Raising the Greenwall in Vancouver: OpTic Gaming look to ascend to the top of the hierarchy in North America and claim the region’s second TI title.
Another year of Dota 2 action has come and gone, and the stage is now set for the Dota 2 world to once again come together to enjoy and celebrate the game on the biggest and most prestigious of stages: The International. With The International 2018 fast approaching, it seems appropriate to offer fans both new and old some information on the squads that will be fighting in Vancouver for a chance to lay claim to the Aegis of Champions and cement themselves a place in Dota 2 history. Each post in this series will provide a brief profile of one of the 18 teams that have earned a place in the field at TI8, including a small overview of the team/organization’s history, a breakdown of its 2017-2018 season, a look at the players on the team’s roster, and expectations entering TI itself. Whether you’re deep into the pro Dota scene already or just looking to get your feet wet in preparation for TI8, the hope is that these profiles will give you a bit more insight or a refresher course for the teams that will be playing in Vancouver in August. With that in mind, we will focus on 1 of 3 teams from the North American region that will be participating at TI8, and the final team to earn its place in Vancouver through the qualifiers: OpTic Gaming.
Region: North American (NA)
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 9th (1800 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: TI8 North America Qualifier (3rd Place)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 7 (2 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: 0 (TI Debut)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
2nd – ESL One Birmingham 2018
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
1st – StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5
Non- Pro Circuit Events
2nd – ROG MASTERS 2017
OpTic Gaming stands as one of the longer lived organizations in the esports world, with the North American team tracing its roots back to 2006 in the competitive Call of Duty scene. From relatively humble beginnings, OpTic Gaming transformed itself into household name in the Call of Duty world, amassing an incredibly large fanbase over the years through both its play in professional tournaments and its wildly successful Youtube channel. The organization has been expanding in the time since its founding, fielding teams across a variety of different games and even branching out from its shooter-heavy origins.
That expansion brought OpTic Gaming to the Dota 2 world for the first time in the organization’s history. However, the team’s limited experience within the MOBA genre shifted its focus more towards trying to pick up an already established squad with previous experience as opposed to trying to put together its own roster from scratch. With the first Pro Circuit season approaching its start in September of 2017, the organization was hoping to sign a squad relatively quickly and get itself into the mix in Pro Circuit qualifiers as soon as possible. The stars aligned for OpTic Gaming, as the organization found a sponsor-less, North America based squad with veteran experience in the form of The Dire. The team had formed near the beginning of September, and just a few weeks later, the roster was acquired to create the first ever OpTic Gaming Dota 2 lineup.
Season in Review
The new OpTic Gaming roster immediately set to work on establishing itself as a power within the North American region. When the team was playing under the name The Dire, it had managed to earn 2 2nd place finishes in Pro Circuit qualifiers, along with a victory in the King’s Cup: America tournament. That victory gave the team a guaranteed spot at the DOTA Summit 8 Minor in December, but the North American squad was hoping to make its Pro Circuit debut a little bit earlier than that. Despite putting together Top 4 finishes in all of its qualifier runs in 2017 under the OpTic Gaming name, the team was unable to secure itself any other appearances on the Pro Circuit stage that year. However, its impressive showings within the North American region did help the team find some success away from the Pro Circuit as well. The team won the North America Qualifier for both the ROG MASTERS 2017 and Galaxy Battles II (listed as a Pro Circuit event at the time of the qualifier, but dropped from the schedule before the start of the tournament). While the team withdrew from the latter event, it did participate at the ROG Masters 2017 and finished 2nd overall. Despite those encouraging performances to start its campaign, OpTic Gaming had to contend with roster changes just months into the season. Rasmus “MISERY” Filipsen left the squad in November, forcing the team to play out its remaining matches for the year with a stand-in. All of these occurences culminated in the team’s first appearance on the Pro Circuit stage at the DOTA Summit 8, but the team finished near the bottom of the standings with a 6th-7th place finish to close out 2017.
