Team Liquid 2, OpTic Gaming 0
The International 2018 kicked off with the defending champions Team Liquid crushing OpTic Gaming into the dirt with a swift 2-0 victory at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
OpTic Gaming had an interesting group stage going from third to ninth in the span of a day and then from ninth back to fourth on the next day to ensure its spot in the upper bracket for the main event. Liquid, meanwhile, rode through the group stage with a 13-3 record and the top spot entering this stage.
The International 5 champion and OpTic captain Peter "PPD" Dager put OpTic in a good position to contend with Team Liquid each game, but the skill gap between the two teams was highlighted once the game got started. OpTic mid laner Quinn "CCnC" Callahan looked nervous in his first appearance at The International and performed well below his standard. Perhaps the inexperienced player among OpTic's ranks was intimidated by the environment or the defending champs, but it is clear that if OpTic hopes to have a chance at hoisting the Aegis of Champions, the improvements will have to be drastic and quick.
Liquid never seemed worried about the game, laughing and joking with one another on their way down to the stage. The International 2017 champions haven't missed a step since their big win one year ago at Key Arena in Seattle. Liquid has won roughly 30 percent of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit tournaments this season and is a favorite to repeat as champions, and it showed why Monday.
Liquid's performance was clean and surgical. The reigning champs took advantage of every mistake OpTic made by utilizing active support heroes and multiple core heroes that could take over the game. Liquid played its cards close to the vest as well, showing OpTic nothing that hadn't been seen in its previous drafts, thereby showing nothing to any other competitors still alive in the tournament.
Liquid is clearly playing to win and could be the first team in history to earn a second Aegis of Champions.
Team Liquid will move on to play PSG.LGD at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and OpTic will fall to the Lower Bracket, where a loss means elimination, and will face Fnatic on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET.
-- Travis Elliott
PSG.LGD 2, Virtus.pro 0
The second series of the upper bracket playoffs at The International 8 started off with a dramatic PSG.LGD win.
A bold early Drow Ranger and Vengeful Spirit pick put LGD in a dangerous position against a well-executed deathball of teamfighting heroes from Virtus.pro. Virtus.pro stopped LGD's attempts to push with ease, but LGD did a nice job hanging on and relying on Lu "Somnus" Yao's Storm Spirit to extend the game while waiting for a chance to rally and win a fight.
After a missed Black Hole from Pavel "9pasha" Khvastunov's Enigma, LGD struck. The massive damage from having two ranged cores in a Drow and Vengeful Spirit draft gave LGD the gas it needed to quickly kill a Tier 3 tower and move on to the two towers protecting the throne.
With three cores dead and not having buyback, Virtus.pro was forced to respect LGD's damage and call GG for Game 1.
With its back now up against the wall, Virtus.pro went for a last-pick Alchemist for its superstar mid laner, Vladimir "No[o]ne" Minenko. After a relatively calm early game for No[o]ne, it looked like Virtus.pro's last pick might help it secure a third game. However, LGD position five support Yap Jian "xNova" Wei was not about to let his team's series lead slip away.
xNova did an amazing job securing vision around the map for LGD, which made it easy to put pressure on Virtus.pro and force the Alchemist to stop farming. Somnus, who didn't allow a death after 10 minutes, played another fantastic game, this time on Lina, and supplied tremendous burst damage that helped bring down No[o]ne many times.
This was an expertly played series from PSG.LGD against the No. 1 team on the Dota Pro Circuit and a favorite of many to claim the Aegis. LGD's win has earned the team a day off, after which it will face up against reigning The International champions Team Liquid at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Virtus.pro drops down to the lower bracket where it will play at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday against the winner of TNC Predator and Mineski.
-- Jack Ballenger
Team Serenity 1, Fnatic 0
The first main event lower bracket elimination match at The International began with a startling upset when Team Serenity knocked out fan favorite Fnatic.
Fnatic entered the tournament with high hopes, but after a questionable performance throughout the group stages found itself in the elimination bracket for the main event. While the draft for Fnatic seemed to be superior to that of Serenity, it was the hero choices by the players that turned a good draft bad.
Rather than giving Ursa or Mirana to playmaking mid laner Abed "Abed" Yusop, the Fnatic star was instead forced to play a mid lane Visage. Although the pick itself is relatively common, Jacky "EternaLEnVy" Mao is usually the Visage player for Fnatic. Not giving the core players of Fnatic comfort heroes was a questionable decision, and the result were disastrous.
EternaLEnVy died three times in the first seven minutes of the game. From there, it was more of the same as Fnatic fell further behind in terms of farming and fell into an overwhelming deficit. Serenity focused all of its rotations on EternaLEnVy and came away with a clean and dominant victory.
Team Serenity only formed nine months before The International and despite not having won any of the tournaments in the Dota 2 Pro Circuit entered this tournament with a lot of clamor. Coached by The International 2016 champion and current EHOME captain Zhang "Innocence" Yiping, Serenity always seems to make its oddball drafts work, and as a result put itself in position to potentially climb out of the lower bracket.
