Another season of the DPC has started once again. The journey to The International 9 has begun. Much has changed since the last season. Teams, rosters, the circuit, and the meta. All things naturally change with the season. Even with all of those changes, the finals of the Kuala Lumpur Major felt like a blast from the past as Secret battled Virtus.Pro for the first Major title in the new Dota Pro Circuit. This was one of the matchups that defined the first quarter of the DPC from 2017-2018. Even then, neither team was the same as it was back then. Secret now had Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg and Michal “Nisha” Jankowski instead of Adrian “Fata” Trinks and Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard. As for Virtus.Pro, they had Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk back then. Once 2018 came around, Virtus.Pro replaced him with Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan and have since been the best team in the Dota2 world. Once he joined, they won three Majors and had top placings and were the Kings of Dota2. However that claim was challenged in the ensuing tournaments leading up to The International 8 and the following tournaments after. By the end of the Kuala Lumpur Major though, the world had reverted back and Virtus.Pro once again find themselves at the top of the scene.
The period leading up to The International 8 saw two teams rise and challenge Virtus.Pro’s supremacy: PSG.LGD and Liquid. PSG.LGD was a late comer into the DPC as their lineup didn’t finalize until the beginning of 2018 when they got Yang “Chalice” Shenyi and Yap “xNova” Jian Wei. Before that, they were a team struggling to get out of qualifiers, so they had to start winning those to get to the LANs. Once they did though, they became a force to be reckoned with and looked to be the most in-form team leading up to TI8, especially with their wins at EPICENTER and MDL Changsha Major. As for Liquid, they had been fighting Virtus.Pro all year and were their respected rivals. Despite that, Liquid had been unable to win any of the larger tournaments in the DPC 2017-2018. In the last tournament before TI8, the SuperMajor was held. All of the best teams in the world assembled and in that tournament, Liquid put on an encore performance that was reminiscent of their TI7 victory run. They beat all of the teams there and won the biggest tournament of the year before TI8 began.
By the time The International 8 started, Virtus.Pro by accomplishments were the best team in the world, but it seemed possible that they could be toppled. At The International 8, the meta shifted against them and at the same time, the pressure seemed to get to the players. All year, The Virtus.Pro players were stomping their competition and winning games in 10-15 minutes. At The International 8, it was a struggle as their style of play required extreme levels of execution. Levels of execution that Virtus.Pro had done all year, but were unable to conjure at the tournament. Instead other teams rose up in their place. PSG.LGD became the powerhouse team. At the same time, a last minute roster Western shuffle created two incredibly powerful teams: EG and OG.
EG had taken Tal “Fly” Aizik and Gustav “s4” Magnusson from OG. Along with Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan and Andreas “Cr1t-” Neilsen, this was an all-star team. The potential was off the charts on paper and it delivered at TI8 where they were the ones that set the meta through most of the tournament. In the wake of EG taking Fly and s4 from OG, OG had to scramble. They got Anathan “ana” Pham and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen to come into the team, changed roles, and then created the greatest miracle run in Dota2 history.
As for Virtus.Pro, they ended TI8 in 5-6th place. Respectable, but for the best team in the entire DPC, it was a disappointing finish. Going into the new DPC, new rosters were formed. Teams like VG and Secret made moves that helped them get to the next level. Both were finalists at ESL Hamburg and it was there that Secret won the tournament.
So going into Kuala Lumpur Major, the field was open. The last time we had seen Virtus.Pro they had disappointed at TI8. Outside of them, teams like EG, Secret, PSG.LGD, and VG were all in attendance. On top of that, newer teams had built some hype around them like Aster or NiP. While Virtus.Pro were still a great team, it wasn’t certain that they could come out on top in this field.