2018 saw OpTic Gaming confident in its ability and its chances at continuing to compete within the North American region. The squad had picked up a new member, as Neta “33” Shapira joined the team as its new offlaner while Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg shifted to the support role. The roster changes had an immediate effect on the team, as OpTic Gaming put together Top 4 finishes across 6 of its first 7 Pro Circuit qualifiers in 2018. Those runs including 2 1st place finishes in qualifiers for The Bucharest Major and the ESL One Katowice 2018 Major, marking the team’s first Majors and its first Pro Circuit appearance since adding 33 to the lineup. The team’s performance at ESL One Katowice was not very impressive, as it finished in the 9th-12th place position overall. However, the team managed to put together a stronger showing in Bucharest, falling just short of its first Qualifying Points of the season with a 5th-8th place finish at that event. The North American squad may have been struggling to break through in the international level, but within its home region it continued to be a stable and formidable force, claiming 3 straight Top 4 finishes across Pro Circuit qualifiers in March. Those performance lead up to another shot on the Pro Circuit stage at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major in April. but OpTic Gaming would again fall short of success with a 7th-8th place finish in Shanghai. Just 2 weeks later, the breakthrough finally occurred for OpTic Gaming at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor. With 4 time consecutive event Champion Team Liquid not in the field for this iteration of the tournament, the field was wide open the OpTic Gaming to claim its first Minor Championship and its first Qualifying Points on the Pro Circuit. That first taste of success on the Pro Circuit stage seemed to be the catalyst that the team needed, and a little over a month later, OpTic Gaming claimed a 2nd place finish at the ESL One Birmingham Major to put itself within striking distance of a Top 8 spot in the Pro Circuit standings. The team came just 1 series short of that mark in its final Pro Circuit appearance at the China Dota2 Supermajor, losing to Virtus.pro to finish in the 5th-6th place position. While the team may have ended the season just outside of the Top 8 in the standings, OpTic Gaming was quickly able to recover from any lingering disappointment to mount a successful campaign in the TI8 North America Qualifier to punch its ticket to Vancouver all the same.
Per Anders Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille (Carry) – Of all the players in the field this year at TI, Pajkatt stands as one of the most experienced, with a career stretching back all the way to the original DotA. The carry player has seen action across a multitude of regions and teams, giving him a rather unique perspective and a veteran presence that few other active players in the Dota 2 world can match. The Swede began his career back in 2009 playing for Xeo Divine, and quickly began building up a reputation as something of a journeyman. Pajkatt ended 2009 on the roster of BFB, but would not remain a member of that lineup for long as he bounced between 5 different squads in 2010. Ducky’s Dream Team, Blight, LOST, TeamHome, and NWO all picked him up for a time, but Pajkatt was unable to stick with a single roster on a long-term basis. In 2011, the Swedish carry joined GGnet before becoming a part of the OK.Nirvana.int lineup that would transition into Dota 2 just in time for first ever iteration of The International. Pajkatt and his teammates finished 7th-8th at the event, but soon after the team disbanded and around half of the team’s lineup, including Pajkatt, was signed by Evil Geniuses. Once again Pajkatt found himself bouncing between teams, as 2012 saw him move from Evil Geniuses to eXperience Gaming and then to Counter Logic Gaming within the span of just 2 months. However, his tenure with CLG would last significantly longer than his previous stops, as Pajkatt helped the team establish itself on the international level and even earn itself a place at TI2. A 9th-12th place finish spelled the end of Pajkatt’s time with the organization, as he joined the roster of LGD International just 1 month later. Despite a somewhat lackluster series of performance in 2013, LGD International received an invite to TI3, but Pajkatt once again finished in the 9th-12th place position and the lineup disbanded before the end of the year. 2014 saw Pajkatt return as a member Team Dog, helping the team earn a place at ESL One Frankfurt 2014 before being picked up by Mousesports and winning the TI4 European Qualifiers. Once again though, Pajkatt’s squad struggled at The International, finishing in the 11th-12th place position and disbanding soon after. Pajkatt closed out 2014 with European squad Team Tinker, posting a few strong performance on the international level before the end of the year. The start of 2015 brought yet another new team for Pajkatt, as the Swedish carry was picked up by Swedish team Alliance in its roster rebuild. The team started out the year strong with a handful of quality performances, but quickly lost its momentum over the following months and ultimately failed to qualify for TI5. Pajkatt left the team soon after that failed qualifier run, and finished the year on the roster of 4 Clover & Leprechaun. In 2016, the majority of the team formed a new squad called Mamas Boys, earning itself a 4th place finish at the Captains Draft 3.0 tournament and participating in the Europe Qualifier for The Shanghai Major. However, the team’s player were soon picked up by other squads, and Pajkatt went on a year long hiatus from professional Dota before reappearing in February of 2017 as a member of the new Na’Vi lineup. Despite a few solid qualifier runs in April and May, that Na’Vi squad failed to accomplish much, and Pajkatt left the team in July. A few months later, Pajkatt joined the squad known as The Dire and was signed with the team by OpTic Gaming just a few weeks later. Pajkatt’s experience within the Dota 2 scene is extensive, and the sheer length of his career and the number of squads that he has played for gives him a staggering amount of insight into the game. His teams have often struggled to find success, but Pajkatt has proven himself to be a relatively consistent contributor at the carry position. With a veteran captain at the head of the team and fellow core players known for more aggressive play, Pajkatt hopes that this year will finally be his opportunity to put his squad in a position to succeed on the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world.