Fnatic became the first team eliminated at main event and will go home with $124,322 in prize winnings. Team Serenity will continue onward through the lower bracket and face OpTic Gaming in a best of three on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET.
Mineski 1, TNC Predator 0
Mineski beat TNC Predator 1-0 in the second of the single-elimination lower bracket elimination matches Monday to continue on in the tournament.
The match between the Southeast Asian rivals was as scrappy as their history would suggest, with both teams scrambling to react to mistakes and get the jump on each other. Mineski and TNC Predator drafted a solid set of heroes, so this game came down to execution in the clutch.
TNC got off to an early lead by exploiting the weakness of Chai Yee "Mushi" Fung's Spectre in the bottom lane, but it couldn't close out the game quick enough despite that foothold. The threat of TNC losing a fight to Mineski while trying to push was too great, and the insurance of TNC captain Carlo "Kuku" Palad's Global Silence came with a long two-minute cooldown. This forced TNC to play very carefully as the game progressed, and the slow pace gave Mineski's heroes time to power up.
With Daryl Koh Pei "iceiceice" Xiang's Brewmaster, Kam Boon "Moon" Seng's Shadow Fiend and Mushi's Spectre on its side, Mineski had an extremely deadly teamfighting lineup, especially when holding the high ground in the late-game. All it took was a single misstep from an over-aggressive TNC, and Mineski was able to wipe all five of its opponents to quickly even things out.
Shortly afterward, Mineski marched down the middle lane and took another well-played fight, this time inside the TNC base. Mineski managed to completely undo TNC's lead of over 15,000 gold in just three minutes and storm its way to the win.
TNC joins Fnatic in a tie for 13th-16th place and will take $124,300 in prize money. Mineski will advance to the next round of the lower bracket, where it will take on a formidable Virtus.pro in a best-of-three on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.
Winstrike 1, Newbee 0
Winstrike delivered the second upset of the day by taking down former The International finalist Newbee 1-0.
Newbee played its own game in the beginning, sustaining losses from Winstrike's aggression but still protecting the important heroes for the late game. Two disastrous fights at the Rosh pit, however, with the first fight resulting in a full team wipe for Newbee, ultimately gave Winstrike the edge.
Newbee began to break down and panic, but the final nail in the coffin was when mid laner Song "Sccc" Chun bought back after the bottom barracks had already fallen and Winstrike was on the retreat, leaving Newbee in a vulnerable position and forcing the team to play safe when it needed to go on the offensive. With Newbee's elimination, support player and captain Zeng "Faith" Hongda became the second player this year who was denied a chance to win a second Aegis of Champions.
It's easy to see how the upset happened, as Winstrike played its signature hyper-aggressive style from start to finish. Ultimately, carry player Airat "Silent" Gaziev as Phantom Lancer pulled through for his team twice during fights around Roshan. Both times, he swiped the Aegis of the Immortal, and both times he was able to kill the main Newbee's core players as a result.
As the game continued on, Winstrike was able to take advantage of every mistake Newbee made until Silent finally brought down the Ancient as Newbee resorted to simply throwing bodies at him to no avail.
Newbee is eliminated and will collect $124,367 in prize winnings. Winstrike will advance to the next round in the lower bracket and face the winner of VGJ.Storm vs. OG at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Vici Gaming 1, VGJ.Thunder 0
Vici Gaming claimed a 1-0 victory over regional foe VGJ.Thunder in the final elimination match Monday.
These teams were frequent scrimmage partners leading up to The International and as such had a lot of unique insight into how the other plays. This led to an interesting draft featuring a VGJ.Thunder Terrorblade for carry player Liu "Sylar" Jiajun as the team's first pick. Vici chose to grab both its supports in its first two picks: Silencer for Lu "Fenrir" Chao and Earthshaker for Zhang "LaNm" Zhicheng. While neither hero is generally selected early in drafts, it was clear both teams prioritized comfort as opposed to trying to out-draft their opponent with elimination on the line.
Once the game got into full swing, the biggest difference-maker ended up being Fenrir's Silencer. In such a tense game, the power to press Global Silence and completely shut down VGJ.Thunder was invaluable.
Nearly every time VGJ.Thunder tried to make a play and initiate a fight, Fenrir was positioned to silence it and allow his teammates to set up a counter-attack. The two Vici carries, Zhang "Paparazi" Chengjun on Arc Warden and Zeng "Ori" Jiaoyang on Lina, were able to easily capitalize on the opportunities Fenrir created.
VGJ.Thunder did an excellent job hanging on against Vici's lead and made it tough for Vici to actually end the game. With VGJ.Thunder's Zhou "Yang" Haiyang playing offlane Magnus, the threat of a Reverse Polarity forced Vici to play extremely cautiously.
Vici's caution was rewarded though. After luring Yang into missing his Reverse Polarity, it was a simple parade into the VGJ.Thunder base to keep Vici's International hopes alive.
VGJ.Thunder joins Fnatic, TNC Predator and Newbee in a tie for 13th-16th place, securing 124,300 in prize money. Vici will play again at 4:00 p.m ET on Wednesday against the loser of Evil Geniuses versus Team Secret.