The International (TI) 2023, this year's Dota 2 world championship tournament, began the second phase of its preliminary Road to The International Group Stage on Sunday (15 October), where the 16 remaining teams will be fighting for placement in the Playoffs next weekend.
TI 2021 champions Team Spirit, Eastern European qualifier team Virtus.pro (VP), Western European juggernauts Team Liquid, and Southeast Asian powerhouse Talon Esports emerged victorious in the first day of this phase to secure upper bracket berths in the Playoffs.
Meanwhile, North America's Shopify Rebellion and TSM, South America's Evil Geniuses (EG), and three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators will have to settle for lower bracket starts.
Here's how all the action in day three of TI 2023's Group Stage went down:
Team Spirit 2-0 Shopify Rebellion
Spirit kicked the day off by soundly sweeping Shopify Rebellion to extend their perfect start to TI 2023 to ten-straight wins.
While Spirit ultimately won the series, Shopify Rebellion came out swinging in game one and had a 14-0 kill lead in the first 18 minutes of game one. However, the TI 2021 champions displayed their signature ability to mount a comeback from any deficit by stalling their opponents' momentum in a clutch teamfight at the 28-minute mark.
Spirit went on to win game one after 40 minutes of action, making it seem like they were never behind at all if you ignored the kill score.
While game two saw Shopify Rebellion once again go on the offensive early, Spirit were able to keep them at arm's length and start pulling away by the midgame. Despite the North American squad's best efforts to mount a comeback, Spirit could not be denied as they secured the 2-0 series sweep after 55 minutes.
Denis "Larl" Sigitov on Puck and Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov on a position 5 Enchantress had standout performances in the closeout game, with Larl pacing Spirit's 45-37 kill lead with 16 kills and 14 assists on seven deaths while Miposhka added 13 kills and 23 assists on eight deaths.
Virtus.pro 2-0 TSM
The second match of the day saw an Eastern European squad once again sweep a North American opponent as VP secured an upper bracket berth at the expense of TSM.
Much like the previous match between Spirit and Shopify Rebellion, TSM were in control early into their showdown against VP. The North American squad scored pickoff after pickoff thanks to Jonathan "Bryle" De Guia's Invoker and Gainullin "kasane" Illyas' offlane Omniknight, who went for an unorthodox Boots of Travel rush build.
However, VP were able to stem the bleeding and stall things out to the late game, where Ilya "Kiritych" Ulyanov's Chaos Knight was able to carry his team to a 55-minute win. Kiritych put up 16 kills and 12 assists on four deaths to spark VP's comeback in game one.
TSM seemed to have been left reeling after letting game one slip through their fingers as VP simply run them over in a 28-minute game two rout.
Ilya "squad1x" Kuvaldin on Earth Spirit led VP to the upper bracket with a stellar 13-kill, 13-assist line on just one death to pace his team's 36-11 kill lead. Kiritych also had another standout performance on Spectre, notching 11 kills and 14 assists on two deaths.
Team Liquid 2-0 Evil Geniuses
The third match of the day between Liquid and EG continued a trend of 2-0 sweeps as the Western European juggernauts made short work of their South American opponents en route to the upper bracket.
Game one started with both teams on relatively even footing before Liquid started pulling ahead at the 18-minute mark as Michał "Nisha" Jankowski's Earth Spirit and Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg's Primal Beast dominated the midgame teamfights.
Liquid eventually took their first win of the series after 37 minutes and with a comfortable 31-15 kill lead. Nisha paced Liquid's kill totals with 10 kills and 12 assists on three deaths while Samuel "Boxi" Svahn on Dark Willow pitched in with nine kills and 11 assists on two deaths.
While EG put up a respectable effort in game one, game two wasn't even close. Liquid absolutely dominated the laning stage thanks in large part to Boxi's Nature's Propher and Aydin "Insania" Sarkohi's Vengeful Spirit shutting down all of EG's lanes.
With their supports setting them up for success, Michael "miCKe" Vu on Chaos Knight, Nisha on Windranger, and zai on Bristleback had free rein to wreak havoc in the midgame and secure the 2-0 sweep for Liquid after a 36-minute stomp.
Boxi fueled Liquid's 40-21 kill lead in the closeout game with 13 kills and 19 assists against six deaths. Insania added eight kills and a game-high 23 assists on four deaths while Nisha had nine kills and 10 assists on four deaths.
Talon Esports 2-1 Gaimin Gladiators
While the first three matches were all one-sided affairs, the fourth match was a must-watch slugfest that saw Talon pull off the biggest upset of the tournament so far against three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators.
Game one went like what many expected, with Gaimin Gladiators taking a methodical 39-minute win in a low-kill affair.
However, game two was utter chaos as both teams traded haymakers in a 65-minute slugfest that saw Talon prevail in the chaos of the late game.
The Southeast Asian squad notably exploited Anton "dyrachyo" Shkredov's signature aggressiveness, securing multiple key pickoffs on his Phantom Assassin with the Rupture-Walrus Kick combo from Nuengnara "23savage" Teeramahanon's Bloodseeker and Worawit "Q" Mekchai's Tusk.
Anucha "Jabz" Jirawong on Bristleback and Rafli "Mikoto" Rahman on Invoker paced Talon's 33-30 kill lead in that crazy game two, notching nine kills apiece as well as a combined 30 assists against five and six deaths, respectively. 23savage also pitched in with seven kills and 14 assists on six deaths
Gaimin Gladiators seemed unfazed from their game two loss as they were in control early into the decider off some well-timed rotations, keyed by Marcus "Ace" Hoelgaard's Spirit Breaker and Erik "tOfu" Engel's support Muerta.
Talon responded by splitting the map and farming up in the hopes that 23savage's signature Morphling pick would carry them in the later stages of the game. With a spot in the upper bracket on the line, 23savage delivered and outplayed dyrachyo's Faceless Void and Quinn "Quinn" Callahan's Lina.
After dealing Gaimin Gladiators their first tournament loss of the season in July's Riyadh Masters 2023, Talon once again proved themselves as the three-time Major champions' kryptonite as they completed the upset after a 43-minute thriller.
23savage put up a stellar performance when his team needed it the most, fueling Talon's 31-22 kill lead with 14 kills and seven assists on just two deaths.
The second day of phase two of the Road to The International Group Stage will see eight more teams fight for their placement in the Playoffs. Here are the matchups for day two:
LGD Gaming vs Vivo Keyd Stars
BetBoom Team vs 9Pandas
Tundra Esports vs Nouns Esports
Entity vs Azure Ray
The Road to The International Group Stage phase two will be held from 14 to 15 October and will have the remaining teams play in eight head-to-head, best-of-three matches to determine placement in the The Road to The International Playoffs.
In this phase, the Top 2 teams from each group in phase one will get matched with either the third or fourth-placed teams from the opposite group. The winners of the eight head-to-head matches will then earn upper bracket berths in the Playoffs while the losers will have to start from the lower bracket.
The TI 2023 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 proper.
TI 2023 will be hosted from 12 to 29 October in Seattle, the United States and will see 20 of the best Dota 2 teams in the world fighting to claim the coveted Aegis of Champions and the lion's share of a growing prize pool.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.