“It didn’t work and it’s just sort of trauma and you don’t want to be reminded of it everyday when you look at each other. It really is fucking traumatic.” – Kyle “melonzz” Freedman about shuffling after TI
The International is the culmination of everything in Dota 2. It is the largest and most prestigious tournament of the year. It is the one everyone comes to see with the biggest prize pool of any single competitive game. The International is a huge festival that celebrates the game; it’s players and competition.
It is also one of the single most stressful experiences that a player can ever endure. In any esport, the major tournaments of the year are always markers for the end of teams. It is doubly so for The International because winning (or even placing high) is enough to validate your entire season. Likewise, an early exit can overshadow an otherwise promising year. Even when EG won the championship in 2015, they still switched players afterward.
Melonzz, the captain of compLexity, says it’s so traumatic that you can’t even look at your teammates without being reminded of failure. It makes sense because The International is the culmination of the entirety of your year, your career and your identity. Players have staked who they are as people on how good they are in this game, and when that comes crashing down, most can’t bear to be reminded of their failures.
The International is the apocalypse, and each year only one team is allowed to survive. Even the TI champions usually slip off after winning the event, as the entire thing was so stressful they have to take a break.
The four players who seem most affected this year by The International were Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao, Gustav “s4” Magnusson, Daryl Koh “iceiceice” Pei Xiang and David “MoonMeander” Tan.
Heading into the year, EternaLEnVy did an about face. His ultimate goal was to be the best player in Dota 2 history. To do that, he had to not only win The International, but he had to do it with a bunch of teammates that had never won, so that people couldn’t even insinuate him being carried by previous champions. He finally relented on that claim and “sold out” by joining Clement “Puppey” Ivanov on Team Secret.
While he had great success on the team earlier in the year, the team collapsed, and after one of his most stressful years culminated in another bad TI result, EternaLEnVy decided this was going to be his year off. He was just going to create a friendship stack, a team of players he liked, and they’d stick together and do whatever they could.
When Team NP’s lineup was announced, it looked underwhelming. The only two players of any renown besides EternaLEnVy were Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling and Theeban “1437” Siva. The two remaining players that filled out the roster were Arif “MSS” Anwar and Avery “SVG” Silverman. Neither had any notable deep runs in international competition ever.
It reminded me strangely of Cloud 9. They played for the late game and seemed just as likely to throw huge leads as they were to come back from massive deficits. As Moonmeander described it, “EternaLEnvy is scarier to play against when he sees a 10 percent chance of winning instead of a 90 percent chance of winning.” The team under EternaLEnVy’s leadership shocked the world, proving to be a strong team as EternaLEnVy led the team through the Boston Major qualifiers, got them to second place at Northern Arena and even got them a hot sauce sponsorship.
When we look at EternaLEnVy’s success as a leader, he seems to do the best with players that aren’t well known or don’t have incredible talents as world beaters but have unusual talents that have to be used in very specific ways.
S4 was once part of the Western all-star team known as Secret. At the height of their powers, they were untouchable, and each was legitimately one of the best players at his role during that period. They then bombed out of TI, and after an amazing interview with Valve where he said he liked to try new things, he went straight back to Alliance to play with his old teammates.
His journey mirrored EternaLEnVy’s own as he decided to take a year away from an all-star team — though in s4’s case it is harder to say if he thought of it as a break or if he believed that Alliance roster could still be a top-tier team. After losing at TI again, he has decided winning was pretty great after all. He then joined one of the best teams of 2016 (OG), which took third at MarsTV and second at the Summit.
Iceiceice is a unique player. He started his pro gaming career as a StarCraft II player and participated in the first Blizzcon. Afterward he switched to Dota 2 and was one of the standout players in the off lane from Singapore. His talents were so amazing that he was eventually invited to join the ultimate Chinese all-star team, DK, from 2013-2014.
That lineup is one of the most beloved in the history of Dota 2. Not only did it have the best players in every role, but they also played an amazingly loose aggressive style that enthralled the world. They were one of the few Chinese teams that had just as large a fan base in the West as in the East, and fans still wax poetic today about how incredible that team was.
Iceiceice himself regrets the dissolution of that team and in an interview said he’d be willing to do it again if the other four were part of it. After that, he played for multiple top Chinese teams, including VG and EHOME, and after struggling at TI made the decision i was time to go home.
After TI6 in August, he went back to Singapore with the intent of making a new team with friends he had wanted to play with. He and his team have now qualified for the Boston Major.
“It’s like the deeper the love the deeper the hate.” – Chen “Hao” Zhihao, legendary Dota 2 player on being a teammate
Moonmeander was a true believer. This was a player who had spent a long time playing with melonzz. Melonzz was a captain who believed in the team spirit and always had his teams try to be a team and be passionate about what they did. So when OG was formed, Moonmeander took to it like a fish in water.
All year, OG expressed it wasn’t a team about winning, but about friendship and casters — and fans ate that up. When other teams faltered, split apart or shuffled, they laughed and criticized those teams. “Why can’t they be more like OG? Friendship and team chemistry is what wins you championships!” They were one of the most beloved teams going into TI and were considered the favorites.
They then got eliminated by four Filipinos led by one Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho. This was the real test of friendship. It is easy to be friends when you’re winning, to work over your issues when all you do is win or place high. What about when you go to the hardest tournament of the year and fall out? Is the team strong enough to keep it together after that?
OG wasn’t, and after TI6, Moonmeander was kicked from the squad. This is what he had to say about it:
“I had no power over it. I wasn’t given a chance to defend myself. I was already home. They had a week to tell me to my face. I deserved to be told to my face. I was at two TIs with Fly. We won two majors together and we’re really good friends. But that talk never happened. They just told me I got kicked when I got home… it’s all business at the end of the day. At least I know now that whatever team I join I won’t put my emotions into it, I won’t fall into that trap again. This friendship thing is all bullshit, a facade. I guess I was wrong the entire time. I was just lying to myself with this whole friendship rainbow thing. At the end of the day, money talks.”
Moonmeander has since joined Digital Chaos, a team notorious for having players that want to get revenge on other teams for being kicked.
All four players will be with their teams at the Boston Majors. Some have joined an all-star lineup, others took the path of friendship or have sworn it off forever. This is the first Major that will shape the rest of their years and test their new philosophies and approaches on Dota 2.
Photos by Steffie Wunderl/ESL, eslgaming.com