In the pursuit of greatness, we are asked to give our lives away. To relinquish our time. Our energy.
And our bodies. All to reach the top of our chosen field. To become the greatest to have ever lived. To become a champion.
“I waited four years for this day.” In Dota 2 that pinnacle is The International, The biggest esports tournament on the planet. “It all comes down to this.
This is the story of teams risking it all for greatness. The story of people laying everything on the line for the privilege of hoisting the ever-elusive Aegis of Champions in front of thousands of fans. This is the story of The International. The International may be the biggest tournament in esports today, but its beginnings were humble. In August of 2011, Valve hosted the first ever TI at Gamescom in Cologne as a coming out party for Dota 2 – the sequel to popular Warcraft 3 mod, Defense of the Ancients.
But the game, which was still in beta at the time, did not make a great first impression with diehards. And at first, players were resistant to playing an updated version of a game that they had poured their hearts and souls into. “Maybe one guy liked this thought it was pretty cool but, everybody was just like what the f*ck is this.” “Initial reaction not just for myself it was just like this isn’t Dota.” On-top of grappling with an unfinished, buggy game, the players didn’t receive beta keys until a couple weeks out from the event. An event that boasted the largest cash prize esports had ever seen.
Despite the bugs, how alien the game felt for everyone involved and many players showing up with a relaxed attitude – one team, Natus Vincere showed up to win. “We were so confident, I remember we that were so confident we were going to win because I found the best online casinos, and I feel so free.” Dendi was the face of Na’Vi and the Ukrainian mid laner more or less wrote the book on proactive mid play, seizing any opportunity to change a game. And it was that aggressive approach that helped Na’Vi breeze through the event. Eventually Na’Vi would face Chinese powerhouse EHOME in the grand finals
And although the Chinese team would take a game off them – a feat no other team managed throughout the tournament – Na’Vi would prevail. (Casting) But this clash between Europe and China would not be an isolated one, in fact it would set the tone for Dota 2 and The International for years to come. By the time TI2 rolled around, Dota 2 had a full year of play under its belt and the game had taken off in a big way, resulting in The International being moved to Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington.
But the storyline of TI2 centred around Na’Vi and whether China – the dominant region in the competitive circuit – had truly closed the gap enough to dethrone the defending European champions. And during the group stage that appeared to be the case, as NaVi dropped more games than LGD-Gaming, Invictus Gaming and Team DK combined. But in the second round of the upper bracket, Na’Vi ran into Group B winners Invictus Gaming.
Despite having the odds stacked against them, Na’Vi reminded everyone why they had been TI champions by producing one of the greatest plays in Dota 2 history. Simply known as “The Play.” (Casting) After sending Invictus Gaming down to the lower bracket, Na’Vi then managed to upset an undefeated LGD Gaming in the upper-bracket finals, punching their ticket to yet another International grand final. “But NaVi for the third time in a row take down one of these top Chinese teams after losing game one
They are proving to be the champions they were last year.” There, they would rematch Invictus Gaming, who had valiantly clawed their way out of a stacked lower bracket. With one million dollars and regional pride on the line, Europe and China clashed again but this time Na’Vi was in over their head. (Casting) China had exacted revenge for its previous TI defeat, and now, the rest of the world would have to wait another year to knock them off their perch With the tremendous success of TI2, the stakes for The International 3 had to be raised and Valve’s introduction of the Compendium in 2013 did just that.
Now a TI staple, the Compendium allows Dota 2 players to help support The International. As an incentive to buy it, Valve implemented a tiered rewards system that gave players in-game cosmetics each time a crowdfunding goal blew up. And pledged to donate 25% of the money they received from compendium purchases toward TI’s prize pool. And looking back, its release might be one of the most significant moments in not just the history of Dota, but all of esports. From the get-go, the compendium was a hit, boosting TI3’s prize pool by more than 1.2 million dollars for a grand total of $2.87 million.
