any expectations has boosted them, and I think it’s some of both for this team – they have a confidence that cannot come from a team with zero expectations for themselves, but also a lack of overwhelming pressure weighing on their shoulders. Agressif has a habit of swinging his player badge around his finger whenever he’s excited or happy about something, and coming out from backstage he’s again chattering loudly with his teammates while making a virtual windmill with his badge.

EHOME finally meet their match as they fall 1-2 against EG into the lower bracket. It’s a close series, and rOtK doesn’t accept the loss lightly. Walking with him while heading back to the hotel, he’s again brimming with energy, but this time anger as well. He wants to win, and he doesn’t want to lose – but more so he just wants another shot and can hardly wait until tomorrow. He jumps and swats at a tree overhead to release some of that energy, and that seems to calm his emotions somewhat. The moon is close to full and the night is a cool, breezy one – a refreshing change from the hot days of Seattle this summer.

Aug 6 (Thurs)

VG continue their run in the lower bracket today, getting the 2-0 result against MVP.Phoenix, who were on their own run of sorts. Iceiceice and Nutz are good friends, and we could all see this in their interactions on stage. On Facebook, the two of them had been talking shit to each other in the lead up to their clash and it was kinda funny.

Some of us watched Secret lose to VP and thus end their TI5 campaign, and the air surrounding the happenings were mostly of a faint sense of disbelief mixed with some inevitability: after seeing DK lose last year, everyone understood that being favored doesn’t mean being strongest come TI time, and there was nothing to be said against VP’s win; they earned it.

After losing against VG, EHOME were mostly calm. The 6th place result seemed acceptable to them, and I heard them talking: LaNm and 71 reflected “If we’d beaten EG then I think we could have made it to the finals. Don’t know what would happen in the finals, but we could have made it there this year. Once we had to face VG in the lower bracket it all became that much harder.” They agreed and it seemed they were at peace with the loss, though one of them remarked that they hadn’t seen rOtK since coming off the stage, suggesting that he was a bit more upset about it than the others.

Regarding the lower bracket, teams this year agreed that it was a treacherous place to be: “Indeed, the waters in the lower bracket are much deeper and murkier. It’s full of sharks waiting to eat whoever drops down!”

It’s the All-star game tonight, another ever so brief ‘eye of the storm’ moment within the blistering intensity that is an International. Backstage: Mushi and BurNIng chat around after the game. BurNIng tells Mushi they played on the same team in a pub game the other day. “Really?!” Mushi is surprised, but

Old friends reunite briefly

BurNIng shares the details and Mushi recalls. “Ah, yes!”

TI5 all-star night

“You were quite good on Alchemist that game,” BurNIng continues. Mushi wants to know which player BurNIng was, as he says he wasn’t paying attention. “I was the one who said I’m your fan!!” Mushi laughs, hearing this. BurNIng goes on, “But I also said that BurNIng is better.” Mushi laughs even louder as he remembers the scenario.

Ending the day earlier than usual, we go to dinner. I’m with a SEA contingent again, as most of Fnatic along with ChuaN have come along. It’s jokes and laughter all around. At one point the talk goes to the little stars next to players’ names. Chuan loudly declares that even though he has no star, he has an Aegis next to his, suggesting that he is the pride of SEA. The others point out that, what if iceiceice wins TI this year? Then he’ll have a star and an Aegis. The talk rotates around the table many times, and the SEA boys all seem to genuinely enjoy each others’ company as food is shared, plans are made to gather again back in Malaysia after the tournament. They talk about CDEC vs EG in the upper bracket briefly, and everyone thinks CDEC can win. “CDEC, CDEC, CDEC” the answer rings out repeatedly around the table. Later, on the topic of Agressif, Kyxy puts his thumb up, saying “He’s so fucking good.” The rest of the evening goes quickly with food and loud, boisterous jokes, Ohaiyo being the butt of many from ChuaN. I even catch the reserved iG.Xi, who has come along for dinner, grinning at some of the jokes, though most of the time he’s absorbed in his phone, mostly watching old-school Starcraft Brood War streams.

Aug 7 (Fri)

CDEC after making it to the finals

After CDEC beat EG to make it to the grand finals, LGD are readying up for their upcoming match against VG. xiao8 shouts to CDEC, “See you in the finals!!” and the hallway briefly erupts in cheers from the two teams. They’re under the same organization and management and the players share a pretty close connection as a result.

After LGD follows suit in victory and takes one more step to the stated goal of meeting CDEC in the grand finals, the two teams again come together at the end of the day, chattering and laughing loudly. First during the rehearsal for finals day, then in the afternoon sun as they waited for the bus back to the

Agressif on CCTV

hotel. Garder and Maybe are at one point talking some friendly trash at each other: Garder says to Maybe, “I hope you make it to the finals so I can beat you into a pulp!” Maybe responds with fake shock, eyes wide open.

Garder continues, “I can’t even count how many times I’ve been hammered by you. You’ve been beating me for years, since the fucking Dota 1 days damnit! It’s about time I hammer you back once!” and they laugh.