As the tournament began though, the Virtus.Pro that dominated the DPC of last year came back online. Whatever pressures or mental blocks that applied to The International didn’t come with them as they entered the Kuala Lumpur Major. They won their group and also beat Fnatic, NiP, and EG during their run. The biggest challenge they faced all tournament was Clement “Puppey” Ivanov’s Secret squad. They met twice, once in the winner’s finals and once in the grand finals. In the winner’s finals, they traded two victories and then had a long third game. That particular game between Virtus.Pro and Secret defines Secret’s strengths and Virtus.Pro’s weakness.
The current Secret roster includes: Puppey, Nisha, zai, Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng, and Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat. The basic strategy of the team is to have Puppey, YapzOr and zai create space for the two core players to carry the game. From there it’s hero and meta dependant. In this tournament played around the late game carry of Nisha to great success. Even though the lineup has changed from last year, the essential style of the team has remained the same. Get to the mid and late game and from there use Puppey’s knowledge and the star player’s carry potential to win the game.
Virtus.Pro had the opposite approach. They were truly the Virtus.Plow in both style and dominance. The lineup of: Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev, Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko, Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov, rodjER, and Alexei “Solo” Berezin created their empire by destroying everyone early on. They did that through their incredible individual skill, outplays, and early reading of the game. They are the best at controlling the pace of the early game compared to any other team in the world and only teams that have exceptional players or godlike teamplay have been able to stop them at their best.
However this style of play was ill suited for the meta as kills in lane don’t matter as much and the comeback gold meant that late game styles of play were far more rewarded than the early style of play that Virtus.Pro were employing. While Virtus.Pro could still use that style, the level of execution it required meant that they could make no mistakes.
At The International 8, they were unable to come to an answer as to how to reinterpret their style of play for the meta and that is one of the primary reasons why they were unable to go further in that event. That problem persisted at ESL Hamburg as they were unable to find the right heroes or answers. Coming into the Kuala Lumpur Major, my main question was to see how they’d answer that question.
They were able to find their answer as they were able to adjust the formula a bit. They were able to use their hero pool to come up with flex picks that could be used in multiple positions that were made to catch the enemy team off guard. At the same time, they focused on a level of teamfight throughout the tournament while having RAMZES666 be the primary win condition for the team. This eventually came into being in the grand finals as in the final three maps, they gave him the Terrorblade, which allowed him to play the same lane dominant style while having the best late game carry.
Where Virtus.Pro slightly altered their style of play to fit the meta, Puppey stubbornly stuck to his guns. Puppey as a captain and a leader is someone who seems to relish the hardest challenges. When [A]lliance’s best heroes were wisp and Nature’s Prophet, he always let the heroes through because he had an unshakeable confidence in himself and his team to break the enemies strategies. That mindset has continued throughout Puppey’s career and showed up in the winner’s finals third game where he let Virtus.Pro get Terrorblade and Secret won it anyway.
In the finals, the games the evolution of the game reached its apex for the tournament as Virtus.Pro pulled out some surprising picks and an enigma strategy that Secret didn’t see coming. After losing the first game against it, they were able to close out the second game. From there it became a game about Terrorblade. Did Secret have an answer for the pick? In the end, I think the better execution and skill of the Virtus.Pro players prevailed and Virtus.Pro won the finals 3-2.
In the aftermath of TI8, it was uncertain who was going to be the best team in the world. OG had won TI8, but are currently on break. Liquid burned out and while they tried to continue qualifying, they also decided to go on break. In that gap, teams like PSG.LGD, Secret, EG, and VG all came to the fore. PSG.LGD looked to be one of the best teams going into TI8 and got 2nd there. EG got 3rd at TI8 and on paper look to be one of the best western terms ever assembled. Secret and VG just got to the finals of ESL Hamburg. In the end, it was Virtus.Pro once again who came out on top. The kings that were continue to be the kings that are. Their grasp on that kingship remains tenuous as more and more teams like OG, Liquid, and whatever future roster shuffles happen will rise up to try to take the throne away from them. But for now the kings remain the kings. Dota2 is once again Virtus.Pro’s kingdom and it is up the rest of the world to try to topple it.