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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The Summit 4 in my view

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

Tues Dec 8

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

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

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Southern Californiaaaaa

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

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

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

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New kids on the block

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

 

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

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

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The crown prince and the emperor

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

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

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A bright ending

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

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EHOME eating

Weds Dec 9

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

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

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

Thurs Dec 10

 

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

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Teaching moments

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

 

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

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Another Summit, more Pro Evo..

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

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Heh

Fri Dec 11

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

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Captain LaNm

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

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

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\o/

he loves eating chicken.

 

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

Sat Dec 12

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

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

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The King of Fighters

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

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

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

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Yes hello

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

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

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

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More In-N-Out

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

 

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

Sun Dec 13

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

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Fy

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

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

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

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Enjoying the end

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

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

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LaNm buying stuff for his kid

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

Mon Dec 14

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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The International 2015 in my view

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

This is TI5 from my point of view…

July 22 (Weds)

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

Info booklet for 2015

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

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

July 23 (Thurs)

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

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

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

Very helpful schedules in the booklet

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

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

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

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

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

July 24 (Friday)

Newbee having some fun before the serious business begins

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

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

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

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

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

Newbee.Banana admires their rings from TI4

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

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

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

At the player’s dinner, TI5

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

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

July 25 (Sat)

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

iG hang around during their media day slot

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

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

EHOME interviewed by Chinese media

July 26 (Sun)

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

Ramen with Fnatic

out.

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

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

July 27 (Mon)

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

Fucker!

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

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

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

VP and Newbee awaiting their respective matches

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

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

Old times

July 28 (Tues)

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

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

EHOME

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

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

July 29 (Weds)

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

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

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

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

VG

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

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

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

July 30 (Thurs)

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

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

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

BurNIng gathers himself before iG vs NaVi

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

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

July 31 (Fri)

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

Newbee Bugattis

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

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

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

Aug 3 (Mon)

The red carpet at TI5

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

LGD watching, and making fun of xiao8

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

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

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

Jeremy Lin

Aug 4 (Tues)

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

EHOME waiting

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

rOtK and Kaci

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

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

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

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

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

Fy God

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

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

Aug 5 (Weds)

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

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

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

Agressif and CDEC

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

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

Aug 6 (Thurs)

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

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

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

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

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

Old friends reunite briefly

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

TI5 all-star night

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

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

Aug 7 (Fri)

CDEC after making it to the finals

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

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

Agressif on CCTV

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

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

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

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

LGD and CDEC on the day before last, TI5

Aug 8 (Sat)

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

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

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

An empty Key Arena marks the end of another TI

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

At the afterparty

you.

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

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

Me and Kuro

show was just so damn awesome.

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

Post-TI

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

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

Ramen team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VG.fy interview at MDL 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LGD i-League S3 winners’ interview excerpts

Watching the on-stage team interview live after LGD wins i-League S3… some interesting questions and answers that I jotted down for fun (not comprehensive).

For Maybe – this is your first title, and it’s not a small title. Right now, you might be the top mid player in China. Compared to other young mids in the West, such as Sumail and RTZ, what do you think of yourself?

Maybe: They’ve got more experience at these big international events than I do. But I will work hard.

For Yao – how did you turn some poor situations in your games around to your advantage in your last few games here at i-League?

Yao: Our lineups tended more towards mid-late game stability, while the other teams favored early-mid game aggression lineups. We held out and won that way. Also, our coach would tell us, don’t give up even if you fall behind, don’t
get careless against any opponent. He put a lot of words in our minds.

For Maybe – What was your experience with CDEC like? It seems like your time there really helped you out.

Maybe: My time at CDEC felt like a springboard to the real professional scene. When I first started out, I actually knew nothing about how things worked as a pro. But after a year of that I figured a lot of things out. Then when I joined LGD, I still wasn’t immediately a part of everything, it still took some time. But I learned that it is very important to figure out how to work out with your teammates and learn how to be in a team.

For xiao8 – Who do you think will make it through the China qualifiers?

xiao8: My predictions might not be accurate, but personally I favor EHOME and HGT

For Maybe – What is your favorite mid hero at the moment? And which is your best?

Maybe: Shadow Fiend, Storm Spirit. Because these two heroes just feel strong.
And everyone likes them. And I like them too, so I practice hard with them,
and I play alright with them.

For Yao – Two games out of three you guys had Bristleback. I’d like to ask you to compare your Bristleback versus Maybe’s.

Yao: My BB is mainly about creating space in early game, and stacking stuff for Maybe. Maybe’s is more about later dps as a core.

Supplementary question – In one game your BB was relegated to stacking creeps for Maybe. What was that about?

Yao: Maybe told me he wouldn’t give me the Empower later on if I didn’t stack for him. So I did it. And he also let me get some experience and gold in his lane while he cleared the stacks. So it was a transaction!

For xiao8 – talk a bit about the coach for your team?

xiao8: Coach does a lot for us, especially in helping make emotional adjustments individually.

For xiao8 – Yesterday you were defeated 2-1 by VG, yet today won 3-0. How/why?

xiao8: Honestly yesterday we played poorly, otherwise we could have won then. Today we made the necessary changes and turned things around.

For MMY – I heard you got a girlfriend recently. How did you meet? Has she come here to support you?

MMY: I tricked her into being my girlfriend through the internet. But she’s not here. The girl here is the coach’s girlfriend (jokes – coach has trouble with women but is working hard on improving that)

Supplementary: Yao says the coach told them to play well at this i-League to impress the girl for him. The goal set was to at least make it to finals.

For Yao – Your thoughts on Team MY?

Yao: They are a very respectable, strong team. They’ve got some veterans. We’ve learned a lot from them and they’ve learned from us over the years. They’ve always had that signature SEA style, aggressive.

Question from chat – for xiao8 – what’s the word on xiaoxiao8?

xiao8: Uh… this is secret for now. But I’ve been away on competitions for a long time now, so with my wife I haven’t actually even talked much for half a month.

Question from chat for Sylar – you single?

Sylar: Uhm… Right now I’m single. [host adds: Sylar rejected a beauty at a
competition a few weeks ago]

The Summit 3 in my view

After having gone to The Summit 1 last year prior to TI4, it seemed fitting that this year, somewhat before TI5 I’d find myself at the third iteration of the event: The Summit 3. I mean, there aren’t many other parallels on paper… the teams are all vastly different, the participants quite different, and even the tournament itself very different – in good ways, but more on that later (EE also had a good writeup to a similar effect here). Even as things changed so much after TI4, a lot of things remain the same. Everything… and everyone, felt familiar and real.

So here’s TS3 in my view. Who will even read this after my having been inactive here so long? No matter, I just want to get thoughts on paper again…

May 12 2015

Tiffany (the gf) and I flew out bright and early on May 12, the day that BTS had scheduled as their media day. I’d be needed to help with that, where they were to shoot some fun promo video bits, along with interviews. Having tagged along with me to various events in the past, often helping teams out as a friend when I was busy elsewhere, I think BTS made a good call in having her come along too given the three Chinese teams being present meant that there would be times where just having me may not be enough. I may be biased but this was by far not the only good call BTS made – TS3 ended up being one of the most organized and generally best events I’ve been at. Anyway…

Upon landing at the Ontario airport, we walked out to find a person gesticulating wildly at us through the windshield of a van. “Remember me?!?” he’d half shout, half laugh through the open window. I remember you SirActionSlacks, you’re the guy

Buggatis and stuff

that almost died of dehydration while interviewing people after the last day of TI4. Well, that’s not all you’re known for but I remember anyway. A short car ride later, we were again at the top secret BTS lair, where things were already in full swing in preparation for TS3.

credits to BTS flickr

Interviews were done, laughs were had, and somehow things felt like they’d never changed. I felt like I got back into the rhythm of things fairly quickly… Perhaps it is because of the casual atmosphere of the various Summits, perhaps it is players becoming more carefree, but when the BTS guys told the Chinese players to goof it up on camera — many of them were very receptive. Even players who traditionally project a very serious outward appearance such as BurNIng, xiao8, and Sylar got in on it. Even MMY — who is renowned for being awkward on camera — played along. This alone is an achievement of TS that I have not seen any other tournament manage.

