History of Competitive DotA (Rise of the Blink Dagger: The 6.43 Era)
6.43 was one of the golden eras in the history of DotA. Numerous strategies emerged and many unpopular heroes were introduced into CW. The game's seemingly infinite variation drew more players into the world of DotA.
6.43 fixed many bugs and balance issues that existed in 6.41. At the same time, several important changes were made. These changes made 6.43 into a stable competitive version with one of the most profound and far-reaching effects in the history of DotA.
Between 6.43 and 6.48, none of the versions were stable versions. Their individual influences can be ignored, so I'll put all mention of pre-6.48 competitions under the 6.43 heading.
Happenings in the EU/NA scene
On May 8th, VP (Virtus Pro) was formed from players out of MaGe and DoTa. In the ASUS Spring 2007 Tournament, the LighTofHeaven-led Say Plz defeated VP to become champion. Just like how Michael Jordan had to overcome many difficulties before dominating the NBA, after this defeat VP ruled the DotA world from 6.43 to the 6.48 era.
On June 8th, MYM hosted the MYM Prime Nations #1 tournament with players representing their countries that ran concurrent to MYM PriDe #6. In total, 18 countries attended. China's team was organized by ChinaPanda who took care of players who wanted sign up and play. GL ended up representing China, but due to the bad internet, they were eliminated after one win and one loss. In the final, Russia defeated Denmark to become victor.
Another important tournament in June was DreamHack Summer 2007. Using version 6.44, this was the first international-level competition that used -XL mode (three bans for each side). Carrying widespread influence, this tournament drew 33 participating teams. Ultimately, MYM defeated T_T with their own version of the devastating global strategy, swapping out Spectre for the famous MYM Tinker surprisingly not played by Merlini. This is because they introduced an innovation of their own—a jungling Beastmaster by Merlini together with a jungling Furion to quickly reach the all-important Level 6. Beastmaster synergized very well with the lineup providing excellent vision for ganks as well as a creep for a quick teleport from Tinker. T_T would go on to win SK Gaming's sponsorship, and become another powerful and influential team following the steps of MYM and VP.
MYM PriDe #6 turned out to be a cakewalk for the Russians with five Russian teams making the playoffs. The finals were between Say Plz and VP. After a bitter 84min contest, VP emerged victorious. They were on their way of creating their own legend of winning three consecutive MYM PriDe events.
After MYM PriDe #6, the long and drawn out TFL competition finally reached the playoffs. In the first round, SK fought three hard fought battles to defeat VP at their peak. VP got sent to the losers' bracket where they were eliminated by the previously unheard of South Korean dark horse team xDT (Extreme DotA Team). xDT commonly employed heroes that were extremely unpopular at the time like Anti-Mage, Terrorblade and Faceless Void often surprising the opponent. In the finals of the TFL, SK got their revenge for Dreamhack Summer by defeating MYM to claim victory. TFL was the only tournament during the 6.43 era that VP did not win.
On August 24th, ASUS Summer 2007 began. VP went undefeated to take the tournament while Say Plz took 3rd place.
On September 6th, MYM PriDe #7 began. Even though IceFrog had just released 6.48b the day before, this tournament still used 6.43b as the competitive version. MYM first defeated VP in the winners' bracket, but they were then defeated by VP slaughtering their way out of the losers' bracket. It was a fierce, seemingly preordained meeting that was hard to forget.
If MYM PriDe #6 was said to be Vigoss's mainstage, then MYM PriDe #7 was ARS-ART's. He seemed to be naturally endowed with instincts of an assassin and filled to the core with a desire for aggression. He attained an acme of perfection with heroes like Nerubian Assassin, Gondar and Pudge. Without a doubt, his and Vigoss's performances both deserved the title “King of Gankers”. At the time, VP's captain and strategic mastermind Jolie described ARS-ART and Vigoss as thus:"ARS-ART's (Virtus.Smile) playstyle is very unique, different from any other. His solo-killing ability is simply incomparable, often seizing an opportunity another player would have missed. Even though he is not as good a support player as NS, he can provide many Observer Wards.Vigoss is our other hero killer. Unlike ARS-ART, Vigoss prefers to gank with his teammates. His reaction speed is simply shocking and he has exceptional powers of prediction. These qualities make him DotA's best ganker. Another positive trait he has is that he never gives up and keeps fighting to the end."
On September 29th, the Garena gaming platform announced the Asian DotA Championships (ADC). This was a big online tournament held over the course of four months with 32 teams from 10 countries in Asia participating.The tournament began with 6.43b and ended with 6.48b. Together with PLU, a livestream was provided online. This was the first DotA competition that provided an online livestream to the Chinese audience.
