The International (TI) 2023's preliminary Road to The International Group Stage concluded on Monday (16 October) as placement for eight more teams in the Road to The International Playoffs were determined.
Chinese powerhouses LGD Gaming and Azure Ray, Eastern European stalwarts 9Pandas, and surging North American squad Nouns Esports emerged victorious to claim upper bracket berths.
Meanwhile, reigning TI champions Tundra Esports, star-studded Eastern European squad Betboom Team, Western Europe's Entity, and South America's Vivo Keyd Stars were forced to settle for lower bracket starts.
Here's how all the action in the fourth and final day of TI 2023's Group Stage went down:
LGD Gaming 2-0 Vivo Keyd Stars
LGD kicked off the action in the final day of the Group Stage by making short work of Keyd Stars to punch their ticket to the upper bracket.
Game one saw the Chinese powerhouse stomp their South American opponents to the tune of a lopsided 40-9 kill score in 32 minutes of action. Cheng "NothingToSay" Jin Xiang on Earthshaker put up 12 kills and 16 assists on just one death as LGD came out swinging to start the series.
Keyd Stars put up a better fight in a 29-minute game two, but it still ended up being a very one-sided affair. LGD offlaner Li "niu" Kongbo showed out on Bristleback to secure his team a spot in the upper bracket, notching a clean 15 kills and 10 assists out of a 32-15 kill score for the Chinese squad.
9Pandas 2-1 BetBoom Team
The second match of the day was a showdown between two Eastern European heavyweights, with 9Pandas emerging victorious over BetBoom in a 2-1 reverse sweep.
BetBoom opened the series with a comfortable 40-minute win in game one behind Egor "Nightfall" Grigorenko's Luna, who paced his team's 31-19 kill lead with 10 kills and eight assists on one death.
9Pandas struck back hard in game two as Gleb "kiyotaka" Zyryanov dominated on Lina and finished with 18 kills and seven assists on just one death. This game had one of the more entertaining final moments of the tournament so far, as Nightfall on Muerta was killed without buyback while attempting to take down a Tormentor. 9Pandas took full advantage of that blunder to force the series to game three after 45 minutes.
BetBoom seemed to have been left reeling by their loss in game two, as 9Pandas easily took game three in 38 minutes to claim the 2-1 series victory. Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev notably led his team to the upper bracket with a clean eight-kill, nine-assist performance on Sven to close out the series.
Nouns Esports 2-0 Tundra Esports
The third match of the day may very well end up as the biggest upset of TI 2023 as Nouns Esports soundly swept defending TI champions Tundra Esports thanks to some unorthodox drafts.
Nouns surprised Tundra in game one with an offlane Witch Doctor for David "Moo" Hull, who decimated the reigning champions in teamfights. In the decisive clash of game one at the 38-minute mark, Nouns turned on a pursuing Tundra squad in style as Moo scored an Ultra Kill that forced the GG call.
Moo fueled Nouns' 31-14 kill lead with an excellent 13-kill, 11-assist performance on three deaths.
Nouns then pulled out a mid Ogre Magi pick for Nicolas "Gunnar" Lopez in game two, heading a strong scaling lineup that also had Chaos Knight for Héctor "K1" Rodríguez and Brewmaster for Moo.
Nouns leveraged a dominant early game showing by outscaling Tundra, keyed by Gunnar's Ogre Magi using Multicasted Hand of Midas to quickly farm up and become a nigh-unkillable meat shield in the frontlines.
While Tundra put up a stubborn defense against relentless siege attempts from Nouns, the North American squad could not be denied as they secured the 2-0 upset after 48 minutes of action.
K1 put up 12 kills and five assists on two deaths to pace Nouns' 27-20 kill lead in the closeout game. Moo added six kills and 13 assists on four deaths while Gunnar had four kills and 13 assists while tanking seven deaths.
Azure Ray 2-0 Entity
The final match of the day saw Chinese powerhouse Azure Ray make good use of their Honkai: Star Rail buff to secure an upper bracket berth with a 2-0 sweep over Entity.
Game one saw Azure Ray get off to a flying start behind a stellar showing from Lu "Somnus" Yao's Outworld Devourer. While the Chinese squad were able to keep building upon their early lead, Entity managed to hang on behind Alimzhan "watson" Islambekov's Terrorblade.
Despite Entity's best efforts to mount a comeback, Azure Ray eventually overwhelmed them after 56 minutes. Somnus paced his team's 43-31 kill lead with 15 kills and nine assists on four deaths.
Azure Ray had another hot start in game two behind their high-tempo tri-core of Luna for Lou "Lou" Zhen, Necrophos for Somnus, and Brewmaster for Yang "Chalice" Shenyi. However, some well-executed teamfights in the midgame for Entity allowed them to start clawing back into the game.
The Chinese squad then shut out any hopes for an Entity comeback when they picked off watson's Lifestealer at the 33-minute mark, which gave them the opening for a game-ending push. Despite a valiant last stand by Entity, Azure closed out the 2-0 series sweep just before the 35-minute mark.
Lou and Somnus both had 10 kills, nine assists, and three deaths to fuel Azure Ray's 35-21 kill lead. Chalice also pitched in with nine kills and 16 assists on three deaths.
With the conclusion of the Road to The International Group Stage, there will be a five-day break before the competition resumes with the Road to The International Playoffs.
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 proper.
Here are the tentative matchups for the Road to The International Playoffs:
Upper bracket quarterfinals:
Team Spirit vs Virtus.pro
Team Liquid vs Talon Esports
LGD Gaming vs 9Pandas
Nouns Esports vs Azure Ray
Lower bracket round 1:
Shopify Rebellion vs TSM
Evil Geniuses vs Gaimin Gladiators
Vivo Keyd Stars vs BetBoom Team
Tundra Esports vs Entity
On 20 October, the eight upper bracket teams will face off in four best-of-three matches. The four winning teams will advance to the upper bracket of The International itself while losing teams will have to continue fighting in the lower bracket of the Playoffs.
The lower bracket of the Playoffs will be played from 21 to 22 October, featuring 12 teams pitted in eight best-of-three matches. Eight teams will be eliminated in this stage while four teams will advance to the lower bracket of The International proper.
The Top 8 teams in the Road to The International Playoffs will then advance to The International Main Event, which will be hosted in the Climate Pledge Arena from 27 to 29 October.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.