Consider this an unofficial memory card: the most hype I have ever been for a PvP game. I will do my best to explain the jargon as I go. Also, no pictures. It's late, and I wanted to post this while I was still hype about it. I will try and find the video of the match at some point to post in here. UPDATE: Full video up below now! Hooray!
As some of you may well know, this weekend is the International 3, a DOTA tournament where the best of the best play it out for a 2 million dollar purse. As an amatuer player, this has been fascinating to watch in some regards, and frustrating in others. Overall, the entire affair is an extraordinary mix of entertaining and exciting, and a game tonight brought me to the most hype that I have ever been. Daigo in Street Fighter coming back with a perfect series of parries? It was flawless. It was technically executed in an absolutely perfect manner. The exquisite mixture of knowledge and execution. Na’Vi against Tong Fu? That had soul.
Part of the reason why I said above that the invitation was frustrating is because of a stale metagame. Before each match begins, each team gets to draft their team. This starts with each team banning two heroes, so neither team may pick, then picking two heroes. This process is then repeated one at a time until each team has five heroes. There are strategies, so naturally the teams are trying to set up their team to beat what they perceive the other team’s strategy is by picking counters to the enemies picks. What has been disappointing is that this stage is annoyingly predictable. Out of a pool of 100 heroes, I would say that 50 have never been picked or banned. Of the remaining 50, I would say that there are probably six that have been represented in every single game: Razor, Weaver, Alchemist, Visage, Nature’s Prophet, Io....When I initially said the game seemed unbalance due to the nature of how many heroes are available, people got rather defensive, which I understand. Each character is a viable choice....on some level. At a professional level though? Clearly not so much.
Then comes Na’Vi. If you follow Street Fighter, I would compare Na’Vi to Poongko: they are the showmen of the event, and represent an equal part of dickish trolling and a profound understanding of the game and mechanics. In all the matches I had watched in the preliminaries, my favorite hero was never picked or banned. But a member of Na’Vi, Dendi, has perfected that hero: Pudge. And game one, they drafted the lovable Pudge.
So, for those not in the know, here is a rundown of what Pudge does: his signature ability is to throw out a meat hook that moves the hero to Pudge, where he can slow and kill them with his body odor, auto attacks, and by his ultimate where he eats the enemy, leaving them stunned while he deals massive damage. His final ability makes him stronger by every single kill he makes. The biggest thing with the meat hook is that it is a skill shot: you can aim it at where a hero is, or you can aim it at the ground, but unlike many attacks it can miss. You can totally whiff, use the mana, and the ability will go on cooldown. With all that, his impact on the game isn’t just in his skillset. Its fear. DOTA uses a fog of war, meaning that a hero can be behind trees, behind a wall, or just plain invisible. The hook has about a screen long range, enough to make it so that any place, any time, you could get hooked and eaten.
Nowhere was this fear more apparent than in game one. After landing hook after hook, Pudge had grown out of control. He was usually able to solo kill any hero, while his team ran in to do the rest of the fighting. He would hang out in the forest by the enemies tower, waiting for his moment to strike, then pull a hero where no teammate could save them. After the sixth hook or so, TongFu was defending their tower by hiding in the trees next to it. At the end of the game, Pudge had a majority of Na’Vi’s kills, and the Radiant team had only lost one of their 9 towers. It was a slaughter. More importantly, it was hilarious to watch. As Na’Vi put pressure on the barracks (the innermost defense for each team, and a large prize for the opposition), TongFu had to sit a screen away or else face the butcher. In all the games in the tournament, I had seen teams be cautious, but I had never seen a team look so scared. Through the microphones on the main stage, you can hear the crowd chanting for Na’Vi, chanting for Dendi, chanting for hooks.
Game two wrote a different story. Pudge was replaced by Puck (another hero that wasn’t chosen before that point, by the way), so I began to catch up on other aspects of the internet, turning away from this game a bit. The draft was heavily in TongFu’s favor, as Na’Vi had too few ways to stop their lineup, including their carry, the Anti Mage. In a mere 38 minutes, TongFu had taken the round by snowballing out of control.
It all came down to match three.