During the 6.43 era, VP was dominant. Out of five important international competitions DreamHack Summer, ASUS Spring, ASUS Summer, MYM PriDe #6, MYM PriDe #7 and TFL, VP won three while MYM, Say Plz and SK took one apiece. At the time, Say Plz was reaching its twilight and trying to continue on despite its problems. SK had no star players aside from Loda. This led to contests between MYM and VP being the most eagerly anticipated. Their meetings in consecutive MYM Pride tournaments are considered classic matches in the history of DotA.
Later on in the group stages of MYM PriDe #7, this team made a huge comeback to defeat VP. Going without even Boots at 42min, Syllabear managed to farm up Radiance. 20min later, they had pushed into VP's base. This made the disconsolate VP type out after GG the two phrases "guis U SO COOL" and "FUCK U". This was the famous Profanity-Gate affair.
After group stages, VP, rB (French team Redbear) and MiZen (Singaporean team formed from Micronology and Zenith) were in a three-way tie, so tiebreakers were played. However, the tiebreaker results didn't solve anything, so they were forced to looking at stats from each game (hero kills/tower kills/barrack kills/number of Aegis). MiZen playing a conservative playstyle and often being in an inferior position was eliminated. It was very tragic, because if their luck was just a tiny bit better, VP's three consecutive MYM Pride wins would have been interrupted.
After the hit0mi-led NA team x6's (Check-Six) fine performance in MYM PriDe #6 that led them to a 3rd place finish, instability in team members cost them their sponsorship. Even though they left their mark on MYM PriDe #7 by claiming 3rd place, NA were no longer the dominant force they were in the 6.32 era.
hit0mi has been a core member of NA teams including JMC, x6, coL, tPD and later eMg. Aside from Fear and Merlini, he was the only player from NA to make the aforementioned GotFrag list of Top 10 DotA Players of All Time in 2007. (He is actually from Germany and came to NA for college, but he was awarded honorary NA status on the GotFrag list, so I will continue this tradition). With teams x6 and eMg, he attained 3rd place placings in consecutive MYM PriDes.
He was known for his game sense, grasp of the tempo and strategic mastery. As attested to by a former x6 teammate, he was also known for his leadership and was possessed that special ability of making good players around him even better. As we will see later on, players such as MYM's Maelk also possessed this rare quality. As a result, hit0mi is remembered as one of the famous leaders in the history of DotA.
During the 6.43 era, VP emerged with great splendor drawing the gaze of the whole world. Vigoss and ARS-ART became superstar-level players. One became the #1 DotA player in world between versions 6.43 and 6.48 inclusive; the other became known as the King of Gankers.
VP's popularity also brought acclaim to NS as the world's best support player. Just as how ezy's appearance in the 6.32 era showed DotA players—even the casual ones—the importance of good fundamentals, NS's exquisite ward placement showed everyone the importance of good map vision.
Behind Vigoss and ARS-ART, Jolie only had to worry about the grand strategy and tempo management, which led to him being referred to as VP's metronome. M.Admiration was VP's most stable player. Without a doubt, VP's players were the best even among top players. Together, they succeeded at making VP a legend.
It is often forgotten that VP had not a 5-player roster, but one with six players. The last member was Sahka. He usually played the role of support along with NS and contributed much to VP's dominance during this era.
At DreamHack Summer early in the 6.43 era, MYM.Merlini was brilliant in his jungling Beastmaster from Level 1 as part of MYM's take on the innovative global strategy. It was a shame that soon after this tournament, Merlini temporarily went back to Taiwan on vacation. After he returned, he wasn't in his old form.
As a replacement for Merlini's Tinker during his vacation, MYM found a new team member in slahser. His individual ability in all aspects of the game and flashy ganks were particularly memorable quickly reaching Star status.
Happenings in the Asian scene
The first important tournament was the Chinese qualifiers held in Beijing on May 15th for WCG Asia competition (ACG) in Singapore. The winner was team GL with Snoy, Stephy, DC, 820 and DiviDust (he changed his name from Tossgirl during the finals in Singapore). The runner-up was Nebula. Later on August 5th in Singapore, ACG Grand Finals, GL lived up to the highest expectations by defeating the Malaysian team Ct (Cybertime). This was a Chinese DotA team's first foray out of China and actually was able to achieve glory. GL's path to the finals received much news coverage in China.
This time, the Chinese qualification competition was organized very poorly. Before the competition, only 30min were allotted per match and hero and tower kills were used to determine the victor. This kind of match regulation caused much commotion. Furthermore, the grouping left people feeling very helpless. There were 4 groups. Group A had 8 teams of which 4 were leading teams of the time: AVNC, IFNT, HTML and GL. However, Group D had merely 2 teams. The omission of replay release after the tournament was also a source for further castigation.
