History of Competitive DotA (Violent AOE: The 6.32 Era)
The 6.3x versions yielded two stable competitive versions: 6.32 and 6.37. The changes in the mainstream playstyle that occurred between the two versions made two successive competitive versions into completely different eras. During the 6.32 era, the mainstream strategy still followed the previous 6.27 era's AoE strategy, but due to some gameplay and item changes, a fast push strategy became the most popular strategy in 6.37. The 6.3x versions played a large part in shaping later DotA.
Happenings in the EU/NA scene
During this era, influential teams included coL (compLexity), JMC (Jax Money Crew), tPD (Team Pandemic), vRG (veRGe), Say Plz, Team Q and BTo (Boomtown Odense). Even though EU (European) teams were also widely influential during this era, for brevity's sake, only the NA (North American) teams will be explained in this section, with more of an emphasis placed on EU teams during Part 3 of this history.
During this era, the most important NA competition was the CAL (Cyberathlete Amateur League). The first three seasons were contended over by the four teams coL, JMC, tPD and verGe with their skill levels being such that they could dethrone each other at any given time. coL dominated the scene for quite some time, before they were defeated in a 2-0 upset by JMC during the finals of the first CAL season. However, coL would get their revenge in the second season as they dethroned JMC to become champion.
The second season brought in hundreds of new NA teams, so for the third season, CAL expanded their DotA competition to four categories: Invite (I), Main (M), Intermediate (IM) and Open (O).
coL was the first NA powerhouse. Originally called clan PluG, coL was one of the first DotA teams to get sponsored. They were a team with strong individual skill and impressive results. Aside from their influential playstyle, coL players also became the first-generation of DotA stars who everyone tried to model their own play after. coL.Fear and coL.ezy were particularly influential.
Aside from coL, JMC was another NA powerhouse. Also originating from the days of the IGS league, the team was called FAG (Fang and Gang) named after JMC's captain. The name was changed to Apex to make the process of signing up for competitions smoother. Upon receiving JMC's sponsorship, the name was once again changed. Everyone on the team was of Chinese ethnicity.
tPD was the third team that caught people's attention. Originally called team ADA (Arrogant DotA Arseholes), the team received Team Pandemic's sponsorship. As coL's strongest rival, they often experimented with new strategies using unorthodox heroes. They continuously changed roles between teammates to try to get themselves used to hero combinations, thus playing with flair and originality. This got many people to notice them. Even their opponents could make no secret of enjoying watching them play. Merlini and p0c would both later profess that tPD was their favorite team.
Happenings in the Asian scene
During the period of time between 6.27 and 6.32, Chinese DotA developed quickly. It became the most popular map on college campuses. Not merely did it grow rapidly in numbers of players, but large amounts of EU/NA tournament replays and hero guides flooded intoChina. High quality forum posts and hero guides began to emerge in large numbers. The level of Chinese DotA began a speedy ascent.
During the 6.32 era, there were two major competitions in China. One was the first U9 DotA Invitational. The other was the CPL DotA Challenge Competition. In June and July 2006, The first U9 DotA Invitational was held with 30 teams participating. GL took first place, IFNT second place. In August, RN held a fierce competition from which IFNT emerged victorious.
In October 2006, the famous e-sport organization CPL (Cyberathlete Professional League) hosted a DotA tournament in China. It excited many DotA fans endlessly. This event's grand finals were the first LAN (local area network i.e. offline) event in China to have widespread influence. In the end, lzlqcl-led Nebula team returning from overseas took first place, HUST took second place and GL's two teams third and fourth places.
This LAN event provided an excellent stage for the leading Chinese DotA teams and players to interact with each other. I can't help but mention that GL saved up for a rainy day. After the tournament ended, they were vigorous keeping up relations with players who caught their eye in the tournament. So it was that PLU's Snoy, Nebula's Zilong (later known as Longdd), Zhanguotianxia's DC were all poached by GL later on. To say GL's manager was farsighted would be an understatement.
This tournament also encouraged two companies (now DotA-related) to take interest. One was OGame.net's DotA division that relied on fast-breaking news and replay releases to become the biggest replay download and DotA news site in China. In the beginning of year 2008, they made the strategic decision to transfer all DotA content to SGamer.com before shutting down. The other company was the VS gaming platform that relied on the simplicity and competitive nature of its point-based system, quickly becoming the most popular DotA gaming platform in China.
After being tested by several tournaments, a few teams stood out from the rest. For a considerably long period of time, they stood on the highest pedestal of Chinese DotA: GL, IFNT and HTML were the three most exceptional teams. After winning CPL, Nebula went through a period where no news was heard from them. After this period, they declared that they were going to disband.