Around noon, having a break in the action, I grabbed some food and joined VG on the couch in the fun stream room. Knowing that they counted many football (soccer) fans amongst their midst, I put on the Champions League semi-final matchup between Bayern and Barcelona. Support for the two teams seemed roughly split, even as old man 357 went on tangents about Batistuta and Rui Costa: “Where’s Rui Costa? Batistuta would have scored that!” accompanied by Hao and the VG manager JaL laughing at him.

VG watching FCB vs FCB

SSDs for everyone

There was some other stuff that happened on the pre-tournament day – BTS covered their bases in having everyone fill out tax and payment forms. For LGD, xiao8 took care of all their team’s stuff like the captain that he is, while Maybe had questions about everything (but not in a bad way). Afterwards, teams got scheduled time on the practice rooms and PCs, while teams with no scheduled time either went back to the hotel for the practice room there, or in the case of VG went to a nearby LAN cafe.

May 13 2015

This was the first match day of TS3. The day before, there had been a Hotbid interview with Super of VG with iceiceice doing the ‘translations’. Needless to say, certain meanings were distorted purposefully, and they enlisted my help to make subtitles to reflect the true meanings. That was fun.

On this first match day, VG registered – for lack of a better word – two fairly casual victories. They’d win their games, come out looking not too fussed, and then head downstairs to get food and play Pro Evo Soccer on the fun stream. There was an interview with Hao, always happy to talk and share his thoughts, and there was an interview with Fenrir who has come a long way from his early days of declining interviews back at D2L in January 2014. A long time ago, but not so long ago either… After his interview, Fenrir looked at me, and proudly went, “That was a pretty good one, eh!? I gave lots of good answers and stuff.”

At some point today the other Champions League matchup between Real Madrid and Juventus went down: Fy seems to be a Real Madrid fan, and more specifically perhaps, a Luka Modric fan as he’d asked about whether Modric was playing for Real Madrid and seemed a bit disappointed when told that he was out injured.

When dinner arrives for the night, Hao quickly returns with food, sits down and declares “This chicken is so fucking good!” in front of the 14-odd thousand viewers who are all tuned in to watching VG eat. After most of the day was over, VG decided to play poker in the fun stream room. Half of the stream seemed to be up in arms over this as it wasn’t their idea of fun (I hold no opinions on this matter). I attempted to interact with the BTS2 stream chat somewhat, to varying effect. Either way, it was fun for me as I’m not actually a twitch chat regular and don’t even have a twitch account. So to anyone on that chat: I had a good time, hope you guys all did too!

Later that night, I get word from iG that someone on their team is sick. It turns out it’s Luo, so with the help of BTS peeps I go about gathering some cold medicine and vitamins from the BTS house to bring back for him. Finding iG at the hotel, Faith and ChuaN immediately notice me and say hi. I hand them the medicine, and more concerned with making sure they know to relay the correct medical advice along, I go into the directions for how to take the each different item. Faith cheerfully repeats what I’ve told them and I’m satisfied that the information has been successfully relayed. Ferrari appears from the hotel practice room, notices my Wintersun shirt and wonders what it is.

credit to BTS flickr

The night is late so we all head together to the elevator. In the elevator, ChuaN bursts out laughing at BurNIng as he sees the picture from earlier of BurNIng grinning like a madman. BurNIng tries to explain himself, “they were doing all kinds of dumb stuff in that room so I laughed and got caught on camera, it’s not what it looks like!” But ChuaN is having none of it as he laughs his way out of the elevator and all the way to their rooms.

May 14 2015

Hao and the Newbee boss at an NBA game

Day two of TS3 matches brought a more serious atmosphere, as teams hunkered down into the competitive tension. The exception here being VG, as they would have multiple days between their appearance on day one of the event until their next match. Taking advantage of the lull in activity, Hao went with the Newbee boss (son of one of the richest dudes in China) to an NBA playoff match. Watching the actual match later, I tried to keep an eye out for them but someone else got a much better cap of them in sideline seats. Some people wondered how Hao got there – the Newbee boss arrived at the BTS house around 4pm (in a Rolls Royce) and took Hao with him through the LA traffic.

Throughout the duration of the event, there was a team from the GQ magazine on-scene filming stuff for what they told me would be an online feature into the world of competitive gaming. For this purpose, I tried to spend some time talking to them about the Chinese side of things along with just sharing some general information and advocate for Dota some, so to speak. They actually put me on camera and filmed me talking to them a bit about Chinese Dota, and since LGD was in the house that day they asked some questions about LGD.

LGD-Gaming

I wonder if that’ll make it into the feature, but it was interesting nonetheless that GQ would send a team to film for multiple days to get a story on esports. Pretty cool; I’m looking forward to see what they make of it. We did suggest to them to get Fy for a photoshoot because it’s GQ, and this is Fy, but I don’t know how that went. 😛

Around this time is also when I first discover the wonder that is Gang Beasts. Somehow I end up dominating everyone else at this game, which is interesting because I’ve literally never played the game before. It’s a hilarious game though.

May 15 2015

1v1 CS:GO

The first half of the day was rather laid back, as LGD and iG successively showed up at the house to prepare for their matches on the day. LGD hung around in the fun stream and out back on the patio, as the weather had finally gotten a bit better (it had been raining the past few days), while iG went upstairs to the practice room. They were spread around the room relaxing: ChuaN watching the games and joking around with people, BurNIng playing pubs, and Ferrari_430 casually challenging S4 to a 1v1 in CS:GO.

S4 asks, “What’s your rank?” And Ferrari’s response was that he had no rank, he’s never played ranked. S4 laughs a bit, because apparently S4 is really good at CS:GO. We all expected Ferrari to get rekt but he held his own, at least partially due to S4 going easy on him. The highlight of the 1v1 came when S4 jumped down from the area above the CT spawn (is it called the catwalk? Or A-short? I only know these nicknames in Chinese…) while Ferrari was below and knifed him for the kill midair. The whole room exploded in cheers at that point, but ultimately Ferrari_430 held his own and only lost by a couple kills.

People were passing around a notepad having pros draw their favorite heroes. I came across BurNIng struggling to draw not Anti-mage, but Faceless Void, which I think he chose because it was slightly easier to draw. Ferrari specifically looked up an ‘easy version’ of Shadow Fiend and practically traced it off the screen, while ChuaN spent many minutes researching his ideal Rubick look and had it ready on his phone for when the notepad finally came his way. His Rubick thus was one of the more impressive drawings of the day, and he even asked for green pen to color in the green highlights of Rubick, but was unfortunately denied as there was no green pen handy anywhere.

