The International 2018 in my view

Chinese version here on Weibo

Sun Aug 12 (arrival day)

Having been in Shanghai prior to TI8, this was the furthest I’d traveled to actually get to a TI. Twelve hours and a dream about becoming a TI champion later, I’m in Vancouver airport where it is a cacophony of arrivals in a nice, modern airport that is probably a little bit too small for the traffic going through it now. I’ve been to Vancouver quite a few times before and have always enjoyed it, and it is a bit surreal that it is being combined with the spectacle of The International this year.

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Canada!

After we get through customs, everyone is waiting for Ferrari_430 to get through customs and get on the bus to the hotel, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Someone says 430 went smoking before coming to the bus, someone else runs to go look for him. Where could he be? A few minutes later, he strolls up casually, without his luggage. He doesn’t know where it is and doesn’t seem to care a whole lot either. It turns out that Chinese caster AMS has helped him bring it to the bus. I ask 430 what he’d have done if no one looked for him, or if no one helped him with his luggage, and he’s like… “I got this, this is easy!!” Elaborating, he pulls out his phone, “There’s this thing called online translation, once I have that I can figure everything out!”

So I ask him if he’s got internet on his phone yet, and he says nah.
“Easy!”

On the bus ride to the hotel, we talk about random stuff. I ask him what other games he’s playing — on WoW he says it’s the best of its type that has ever existed and probably ever will, but he’s maxed everything out so he’s been playing a new Chinese mmorpg, 逆水寒. With most online games, he says, they’re only fun while you’re putting money in. Then once you’re done putting money in, you feel like a dumbass.

I mention I’d been at Chinajoy previously while in Shanghai, and we talk a bit about that. The games, the gaming culture on display there, and oh boy can he go on about the cosplayers and booth girls (in both positive and negative ways — we’ll just leave it at that). The conversation goes to board and card games, and we both agree that they are boring. “Why play those when you can play video games? With board and card games you have to wait for all the other fucks to finish, and the worst part is, you have to talk to people” is Ferrari_430’s opinion on the matter and I couldn’t agree more.

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Ch-ch-checkin time

We get to the hotel, and check-in takes forever because there are so many people arriving at the same time (like an hour), but everyone is in good spirits and it’s fun.

That night, I first get the feeling of it being TI again as I come across various teams and people. Amongst the first I run into are some of Liquid and I exchange greetings, but as always before any major tournament ends, I try not to strike much conversation. Late in the evening, I meet with iG manager Zhili for a dinner at a Japanese izakaya, and we cross paths with all of Team Secret who are doing the same thing as we are.

Mon Aug 13 (media day 1)

It’s straight into the TI action as media day begins today. The flow is, by this point, a natural set of habits to me — and along with Vincent and Helen we help with all the Chinese teams to get their photos shot, their interviews done, and the players back on their merry way.

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standard green screen pic

With VG’s shoot, Fenrir missed a sponsor logo on his team shirt, he originally had the wrong shirt or something, so they had to redo him, but it was fine because media day was going ahead of schedule anyway. Doing the VG team interview and they rely on Fenrir and LaNm to speak a lot, but that’s the team dynamic — two guys who don’t shy away from leadership.

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Full team interviews with Kaci

In a bit of downtime in between, I ask LaNm about his kids and he says they’re doing well and his two year old in particular is at that stage where they’re really cute. Talking to Fenrir and he says my haircut looks good, which is different from at Supermajor where he told me I should dye it some other color. But he always talks about my hair, lol. Talking with him about mobile games again (which also seems to be a common topic with him) and he says paying money feels good in that moment, but afterwards you feel like a real idiot, which is almost word-for-word what Ferrari_430 said. But in the end with those kinds of games sometimes you just want to feel good for a while, and what better way than to spend a bunch of money to become overpowered? After all, that sense of power is what we’re chasing after in each successive game of Dota too, at least partially.

The welcome dinner this year is in Stanley Park and a lot of people show up, but lots of people skip it as well. Obviously the EG guys went to RTZ’s house, and that was a bit of a fun topic amongst my group at the dinner as well as we looked at the pics on social media. Cute, endearing in a way. I mostly chill with Evany (OG) and Zhili (iG) and we talk all kinds of stuff, from teams and operations and behind the scenes stuff to just the food and whatnot. People are throwing axes at an attraction setup by the welcome dinner and we’re like, what if someone gets too drunk and throws the axe the wrong way? So we avoid that general area but obviously nothing bad happens, I’m just paranoid and imagine strange scenarios sometimes.

Like at past TIs, champions rings for last year’s winners are there and brightly on

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Liquid ring

display. Unlike past TIs, there are rings from each of the other winners there too, so on a table in a corner of the party, in a place that many people don’t even notice, is one of the highlights of this welcome party.

Lots of PGL people are present and we try to talk and make plans to find time to play a game of football (soccer), but I don’t know what will come of it. By now this is probably the third tournament where we’ve talked about it but haven’t been able to make it happen… but someday. Someday. It’s one of the only things I really miss when I’m travelling for tournaments — being able to just go to the field and kick a ball around whenever.

There’s ice cream at the party, and I’m trying to extol the virtues of rum raisin ice cream, but people are skeptical. I get skrff to try a scoop and he’s just like, it’s okay. I don’t know how these people live with themselves. Rum raisin is really quite good, okay. I didn’t used to like it either but now I do.

Tues Aug 14 (media day 2)

Walking to the Sheraton hotel where players stay, so I can help with the second day of media day and I come across most of Mineski going out for a stroll. They’re going to get bubble tea.

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Spot Sccc, Jack, rOtK, and xiao8

Some more interviews with Kaci and teams. I forget if VGJ.Thunder was today, but during their group interview one answer was funny (they’re a funny team): “ROtK is our coach, our leader, our captain, and the guy that takes all the blame when things go wrong. For everything, ask rOtK.” That was the gist anyway, I’m paraphrasing somewhat.

