A short moped ride away from Hanoi’s CS:GO showdown, a completely different battle was taking place. Just minutes from scenic Xa Dan Lake, on the outskirts of the Nam Đồng neighborhood, is Playdota Stadium Internet. True to its name, this esports stadium is a dedicated Dota 2 tournament space, though it's not the only game that's played here.
The warehouse-like interior feels perfectly post-apocalyptic. Behind gritty glass windows, gamers play Point Blank, CS:GO, LoL, and, of course, Dota 2. In dark gaming rooms, cigarettes hang from their mouths, angry red ends burning slowly upwards. Sparks occasionally fly off in haphazard bursts, and it’s all too easy to imagine a mousepad going up in smoke.
This is where Sunday’s ROG Masters Dota 2 tournament is being held. Like its companion CS:GO competition, it’s the largest in the country. And, like all of the ROG Masters tournaments, it sees amateur teams face off against professionals, providing an opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the world’s best teams. The lucky winners will receive 30 million Vietnamese đồng and advance to the ROG Masters regional qualifiers.
In the main competition area, everyone drips sweat as energetic electronica pumps from the speakers. The warehouse is sweltering, with temperatures soaring above 36°C and 75% humidity. Air conditioning be damned, the stadium’s atrium is poised for broadcast, its chairs ready for a crowd, and the competition boxes wait for their gamers.
Playdota Stadium isn’t kidding around with the grungy warehouse aesthetic.
The middle atrium was where all the action was broadcast, and the Hanoian teams played on either side.
A Dota 2 battle station, primed and ready.
Unlike the CS:GO competition, which spanned an entire weekend, today’s six Dota 2 matches are packed into a single day. The first match is between Vikings Gaming, a Hanoian team, and Next Gen, from Ho Chi Minh City. Their reputations precede them: Vikings are one of Vietnam’s top Dota 2 teams, and Next Gen are last year’s ROG Masters Vietnam victors. This showdown is the ultimate test for both teams.
A rare opportunity
Vikings players Yato and Louis explained why the ROG Masters Vietnam is so unique.
Surprisingly, the ROG Masters provides a rare opportunity, even for Vietnam’s top Dota 2 teams. Before the competition, Viking players “Yato” Lê Hoàng Phương and “Louis” Bùi Công Thành discussed how much the battle meant to them.
“[If we win], this would be our first time going outside Vietnam as a team,” said Phương. “That’s why we’re trying so hard.”
“What ROG is doing here is very good. There are not many competitions like this in Vietnam,” added Thành.
According to them, large tournaments like this are uncommon in the Vietnamese Dota 2 scene because there are no official Dota 2 team sponsors in Vietnam. ROG Masters is bringing completely new gaming opportunities to the country and the Vietnamese Dota 2 scene.
“We used to study in Europe, and there were many tournaments for players at every level. But here in Vietnam, it isn’t the same,” said Thành.
In fact, Phương said that they discovered this tournament from “a Facebook Dota 2 group of about 100,000 people" before receiving a direct invite from ROG.
Vikings player “Shirou” Đinh Lê Giang, a 20-year-old accounting student, added, “A big prize brings opportunities to practice and go overseas. There’s low [Dota 2] investment in Vietnam, but if we win this competition, there’s more stability for our team.”
Rain began to pour down on the metal roof overhead, a deafening accompaniment for the already thumping dance music. Giang glanced up briefly, then continued, “This competition may not be that big internationally, but it’s really big in Vietnam.”
Into the fray
The competition boxes were a tight squeeze, often with six or more people packed into a small space.
Back inside the competition boxes, the gamers were sweating. The air conditioner was set to 27°C, but it was asthmatic, wheezing as it tried to counteract the heat from five players plus coaches and alternates crammed into a tiny space. The unfolding scene was just like the CS:GO competitions: players were checking Facebook, wolfing down pre-game snacks, knocking back energy drinks, and warming up with practice games. Before long, it was go time.
Ba, hai, một… đi!
Almost as soon as the games began, Vikings player "DuyQuang" Đào Duy established himself as a crowd favorite. As Phantom Assassin, he wrapped up the first game with an incredible kill/death/assist ratio of 18-0-11, and Vikings went on to trounce Rebellion 2-0 in the lower bracket.
