The International 2016 in my view

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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

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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

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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

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