In early June, CDL-I finally entered its late phase and playoffs began. 4 teams were left: GL, Zhanguotianxia, HTML and IFNT. Zhanguotianxia was GL's B-team. Rumour has it that it was a team led by an overseas student (I think it was Tossgirl, but I don't remember too clearly). CDL-I's rules were extremely stringent that even GL's A-team choked at a critical juncture. In the end, IFNT defeated HTML to become victor. IFNT was one of China's best teams at the time. Its talented players were numerous, but they hadn't won a major tournament since then.
After CDL on the evening of July 9th, IFNT and GL fought another fierce struggle between two mighty and evenly-matched teams. In a Bo3 on the line was WE's (World Elite) sponsorship to become China's first professional DotA team. The first match, IFNT won. The second had only gone some 20min when the computer of IFNT carry player 2046 playing Queen of Pain restarted, because they couldn't stop the cybercafé from shutting it off. IFNT was forced to play 4v5, eventually losing. The third match, GL relied on 820's incisive Silencer to defeat IFNT winning them WE's sponsorship.
At the time, everyone thought GL had won WE's sponsorship thereby becoming China's first professional DotA team. In ACG 2007 that followed, GL also used WE as their team name. However, Snoy later wrote in his blog that WE had not actually provided any funds to them. So it was that even though GL won the competition, they didn't actually become China's first professional team.
On September 26th in the finals of WGT China 2007 (World Gamemaster Tournament), Longdd's exceptional performance led HTML to defeat IFNT for the victory. PLU provided the livestream for this match. This was the first time that mass media was used to provide a livestream of a DotA event. At the time an advertisement said:"WGT and PLU are making history, and you as a DotA fan are also making history, because the ultimate goal of mass media's publicity and livestream is to attract you fans towards the e-sport. Your IP is the debrillator for the heart of future DotA."
The victory at ACG brought GL to the peak of their popularity and made them indisputably the best team in China. HTML was also very strong during this era. In the CW room in the VS gaming platform, a popular saying was "come try to beat us, GL and HTML players not welcome." In my recollections GL often played standard lineups and crushed teams with mainstream strategies. HTML used weird lineups with a graceful playstyle, which frustrated opponents to no end.
Playing against GL was like reading a Jin Yong novel (popular Hong Kong author who wrote novels about adventures of martial artists)—you felt there was a majestic atmosphere. Playing against HTML was like reading Gu Long (popular Mainland China author of same genre, but who liked to delve more into the psychology of his strange characters)—you felt befuddled by strange and peculiar sights. HTML's Nerubian Weaver and Tinker strategy had an awe-inspiringly illustrious reputation.
Actually during the 6.43 era, there was another powerful DotA clan in China that if you wanted to use the number of clan members as a metric, was the strongest in the world. MYW and Xiaobaitu these average teams had a large influence on the development of Chinese DotA by giving it exposure to large numbers of people. In the long run, DotA even without any competitive nature attached was very fun to play. Some teams had competition as their end goal, while others had entertainment as theirs; these are two completely different ideals. Both made enormous contributions to the development of DotA in China.
After Chinese qualifications for ACG, AVNC disbanded. At the time, when 820, Huati, 2046 and others did some interviews where they all expressed regret. After AVNC, HFUT, XJTU, SMTH and other college teams emerged during the 6.43 era. With excellent individual ability and excellent chemistry from sitting beside each other in real life, these college players were shockingly good.
In early July, the once magnificent CPL LAN tournament winners Nebula announced they were disbanding due to pressure for team members to go work and study. From these pressures and the fiasco with the sponsorship, IFNT, GL and HTML which formed the first generation Chinese teams after performing gloriously and inciting much excitement during the 6.43 era have all gradually lost their vitality. In succession, they walked off the center-stage of history.
On September 30th, a consolidation of Chinese experts formed the team SNM. On the eve of their formation, they gave people much hope for the future. It's a shame that nothing came of it. After making noise, the team disappeared. It's lamentable, because if these experts were really to have been gathered, it wouldn’t have been impossible for them to re-enact a second coming of GL.
In the 6.43 era, the playstyle mainly studied was VP's full pressure gank strategy. Individual brilliance was often overcome by good chemistry and teamwork. GL's five players who attended ACG were certainly deserved Star status. After Longdd left for HTML, his elegant playstyle and flamboyant ganking drew him much attention. HTML's GK also gradually became a star player.
