History of Competitive DotA (Trilane and the Global Strategy: The 6.41 Era)
On February 7th 2007, DotA 6.41 was released. On February 28th, the Chinese version was released. 6.41 addressed balance problems to a large extent. It replaced 6.37 as the version used in competitive matches. 6.41 lasted a very short period as it was replaced by 6.43 a month later.
Nevertheless, 6.41 was a version with particular historical significance. In this version, -AP replaced -LM as the official competitive mode. Furthermore, there were many tournaments held using this version. For these reasons, version 6.41 was a good testing ground to pave the way for 6.43.
Happenings in the EU/NA scene
On February 28th 2007, the first large-scale -AP mode tournament was the Russian ASUS Winter Open 2007. Russia's team MaGe (Magic aGe) claimed victory. This was the first time Vigoss came into everyone's vision. Second and third place were claimed by Russian teams DoTa and Say Plz respectively.
On March 7th 2007, MYM PriDe #4 (Prime Defending) started. After experimenting with the first 3 editions, the MYM tournament has attracted the attention of the world with 137 teams participating. Compared with the first edition 3 months ago, you can see how rapidly DotA was growing. This MYM tournament had two rules that caught one's attention: firstly, Bristleback was auto-banned; secondly, every hero could only make one Aegis of the Immortal. These two rules became standard in competitions for the 6.41 version. It is also what began the legend of Bristleback's invincibility.
Soon after MYM PriDe #4 began, three Russian teams were banned from the competition: Say Plz, MaGe and a team not well known called SD. The reason was Say Plz and SD were both using a player called HoroN to play their games, but HoroN was actually MaGe's player. This led to the organizing committee banning all three teams (another rumour was that MaGe was actually banned for having used Bristleback). Say Plz's manager Matrix protested with great indignation. He claimed that even though Say Plz did break a rule, MYM's punishment was overly severe. He even went so far as to claim that kicking them out was the result of an inside plot and as may be imagined, his words caused much controversy.
This was the first significant claim of corruption in DotA tournament organizers. Following DotA's continuous development as an e-sport, everyone's standard of fair play had also increased. This is a natural development in a competitive game's path towards becoming a professional e-sport. Therefore, there's no ground for blame towards the MYM PriDe #4 tournament organizers. You can't let a team break rules just because they're famous. Without rules, nothing can be accomplished—this happened to be MYM tournament organizers' philosophy. Their decisions led to the MYM tournament series becoming famous and respected worldwide.
In MYM PriDe #4, dark horses burst onto the scene. Zenith, MYM and tPD these old-school teams got eliminated in the Round of 16 by teams no one had previously heard of. In the end, team DoTa led by core veterans FocusIRE (DoTa[expert]), Get-Lost (brother of FocusIRE, also known as DoTa[pro]) and ars-n00b (DoTa[gosu]) defeated Kuroky's upstart German team WE (World Eaters) to become champion. Worth noting is that also on this team were future stars ARS-ART and M.Admiration (DoTa[hasu]) who would go on to form the core of VP (Virtus Pro).
The disintegrating coL had to field an entirely new roster relying on ex-JMC and ex-tPD players. Their players were Fear, ezy, imMIKEJONES, Shroomz, Shaang and hit0mi with BarbaraQ, CatQ (also known as MoON, not the Korean WC3 progamer) from Team Q as stand-ins since their team wasn't participating in this MYM PriDe. Despite the lack of commitment, the team had very strong players and was very successful in the tournament making it all the way to the semi-finals where they forfeited the match to the dismay of their fans. They decided to forfeit the third-place match as well and the team disbanded soon afterwards.
On March 10th 2007, TFL (The Frozen League) began. This was the other influential competition during the 6.41 era. TFL was an invitational, but didn't invite Say Plz during their peak, so the tournament organizers were called into question. However aside from omitting Say Plz, all other strong teams participated, so it was an international-scale tournament. This competition was similar to the Chinese CDL-I tournament in that both lasted a very long time. While the tournament was running, teams dropped out one by one. Four months later, the team that began the tournament as T_T ended the tournament as SK and defeated MYM to claim victory.
