Saturday, May 25, 2013

Alliance Ascends

These past few days we've seen Team Alliance perform so well that anything short of 'ascension' just doesn't do them justice. I'm talking DBZ-First-time-Super-Saiyan style here. Yeah, we knew they were a powerful side before. Yeah, most people would have called them the top Western side for quite some time now. And yeah, there was certainly some kind of expectation of big things to come from them - for a start, the Dota2lounge
audience gave them excellent odds in their first match of the G-1 League Lan Finals versus DK, a team that Akke himself had only a week prior described as one of their 2 scariest opponents for the tournament. So it isn't a complete surprise that they've done well but I doubt that anybody would have expected them to do quite this well and I doubt that anyone could have predicted how they would rise through this tournament.

For this post, I won't be discussing Alliance's entire tournament so far but will instead focus on their first round match versus DK. After all, this is where it all started and this is certainly where the most drama can be found.


For their opening match of the tournament, Alliance prepared the ultimate pocket strategy - one which was both far more comprehensive and far more devastating than the dota world had ever been exposed to before. A few months prior, while still under the name of No Tidehunter, these guys had developed an exceptional Roshan-bait strategy. This involved deliberately allowing their Nature's Prophet to die to Roshan, suggesting an ongoing Rosh attempt, all the while circling around to the higher ground, anticipating a disorderly and hurried rush to Rosh by the enemy team upon seeing the death. The Nature's Prophet respawned quickly, was able to tp back in, and like clockwork the 5 of them picked off 2 enemies from a team caught with their pants down, totally unprepared for an engagement. In case you haven't seen that, here it is:

Alliance's G-1 league strategy transcends this strategy completely. What they came up with was a strategy that is so good that it is already being referred to by many as TOO GOOD. There have already been public outcries about this strategy and several professional casters and players have commented that the strategy simply cannot be properly countered [more on this later]. There are also a lot of claims going around saying that this illustrates precisely why Dire has an unfair advantage. This to the point of a reasonable expectation among many in the community that Valve might take some sort of action to weaken this particular strategy. Now I'm not sure if that is entirely necessary, purely because several of the heroes in the strategy are irreplaceable in order for it to work and since the opposing team has plenty of time to pick or ban those heroes, there does seem to be at least one straightforward way to counter it before the game begins. That said, once the game had begun and Alliance had their picks, there was really nothing much DK could do. With Lone Druid [and his bear] to tank Roshan, Ursa to do the main damage output, and BM + Ogre to increase the rate at which he did it [enormously so], Alliance were able to take down Roshan extremely fast. The final and most crucial part of the strategy was for all 5 of their heroes to buy items immediately as the game began and tp to their mid tower, cutting down the time required to get to Rosh significantly. The tp move, together with the hero selection, meant that Roshan died before DK were capable of getting to the Rosh pit. Again, for those who somehow haven't seen this yet, see below: 

Now, perhaps if DK had suspected the Rosh, bought items immediately, smoked and run tothe Rosh pit, they might have gotten there just as Rosh died. But that would still not be good enough, clearly. In order to get there before Rosh died, what they needed to do was anticipate the tp move and counter it with their own tp move, all tping their own mid tower and rushing to the Rosh pit to stop it in its tracks. The problem with this, however, is that there could be no assurance that Alliance were Roshing, nor that they had tp'd mid to do so. To Alliance's credit, they did ban out Clockwerk Goblin, a hero that could have scouted this out, but in reality the time it would take for a rocket to scout out the Rosh attempt would almost certainly mean it was too late to counter in any event [likely to be too early to see them at Rosh or too late to be on time even with tps]. So the bottom line is that once a team gets those heroes, the only way to prevent the possibility of them Roshing is to assume that they are Roshing and spend 135 gold each on tp scrolls to go see if your assumption is correct. If it turns out, then, that they aren't Roshing, you've given them a massive gold lead to start the game with. But the alternative, not assuming they are Roshing and not tping in, means that if they are Roshing, there is nothing you can do to stop it. I applaud whoever it is in team Alliance who came up with this incredible strategy.

Now you may be unhappy about the fact that the only security against this strategy is to ban or pick certain heroes in it. This especially because the only hero involved in the strategy which is a consistent top pick/ban at the moment is Lone Druid. Does this mean that whenever a Dire team first picks Lone Druid, one must begin to worry   oneself with concerns about an unstoppable Rosh strat? Well, I thought about this quite a lot, especially while watching the match, and decided that there is one thing which seems to balance out the strategy, even after it has been picked. Sure, you can't really stop the Roshan, unless you're happy to forfeit a bunch of gold at the start. However, precisely because the strategy requires very specific picks, it is only capable of being played out in a very specific way. A free Roshan kill is not equivalent to a won game and it turns out that this particular free Roshan comes at the cost of a very predictable strategy. I was impressed tosee that DK actually seemed to figure this out very very quickly. The later this game went,the more likely it was that DK's picks would become stronger than Alliance's. A [over]simplified way of saying this is that DK would simply outcarry them in a very late game scenario, or perhaps even just a quite late game scenario. What this means is that Alliance needed to push early and push hard. Surprise, surprise, their picks were very good at pushing. More than this, their picks were so good at pushing [especially Lone Druid, Leshrac, Beastmaster] that the extra levels from the early Roshan meant that when they chose to 5 man towers, there would be simply nothing DK could do to stop them. DK, much to their credit, worked this out and made a clear decision to ignore Alliance's pushes for most of the game, choosing to respond by grouping up on the other side of the map and attempting to trade towers wherever possible [this was possible mostly because of Super's Green Dragon's pushing power]. This plan was highly successful and DK actually managed to accrue far more gold than one would have expected, despite Alliance's massive early lead.