This was my first serious interaction with Serenity (I’d known of and followed zhizhizhi for two years prior, but that was it), and they are down to earth and relatively boisterous even. Quite at ease in this TI environment, at least outwardly. Perhaps it’s for themselves as much as it is anyone — don’t act like there is pressure and maybe there will be less of it. Not as quiet and understated as the Wings players were at TI6, but full of that ‘newness’ that you only feel from kids at their first ever TI. First ever real large-scale LAN, even. Regarding Wings, who people continue to compare them to (perhaps not entirely on point, but that’s another matter), they refer to them as their teachers (老师、前辈)and also shrug off direct comparisons, noting that they still have a far way to go before becoming deserving of any such comparisons.

Later in the afternoon, I call Ferrari_430 over to help him complete his Workshop submissing for his signature treasure, and then there’s a quick meeting regarding the redzone cast for the Chinese stream, with Mrrr, xiao8, Ferrari_430, and shadow. The idea was to have a couch that they kind of host while giving a more casual cast of games, and rotate guests in and out here and there. I think the idea was really cool and has a lot of potential in the future.

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Doing subtitles on Serenity’s interview, with Serenity in the picture eating lunch

I see Winstrike at their media day, and in the in-between downtime, they have gotten their hands on the scooters that staff use to get around more quickly and are going up and down the hallway like madmen, clearly enjoying themselves. As with Serenity, there’s always a contrast between teams new at TI and those who have been here a few times. The newcomers feel like they want to grasp everything with both hands, give everything a shot.

It’s a once in a lifetime experience until it’s not, but before then you have to treat it like it is.

Wed Aug 15 (group stage day 1)

It’s the first day of groups and the action begins. I’m still doing subtitles. Outside of that I run into various team managers and coaches. Wearing an Inter Milan shirt I’d bought recently, people ask me about it but the only reason I bought it is because I like the way it looks. I’ve never been a real fan of any Italian teams, but the Inter Milan jersey with the black and blue stripes is one that I’ve always liked. As we saw at DAC and Supermajor, basketball is popular amongst Dota people, but football is even more so.

In the lounge at the Sheraton, where all group stage games are also played upstairs in their training rooms, the only time I see teams is for lunch. Teams all eat together, the Chinese teams all ordering Chinese takeout as is the norm. They like Vancouver a lot for many reasons, not least of which due to the fact that there are more food options. Many of the Chinese teams bootcamped in nearby Richmond, which is very convenient if you’re, well, Chinese. In fact, there is a branch of the famed Chinese internet cafe chain Wangyu here in Richmond, and some of the Chinese teams bootcamped there this year.

Thurs Aug 16 (group stage day 2)

There’s a lot more subtitling as we get into working on the Champions Roundtable where past TI finals players come together to just chat. Some truly hilarious and interesting moments in the raw footage, but it’s a lot of time needed and by the time I’m done with my part, I have over 440 lines entered.

The film crew needs to get some follow up footage with Serenity for the opening

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Serenity filming

ceremony, so they enlist my help on that and in doing so, I took to talking to their manager for a bit. They’re a very down to earth organization and seem very approachable, from top to bottom and the players included. I mean, they’re actually just a Dota-only org and their boss is here with them — a guy whose dream was always to make it to a TI in some way, a true Dota fan.

 

Later on I walk to the venue to go check it out having not been able to go there yet. It’s a quick 15 minute walk on the Vancouver streets, and being summer it’s a pleasant one too.

Fri Aug 17 (group stage day 3)

Today I work on more subtitling and so don’t really come across much in terms of interaction with other people. The hotel staff did knock on my door to, in their words, make sure I was still alive because I’d had the do not disturb sign on the door for most of the week. Lol.IMG_20180816_173438

Being locked in my subtitling dungeon and with group stage games progressing normally, I don’t interact with a lot of people today. This year, teams, staff, production, and talents are spread across downtown Vancouver in various hotels, so casual interactions between everyone are decreased as well, a fact that is kind of sad but probably better for my sleep…

We actually have a little bit of free time after the subtitling is finished for the day, so in between watching games on Twitch and Douyu (watching both English and Chinese streams) I get to walk around a bit in the city. Vancouver is nice — I’ve always liked it, and having lived in Seattle for a while I’ve come up to Vancouver to visit for fun in the past. Vancouver’s always felt like Seattle’s cooler brother and this time is no different. Players I talk to all seem to agree. While Seattle is nice and pleasant, Vancouver just has so much more to offer in terms of food, city life, and that unmistakable sense of activity and bustling that only some cities have.

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Poutine

Walking down Robson St, there’s always life happening. At one of the bubble tea stores I see iG getting drinks and pause briefly to say hi — Q of iG exclaims to his manager Zhili, it’s your friend! Anyway, I say hi, then bye and leave them to their adventure.

I also managed to get some real poutine for the first time ever, and I have to give it to Canada — this uniquely Canadian food is definitely worth its reputation.

Sat Aug 18 (group stage day 4)

This is the last day of group stage and it’s the most action-packed. Tiebreakers seem likely at the beginning of the day, and by halfway through the day they are pretty much inevitable. IG are eliminated and a group of players (and team management) that I’ve come to know pretty closely through the years are out of the tournament. It’s sad, and late that night their manager Zhili sends me a simple ‘gg’, I respond ‘gggg’ back and all that needs to be said has been said.

