theWonderCow, December 20, 2016

The Best Dota 2 Matches of 2016

Whether Dota 2's  7.00 patch has drawn you into the game anew or you're a grizzled veteran desperate to relive the glory moments, there are some games from 2016 that should not go ignored. It's difficult to pin just five games from 2016, considering this was the first full year with Majors, featured only the second-ever third-party million-dollar event (EPICENTER), and had the most exciting International since 2013, but after scouring through my year's notes and many Dotabuff pages, I've narrowed it down to the five games I think were my favorite moments from the year.

LGD vs MVP Phoenix at the Manila Major

The Manila Major was an event dominated by Beastmaster, Earth Spirit, Lifestealer, and Phoenix. Although drafting trends showed more diversity than the year prior, it was nothing resembling the extreme diversity we would see only months later at The International, where every hero was picked.

Despite that, LGD Gaming ‘s Lu “Maybe” Yao took Tinker and showed exactly why an unpopular hero can’t be confused with a bad hero. This game in the GSL brackets kicked Manila off with a bang, and showed that this year would be the most diverse and interesting to date. That Tinker pick gave out over five minutes of disable throughout the course of the gamenot to mention 118K damagenearly as much as MVP as a whole.

The game opens with trademark MVP Phoenix aggression, a precursor of the same playstyle that caught favorites Team OG off-guard at The International and unexpectedly sent them to the lower bracket. In hindsight, this match against LGD was a warning sign that went unheeded by the green giant at TI6, a failure culminating in one of the least expected and most impactful early eliminations in Dota 2 history.

The game had relatively small impact on the tournament as a whole: due to the GSL seeding, it was unlikely LGD would lose a series against any team at Manila (paired against the relatively inexperienced Mineski, EG in its worst form of all time, and MVP Phoenix, against which LGD has only lost one series in history). Despite that, this individual game was one of the most significant comebacks of the year and a beacon radiating potential for LGD’s reformed squad newly captained by Maybe.

More recently, LGD struggled at the Boston Major, but go back and watch this execution and try to claim Maybe doesn’t have the game sense to be a stellar Chinese captain.

Empire vs. Secret at ESL One Manila

Rinat "KingR" Abdullin isn’t exactly a household Dota name, especially since his team, Team Empire, has been without a firm roster for the better part of a month, and failed to reach any significant events in the latter portions of the year. The guy doesn’t even have a Liquidpedia page.

Moreover, ESL One Manila was overshadowed by a much bigger event in the same venue just a few weeks laterThe Manila Major. You would be forgiven for having missed this tournament, but you may not forgive yourself. This tournament was the event that gave Wings LAN practice and their first notable victory on the world stage, leading events to pay more attention to the struggling team. If you remember anything about this event, you remember KingR’s Rubick, which was so strong it was highlighted on ESPN, listed “MVP of ESL One Manila” by Red Bull, and prompted a surge of interest in CIS Dota.

You can draw a direct line from ESL One Manila to The International 2016 for Wings, and some hazier lines showing this event, even this game, as singularly important for Team Secret.

Little KingR and Team Empire had a bit to do with that. This event happened just a month after Team Secret kicked Misery and W33 despite their Shanghai Major victory, and a loss to Team Empire here knocked Secret out of the event before ever reaching the main stage. That was a precursor to Secret’s poor communication and seemingly undermined confidence at The Manila Major, leading to the second round of the most disruptive Western shuffle in Dota history in the shadow of The International.

Secret has never been the same, and by all indicators, is nowhere near reaching their former level of success again. It’s hard to tell how much of Secret’s future difficulties were sown in this game, but inevitably bonds were weakened by this unexpected loss.

KingR did three times as many Black Hole disables than Puppey’s Enigma. He cast two stolen Ravages. Was able to single-handedly provide the advantage his team needed to turn this elimination game into a victory, a $12,500 feat.

