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
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?!
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)
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!!”
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
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
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. 🙂
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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)
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 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.
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…
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.
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
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
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
BurNIng shares the details and Mushi recalls. “Ah, yes!”
“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)
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
“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!
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