The MVP Phoenix Korean squad of 2016 was never supposed to amount to anything.
In the past it was an unspoken assumption that Korea, a dominant force in so many other games, could conquer Dota 2 given enough time. People cited the dominance of Korean players in StarCraft and League of Legends as a precedent: both were wildly popular games across the world that fell under the hegemony of a tiny nation. As it turned out, the small size merely concentrated talent in cities where it could be systematically assembled and trained. Koreans had better discipline, superior work ethic and enjoyed the boon of financial support from large telecommunication companies and other financial entities. Historical precedent was too strong to ignore.
The reality was all internationally relevant Korean players could be counted on two hands. None of the factors that made Koreans great in those games applied to Dota 2. They had no relevant player base. They had no presence on established teams such as SKT or CJ Entus, and the existing teams lacked the backing of prestigious corporations to help their cause. So when I say that MVP created a miracle that year, I mean it. They mastered their “caveman” style and pushed it to its absolute limits. They over-performed at every international LAN they attended against seasoned competition. They refused offers to go onto better teams as they wanted to see how far they could push Korean Dota. In the end, they won DotaPit, had numerous other top placings, and ended up sixth at The International 6.
Last year was an incredible accomplishment and shocking in the context of what meager resources the Korean scene had. But in the end it wasn’t enough; this was as far as MVP could go. The Korean scene could never give the team the stability and security it needed, so at the height of its accomplishments, the team split. The roster of Pyo “MP” No-A, Kim “QO” Seon-yeop, Lee “Forev” Sang-don, Kim “Febby” Yong-min and Kim ‘“DuBu” Doo-young went its separate ways.
One year later, all five players are set to meet again. The roster behind MVP’s miracle run will challenge the obstacle that is The International, the most prestigious and nerve-racking event in Dota 2. People refer to the enormous prize pool, but that is is only a byproduct of what makes TI so valued. It is the tournament that everyone watches, the tournament that rings the loudest when we reminisce about history. Here, the miracle boys will do battle against one another to see which among them will go the furthest and perhaps grasp that coveted aegis.
QO, Febby, and DuBu initially decided to stay in MVP. Perhaps they believed that they could make the team work with the three veterans and two new players. If that was the case, their optimism was never rewarded; the team never gelled and the competition in SEA became more fierce than it was in the previous years. As MVP floundered, it was overtaken by other rising teams in the region. The only bright spot was that the team earned a direct invite to the Boston Major.
Forev and MP joined Team Secret under legendary leader Clement “Puppey” Ivanov. The team did well regionally in Europe but in the Boston Major qualifiers was eliminated by Ad Finem and Virtus.pro. In retrospect, we know that their unceremonious exit wasn’t a black mark: Virtus.pro would eventually prove to be one of the best teams in the world, and Ad Finem was on a hot streak that led to a finals appearance at the Major. But at the time it was a shocking upset, one Forev could not abide. After that loss, he quickly left the team to rejoin his old teammates DuBu and Febby for the Boston Major.
They ended dead last at the event, and this time no one stayed behind. Forev went on to play in B)ears, a Tier 2 European team that showed significant promise in its nascent days. DuBu tried his luck going to Team Onyx, a Tier 2 North American team that eventually qualified for the Kiev Major. Febby stayed in SEA as he went about trying to rebuild Fnatic’s lineup and reputation. QO took a break and played for a bit on Peter “ppd” Dager’s hobby team for a bit, but it never went anywhere.
It looked like a rough patch for all five players, but as TI7 rolled around, they all clicked with their respective teams to break through. MP’s decision to join Secret paid off as the team became top dog among the second tier teams in Europe. After a semifinal finish at EPICENTER and second place at The Summit 7, Secret maintained its form going into the TI7 EU qualifiers and took first place.
Fortunately for Team Onyx, B)ears petered out just as it ran up against the limitations of its talent. Forev was one of the best off laners available. So the team kicked Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho to make room. Onyx was then recruited by Digital Chaos and under that banner, Forev and DuBu reunited. Together they were able to make it out of the NA qualifiers in second place by defeating Team Freedom.
Febby continued his attempts to squeeze water from the Fnatic stone, but to no avail. The organization itself was willing to purchase the best players available in the SEA region, but they couldn’t formulate a cohesive play style. Throughout the drought, Febby and Chong “Ohaiyo” Xin Khoo stubbornly remained as other prospects came and went. Eventually their patience began to yield benefits. They recruited QO as he returned from his break to play for a TI7 spot. Additionally the team got Djardel “DJ” Jicko B. Mampusti; DJ had been the position 4 support for Fnatic in TI6 and the primary reason they secured top 4 that year. The final piece of the puzzle was burgeoning talent Lai “Ahjit” Jay Son as their carry player.
On paper this was the all-star team of the SEA region. In practice, the beginning was a disaster. They had no set identity or style, no clue how they wanted to approach the game or what their modus operandi would be. With the TI7 qualifiers breathing down its neck, Fnatic inadvertently stumbled across a breakthrough: it would play around QO and emulate the caveman style that brought MVP so much success. The gamble paid off as Fnatic secured the second seed out of the SEA region.
Divided among three teams, the five former MVP players will reunite once again at TI7. This time they will not return as soldiers in arms, but bitter rivals playing for the most important prize of the year. One year ago, the MVP roster created a miracle by showing that Korean Dota was something to fear. Today they fight each other, each putting it all on the line to prove that they have come the furthest.