Despite being full of talented young players, it’s no secret that the CIS region has struggled in top-tier Dota 2 recently.
Previously strong teams like Virtus.pro, Vega Squadron and Team Empire, who dominated online tournaments and showed strong LAN performances in 2015, are having difficulty finding wins and are instead making huge, unexpected changes in order to find success where they previously could not. Virtus.pro failed to reach the quarterfinals at last month’s Shanghai Major and was eliminated in the first round of DotaPit by compLexity, a rising North American/Swedish team.
Team Spirit, the only other hope for the region, was the second team eliminated in Shanghai and swapped out two key players, citing internal issues. The sad truth is that there are many self-imposed issues within the scene that prevent a true championship team from rising.
For those unfamiliar with the semi-pro tournament circuit, CIS is king in that level of professional Dota. While Virtus.pro was the only team from the region deemed worthy of receiving an invitation to the Shanghai Major, seven out of the 10 teams in the European qualifier were CIS organizations with players from Russia, Ukraine, and one from Kazakhstan (Dulat “goddam” Seidimomyn of HellRaisers). The region has a massive amount of people playing Dota 2, and many of them are extremely high-skilled players fighting for top spots on leaderboards.
Naturally that leads many to pursue professional careers, as they enjoy the competition. So why, with all this incredible talent, has a CIS team been unable to regularly win championships?
My kingdom for a captain!
When thinking of captains in any other region, certain names stand out by virtue of their accomplishments: Peter “PPD” Dager and Kyle “Swindlemelonzz” Friedman stand out in North America, Zhang “xiao8” Ning and Xu “fy” Linsen are top captains in China among numerous legends, and Tal “Fly” Aizik led the European team OG to victory in the Frankfurt Major. The top name for years in the CIS region had been Clement “Puppey” Ivanov.
Despite Estonia not being part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Puppey earned the title of top captain in CIS — and arguably the world — after winning the first International in 2011 and placing second in 2012 and 2013. Puppey’s decision to leave Natus Vincere after The International 2014 and form Team Secret with a collection of European players (and eventually some Canadians) hurt the CIS region significantly.
Going by accomplishments, Artsiom “fng” Barshack from Belarus is the one remaining top captain in the region, and even Virtus.pro is suffering. The other name that comes to mind is Artur “Goblak” Kostenko, but even the illustrious Ukrainian captain lacks the major tournament wins necessary to claim the title of top CIS captain. There are very few “top” captains for the region to reign in some of the younger, less disciplined players who are highly skilled but make poor decisions at times or have difficulty adapting to a team environment, which causes arguments within the team and leads to more changes.
Suicide lane? No thanks.
Thinking about the top CIS players by role, there are plenty of strong names in every major position but the offlane. By contrast, the region has some of the best mid laners in the world – so many that they don’t know what to do with them. The current situation is so weird that players like Alexander “XBOCT” Dashkevich, a top professional carry player for over five years, was forced to switch things up by playing in the offlane for a brief period. Victor “GeneRaL” Nigrini, another up-and-coming mid lane player, joined Na’Vi to play the offlane role despite playing an extremely impressive mid position against formidable opponents.
That doesn’t mean that the CIS does not have good offlane players. Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov, Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin, Andrey “Mag” Chipenko, and Alexander “DkPhobos” Kucheria are solid offlaners, but there are more teams than there are players who want to stay in the offlane. Maxim “yoky-” Kim, formerly an offlane player who had an extraordinary showing at The International 2015, grew tired of playing in the suicide lane and wanted to play in either the carry or mid position. Community members speculated that yoky’s decision to step away from the offlane severely impacted the old Team Empire roster, which officially disbanded its remaining roster and started from scratch last month.
Out with the old…
Another issue that plagues the region is constant roster changes. If things are not working immediately, often teams will make a change instead of trying to stick it out together. There are, of course, exceptions: Virtus.pro did not make changes to its lineup after missing the semifinals at The International 2015. Vega Squadron stuck with the same team since April last year despite a few major defeats in qualifiers for big LAN events (until just recently, when Pavel “9pashaebashu” Khvastunov was removed from the lineup).
Of course, it should also be noted that Virtus.pro did eventually change out its carry Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev for Airat “Silent” Gaziev in November, but the team’s fortunes ultimately did not change much. That prompted another shuffle, as the team absorbed three former Team Empire players.
Most CIS teams not in the top ranks internationally will make numerous changes if they think things are not going according to plan. One example that stands out is the grand final of the ProDotA Cup #3 between Ad Finem and ProDota Gaming. After losing two games in a row, ProDota kicked captain Khaled “sQreen” El-Khabbash mid-series and had former Tornado.RoX player Vladimir “yol” Basov stand in for the rest of the series. The team went on to win the remaining games, but the point is that if results are not satisfactory, many players do not have the patience to endure losses and improve together.
It’s common in Dota 2 and even eSports in general, but the CIS teams exaggerate the tendency so much it’s impacting the chances of the entire region to succeed. With multiple potentially great teams making changes so often, it’s hard to say that one will ever be stable enough to reach the top.
It’s hard to say where exactly the CIS region goes from here. With rosters locked until The International 2016 this August, it will be interesting to see if any of the teams can rise above their past issues. If these teams – Virtus.Pro, VP.Polarity, Team Spirit, Vega Squadron, Fantastic Five, Team Empire, Na’Vi and Power Rangers – stick together and put in the work required of them to grow as individuals and as a unit, there could be a championship level team among them.
The region doesn’t lack for capable scrimmage partners like North American teams often do, and at the Tier 2 level many of these teams dominate their European opponents. Can they avoid the pitfalls that have ruined teams with great potential in the past? Only time will tell.
Cover photo by Steffie Wunderl/ESL, eslgaming.com