Late that night, Black^ who has arrived a day prior joins up with me to head to the Sheraton hotel (where players stay) for the midnight snack. Outside the hotel we come across Jack, VJG.S coach Clairvoyance, and Mineski manager Orrin. We chatter about a variety of things, least of which is an at-length flame session of Jack, led by Clairvoyance, on his lifestyle habits and lack of general put-together-ness for lack of a better word. Caveman, savage, and disgusting are words rotating in the conversation as Jack is flamed for falling asleep, not shaving his beard, being messy (Clairvoyance and Jack have to share a room), and so on.

Later Jack laments on the general lack of such opportunities to socialize at this TI due to the hotels all being separate, and the midnight snack room’s empty echos seem to ring in agreement as we are the only few people there all night.

Sun Aug 20 (press day)

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LGD

Today’s press day, and as always it’s a hustling bustling frenzy of activity as each team comes down to the room fully decked out in their newest team uniforms, ready to accept the questioning of awaiting media. I run around all day from 10am to 5pm helping with interviews, sometimes in front of the camera but more often behind it (as it is often the more efficient means).

With LGD, I help with some fun interviews with Rivalry Esports. First we get Maybe, who

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an interview with Jerax

is always a good sport with these. It’s a fun piece in which players guess what hero it is based on… questionable Steam Workshop item sets for those heroes. After Maybe, we ask him if he’d recommend another teammate — perhaps Chalice? Maybe enthusiastically recommends his teammate, knowing that he’s just roped him into another interview, and Chalice is duly recruited to partake in the same interview. Chalice proves to be a good recommendation indeed as he has a lot of fun with it, including one quip where he compares a bald-looking Storm Spirit illustration to their coach 357, and and another in which he points out the hero in question is wearing a green hat.

VG come, and despite a less than ideal group stage they seem to be in decent spirits. Fenrir looks over to me and we start talking about haircuts and hairstyles (practically seeming like we’re just resuming our earlier conversation from days ago). He’s saying my new haircut looks good, and I’m asking him — it looks better than the long hair? And he’s like ooh yeah. For sure. And I’m like your haircut looks good too. He looks a bit proud and goes, “yeah and previously I died it this awesome amazing color and it was fucking amazing. But now I’m too lazy to keep repeating that so this is what I have now.” And I’m like, no it looks good now too. No joke, the two of us talked hair styles and fashion for like ten minutes.

The silly casual conversation with some players that I see here and there always stop abruptly, but almost inevitably at this point continue on the next time I see them, no matter when or where it is.

At some point Mineski is here, and iceiceice offers me his long-sleeve Mski jersey, saying that he prefers the short-sleeve one anyway. So that was nice, and after all these years that’s actually the first player jersey I’ve ever gotten.

Newbee shows up to their time slot on time, and they stick around for the entirety of it too — relatively rare as most teams leave a bit early (which is also fine, because most of the time the interview requests have died down by then). At the Supermajor I notice kaka has a patch of white hair in his black, and back then I joked with him 那块白头发是被队友气得吧 “that patch of white hair is because of your teammates”. It’s still there, so I wonder what that means. 😛

Sccc and kpii get pulled for probably over a dozen interviews, but they’re good sports and take pretty much every interview. Sccc in particular with the — expected by this point — fervor and sincerity that has become his signature. At one point he’s asked for an interview, and having just done five in a row, asks if he can give the interview to someone else. The answer is sure, recommend someone! He tries to point at Faith, then Moogy, but none of them are particularly moved, so Sccc grabs kpii who has just finished an interview of his own and the two of them do an interview together with kpii interpreting for him.

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Sccc and kpii in action

VGJ.T are next, and I get to help with an interview with ddc. I mean, the number of interviews I did today probably set a record for me for press days (I even skipped a previously planned lunch because it was so busy at press day), but ddc is another one of those guys where we can kind of just start and stop and start again random conversations, then drift off. Always humble, he says in his interview, perhaps the reason that he’s been to all the TIs but hasn’t put his name on the Aegis yet is simply he’s not good enough. It’s humility, but I also hear a bit of sadness. Keep fighting, my friend! Dreams are worth fighting for.

Then it’s Serenity. I’ve gotten to know them a bit better over the past few days, and this bunch of kids (I say kids because, well at this point I’m older than them for sure) have potential and bright futures as long as they keep their heads on straight. Zyd is an interesting one, and after having watched Zhizhizhi for nearly two years and Serenity since early 2018, Zyd is someone who I think has a lot of potential. That’s not to say the rest of them don’t, because they do. But Zyd, despite his somewhat mischievous-looking persona comes off to me as a dedicated, thinking kind of player. His interview answers, though not as slick as other players’ come across as thoughtful and serious. And one of the most interesting things to me is that when he’s got nothing to do and is just sitting — for example sitting at the interview timeslot waiting for media — he doesn’t spend all his time on his phone. I’m not sure what that means but it’s a bit different.

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Chalice, Miracle-

XinQ seems to get along with everyone and walks around talking to people — Sccc, Chinese team managers, even just walks up and jokes around with me when he’s got no one else to talk to. I’ve done a few interviews with him now and if you ask him the right questions, he answers with this glint in his eye that suggests he could say a whole lot more.

Lastly it’s iG, and though they’ve just been eliminated, they are about as spirited as can be expected in those circumstances. Boboka’s got his earphones in, but otherwise seems to be his usual quirky self. Their manager and coach lpc are hanging out, the rest of the players chill for a bit, and as it’s near the end of the day the media activity is dying down, so they don’t have to face too much of an onslaught of questioning on their recent TI exit, which is probably for the better.

In between interviews with the Chinese players, I’ve also helped with quite a few with Western players — Sumail, Yawar, and Jerax for example. Sumail has grown a lot since the first time I met him at DAC 2015 in Shanghai. Both literally (he started out probably a foot shorter than me and is now probably taller than I am) and metaphorically. My first ever personal interaction with him was in 2015 in DAC in the elevator when I was with some Chinese players who were going to a party, and I somewhat jokingly asked then-15 year old Sumail if he wanted to come. He meekly declined and looked away back then, but nowadays Sumail is brimming with confidence, a confidence that he’s earned.