Quinn “CC&C” Callahan (Mid) – CC&C is a player that many may have heard of more for what he has said than what he has accomplished in the Dota 2 world. The U.S. midlaner has been known to be rather outspoken, and had been involved in some incidents that may have rubbed fans the wrong way. However, CC&C is an incredibly talented player that has worked his way into the spotlight both within his home region and in the wider Dota 2 world. His career began as a pubstar, grinding his way to a position near the top of the MMR leader boards in North America and making a few appearances as a stand-in before being officially picked up by FDL in 2016. The team was able to put together a few solid performance in regional qualifiers, and even finished 4th in the TI6 Americas Qualifier before CC&C left the squad in September. After a few months as a stand-in and freeagent, he returned to the team in January of 2017 as part of its reformed roster, but this iteration of FDL lasted just 2 weeks before disbanding. With the disbanding of FDL, CC&C found himself joining is GG in April, helping the team win the Americas Qualifier for the ZOTAC Cup Masters. Around 1 month later, CC&C and the rest of is GG was signed by Team Freedom, but withdrew from the ZOTAC Cup Masters the next day due to scheduling conflicts. The team finished 1st at the Dota 2 BEAT Invitational – Season 8 and claimed a 2nd place finish in the NA Division of DreamLeague Season 7 that helped establish the squad as a potential contender within its home region. Unfortunately, Team Freedom came up short in the TI7 North America Qualifier, finishing 1 spot shy of a spot at TI in 3rd place. Following that qualifier run, the team was largely inactive, leading CC&C to officially join The Dire and OpTic Gaming in September. CC&C has always been a strong player within the North American region, but his limited experience on the international level prior to joining OpTic Gaming raised questions about whether he was a legitimate contributor or just a big fish in a small pond. This season has put quite a few of those questions and doubts to rest, as CC&C has shown that he is capable of competing with some of the premier midlaners on the Pro Circuit. He has shown an ability to play both tanky, stabilizing heroes and more aggressive, high impact ones in the middle lane. That versatility has often left OpTic Gaming spoiled for choice in terms of how it wants to approach a draft, and makes the team a hard opponent to predict and prepare for heading into TI8. He may not be in the discussion in regards to the best midlaners in the world just yet, but CC&C figures to play a massive role if OpTic Gaming has any plans to make a successful run in Vancouver. We’ve seen star players emerge on The International stage before, and CC&C will certainly have his opportunity to truly make a name for himself on the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world at TI8.
Neta “33” Shapira (Offlane) – OpTic Gaming has been a team that has enjoyed keeping its opponents guessing in terms of its strategies and play style. The North American squad has shown a remarkable level of versatility and flexibility this season, and 33 has proven to be a significant contributor to the team’s success with a wide hero pool in the offlane position. 33 has shown himself to be more than proficient with the usual single target initiators and team fight winning heroes like Beastmaster, Tidehunter, and Pangolier. However, he has also shown himself capable of playing a mix of aggressive and greedy heroes as well, picking up heroes like Lycan, Broodmother, Night Stalker, and Visage that drastically alter the way a team goes about combating OpTic Gaming. This high level of versatility is a skill that 33 has developed over what has been a somewhat short, but very busy career in the Dota 2 world. His time as a professional player officially began in December of 2015 as a member of No Logic Gaming, where he made a handful of appearances in minor European tournaments but found relatively limited success. In February of 2016, the team disbanded, leaving 33 to play as a stand-in for a couple of months before joining the roster of Kaipi in June. 33 helped the squad win the Wellplay Invitational #2 and the EU Qualifier for WCA2016, in addition to earning Top 3 finishes at the NoShang Invitational, the WellPlay Invitaional #3 & #4, and the ProDotA Cup Europe #9. Unfortunately, the squad could not maintain any momentum in the second half of the year, and the team disbanded in October. 33 spent the remaining months of 2016 with the roster of ProDota Gaming, but left the team when its new roster was announced in January of 2017. He found himself back on the roster of a newly reformed Kaipi, but the team remained essentially inactive, and 33 continued to serve as a stand-in for a couple of European squad for the first few months of 2017. In April, 33 officially left the Kaipi roster to rejoin ProDota Gaming, helping the squad claim victories in the StarLadder ProSeries Season 18 and the ProDotA Cup Europe #17 within his first few weeks with the team. The team continued to put up solid results within the European region, but left its organization just days before the TI7 Qualifiers to play under the name Planet Dog. The newly formed Planet Dog roster fought its way through the Open Qualifiers and the TI7 Europe Qualifier to earn itself a place at the event. The squad’s performance also drew the attention of a new organization, as 33 and his teammates were signed by Hellraisers around a month after their TI Qualifier run. The team did not perform well in Seattle, with Hellraisers finishing in last place in the 17th-18th position. The squad remained together through the start of the Pro Circuit season, but was unable to break through European qualifiers. In December, Hellraisers dropped its Dota 2 division, and just a week later 33 was picked up by OpTic Gaming to serve as the team’s new offlaner. 33 had shown talent and potential in his previous runs within the European region, but the shift to OpTic Gaming and the North American region has given him room to show off a wider range of abilities and heroes compared to what we’ve seen in the past. The option to switch between more conventional play making initiators and more aggressive, farming heroes in the offlane has been a vital part of OpTic Gaming’s success this season. If the team wants to carry that success onto the TI8 stage, then 33 will be a crucial contributor and a major factor in the team’s game plan.
Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg (Support) – In talking about OpTic Gaming this season, we often stress the versatility of the squad and its ability to shift between a number of different play styles and strategies. Zai has been a huge part of that flexibility, as the young Swedish player has repeatedly been able to switch seamlessly between the offlane and support positions depending upon the needs of his team. Zai will enter TI8 at just 21 years of age, making him still relatively young despite already having been in the professional Dota 2 scene for several years. The young Swede’s career began back in 2013 with a group of Heroes of Newerth players that transitioned to Dota 2 to form North American squad Stay Free. That team was short lived though, and in November of 2013, zai joined the roster of Super Strong Dinosaurs for around a month before that squad disbanded in December. Zai began 2014 on the roster of S A D B O Y S alongside longtime teammate Peter “ppd” Dager and 3 members of Evil Geniuses. Less than a month after the squad was first seen playing together, the Evil Geniuses picked up the entire roster to form its new lineup, marking zai’s first stint with a major organization. That team would go on to dominate the North American region and establish itself as a contender on the international level with victories in the HyperX D2L Western Challenge and the first iteration of The Summit, along with a 2nd place finish at ESL One Frankfurt 2014. Those performances earned zai and his teammates an invite to TI4, and the North American squad managed to finish in 3rd place after a loss to Vici Gaming in the Lower Bracket Finals. That success at TI cemented EG’s place as a leading team in the Dota 2 world, and the squad closed out the year with a slew of impressive performances and victories in international events. 2015 would bring change for Zai, as the Swedish support joined the roster of Team Secret and transitioned back into the offlane role. His tenure with the European squad began with a 3rd place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015, a performance that sparked an incredible run from Team Secret in the following months. With consecutive 1st place finishes at the Red Bull Battle Grounds, The Summit 3, the MarsTV Dota 2 League 2015 Spring, and ESL One Frankfurt 2015, Team Secret was a lock for an invite to TI5. Unfortunately, the squad couldn’t get it done in Seattle, and zai finished in the 7th-8th place position while his former team, Evil Geniuses, claimed their first eve TI title. In the aftermath of TI5, zai announced that he would be serving as a substitute for Evil Geniuses while he completed high school, and went inactive for the duration of the 2015-2016 school year. In June, he rejoined Evil Geniuses as a full time member of the roster just in time to help the team qualify for TI6 and earn a 3rd place finish in its title defense in Seattle. The team closed out the year with a string of impressive performance on the international level, including a 3rd-4th place finish at The Boston Major in December. Zai and the rest of Evil Geniuses carried its success over in 2017, winning the Dota Pit League Season 5 and finishing 3rd-4th at The Kiev Major. Those performances helped earn the team a place at TI7, but the North American squad finished in the bottom half of the standings in the 9th-12th place position. At the end of August, zai left the team, joining The Dire a few days later and being signed by OpTic Gaming shortly after that. Zai has had to play both offlane and support for the North American squad this season, but the Swedish player hasn’t missed a beat through those positional transitions and continues to be a stable and reliable contributor for the squad. In his current role with the team, zai is not often in a position to take over a match on his own. However, his ability to serve as both an initiator and a team fight controller consistently allows him to play a significant role in the team’s game plan. If OpTic Gaming finds success in Vancouver, zai’s consistent performance will likely be a huge part of that success.