Also to their credit, DK recognized early on that when clashes did occur, a disproportionate amount of damage coming out of Alliance would come from Loda's Ursa. As a result they gave the Ursa special attention in clashes, making conscious efforts to position themselves such that he was unable to pick them off, to disable him where possible, and to buy Ghost Scepters as soon as possible. Burning even bought a Ghost Scepter half way into building a BKB, an obvious sign that DK fully appreciated this nuance of Alliance's picks. Loda's personal KDA suffered throughout the game as a result. As the game progressed, both teams wiped each other's towers, Alliance always having a significant gold lead. But DK were repeatedly able to rebuff Alliance's higher ground push attempts for quite some time. This can only be explained by virtue of excellent foresight on their part. Positioning themselves safely so as to avoid being roared and/or blinked on by Ursa in a vulnerable position, and making clutch use of Rubick's disable and stolen spammable abilities, DK lived on and there began to be moments in which a glimmer of hope emerged for them.

DK showed amazing resolve after a near impossible start to the game.

After being unable to stop Alliance's first 2 Roshan kills, DK were well prepared to disrupt the third attempt and yet again showed excellent understanding in repulsing Alliance at the Rosh pit, finding a straggler in Leshrac, then reacting perfectly to Alliance's subsequent 4v5 initiation. What was crucial here is DK's recognition that if someone got roared, and focused, they'd probably die really fast. Bm was also holding a Mek, and providing attack speed aura to 3 other heroes and a terrifying Spirit Bear and, as a result, the only way for DK to handle this fight, even 1 hero up, was to eliminate the Bm as early as possible. As it happened, they killed him so fast that he barely got his Mek off and didn't even manage to cast Roar before dying. Even so, DK suffered the casualty of Burning in the process – this to the credit of Alliance, who seemed constantly aware that if they kept Burning's Gyrocopter underfarmed, they did not need to worry about suddenly being outcarried. Burning bought back here for the second [and not the last] time early in the game, unwilling to give up Roshan without a fight, but in doing so, continued to give Alliance something else they wanted. His gold. This especially since, ultimately, Alliance would soon resume their Roshing, and this time win the fight when DK approached them to try disrupt the attempt. DK did lose more heroes than necessary here, but it's fair to say this was out of desperation in a game slipping faster and faster away from them. While desperation is no excuse for poor decision-making, I do feel the need to stress how excellently DK's read of the game was at an abstract level. I'd expect most professional teams in their position to have completely lost control of this game very early on.


But it wasn't over yet. After two of the next Alliance pushes which DK rebuffed, DK recognized the weaknesses of Alliance's heroes while retreating. Not least of which was that Beastmaster would not have another Roar after a fight but Dragon Knight would have another stun. In pursuit of the retreating Alliance team, DK managed twice to successfully make kills, the second occasion resulting in DK actually taking down a mid rax. Unfortunately this occasion was only after Alliance had taken down DK's mid and bot raxes. In the end, DK's desperation was their undoing. In an attempt to contest the 4th Roshan, DKleft their base exposed, which I believe made them even more desperate. Standing outside the Rosh pit as Rosh was about to respawn, watching their Tier 4 towers go down to creeps, DK decided that they had to force a fight. They lost this fight pretty badly. Overall, I think DK had excellent understanding of the game but generally lacked the composure to continuously exploit the predictability of Alliance's strategy. Too many unforced errors in the early game and too much desperation in the lategame had led to their downfall. That said, it must be noted [and stressed] that Alliance did a superb job in reading DK's reading of them. Alliance, who would be aware of the predictability of their strategy, saw that DK would focus down the Spirit Bear in pushes and opted to build a BKBon the Spirit Bear, a totally unprecedented move in professional dota. Sadly, this particular move had only limited success, as 5 heroes, including a Lifestealer, just hit-focusing a Spirit Bear kill it pretty fast. But that's not all. After Mek, S4 opted for an Aghanim's Scepter and then a Refresher Orb on his Beastmaster. While Ulti Stick is fairly standard on BM, there are other standard choices. But more than this, Refresher Orb, like BKB Spirit Bear, is more or less unprecedented. 

The Alliance seem on the warpath at the G-1 League Lan Finals. Where will their ascension end?


And yet, Alliance realized that DK's main staying power in fights was having 2 carries with BKB's and a Lifestealer with Rage. The supports wouldn't achieve much on their own and the carries tanked a lot more than they dps'd, being so underfarmed. Ursa was also being kited a lot and was unable to do much about it on his own. As it happens, the final fight at Roshan which DK initiated out of desperation involved S4 roaring both the Dragon Knight and the Gyrocopter. While the fight may have gone Alliance's way anyway - at this point in time at this part of the map - it's hard to see just what DK could have done in any fight where this happened, even if they were composed and well positioned inside their own base. Alliance played excellently this game, executing a unique and insanely powerful strategy perfectly, and adapting swiftly to their opponent's responses.


Since then, we've seen them 5-0 the group stage and get seeded directly into the Grand Finals. While pocket strategies might point to the BO1 format, it seems clear to me that they also indicate an extremely high level of confidence. I believe Alliance is psychologically the strongest team in the world at the moment. And, if anything, success in a competitive environment can only turn confidence into even more confidence. If DK, Orange or manage to displace them in the finals, it won't be for lack of drive, that's for sure.

[Full vod @]