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His interview answers do not lack in this signature confidence, but he’s added an extra element of thoughtfulness and in the recent year or so it’s become quite a pleasure to hear him talk about things. Via an interview, it’s my first time really meeting his brother Yawar, and they are alike in a lot of ways, but you can also sense that they’re not the exact same person. Nonetheless, top tier mid players must run in the family and confidence is the common ingredient.

Towards the end of the day I catch some of the OG guys that I’m more familiar with — ana and Jerax, and chat a bit. With ana I just fill in some of the blanks on what he’s been up to prior to rejoining OG. He brings up the idea of needing to finish high school, and I’m like yeah, it’s not a bad idea to at least finish school some time. Just as a thing that you can say you’ve done, like a checklist, and ana agrees too. I suggest he perhaps look at zai’s example where he took a year off to finish all his schooling.

After press day, a quick visit to the venue is in order to check out the early access for the Secret Shop, and to pick up the swag bag. The Secret Shop isn’t as large-scale as in previous years so I barely buy anything, but it’s okay as I’ve become more minimalist in the material things I choose to own. So it’s fine for me anyway.

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Outside the venue

A walk around the venue later and we’re back to the hotel, from where I head to a dinner appointment with Evany and Fly at Guu again for more Japanese food. True to her organized and prepared nature, Evany has a table reserved for us which is key as the entire area is swarming with tourists and TI visitors alike.

As we’re ordering food, Fly notices some familiar faces walk in the door behind us: Phil of Valve (whom we’ve worked with for years now), his son, and none other than Dendi himself. While they’re being told that the restaurant has no tables for another hour, we’re exchanging greetings and Dendi is, as always, his bright cheery self. As they leave to find another place, I’m remarking, like if only the restaurant knew who they just turned away! It’s Dendi!! I mean, yeah, reality is the truth and it’s not a huge deal as Vancouver has so many good food options, but still. 🙂

Afterwards, we get ice cream.

Mon Aug 20 (main event day 1)

The opening ceremony sees all the teams gathered together in one place. And then the delay in the morning sees them all go outside, with probably half of them smoking (smoking is bad okay, seriously lol it’s the one thing I dislike the most about esports, is all these young people smoking). It’s a light mood, and I get to talk to a few players in the relative downtime. XinQ of Serenity, iceiceice, Fenrir — the patterns repeat sometimes and it’s not always me seeking them out. As the players enter the stage for the opening, Team Secret are last and have had a chance to watch the other teams enter. Puppey, ever the strategist, sees some teams entering looking a bit disorganized, and tells his team “Okay I’ll go in a bit ahead, and you guys follow” so that it looks better. His team agrees and they enter and look somewhat more smooth than some of their rivals, another tactical success by master Puppey.

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That’s a lot of MMR

This is an all new venue to me (and everyone else), so the mental cruise-control of knowing exactly where to go and the fastest way that was my existence at Key Arena is no longer relevant. I spend some time in the morning walking around getting my bearings, and also because it’s a decent way of ‘settling in’ to the TI spirit.

The first series with Liquid and Optic goes by pretty quickly, and Liquid look dominant, imperious. Could it be the year that all the curses — the patterns — are dismissed?

In between, I run to the video editors to try and help with some of the discrepancies in player ages/nationalities/etc, and also try to figure out some issue with a really big subtitle file that we’d been working on on days prior.

The next series is VP vs LGD and this is the first one where I’m potentially on deck for interviews. LGD ends up winning. Our first choice for the interview was Fy, but he declines, instead suggesting Maybe. Eventually it is xNova, as LGD says it is a bit of a team habit to send him for the first interview of a tournament, for some good luck. I suggest that he can take the interview in English, as I’ve talked with

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on the big screen with xNova

him before way back at the Boston Major in English and remember him being fluent. He instead says he’d like to do it in Chinese, for the fans back in China. A very considerate move I think, and one that should definitely be lauded — despite esports having come a long way, a lot of players could still improve on their awareness of these types of issues. It is the fans, after all, that pay for everything here, ultimately.

Afterwards is, well, the rest of the day and it’s both a haze of action as well as a what feels like a neverending crusade against sleep deprivation. As is common amongst a lot of fellow on-screen people I’ve talked with through the years, the last night before the big event begins is one that often loses sleep and I’m on just a few hours of sleep and as the day goes on, it shows.

Serenity win — against many people’s predictions, but not mine. I’d predicted them to win not because of who they were facing, but because I think they have it in them to go pretty far here. According to many pros I’d talked to, in the scrims leading up to TI group stage, Serenity were amongst the strongest in terms of results.

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Serenity 2018

The interview was with XinQ, who’s a big fluffy guy that seems to always have a laugh in his eyes (Chinese chat flames him for never opening his eyes).

 

Newbee crash out against Winstrike, but I barely catch any of the actual action as I’m not busy, but falling asleep on my feet, and then later in my chair in the interview room. I guess I’m getting old.

It’s sad, as Sccc is — as it is with almost every Chinese Dota fan — one of my favored players. It’s hard not to support the guy, and indeed all five players of Newbee, but there are winners and losers in every match. Earlier in the day when Newbee had arrived, Sccc had in his customary way strode through the hallways, and upon seeing me gave me that assertive yet friendly head nod that only he can really manage, with his hair bobbing up and down with the force of the nod itself.

The last action of the day, or night, by now, is VG vs VGJ.Thunder. In the hallway

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继续加油!

backstage, VGJ.Thunder’s coach rOtK walks by but not before punching me in the gut. As a joke of course and it’s not a real punch, but every year he pulls something on me. I think last year he did the classic tap on the shoulder and walk the other way thing. The guy knows how to have fun, anyway, and doesn’t hesitate to try and keep things light-hearted even before an elimination match.

