Plenty of items of note for this week in Dota 2. We'll start with the big news out of the East, finish up with some surprising picks from the West, and get plenty of International news in between.
LGD Out of The International, TongFu In
Hardly more than a week since their invitational to The International 2013 was announced, Chinese powerhouse LGD underwent a roster change that cost them their free pass to the year's biggest Dota 2 tournament. LongDD, the hard support/5-slot player LGD had debuted in April, was announced to have parted ways with the team, his spot being filled by LGD's previous 5-slot player, DD. Most recently assuming a casting role after taking time away from the team for wrist issues, DD's return is a best-case scenario from a team dynamic perspective. Until his hiatus, he was a staple player for LGD; he was one of four members to have remained on the team since their formation in 2011.
Still, the unfortunate timing of this roster switch may have cost LGD dearly. As Valve issues invites to The International directly to players, LGD effectively uninvited themselves by parting ways with LongDD, though to their credit they fully accepted Valve's decision when they made the change. Taking their invitation is none other than LongDD's former team, TongFu, who have recently shown a competitive rebound in the Asian scene. LGD still has a chance to qualify for TI3 through the East Qualifier, where they are a favorite to make it through. However, there's the very real possibility of an upset - more on that in a bit.
One last note relating to the TI3 East Qualifiers: the dates have been slightly adjusted to accommodate the G-1 League LAN finals, where LGD will be playing. The qualifier matches will take place on May 20-23, and 28-30.
TI3 Tickets Go on Sale, Interactive Compendium Released
Invitation shake-ups aside, there was plenty of news regarding The International 2013 this week. Tickets went on sale on Tuesday and almost immediately sold out. Some amount of community grumbling followed, as it appears demand far outstripped the ticket supply - not surprising, considering that Benaroya Hall seats only 2,500 people.
For those of us who missed out on tickets, or simply don't have that much cash on hand, there's one consolation in the new Interactive Compendium. Fans who purchase the interactive item will receive several perks (including Battle Bonuses and a new courier), as well as the ability to vote on players for an All-Star Team showmatch and place predictions on statistics for the qualifiers (and presumably, the main event too).
Valve also made the savvy marketing move that 25% of the cost of an Interactive Compendium, or $2.50, will go towards increasing The International's prize pool. Already, the original $1.6 million in prizes has swelled by $100,000, and since there are still months to go, it's not unreasonable to think that the total purse will crack the $2 million mark. Valve has linked further perks to Kickstarter-like stretch goals, so keep an ear out if you've bought a Compendium already - your investment is set to appreciate.
One more bit of news about The International 3 for this week: caster invitations have also been going out. TobiWan, Draskyll, Ayesee, LD and Luminous will all be casting the event in English, with Evil Geniuses coach Maelk and BeyondTheSummit's GoDz providing analysis. The return of last year's host 2GD and "statman" Bruno Carlucci have yet to be confirmed, but are nearly assured.
Solo Matchmaking Added, Legion Commander on the Horizon?
This week was a light one for patches, but there was some good news for those of us who queue alone: solo matchmaking has been added as an option. Choosing the option will ensure that you're placed only with other teammates who have queued alone. This eliminates the possibility of being rolled over by a coordinated five-man group, although it won't ensure your teammates are any smarter.
No new hero this week, but those upstanding community members who dig into each patch found some strings concerning Legion Commander. Considering Valve's habit of teasing the next hero to be released in the art for the previous one, it seems like a safe bet you'll be getting forced into duels in a week or two.
Bristle and Skywrath and Slark, Oh My
This week has been a crazy one for competitive picks. Starting with the Curse Dota 2 Invitational, Skywrath Mage saw plenty of action this week. Natus Vincere used him as a go-to pick in the first two rounds of the tournament, rolling over the QPAD Red Pandas with the unorthodox combination of Tusk and Skywrath Mage. Was it a team with superior skill knowing they could get away with unorthodox heroes and still win? Probably. Was it entertaining to watch nonetheless? Absolutely.
As part of their ongoing attempt to prove that Skywrath Mage is the Sriracha of heroes - goes well with anything - Wednesday saw Na'Vi run Skywrath in conjunction with Bristleback. This time, the results are perhaps a little less readable. I'm not inclined to draw strong conclusions from any game where Treant Protector is picked, period.
Until Friday, my favorite pick of the week was by Team Liquid, in their WePlay Dota 2 League match against Fnatic.EU, when they broke out one of my favorite heroes to watch: Slark. I'm still not certain the time has come for him in the metagame, and other games this week, such as Mousesports versus Na'Vi in their WePlay match on Friday, showed Slark's weaknesses. However, the casters touched on a lot of the possibilities of a Slark pick: easily purging debuffs, melting through buffs like Templar Assassin's Refraction, and using his ultimate to deward the map, to name a few. I was also hoping for some Slark/Lifestealer bombs, but sadly the match didn't see that happen.
But then Friday rolled around, and everything I knew went out the window.
In the first match of the Dota 2 Super League, LGD Gaming and Vici Gaming squared off. LGD, despite their roster hiccup, was still heavily favored to win. The first surprise of the day came in the game 1 draft: Vici fourth-picked Chaos Knight, and fifth-picked Wisp, flagrantly disregarding the conventional wisdom that Wisp is worthless in China. This unorthodox draft was followed with even more unorthodox laning choices: a dual mid from Shadow Demon and Leshrac made it impossible for Yao's Brewmaster to win his lane. This paid dividends in the mid-game when both Shadow Demon and Leshrac (with seemingly endless clutch stuns from Fenrir) proved their worth for Vici. Liquid`Bulba pointed out that the dual mid, though unusual, was a brilliant move, since if LGD had countered with aggression, Vici could have easily moved Leshrac to support Wisp and Chaos Knight and create a strong trilane.
Down one game, LGD looked to a line-up with several power heroes: Magnus, Keeper of the Light, and the ever-popular Dragon Knight. But, yet again, they struggled to gain traction. Soon, Vici's Cty on Clockwerk was topping the net worth charts, with teammate ZSMJ on Storm Spirit close behind. LGD kept pace as best they could, but around the 40 minute mark - the time Vici's Juggernaut reaching full strength - the kill count spiraled out of control, and LGD were ultimately forced out with a final tally of 34 kills for Vici and 19 for LGD.
It would be foolish to write off LGD's chances in either the Super League or The International 3 qualifiers after just one hiccup, but they aren't looking invulnerable any longer either. Vici played well, and they aren't the only team who would like to take a piece out of China's finest in the hopes of gaining momentum and punching their ticket to Seattle.
If you're looking for something to watch live this weekend, there will be plenty more from the Curse Invitational, including a match between Team Liquid and Na'Vi in the Winner's Finals on Sunday at 21:00 CET. Expect the unexpected.