With the largest cash prize in esports history on the line, it was up to the teams to deliver the entertainment And did they ever. (Casting) A year after the Chinese Dota scene flexed their strength, the region dominated TI3’s bracket stage. And while Natus Vincere were in the running to make their third consecutive TI grand final, there was another European team making waves on Dota’s biggest stage Alliance. A wholly Swedish roster that featured the likes of Loda, s4 and AdmiralBulldog. Alliance were one of the hottest teams coming into TI3 and were in the midst of one of the most impressive seasons in Dota 2 history. Having gone undefeated in the group stage, Alliance faced-off against Na’Vi in the upper bracket and swept them down to the lower bracket.
Once there, Na’Vi would face Orange Esports who had just upset both DK and TongFu in back to back series. During game three, Orange was on the brink of upsetting NaVi as well, until KYXY committed one of the costliest mistakes in Dota 2 history. The Deny. (Casting) In a now infamous, momentum shifting misplay that remains hard to watch, the Malaysian Carry denied his team both the Aegis of Immortals and ultimately a grand finals berth Orange’s disastrous exit paved the way for TI’s first ever all European Grand Final and a rematch between Na’Vi and Alliance in what is widely considered to be the most memorable grand finals series TI has ever seen. (Casting) After trading games back and forth, with unique drafts, role swapping and heart-wrenching plays — The International had its first ever five game Grand Finals.
“It all comes down to this. One more game, two-million dollars on the table. Winner: first place at The International, the Aegis and the prestige of being the best Dota 2 team in the world!’ And in the end, the thrilling final game it was all but decided by S4 and a pair of legendary dream coils (Casting) The Million Dollar Dream Coils etched S4’s name into Dota 2’s pantheon, cemented Alliance as the undisputed best team in the world, and provided an incredible conclusion to what remains the most exhilarating grand finals The International has ever seen. Prior to the beginning of The International 4, Valve and Dota fans started to get a taste of what The Compendium wa s capable of.
By the time the tournament was about to begin, the community had raised over $9 million to contribute to the prize pool making TI4’s $10.92 million the largest prize pool in esports history. The format for the event had also changed, with the top two teams being awarded byes ahead of the semifinals, in an attempt to make the group stage feel more significant. With that said, The International 4 wasn’t exactly the most memorable TI. And one of the reason for that was the “Death Ball” meta, which strongly rewarded teams that executed aggressive early game tactics. Before the Deathball strategy’s discovery, the group stage had been pretty exciting as teams tried to navigate their way through the new game build. But, once Vici Gaming and Evil Geniuses uncovered it, all other battle plans were rendered obsolete.
Games during the elimination phase of the event were very one-sided and it often felt like whichever team was able to secure the lead early on would snowball and win, with little potential for comebacks. And it was, in large part, thanks to the Deathball meta that North America would get to see its first deep run at an International title with Evil Geniuses looking like the best non-Chinese team in the world. (Casting) But the North American TI dream would be short lived, as EG stumbled over Newbee in the upper bracket and then Vici Gaming in the lower bracket finals, resulting in TI’s first ever all Chinese grand final. And it went down as one of the most anticlimactic grand finals of all time with Newbee perfectly implementing the Death Ball strategy to easily dispatch their compatriots.
While TI4 may have been tainted by its uninspired meta and lacklustre finale, its record-breaking prize-pool raised mainstream awareness of the event and the level of prestige associated with it. After the mixed reaction to TI4, Valve decided to return to the conventional group and bracket stage formats of previous TIs. And that decision – combined with a less restrictive meta – would lead TI5 to being considered one of the most competitive in the tournament’s history. Heading into the event, Evil Geniuses were riding high after their deep run the previous year, and since adding a 15-year old pub star named SumaiL in January, the team had emerged as one of the non-Chinese favourites to win the event. While the group stage was strongly contested, the bracket phase was still largely dominated by the Chinese teams and even EG would find themselves falling down to the lower bracket at the hands of CDEC. (Casting) After their loss to CDEC, EG was staring down elimination, and their last chance at making grand finals relied on overcoming another giant of Chinese Dota in LGD Gaming.
