Southeast Asia in Trouble
Southeast Asia, as a region, has never been renowned for its DotA ability. At one time, not so long ago, the best team in the area was Zephyr, and if you’ve never heard of them, you’ve rather proven my point. With a lineup that included famous DotA personality Kevin “Purge” Godec and caster William “Blitz” Lee, they played specifically in Southeast Asia because they felt as though they were “too weak” to find success in North America or Europe.
Since then, of course, things have changed. A lot of talent has been fostered in Southeast Asia. MVP Phoenix has earned a bit of a reputation for their sometimes wacky, off-brand picks (the first that springs to mind is Park “March” Tae-won’s carry Warlock). They even placed 7-8th at The International 5 only a few months ago, which tied them with Team Secret, who were considered the stronger team at the time. 2015 saw the return of Mineski, a legendary Philippine organization, and they’ve eked out a pleasant little spot for themselves as part of the top shelf of SEA DotA. Lastly, after Team DK failed to perform to expectations at The International 4, captain Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung resurrected another legendary name in DotA, EHOME in his home country of Malaysia. After molting through team names for a year (EHOME, EHOME.my, Team Malaysia) they finally settled on Fnatic, and are generally considered the topflight team in the area.
Mineski and Fnatic were both able to qualify for the Frankfurt Major as the representatives of their region. Coincidentally, both teams also participated in the Nanyang Championships alongside many others they would see only a few weeks later in Germany. How did they fare? Not particularly well, I’m afraid. Neither team was able to make it out of the group stages. While Mineski seemingly needed a miracle to get out of their group (which included Vici Gaming and CDEC Gaming), Fnatic was viewed as having a much easier time. They were in a group that included Digital Chaos, who, in addition to having to play with a sub, weren’t even supposed to participate in the tournament (Cloud 9 was meant to have that spot but had to drop out due to visa issues). For Fnatic, the major issue that can be cited vis-a-vis their performance is growing pains. After their poor showing at TI5, they picked up two new supports and a new carry, Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier. Coupled with the ordinary issues that come along with a new roster, Black^ is European, not Malaysian. His problems with communication and willingness to learn/adapt got him booted from Vici Gaming earlier this year. Mineski, in many ways, were simply outmatched by the teams they were up against. Still a very nascent team, very few of their players have ever played a tournament outside their region, and it was their first LAN together to boot.
Is all this to say it is impossible for them to do well in the Major? No, but they both clearly need work, which is a problem all its own. For the best teams in Southeast Asia, they’re big fish in a small pond. They can only scrim and practice, in general, against smaller fish, not against the sharks they’re sure to face in international tournaments. For these two teams, the road ahead will certainly be difficult, they will need to work hard if they wish to make it out of group stages.
The 100% Club
The meta is well-reflected by pick/ban percentages at major international tournaments. To see which heroes are essentially the best, you need look no further than those who have been picked or banned in 100% of games at a LAN event. Months ago, at TI5, this club had two members: Leshrac and Gyrocopter, easily the two best carries of 6.84c. This past week, at Nanyang, those two had been replaced by two newcomers: Doom and Tusk.
Last year, during TI4, Doom was one of the kings of the “deathball” meta. His ult disabled everything an enemy had, dealt crazy damage, and was generally considered the best ability in the game, let alone the best ultimate. Then 6.82 came along, and the ult got its damage nerfed, its cast point increased, and its ability to disable passives removed. For a year he languished, forgotten entirely by professionals and pubbers alike. It was not till 6.85 that he would find himself played again. This was because of a buff to his ability, Scorched Earth, which, when activated, heals doom over time and deals the same amount in damage in an area around Doom, in addition to giving him a decent boost to his movespeed. This used to only be a pittance– at max level, it was 30 damage/heal per second for 16 seconds. In 6.85, it scaled much better, up to a whopping 45 damage/heal. Doom quickly became popular, played more often as a carry due to his early game damage. After Devouring an Alpha Wolf in the jungle, gaining some extra attack damage and crit chance, he becomes a juggernaut, able to roam around the map and secure easy kills for his team. In addition to being almost unkillable, his damage is massive and he’s difficult to escape from. He’s been called “The Gyrocopter of 6.85,” as he can soak farm if needed, but he can also be picked alongside a greedy midlaner and used more for his ability to get easy kills, earning him the dubious distinction of being banned in 80% of game at Nanyang.
Tusk, on the other hand, has been popular since 6.84c. He was seen a lot during TI5, and the minor nerfs he received in 6.85 did nothing to slow that roll (har har). Tusk is still the strongest roamer in the game. Every ability he has provides some form of lockdown or crowd control. He excels at level 6 ganks, where he can roll in for a stun, a knockup, and, if the unfortunate recipient has dreams of escaping, he can create a cage of ice around them to make it nearly impossible to walk out. As a roaming support or an offlaner, he combines utility with sheer gank potential. He plays nicely with any team composition, and that versatility has led to him being picked more in 6.85, despite his nerfs.
