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Comparing Dota 2 teams to their CS:GO counterparts

There are many apt comparisons between Dota 2 teams and their CS:GO counterparts.
Newbee is one of the Dota 2 teams with an apt CS:GO comparison. Photo courtesy of ESL.

As many of my readers love Counter-Strike, I thought I’d make a fun little comparison for some of the teams attending The International 7. Professional CS:GO is on hiatus, so I’d recommend enjoying TI7, the biggest extravaganza Dota 2 has to offer; it will be one helluva show. Initially I parsed it out as a simple match game, pairing the current rosters showing up to TI with similar Counter-Strike counterparts. But during the writing I couldn’t help but conceive of this process in organizational terms. Dota 2, like its FPS counterpart, has a rich history of teams rising to the occasion and sinking into woeful mediocrity. It’s only right to compare them in that way to understand the larger context of what each team represents.

Current Era

OG is an odd duck. It have always been clutch — winning four Majors since its creation in late 2015 — yet never dominant. A typical OG year features 1-2 erratic peaks in form, a couple of victories resembling a butcher facing anesthetized pigs, and at least 1 befuddling failure. As a team, OG immediately reminds me of Astralis: it plays a late-game-oriented style relying on great mid-late game decision making to compensate for mediocre starts. OG plays similarly to last year’s SK Gaming, but in terms of clutch is closer to the current iteration in terms of how unflinching the team can be under immense pressure.

Virtus.Pro’s Dota 2 team is more hypothetical. There’s no easy analogy from CS:GO to match this relatively unique team. VP in Dota 2 is a relentless juggernaut when tapping into its full potential, dominating the game from beginning to end with seamless teamwork and meticulously pulling apart opponents in important fights. When VP loses, it’s always in a specific way: the team crushes foes with a narrow set of strategies, so eventually a top-tier competitor deconstructs and counters it. The closest comparison I can think of is an alternate-universe Natus Vincere where Sergey “starix” Ischuk never relinquished in-game leader responsibilities in the coaching role. Even then, the pair isn’t that illustrative. Counter-Strike teams never cycle through strategies at the rapid pace Dota 2 demands, and starix’s methodical setups on T-side weren’t as tunnel visioned as VP’s approach occasionally became.

Invictus Gaming in its current iteration has no comparison I can determine. What it does have is the resurrection of a legend. Not just any legend, but the legend: Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei. He’s the most famous Chinese player to ever touch the game and someone whose prowess was so legendary, IceFrog gave a hero his name in tribute. But last year, it felt like BurNIng’s glory days were over. He felt outdated and eventually started to play the support role, usually a telltale sign a core player is in a slump. But he found his redemption on iG as he took up the role of carry once again and changed his style of play to someone who could both carry games and support his teammates. If we just look at BurNIng’s story alone, the most reminiscent analogue to this is Felip “NEO” Kubski’s run in Virtus.Pro in last fall where NEO became the legitimate second star of the team, and his rise to power directly translated to the resurrection of Virtus.Pro into a championship contender.

Evil Geniuses in Dota 2 strikingly resembles Fnatic somewhere between the Dennis-era team and the reformed roster. Both are highly skilled squads that can contend with the best based off talent alone, but sometimes they lack strategic depth. In particular, Andreas “Cr1t” Nielsen has struggled to match the reputation of predecessor Peter “ppd” Dager in terms of drafting prowess. He’s done far better than many of his harshest critics would admit, but Cr1t has ways to go before he earns a spot alongside the current CEO of EG. Both teams can’t win every event through pure skill, but they still have some of the best players in the world at top form.

Team Liquid is the Gambit of Dota 2. Both Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi and Danylo Zeus Teslenko were unceremoniously booted from highly respected teams, though the circumstances could hardly be more different. KuroKy was removed and then chastised by his former teammate, Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, as the problem; the community rallied around Arteezy to diagnose his former teammate as the toxic infection that ruined Secret. Zeus was a slumping support player floating in an existential void as starix had taken over as in-game leader. He was removed because he wasn’t performing up to snuff and Na’Vi had a chance to acquire Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev instead. Although Na’Vi never publicly addressed the issue with anything but good will, Zeus left with a sense of betrayal.

Both KuroKy and Zeus continued their careers undeterred, picking up young talent and leading them to glory. Overall, KuroKy enjoyed more consistent success (Liquid was the second best team in the world between TI5 and TI6) but Zeus recently won the PGL Kraków Major.

The best analogue to the modern-day Newbee is the 2015 Team SoloMid roster. Lurking just below the top 3, TSM could tackle any team with a reasonable chance at success. Yet when it attended the biggest events, the players crumbled under the pressure. Newbee is arguable an even bigger group of chokers than TSM/Astralis, going by record. The Danish CS:GO lineup was still able to win multiple respectable events in 2015, making opponents like Virtus.Pro and EnvyUs look hapless. All of Newbee’s event wins come against either lesser competition or even more infamous chokers like Cloud9. On top of that, TSM still did well at Majors, whereas Newbee almost always drops out in the early rounds.