Later on today iG was eliminated. I think. I’m pretty sure it was this day. One truth of working at events is that you hardly have any time or energy to really sit down and watch games and follow the tournament as a fan might. Sometimes, when you finally have some downtime you just want to relax and not stare at a game. Anyway, I think iG was eliminated on this day, by LGD I believe it was. After losing, iG were in no real mood to hang out and left the house in record time — understandable as despite The Summit’s casual approach, the competition is serious and so is the prize money and glory on the line.

Blurry practice room look

In the evening word gets to me that iG wants to reschedule their flights and leave LA early, to which I tell them that it’ll cost probably hundreds of dollars each, and they would essentially only be leaving a day or so earlier. Despite their bugattis and whatnot, a couple hundred dollars is still money and while these guys see handsome salaries and steady prize money, I’ve never known a Chinese player to be wasteful and so they ended up staying for the original duration. By the time I encountered some of them back at the hotel again this night, their spirits seemed to be much recovered and Faith brightly confirmed again to me that they would indeed not be leaving early. My next order of business was to try and convince some of them to try their hand at casting or otherwise hanging out at the house, and I spent a good hour or two on this. ChuaN said “I’ll cast if BurNIng casts with me,” but BurNIng got away without doing it and in the end ChuaN would come hang out and cast the next day anyway.

May 16 2015

I don’t know how he always sits like this

The competition is really starting to heat up and people are actually watching the games in the fun stream room. Watching EG vs LGD, VG’s guys talk about Aui_2000, “His carry was really good, and he was really good on that D-team… Dignitas? And that PotM team he was on was good too!” Then game 2 comes and ChuaN has arrived. Sitting down with everyone else, including the LGD manager and coach, we witness LGD buying back somewhat haphazardly and ChuaN nods in understanding, “I can relate. By the time it gets to this point, you just can’t stay calm anymore, you just have to buyback!!”

In the end LGD loses to EG and that’s the end of their Summit 3 journey.

Watching…

Sometime during this day we’ve introduced VG’s Fenrir and Hao to the wonder that is Crossy Road. Some of these guys are really into mobile games as a time filler (which makes sense since they are constantly on the move). Somehow this particular game caught their attention especially, and Fenrir and Hao spent at least an hour competing with each other. They both got near 200, but I think Fenrir did better. As Fenrir plays the game he makes sound effects for his chicken crossing the road, declaring as he dies a hundredth time “I’d rather jump in the water than watch my little guy get hit by a truck!!” Moral victories, I suppose.

And then it’s time for VG versus Secret, and they go with their team back out on the patio to discuss their approach for the matchup.

Aui won but had to go so forfeited his next round

VG versus Secret would see the result of ChuaN volunteering himself to join a cast on stream. A bilingual cast for an international game. It went alright, I guess. I’m under no illusions that it was unanimously loved, nor do I think it was executed perfectly, but it was pretty cool just because of what it was. I wrote out some of my thoughts on the general matter on reddit here if you’re interested.

Later on in the evening there was the Smash Bros tournament, but by that time most players are gone or leaving and everyone left at the house is running on fumes. I win one match as Game and Watch then lost the next round to the eventual champion, and I’m ready to call it a night too.

May 17 2015

This is the last day of the tournament, and just as things are reaching a crescendo you’re also becoming acutely aware that, well, this is it — the finals are coming. Win or go home, and… go home anyway. Because the tournament is drawing to a close. Everyone always has a good time at Summits, and even though VG loses to EG and ends their tournament third in what can be considered an upset, spirits seem to remain relatively high. They spend a solid two hours discussing as a team in the back patio but then they’re back in the house, hanging out upstairs in the practice room. Iceiceice and 357 set up to play some pubs together, even BurNIng shows up and hangs out for a while.

Secret win woooo

It’s almost like the grand finals are a sideshow, and perhaps to a great many of the players at this point it is. I get the last open seat in the room, and it’s next to FATA, who has his desktop background repeating an image of some dude. When I ask him who it is, I learn from him the “legend of kebap”. Later on Puppey comes and sees the desktop as well and for a few minutes it is kebap story time – apparently he was a player on mTw and loved cheese. Or something.

Iceiceice is playing Doom and has eaten the new rock golem creep, which causes mini versions of Doom to spawn whenever he dies. Every time he dies, he laughs like a maniac while trying to throw rocks at the enemies with the mini Dooms. BurNIng’s in the corner pubbing, but when I go look closer, he’s streaming… And he’s streaming on ZhanqiTV, and it’s lagging, and he’s constantly trying to make it less laggy but in the end it never really improves. We get him and some of the VG guys some In-N-Out, then BurNIng weighs himself on the scale in the bathroom and apparently he’s only 65 kg.

first time Super ever smiled

Fenrir, Fy, and Super hang out with us a bit and we chatter for a while. We talk about life and stuff… it was kinda deep. Then they want to go, but Fenrir keeps chatting, and Fy just stands there kind of blankly. He says, “I thought you guys were having a good time chatting so I was just gonna wait.” But we let them go, but not before I get a picture.

At some point Secret wins and the after party starts. Certain individuals get drunk and stumble around dangerously, doors are torn off walls, more people are on the floor than not at certain points in time.

see you

SmAsH smashing us all

After sending them off, I come back inside and there’s an impromptu game of Smash 64 going on. Except it’s not really a game, because it’s a massacre, and the massacre is coming at the hands of SmAsH of Not Today. Somehow I think we may have figured out the origins of his ID… Anyway, he’s coming out of a 4 player FFA with 3 out of 4 lives intact and 8 KOs on average per round. I try to 1v1 him after the others give up, the best I get is down to his last stock but it’s clear he is an excellent Smash 64 player, the best in the house, and he’s done it all with a giant grin on his face.

As the chaos swirls around us, BurNIng makes to leave in the night. He goes to find LD to express his thanks and bid farewell, then he’s off too. I go back upstairs to watch iceiceice play his pubs, and PPD comes over. He’s a funny dude when he wants to be and briefly sarcastically commentates on SumaiL’s pub game from over his shoulder. He also notes to iceiceice that “I was surprised when we beat you guys” and everyone just generally hangs out and exchanges pleasantries in a way that a shared interest allows. I find Kuroky and Zai at some point and say hi, then bye, because it’s getting quite late…

Eventually it’s sufficiently late that I feel like I should go too, and I run around the house trying to find and bid farewell to everyone I can, the BTS guys and gals, the people running camera and sound (for some of whom this is their first esports event), other personalities and whatnot, players… but I’m sure I still missed people. Regardless, this is a big thank you to everyone at the event and everyone working tirelessly to make the event what it is.

Thanks lastly again to BTS for having me here. As I mentioned in the short mini interview Toffees did with me on stream, it’s a privilege, and it’s always been a privilege, to be able to see all this at the ground level over the years and actually be a part of it too.

You can follow Dotaland on Twitter for occasional updates: twitter.com/Dotaland

The International 2014 in my view

The International 2014 in my view

This is The International 2014 from my point of view. I tried to share thoughts, insights, and generally give a feel for what it was like during two weeks of the greatest esports event the world has ever seen. You can also check out the full album of pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/u7okG#0

And follow DOTALAND for more updates: https://twitter.com/Dotaland

Saturday – Sunday – Monday July 7

Hi again…

Over the weekend before everyone had arrived, we went early to meet up with DK — who had also arrived early — and get some dinner. BurNIng had been out shopping, MMY and LaNm were doing who knows what, so in the end it was Mushi, iceiceice, and we went out for some Japanese food. It was okay. Mushi was still jet-lagged, and loudly exclaimed on a few separate occasions, “I’m dying!!” On the way back, they picked up a pizza for the others.