There was a scandal in TFL too. During the match between TeG and VP, TeG-KANGA was caught maphacking. Soon after, TeG had another team member caught maphacking leaving no choice for TeG but to forfeit their remaining matches. TeG was an old-school Romanian powerhouse, winners of MYM PriDe Xtreme #1 (a tournament that took place between MYM PriDe #3 and #4). This scandal dragged their reputation through the mud and after the tournament, their playing ability was severely impacted. Later, they recombined with new players and while not attaining dominance, would remain a force teams needed to watch out for. So it was that TeG furthered its legacy as one of Europe's oldest teams.
On April 12th 2007, MYM PriDe #5 got off to a start. MYM PriDe #5 continued to use 6.41 as the competitive version. This was a very successful tournament as over 200 teams worldwide participated. This officially made the MYM tournament series the World Cup of the DotA world. Some even went so far as to claim that MYM PriDe #5 changed DotA, that it was the beginning of a new era by saying:"Of course it didn't add any new heroes or items. Of course it didn't rebalance any skills. But with truth as my witness, this tournament did more for DotA as an e-sport than any of IceFrog's patches!"
Even though these words might be a bit of an exaggeration, they do have some merit. MYM PriDe #5 broadened DotA's influence on the world. The tournament's level of organization and rules set the standard for future tournaments to follow, and a provided a great opportunity for international teams to interact. Many new, original strategies were explored in this tournament. These strategies yielded better understanding of how deep DotA truly was.
In MYM PriDe #5, Loda led team T_T to abandon the by-now popular trilane strategy. He came up with a spectacular global gank strategy defeating Say Plz, annihilating DoA (Dead or Alive), overthrowing TeG, braving MaGe before finally triumphing over MYM to become victor. In an interview, Loda says that he and Bogdan perfected the concept after seeing Kuroky's WE use something similar in a scrim against them.
The global strategy is a lineup involving the heroes Zeus, Furion and Spectre. The ultimates of all three heroes have global effect and the latter two can move to an engagement happening anywhere on the map bringing great impact to small-scale battles and ganks. Back then, the global strategy was limited to these three heroes. MYM would later add BoT Tinker to the global arsenal and it would be further expanded with the introduction of new heroes such as Clockwerk Goblin, Ancient Apparition and Gyrocopter.
By necessity, a global lineup requires the team to abandon the trilane strategy, because it would be impossible for three heroes on a team to reach Level 6 in a short amount of time due to the fact that at least one out of the three will be forced to split experience on the trilane. Furthermore, this strategy could be said to be a counter to the trilane strategy in the sense that with proper execution, a team can take advantage (by ganking) of the timing window where they have ultimates on their three key heroes while the other team might still have heroes stuck on Level 5.
Early ganking cannot usually be guaranteed to succeed without a hero first farming up a blink dagger or by using Nerubian Assassin (Storm Spirit wasn't added until 6.44), but T_T managed to chance upon a clever and efficient way of ganking with the only requirement being to reach Level 6 on their key heroes.
Regarding the two heroes completing the global strategy lineup, teamfight heroes with powerful ultimates such as Sand King, Shadow Fiend and Warlock would often be picked. This completes the synergy with the other three "global" heroes, because the ultimates of those three are quite useful in teamfights as well. The result was a lineup strong in mid-game ganks as well as late-game teamfights.
The 6.41 era was quite chaotic as teams tried to find the perfect hero combination since they were no longer restrained by the Sentinel-Scourge limitation in hero choices of -LM mode. Many teams had bright points in their play. Of these teams, the team with most influence was MYM. To begin with, MYM was already a worldwide famous e-sports organization. By adding an international DotA team filled with high-skilled players, they received much attention and gained massive popularity; their replays were studied by many. This led to the rapid popularization of heroes they unearthed.
Back in the 6.37 era, MYM.Merlini had demonstrated the global gank strategy based around Tinker. Drawing on his legendary abilities to dazzle the world once more, he demonstrated that his understanding of fog was simply incomparable.
MYM.LevenT went beyond godlike with Lina nearly every match. This led to people referring to him as the “Mouth of Lina” (as if he were her spokesman). This female hero became the most popular hero in the 6.4x versions.
MYM.Fang was indisputably a legendary player at using Sand King. He took Sand King from a traditional AoE (area of effect) hero to a roaming gank hero. Sand King played the role of the "man" in the famous "Dog, Man and Woman" gank combination of the 6.4x versions.
MYM.H4nn1's mastery of all aspects of the game and his refined individual abilities got him Star status. Together with Loda, he made the 6.41 era into Shadow Fiend's era.
