The grand final of The International 7 was the height of the careers of the Newbee roster: Xu “Moogy” Han, Song “Sccc” Chun, Damien “kpii” Chok, Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi and Zeng “Faith” Hongda. The only one among them to ever win TI was Faith in TI2 — five years ago. After that, he went on a downward slide, but he fostered this all new lineup, which was poised for a TI title.They were the ones who believed they could break the cycle and defy fate, that China could bring home the Aegis on an odd year.
They were wrong. The grand final was a bloodbath, with the Newbee players exsanguinating from the brutal beating Team Liquid dished out. The first game was a whitewash and while each subsequent game was closer, it was clear Liquid was head and shoulders above Newbee in every way. Liquid took the series 3-0 and while the boys in blue lifted the trophy, Newbee was left to stew in a miasma of disappointment and regret. Moogy broke into tears at his own weak play, and another teammate said, “Stop crying! You’re going to make me cry too.”
The team could have broken up at that point. The International is a pressure cooker where teams fight to become the best in the world. The stress is excruciating for the players and management alike; how you perform relative to expectations will dictate whether the roster survives the post-TI shuffle. Teams almost never emerge from it intact. Everyone wants to be Icarus and almost all of them crash back to Earth, consumed by hubris and ambition.
As Kyle “melonzz” Freedman once said: “It’s just sort of trauma, and you don’t want to be reminded of it every day when you look at each other. It really is fucking traumatic.”
No one would have blamed Newbee if the players decided to make a change. Nearly every other team that gets close to winning TI changes its roster immediately following the tournament: there’s no time to contemplate stability as organizations gear up for the next year. This is doubly so following a tragedy of that magnitude, the greatest blow to a team’s sense of camaraderie. The last to do it was Natus Vincere from 2013, arguably one of the greatest teams of all time.
In the end, Newbee retained its starting five. As for why, who can say? As a team, Newbee has consistently disappointed in the late stages of tournaments. The players often tilt and choke, failing to finish the deal regardless of their performance prior to the deciding series. The results speak for themselves: Second at MDL 2016, bombing out of the Boston Major, second at China Top 2016, second at ESL One Genting, third at DAC 2017, bombing out of the Kiev Major, top 4 Starladder, second Manila Masters, third at MDL 2017, and finally second at TI7. Newbee’s only wins all year came at smaller events, Galaxy Battles and Zotac Cup. Newbee has been one of the strongest teams in 2017, but it never looked like a solid contender for the biggest titles.
It takes a certain kind of madness, a certain kind of will, to stick together after that. Newbee had finished living the worst days and now risks treading the same path all over again. But perhaps the pain will make the team stronger than before. Newbee’s biggest weakness was always the inability to play its best when the stakes were highest. So many top placings ended in disappointing losses. Almost all of them witnessed Newbee lose near the end of the tournament with subpar games shamefully far from the players’ usual standards.
Newbee has seen the worst of it now. Perhaps that is the reason the players have not swapped fout for more promising talent or synergy. Each of them realizes that the team as a whole is still one of the best out there, and now they have been forged by an experience so traumatic that they believe they can push past it. As Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
This time, Newbee will get as much experience as it needs playing those big game LANs. The Dota 2 tournament year is marked with a huge amount of Majors and Minors. Being the default Chinese invite for the foreseeable future, Newbee will get to attend as many as it wants. Newbee’s first test comes at Starladder i-League Invitational Season 3. While the majority of teams attending are newly christened rosters that should pose little trouble, the sweet opportunity at revenge waits for Newbee. The big dog scheduled to turn up is Liquid, who ruined Newbee’s dreams at TI. It’s one more test to see if Newbee can overcome the past.
At TI7, Newbee made the grand finals only to fail at the very end. Newbee was Icarus, plummeting to Earth as its waxen wings melted. But it wasn’t arrogance that drove Newbee to dare such mighty deeds, but a dream greater than the players themselves, one they could not give up. They survived their fall and their immediate answer was to get up and try again. That is why this incarnation of Newbee exists. This will be their first step in their long road back to the TI stage.