A Tale of Two Tournaments, Part 1: MDL Autumn 2016

With everyone emerging from their post-TI6 cocoons, China was the stage for several prominent teams’ LAN debuts of the new season. This is a recap and (cell) photo gallery of MDL Autumn 2016, to be followed by the Nanyang Cruise Cup, from the translator perspective of our own @KBBQDota.

MDL Xiamen   20161001_141807 There was plenty of intrigue and anticipation heading into this third international edition of MDL, with three teams (EG, OG, Secret) of the half non-Chinese field playing their first officials as new units. As far as Chinese teams, there was general optimism about VG (formerly VG.R with newly promoted Ghost playing mid), and iG.Vitality, which had kept its roster intact after some solid around and before TI Qualifiers.

The tournament was held in muggy Xiamen, a southern Chinese city with palm tree-lined streets, tropical weather and beaches that give it a Miami feel. Typhoon Meranti had just swept through the region, causing billions of dollars in damage and temporary outages at the Langham Hotel, which would host the teams and group stage. With forecasts of another, smaller typhoon on the way, some teams’ flights were in question, with the possibility of another storm-related power stoppage. Chinese casters brought in for the main event had flight plans changed to high speed rail (thankfully, China’s train system is very well developed and convenient). With a flu widely believed to be the CTY strain causing issues at the previous MDL in Wuxi (EHOME’s secret strat, some joked), there was some concern that nature would interfere yet again. Thankfully, everyone arrived safely and the second typhoon changed course.

The hotel was excellent, with responsive and courteous staff, and an abundant selection of great food. Food is often an adventure at tournaments. On the one hand, with Dota teams you have a great diversity of people and cultures with different tastes for each meal of the day, a challenge often beyond the capacity of local cuisine at most hotels (not just in China). On the other, some people want simple, familiar comfort food, perhaps to avoid any disruption of routine. Miracle-, for example, is supposedly quite happy with just a bit of McDonald’s and some cigarettes. Many players are still teenagers, and when I think back on my ‘tastes’ as a teenager, I’d probably have been stoked about most of the stuff on this list:

Miracle- may no longer be on OG, but even his absence led to my favorite moment of the tournament. On their way to the arena bus, OG passed by a local wedding party in the hotel lobby, decked out in vibrant, customary red for the big day.

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The party recognized OG…sort of. An excited groomsman ran to greet and embrace the team, then shouted “MIRACLEEE!” at the top of his lungs (apparently at notail). Noone could stop laughing at this, while the bride and groom, clearly somewhat familiar with Dota and overjoyed to have chanced upon the OG gods, got closer for pictures.

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Everyone was in great spirits on the bus to the arena. It felt like one of those rare moments when people just make each other’s day, and nothing could get in the way of that. Chatting with casters at the arena, some how I thought OG would do that day. They gave me some weird looks when I said nothing about Dota and only talked about the morning encounter. OG went 4-0, knocking out VG and Secret.

 

The Boys

EG has been extremely popular in China for awhile. They’ve been consistently successful here since winning DAC in 2015, and seem to always be the bane of Chinese teams. Sumail became a lightning rod after some controversial social media comments, but is also (sometimes grudgingly) admired and respected as a rare child prodigy capable of immediately delivering championships under pressure. Zai seems to really like China, and fans and casters always thought Cr1t didn’t get nearly enough credit for OG’s success. Some Chinese players and analysts considered Universe unquestionably the best player in the world in recent years. And Artour has always been a fan favorite, with his third coming to EG spawning a simple Chinese pun: that he 躲冠, dodges championships when moving teams, rather than 夺冠, snatching them (both Chinese pronunciations a slight variant on “duoguan”). Guess the meme backfired this time.

Fans packed the halls and arena gate for the EG signing session, with plenty of others waiting at the buses for them to leave.

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And of course there was Fear, now coach, who did not make himself available for signings. On the basketball court however, he did remind the young bucks who the real captain is by being the first to drain a half court shot, then beating everyone in knockout, all this despite a possible ailing old man wrist.

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Securing their place in the Upper Bracket final earned EG a day without Dota matches, leaving room for some badminton and basketball. Learned a couple of things from watching EG play various games throughout the week:

  • Universe is pretty good at badminton, partly stemming from his experience with tennis
  • Fear’s got a jumper and Phil is, as expected, quite athletic. Zai lays claim to the team pingpong title, and many players love casual games of pingpong during downtime. Why haven’t we had a pingpong LAN or side tournament yet?
  • Arteezy is super competitive and absolutely hates losing. This is not some standard issue “of course noone likes to lose”, this is actually some anime tier mentality – the man loathes being beaten at anything and finds it completely intolerable if he’s anything but the best. Gotta respect that.
  • For some reason, Mali of MarsTV is insane at badminton. He mostly just stands exactly where he needs to be, calmly gloating while his opponent frantically scrambles to keep up.

 

Grand Finals and Wrapup

Newbee’s run was probably one of the tournament’s bigger surprises, (though maybe not for MVP and QO, the only ones to say in media interviews that Newbee were quite strong). The crowd, still easily packed to capacity despite efforts made each day to add seats, went from roaring to deafening when Sccc decided to enter 9k Invoker pubstomp mode, leaving people scrambling to find a nickname for the previously unheralded Newbee Young player. All I managed to dig up at the tournament was that other players called him ‘retired soldier’ because of his time in the Chinese army, which is called the People’s Liberation Army (jiefangfun, 解放军). That is also the nickname that ROTK used for him on stream and it’s got a nice ring to it. Later on the Nanyang Cruise I kept hearing other Chinese players whisper about his impossibly proportionate five features (wuguanduanzheng, 五官端正). People seem in awe of the fact that as a military man he projects the exact opposite image of the typical quiet genius progamer. There’s a sense of, where did this guy come from and why does it seem so odd and mysterious that he’s destroying people in Dota, like he was genetically engineered or something. Or the Terminator.20161002_11371520161002_11372820161002_11375920161002_113901

On the final day EG, surviving OG in a tight series, seemed to pick up their familiar lower bracket momentum against Newbee. Looking like a different team from the day before, they seemed to have Newbee figured out, confidently leaving Invoker in the pool, and smiling and laughing through Cr1t’s accidental self-ban Templar Assassin along the way to a 3-1 win. The team seemed a more and more terrifying realization of individual potential as the day wore on and its convincing Grand Final victory seems certain to make it one of the favorites going into the Boston Major.

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One of the things I love about Chinese Dota is the national pride behind the teams, which are almost all comprised of Chinese nationals (unlike the diverse mix of nationalities on most foreign teams). There’s also a practice of swapping out Grand Finals casters mid-series, and fans were energized when beloved duo DC (philosopher-pro) and Danche (sweatshirt, once Burning’s teammate) came in for Game 3, Newbee’s only win. It was a nice boost of energy and got the crowd going and joking about ‘why didn’t we bring this guys in to start off’, but ultimately not enough. I’m no historian, but if you want a meme that checks out across recent generations it’s the ‘us against the world/foreign devils’ mentality on which many Chinese have been raised, a sentiment born from harsh realities not long ago. The sheer number of fans who came and filled the arena each day of the the main event could not disguise the disappointment and speed with which some left after watching the elimination of their home teams. With Newbee the only domestic squad to finish in the top half of the tournament and the strength of other reformed rosters still untested, some fans and casters lamented on the way out that Wings might for now be the only remaining hope for Chinese Dota.

And what were the reigning TI6 champions doing? Getting ready for a very different season debut LAN of their own.

Additional Photos

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