Redemption: TI to now

April 21 2017

After The International 2014, Team Liquid spent over a year without a Dota 2 team. The inevitable roster shuffle dispersed each of the remaining players from our TI4 squad, and they joined different orgs to varying success. TI5 and its own shuffle came and went, yet there was still no word from Nazgul about the fate of TL’s return to the scene.

For most fans of the organization, it was blasphemy to let free agent after free agent slip by, anxiously waiting for us to return to the scene. For Nazgul and the rest of Team Liquid, it was a matter of waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise – not any team of five would do. Just when it seemed like we would spend another Dota season teamless, we found that roster, picking up a team of European outcasts known as 5Jungz. This signing heralded a new era of success for the organization as the team placed highly in every premier event that we participated in leading up to TI6.

Suddenly, it all came crashing down.

This moment would signal the end for a roster that was considered a strong favorite to win it all in Seattle, or at least place within the Top-3. Dropping into the loser’s bracket so early and falling out of the tournament in 7th/8th place was not a prediction that anyone would have made going into it. After TI6, FATA- announced that he would be taking a break from Dota, leaving us without a stable midlaner. Jerax, too, revealed that he would be leaving TL to go to OG – a divorce that left us without a roaming support that could generate opportunities and prop his cores up on his back when called upon to do so. Both of these voids in our roster were virtually irreplaceable.

One of these gaping holes would be filled by the 19 year old superstar, Miracle-. For a player of his calibre to join Liquid was an enormous deal and an obvious boost to the team. Mechanically gifted and mentally tough, the Jordanian midlaner is in a class of his own when looking at all of the European, if not global, talent. Within his first official matches on Team Liquid, he was outplaying teams with mid Rubick – a position for that hero that hasn’t seen regular professional play since the likes of Dendi at TI2. Putting him in a tier with Danil is impressive in its own right.

Even with Miracle-’s sheer skill, he is still a player that requires his supports to play around him and create space. We still needed to find that 4-position support that could roam like Jerax and synergize with captain KuroKy – something that we struggled to cope with for a very long time after TI6. Could we ever replace someone as adept at his role as Jerax? Our first attempt at a new roster at the end of 2016 saw less than stellar success with us failing to qualify for the Boston Major and other major winter Dota 2 events. Our inability to make it to the LAN portion of these events meant that we would need to take the winter to lick our wounds and reconsider our approach. It was a painful season, watching other teams compete for the top prize in Boston with Liquid watching from their homes. Our backs were up against the walls, but we were not done quite yet. We turned to a ringer for the boost that we needed to bring our all-star lineup to the level that was expected of a Team Liquid squad.

Enter: GH-God, a relatively unknown Lebanese player. His most notable achievements prior to playing with Team Liquid were in 2014 by being picked up by E-LAB, the first Middle Eastern Organization to sponsor a professional Dota 2 team. He would quietly participate in tournaments with them, and even stood in for The Imperial, all the while climbing up the MMR Leaderboards for the next few years. Eventually, Liquid took notice during their time of need and had him try out for the team. While he was known for his Magnus play in pubs, we would eventually benefit from his excellence on supports like IO and Rubick, which quickly became his signature heroes. Team Liquid had finally gotten themselves a 4-position that could protect Miracle-, give his carry an easy lane, and create space when required of him.

The only thing that was left was to bring our 27k MMR onto the big stage. The first test of our mettle would come in Dreamleague – and we showed up to play. Without dropping a SINGLE game throughout the offline playoffs, TLDota crushed the competition and steamrolled their way to victory, taking home the top prize with ease.

However, this success wouldn’t come without doubt from pundits that considered the teams that we played against sub-standard. They wanted to know what we would look like up against the big powerhouses of the European and global Dota 2 scene. Several qualifiers later, we found ourselves proving the strength of this new roster by earning the right to book our flights to China for both Starladder and DAC off of the back of impressive performances against Europe’s best. This set us straight on a collision course with the best teams in China at Starladder – our final exam before Kiev invites. Not only did Liquid pass the test in China by making quick work out of two of the three Chinese direct invitations to the Kiev Major, including the winners of TI6, but we won the tournament in thrilling fashion.

It had a little bit of everything: stomps, tenacious defenses, and near-comebacks. Every game reinforced the same belief: this team is resolute, no matter the circumstances. While the first game of the Grand Final was a loss, Liquid managed to keep it close. And, despite being down 25,000 gold, we never truly looked out of the game even when the odds were stacked against us. Refusing to tilt ourselves out of the tournament after such a loss, Liquid would immediately rebound with a 24-minute smashing of VG.J, a classic Liquid game. We followed that up with two more games that showcased exactly how strong this team is. The most memorable game of this series was Game 3 – a true showcase of what this team is capable of and an absolute clinic. The coordination and communication between all members of the team during one of the best split-pushing performances of all time is enough to raise the hairs on any Dota-fan’s neck even almost a month later.

What implications do these matches all have for Kiev and which team will show up, though? Despite the setbacks that we encountered at DAC, Team Liquid is certainly heading into this tournament with the expectation that they will place very well. The team earned a direct invite from Valve with startlingly impressive play, and it is unlikely that the magic from StarLadder has abandoned us so soon. Many are drawing comparisons to last year’s team’s string of strong placements leading up to TI6, stumbling at the Summit right before the tournament. No matter which side of the fence you are on, though, few would deny the potency and versatility of this Liquid roster.

Yet, DAC is still a warning that the team and its fans must heed. Despite our ability to play at an extraordinarily high level leading into that tournament, it was evident that we still have kinks that need to be worked out. Thankfully, TL was able to boot camp prior to attending the Major and that will have hopefully ironed out our strategies heading into this week. Should things go according to plan with the Liquid from Starladder showing up to play (and we have a feeling they will), Captain KuroKy and the rest of the team will be raising the trophy at the end of a grueling week in Kiev.

Writer: // Bluemoon
Photo Credit: // STARLADDER
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