Ad Finem vs. OG in the Boston Major Grand Finals

An underdog on the ropes, multiple turnings of tides, rapier gamingthis game had it all. At risk of angering the many fans they made during this tournament, Ad Finem came into the Grand Finals unprepared for OG. The fact is Ad Finem were far too inexperienced to face down the behemoth, having benefitted from a still difficult but much more favorable single-elimination bracket.

Games one and two were borderline dull, systematic, and clinical. I travel to a lot of esports events, but the crowd hit a level of excitement I’ve only seen matched in two other matches, both of which are also on this list from The International 2016.

OG opened strong, but a 10,000 gold lead before 25 minutes (which should give well over a 95% win rate in professional Dota) was not enough to secure the win. By the end of the game, there were over 20 minutes with rapiers in play and six 10,000 net worth swings. Inarguably the most exciting game of Boston that gave hope back to the underdog lovers cheering from the stands.

Although Ad Finem were unable to recover in the series, their commanding entry to Dota's more premier event series has driven flocks into their open arms as hopefully lifelong fans. This series was the kiss that sealed that deal for thousands around the world.

EG vs. EHOME at The International 2016

Here’s a net worth plot. Take a look and tell me who won.

You’re wrong.

This was the most tactically perfect execution since S4’s Million Dollar Dream Coil in The International 2013 final game. It’s exceedingly rare to see a team come back from 20,000 net worth deficit, and even more rare for such a comeback to happen against Mega Creeps, partially because teams rarely get to practice the super late game. It’s an unknown for which it is impossible to prepare.

Evil Geniuses were able to pull it together, knocking EHOME down in arguably the most astonishing comeback in professional Dota history.

It would take 1,700 words just to break down the awe-inspiring mechanical and strategic decisions EG made in the last minute of this game (I know). In the fallout from this loss (alongside three other lost games on the main stage), Iceiceice left EHOME to start Team Faceless. Fenrir left to join Vici Gaming J, and EHOME fell once again rising Chinese powerhouse to struggling brand name team.

OG vs. TNC at The International 2016

This game was TNC’s first ever match won against a team from outside of Southeast Asia, and they did it with down-and-out North American veteran Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho bringing clarity to what had been seemingly disheveled communication patterns.

Then stack on the perfection of TNC’s from-behind play in game two. They managed to beat the tournament favorites with elimination on the line while behind nearly 20,000 net worth. It was enough to prompt me, at the time, to ask if we had witnessed the biggest upset in Dota history

In hindsight, I can confirm that this is arguably the greatest upset in the history of Dota, and certainly in top 10 greatest upsets for esports as a whole. In a big way, the landscape of 2017 is defined by this loss, in which OG was favored 99:1, and that was considered by many to be generous to TNC. It is also likely one of the single most impactful games to Dota's roster topography in recent memory.

After taking this loss, OG’s players split up despite its captain Tal “Fly” Aizik telling me he hoped to remain stable before the event. That was the second time Fly’s hopes of stability were in vain after The International. Had OG won this game, they very likely would have toppled Digital Chaos, undermining the rising stars’ stability, EHOME, and Fnatic. Even playing how they were, both Fnatic and EHOME had unflavored play styles against OG.

Taking third place, the team likely remains stable, preventing Cr1t from joining Evil Geniuses as its new captain. Digital Chaos, after taking a more expected 7-8 place, shuffles with its European members looking for teams closer to home. That, after all, was a pairing of necessity, never necessarily intended to be a long-term fit.

In short, the 99 worlds in which TNC lose are different beyond recognition to our one world in which they did not. Despite all the odds, the figures, the incredible adversity, TNC’s execution this game showed strong research and incredible calm under pressure.

theWonderCow

With years in esports publishing, broadcasting, and analysis, Gorgon's specialized focus on locking down trends in Dota has landed him as a featured writer for joinDOTA, the Score, Dotabuff, and more. You can reach him on twitter.com/theWonderCow.