Game 1 - Warrior's Isle
When it comes down to it, Tournament games live and die by Victory or Death, and more often than not, the team that makes the right calls during crunch time comes out victorious. It was apparent that Game 1 was heading to VoD from the fist meeting between the teams, and the argument could be made that Te were the aggressors in this particular endeavor (because of their push to double-capture the flag the entire game), therefore granting them some semblance of an advantage as the 30-minute carnage played out. But in what felt like a blur, this game slipped away, and when the dust settled, I found myself a culprit–red handed.
Both teams left their razzle and dazzle at home, opting instead for reliability in their build structures, and thus the metagame within the match was a pointed and familiar one: Warrior shutdown. All credit in this match should go to Te's Monk team, who held up through an onslaught of degen at the hands of a Necro, Illusion Mesmer, and Crippling Shot Ranger, sustaining only a couple of losses before VoD hit. On the other side of things, EW were almost untouched the entire match, primarily due to a lack of timely interrupts on their Warrior-hate Hexes (Shadow of Fear, Reckless Haste, and Faintheartedness are all long enough casts to shut down).
For 30 minutes, it must have felt like trying to fight against a brick wall for Paladin and Bob the Angry, who could barely hit a thing the entire match, let alone attack at a normal rate. So Te's famous Monk pushes, while extremely well executed from a technical aspect, were almost completely wasted because of their hampered Warrior duo.
When VoD arrived, both teams made unhindered rushes to the other side's Catapult in hopes of breaking through the stalemate with a lucky shot. Te struck first, nailing a Bodyguard, and were then able to stall long enough to take care of the second Bodyguard as well. Meanwhile, EW were unlucky in their one chance at levelling the playing field, as Acid went all alone, and was able to launch the catapult only briefly before he was tracked down and dispatched.
A full eight-man push headed straight to Te's back door as soon as they were assembled, and with 35 minutes fast approaching, the victory seemed almost elementary for the Americans. Meeting head-on and engaging battle inside their own base, Te needed to just stall for a few minutes while EW's Guild Lord made his futile stroll to the flag stand, certain to die against Te's massive NPC army.
Caught, red handed–ignorance! Bob the Angry left the team, and headed to meet up with the Guild Lord. But as he reached the flag stand and waited, EW's Lord simply stood still. Confusion reigned. Following the match, I learned from Izzy that neither Guild Lord will push to the center until their doppelgänger has reached a specific marker in front of their respective base. So while Te's Lord was stuck fighting in his own base, EW's was content to twiddle his thumbs and yawn. So Bob pushed forward, and called for backup in order to finish the game, but no backup came. No call was made, no support was given, and all the while, Te was losing the battle in their base. They had the choice to either fight 8v8, or send two Warriors off to finish the Lord–they chose neither, and ultimately collapsed because of it.
For the vast majority of the match, EW was at least one Warrior down, as they tried to keep up with the flag-capping assault from Te, so it was possible that Te simply underestimated the damage output of their opponents when the gank arrived in full. But either way, they crippled themselves by losing damage when Bob left, and crippled themselves again by not helping him in his given task of killing of the Guild Lord.
Game 2 - Nomad's Isle
If Game 1 told the story of last minute failures and could-have-been's for Te, Game 2 was the absolute polar opposite when it came down to crunch-time decisions. Sure, there was a preceding half-hour that set the stage for the VoD heroics, but it was the last minute decisions and calls that decided the victor in this game.
Te and EW came in with incredibly disparate strategies. For EW, they looked to hold onto their lead and play their conservative RenO-inspired spike build, hoping to re-create past successes at VoD thanks to their Ritualist and Smite support. Across the isle, Te were taking their tournament lives in their hands by running their still fairly un-proven Ladder build from this past season, which features an Illusion Mesmer and Assassin gank threat, along with a solidly defensive flag stand team.
Right from the start, Te got to work on splitting up their European counterparts, while surviving through the rather infrequent Death's Charge spikes. Elendar's Ritualist played havoc with Sheep's ability to adequately snipe Archers on the perimeter of EW's base, forcing a mobile and adaptive response from the rest of Te, who adjusted their positioning to that of a pincer formation, trapping EW and negating their ability to run flags with any efficacy. Kills from either side were almost unseen, as the nature of the positioning and morale disparity meant the level of action was halted to a complete stalemate yet again. EW was content to position their Ritualist up above the rest of the team, and mostly out of harm's way, while Te were able to basically dictate the flow of the map thanks to their increased Health and Energy pools (Nomad's Isle eats your energy!), and the constant threat of ganking EW should they pull out of their base for a flag push.