Seeing a manager of VG a few minutes before their match, he’s saying “No matter which of us wins, we’re going to dinner together later tonight. We’re brothers after all.” and that little bit drives home the reality of how cruel this matchup is in particular, especially coming this early in the tournament. After VGJ.Thunder lose, Fade sees me as they come to (or from, I forget) the elevator and says “Josh, we lost…”

I was unsure how to respond in that split second, and even now it feels uncertain to me, as it’s never easy. But there’s humanity in it all and it’s always these moments that remind me of that fact the most.

The night ends with that, and with LaNm’s desires to carry his VGJ brothers’ hopes along with him on in the rest of the tournament.

Tues Aug 21 (main event day 2)

Group stage day two only sees one Chinese team at the venue, Serenity. The venue this year is somewhat larger than KeyArena, and it’s definitely more modern. There are TVs in most of the elevators that all have the matches on, and even the elevators with no TVs IMG_20180812_163644.jpgwill have audio of the matches piped in. There are also more elevators, and they’re faster. Yeah, I’d say the main difference between Rogers Arena and KeyArena would be the elevators.

I share the shuttle with Kyle on the way to or back from the venue, and we chat about how people in Dota feel like family at this point. Like all these other games are great and all, but when you get back to Dota, it feels like coming home. It does feel a bit like that by now, yeah, and that’s something interesting for me as I’ve never felt a real sense of belonging anywhere.

This is also the second year after TI4 that I have an autographed chest, and even though there’s no way I’ll sell many at all, it’s just mind blowing that my name is in this game that I’ve played for over ten years now. Twice, even! This is also the first year I get my name on my TI badge, so that’s cool too.

Wed Aug 22 (main event day 3)

I’m helping today with a shadow autograph session. He’s got this thing where he looks over at the fan to see what pose they are striking, and then emulates it so they are both doing the same pose in the picture. It’s quite cute actually. After the photos, he signs for

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Giants of TI history

everyone and on one guy who asks him to sign a shirt, he carefully fixes parts of the autograph on a tshirt where it got wrinkled by going over it a few more times with the marker.

I ask him if all this signing is more difficult than playing a grand finals, and he smiles a bit. Then I’m like this has gotta be harder, you play those and you win. And he’s laughing, “and sometimes you’re playing and then you’ve lost” kind of like you don’t even know what’s happening. After he’s done meeting all his fans, on the way back upstairs as we leave the elevator, we cross paths with Team Secret. Just as they’re about to get into the elevator themselves, shadow quietly goes “Oh, my idols.” And his girlfriend and I suggest to him to go and get a picture with them, but he’s hesitant, perhaps not wanting to bother them. In the end he does, and I have this picture of 2 meter-tall Puppey alongside shadow who is much more diminutive, to say the least.

BurNIng is in the venue to cast, and asks someone take a picture of him while backstage, ostensibly for his own social media. When asked if he wants to see it, he’s like no, no, no. “Just make sure it’s from an angle that makes me look skinnier,” he jokes. It’s okay BurNIng, I will be your fan no matter what.

Thurs Aug 23 (main event day 4)

There’s a VG meet and greet session today, and LaNm says if he won, he’d sign things for the whole arena. 我要是赢了,我把整个场馆都签了!eLeVen agrees enthusiastically. But they lost this year so it’s just the one hour session.

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With VG

Serenity have a signing session too, and on the elevator Zyd looks at what I’m doing on my phone and asks what it is (Facebook), then asks what Facebook is. It being their first time at TI they need to do their autographs for the first time, and they’re worried about making sure it looks nice. They practice for a bit while laughing at each other until finally each settling on an autograph that they’re satisfied with, and we pass the papers on to PGL staff. The practice autographs they scribbled they don’t want anymore, so I hand those to some waiting fans — I’m sure to some people somewhere, those have some value. Imagine if someone on Serenity wins a TI in the future!

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Serenity doing their homework

The OpenAI match between the CN legends and the bots sees 430, BurNIng, rOtK, Sansheng, and xiao8 going up. BurNIng is asking the guys “Shouldn’t we discuss a bit how to win?” and rOtK’s like “No need, just watch me perform,” while xiao8 is exclaiming how they’re super fucking noob. I remind them that Secret lost a game in a BO3 against them, and they seem to sober up a bit: rOtK remarks “If we lose to these bots then that’s enough flame fodder for the community for the next year.” His statement seems to hold no fear of such flames, and in fact if you looked at his face while he said it, you’d think he welcomes them. 🙂

They win though, but not before 430 dies over ten times against the bots, a fact that he admits with a small smile after the game.

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The CN anti-bot squad

At night it’s the TI8 All-star match. Waiting in the tunnel, the all stars exchange settings wisdom. Autoattack, right click deny, etc. Do you use autoattack on Earth Spirit? Quick cast? And so on. The Chinese speakers teach the others some Chinese, and Pajkatt shows he knows some Chinese (still? From his LGD days or perhaps he’s still learning).

After the All-star match, Miracle is taking off his yellow Team BurNIng shirt, and he’s like “Where do I give this back to?” and I’m telling him “it’s yours, you can keep it!”

We’re trying to get Sccc to join the Chinese panel, but understandably he feels a bit uncomfortable taking such a role at TI8. Sharon makes sad faces and says he’s hurting her feelings, and Sccc is like, “I wouldn’t want to hurt a girl! Never!” but he still steadfastly refuses for his own reasons and really, it’s understandable. At the end of the night I get a picture with him as he’s mentioned he might be flying out earlier than the last day, and despite not really knowing him that well, he’s one of those guys that I feel like I could get along well with if there was ever more time.