Aside from team MYM, the play of the eventual winners of MYM PriDe #5 T_T were the most eye-catching. Developing the global gank strategy which directly inspired VP's later full pressure gank strategy, they greatly influenced later DotA.
T_T's core player Loda demonstrated to everyone for the first time how imbalanced the 6.41 Shadow Fiend could be. From 6.41 onwards, Loda officially attained Legend status. His abundant individual ability and the unique glamour of his play gave him the capability for quite a long time to carry his relatively mediocre teammates against MYM and VP, two star-studded teams.
In the 6.41 version, Team Q's original lineup of Keeper of the Light, Earthshaker, Silencer and Shadow Fiend showed profound influence.
The Russian team MaGe were victors of ASUS Winter 2007. The team's Vigoss and Jolie were on the brink of their meteoric rise to stardom.
Happenings in the Asian scene
In March 2007, the second edition of the U9 DotA Championship was held. This was the most influential competition in Chinese DotA during the 6.41 era. At the time aside from the incredibly long CDL-I, there weren't any other competitions. From growth between 6.32 and 6.41, Chinese DotA players were blowing up in numbers forming numerous teams. This led to many DotA fans in succession registering for the U9 DotA Championship. In the end, over 60 teams participated.
This event drew many college teams out of their normal school circles letting them attend a large-scale tournament. In particular, AVNC (led by a player called 2009) and HFUT were the most successful college teams during this era.
Newcomers such as EAST, AVNC, GOW and LOST.P were incredibly strong. In matches against the old guard GL, IFNT and Nebula, their play were extremely eye-catching. In particular, the LOST.P team formed by Danche (N3komatA) was the biggest underdog. In the winners' bracket finals, they sent GL down to the losers' bracket and emerged as the darkest of the dark horses. EAST and AVNC claimed 3rd and 4th places respectively laying down fine performances.
The new generation of players including GK, 2009, 830, Soulk and Dgc were all very capable players.
Overall, this edition of the U9 competition was the first event in China to test the skill levels of the different teams. The new generation of teams and players shined on-stage. They infused the Chinese scene with a newfound source of vitality and passion.
During this tournament, VS gaming platform's CW (clan war) room became the main place for teams wanting to learn from each other. In the forums, chat between new teams and posts to schedule CWs could be found. The Chinese scene was continuing its development.
Singapore's Zenith began taking part in online EU events starting from MYM PriDe #4. Since they'd been playing -AP mode from the beginning, people gave them good expectations of winning. However due to poor connections and at times playing not very maturely, they were eliminated from TFL and MYM PriDe #4.
Nevertheless, they were the first team from Asia to go do battle in EU/NA and some of their strategies have had worldwide influence. Rushing Eye of Skadi before Boots was particularly memorable. Their strategy of switching Queen of Pain from gank to DPS (damage-per-second) would become mainstream after 6.43. Another of their contributions was five heroes getting Blink Daggers in a competitive match. Blink Daggers would become standard in 6.4x versions.
Mainstream strategies and hero picks
6.41 was the first version to use -AP mode as the competitive mode instead of -LM. Earlier on in the new version, the playstyle carried remnants of the old -LM styles: AOE, fast push and gank were all being executed using the 3-1-1 laning system. Trilanes that were seen only as a novelty in 6.37 now became mainstream.
All the teams were trying out new heroes for use in CW. After a period of feeling their way around, small-scale gank 4-protect-1 became mainstream. High burst-damage heroes took centre-stage in CW. Heroes like Shadow Fiend, Zeus, Warlock, Tinker and Nerubian Assassin became popular during this era. The Leshrac and Lina stun combo was particularly deadly. In the Chinese scene, Alchemist and Spectre were popular late-game heroes.
Later in the era, the global strategy was discovered and used to devastating effect bringing T_T the title of MYM PriDe #5. This strategy was particularly effective against the experience-starved trilane heroes on the other team. Whether it was for this reason or some other that led to the disappearance of trilanes, it is unclear. What is clear however, is that soon afterwards, the trilane strategy lost favor in the European DotA competitive community as teams resorted to the familiar 2-1-2 and sometimes 2-2-1 laning. This would not be the last the DotA world saw of trilanes.
The dazzling power of a global strategy to gank a hero anywhere on the map was truly incredible. It is theorized that this strategy became the inspiration of VP's full pressure gank strategy later on.