If there is one thing that can further elevate your appreciation of the International, it is being emotionally invested in a team. There are many candidates worthy of your attention, but today we will concentrate on the few that stand out in one way or another: teams with rich history, to whom the International is personal.
Team Spirit won the biggest International in history two years past, but seemingly went into hibernation after it, only waking up a couple of months ago. Their awakening was glorious, though, with back-to-back victories at both Riyadh Master and DreamLeague Season 21. They are in their top form and are incredibly entertaining to watch.
The main reason for it, in our opinion, is their ability to create game-winning situations even when their chips are down. They are the team that seemingly doesn’t consider Dota an economics game, but rather a bluffing one, at least when they are on the backfoot.
While everyone plays Chess, they are playing Poker, going all-in every round and winning against all odds, making miraculous comebacks seemingly out of nowhere. Given how consistently they pull it off, we tend to believe it is skill, not luck and they are the de facto favorites to take it all. Or are they?
It feels like teams who do well throughout the season are cursed to fail at the International: there is a target on their back and they are the ones being studied the most. It is perhaps for this reason that Gaimin Gladiators didn’t bring it all in the last several big third-party tournaments.
They did win BetBoom Dacha, but it was a relatively small tournament with weaker competition. On the bigger stage their latest results are a bit concerning: they got eliminated in the first round of playoffs at DreamLeague, and they also placed “only” fourth at Riyadh Masters. A respectable result, but perhaps not for the team that won every Major this season.
It could be that they are saving strength for the most prestigious tournament of the year, but it could also be simple fatigue. Right now we feel like they are still definitely among the favorites of the tournament, but they will need to get back into their Major-winning shape to take it all.
If the fate of the Aegis was decided by the players’ contributions to the game’s history, it would be a close call between those two teams. Both have legendary players with rich histories. Both have shown incredible performances over the last many, many years and both are yet to claim the aegis.
The NA squad also looks very promising. Shopify Rebellion looked like a B-lister just a couple of months ago at Riyadh, but they adapted, learned from their mistakes and we saw a completely different team at DreamLeague last month. They ultimately fell to Team Spirit in the Grand Finals, but if they once again learn from their mistakes and show a similar amount of growth they’ve shown previously, it is going to be very hard to stop them.
Azure Ray on the other hand is a bit of a dark horse. Few believed they would even make it through the CN qualifiers and yet here they are: Somnus and Fy are once again at the International. It is really hard to gauge the team’s strengths from their regional performances, but they did manage to get through two very formidable opponents in Team Aster and Xtreme Gaming.
Both teams deserve the Aegis for a myriad of very good reasons and over the years both squads came very close to claiming it all. Rooting for them feels right, dignified even, but there is a good chance your heart will be broken once again, so be prepared.
Team Liquid are in a weird limbo of constantly and consistently being the second best team of the tournament. The consistency alone is commendable and it is an indication of very high skill and discipline. But is it enough to be crowned the Champion?
We honestly think that it might be. Team Liquid aren’t a dark horse as it is commonly understood: they are a team that feels like they are one small mental switch away from becoming the most dominant and oppressive team in the professional scene. Their plays are clean, their laning stage is solid and they rarely make mistakes.
What they might be lacking is that extra spark, some madness and chaos to their discipline that will finally push them over the edge. We might have seen attempts to leave the comfort zone at DreamLeague and it failed spectacularly, but hopefully lessons were learned and strategies adjusted. Risking it all by adjusting the playstyle so late into the season is an unhinged move that can make or break Team Liquid, but it feels a necessary step for the team to get out of the shadows.
Here are our picks for the most interesting teams to root for, but there is a lot of ground for disagreement. Feel free to share your favorite team in the comment section below and tell us why you are rooting for them. Perhaps someone will join you as their fan.