Pip is currently in Seattle to cover The International 2015 - Valve's six day Dota 2 [official site] tournament. There's over $18m on the line and a rich tapestry of professional gaming to enjoy (or unpick) - we did a cheat sheet to explain the basics. There are also 25 minute videos of shoes to be filmed and Arnold Palmers to be consumed. Here's what happened on day 3...
The day began with an interview with Erik Johnson. Except my dictaphone battery ran out. I'm usually prepared for that situation and carry some spares but the recent spree of plane travel meant the batteries had been stowed in my suitcase rather than my omnipresent handbag. My new phone also does not seem to have voice recording as a default. What this all meant was I used the only recording method available to me - video - and pointed the microphone in the right direction. The result is a lovely, clear interview. And twenty-five minutes of footage of Erik Johnson's feet.
One of the things Erik's feet and I talked about was the DDoS-ing which had brought the tournament to a halt the previous day. Johnson couldn't talk specifics but I asked whether the risk of an attack was a worry to the team at Valve going into the event. "Absolutely, [we were] worried about it. Denial of service attack is when a bunch of computers are sending us a huge amount of data. The worst part is those computers don't want to do that. Those are machines that have been compromised in some other way and turned into zombies and sending a bunch of data to us. [...] Denial of service attacks are a difficult problem for anybody trying to do something on the internet, especially a live event. It's something that we've dealt with for years across all the services.
"Having access to lots of bandwidth of something that Valve's in a good position to do given Steam, but the nature of how a denial of service attack works makes them a difficult thing to deal with. I think we have a couple of pretty good solutions for that and - knock on wood - we aren't expecting any more interruptions, at least for denial of service attacks, for the remainder of the event. We'll see. We were at least as bummed as all the fans while it was happening because of lot of people at Valve put a ton of effort into the event and when it's not working it's a big bummer for all of us."
For a more long-term solution he added, "I think it's something all platform vendors need to start thinking about . How do we deal with this? and I include steam as part of thinking about how to deal with this. Clearly Microsoft needs to start thinking about that with Windows. There's not a strong reason why a machine needs to sit there and send data to some random place on the internet without the person intending to do so."
We also talked about the projection mapping on the stage floor. "It actually has a bunch of cool code behind it. Our game outputs midi notes that drive automatically what gets projected. No-one's pressing any buttons it's completely driven by code." In terms of the ones I've seen I really like the effects which are directed from one team's booths to the other. Razor's Static Link which is an electric leash stretching across the stage or Queen of Pain's scream which shows a sonic wave emanating across the map. I like the dialogue it implies. Johnson's own favourite is for a character who hasn't been picked yet - Kunkka. "He has a ghost ship. The map is patterned after the Dota map with the river in the middle and the ghost ship floats down the river and crashes into the Aegis rock."
I wish that after the event finished for the evening they could leave the mapping up and I could play some pub matches to see what happens with various heroes.
I was also interested in what Johnson had to say about the positioning of the stage this year. I was asking about harking back to the first International at GamesCom in 2011 because the basic setup is similar. Johnson explained that there's a particular energy you get when the teams are facing one another instead of being stacked side by side. But there's also the experience of being in the middle of a crowd. "It's how sport works, it's how competition works. The crowd should be a little bit... kind of oppressive and scary. Everybody's watching you and you can see who you're playing against."
You can see the effect on some players as they enter the arena, some enjoying the attention and others hunched a little, focusing solely on the booth and trying to ignore the roar of the audience.
With that it was time to rejoin the crowd watching compLexity taking a game from Virtus.Pro. From the graphs of gold and experience the game had swung from one team to the other in terms of advantage and several comebacks were in evidence. From the roars of the crowd which permeated the press room where I'd been talking to Erik I'd assumed the game had ended at least twice. Looking at the draft for the second game of the best-of-3 it seemed like compLexity were favouring push strategies with Broodmother (she's a giant highly mobile spider who generates these baby spider minions who can attack. She basically demands a response so you can use her to split the enemy's attention). They also had a Chen (he can take control of neutral minions in the jungle and use them to create an animal army) so compLexity's plan was very much a compLexity-and-friends arrangement. As it goes, at least three of compLexity's team are former professional Heroes of Newerth players so I'm wondering if their drafting has its roots in HoN thinking rather than Dota 2's pro meta. Regardless, it didn't work out and VP took not just the second but the third game as well. There was some drama during play as another pause saw players exiting their booths but instead of a DDoS attack, this was because Virtus.Pro's God was reportedly feeling unwell. The break saw compLexity's momentum dissipate while a slightly healthier VP returned ready to destroy. compLexity's International came to an end but I'm curious to see them at other events, particularly if they're adding pinches of strategy from other metagames. It would be the equivalent of a slice of lime poked into the neck of a Corona.