The Dota 2 Vikings in action.
In Vikings’ next lower bracket match, they took on the second Hanoian team, Cry for You. It was a lightning fast first game, over in just 33 minutes. Cry for You pushed back in game two, playing a solid match and placing their Invoker in the safe lane to control the creep equilibrium. By sending Timbersaw mid, they even took down DuyQuang’s seemingly-unstoppable Phantom Assassin. But, not to be outdone, Vikings brought it all back for a win in game three.
With victorious whoops, they streamed out of the competition area, hugging friends in the audience and breathing in the comparatively fresh air. Vikings were advancing to the grand final against last year’s victors, the formidable Next Gen.
Riding the ups and downs
Cry for You’s "HTz" Bùi Văn Hùng reacts with dismay after a loss.
Cry for You slowly trickled out of the competition room, spirits clearly low following their defeat. “We lost control of the map,” explained “Logan” Lê Ngọc Quân, shaking his head sadly.
When asked about Dota 2’s pros and cons, he revealed another unexpected challenge that arose during the morning's semi-final: Because the professional Vietnamese Dota 2 community is relatively small, earlier that day they had to play against their friends, Next Gen. When they aren’t competing, the two teams are actually quite close. “I was nervous playing against friends," Quân admitted.
The sting of defeat was still fresh for Cry for You’s Logan and Minh Điên.
There are other difficulties when playing Dota 2 in Vietnam. As Yato and Louis described earlier, Vietnamese Dota 2 pros don’t often play in large tournaments. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, their schedules aren’t as busy. On the other, they can’t compete as often. Nonetheless, Quân was vehement about the game’s benefits.
“[Dota 2] is complex, with lots of strategy,” he says. “And I’ve made lots of new friends.”
"Minh Điên" Nguyễn Huy Minh agreed. Plus, beyond the game’s complexity and making new friends, he loves the thrill of tournaments. Thankfully, Minh is in the right place. And, although Cry for You had been officially eliminated, they still won a cash prize as one of the top eight teams.
A ruthless offensive
The Hanoi Vikings warm up before the grand final.
Evening arrived, and with it came the final. Vikings would be taking on Next Gen, last year’s ROG Masters, for the grand prize.
On Vikings, "TieuLinh" Tống Thanh Long had Lina. On Next Gen, "Different Heaven" Trịnh Văn Thọ had Silencer. This ended up being Vikings’ downfall. Lina was repeatedly stymied by her archnemesis’ Arcane Curse, Last Word, and Global Silence. Next Gen took game one.
In the second round, Vikings’ DuyQuang was able to get his favorite Phantom Assassin, while "Shirou" Đinh Lê Giang got the inimitable Furion. They pushed hard to counter Next Gen’s Invoker and Weaver and won a decisive victory after just 32 minutes. With the score tied up at 1-1, there would be a tiebreaker to determine the best of three.
For round three, Vikings' Medusa, Shadow Shaman, and Dark Seer teamed up to create the perfect mid push and defense. However, Next Gen played a hard offense with Batrider, Chaos Knight, and Earth Spirit, ganking TieuLinh’s Medusa 13 times and forcing him into the jungle. Ultimately, Next Gen’s ruthless offensive paid off, and they razed Vikings’ Ancient once and for all.
Next stop: regionals
After the competition, everyone escaped out into the blissfully cool night. The pounding dance music fell off like a wave, replaced by Hanoi’s pulse—a low thrum of mopeds and cacophony of horns. The disappointment, no longer so fresh, gave way to the pride of individual achievements. The ROG Masters had seen CS:GO underdogs push through the lower bracket and Dota 2 challengers fight against friends. For the teams who didn’t win, it was a galvanizing moment that will fuel even more practice for next year’s ROG Masters.
Even in Vietnam’s rainy season, the future looks bright for the ROG Masters Vietnam winners.
As for Next Gen, winning the ROG Masters twice over is already a dream come true, but with regionals ahead of them, they’ve got a shot at superstardom and are one step closer to their esports goals. The weekend marathon has propelled the Vietnamese Dota 2 scene into the international spotlight, and Next Gen is set to face the best teams from all of the ROG Masters battles so far. It will be a true test of mettle, but the eyes of the entire Vietnamese esports community will be on them, too.
By Kimberly Koenig