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Why The International 8’s group stages matter

If you watch The International, you shouldn’t put it off until the main event.

Valve via flickr

If you’re linked up to Dota 2 on social media in any manner, you may be able to catch the hype — The International starts today, Wednesday, August 15! Huzzah! But when you go and look... it’s just the group stages. No big deal, rig—

NO!! Wait! Stay tuned in!

Maybe you’re too eager to go to Vancouver (or are packing), or just are a little bit busy. But keep Twitch up! Yes, you! You should watch the group stages!

There are plenty of reasons you should have your eye on the group stages. After all, The International is... The International. This is the first stage of the biggest esports tournament in the world (in money and prestige, anyway), and you don’t want to miss it. Yes, there are four games going on, but maybe find a team you can root for and keep the volume up.

Why? Check out the schedule, find a game you care for and listen up.

Two teams will be eliminated

Yes, you read that right. If you thought an eighteen-team bracket was unusual, you were absolutely correct, and the group stage is where this gets amended. The bottom team of each group will get knocked out at the end of the group stage, knocking out two teams.

For many Dota 2 events with sixteen teams, the group stage is a placement; for others, half the teams get knocked out to make room on the main stage. For Dota 2, though, it’s rather unique given the six-day length of the on-stage event.

In the past, some iterations of The International had a “Wild Card” stage, where they brought in four extra teams from varying regions to fight it out for two slots in the Group Stages. This got merged into the primary event’s group stages last year.

So the group stages will be the swan song for two teams that have worked their hardest to make it here. Always sad, but there can only be one winner, anyway.

Casters may come and go

There are a ton of fantastic casters being put on duty this year, and you may be excited to see some of them rise from the depths of their amateur work!

But if things go as they have in the past, their time on official Valve duty may be short-lived.

We’re not sure how they’ll do it this year, but in past years, Valve recruited armies of live casters to cover the often-hectic group stages. With four games going at once, it’s pretty much necessary.

Some of the less-established, unfortunately, may end their TI8 gig at this particular stage. However, if you’re attending in-person, they usually hang around the area of the main event, giving opportunities to mingle. (If they want, anyway.)

The meta will emerge

We’ve been almost 62 days without Dota 2 matches of this magnitude (unless you count The Summit, which was literally half North American teams). That’s a lot of time without seeing how players are approaching the game.

Every year, the group stages give us a sneak preview at how teams are going to play. In 2013, Alliance continued their dominance with the “rat meta,” prioritizing pushing in lanes above all else. 2015 saw the “fireball,” an overpowering lane draft, and the next year we saw Mirana and Shadow Demon take over the meta.

We’re not sure exactly what we’ll see this year, though analyst Alan “Nahaz” Bester suggests in a coverage video we’ll be seeing a lane-focused meta. We’ll definitely have to wait and see.

We’ll get an early peek at strong teams

Most importantly, with 62 days having passed between Qualifiers and these group stages, teams have been given room to not only breathe, but also train in many shapes and forms.

Some secluded themselves into boot camps across the globe, where they play not only pub matches, but also scrims to help develop strategy. Others have shown up for fans, including for the biannual The Summit tournament and at fan meet-and greets between training sessions.

Here in Vancouver, we’ll see who’s buffed the heck up for this big event. We’ll see who’s learned and willing adapt. For example, LGD.ForeverYoung had a surprise run last year, though Team Liquid took them down in the semifinals. And the year before, Wings Gaming finally showed their tournament wins the months before weren’t just sparks of inspiration.

Or... we’ll see teams fall. Maybe they’ll under-perform, and find themselves in the lower bracket or even eliminated.

But we won’t know until we see it happen for ourselves in the group stage.