Peter “ppd” Dager (Support, Captain) – Ppd has earned a reputation for being one of the most accomplished and skilled captains in the Dota 2 world, taking his place among some of the game’s legendary in game leaders. No matter the situation, ppd has managed to find a way to put his squad in the best position to succeed as one of the stronger drafters and strategists in Dota. Despite his success in the Dota 2 world, ppd’s career didn’t actually begin there, as the North American captain actually got his start in Heroes of Newerth before transitioning to Dota 2 in 2013 as a member of Stay Free. That initial squad didn’t last long, and ppd ended up finishing 2013 as a member of Super Strong Dinosaurs, with limited success. 2014 began with ppd playing with former Super Strong Dinosaurs teammate Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg as well a 3 members of the Evil Geniuses organization on the S A D B O Y S roster. After winning the Electronic Sports Prime Shock Therapy Cup with that squad, ppd and his teammates were picked up by Evil Geniuses as a part of the organizations reformed roster. With ppd in the captain role, EG dominated the competition in 2014, earning 14 Top 4 finishes before the end of the year headlined by a 3rd place run at TI4. With that incredible run, Evil Geniuses firmly established itself as one of the leading teams in the Dota 2 world, but that was just the beginning of the squad’s success. The team entered 2015 with a new roster, but ppd was able to lead the altered lineup to success almost immediately with a victory at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015. After a string of strong performances in the following months, EG entered TI5 with confidence and momentum that fueled it to the first ever TI victory for the North American region. The team continued to find success as the Dota 2 world shifted over to the Major Championship system, claiming 3rd place finishes at both The Frankfurt Major 2015 and The Shanghai Major 2016. The team stumbled a bit at The Manila Major with a 13th-16th place finish, but ppd and a new EG roster still managed to finish 3rd at TI6 in its title defense. Following the team’s TI6 run, ppd shifted into a role within the Evil Geniuses organization, eventually becoming EG’s CEO. At the start of 2017, ppd made a brief return as a player with North American squad WanteD, though the team lasted only a month before disbanding. Ppd spent the rest of the season away from active play, continuing to serve as EG’s CEO and appearing as an analyst and commentator at a handful of events, including TI7. In August, ppd stepped down from his role in the Evil Geniuses organization in order to register with a new team to compete in the Pro Circuit season. His new team, The Dire, would be signed by OpTic Gaming just weeks after its formation, and ppd had remained with the organization throughout the season. It’s impossible to separate ppd from the success that OpTic Gaming has earned this season, as his drafting and leadership has drawn out the best from every member of the roster. The U.S. captain has proven himself on the TI stage before with a victory at TI5, and that experience gives both himself and his team an advantage as it makes its way to Vancouver. Time will tell if this OpTic Gaming squad has the fortitude and talent to match that successful EG squad that took home the Aegis of Champions in 2015, but with ppd at the helm the team will surely be a formidable opponent for all of the teams in the field at TI8.
Expectations at TI8
OpTic Gaming are in an interesting place heading into TI8, as the team has a strong mixture of both veteran experience and talent across its roster. The fact that ppd, a relatively famous captain and a TI Champion in his own right, is leading the team makes it hard to count OpTic Gaming out right off the bat. However, there are still a few questions regarding the team as it prepares to make its debut under the OpTic Gaming banner on the TI stage. The squad was a dominant force within the North American region all season long, consistently challenging the strongest of its regional rivals and coming out on top with encouraging frequency. However, the team is not quite so proven on the international level, which introduces some concerns for it against the field of opponents that it is set to face in Vancouver. The team did close out the 2017-2018 season in strong fashion, claiming its first Minor Championship and a 2nd place finish at the ESL One Birmingham 2018 Major in the final 2 months of its campaign. However, it is somewhat difficult to determine whether that late-season surge represents a level of play that the team can remain at on a consistent basis or if it was simply a temporary stretch of success in a bid to snag a Top 8 spot in the Pro Circuit standings. The team appeared to be playing at a stable level in the Group Stage of the TI8 North America Qualifier, and manged to qualify for TI8 in the Playoffs of the qualifiers despite an opening loss to Immortals. With that in mind, it would appear that OpTic Gaming are in a strong position heading into TI8, and the North American squad certainly should be expected to put up a solid performance in Vancouver. Before anyone runs away with that statement, OpTic Gaming is still far from a favorite heading into TI8, and a run for the Aegis of Champions would still come as a pretty massive shock. However, if the team’s recent performances are an indication of where it currently stands in the Dota 2 world, then OpTic Gaming should be a solid bet to land itself somewhere in the top half of the standings at TI8.