Some of the Chinese teams are looking to change their flights back to China, citing the upcoming season being in just three weeks and needing to rest and figure out future teams. I help some of them, including Fenrir who just buys his own flight but needs me to help him do so. “What would I do without you?!” he exclaims.

On the shuttle back to the hotel, after it offloads people who are staying at the Sheraton, just those of us for the Fairmont Hotel remain. After the shuttle starts moving again, Dendi peers back at me, raises a fist, and goes “For the boys!!”. I respond “For the Horde!” and he goes “For the Alliance!!” A moment of chatter about how we’re enjoying TI8 and we’ve arrived at the Fairmont, where he says good night in the elevator.

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All-stars in shiny yellow All-star shirts

Fri Aug 24 (main event day 5)

Burning everything I know, desperate for a change

A lot of people, before this TI, during the group stages and onward, have been saying that the pattern won’t repeat again. We might see a repeat champion for the first time. We won’t see a Chinese victor. We’ll see someone come out completely unpredicted. Anyone could win.

Liquid eliminate Secret and then are eliminated by EG. OG and LGD play out what many people (correctly) predict as a preview of the Grand Finals. On a different day things might’ve gone differently, but today’s result means LGD will have to fight — and carry the hopes of millions of dedicated Chinese Dota fans — from the lower bracket tomorrow.

In some ways, it felt destined for OG to just keep winning as they pulled off comeback after comeback.

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Under a diamond sky, everyone wants to shine

Sat Aug 25 (main event day 6)

Crashing down the ancient roads, past our yesterday

The day begins for LGD kind of where it ended, the mountain of the TI8 Grand Finals the ultimate goal regardless of what the journey will be. It feels EG are powerless to stop them as LGD brush them aside on their way to a rematch with yesterday’s nemesis, the heretofore unheralded and unexpected OG.

In some ways, their final day of TI8 also begins where every previous TI of theirs has ended: it’s LGD’s first ever appearance in a TI Grand Finals, after having crashed out in various TIs in the top 6. They’d never been this far before. Always close. They’ve already conquered themselves and their past in coming here today, but standing with them backstage, helping them get microphoned up for the filming of True Sight, you can sense they desire more. At this stage, who wouldn’t? Dare to dream, and we’ll chase that future alongside you.

Maybe there’s hunger in my blood, screaming out loud for what I want

Grand finals. LGD players seem calm, confident. But clearly it’s difficult, and they understand that. In the end they lose after a gruelling 5 game series, and despite the narratives and the storylines for the Western point of view, this is a painful loss for the Chinese scene in more than one way.

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Just because you need something to happen, doesn’t mean it will happen. As a long-time DK and EHOME fan, it’s never really been a question of whether I am an LGD fan or not. Those rivalries back in the day were like Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Manchester United vs Liverpool, etc. I respect the organization and their players, but from a pure fandom point of view, I’ve never really cheered for LGD. I don’t cheer against them, but anyway — this TI was the first time I’ve actually supported them.

China needed this win. They didn’t get it, but they tried.

See me running full speed at it, shattering, collide

1

That moment

Let’s talk a bit about TI8 Grand Finals game 4. This is the game with the moment that a majority of the Chinese fanbase pinpointed as where LGD could’ve won, but ultimately lost everything. Game 5 was just a formality in some minds. Anyway, LGD are up 10k, then 12k, then 17k as they force multiple buybacks and take two lanes of rax. The Aegis awaits on stage, just as the Aegis timer ticks to a minute on Roshan in game 4.

One of China’s most authoritative stats platforms chimes in, 93% win prediction at this point. I’m on deck with Machine, ready for the winners’ interview, which looks like LGD and has looked like it would be LGD for a while. They just need to force the buybacks, retreat, regroup, take Roshan, and make a final push. Then, in the blink of an eye, Ame’s Morphling goes in, dies, Somnus gets caught too, and what looked for moments like a surefire 3-1 victory for LGD reverts back to an almost even game where Merlini says it doesn’t feel like LGD is up two lanes at all (and by all means it does not matter that they are), and then it’s all over.

A lot of fans blame Ame almost exclusively for the game 4 loss, and ultimately LGD’s loss in the Grand Finals. But having watched that moment over and over today in between writing this, I interpret it differently. He wasn’t throwing, he wasn’t overconfident, he wasn’t arrogant in that split second.

Call me post-traumatic, now it’s do or die

This is a team who has been the sole realistic hope for China for the greater part of a year. Even so, many Chinese fans I’d talked to didn’t hold that great a hope for LGD either. They were just the strongest in a packed field that other Chinese teams could hardly compete in.

The Chinese Dota scene is one of the most dedicated and hardcore gaming scenes I’ve ever encountered, so while I’m not the world’s biggest proponent of fans leaving the momentIMG_20180825_135536

LGD backstage

their team loses, not cheering for the victors, perhaps there is some common ground to be found by looking at it from a different perspective.

Students who spend all their savings travelling 20 hours by train across China for the chance to see their idol, to perhaps see the team they’ve watched hundreds of hours on tiny laptop screens in their 8-person dorm rooms raise the trophy, to meet with that guy that plays support in their stacks… Guys who played Dota 1 coming back to events for Dota 2, having not played in five years but still following that one player, that one team, young child and wife in tow. Using their one annual vacation to make it to Shanghai, hopeful of getting tickets for finals day as they’d only managed to buy tickets for one day. The couple from all the way across China that stood outside the gates, snacks in hand, at DAC 2018 finals day all day, hoping someone would have extra tickets (near the end even the scalpers had mostly sold out).

