Opinion: A New Dota 2 Star Could Be Born at TI10
Dota 2 players have considered The International 10 (TI10) to be the holy grail ever since its first edition was first held in 2011. As compared to other esports and traditional sports titles, the Dota 2 ecosystem is largely centered around this lucrative tournament, which adds to the insurmountable value of TIs. With such tantalizing money on the line (over $40 Million USD at TI10) that could change their lives, five players from the world's 18 best Dota 2 teams put their best foot forward. Some emerge stronger while others crumble.
As with any sporting event, TIs have had unpredictable results and upsets over the years, with favorites bowing out after unprecedented losses. It is in such situations that Cinderella runs come about when teams that are dismissed as the little fellows somehow make it big. Whether it was the Digital Chaos squad from TI6 that registered an unexpected second place run or the OG team from TI8 that won the Dota 2 World Championship, nobody had thought that they would make it this far. In such situations, players like Topias Miikka "Topson" Taavitsainen and Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan who were undistinguished at the onset of the event end up becoming legends by its conclusion. Everyone knew of their existence, yet few knew the finer details about them during that moment of victory.
In the last six years, we have seen some of these names emerge at TIs, but there is an increasing potential for a new star at TI10 this year. Additionally, not one, but a full team could come out as superstars at TI10, taking the Aegis at the Dota 2 World Championships, and perhaps more importantly, the lion's share of the $40,018,195 USD prize pool home.
Here's why we believe this is the case and try to answer if we shall witness a "Godson” or “GHgod” type of story at TI10.
The number of first-timers at TI10
The total number of players at TI10 is 90 (18 teams, five players each). 36 of these 90 players are playing at TI for the first time in their Dota 2 career. That's 40% of the total number of players. In comparison, 22 first-timers attended TI9; 23 attended TI8. Furthermore, two of this year’s competing teams, Virtus.pro, and Thunder Predator, are composed entirely of TI debutants.
As a result of such an increase in the number of first-timers at TI10, it is possible that some of these players will emerge as champions by the end of the event.
For this large group of TI first-timers, what is it that makes them actual competitors?
Virtus.pro, which is considered one of the best Dota 2 teams in the world currently, has all five players as first-timers. Even though they haven't performed up to their potential at the two LAN majors, they have shown their mettle at online events. In the past 10 months, Virtus.pro has gone head-to-head and surpassed top-notch teams like Natus Vincere, Team Secret, OG, Alliance, and Team Nigma in a multitude of online events. Offlaner, DM, has stated that they are looking for a Dota 2 coach, so Virtus.pro will likely have the mental preparation and guidance they need going into this year's TI10.
Four out of five players on Team Spirit are TI first-timers, and they have already shown their ability to stand tall against CIS teams as well as international opponents. The WePlay AniMajor was the first real test for the team's four new players - Yatoro, Collapse, TORONTOTOKYO, and Miroslaw - and a 7th-8th finish was an excellent result. Additionally, these Team Spirit players had only joined forces in the second half of 2020, barring Miroslaw, who joined even later. They had very little official tournament practice heading into the DPC but they improved exponentially over the last six months, making them the second-best CIS team behind Virtus.Pro and a team that nobody would want to write off after they showcased their potential at the Major.
Four of the five players on T1 are first-time TI players, and they have already taken the Dota 2 world by storm. A sublime performance at the WePlay AniMajor resulted in a third place finish, but their run did not end there as they went on to win the ESL One Summer 2021 with an epitome of clean strategizing and gameplay. With an incredible combination of talent, experience, and friendship, T1 is the best team in Southeast Asia (SEA) and one of the best in the world at the moment, proving they are a major threat going into the TI10 tournament.
SG esports has four TI debutants at TI10. Although they did not demonstrate the best Dota 2 gameplay during the DPC season, they stormed through the TI10 qualifiers with all guns blazing. During their incredible upper bracket run, they lost just two matches. The unusual aspect about this team is that though they may be first-timers at TI, they have been hustling in Dota 2 for quite some time now. Their midlaner, 4dr, in fact, had a second-place finish in the qualifiers for TI9, TI8, and TI7, so he will be delighted to have finally made it. Except for their captain and position five player, KJ, all the other four players have participated in some significant Dota 2 tournaments over the years.
Although it may seem that players from a team like Invictus Gaming would have mostly veterans, they are apparently going to have three out of five players playing at TI for the first time in their professional careers. Their victory at the Singapore Major clearly showed how a high stakes tournament can lead players to fame, with Emo quickly becoming the talk of the town after his infamous ‘?’ all-chat in game three of the grand final against Evil Geniuses. With TI providing an even bigger platform and this team having already made its mark at a major LAN event, players like Emo, JT-, and Oli might very well guide Invictus Gaming to a solid TI10 run.
Thunder Predator is the second group of players that are all first-timers at TI. Contrary to Virtus.pro, this five-man-first-timer roster has already proven that it is equally adept at online and offline events. The Singapore Major did not see Thunder Predator as a top contender, but the team took all its group stage opponents to the cleaners. They played aggressively, made effective map movements to out-strategize most of their competitors. Though they didn't finish first, they had a respectable finish of 5th-6th placement at the Major. This in itself was enough to catch the public’s eye and turn South America (SA) into a fearsome region. Thunder Predator's players have been grinding Dota 2 for a long time as well, just like their South American counterparts, SG esports. In fact, the team’s carry player, Alonso "Mnz" León, competed at The Frankfurt Major in 2015. After participating in five TI qualifiers, he has now finally qualified for TI10 based on DPC points. Moreover, Thunder Predator will be mentored by one of the best Dota 2 players from the Americas - Clinton "Fear" Loomis, who announced in June 2021 that he will coach the team at TI10. Among all the majority first-timer squads, Thunder Predator and SG esports will arguably be the most hungry for success.
