We’re rounding up our TI Preview this week with the six invited teams. This International will be the first time that the reigning champion won’t have the chance to defend the title. Wings.gaming, after an astounding debacle, that led to the dissolution of their roster. However, three organizations, along with six players, will have the chance of being TI's first, two-time champions.
It’ll be a strange TI when Na’Vi isn’t the flag-bearing team of the CIS region.
Virtus.Pro are on a hot streak, from placing 2nd at the Kiev Major, then winning The Summit 7 last month while they were saving strategies for TI7. They picked 81 different heroes and played a 16 game stretch where they picked no hero twice. It was performance art.
But aggressive risk-taking, sometimes in the spirit of entertaining the audience, has always been part of the Dota identity of CIS teams. They thrived in sustained teamfights and relentless ganking, relying on that chaos to smooth a path to victory.
With VP, that aggression still remains but has been toned down, in favor of more sustainable strategies for the late game, which has been an area of weakness for them. Instead, their risk-taking has transferred over to their draft, where they’re known to pick a little unorthodox, and that’s where they can find an advantage. They may not be able to play as many heroes as apt as other teams, but they won’t be afraid to pick them.
Few teams were more of a lock for a TI invite than OG. They’re the winningest Dota team to have never won a TI, with 4 Major titles under their belt, enough to place several of its players in the top 20 highest esports earners—a category rife with players who have reaped a chunk of TI prize money.
OG posted a 9th-12th place finish last year, when most expected them to be a title contender. The letdown led to a roster shuffle that’s been quite successful for them since. S4 is another TI vet, a champion, and the former captain of Alliance. Ana is another prodigal mid-player and MMR king. Since his brief stumbles at the Kiev Major, he’s shown growth and composure in his game. And rounding out the roster is Jerax, who has made himself the player to watch amidst a roster of dynamic talent and in a role, support, that few play close attention to.
There are as high expectations for OG as there were last year, but they’ll still need to prove it at TI. To be fair, in reality there's only a handful of teams competing this year who can say they have.
Two of EG’s members, Universe and Suma1L, will have the chance to be the first two-time, TI champions. Suma1L broke into Dota as a transcendent mid-player, in a fashion not too far from when Arteezy was a stand-in for Speed Gaming at MLG Columbus. But what distinguishes them from other talented players is how they cooperate in tandem with their teammates.
EG has been a powerhouse over the past years, notwithstanding the same cycles of roster changes and instability that tends to disrupt the futures of other teams. This is in part due to the through-line of its veteran leadership. PPD and Fear manned the ship for years, but now Cr1t has taken up that mantle. Arteezy and Zai are both career Dota players who will get another shot at winning a TI, since leaving EG the year the organization won one without them.
Dynasties are formed by championships, but EG has a case for being one due to their consistency at TI. They’re never a team that can be dismissed, even when they stumble in the early rounds. Their experience, level of comfort in the spotlight, and the skill to adapt as the meta of the tournament changes in real-time are assets that puts the team as one of the favorites to win TI.
Burning, now synonymous with Anti-Mage, is a legend in Dota and Dota 2, and he returns to TI this year with his long-time friend, rOtK, as the coach. Chinese organizations lately have matured in the Dota scene, which at one point was stubbornly insular to newcomers and new strategies. But it seems that as the first generation of Dota players enter the twilight of their careers, and the competition grows from other regions, Chinese teams have been forced to adapt.
Fans may recognize Q as the former captain of CDEC, who sussed out the few things his team was best at and perfected it to a 2nd place at TI5, all the way from the wildcard stages. Xxs, their offlaner, is a star player and prodigious talent (17 years old). Him and Boboka were part of IG’s academy team before they were promoted to the main squad. As young and fresh talent, they’ll be ones to watch to see how they perform on the main stage.
IG deserved their direct invite with a top 4 finish at the Kiev Major and a dominant championship performance at DAC, where they 3-0’d team OG. But lately they’ve been stumbling in the events leading up to TI. They failed to qualify for Summit 7, and bottomed out in Mars Dota 2 League, EPICENTER, and The Manila Masters.
“Sylar to fall, Liquid are doing it!”
It isn’t the same North American, Team Liquid that was immortalized in that moment in TI3. Even though the team has since been revived with an international roster, they’ve still been able to capture some holdovers of the fanaticism that usually followed NA teams. That’s in part to their roster’s pubstars, Matumbaman being the affable Finn and real-life sea captain from 4ASC (4 Anchors + Sea Captain), and KuroKy, the team’s captain of Na’Vi fame. He never had the reigns during his tenure at Na’Vi and Secret, and fans are now just seeing the success his leadership has brought.
Miracle, from pub fame and the first player to hit 9K MMR, was a heavily sought after recruit. He’ll warrant respect bans like some of his counterparts, but above that he’s one of few players who can shift the entire meta off the prowess on his favored heroes.
Team Liquid’s highest achievements have been their back-to-back titles at EPICENTER, in which they derailed Newbee’s record breaking 29 game streak during the tournament. They’ve prevailed in tight situations, but they also have a tendency to lose to teams they have a significant advantage over. Consistency will determine their success to perform at TI, but nonetheless they’ve made their mark as one of the top teams at the tournament, against stiff competition.
Out of the six invited teams, Newbee is perhaps the most underrated, particularly for their lack of success at Valve and Western events. Their 2nd place finish at the Manila Masters may have not been enough to secure an invite, until they won the ZOTAC Cup and Galaxy Battles.
Newbee is steadfast in establishing the stability of their safe and mid lanes to allow their duo core of Sccc and Moogy to run rampant in the mid game. So there’s this mental game where their opponents know this, Newbee knows they know, and in response to early game aggression, they often set traps or respond with more than enough TPs to stifle any attempt.
Like Liquid, this Newbee team is far from what it was when they won TI4. Faith is one of the six players attending TI who will have a chance at a second title. With the inevitable roster shuffling that occurs even in the wake of a championship, it’s difficult to crown teams as part of Dota’s legacy. Faith, or Universe, or Suma1L winning their second title this year will do more for writing their own history than the teams they won them with.