Yeah, I know, as Dota fans we all have these types of experiences but in China a lot of fans literally define themselves by it. It’s what they’ve chosen as their life and lifestyle. When Chinese pros and personalities say “Dota is my youth,” they mean it. And the fans follow suit. It’s not a question of whether they’ll stay up until 10am watching TI every year. It’s whose apartment they’ll watch at, and what they’ll eat at 5am when they get hungry.

Multiply that by millions and that’s the pressure that consciously or unconsciously gets transferred to Chinese players, magnified by the fact that a lot of Chinese pros share the same exact experiences.

(Maybe, there’s hunger in my blood)

The Aegis is there, if I just run a little harder… a little faster, it’ll be here. And then it wasn’t anymore. I think he just wanted to win. Too much. Is there even such a thing as wanting to win too much? If there is, then why do we compete? What are our dreams made of?

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Waiting for an interview that never came

So, Ame. After the incident with BurNIng at TI7, a lot of people disliked him. Add to that his demeanor, one which expresses nearly no emotion, and people have tagged him as arrogant, egotistic, toxic, whatever.

I took it upon myself to talk to Nicholas, a long-time manager at LGD to learn a bit more before making any conclusions. Ame originally had graduated high school with pretty good grades and had successfully made it into a decent university. Right around that time, he was scouted by inflame, and the LGD organization invited him to join CDEC.Y. His parents were very worried about this turn, and it took quite some convincing for them to allow their son to choose the esports option over university. So he put school on hold, choosing the high risk high reward path, and the day he was to report to LGD, his parents drove him over to the teamhouse themselves. His mom still calls every week to check on him and make sure he eats properly. The only thing he does is play Dota, he hardly plays any other games, and even on dates with his girlfriend he’ll bring his mouse and keyboard in a backpack so they can go to the internet cafe… to play Dota. To me, this isn’t the picture of an immature little flamer that lets things get to his head. It isn’t the picture of someone who feels superior to the world because they’re the carry player for LGD. It’s the picture of me, or any number of us, at his age (minus the general success and prowess at this game). Introverted, just wants to play Dota, not great at expression, parents that worried about him as he grew up, wondering if he’ll ever get past ‘that gaming phase’. And ultimately coming out of childhood still needing to learn a bit how to interact with the world.

Post-TI8 (Afterparty)

Afterparty. There are free hot dogs provided out front. Ramzes666 is having a good time and yelling fuck at coach 71, who seems to be on good terms with the VP carry. They’re all looking to get hot dogs and joke jovially as their turn in line comes. The Winstrike boys are right there in the mix. I see other afterparty regulars, EE-sama, Aui_2000, some of Liquid, a few EG guys in and out. Almost no one from the Chinese teams. I don’t drink or smoke, but I still don’t remember much of the details, because it was loud, and I was tired.

The night breezes along in the cool Vancouver night as conversations float into the billows of cigarette smoke clouding the sidewalk along the front of the afterparty venue. Players and representatives from different teams flit between each other, looking to glean intel and gain an edge in blossoming discussions regarding the next season — the infamous ‘post-TI roster shuffle’ in action, as it were. In between these more serious activities, casual conversation abounds as most of the talent from EN and RU are seen, along with a few from CN even, xiao8 for example who shows up towards the latter half of the night.

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The afterparty scene

Late in the night I see Evany from OG, with Fly (who is obviously not from OG now, yet had been for such a long time). Not entirely sure what to say in that situation, so I just tell her I hope you are good. A few casual ‘feelsbadmans’ are exchanged with Fly regarding his 3rd place exit, but perhaps it’s because of both our personalities that the day’s situations pass by without much more serious discussion of anything. I think we’re both ready to keep looking forward.

They’re headed to Taiwan next and a bit of envious chatter from me about all the good food in store for them, and they’re off back to the hotel as well.

Hanging out with iceiceice at the afterparty seems a tradition now. He always goes to these, and I usually show up to find food, and then we just chat. We talk random stuff, from new teams being formed to whether he wants to go to PAX, which is in Seattle the next week. He’s always wanted to go to PAX, first mentioning it back in 2014, but now that this is the closest TI to PAX time, he can’t because he has a baby at home.

Near the end of the night, we come across OG.ana as we make our way out of the afterparty. He hugs Zhili, who was manager at iG when ana was there. Then he grabs me and gives me a hug too as I congratulate him. Thanks, he says. “You don’t need to worry about finishing school anymore,” I remark, referring to our conversation earlier during TI8 press day. And he’s like yeah, in that Aussie accent, with that Aussie smirk.

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The wishes of a million Dota fans

By this time it’s close to 3am, and instead of heading back to my own hotel, I hang out in front of the Sheraton where it is still buzzing with that energy that follows TI.

Zai’s chilling outside, and we just chat a bit. The front of the hotel is the smoking spot, so we talk about smoking as a bad habit in esports. Snus, betel nuts. Different addictions across the world of esports. Then we talk esports scene and growth or prospects and future stuff. How it felt like, after TI7 with all the new teams emerging and Liquid being these globally accepted winners, there was so much optimism in the Dota scene. And how somehow it feels different, almost opposite now for some reason after TI8. Disbands, shuffles, declining player base, uncertainty for organizers and organizations alike. How mobile games in China have all the girlz and stuff, while Dota is the biggest sausagefest ever. Nightclubs in Shanghai. Missing home.

He asks when this very writeup is estimated to come, and I’m like soon, within a few days hopefully! If I don’t commit a timeline then I procrastinate it, and that’s something I hate about myself. So, thanks to zai for helping keep me accountable on this.

Morad and Charlie are around for a bit too. They talk about how Sumail and Miracle are a bit similar. Morad says he literally has to force Miracle to eat his vegetables at times, and Charlie doesn’t believe it, or maybe he does because the phrase that the manager is also a babysitter is one that I’ve heard repeated through the Western and Chinese Dota scenes.