And hey did. For the second time in The International’s history, a grand final would be decided in an upper-bracket final rematch. All that stood between EG and NA’s first TI championship was the imperious CDEC. After taking two of the first three games, EG looked to carry their momentum into the fourth.
And nearly thirty minutes into that game, Evil Geniuses emphatically slammed the door shut on CDEC and China’s China’s hopes of claiming another TI title. (Casting) Off the back of the $6 million dollar Echo Slam, perhaps the most iconic Dota 2 play in recent memory, Evil Geniuses closed out the match. (Casting) Universe Aui_2000, Fear, PPD, and SumaiL had done it – they had finally given NA its first ever TI Championship, and they did so in the most spectacular of fashion. By now you may have noticed a trend with The International. Every other year, China brings home the title. That meant, that when it was time for The International in 2016, and its more than $20 million prize pool, all eyes were on Dota’s most decorated region.
But standing in China’s way were defending champs Evil Geniuses, who looked primed to make another run at the Aegis. After the dust settled and the brackets were set, things looked just about how you’d expect Including EG. And in their second round upper bracket clash against EHOME, Evil Geniuses treated Dota 2 fans to one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Finding themselves 20,000 gold down after the 40 minute mark and with EHOME securing megacreeps 30 minutes later, Evil Geniuses dug in and fought desperately for their tournament lives. (Casting) EG did what nobody had ever done before at a TI, coming back from mega creeps to keep their hopes of back-to-back titles alive. But despite their tremendous performance, NA’s defending champions bowed out of TI6 at the hands of China’s Wings Gaming and another NA team in the lower bracket Digital Chaos.
After losing to Wings earlier in the upper bracket, DC ran through a gauntlet of tough opposition to earn their shot at redemption in the the grand finals. “This is the only team who could handle the lower bracket. And I don’t know how they did it.
And they deserve so much credit, and I think they’ve just gotta do it now. You can’t have this journey and not win.” Once again the largest prize-pool in esports history would be decided between North America and China. And while Digital Chaos fought courageously, Wings would not be denied.
Once again China raised the Aegis of Champions at the expense of NA and the rest of the world’s shattered TI dreams. The International is a tournament that is defined just as much by heartbreak as it is by historic victories and crazy plays — and no one embodied that heartbreak heading into TI7 more than Kuroky. He was always a celebrated name, but one haunted by a series of crushing disappointments. That trend of falling short looked to continue in 2017 when Liquid were eliminated from the upper bracket in the first round. (Casting) All eyes were on Liquid, who were once favoured to win the tournament, but now had one of the longest roads to make it to the grand finals. And under Kuroky’s leadership, they rallied.
After getting the best of Virtus Pro in an insane series, Liquid completed their unbelievable runback to grand finals by toppling LGD Gaming, then LGD Forever Young in the lower bracket finals. (Casting) And in grand finals, Liquid had just One dangerous obstacle between their captain and his dream, Newbee. But the Upper Bracket winners were simply no match.
After years of dedication, after years of painful disappointment – Kuroky’s sacrifice was finally rewarded. The biggest stage, the most money and fans from all of the world screaming as you compete for the Aegis of Champions — The International is the shining star atop esports. TI is it, it’s do or die, make or break. When you retire from the game your whole career will be defined by how you perform at this event that takes place only once a year.
As other esports have grown and spread their roots into corporate sponsorships and gained big investments through franchised systems, Dota has stood still. It is the last remaining relic of “the grind” – relinquishing your life to a game, to realize its greatest reward or to come up short. TI is so enthralling that it defines a game, it breaks records and it breaks hearts. There’s no doubt that this pinnacle of gaming immortality offers a precarious means to defining your career by. But every year they come