Secret is Back
Team Secret’s TI5 lineup was nothing short of incredible. The team, featuring some of the best players ever to grace the game, took first place at three premier LANs in a row without much in the way of contestation. Their play was crisp, akin to that of a team that had played together for years, not months. Their playstyle was funky, unpredictable, and, above all else.
Then it all collapsed. The team that was supposed to take first at The International 5 tied for 7-8th with MVP Phoenix. Some cited internal issues between the players as the main reason for their collapse, others simply thought they had been figured out. It didn’t matter what had happened, all that mattered to the players was that they had failed to perform. Afterwards they split apart– Arteezy returned to Evil Geniuses, Zai returned to school, s4 rejoined Alliance, and KuroKy created a new team: 5Jungzz (now Team Liquid). This left captain Puppey alone to make a new team from scratch. Pulling in EternalEnvy and Misery from the recently disbanded Cloud 9, freelance support Pieliedie, and legendary pubstar w33, he had made a squad that, frankly, was a bit of a question mark. Could Pieliedie and Envy work well together after their falling out a year ago? Was Misery ready to play offlane again? Was Pieliedie the same caliber of support that KuroKy was? Could Envy and w33, both known for being somewhat toxic and egotistical in their pub games, put that aside for the team? Could the mechanically proficient, but professionally inexperienced, w33 handle himself on the big stage? None of it mattered though, as Secret quickly assuaged all our fears and answered all our questions with a resounding “Yes.” Secret has shown time and again that it does not experience growing pains with new lineups, taking 2nd place at ESL One before getting 1st place at the MLG World Finals and NYC.
At Nanyang, they showed these successes were not flukes. Each player has something they offer:
Pieliedie does much with little. His professional career has been defined by him gaining very little in the way of experience and still managing to make a big impact on the game. He was playing Bounty Hunter long before it dominated 6.84c, and his aptitude for the hero is unparalleled. His Undying, Bane, and Lich, are also equally as potent, and his strategy of supporting the midlane helped w33 get ahead early and steamroll their enemies.
Puppey, as primary drafter, is always testing the limits of the patch he’s in (he’s the only person picking Disruptor right now), and his team helps him test these strange strategies. As primary shotcaller, he relaxes in the early game and gets some farm on his position 4 support, before uniting his team in the midgame for smart teamfights.
Misery is coming into his own in the offlane. He can play farming offlaners like Broodmother and Dark seer quite well, but he, like Pieliedie, can do a lot with only a little bit of farm/experience. His teleport rotations are generally on point, finding kills with high-impact crowd control offlaners like Tusk and Nyx Assassin. His Slardar is easily among the best in the scene right now, nary missing a stun in midgame teamfights.
w33 is a powerhouse midlaner. We knew this before he joined. We didn’t know whether or not he could translate that to success on-stage. Now we do. He’s bringing a strong carry presence to the game, picking high-damage greedy midlaners like Windranger or Shadow Fiend that he can carry the game on. His Meepo is so amazing, it’s forced enemy teams to ban it away even though it not a “meta” pick, leaving his team more wiggle room to take strong heroes (though it didn’t really show up at Nanyang)
Finally, EternalEnvy. The tragic hero of DotA 2. Despite how hard he tries, he’s always struggled to win a premier LAN. That all changed on Secret. Historically a very greedy, late-game focused carry, Envy has proven to us that he’s more versatile than we’ve seen of him in the past. Does the team need him to go offlane and get very little farm till later on? He’s on it. Does the team need him to soak up as much farm as he can and carry them out of a mess? He’s on it. Envy does whatever it takes to win, and that attitude, that fire, is going to carry Secret far.
Much of this success can not only be attributed to player skill, but also to their captain, Puppey. He has taken players of several distinct styles and experience and united them as one. A team solid in skill but fluid in draft and playstyle.
They still have room to grow, as all teams do, but if things persist as they have been, Secret is sure to do well at not only the Major, but at The International 6, and Puppey is sure to go down as one of the greatest captains to grace the game.
The Nanyang Championships gave us some of the most fun DotA we’ve seen in a long time, and there was certainly more to take away than what I’ve expounded on here: CDEC and LGD are struggling to replicate their successes at TI5, whereas EHOME and Vici Gaming did well at their first LAN since TI5, indicating that they’re strong contenders at the major. Feel free to drop me a line on social media and tell me what you took away from NYC. It will be an interesting reflection on the state of the game going forward.