The remaining TI debutants and their strengths
On the other hand, we have players who are first-timers and are in the minority in their respective teams. The list includes NothingToSay from PSG.LGD, Poyoyo from Vici Gaming, White Album from Team Aster, and Lelis from Quincy Crew. Additionally, Alliance's Limmp and Handsken, Fnatic's Deth and ChYuan, and Undying's SabeRLight- and Bryle will all be playing at TI for the first time in their Dota 2 careers.
Three rising stars of the Chinese Dota 2 scene, NothingToSay, Poyoyo, and White Album have led their teams to strong regional and Major performances. They are three core players who appear to be insanely skilled mechanically and have delivered highly efficient performances. SabeRLight-, Bryle, and ChYuan, are moderately young players who have demonstrated excellence in Dota 2 during their first breakthroughs with Ninjas in Pyjamas, J.Storm, and Team Aster respectively.
They now find themselves among some of the most established players on the scene, who can help them fill the high stakes experience gap that they lack.
On the other hand, Lelis, Limmp, Handsken, and Deth have been around the scene for a long time and have played for a variety of teams over this period. Currently, these players who seem to play at their peak efficiency, are at the best competitive Dota 2 versions of themselves ever, and also represent the most proficient teams in the world. These factors make these four experienced players one of the most formidable and fearsome individual competitors at TI10.
How do these TI first-timers differ from each other?
The list of TI debutants features a mix of young and promising first-timers as well as old-timers. Teams like Virtus.pro and Team Spirit have only recently made a mark in the tier one scene while teams like Invictus Gaming and SG esports have players who have been around for a while but were unable to rise to the top.
For both groups, TI10 will be the chance to showcase their incredible skills and abilities. Putting forth a testament to their prodigious Dota 2 skills, the first group will need to show just how gifted they really are. In contrast, the second group will demonstrate their improvements: showcasing their enduring efforts and the work they have done over the years.
The absence of household Dota 2 names like Team Nigma and TNC Predator at TI10
Several prominent names we've been seeing at TIs for the past few years, such as Team Nigma and TNC Predator, did not make the cut this year. Furthermore, players like Jian Wei "xNova" Yap and Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev who have been staples at TI were also unable to qualify in their then respective teams - EHOME and Natus Vincere.
Younger squads like T1, Team Spirit, and Virtus.pro capitalized on this opportunity, showing their potential to outsmart these established names throughout DPC seasons and at the qualifiers for TI10, thus securing a place at the tournament.
The lack of these household Dota 2 names at these tournaments allows young teams to shine brighter while focusing on outdoing each other, rather than having to worry about experienced captains outsmarting them on the big stage.
Additionally, there is a reason why these established Dota 2 names are so prevalent: they are better able to rise to the fore when LAN and TI events are at stake. In most instances, this is the outcome, though it is not always the case. We saw this clearly in TI qualifiers, wherein almost every region, the favorites - which were the experienced teams- finished in the top 3-4 positions. No doubt, these young teams will be very competitive, but they will not have to experience the annual magic and wit that these established teams and players would have brought to TI.
The biggest barrier for these first timers at TI10 - the experience gap
We have talked enough about these first-timers’ potential and the hustle, but TI10 will not be a walk in the park for anyone. As mentioned, experienced players tend to prevail more often than not at these crucial LAN events. Even though some of these experienced players might be on teams with one or two young players, their majority helps them strategize, handle pressure, and monitor the younger ones.
While some of these teams like T1 and Invictus Gaming have shown that they can handle the pressure of important LAN matches quite well, others like Virtus.pro and Alliance have not quite delivered.
The guard dog at the gates of TI10 is a Puppey with a N0tail
The only remaining TI all-timer is Team Secret's Clement "Puppey" Ivanov. The players who will be playing at the inaugural TI were probably nine or ten years old when Puppey started playing Dota 2. Piercing this rock will be difficult. Despite Team Secret's notorious reputation for being “TI chokers” it is difficult to deny that Puppey has once again assembled some of the best players on his team to win this time. It is worth noting that the Dota 2 veteran has already won TI once, in 2011 with his Na'Vi squad.
Finally, there is Johan "N0tail" Sundstein, the sunflower of Dota 2, who doesn't seem to be deterred by struggles. N0tail is going to be really hungry for success after a taxing year, characterized by lackluster performances, roster changes, and most importantly, the dearth of "LAN events." He loves LAN events. Their pressure brings the best out of him. His teammates at OG also flourish under pressure, as history has shown. With TI10 bringing a lot of pressure, N0tail and his "pew pew" boys are going to be a huge obstacle.
TI10 is also going to be more difficult with a live audience, with all the ostentatious setup, and with all the incredible money. Former League of Legends player and current analyst, Marc Robert "Caedrel" Lamont, recently talked with N0tail about the comparison between scrims and official games. N0tail had there discussed the additional pressure that external factors brought at TI.
Experience is a big factor in such a situation, and since many of the first-timers lack time spent in such environments, it is still unknown who will deliver performances that match their potential.
This is the tenth edition of The International. Now almost a decade has passed since TI was first held, and we are right at the doorstep of the next generation. A testament to that is the sheer number of first-timers and young players attending TI10.
It is perhaps now the generation where we will witness the emergence of a star-studded roster, similar to the Natus Vincere of 2011 and the Team Secret of 2014 we had in the early stages of this competitive Dota 2 journey.
It’s likely that we will see a new era of Dota 2 that will carry the burden of this Dota 2 palanquin for the next ten years. A succession is likely just around the corner with TI10 showcasing all potential successors. Perhaps a Dota 2 star will be born at TI10, or we may just have to wait since maestros like Puppey and N0tail will want to live out their legacy a little longer.