Fans are approaching them for pictures, Agressif for one seems to be enjoying his success and strikes various poses in pictures after openly agreeing to every single person who approaches him. Asked earlier by a Chinese reporter if he’d ever won an event before, he asks “Does a local internet cafe tournament count?” with a big laugh. Then he says, “Nope!” happily and walks off with the rest of his team, who are getting ready to leave after a series of interviews, including one from CCTV, the Chinese national media.

Last thing of the day at Key Arena was a rehearsal of the finals day for each of the three teams that were in the final or may make it to the final: LGD, EG, and CDEC. In the evening after a relatively early end to the day, I hang around at the Westin for a little while. There are many fans milling around hoping to catch their favorite players for autographs and photos. At one moment I see zai going into the elevator, and when he turns around as the doors are closing he sees me, waves, and I wave back too because zai is chill and I think I’m chill too and chill people just do that kind of thing, I guess.

LGD and CDEC on the day before last, TI5

Aug 8 (Sat)

In the end, the storyline of LGD and CDEC meeting back in the finals was not meant to be, but in its place was another storyline – one perhaps far more favored by the live crowd – of EG getting their rematch against CDEC in the match to end TI5. In defeat, some of LGD’s players looked crushed: Sylar was quiet as he often is; Yao just looked tired, but in an emotionally drained way; Maybe looked plain upset, and MMY looked like the saddest duck ever. Xiao8 took on the captain’s role and went about consoling each of them, telling Maybe, “Hey, look! Your first TI and you’ve got third place already. Not bad!” The thunderous roars of applause coming from the stage just on the other side of the curtains felt like a world away at that moment… Spirits weren’t high, but the team spirit was strong and after some reflective minutes backstage, they left together.

Then I watched the finals, and in the games we saw a CDEC that fought their absolute hardest but came up just short against an impressive, organized, resourceful, and prepared EG.

After losing, CDEC were remarkably unfazed, or at least not outwardly. After all, they’d just made it to second place in the finals of the greatest tournament in Dota 2 when originally, according to their mid player Shiki, their goal was to simply make it to the main event so they could experience Key Arena once. Or according to Agressif, to even get to play at a TI at all.

An empty Key Arena marks the end of another TI

This is a team whose attitudes throughout, from the Group Stage when I first came in contact with them, all the way through the finals, maintained a calmness that suggested they were simply playing another LAN game, another ladder game. Leaving the noise and cheering of the main stage, Agressif was again swinging his player badge around his finger, and some of the CDEC players joked around a bit on the way back to their team suite. Shiki was quiet and contemplative, while Garder was the only one that looked in a way one could describe as ‘sad’. Perhaps it’s because he’s the oldest on the team, and perhaps because of that he alone really felt the pure magnitude of it all in the kind of way that only age can bring – after all, it’s not every day you make it to the TI finals and losing means you may not get another chance, young as you may be with the world of Dota ahead of

At the afterparty

you.

And then amidst the din of deadmau5 and the smoke of pyrotechnics on the stage, TI5 was over, and the wait for the majors, or TI6, or whatever comes next in life for everyone began.

Of course, there was still the afterparty. We went with iceiceice and EHOME coach 71, and we quickly found LaNm at the venue – somewhat unexpectedly as it is rare for Chinese players to make appearances at the afterparty at all. LaNm was having fun, however, and danced somewhat haphazardly to the loud music and at times mused on how the accompanying light

Me and Kuro

show was just so damn awesome.

Later in the night, I find Kuroky who is always someone I look to at least say hi to at events. He wonders if I’m writing another one of these for TI5. I say yes, and he responds “Good. I read all of them! I see myself mentioned and I’m like, awesome, he remembers me.” Of course I remember you, Kuro. And we got another picture taken together, and it seems it’s becoming a tradition to take pictures together after events, even though Kuro has a policy on not taking many pictures at events.

Post-TI

Then it’s all over, the group stage, the main event, the afterparty… and everyone is floating back off to the four corners of the world. In the last day or two before everyone has left – some have left early already having changed their flights – we have some final get togethers. Iceiceice, Nutz, Black, and Eric and Kecik from Fnatic go to have some ramen, another seemingly emerging TI tradition, before they leave the next morning. The next night, some of EHOME have dinner with us, hot pot, and during that time Black^ has taught LaNm some insults in German, which the two of them are chanting nonstop for the next two hours at anyone that will listen. Then we decide to emulate Earthshaker’s abilities, complete with sound effects and we establish the Earthshaker Fan Club in which we talk about Earthshaker’s qualities as one of the best heroes in Dota 2.

Hot pot for dinner was exceptionally filling, and the very last of the last things for my TI5 experience was a long midnight walk with 71 and Black^ down along the Seattle waterfront. LaNm originally was going to come, but then he needs to duck out at the last minute because he’s on a video call with his newborn daughter, and of course that’s important for any parent, much less one that has been halfway across the world for half a month.

Ramen team

“The waters in the darkness have a scary quality about them,” 71 says. We muse wanderingly just as we wander through the streets of Seattle, but before we know it it’s 2am and we’re back at the hotel and it’s time to bid our final farewells, until next time they all say, until next time. “It’s fucking rained in Seattle the last two years we’ve been eliminated from TI,” he says with a smirk, “See you next time.”

