In many ways, the creation of Team Secret marks the origins of modern Dota 2. Not in terms of gameplay or meta, but in terms of the change in team management. The roots of the change started at The International 3, when crowdfunding was first introduced to the prize pool and it hit a then-record $2,874,380. Many were skeptical any TI would ever hit such a prize pool again and called it a bubble that would likely go down next year. By the end of TI4, the prize pool had more than tripled in size to $10,923,977.
The money, the prestige, the fame. TI had become the one: A tournament whose presence nearly dwarfed the entire scene to the point that all tournaments during the year were in some way reflected onto this one. And on that stage on TI4, the winners ended up being Newbee, An All-Star team with China’s strongest captain in Zhang “xiao8“ Ning and the world’s best player in Chen “Hao“ Zhihao. The results were clear. The top four teams were Newbee, Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses and Team DK. All of them (except possibly VG) were considered All-Star teams. This marked the end of the old-world way of thinking where players made a team they liked and thought could be good.
That idea of thinking was no longer enough to win; you needed the best team. With the amount of money on the line, with the competition getting fiercer by the year, with superstar teams already being assembled, it was only inevitable that the remaining stars of the teams would form an alliance to dethrone them. Thus Secret was born, with the first iteration beingClement “Puppey“ Ivanov, Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasom, Gustav “s4“ Magnusson, Johan“N0tail“ Sundstein and Tal “Fly“ Aizik.
The team was a combination of star players from Natus Vincere, Alliance and Fnatic. Puppey was one of the world’s best captains. He along with Kuroky, N0tail and Fly were four of the best Western supports, and s4 was a star play-making mid player. In order to fill the roles, they moved Kuroky to carry and Fly to the off lane. Although the roles were mixed, Secret was strong enough to get a top five at ESL One New York, second at StarLadder Season 10 and third at The Summit 2. But this wasn’t enough. The team wanted to be the best rather than merely among the best. It needed a better carry player and a better off lane.
On Jan. 6, 2015, Secret would get them. In the first blockbuster move that would come to define the Western Dota world, Artour “Arteezy“ Babaev and Ludwig “zai“ Wåhlberg moved from EG to Secret to make a team of All-Stars even stronger. Arteezy was one of the best carry players in the world (and for the following few months would become the best). Zai was renowned as one of the best support players, though he’d be moved to the off lane like Fly. Unlike Fly, he’d have no difficulty in the switch and became arguably the best off laner in the world.
Going into TI5, Secret was the presumptive favorite to win the whole thing. Instead, the players collapsed under the weight of their own mental issues and inability to adapt to the meta. Each player believed he had the largest say when it came to the team, and as long as they were winning, no problems arose. But once they started losing, tempers flared as Arteezy and Kuroky had an internal conflict that screwed up both their games. At the same time, s4 had put in the worst performance of his life, leaving only Puppey and zai. The only player who played beyond his capabilities was zai, who tried to carry Team Secret as far as he could, but there was only so much he could do when the team was falling apart around him.
The Secret All-Star team experiment failed. With so many conflicts in the most important tournaments of the year, the entire team decided to split. One year has passed since then, and now all five players of that All-Star team have come back to compete.
Puppey and Arteezy are heading to TI6 together once again. The road that got them was paved with the same philosophy that had created Team Secret, though it wasn’t nearly as smooth. After the dissolution of his team at Ti5, Puppey reformed Secret with Jacky“EternaLEnVy“ Mao, Johan “pieliedie“ Åström, Aliwi “w33“ Omar and Rasmus “MiSeRy“Filipsen. The new team didn’t have the era of pure dominance as the previous iteration did, but it was successful, as it won MLG World Finals and Nanyang, took second at the Frankfurt Major and won the Shanghai Major. After the victory in Shanghai, Secret went for another blockbuster move, as it replaced w33 and MiSeRy with Arteezy (again) and Saahil “UNiVeRsE“Arora, EG’s off laner and one of the best in the world.
The move didn’t work, and Secret endured its worst results of their careers. UNiVeRsE moved back to EG, to be replaced with Kanishka “BuLba“ Sosale. For Puppey and Arteezy, this has to be a strange affair. The team in terms of pure talent is still very strong, but last year had either the best or a top-five player in every role. This year, the roster is full of good to very good players, but no one could be argued as top five in their role at the moment. Yet this roster is much less likely to collapse, as the only large ego is Arteezy, and he has his the captain he respects most in Puppey. He has the two players he loves the most in EternaLEnVy and BuLba, both of whom had a hand in helping raise Arteezy to the player he is today.
After the failure at TI5, Zai took a sabbatical to finish his schooling. After it was finished, he initially planned to join Kaipi to qualify for TI6, but EG needed a fifth. And there were no free agents on the level of Zai, so he has rejoined his former team to challenge the tournament that he nearly killed himself trying to win.
S4 in his TI video said how he was a man who wanted to try new things. Apparently Secret was enough of that to last a lifetime, as he then went back to his old TI3-winning team, Alliance. They had one title win since and have over the course of 2015-2016 been a middling team.
The last member of that old Secret Team was Kuroky. His story is perhaps the most interesting, as he was the most criticized of the entire roster for the Secret collapse at TI5. He took the opposite philosophy Secret had the prior year and assembled a team on his own. All five have stuck together for the duration of the year. They’ve proven themselves to be one of the strongest teams in the world but have a penchant for falling apart come the biggest matches. The most notable example being their losses at the Manila Major.
One year ago, all five players came into TI as the presumptive favorites. Champions without a crown. They were humiliated. Now, one year later they have returned, each walking along a separate path that has led them back here. And this time they come as challengers.
Cover photo: Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com