With VoD closing in, Te made their move and made their adjustments. Rearranging their pincer structure to include Trex's Crippling Shot Ranger alongside the Assassin, and sending Bob's Mesmer back down to the main team, Sheep successfully pulled both of EW's Bodyguards away from their path to the flag stand. Caught unprepared, EW could only look on as Trex soloed one guard and Sheep soloed the other. In the rush that followed, Awowa and Bob met back up with the gank team, and moved as one to EW's Guild Lord. Forced to completely fall back and support, Te came together as well for the first time in the match, and simply delayed until the Lords moved to the center at 35 minutes. They'd learned from the previous game, and watched vigilantly for the Lords to find their "marks," closing the match out in fine fashion, and forcing a third and final game.
Game 3 - Burning Isle
One of the side benefits/downfalls of live tournament play is the ability to lean over and take a sneak peak at the guild hall of your opponent before you enter the match, and sometimes even the build. With that said, this one was a tale of last-minute craziness, and oh what a string of mind games it was. EW gathered together in their guild hall with a "normal" build, and just before accepting the challenge from Te, logged out and logged back in, all prepared for Feast of Corruption spike. But by some fantastic revelation, or perhaps just by sheer chance, Kriegar from Treacherous Empire made his own last minute switch: Cry of Frustration.
One of the foundational strategies to fighting against a spike has always been to change up their focus and direction as much as possible, so they cannot adequately get a rhythm with which to stand still comfortably and spike. Te's plan from the beginning appeared to be a bait and switch, and it couldn't have worked more perfectly....Frozen Soil didn't help EW's cause, though.
Making a move to the Flame Curse Sentinels, EW saw Te as a team in retreat, and pushed in quickly, spiking down the perimeter Archers with ease. But with the Bodyguards aggroed and Te returning, Esoteric Warriors made perhaps the most fatal mistake imaginable–they placed a Frozen Soil, despite a decidedly weak tactical position, and were thus unable to resurrect their fallen team members as they went down. Maelstroms and Fireballs boosted Te's already formidable damage output, and the Americans pressed harder on the gas as they pushed EW back out through the lava. By the time eight minutes rolled around, Te had the first Sentinel dead, an almost completely dead EW team fleeing before them, the flag stand firmly in their control, and had killed a Bodyguard right before EW resurrected in their base. But this was no waiting game, as we'd seen many times before.
Andrew "Trex" Miller had continued to work on the second Sentinel during the turn of the tide, and placed himself in position to stand as a constant threat to EW's remaining NPC's. Once again, shift the focus of a spike team, and they will surely falter. Caught between trying to spike, trying to capture the flag, and trying to save their remaining Archers and Bodyguard, EW roamed back and forth, but ultimately could not keep pace.
Cry of Frustration was surely the MVP this day, though. Te lingered on the brink of disaster so many times during this match, but dodged the bullet almost every time, thanks to timely interrupts all around. The flag stand team bought Trex enough time to work his magic, and any verbal beating I may have given him following their loss in Game 1, I rescind in place of praise for his efficiency and effectiveness in Esoteric Warriors' base.
With VoD rapidly approaching, Te did their utmost to delay, interrupt, and damage, concerned about fighting in the cramped corridor at the flag stand, and the potential for losing all their NPCs in one Feast of Corruption spike, trying to bring the battle to the foot of EW's base. But the damage, degen, and hexes were difficult to keep pace with, and eventually Te fell back to the support of their NPCs, where the final battle began.
The final five minutes were a sight to behold. I made the dash from the control room to the stage area, eager to witness this one first hand. The crowd was seething and shouting, responding in a chorus of cheers with each of EW's successful spikes, but their European brethren were struggling. I positioned myself next to Leo "Kriegar" Cheng, who was staring intently at his screen, waiting and watching for each FoC spike so he could use Cry of Frustration and Gale. Te barely survived a series of spikes, but fought back harder each and every time, forcing their way into the thick of the Necro cluster. Then all of the sudden, the kills began to rain down. "DPS THE LORD", shouted Kriegar, and all damage went to EW's Guild Lord, forcing them to go into full healing mode. Then, having once again shifted their opponent's focus, Te struck a decisive string of kills, all the while continuing pressure on the Guild Lord. The crowd screamed with anticipation, the German announcers yelled loudly (nothing unusual there), and Te flipped out on stage. They put the finishing touches on a fantastically played game, and mobbed each other with delight. Somehow, some way, both American teams had managed to make it to the second round–who would have thought?