On Sunday or Monday evening, just after coming to say hi, Basskip noticed a phone on the floor. I took a look at it and upon seeing the lock screen, I knew whose it was, and went to return it to xiao8. Xiao8 thanked me, explaining that he’d just run into Bulba by gesturing at Bulba who was still nearby, and in their excitement at seeing each other in what one might imagine to be quite the physical greeting, his phone dropped out of his pocket and had been missing for a few minutes. The first few days before anything officially started went on like that, with old friends greeting each other, and new friends being made.

Tuesday July 8

The summer of 2014 has been one I’ve looked forward to for a while now, with TI4 only being one major part. The other part, of course, was the World

Another year

Cup, and this day was Brazil versus Germany in the World Cup semi finals. My ideal outcome would have been, I guess, the German in Black advancing in the Wild Card matches, and Brazil advancing in the semi finals of the World Cup. The reality, as it often is for me, was the opposite of my hopes. It was always going to be hard, of course, with CIS having had so many troubles before finally arriving in Seattle, and Brazil missing vital players — and so even as the Germans on the green grass of football demolished their opponents, the German and his Chinese comrades fell on the digital fields of Dota.

Afterwards, Black found some solace in the company of DK, who were making their way by foot to a nearby secret HQ they had established. They kindly offered us a look in — it would be an apartment nearby, provided by a friend, with full PC setups. I’d known of DK’s plans for doing this, but seeing it all still left me impressed at just how much work they’d put into TI4.

Yes, yes, we’ll pick that…

On the way over to the apartment, DK commandeered a set of cards that each had a Dota character printed on them. They took turns drawing cards until they got five, saying that the five would be their picks for their next matches. Though the cards were randomly shuffled, LaNm still kept getting a hero he is quite familiar with, Enchantress. Every time that happened, he’d throw his head back and laugh loudly. That transitioned on to them each drawing five and theory-crafting whose lineup might win, which quickly devolved into shouting and jesting on the sidewalk as we waited for some of the others to get their Starbucks orders. The sun was shining on a warm Seattle day, and things were casual, if only for one last day.

On our way back from checking out DK’s secret base, Black and I stopped by a nearby restaurant, where some Valve people and some players, including Fata and Kuroky, were watching the remainder of the Brazil vs Germany match. Asked how he felt about the then 0-7 scoreline, Kuroky smiled wanly and replied, “It’s okay, I don’t really care about this though.” I was meant to meet him there earlier to watch more of the match together, but since Black had previously expressed a desire to watch the match, I had waited a bit for him so

“Reporter Kuroky on the scene with iceiceice here after he’s just lost his defense of the solo title”

he could come along too.

The Solo Championship was also today. After iceiceice crashed out early and S4 eventually won, iceiceice sagely said, “The winner of the solo championship cannot win that year’s International. Lose solo championship, win TI4!!” He cited his solo title from last year alongside his team’s performance, and after Mushi also lost, he was even more convinced in this theory.

Ping pong DK

430 vs Dendi ping pong

There was a ping pong table set up in an area of the Westin Bellevue, where players from pretty much every team played some ping pong at some point over the week. Some legendary matchups were seen here, such as Ferrari_430 vs Dendi, Mushi vs BurNIng, XBOCT vs the world…

Later in the evening, I took Lumi over to an Asian supermarket so he could buy some lemon honey nectar for his voice. At night, I also came across Fenrir playing a pub game as Earthshaker. Not having any earphones in, he had no sound nor sound effects, obviously. We chatted about the goings-on on screen, with me calling jokingly gg for the other team as his team suffered wipe after wipe, and him happily chiming, “No, we will win!” Since he had no sound, he created his own sound effects for his Earthshaker. Every time he’d use Enchant Totem, he’d go “dooong!” in a sing-song voice, and then he’d add in “baang!” in a similar way with Fissures or the occasional ultimate. In the end, he lost, but it felt like a happy pub game nonetheless.

Wednesday July 9

DK coach 71 has taken to calling me “Two bro”, explaining that, “In each of the two times you’ve been present at our events the past year, we’ve placed number two”. And I’d answer each time, “I don’t wanna be two bro!” He’d grin, sometimes respond that he was just kidding, and we might meander off into some other topic if he wasn’t needed elsewhere.

To dinner… and a better tomorrow

After a tough first group stage day, DK planned on going to get dinner at nearby Boiling Point, a Chinese restaurant serving individual-style hot pots. I came along for the short walk over, planning on leaving to head back after they arrived at the restaurant since I’d already eaten. When we got there, BurNIng pulled me in with them, saying “Come!! Just come!” and even though I didn’t plan on eating… who can say no to BurNIng? So I sat with them while they ate, we talked around about the day’s matches, life, girlfriends… stuff like that. When BurNIng’s food came, he dropped a chopstick and asked for a new set. After the new set came, he had grabbed them in his right hand, yet began looking around and asked, “Where did those new chopsticks go??” He looked around confused for multiple seconds. “What about those in your right hand?” I gestured at him. He looked down slowly, looked back up slowly, rolled his eyes with a big smile on his tired face, and went to work eating a much-needed meal. LaNm was hungry too, having immediately called for a second bowl of rice after the first had arrived, stating that “I have already decided that this will not be enough!”

Sometimes swings his player badge behind him, and walks in a wobbly fashion

Later at night, a few of us are playing some pubs in the now-deserted practice area. Nighttime is essentially the only time the practice area is open — during the day it is always full of players, coaches, and occasionally other casters/etc. Around midnight, Mushi arrives, sets himself up in a corner, and watches replays, not leaving until well past 3 AM.

Thursday July 10

I helped with some interviews on this day. The Sylar interview was pretty alright, I think, since he doesn’t get interviewed too much. At the end of the interview, there was a question asked on what he’d do with 1 million dollars if he won. Thinking about it for a few moments, he then answered that he’d help his mom achieve her dream of being able to visit Macau on a vacation. Heart-warming, and I feel like I keep saying this, but Sylar is really much nicer than his stone-cold veneer suggests. After the interview concluded, we walked back to the main viewing room, and he explained to me again, “Before I left home this year, my mom asked me to do well so I could help her take this trip to Macau, it’s been her dream vacation…”

LGD contemplate

Since they won all four games on day two of group stage after having eaten at Boiling Point, DK decided to go to Boiling Point for dinner again this day. All about not changing what works, or something like that. Incidentally, NewBee, VG, and LGD all decided on this place for dinner at various times as well this evening — whether their results would match DK’s after eating here would remain to be seen.

On LGD’s way over to dinner, I ran into them, and walked with DD for a bit. He quietly sighed, looking contemplative after some poor results for them thus far, “Beaten almost into tears…” Some quietness ensued, but true to his more out-going personality, he perked up a bit as we talked about the upcoming VIP and players’ Secret Shop day prior to the main event. He’d been excited about the Secret Shop since before arriving in Seattle, having asked me about details of the catalog already, and sharing with me his plans to exchange for over a thousand dollars in USD in order to buy things at the Shop. Later on after the Shop day, I ran into him again as he activated his codes — of which he had gotten many Genuine Golden ones — and he had looked quite pleased with himself indeed.

