Things are heating up in The International (TI) 2023, this year's Dota 2 world championship tournament, as the Road to The International Playoff phase in the Seattle Convention Center's Summit kicked off on Saturday (21 October).
TI 2021 champions Team Spirit, Western European juggernauts Team Liquid, as well as Chinese powerhouses LGD Gaming and Azure Ray emerged victorious in the first round of the upper bracket to advance to The International Main Event, which will be hosted from 27 to 29 October in Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asia's Talon Esports, North America's Nouns Esports, as well as Eastern Europe's Virtus.pro (VP) and 9Pandas were dropped down to the lower bracket.
Here's how all the action in the opening day of TI 2023's Playoffs went down:
Team Spirit 2-1 Virtus.pro
The Playoffs kicked off with an unexpectedly close series between Spirit and VP. While many expected the TI 2021 champions to easily beat one of the lesser teams from their region, VP managed to push the series to the distance.
VP came out swinging to start the series and dominated Spirit to the tune of a 32-10 kill lead in 33 minutes. Evgeniy "Noticed" Ignatenko on Bristleback led the way with 12 kills and 11 assists on two deaths while Ilya "Kiritych" Ulyanov on Spectre had a clean five kills and 15 assists.
Game two saw Spirit outlast VP in a 59-minute slugfest behind Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk's Muerta. VP notably had Spirit on the ropes at certain points in this game, but the TI 2021 champions displayed remarkable resilience to push the series to a game three.
Yatoro fueled Spirit's 47-35 kill lead with a stellar 23 kills and 11 assists against four deaths. Magomed "Collapse" Khalilov on Dawnbreaker also pitched in with 12 kills and 23 assists on seven deaths.
VP seems to have been left reeling after letting a chance to sweep Spirit slip past their fingers, as the TI 2021 champions dominated them in a 46-minute game three to close out the series with a 2-1 victory.
Denis "Larl" Sigitov on Invoker paced Spirit's 29-19 kill lead with 10 kills and 12 assists on four deaths. Yatoro also had seven kills and 12 assists on three deaths as Sven.
Team Liquid 2-0 Talon Esports
The second series of the day saw Liquid knock a familiar foe in Talon down to the lower bracket in a dominant 2-0 sweep.
Liquid kicked off the match with a comfortable 40-minute rout over Talon behind Michał "Nisha" Jankowski's Primal Beast, who overcame a rough early game to finish with a game-high seven kills and 13 assists on five deaths out of his team's 25-10 kill lead.
Michael "miCKe" Vu on Spectre, Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg on Dark Seer, and Samuel "Boxi" Svahn on Dark Willow also combined for 15 kills and 46 assists against just one death each.
Game two was a much closer affair where Talon actually looked like they could be able to force a game three. However, Liquid were able to outplay their Southeast Asian opponents in key midgame teamfights to eventually secure the 2-0 series sweep after 43 minutes.
Zai on Dawnbreaker fueled Liquid's 31-20 kill lead in the closeout game with 13 kills and 11 assists on two deaths. Nisha on Storm Spirit pitched in with eight kills and 17 assists on two deaths while miCKe on Luna added six kills and seven assists against three deaths.
LGD Gaming 2-0 9Pandas
Up next was LGD soundly sweeping 9Pandas in the first of the day's back-to-back 2-0 victories for the only Chinese teams in TI 2023.
LGD opened the series with confidence with unorthodox and off-meta picks, specifically a carry Dark Willow for Guo "shiro" Xuanang, mid Magnus for Cheng "NothingToSay" Jin Xiang, and Broodmother for Li "niu" Kongbo. Despite their unusual draft, LGD dominated 9Pandas and looked like they could take a quick game one victory.
However, the Eastern European squad managed to hang on behind Roman "RAMZES666" Morphling and push the game past the hour-mark. Even so, LGD managed to outplay their opponents in the decisive late game fights to take the 64-minute win.
Shiro led the way for LGD with 13 kills and eight assists on three deaths to pace the team's 30-20 kill lead.
While 9Pandas managed to stay competitive in game one, game two wasn't even close. LGD had a stellar showing in the laning stage, shutting down RAMZES' Alchemist and proceeding to snowball to a 35-minute win to close out the series.
Niu on Night Stalker paced LGD's 43-10 kill lead with 13 kills and 17 assists on two deaths while shiro on Spectre added 10 kills and 18 assists on three deaths.
Azure Ray 2-0 Nouns Esports
The day then closed with Azure Ray soundly sweeping Nouns to guarantee that the two Chinese teams in TI 2023 will finish in the Top 6.
Game one may be the most one-sided game of the entire tournament as Azure Ray stomped Nouns to the tune of a 28-2 kill lead in just 30 minutes of action.
Yang "Chalice" Shenyi on Centaur Warrunner led the way with a perfect 10-kill, 13-assist line while Lou "Lou" Zhen on Spectre pitched in with a clean five kills and 20 assists.
Azure Ray didn't let up the aggression in game two behind more dominant performances from Chalice on Dawnbreaker and Lu "Somnus" Yao on Puck. However, Nouns managed to put up an admirable fight behind Nicolas "Gunnar" Lopez's Keeper of the Light before ultimately conceding the series sweep after 47 minutes.
Somnus fueled Azure Ray's 39-21 kill lead in the closeout game with a perfect 13-kill, 17-assist performance while Chalice put up 14 kills and 12 assists on five deaths. Meanwhile, Gunnar had a commendable line of 11 kills and nine assists on three deaths in the loss.
With today's results, Team Spirit, Team Liquid, LGD Gaming, and Azure Ray have guaranteed themselves at least a Top 6 finish as well as a spot in The International Main Event.
Meanwhile, Virtus.pro, Talon Esports, 9Pandas, and Nouns Esports drop down to the second round of the lower bracket. They will be playing against the winners of the first round of the lower bracket on the final day of the Playoffs for the right to make it to the Main Event.
The first round of the lower bracket on day two of the Playoffs features the following matchups:
Shopify Rebellion vs TSM
Gaimin Gladiators vs Evil Geniuses
BetBoom Team vs Vivo Keyd Stars
Tundra Esports vs Entity
The Road to The International Playoffs will take place from 20 to 22 October in the Seattle Convention Center's Summit. It will feature the 16 teams that made it out of the Group Stage fighting to be among the eight teams making it to The International Main Event.
The International Main Event will be hosted in the Climate Pledge Arena from 27 to 29 October, where this year's Dota 2 world champion will be crowned in the Grand Finals on 29 October.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.