The Shanghai Major concluded with a grand finals between two surprising teams: the underdog, Team Liquid, and the resurgent Team Secret. When the day started, there were three teams (Evil Geniuses, Team Secret, and Team Liquid), but in the end it was Team Secret that prevailed among the stacked field at Shanghai.
Lower bracket finals
Team Liquid vs.Evil Geniuses
Team Liquid did its homework. Many of the Evil Geniuses' signature plays, timings, hero selections and even courier movements were well-scouted and countered to perfection. Evil Geniuses seemed to lose composure as the set extended, making many uncharacteristic mistakes which were capitalized on by Team Liquid. The strengths of Evil Geniuses' drafting from Peter "ppd" Dager were countered well by Team Liquid's ability to allow comfort picks through to specifically punish them.
The story of Game 1 started with the draft phase -- Team Liquid let the Dark Seer and Enigma slip through and created a split-push lineup to fight against it. As a result, early pickoffs favored Team Liquid, but the force team fights and neutral objectives were all Evil Geniuses. Team Liquid lost nearly every fight and the kill lead reflected it throughout the match, but the split-push trades and backdoor objective control ravaged the Evil Geniuses' base in every attempted push. The end result was a Team Liquid map-controlled victory without a dominating gold lead.
Game 2 was a wash. Evil Geniuses' plan to stall for a fat Naga Siren backfired when Team Liquid drafted in reaction to that with an early game lineup. Team Liquid drafted a Death Prophet and Nature's Prophet for the early power spike and push potential, Nyx Assassin to counter Syed Sumail "Sumail" Hassan's Zeus (the hero that needed to stall for Evil Geniuses), and the Ursa for the early objective and team fight control. The fighting started early and often and snowballed the gold lead in favor of Team Liquid, which it never relinquished.
Team Liquid vs.Team Secret
These two teams met in the upper bracket finals in a rather forgettable set for Team Liquid. Because of those games, the possibility of a rematch was difficult to imagine. However, the theme of this tournament was surprises, and Team Liquid managed to fight through. Team Secret had the best seats in the house for the lower bracket finals and needed a victory to justify the lineup and shut down the doubters.
Game 1 boiled down to Team Liquid's unique hero selection and how it eventually cost them the start of the set. Team Secret squashed every attempt at a fight or gank with superior vision control and rotations from Johan "PieLieDie" Astrom and Clement "Puppey" Ivanov in the early game. The lack of a win condition for the later parts of the match cost Team Liquid as Team Secret's Aliwi "w33" Omar, Jacky "EternalEnvy" Mao, and Puppey itemized greedily and fought with superior items and higher net worth. It was over when the lane phase ended in disaster for Team Liquid.
Game 2 was more of the good Team Liquid -- drafting according to counters and outplaying the opponent. The push lineup dictated the pace and any kind of fight or trades in its favor. As with Team Secret all tournament, execution in team fights and defense allowed the game to drag into a stalemate on both sides, but the gold advantage from Team Liquid's great early game still favored them. Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen and Adrian "FATA-" Trinks were the stars for Team Liquid once again, and they showed up in the late game with their combination of better split push (MATUMBAMAN) or team fight execution (FATA-). The better pushing power of Team Liquid's lineup would prove to be the difference as the team threw bodies and forced fights to absolutely crush the rest of the Team Secret infrastructure.
For Game 3, Team Secret's vaunted lane phase was on full display -- isolation for EternalEnvy's farm, w33's ability to squeeze maximum efficiency at the middle lane, spectacular rotations and ganks from PieLieDie, and the rotations from Puppey. In response, Team Liquid preyed on EternalEnvy's tendency to hunt the jungle as Clinkz by drafting the reactionary Io/Tiny combination and fought around that idea. The issue with planning a fight around Tiny/Io and Tidehunter is that the other team could force fights elsewhere or pick off without a true faceoff. While many other teams in the tournament failed in the "avoid Tidehunter" strategy, Team Secret's itemization and execution in the only real fights for Game 3 was flawless. Whether it was EternalEnvy's support-killing build (diffusal blade), Puppey's tank Doom build, or the constant rotations from Rasmus "Misery" Filipsen's Nature's Prophet and PieLieDie's Disruptor, it was all Team Secret. In the end, the slippery movements of Team Secret split every fight for full control of the Team Liquid cores and its base.
From the draft, Team Secret was ahead -- comfort signature picks (EternalEnvy on Slark, w33's signature Windranger and PieLieDie on Lion), heroes that go online quickly, and fantastic lane compositions made the analysts doubt the chances of Team Liquid. It showed in the early game with better rotation fights from Puppey and PieLieDie, an isolated EternalEnvy in the safe lane for farm, and Misery's superb micromanagement skills on his Beastmaster for free levels and jungle farm. The end of the early game saw four of Team Secret's heroes atop the net worth charts. The constant motion from EternalEnvy and his advantage as a Slark pushed Team Liquid's entire team behind the safest of locations. The first big fight of the game ended in a four-man wipe from Team Liquid and a 1-13 kill score in favor of Team Secret. Another huge winning fight for Team Secret and the base diving began until Team Liquid finally tapped out.
Team Secret proved that it is a top-tier team once again with a dominant grand finals victory.
If this tournament was any indication, Dota 2 is speeding up. Gone are the farm wars and extended passive play and in are the constant rotations, smoke ganks and earlier fighting itemization. This is the kind of Dota 2 that excites, and it should only get better as the year goes on.