The teams, after winning or losing, would mostly all spiritedly debate and discuss things.Even LGD, who could be said to be having a pretty tough time at TI4 thus far, seemed to be in okay spirits — well, as okay as you can get after some hard losses — and mostly spent their time together. Later in the night, Yao came down to check out some replays and play a

“I’d beat you in Starcraft 2”

pub or two to switch things up a bit. He’s always got a big smile on his face when he sees me, but it was clear that as captain of his team at TI4, the pressure was immense, and he walked with a certain weight around his shoulders.

As the evening wound into night, a few of us set up shop once again in the now mostly-empty practice area to play some Age of Empires 2. Near the end of the game, which we played 3v3 against bots, iceiceice shows up, with his team having finally wrapped up their day. We briefly debate some of the qualities of the Age of Empires, things move on for a short time to Starcraft 2 where iceiceice asserts that he’d beat Black handily, and then Black runs off to play ping pong. Iceiceice then goes on to watch some replays, and I watch iceiceice watch replays. “I dunno why I watch replays… I just look at people run around” says iceiceice as he has the camera centered on one hero with replay speed on max. “I just watch replays ‘cuz everyone else does,” he shrugs.

Friday July 11

There was a really long interview with Ferrari_430 today that the Russian interviewer morf asked me to help with. I’d had no idea it was going to be that long, and even though Ferrari was a good sport and the interview itself wasn’t bad, by about 25 minutes in he was starting to get antsy. When we ended, he grinned a bit and asked if all Russian interviews are this long… to which I responded that I have no idea, because, well, I have no prior experience in this realm either. Later on in the All-star match at the TI4 main

Like this!!

event, Ferrari might have given himself a reputation as a tryhard no-fun type, but in honesty he’s pretty far from that. Sure, he definitely has a tryhard gene in him, and that’s because he finds fun in trying hard, but he likes playing games in general. There’s something carefree about the way he conducts himself — some might call it aloof, but in his own words, “I’m really bad around strangers but once I get to know someone, I can’t shut up.”

After the day’s matches, in which DK manages to achieve a decent result after an early 0-2 start on the day, BurNIng declares that he needs to go next door to the bowling alley/arcade to relax. So he disappears. Shortly afterwards, upon hearing that BurNIng is there, Mushi follows suit, and we had some DK.BowLIng. BurNIng claimed it was his first time playing, and the way he held the ball and sent it down the lane supported this assertion, yet his ending score of around 130 suggested otherwise. Beginners’ luck, perhaps. Mushi clearly has bowled before, and his bowling stance looked quite professional to my untrained eyes, but even his score didn’t beat BurNIng’s beginners’ score of 130.

Saturday July 12

There was another interview with the Russian guy — I think by this point I’ve figured out that he’s from Prodota — today, with BurNIng. I don’t really recall what the interview covered, and I don’t really recall what I was talking about with BurNIng while we waited for the interview, but apparently it was okay.

Waiting around

LGD stay alive

Today’s LGD, after winning to get into tiebreakers, were buoyant, and shouts could be heard from in their room. As the game was called, DD burst out of the doorway shouting, scaring

A coin flip

DK’s coach 71 who was sitting outside the room watching their game on a screen. Yao came following out, still shaking with an electric adrenaline, and he hugged each of his team’s players. Before the next tiebreaker, Yao and xiao8 came together for a short time, and they shook hands and shared some words in the way long-lost brothers might, “Good luck, I hope we may both advance.” There was a steely resolution in the words, and though the words held hope, there was also a tentative caution that both sides shared. They both understood fully well that this TI has been one of surprises and upsets and that nothing was guaranteed.

Later in the afternoon, iceiceice wanted pork belly and the only place I could think of that had it was ramen, so we went to nearby Santouka to get ramen. It was good, he said. I agree, but I don’t think I’m as picky about food as he is. Later on, Mushi, Black, and ohaiyo wanted food too so we went with them again, where the ramen was also said to be very good by them. Ohaiyo in particular noted, “I will bring my team here to eat!” After that, Mushi wanted to go bowling again, so Winter, Black, Mushi and my girlfriend played while I watched (because I don’t really like bowling, it feels awkward to be on the lane, and then walk back to a watching group of people). Winter and Mushi are very serious about bowling — which is apparently quite the popular activity in Malaysia — so I think they mostly won. Black was really bad since it was his first time, but improved with each gutterball.

Going to ramen…

Sunday July 13

After winning to secure winner bracket privilege, DK did not have much to do the rest of the day. First they wanted to get some early dinner. Iceiceice once again suggested ramen at Santouka. When Mushi

DK.Basketball

said that he didn’t really want ramen, iceiceice became desperate, and immediately went to his knees to beg. In the end, 11 of us went together to ramen. Some of DK, some friends, and some Chinese casters. One of the tables got some orders of gyoza, and when the gyoza was all eaten, an argument broke out over just which fucker ate all the goddamned gyoza. Fingers were pointed, and MMY ended up having to defend himself adamantly, saying that he’d only eaten his own plate of gyoza. Still, others weren’t convinced, and the casual ribbing continued for a while at their table.

In the evening, I was making a trip back across the water to Seattle, and some of DK wanted to tag along. Coach 71 and Mushi came to shoot some hoops at the basketball court near where I live; even though Mushi is pretty good at basketball, he got tired quickly, and went to lie down while loudly exclaiming again, “I’m dying!!” On the other hand, 71 ran around shooting hoops for a good hour while the evening went on.

Afterwards, we went to a nearby restaurant and got some refreshments — iced tea and the like. Mushi reflected, “I really like this kind of lifestyle, the quiet and calm.” As the sun gradually infused the sky with ember tones, we began to make our way back. The sunset was reflected off the downtown buildings which we could see across the water, and for a brief moment, the horizon glowed in the same purple hues as the theming of this International. “Good observation,” 71 noted it too.

Earlier on the ride over, while going through the Battery Street tunnel in Seattle, 71 quipped, “This is a sexy tunnel.” It being a relatively run down, narrow tunnel, I’d asked why, and his answer was that it just was. On the way back, across I-90, going through the tunnel back towards Bellevue, I asked him whether this one was sexy as well. “Nope,” he replied very matter-of-factly.

“I feel like I’ve spent a very fulfilling day now,” Mushi said as we pulled back into the Westin Bellevue parking garage. “I really enjoy that kind of lifestyle.”

Monday July 14

In the afternoon, I sat with VG for a while, where rOtk, Fenrir, Fy, and 357 were playing some pub games. Fy was on Invoker, and at one point he called everyone’s attention to himself, “Who wants to see something cool?” as he used Sunstrike near the opposing fountain, trying to hit a low-hp escaper. As is the case when you call things out like that, he missed, everyone laughed at him, and as a cascading effect

The PC area commonly looked something like this through the day

of fail, shortly afterwards rOtk’s Naix died somewhere near the enemy T4 towers while most or all other towers were still up.

In a lull of action, I sat with LaNm, who was eating some lunch. He questioned the authenticity of the Asian-style food provided at the Westin Bellevue, “This is weird!” he said. I pointed out that at least “It’s better than last year…” and he nodded a bit. In truth, the food was generally pretty alright, but perhaps only to more ‘internationally’ acclimated tastebuds.