At the end of my adventure in front of the Sheraton tonight, I finally find kuroky outside the hotel at around 4am. I don’t even recall what the opportunity was for me to meet him originally, but this guy has always felt like he could be a brother in a different timeline. We think and approach things similarly. I like to think I share his quiet determination.

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Vancouver, 5am

We talk a bit — what’s next? What was in the past. TI8. He’s like “I hope you still supported us this year!” I tell him I put Liquid as my favorite team again this year. Because if they were my favorite last year, and they’re still the same five guys playing the same game, then there’s no reason to change it. He says their performance should’ve disappointed but I say nah, as long as you give your best it doesn’t disappoint.

I ask him what he’s still doing up this late, and he tells me he likes to be able to slowly take in the last night of TI. There’s no need to sleep right now. Me too, me too. We talk a bit about Tokyo, as the topic of where we’d like to live or visit comes up. I suggest he visit, and promise recommendations of good (chicken-based) ramen places next. On Serenity, he says they learned really quickly in pre-TI scrims in Vancouver, and were playing well towards the start of TI in those scrims, but then in TI, they kind of went away from what they were doing in scrims. The TI stage gets to you, I guess.

The night ends around 6am for me as I get some food with Reisen (the Korean player) who was here to watch TI. The Vancouver early morning is a bit chilly as the slightest tinge of fall begins to bleed into late summer.

Sun Aug 26 (post TI8 day)

I’ve stayed up until 7am, and there’s an 11am breakfast/post event gathering with a few of the main people I work with at Valve, Ronald and Sharon. Three hours of sleep, whatever — you live once, you’re young once, so it’s a fun brunch kind of engagement but it’s too soon before there are flights to catch and goodbyes to be said again.

In the afternoon, I message iceiceice to see if he wants waffles, at a place I’d recommended to him on Twitter two weeks ago. It feels like an eternity ago, really. We order and eat our waffles and he’s like ooooh these are gooood. They are quite good indeed.

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at Nero Belgian Waffles

Then I show him another place I’d recommended, a pork tonkatsu place that’s recently opened in Vancouver, and he’s like let’s walk back to the hotel, chill a bit, then go eat tonkatsu. So it’s a leisurely stroll back, and a few hours spent in the hotel lobby chatting about the kinds of idle things that you chat about on lazy late summer afternoons.

Interspersed within are occasional fans catching iceiceice for a photo, or someone from a team or sponsor stopping to say hi, and then the rare sighting of LGD who are coming back from some shopping. Iceiceice plays annoying paparazzi on Somnus as he walks in and takes photos of the LGD mid player on his phone, delighted in having done so. It turns out he’s taken video as well, so he’s now got a video clip of Somnus walking through the hotel lobby with his girlfriend, seemingly unawares of being filmed.

We talk a bit more about stuff — his next team, what they should pay, and just general life things. With his wife, we remark on how he used to be more popular back in his DK.iceiceice days. Well, yeah, that was DK. Then we go to get tonkatsu, which he says is really really good, and I was like told ya so! “Should’ve come here earlier, huh?” But he disagrees on the latter statement and says that it’s good to come now, because only now can you really enjoy it.

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With Sir Iceiceice

Food, I guess, loses some flavor when pressure is the only thing you can taste while still competing in a TI.

Back at the hotel again, he has to go pack for a flight in four hours, but no one really wants to say bye just yet, so we go and harass people who are clearly trying to poach each others’ players (no comment on who was involved). He’s already got his own team settled for the most part, so he’s happily saying “I just want to gossip! Gossip!” At one point, iceiceice sees Fy out for some fresh air and waves over at him, pretending like he wants to recruit Fy to his team. Fy knows what’s up though and dismisses iceiceice with a shake of the hand and a smile.

Before we know it, the night is over and so is our TI8.

Post (other)

Feeding frenzies in my brain

I can only imagine how it feels for days, weeks, forever, perhaps to lose a TI grand finals in five games the way LGD did. I can’t really imagine, but in a lot of ways second place is — at least immediately afterwards — worse than nearly any other result. You lose 3-0, it’s probably not so bad, but a close 2-3 loss and you’ll likely be left wondering what if for a long time.

Somnus’s Weibo post brings lament. “It’s as if I’ve just been through a really, really long dream. My journey through the dream was a lot of fun, but the ending painful. How I wish I could wake up and it’s the day we first arrived in Vancouver, we’ll be going to eat and I’d tell my teammates about this dream over food.”IMG_20180825_203753

Incidentally, iceiceice and I were just saying how it’d be amazing to be able to replay life over and over from save points, but with the knowledge gained from each past play. I guess the desire to manipulate time is a nearly universal one.

I’m hopeful every day, gotta get it while we’re still young enough to break

But BurNIng’s response says it all: “You’re still young. This isn’t the closest you’ll come to winning it all, next time grab it with your own two hands!”

And Fy’s Weibo post strikes an optimistic tone. “Actually it’s okay. If you get knocked down, just stand back up. You guys don’t need to send me messages of condolence anymore. The allure of esports is in loss and victory. Getting ready to go home now. The me of the future, will become even stronger.”

We’re finally not afraid

Next (future)

It’s been a really long and tiring season for everyone involved. I’ve helped plan and execute multiple enormous tournaments in China, learned and seen more in one year than I have in any year previous, and been to another TI. For all this I am so appreciative and hopefully there is more to come for me, and from me.

For now, we look forward to TI9. In Shanghai! I never thought I’d see it, but here we are.

Thank you to everyone — for reading this, for supporting the game, the teams, the scene. Thank you to Valve, PGL, fans, teams, players, staff, and everyone that has given something to this world.

Thank you, Dota

You can follow me

on Twitter: twitter.com/AutumnWindz
on Weibo: weibo.com/AutumnWindz

 

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Maybe next time

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