Na’Vi began their draft with Chen and Alchemist against TongFu’s Gyro and Dark Seer. So far, 4 heroes that no one would call surprising. TongFu pick Visage. Na’Vis turn to pick. The commentators are mentioning that Pudge wouldn’t look good in this lineup, so they wonder who Dendi will pick to play. As the seconds tick by, and the commentators discuss the merits of the regular lineup, Na’Vi makes their pick. Pudge. The crowd goes nuts. Despite it being a pick that wasn’t excellent for the matchup, the showmen of the tournament take the hero anyway.
For a while, the game seems back and forth. TongFu has a trilane (3 heroes in one lane) against the Alchemist, trying to cut down his farm. Pudge is taking mid against Dark Seer, which is a fairly poor matchup. The Nyx assassin tries to come to mid to help Pudge, but at the sake of his own exp. Meanwhile, Windrunner and Chen are holding their own at the top. The game, while fairly even, is clearly favoring TongFu. Not only are they outplaying their opponents, and a foundational level, the draft seems to have gone better for them. As the game goes on, Na’Vi is losing ground, and Pudge is losing momentum. Constantly missing hooks, often in critical situations. Na’Vi has two remaining outer towers to TongFu’s five.
Then Na’Vi deploy their not so secret weapon: Chen and Pudge. See, when Pudge’s hook hits someone, it drags the target back to Pudge, wherever he might be. And Chen, as luck would have it, has an ability that sends an allied unit back to base, specifically to the fountain - an area that regenerates the allies health and mana constantly. Oh, also, it has an insanely damaging death turret, to discourage spawn camping. So the idea is that Pudge throws his hook, and as it lands, he gets teleported back to base. This makes the enemy move from wherever they were to the enemy base, in front of the death fountain. Then Pudge begins to eat them. It is doubly hilarious because the hook isn’t instant, so you can watch the hooked hero fly across the entire map, able to do nothing but wait for his untimely demise. This is known as “Fountain Hooking”. It is basically a ‘glitch’ that Valve has stated they will not fix. The main reason for this is because Chen’s send back has a short delay (3 seconds at the highest level), and Pudge’s hook has a significant chance to miss. So you have the coordination, the timing, and the accuracy, plus you are wasting two skills to do it, and the result is basically to insta-kill any hero. This strategy is reserved for public matches against unorganized teams to troll them. Na’Vi was trolling people in a tournament worth two million dollars. And boy, did they suck at it.
As mentioned above, fountain hooking is difficult to execute. Sometimes, Chen would send back Pudge too early, meaning he was back at base and had to walk back to the potentially 4 on 5 battle. Other times, the hook would be off target, so again, Pudge would have to walk back into the action. The rare chance that the hook did land though? Hilarious. Absolutely nuts. At about the third hook, I had enough entertainment where I was OK with Na’Vi just getting crushed. They were clearly just having fun with the game, doing what they could to make it a show. TongFu had map control - their base wasn’t in immediate danger, the enemy team was on the backfoot, defending what remained of their towers. There are two things you can do with map controls: Push the barracks and go for the win, or take Roshan so you can push the barracks and go for the win.
Roshan, for those who don’t know, is a power neutral monster in the center of the map. Generally, the entire team has to spend about 15 seconds or so to take him down. The area of the map is rather small, meaning that if the other team knows you are fighting him, they can box you in and then try and steal Roshan for themselves. What does Roshan do? He gives each member of the team a moderate amount of gold and a decent amount of exp. He also drops the Aegis of the Immortal. This item lets a hero resurrect to full health and mana on death. Often, taking Roshan is the means to an end: if your unstoppable hero has the Aegis, that means the enemy team has to kill him twice, and often they spend all their burst damage and spells to take him down, leaving 4 other members perfectly intact. TongFu took Roshan, and put the Aegis on the Gyrocopter.