Team Secret is the second iteration of Titan from 2015. Both Clement “Puppey” Ivanov and Kevin “Ex6TenZ’’ Droolans are legendary leaders of their games. Both have fallen off from that level of appraisal among their peers. That led Ex6TenZ to getting the leftovers of the French shuffle, while Puppey had to look abroad to SEA and tier 2 European talent for his roster. Both teams were strong regionally at their respective times and showed glimpses they could move up a tier.

Empire is the current CS:GO TyLoo. Both Empire and TyLoo are regional powerhouses with the talent to transform into international threats in the squad, but they cannot adequately control themselves to reach the next level. The reason Virtus.Pro Dota 2 succeeds is because it can control the davai and employ it at the appropriate times. Empire is still in the process of curtailing its worst vices, and restraint is often lacking. Same for TyLoo.

Fnatic is Liquid’s old lineup with s1mple, the second iteration that went to the finals of the ESL One Cologne last July. They are all-star teams built to supplement and support one superstar player. The primary difference is s1mple is a once in a lifetime prodigy, while Kim “QO” Seon-yeop is a superstar at his peak, but only at a very specific style. Their storylines look quite similar, too. Everything was a mess for Fnatic prior to the TI7 quals, but the team pulled it together at the last second — fittingly similar to Liquid’s dynamics leading up to Cologne last year. Fnatic, of course, dropped out of the TI7 group stage, but the comparison still largely holds.

Cloud9 is Na’Vi from 2015-2016 if you mixed in a healthy dose of North American Counter-Strike. Both teams became famous for getting second place finishes. Both teams are famed for playing in the late game. Both are considered highly strategic during their greatest periods of success. The analogy falls apart when you consider how their predilection for strategy manifested. The 2015-2016 Na’Vi roster was a structured team powered by routine and animated through a top-down hierarchy. Meanwhile, Cloud9 is a bunch of madmen, a team of theorycrafters with niche play styles who create games bordering the edge of genius and clown, science and art. Whereas you could rely on Na’Vi to always grind out T-side rounds in a mechanical, confident fashion, you can never rely on Cloud9 for anything. It can win the unwinnable and throw the unthrowable.

The current iteration of CS:GO’s mousesports makes a fine match with LGD. The rosters don’t stick out upon first inspection; in fact, they probably seem underwhelming compared to the more prominent teams of 2017. But here, synergy trumps name recognition. The teams have only one true superstar player each (oskar for mousesports and Maybe for LGD), so these established orgs rely on a good mix of rising talent with veterans. The veterans provide experience and leadership while the upstarts provide skill and firepower.

iG.V is Space Soldiers. Both are the two great onliners of our time.

Historical Comparisons

Invictus Gaming and Virtus.Pro are titans in terms of financial backing. Both boast huge investments from famous individuals as well as historical dominance within their respective regions (iG in China and Virtus.Pro in Poland). Yet the reigns were intermittent and unpredictable. iG and VP never found consistent success throughout the years as they ebbed and flowed, though Virtus.Pro found greater highs and lower lows in CS:GO.

Once HoN trash and now the darlings of the scene, it only took two years for OG to become the prime enemy and source of envy of the Dota world. Its success is owed to a willingness to embrace any strategy as long as it works and a indefatigable team atmosphere based on trust and responsibility. In that sense, OG has strong parallels to the rise of Luminosity/SK.

Empire is similar to another CIS staple, HellRaisers. Both were respected orgs in the earlier parts of their games before sinking into muddled mediocrity. Each had players bemoaned as too good to remain stuck with their counterparts. Both have recently made comebacks with new rosters and a renewed sense of mission.

Virtus.Pro in Dota 2 has become similar to its sister group in CS:GO. Sneg, the CEO of the organization, went on a rampage about how shit professionalism was in the CIS region, but he eventually found the one reliable piece that could anchor a respectable team. TaZ proved the missing block for the CS:GO team and now Solo appears to have fulfilled the same need in Dota. After turning around its fortunes, the Dota 2 team has re-signed for a year, the longest a Dota 2 team has ever committed to an organization since the early days. VP is already famous for those long-term deals in CS:GO.

Fnatic in Dota 2 is similar to Liquid in CS:GO. Both teams have gone to a region that has some success internationally, but they are never dominant. For Fnatic, it is SEA, and for Liquid it is NA. Both teams have tried various iterations of superteams built up from the players within the region and both have had trouble trying to find stability.

EG in Dota 2 is the VeryGames of CS:GO. Both were controlled by tyrannical despots: PPD and Ex6TenZ. Both leaders had tumultuous relationships with their superstar players where it wasn’t personal, but they could not see eye to eye about how to approach the game. For PPD it was Arteezy and for Ex6TenZ it was Richard “shox” Papillon. The biggest difference between the two was that none of the EG players was ever found out to be cheating so where PPD’s EG continued to be a force to be reckoned with, Ex6TenZ got the short end of the stick as no one could have known Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian was a cheater. To this day, we still don’t know if he ever did it at LAN. Another big difference is that PPD grew stronger when TI came, whereas Ex6TenZ has had pressure issues at the Majors. And finally, when Arteezy left EG, PPD was able to find a new equivalent superstar player in Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan.

The Chinese scene in general is what RFRSH wishes it could be in CS:GO: A monopoly that has ties to the players union, has multiple teams, and those teams have their own academy teams. Ruru still hasn’t been tried or convicted for having an API Steam key for years.

Cover photo courtesy of ESL


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