Then it was time for Secret versus Invictus Gaming - this year's favourites against the winners from the second International. In terms of mood, excitement and standard of play it was hard to believe this was a lower bracket matchup instead of the grand final, although I don't think my heart could have withstood a best-of-5.
The first game was a great example of what I was talking about earlier in the week. You can control four of the five enemy players as hard as you like but if their carry (hi Anti-Mage) gets enough gold and thus enough items he will rip you apart. BurNIng is a fantastic player and spent the game doing exactly that. Secret's early strength faltered, the gold graph swung thirty thousand points back in favour of IG and the game was theirs.
Then Arteezy got his hands on Luna. Luna is a jerk when she gets fat. She has these glaives which bounce between people and buildings doing damage. A Luna in your base is a massive problem. It was a problem IG encountered pretty swiftly given Secret scored an impressive number of pickoffs on their foes and were doing laps in the Dota equivalent of Scrooge McDuck's money vault. The third game was more of a challenge with IG hyperaware of KuroKy roaming invisibly as Bounty Hunter. IG pulled off some impressive plays - Ferrari took his Storm Spirit into the Roshan pit for an Aegis steal (the thing which revives you after one death) but despite the moment of success Secret turned the tables and the result was another disastrous engagement from IG. It was this set of games which saw Luna slip into the TI5 meta as IG were sent packing.
The third set of the day pitted China against China with LGD versus wildcard candidates CDEC. There's actually slightly more history behind the two teams as CDEC were originally the LGD youth squad before they went on to form a separate side. I must say, I had assumed LGD would take the game but CDEC would perhaps take one game for themselves. A hyper-aggressive (or hyper-Agressif) two matches and multiple teamwipes for LGD later and CDEC secured their place in the upper bracket finals. LGD aren't out but they've dropped to the lower bracket and have to fight Virtus.Pro or Secret to stay in the running. Either way it will be a bloodbath.
I would have said more but there's a thing which happens when you watch a really intense series like Secret versus IG and the next one suffers a little. Not the play, but the audience can only ride the hype train so long before you need a hype nap or a hype snack or some kind of hype massage. As a result, CDEC versus LGD actually felt like being bludgeoned in the face with digital wizard aggression.
At this point arena food and drink took its toll. The venue serves standard fare - popcorn, nachos, pretzels, lemonade, coffee... - which is nice when you have evenings free and use it as a stop-gap until you get proper dinner. The onslaught of matches kind of scuppered that plan and my life has revolved around variations on carbs and cheese. Also THAT ISN'T CHEESE IT IS CHEESE FLAVOURED TOOTHPASTE OR SOMETHING. It was an Arnold Palmer which tipped me over the edge though. No idea if it was the sugar or something else but suddenly I was high as a sugared-up kite, talking rapid gibberish and offering up a monologue about roasted vegetables to anyone who would listen. The upshot of all of this was watching Evil Geniuses take on EHOME while shivering through the comedown.
EHOME vs EG was essentially a battle for crowd chanting. EG won. Also that last match was kinda dull, wasn't it? The first was fun because it's always enjoyable watching cty play Storm Spirit and I'd missed his star turn against Secret earlier in the week. EG couldn't withstand the onslaught even with Fear on Anti-Mage. The second game was interesting because Aui picked up Techies. Techies are a group of goblin dudes with a shopping trolley who roam the map planting bombs. The match demonstrated really well what Techies presence does in a game, distorting how people play, where they're prepared to walk and how you have to use detection. It's like dropping a rock onto a sheet of clingfilm - he distorts everything and you don't get the luxury of ignoring him otherwise he just nibbles away at your lanes. Aui has previously tweeted his disdain for the hero making the victory a much-remarked upon irony. then the final game. Sumail on Windrunner did work, obliterating towers and powershotting through wave after wave of creeps but, for the first time in the main event I felt my attention fading. But hey. With millions on the line you play what you need to win, not to entertain...