If GL was a living person, this person could be said to have aristocratic blood running through their veins. Even just after they formed, they already were a top-tier team. After Tossgirl (not the female Starcraft progamer from Korea) who'd received abundant CW experience overseas returned to China on vacation, GL inherited the most advanced strategies of the time. When the playstyle of Chinese DotA wasn't yet mature, Tossgirl's strategic understanding and experience gave GL a firm seat on the throne of Chinese DotA for a considerably long period of time. At the same time, GL was under excellent management and were strict to the point of ruthlessness in their test for players interested in joining the team, thereby ensuring that every team member had top-notch individual skill. These factors combined to allow GL reign as the strongest team in China for a long time.
IFNT followed the model by letting overseas Chinese students onto the team in April 2006. Once the strong EU team Dcn's overseas students returned to China and joined IFNT in succession, IFNT received advanced strategy and the valuable tournament experience accumulated in EU DotA leagues. Afterwards, IFNT was filled with numerous talents and for a time held the moniker "When all the pieces are in place, IFNT is invincible." It's a shame one or two players weren't able to attend the competitions...
HTML was a team formed by ice_show (At the time DotA.cn's head admin. DotA.cn was the go-to forum in China if you wanted to improve) and Heintje (translated Chinese versions of DotA). The charisma of these two people drew players from all around China to their team. It was only that the skilled players were all in EU/NA and Chinese players were still weak (but were quickly improving) or else ice_show and Heintje would have enjoyed a greater degree of success.
Concurrently, DotA in SEA (South-east Asia) was also taking off rapidly. They adopted -AP (All Pick) mode favoring ganks. This playstyle was completely different from the EU/NA's preference of -LM (League Mode) for competitions where players would focus on lane-control. Originally, Chinese DotA players consisted of students who'd gone to EU/NA to study, so their playstyle and competitive mode (i.e. -AP) were modeled after EU/NA. SEA replays and forums weren't prevalent in China, which limited the influence the SEA playstyle had on Chinese DotA.
Nevertheless, teams such as Singapore's Zenith, the Philippines' Team Flow and Team 129 had some replays showing Chinese players the fierce and captivating nature of a frenzied gank playstyle. In particular, Zenith's novel playstyle and use of unorthodox heroes completely captivated the viewer's gaze.
Mainstream strategies and hero picks
AOE was mainstream during the 6.32 era. Whether it was 5 AoE spellcaster push strategy or AoE 4-protect-1, you didn't go without fierce AoE coordination. This is why the 6.32 era is often referred to as the "AOE era".
During the 6.32 era, the mainstream strategy still followed the previous 6.27 era's AoE strategy of emphasizing harassment against opponents in-lane, so roaming ganks weren’t a common sight. Upon acquiring a certain amount of superiority or after completing an essential item (Mekansm, for example), the team would gather to push.
The inspiration of this playstyle perhaps came out of traditional Western concepts of warfare such as forming into ranks and firing off volleys (of spells in the case of DotA). After an intense AoE spellcaster battle began, triple and ultra kills were not uncommon. Rampages also weren't rare. (Note: The sounds for "ultra kill" and "rampage" didn't exist back then. You could only hear a repeat of "triple kill") The AoE strategy required extremely good coordination from teammates. This is why early DotA teams from the AoE era endured a trial by fire and perhaps had better teamwork than later teams.
The 6.32 version's Mekansm heal could be stacked. Since Sentinel could not withstand the five spellcaster mass AoE push by the Scourge, a 4-protect-1 strategy protecting Silencer was developed, who was a good physical DPS (damage-per-second) hero as well as the bane of any AoE strategy. Thus this led to Scourge developing a 4-protect-1 strategy around Visage.
Late in the 6.32 era, nearly all Chinese teams were using the 4-protect-1 strategy. Despite being 4-protect-1, there was still an abundance of AOE. The ganking 4-protect-1 had also emerged, but it wasn't mainstream, because ganking hadn’t matured yet.
Aside from Silencer and Visage during the 6.32 era, Morphling and Clinkz were also common sights in CW. Morphling's “morph” ability and his ultimate "replicate" were good weapons to deal with Visage. The despicable Divine Aegis strategy used by Clinkz was an endless source of headache for Sentinel heroes.
Aside from these physical DPS heroes, AoE heroes including Enigma, Crystal Maiden, Rhasta and Krobelus were all popular during the 6.32 era. Furthermore, Lich's nearly 100% appearance rate in CW during the 6.32 era shows that he was the hottest hero during the era. For many teams, the test for players interested in joining the team was facing Lich 1v1 solo-mid using Silencer.