Immediately after getting the Aegis, TongFu begin to barrel down to the bot lane where they intend to take a lane of barracks. As soon as the fight begins, Pudge lands a hook on Gyro, and is sent back to base. Immediately, the Gyro dies. The commentators move focus back to the fight that is going on with the rest of the teams. Na’Vi is forced to retreat, but no heroes die. The Gyro resurrects, then immediately dies again in the fountain. The Aegis did nothing. At this point, Na’Vi begins to farm gold, finally able to move outside of their own base. Alchemist is able to complete a key item, and they begin to get some control back. After a few minutes, another engagement starts to happen on the Dire’s top lane. Immediately, Pudge hooks the Visage and is sent back to base. The initial salvo of spells get slung, but now that the Alchemist has Basher, the fight favors Na’Vi. And not slightly. One by one, the heroes of TongFu fall, and Na’Vi get an entire team wipe. Wasting no time, the whole team comes down the mid lane and takes a free tier two tower. Then they take the tier three tower in TongFu’s base, putting them officially ahead in towers. As heroes are coming back into the game, and some even buying back into the game, the Alchemist is chopping away at the melee barracks in a daring, suicidal position. As the team fight starts up again inside of TongFu’s base, Pudge hooks another hero out of the fight, but not to tower. Then, the alchemist quickly takes down the now respawned Gyro. With some commotion, Na’Vi comes out ahead: 4 for nothing. Na’Vi take both barracks. The commentators look at the gold and experience graphs: Na’Vi has made up a 7,500 gold deficit, and swung the exp from a 5,000 deficit to a 5,000 surplus in a matter of minutes, and at the cost of no heroes. One of the two commentators is left completely speechless. The other seems to be unable to sit down in his chair. The entire game has just turned around, roles completely reversed. The crowd are on their feet, chanting out Na’Vi.
Immediately, the move to the bottom and take the tier 1 and tier 2 towers. Finally, the team moves to the top lane where yet another team fight begins, and just a quickly ends with yet another team wipe. Na’Vi finish up the outer set of towers, and start in on the top barracks, and find no resistance. Pudge and Nyx both start to roam through the enemy base looking for heroes to kill, then decide better of it and move to the bottom lane of barracks, which are quickly destroyed. Again, for those not in the know, by destroying all the barracks for the other team, Na’Vi had won Mega Creeps - all of their NPC allies gain an enormous boost to health and damage, pushing out each lane further and further. As the fight continues, Pudge hooks an enemy in their own fountain and is sent back to his fountain. The commentators follow Visage as he flies helplessly across the map where he meets his demise.
Moments later, the teams meet in the middle. After a brief encounter, result in nothing but health lost, Pudge returns to bail out Chen by eating the enemy Doombringer. As Doom dies, TongFu come up in the chat:
Where to begin? First of all, DOTA has only one recovery mechanic built in: The Divine Rapier. It is also an enormous risk. Generally, when a team begins to win, they continue to win by pressuring the gold and experience advantage. Up until the Gyro died, the match was looking like it was all TongFu’s game. In the context of DOTA, a comeback of this proportion is nothing short of amazing.
But look at how they came back. They used the most dickish maneuver in the game, a two hero insta kill combo. The announcers were joking that if their best source of damage is their fountain, they seem to be in a bit of trouble. But in ten minutes, using this stupid tactic, they turned the game around in literally THE MOST ENTERTAINING WAY POSSIBLE. If they had just been able to stabalize and eventually chip away at the tower it would have been cool, but not engaging. The way they did it had me literally laughing out loud at each hook, and made the game seem like....well...a game! It was silly, it was fun, and it was everything that DOTA isn’t! Na’Vi weren’t just playing a game, they were putting on a show. They had a stupid lineup, a stupid strategy, a stupid comeback, and they executed every part of it incredibly well.
Afterwards, there was a game debrief with a group of commentators/anchors/gamers/whatever. One was clearly flustered. The better team had just clearly lost because of an exploit. He did his best to rationalize, on TongFu’s behalf, that it was a legitimate strategy, but you could tell he was personally upset by it. They asked if this move made them respect Na’Vi more or less, and opinions were clearly split.
Finally, the team name Na’Vi is an abbreviation for Natus Vincere: Born to Win. The pretentious. trollish, dickish, assholish team used a combination of grace and stupidity in what was probably the most hype thing I have ever seen.