Dgc, Soulk and 830 who played for both GOW and IFNT also flourished during this time. HTML's amei, Shuairen, IFNT's 2046, hanhan, and others also shined for a while.
To sum up, the 6.43 era was an explosive period in Chinese DotA with large amounts of new players joining the gaming community. Various teams and discussion forums emerged in large numbers like mushrooms in the rain. Livestreams began and tournaments happened more frequently than before. Sponsors began noticing DotA. A very good foundation was laid for Chinese DotA teams to move towards the professional direction.
The powerful and influential Singaporean team Zenith from SEA that had swept away all competition in 2006 was now facing growing troubles. First at ACG Singapore qualifications, they met an unexpected setback and didn't qualify. Being a leading team in Asia and not winning ACG for two consecutive years led people to begin questioning their strength. After ACG due to some team members not being stable, they combined with another top Singaporean team Micronology to form MiZen.
The South Korean dark horse xDT (the team who eliminated VP in TFL) had some memorable players. Even though it was the team that picked unorthodox heroes like Anti-Mage and a jungling Terrorblade, their main carry xD.Scout played no small part in ensuring that it worked. Even now, this player is still invigorating the DotA world. He was seen playing on team SuP (Sponsor us Please) in ADC 2009 and more recently on How.kr playing under the alias Tomato in ADC 2010. These teams were founded and led by ex-xDT player Heen to win all the Korean DotA tournaments during this period, earning them the right to represent Korea in international tournaments such as ADC and WCG Asia. His team would achieve a 4th place finish at WCG Asia 2009 ahead of the Chinese team led by Zhou, cD (Comme Dieu) and a 3rd place finish at WCG Asia 2010.
Team xDT was originally formed from two teams in NA, TreXoN (winners of CAL Open Season 3) and Tofu. Aside from Scout and Heen, other famous Korean players include Chu and March. Both represented Korea at WCG Asia 2008. March would go on to take part in WCG Asia 2009 and 2010 with Heen and Scout. Chu was famous for his Meepo play and would go on to join tPD. March would go on to become an active member of the NA DotA community and join the world class team Nirvana.Int (Nirvana International).
Mainstream strategies and hero picks
Early on in the 6.43 era during DreamHack Summer 2007, MYM.Merlini, the traveler from afar, demonstrated the jungling Beastmaster playstyle. In fashion for a while, it was 6.43 era's first mainstream strategy and its repercussions are felt even today.
After MYM PriDe #8 began, everyone's glance was drawn to VP. Nowadays when version 6.43 is mentioned, the terms "VP", "full pressure gank" and "Blink Dagger" will jump to mind. It's true, 6.43 was VP's era. The passionately fierce full pressure gank playstyle was emotionally stirring. VP also had great success in various tournaments. This led to nearly all players who watched the 6.43 era replays to become a fan quite involuntarily. VP's brilliance had illuminated the entire DotA world.
With 6.43 being VP's era, to say full pressure gank was the mainstream strategy would be correct. With gank-style being mainstream, the high burst-damage heroes developed during the 6.41 era found their time of popularity lengthened. In particular, Lina and Queen of Pain were especially popular. Others included Sand King, Zeus, Leshrac and Sven. VP often ran dual-stun lanes which led to kills in the early-game becoming a common occurrence. Each lane would have a semi-carry who had a lot of influence in early- to mid-game, and would be able to defeat a hard carry in late-game provided they managed to acquire superior items.
On the back of VP's usually dominant early-game, heroes from their dominant lanes would begin to roam around Level 6 or 7 and bring down Tier 1 towers in other lanes after killing the opposing heroes in-lane. To the team that lost the Tier 1 towers, this meant that their heroes trying to farm could farm fewer creepwaves than VP, because they were only safe near their Tier 2 towers where they are in range of TP support and because the fall of the Tier 1 tower in the short lane opens their jungle up to more ways a ganker can enter undetected.
During this mid-game phase, VP alternated between keeping all lanes pushed past the river and farming the other team's jungle. When the other team's heroes came out to farm the lanes, they would get ganked by VP heroes who due to their dominant early-game had a timing window in which they had Blink Daggers and the other team did not. These Blink Daggers meant that VP remained largely impervious to ganks themselves, because the only way to die would be to get chain-stunned to death. As the game went on, VP would amass an economic advantage based on being able to safely farm more creepwaves than their opponent and on their advantage in kills.
Even if the other team managed to get one carry farmed up, VP would have three farmed up semi-carries who would focus fire that one carry and blink out when they were focused themselves. This way, unless the one carry managed to farm to a point where he could two-shot the VP semi-carry, their side would lose. Looking at it this way, it was more inefficient to have one hard carry rather than three semi-carries even in late-game.