We talked a bit about the bubble race games going on on-screen at the time. LaNm always talks loudly about games, and he tends to find humor in a lot of things. If someone makes a funny play, he’ll laugh loudly. Earlier he was reflecting on watching another team’s replays, “And their support, he’s barely got brown boots, and he’s already put Sheepstick in his quick buy area! Such huge dreams for a lowly support!!” he’d exclaim happily. I asked him if he was really retiring, even though he’d stated as much personally in an interview, even though I knew enough about him that it seemed likely…

“Yeah.” came the answer, clear and concise.
“What do you plan on doing afterwards, then?”
“Do some commentary, maybe coaching.” he replied, and even though he’s shown that he can be a brilliant commentator, and shown that he has an excellent strategic mind, there was a small sense of loss in that moment. And perhaps another sense — one that added a feeling of true finality to this year’s DK. It would be win or nothing in a lot of ways for them.

At night, I hanged out a bit with Hao and Sansheng, who were, of course, going out back to smoke. They offered me a cigarette, which I politely declined, but the point is that they’re both really friendly people. Both of them are quick to smile, quick to laugh, and are rarely seen without either a smile or a laugh on their face. They chattered on about some happenings in their earlier matches on the day, joking and making fun of things. Night had fallen and a light breeze blew across the area — fresh off some gruelling matches, with a few days of break before the next set of high pressure challenges, this was the eye of the storm and the hot summer weather of the past few days had given way to a refreshing coolness this evening.

The foosball table set up near the ping pong table also regularly saw visitors, and for a little while, DK looked as lighthearted as I’ve ever seen them, joined by noted football (soccer) fan Banana.

They say Sansheng is the guy that everyone loves, and a bit later he was back out with 357. Smoking, again, of course, and we were joined by Puppey and Kuroky. Puppey learned how to say 357 in Chinese, while 357 told Puppey what one of his Chinese transliterated nicknames is after Puppey had asked. The nickname was an uncouth one, as nicknames often are in Chinese, yet 357 said it in an endearing way and Puppey sportingly laughed. Soon, a group of somewhat drunk Russians came out with a boombox and began playing their music. Puppey smirked in his unique way, and said “Time to go,” and we headed back into the building.

Tuesday July 15

Not much really happened on this day. Most of the players hung out on the third floor playing pubs, watching replays, or otherwise whiling

“This thing is bigger than my head”

the time away. The eliminated players had mostly gotten over their sadness, while the players still in the tournament were enjoying some last moments of breathing room… it felt like an ‘eye of the storm’ kind of moment.

At night, a few of us made another of our late night Safeway runs (walks, really — and Safeway is only five minutes away by foot). Iceiceice got another of the iced teas that he’d come to like, while FATA and I settled on splitting a rather large sandwich.

Wednesday July 16

This was the day that the Valve HQ tour was scheduled. Players, production, and VIPs were apparently all invited, and it’s possible that Valve did not expect the turnout that, well, turned out. Hundreds of people made the trip over from Westin Bellevue to their offices, and after a short walk, the lobby of their building looked a little frightening. In the end, things were figured out, and we were shuttled up from the lobby to their offices in small, manageable groups of 10-12 each.

The meet and greet at Valve HQ

Though I’d been to Valve offices and gotten the tour before in the past, it’s always a treat to see and hear again the inner workings of one of the most fascinating (and productive, arguably) places around. Prior to the tour beginning, Valve handed out small stacks of cards to all of the players present — upon further inspection, there were the player autograph cards that became hot commodities during TI4. Following

Some player autograph cards

the tour, the meet and greet session held in one of Valve’s common areas would see players, staff, and VIPs from all over the world mingling and greeting each other with these autograph cards as an icebreaking point.

Through the course of TI4, I only went for cards from players that I either know, or otherwise have some sort of affinity for, figuring that it would be most fair if I left the cards from other players to people who were bigger fans of those specific players. After all, in addition to the couple dozen that players were given at this meet and greet, each player would have only 1000 additional cards. Almost everyone ran out of their small stack of cards during the Valve meet and greet, and for a while there was an impromptu line formed for people to get photos and cards with Dendi. Not wanting to abuse any privilege, I lined up as well, and after hitting the front of the line, Dendi grinned and said, “I know what you want!!” He handed me a card, either he gave me a hug or I gave him one, and I quickly left him to get back to his real work in greeting all the other fans with VIP access.

Though many of the Chinese teams and personalities chose to skip this meet and greet in favor of getting more rest or otherwise hanging out elsewhere this afternoon, there were also plenty of Chinese players that did come along (some of them due to my encouraging). Ferrari_430 was like a kid in a candy store with his player cards, except he was the candy store boss, and the candies he was selling he was giving away for free instead. To put it simply, he seemed enormously happy to be giving cards out, and he’d somehow figured out where to get more stacks of his own cards, and managed to sneak in to get more of them on at least one additional occasion. When DK finally arrived towards the end of the meet and greet, Ferrari_430 eagerly went up to them to propose a card swap. When hearing that DK had yet to get their own cards, he brought them over to me, and eager as I was as well, I went with them to go secure some of their own cards.

You can only imagine how popular DK were at this event, and they were soon swarmed by people looking to get their cards. It was a novelty, and somehow even I got swept up in it even though usually I

T_vidotto, BurNIng, and LaNm

couldn’t care less about these things. It’s something about the fact that they are cards, collectible, and personally attached to specific players, I guess. Amongst the chaos that swirled around wherever DK happened to be, I managed to connect Thiago Vidotto with BurNIng, and they chatted a bit about the BurNIng Anti-mage set that had been made following TI3, where I had originally made the connection for them. Also present was LaNm, whose original request for a Tiny set last year has yet to be fulfilled due to Workshop model process, but nonetheless this year we discussed other options, so there may well still be a LaNm hero item set coming sometime…

As the event wound down, so did TI4’s time in Bellevue. Starting with this night, everyone would be moved from the Westin Bellevue to the Westin Seattle in preparation for the main event at the nearby Key Arena. This would be a more efficient setup than in previous years, where everyone remained at the Westin Bellevue even as the main event was held in Downtown Seattle (relying on shuttle buses to fight through the area’s traffic). Transportation over to Westin Seattle was arranged to pick people up right outside of Valve’s offices, so everyone gradually milled out to the sidewalks. These are some of my fondest memories of the entire event — the weather was warm and welcoming in the late evening, and because this was the only way for everyone to get over to Seattle to the new hotel,

everyone — and I mean everyone — was present in one big outdoor setting. For the moment, there was nothing pressing, and loud choruses of conversation and laughter rang out from all around the massive gathering of teams, casters, analysts, and staff.

EHOME

It was here that I got a chance to improve on my previous EHOME picture. Catching most of the suspects at just the right time, I grabbed each of them and pulled them all over. 71 asked, “Huh, what’s this all about?” then he looked around at the assembly, a small smile came to his face, “Ahhhh, I understand now. I understand.”

As the sun went down in the mountains to the west, the next page of The International 2014 would approach.

Chilling

Thursday July 17

This day was pre-event secret shop day, with access for VIPs, players, and production. I showed up around 11pm and got to go through the line once. I’d only spent $50 on the secret shop last year due to never having any time to line up during the event itself, so this opportunity was much-welcomed. Even so, the line took about an hour to get through (much better than the estimated 5 hours people were waiting on subsequent days, still). I didn’t really buy much, just stuff that I personally liked. All around me, players were lugging around their third and fourth bags of goods, and people with four digit receipts were common.

Out of the three demiheroes I got, the only one that was golden was the Vengeful Spirit, and I think the reason for it being golden was because this was the one that iceiceice volunteered to open for me. I guess one of three isn’t too bad, anyway.