I attended TI2 as a spectator, then TI3, 4, and 5 as translator, or whatever it is that I do. I guess I don’t only simply translate, at least not anymore. In that time it’s been four years, and in that time I’ve gotten to meet people from all over the world, all walks of life, in various stages of their careers and lives and involvement in Dota 2. People have come and gone just as in anything else in this world – it’s all transient. One of these days there will be no more TI, or perhaps there will no longer be me at TI, or perhaps the people I’ve come to know and build relationships fade out of the picture… People are getting married, having kids, thinking about life after competition.

TI5 was probably the most exhausting one I’ve been a part of. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe it’s something else, but at the same time it went by the fastest of any. I’d looked forward to it for months – and then, it’s past. I’ve made some great friends, met again old friends, been a part of some amazing – no, historical – happenings, yet it’s the great and the small things alike that make it all worthwhile. This is the kind of thing you tell younger generations about when you’re old, or at least it’s what you might imagine. “Ahhh yes, in the old days of Dota 2…”

Congrats to EG. Shoutouts to everyone who said hi, fans, teams, players. Thank you to all at Valve, the venue and other production staff, and everyone involved in making it happen. Thank you to every single person that cheers, laughs, cries, and watches alongside the rest of us.

The gears are in motion for teams and tournaments in the next months and years. Let’s see together what time will bring to us!

The Dota 2 logo on a cupcake represents the temporary nature of all that we have in this world… Nom nom nom.

Follow Dotaland on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Dotaland

First TI5 Chinese caster invites going out

With TI5 group stages drawing ever closer, the expected invites to casters/etc for TI5 seem to be going out starting now-ish…

http://t.qq.com/p/t/402755077127232

According to this weibo from Haitao (海涛), he is the first to get an invite this year for TI5. It’s kind of hard to visualize, but next month will see the TI5 group stages with the main event to follow closely behind that in early August.

VG.fy interview at MDL 2015

From China Esports Magazine, fy talks about recent changes and games. Via UUU9 (couldn’t find the direct link on CEA): http://dota2.uuu9.com/201506/492404.shtml

Q: In group A’s matches your team went through with an undefeated record through four games, are you guys satisfied at the process and result?

fy: Advancing undefeated is certainly satisfying, because before the competition we hadn’t thought about taking top spot, we felt that we might lose a game. Yet we won them all, we played pretty well.

Q: In the matches your team brought out quite a few lesser seen strategies, such as your support Spirit Breaker, and Super’s Alchemist that we used to see so much of. Were you able to utilize the recent relative lull in tournaments to work out some newer strategies?

fy: Previously we’d been overseas quite a while playing in tournaments, and didn’t have time to get used to the new version. After returning we practiced about a week, and we all felt much more at ease in games after this.

Q: Following this week’s worth of practice your team has a much stronger understanding of the new version, so how do you rate this current version?

fy: I feel that countering the opposition is the most important thing, you have to look at what kind of lineup the opposition is playing. For example they play single-core, then you get dual-core, if they have dual-core then you go tri-core, if they’re tri-core then you play four protect one.

Q: In the new version we’ve seen your team frequently playing a position 1 Leshrac, with pretty good results, can you analyze this hero for us?

fy: Leshrac’s chances of getting picked in the first two picks are very high, because he can support, he can carry and he can mid. There’s a lot of flexibility with the hero, so picking him during the first two picks means the opponents cannot really guess what your plans are with him. As for his strengths as a position 1, mainly it’s his farming speed and strong teamfight, and in late game if he gets Octarine Core then he’s got very strong potential then as well.

Q: In recent times your team’s form has fluctuated a bit, with many tournaments seeing your team placing below your desired results, what were the reasons behind this?

fy: A lot of it should be down to bad luck, previously we’d been overseas for a long while competing with no time to go practice, and the practice we had been able to do before that all had nothing to do with the new version, leading to us losing for that whole period of time.

Q: In this MDL tournament so far, it seems your team has rediscovered your form. What adjustments did you make?

fy: We will all typically discuss, we all shared our views on the new version, agglomerating all of our opinions. This includes thoughts on the first two rounds in drafts, and we formulated some thoughts on picks in contrast to before where we had no real thoughts on this stuff. In actual matches we just look at what opponents pick, then we go into countering that.

Q: According to tournament rules, group stage first place teams get to choose their opponents in the next round, which team out of group B would you most like to choose?

fy: After we talked about it we felt that picking CDEC might be a bit better, because in a tournament you will feel like you should play against whichever team you have the most confidence against.

Q: In group B it looks like Secret is basically invincible, yet at the same time LGD looks very good, so are these two teams VG’s biggest opponents right now?

fy: Definitely, these two teams are both very strong. Apart from that, Empire is another wild card.

Q: Secret have gone back to their DAC form – seemingly invincible. What do you think makes them so strong?

fy: Their play style is very set, they utilize those strategies extremely well, and they have excellent individual skill and team understanding. And they handle early game details and teamfights very well.