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6 Things We've Learned from TI7's Group Stage

Missed some of the action? We've got you covered.
You can watch The International 7 in its entirety live on GINX Esports TV. Find out more about how to watch here. 

The preliminaries in Seattle have finally concluded, and the stage is set for the main event playoffs at The International 2017. 16 out of 18 teams remain — all of which will be playing at KeyArena today for a shot at millions of dollars in prize money and one of the most prestigious titles in all of esports. Fnatic and HellRaisers will not be joining the rest of the pack, as they were both eliminated from the tournament thanks to this year’s format. The two last place teams in each group won’t be making the trip to KeyArena, but at least they’ll be taking almost home $60,000 each. There was a one day break in between the final day of the group stage and the first day of the main event, which teams and their coaches undoubtedly took full advantage of in terms of preparing for the pressure-filled playoffs. They all surely watched VODs of their potential opponents and took down notes of their playstyles in an effort to find exploitable weaknesses. For us fans, though, there’s more than just the strategies and metagame to glean from the group stage. There’s also the compelling storylines formed throughout the first four days of play, and we’re here to break some of them down for you.

Talented teams can be prone to early meltdowns

Fnatic went into TI7 as a fairly strong team on paper. When you’ve got highly-experienced players such as Chong “Ohaiyo” Xin Khoo, Kim “QO” Yeon-seop, and Djardel Jicko “DJ” Mampusti, chances are you’re at least going to make it into the lower bracket of the event — if not sneak into the upper bracket in third or fourth place. However, that was clearly not their destiny this year. The Southeast Asian team had a near-complete meltdown in the groups, finishing with an abysmal 2-14 win-loss record. [caption id="attachment_76985" align="aligncenter" width="237"]Dismal Fnatic Dismal Fnatic (via Liquipedia)[/caption] Anyone who watched their group stage games closely can tell you that questionable teamwork and a general lack of coordination contributed to their early exit. For most of their games, they didn’t even look like they were on the same page. In a metagame that emphasizes the laning phase and midgame teamfighting, these kinds of issues naturally added up to a death sentence for the Malaysian/Korean squad. And so, changes to their roster are definitely on their to-do list over the next several weeks. Even previous TI winners changed their lineups after the event, and so there is no doubt in our minds that Fnatic will look very different soon.

The power of youth is strong indeed

LGD’s academy team LGD Forever Young (LFY) finished on top of Group B with a near-perfect record, notching 14 wins and two losses in highly convincing fashion. Everyone on the team from Du “Monet” Peng to Leong “ddc” Fat-meng has been pulling weight, giving the impression that this team is ready and able to make a deep run and possibly make it to the grand finals. The most astounding part of it all is that the playstyle they’re running in this tournament is the very same that they’ve been practicing for months now. Their slow, steady, and stable approach to the game has served them well, and in some ways they’ve made their style fit the meta which favors heavy dual-roaming supports. They’ll be facing Filipino hopefuls TNC Pro Team today, a matchup that should prove very interesting considering LFY’s momentum and TNC’s supposed confidence against Chinese teams.

Team Liquid’s consistency is second to none

Speaking of stability, the European squad Team Liquid certainly has it in spades. After a string of LAN victories prior to TI7, they’ve shown up big once again in the grandest stage of them all. Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi and the rest of his team finished first in their group with a 13-3 record. This performance solidifies their position as one of the top teams in the tournament, and perhaps the most likely to lift the Aegis of Champions once the dust finally settles on Sunday. For KuroKy in particular, it would be the culmination of six years of hard work, and the fulfillment of a dream that he’s been chasing for the entirety of his Dota 2 career. All things considered, he and his team are very close to making it a reality.

Phantom Lancer is making an unexpected return

For a while now, Azwraith the Phantom Lancer has been absent from the professional metagame. The reworks to his kit in the TI5 era briefly brought him back to the fold, but nerfs to his numbers have forced him into a dark, forgotten corner of the meta. Prior to TI7, the hero was largely still considered to be an unfavorable choice — but with a 53% winrate over 25 games so far, it’s impossible to say that he hasn’t impacted the tournament at all. In fact, many of the games won with Phantom Lancer were thanks to his contributions, both in terms of damage output in teamfights and ability to push without putting himself in significant risk. This could bode well for teams that favor split-push and/or illusion-heavy strategies — the most obvious being OG. The four-time Major champions, known for drafting heroes such as Naga Siren and Terrorblade, may just look towards Phantom Lancer as they try to shore themselves out of the lower bracket predicament they now find themselves in.

Pugna: here one day, gone the next

Pugna was seen as one of the “dark horse” picks before TI7, and true enough he was drafted more than a handful of times in the group stage. He went on a tear in the first half of the group stage, recording a 6-1 record in games he was present in. [caption id="attachment_77016" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Pugna Pugna proved an inconsistent choice[/caption] Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst for the little green man right after. According to statistician Alan “Nahaz” Bester, Pugna lost six straight games after starting the tournament off strong. It would seem that teams have figured out how to deal with the hero’s pushing power by defending their towers early and farming the map in order to set up for the late game. Pugna is one of the worst heroes in the game in terms of late game scaling and strength, so it stands to reason that stalling against him would be a good strategy.

Diversity in Seattle

It’s official: TI7 is the most diverse iteration of the annual tournament, with a record 106 heroes picked. This beats TI6’s record of 104 heroes, and accounts for an astonishing 94.6% of the entire available hero pool (excluding Techies who is not available in Captains Mode) This speaks volumes about the balance of 7.06e, the current version of the game. There are, of course, common picks such as Earthshaker, Sand King, and Puck, but it goes to show that there are heroes worth trying even below the top tiers. This is healthy for the competition and the entertainment value of the game, as we are given the assurance that we’ll be seeing new drafts and strategies often. Now if only teams would pick Meepo.