Lights on the stage

Later in the day was a scheduled ‘rehearsal’ day for production staff at Key Arena, and it would be my first time being inside. Things were being set up and tested, and an air of something grand was beginning to permeate.

Friday July 18

This was the first day of the main event. Honestly, I felt a lot of pressure at TI4. People were saying, “Oh come on, you’ve done this before, you’re fine…” but somewhere in my mind, I kept thinking to how this is quite literally the largest esports event in the entire history of gaming. So the entire main event weekend came and went, and I don’t think I ever really found a rhythm. It was one moment at a time, and now thinking back, the images only return in a slideshow fashion — bits and pieces.

The first day of the main event held what was arguably some of the more enthralling encounters, as Newbee closely defeated a VG that looked to hold their group stage form over, and DK agonizingly lost to EG in what many thought would be a previous of the eventual Grand Finals. At the end of the day, Newbee were confirmed Grand Finalists.

Saturday July 19

Each of the 8 teams at the Main Event were assigned a private box room on the 4th level of Key Arena, complete with room service food and drinks and private restroom. Interestingly, the different teams’ rooms and their respective atmospheres seemed to reflect the personalities of the teams, at least somewhat, and from the attendees within each room you could also glean an idea of who was closest with whom.

Invading the Newbee room

As a translator, I spent a large amount of my time over the main event running back and forth between backstage and the various Chinese team rooms, making sure people were where they needed to be and had what they needed in general. Therefore I was in and out a lot…

I’d expected to see more banners and posters this year, but in the end the only impressive one I saw all event was the one that a DK fan had made and hung up in front of the DK room.

DK and iG’s rooms were next to each other, yet the two teams rarely — if ever — interacted. Both teams seemed to be taking things relatively more seriously compared to many of the other teams, and largely kept to themselves. DK’s room in particular would often have its door shut, with the team’s invited guests inside, sitting, quietly supporting their team. Newbee and LGD were often seen mingling — with Newbee already having qualified for the Grand Finals and thus essentially having little to nothing to do for two days, their room transformed into somewhat of a gathering spot for Chinese personalities and players alike. This atmosphere seemed to suit the likes of Hao just fine, as chances were whenever I visited their room, he’d more than likely have a huge smile on his face while loudly shouting or laughing about something. VG also seemed to keep to themselves a bit as well, with a sort of quiet determination.

On this day, we saw two former International champions — NaVi and iG — eliminated. Prior to the LGD vs iG match, the two Chinese teams’ players had been hanging out together, chatting and joking. When the match admin arrived to summon them to their respective waiting rooms, they walked together, with conversation gradually dying down as they arrived at the elevator down into the bowels of competition. These two teams and their players have a lot of history with each other, and it felt like there was a sense of foreboding that replaced the lightheartedness — they knew that at the end of the day, one of them would knock the other out. With long-standing veterans of either team now retired in the post TI4 landscape, this moment becomes that much more engrained in the teams’ histories.

Either way, at the end of the day, all past International champions had been knocked out, perhaps signalling that from now on, it would indeed be a new order in the storied world of Dota.

I also met Kunkka of loading screen fame sometime on this day. Quite the awesome guy, really, I was quite honored to meet him. He tried to explain who he was, and I was all like “Dude I know!” We hung out for a while, got some food, and he gave me some key cards for his in-game item sets.

The night ended for viewers and attendees with the All-star match, and interestingly, of the 10 players present that night in the match, something like 7 of them had been eliminated from the tournament already, the 2 DK players were coming straight off a tough loss in game 1 of a best of three. So I think it was pretty cool that even despite this, the All-star match still kept up that fun atmosphere… That aside, the match featured the debut of none other than Techies, played by none other than Arteezy, who may or may not have played the hero much before. I don’t know how this decision was come upon, but I think would have been a lot of fun to have given Ferrari_430 Techies in the All-star match — he’s mentioned Techies being his favorite hero before in the past. And that might have cured him of his tryhard syndrome; two birds with one stone.

The All-star match from the floor seats

The night, for me however, would go on, as ESPN were present to film a segment featuring the Grand Finalists. Newbee were already confirmed, so xiao8 had been recruited to represent his team on national

xiao8 is intense

television. Tammy Tang, AKA furryfish, had been recruited to be the translator since ESPN wanted a sense of continuity seeing as how she had been featured in Free To Play. I don’t actually like being on camera, so I was fine with that, and instead I just made myself present at the filming for support. EG were also present, filming their part for ESPN. Afterwards, I offered xiao8 a ride back to the Westin Seattle as it was quite late, and once again he thanked me with all his directness and sincerity before striding off through the doors of the building. Long day, late night, with more to come.

Sunday July 20

This would be, perhaps, the most difficult day for many fans. With Newbee having successfully secured their Grand Final spot days earlier, the reality has always been that the so-called Dream Finals between EG and DK would never — or at least, in this reality — materialize. Still, both of these fan-favorite teams remained alive. If barely, in the case of DK, who arrived this morning one game down against LGD in a best of 3.

Ultimately, DK found their footing, if only for a fleeting moment, and made it out alive against LGD.The sense of relief amongst DK was palpable, but perhaps inevitably, with VG looming on the horizon, they closed off again in an emotionally all-in kind of way — win or nothing. LGD, valiant underdogs of this tournament, finally bowed out — but a team that had been surrounded by negativity and doubts since successively losing Sylar and xiao8, had finally redeemed, or proven, themselves once again against the world’s best.

After VG knocked DK out in what some might label a fight between lost brothers, after walking DK back from backstage and witnessing the sudden crowds that had gathered outside their room, there to chant “DK, DK, DK” even as tears and spirits fell alike… After watching them depart Key Arena and TI4, I quickly rushed back to VG. Congratulating rOtK and his team, there were smiles and laughs shared. The pressure remained, and it contorted their laughter a bit, as the Grand Finals of an International can only do. Sylar stood quietly on his own; I said to Sylar, “You won.” He smiled, maybe a bit wistfully, and asked “Are they sad?” Yeah, they’re sad. He seemed sorry about it, but at the same time there was a smile on his face, because, well, he’d just fought his way into the Grand Finals of the International.

This morning, I had dreamt that it would rain later in the day; an image of cloudy skies floated across my mind. Seattle is well-known for rain and rain itself is not abnormal, but July in Seattle is actually historically quite dry, and for weeks it had almost entirely been sunshine and blue skies. So when I awoke in the morning, I wondered what rain might mean. Later in the afternoon, just as DK left the stage and their TI4 dreams behind, those gray skies from my morning dream materialized, and a light rain fell. I sometimes find patterns in life and nature, but this must have been no more than a coincidence. In that one interview with rOtK, the emotions coursed through the entire interview room — or maybe just me and the ‘old captain’, rOtK.

Walking him back to his team after the interview, “I must hold this energy in, keep it all to release tomorrow,” he declared to no one and everyone in particular. He wanted to win, strongly.

The TI4 Grand Finalists

At the end of this day, ultimately we would see neither DK nor EG in the Grand Finals, with VG and Newbee instead being the ones who made it furthest. Since VG won, the ESPN segment needed to film a portion featuring someone from their team. ROtK, ever the big man, stood up for it. And when they asked him to do the entire interview, to be played on ESPN, in English, he only paused for a brief moment before I told him I’d coach him on the English needed — and he nodded enthusiastically. The interview went well even as rOtK needed to learn quite a bit of new English vocabulary.

