The International 2018 in my view

Chinese version here on Weibo

Sun Aug 12 (arrival day)

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

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Canada!

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

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

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

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

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Ch-ch-checkin time

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

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

Mon Aug 13 (media day 1)

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

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standard green screen pic

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

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Full team interviews with Kaci

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

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

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

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Liquid ring

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

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

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

Tues Aug 14 (media day 2)

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

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Spot Sccc, Jack, rOtK, and xiao8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed Aug 15 (group stage day 1)

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

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

Thurs Aug 16 (group stage day 2)

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

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

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Serenity filming

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

 

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

Fri Aug 17 (group stage day 3)

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

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

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

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Poutine

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

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

Sat Aug 18 (group stage day 4)

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

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

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

Sun Aug 20 (press day)

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LGD

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

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

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an interview with Jerax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sccc and kpii in action

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

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

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Chalice, Miracle-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outside the venue

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

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

Afterwards, we get ice cream.

Mon Aug 20 (main event day 1)

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

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That’s a lot of MMR

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

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

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

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

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on the big screen with xNova

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

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

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

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Serenity 2018

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

 

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

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

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

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继续加油!

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

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

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

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

Tues Aug 21 (main event day 2)

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

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

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

Wed Aug 22 (main event day 3)

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

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Giants of TI history

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

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

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

Thurs Aug 23 (main event day 4)

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

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With VG

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

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Serenity doing their homework

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

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

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The CN anti-bot squad

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

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

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

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

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

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All-stars in shiny yellow All-star shirts

Fri Aug 24 (main event day 5)

Burning everything I know, desperate for a change

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

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

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

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Under a diamond sky, everyone wants to shine

Sat Aug 25 (main event day 6)

Crashing down the ancient roads, past our yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

See me running full speed at it, shattering, collide

1

That moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

LGD backstage

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

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

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

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

(Maybe, there’s hunger in my blood)

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

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Waiting for an interview that never came

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

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

Post-TI8 (Afterparty)

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

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

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The afterparty scene

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

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

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

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

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The wishes of a million Dota fans

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

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

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

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

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

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Vancouver, 5am

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

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

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

Sun Aug 26 (post TI8 day)

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

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

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at Nero Belgian Waffles

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

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

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

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With Sir Iceiceice

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

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

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

Post (other)

Feeding frenzies in my brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re finally not afraid

Next (future)

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

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

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

Thank you, Dota

You can follow me

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

 

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Maybe next time

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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