Monday July 21

As Newbee and VG made their way down the aisles of a packed Key Arena, amongst the fanfare and acclaim of thousands of spectators, I watched from above in an empty DK room. With at least some hours guaranteed in which I would not be needed, I went where I knew it’d be empty — because none of them would be coming to the venue, at least not until later in the day. Because in their words — and perhaps in words that echo the sentiments of many teams who had come to challenge for the title — “I don’t want to watch someone else win.” Of the 8 teams that made it to the main event, I saw maybe one quarter of the players present at Key Arena in the morning.

There can only be one victor. As VG quietly departed the stage after losing and taking second place, you saw Super turning his face one last time to look at the crowds in the stands, you saw Sylar peering at the screen, you saw rOtK finding it within himself to wave at fans screaming their encouragement from above… Fenrir’s tears and Fy’s solitude in defeat; all in contrast, or maybe not so different in the end, from Newbee’s somewhat stoic acceptance of their victory.

As some of Newbee later went on to say, “I hadn’t really realized what just happened at the time…” But one person who seemed to truly be caught in the moment was banana. When I went on stage after walking with VG out from backstage, banana found me, “Give me a hug man!” and he grabbed me over and hugged me tightly, shaking a little bit from the energy of a thousand lights shining and flashing upon his head, the energy of glory.

What could have been?

Aftermath (random thoughts, occurrences, and quotes post-TI4)

Normally I’m not a super huge fan of any specific team over any other specific team, but this year’s DK had something different about them, and through the course of TI4, I found my heart being pulled along with their results at various times through the event. It was inevitable, perhaps, for someone like me who has been an EHOME fan, a LaNm fan, and always appreciated the likes of iceiceice and more recently following TI3, Mushi. In a few of the moments of clashing din and noise as the Grand Finals kicked off, it was hard to not imagine DK instead being the ones in the booth, on stage, on screen. ‘Dream Finals’… I can relate, but the contradiction comes when I wake up from these daydreams and find that I’m equally as happy for the likes of Newbee and VG as I am sad for DK — and iG, LGD, even NaVi, EG, C9… and everyone else who came to chase a dream and left unfulfilled.

It’s always hard to see people lose, but the converse is that when there’s a loser, there’s always a winner — and it’s fun to watch the winners celebrate and be joyous. In the end, whomever wins I’m happy for, whomever loses, it’s a shame, because you can really, truly, see and feel how much people care about these things. And for me, growing up in Beijing in a similar internet cafe-based gaming youth, it’s hard to describe but easy to relate even more closely to the backgrounds that a lot of Chinese pros have.

Fan favorites

After all the dust settled and the venue cleared out, Dendi and iceiceice remained for over two hours signing autographs. Iceiceice told me, “I’m just gonna sign for everyone,” gesturing towards the relatively large crowd that had gathered. Go for it, I told him, I have nothing else to do now anyway.

Fans

Over the course of the main event, for some reason there was a decent amount of fans stopping me for an autograph or photo. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m anyone special, and I really don’t even know how to sign an ‘autograph’ (versus a normal signature — is there a difference?). Either way, though, thank you to those fans, your passion is contagious and your smiles vibrant. It was a pleasure meeting each and every one of you, chatting and hanging out in some cases.

Mu

At the afterparty, I ran into Newbee, who had had their fun for a few hours there and were preparing to make their exit. Mu came up to me, hugged me, “See you next year, yeah?” he grinned.
“I dunno.” I shrugged back at him. He looked exasperated, grinned some more while pointing at me, and said again, “I want to see you here again next year!”

ddc

Talking to ddc later on, he would reflect, “If we’d gotten to play the entire best of three that night…” he trailed off as he puffed on his cigarette.
“You might have won.” I offered.
“We might have won,” he nodded, looking off into the late night sky. Such is the nature of competition, however, and what-ifs are always prevalent, always there beckoning for you to pour your thoughts, and then hopes, and emotions into them. It’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of daydreaming in this case, thinking, what if… what if…

iceiceice

“I want to win TI5 for DK,” he mused. “This year’s DK, I mean.”
“Even if you have to beat whoever is next year’s DK?” I questioned.
“Yeah. I’m going to beat next year’s DK to win TI5 for this year’s DK,” the logic made perfect sense.

“I wish LaNm wasn’t retiring so we could fight for another year.” he looked at LaNm, who wasn’t paying much attention. “LaNm! TI5 fight another year!!”

LaNm

“LaNm means hero…” he trailed off a bit, looking at me.“Hero? In what language?” I was curious.
“In my own dreams,” LaNm smiled even as nearby iceiceice made fun of him for what he’d just said.

“I don’t want to accept that I am a four-eyes,” he declared. Noting that several of us present were four-eyes, he also added, “You guys are fine, but just not me. I plan on improving my natural vision back to where it was by doing eye exercises, looking at faraway things often, and the such. I look bad in glasses.”

rOtK

I found rOtK in the hotel lobby, playing Mafia with other Chinese players and commentators. Mafia has been a game they’ve been very passionately playing at TIs since last year. Even though this year they added the Uno card game to their repertoire, Mafia was still a go to. I sat next to him for a few moments in a lull in the action, and asked him, “Are you coming again next year?”
“Yeah! And what about you?”
“Don’t know!”
He laughed, and said “I’ll be here, let’s meet here again next year!” in that characteristically enthusiastic manner of his.
“Good, you can be the translator next year,” I joked, “Your English has been excellent this year!”
“Yes! Hahahaha,” he threw his head back and roared in laughter.
“And I’ll come as a competitor.” I concluded.

Faith

I’d been missing his player card for the entirety the event, and at long last, on the final day, I tracked him down. I literally ran him down, and he looked a bit frightened, as I’m probably a good foot taller than he is.
“Player card please!!”
He laughed, pulled out the last two he had in his pocket, and said “Here, have them all!”

BurNIng

“There was this guy, I remember, he was pretty good, played solo mid. He joined our team, back then it was just a couple hundred in salary a month, we just played. One day, he said he needed to go back home, his mom was doing surgery,” there was a pause in the story as he looked around.
“Well, shit, surgery! That was all our reactions, so we told him to take the time he needed and get back home as quickly as possible to be with family.”
“Later, we learned that his mom’s surgery was cosmetic surgery.” The table burst out in laughter. “He never came back after that, might have felt like it was too hard,” he continued on, “But really, that kid was really good. Quite good. He left for home, told us some days later that his mom’s cosmetic surgery was very successful, and never came back,” there was a bit of wistfulness in his tone now. Everyone clinked their glasses again.

See you next year, perhaps…

This being my second International — with no guarantees of there being another one in my future (because who can tell what the future holds?) — it was a bit harder to sort through my thoughts and memories. It’s possible that the sheer size and scale of this year’s International also played into it. So this is why this writeup is over 8000 words, took over two weeks, and probably still isn’t that great, and doesn’t truly do justice for just how interesting the event was, and just how much you could see it meant to everyone involved.

Nonetheless, hopefully I’ve conveyed some of the feeling in what it was like to be present.

Thank yous

Valve
IceFrog
the players
the teams
all the various media outlets and personalities that I met (and even sometimes worked with — I want to help everyone)
the fans!! both at the venue, and online (in English and Chinese language communities alike)
staff, my fellows, and anyone and everyone else that I met during the event