Hail to the King: Defending TI Champion Team Liquid looks to become the first squad to claim the Aegis of Champions multiple times with back to back TI titles in Vancouver.
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’ll take a look at one of the top performers on the Pro Circuit this season, and the defending TI7 Champion: Team Liquid.
Region: Europe (EU)
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 2nd (9,459 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: Direct Invite (DPC Top 8)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 13 (11 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: TI3 (7th-8th), TI4 (9th-10th), TI6 (7th-8th), TI7 (1st)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
1st – China Dota2 Supermajor
2nd – DreamLeague Season 8
2nd – EPICENTER XL
3rd – ESL One Katowice 2018
3rd-4th – ESL One Hamburg 2017 Major
3rd-4th – The Bucharest Major
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
1st – StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 3
1st – AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League
1st – StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4
2nd – ESL One Genting 2018
3rd – DreamLeague Season 9
Team Liquid is one of the longest standing and most recognizable organizations within all of esports, with roots tracing all the way to 2000 in the Netherlands. The original Team Liquid began as a Starcraft organization, but quickly branched out to form rosters across nearly every major game in the esports scene. Through the strong performances of its various teams and its commitment to maintaining sites like TeamLiquid.net and Liquipedia as sources of game coverage and discussion, the organization has planted itself right at the heart of the esports world. For an organization that has tried its hand in so many different games, it comes as something of a surprise that Team Liquid’s involvement in the original DotA scene was somewhat limited. However, the team eventually made its way into the Dota 2 world in 2012 with the formation of its first roster of North American players. The team didn’t actually begin competing under the Team Liquid banner until 2013, but it quickly began establishing a place for itself both within the North American hierarchy and on the international level. A series of impressive performances across the first half of the year earned Team Liquid its first appearance at TI with an invite to TI3. The squad finished in the 7th-8th place position in Seattle, a landmark performance for the North American region and the furthest that any NA team had advanced to that point in TI history. Despite a couple of roster moves to close out the season, Team Liquid entered 2014 as a leading team in its home region and an emerging threat on the international level. The new year brought a bit of a decline for the team though, as the rise of regional rival Evil Genius served as a somewhat limiting factor on Team Liquid’s opportunities. Even with those constraints, Team Liquid fought its way through the qualifiers and earned a place at TI4, though it finished in the 9th-10th place position at the event. That rough performance marked the beginning of the end for Team Liquid’s lineup, as the months following TI saw its players depart the organization. By October, Team Liquid had announced the departure of its final player, leaving the organization with no active Dota 2 roster entering 2015.
For over a year, Team Liquid remained inactive in the Dota 2 world, but the organization soon found the perfect opportunity to get itself back in the game, albeit in a different region. The organization returned to its roots with the signing of European squad 5Jungz in October of 2015, and a new era of Team Liquid Dota began. With new Team Liquid closed out the year with a string of impressive showings, headlined by 1st place finishes at the Dota 2 Champions League Season 6 as well as The Defense Season 5. The team’s considerable momentum carried over into 2016, as Team Liquid immediately won the Europe Qualifier for The Shanghai Major, and earned a 2nd place finish at the event itself. The next few months saw Team Liquid ascend to the very top of the hierarchy in the Dota 2 world, with the squad earning 2nd place finishes at both ESL One Manila 2016 and The Manila Major as well as a 1st place finish at EPICENTER 2016. Those strong showings made the team a lock for an invite to TI6, and Team Liquid managed to finish in the top half of the standings in Seattle with a 7th-8th place finish overall. Despite a few roster changes in the closing months of 2016, Team Liquid still finished the year in solid fashion, and even claimed another tournament victory at DreamLeague Season 6 in November. 2017 is where Team Liquid truly seemed to come into its own, with its new roster proving more than capable of taking on the best teams in the Dota 2 world. The squad began the year with a victory at the StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3, followed 2 months later with a 5th-8th place finish at The Kiev Major. While those performance were impressive for the team, it was the run up to TI7 that saw it playing in peak form. Team Liquid won 3 straight premier tournaments on the international level as the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 2, EPICENTER 2017, and DreamLeague Season 7. The team’s fantastic first half of the year was capped off with the ultimate victory, as Team Liquid claimed the Aegis of Champions with a 1st place finish at TI7. As king of the Dota 2 world, Team Liquid entered the first ever Pro Circuit season as the most powerful and formidable squad in the scene as it began a defense of its hard earned title.
Season in Review
Team Liquid didn’t miss a beat as the first Pro Circuit season got underway, with the defending TI Champion opening up its campaign in top form. The squad’s Pro Circuit debut at the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 3 Minor in October proved to be a success, as the team claimed a 1st place finish and its first Qualifying Points of the season. 2 week later, the team followed up that performance with a Top 4 finish at the ESL One Hamburg 2017 Major, as well as another Minor Championship title with a victory at the AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League Minor. Up to that point, the TI7 Champion had not needed to participate in any regoinal qualifiers, having been directly invited to all of its event appearances. However, the DreamLeague Season 8 Major was unique in that its format had no direct invites at all, meaning Team Liquid needed to fight its way through a combined EU & CIS Qualifier to earn a spot at the event. The team did just that, qualifying for the Major and earning a 2nd place finish overall to close out its season with its fourth straight Top 4 finish on the Pro Circuit stage.
Team Liquid’s consistent success continued in the 2018 section of the season, as the squad opened the new year with a 2nd place finish at the ESL One Genting Minor at the end of January. Just a few days later, the team won the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor, marking its third Minor Championship of the season. Back to back Top 4 finishes at the ESL One Katowice 2018 Major and The Bucharest Major kept Team Liquid near the top of the Pro Circuit standings, and a 3rd place finish at the DreamLeague Season 9 Minor brought its streak of consecutive Top 4 finishes up to 9 on the Pro Circuit. Unfortunately, the team’s incredibly stretch of consistent success would finally meet its end in April, as the team fell just short of its 10 straight Top 4 finish with a 5th-6th place run at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major. Team Liquid’s streak of Top 4 finishes may have been broken at that event, but its spirits certainly weren’t, and the European squad had a chance to bounce back 1 month later with an appearance in Moscow at the EPICENTER XL Major. The team fought its way to a 2nd place finish at the event, and the Qualifying Points that it earned from that performance statistically guaranteed it a Top 8 position in the Pro Circuit standings and a direct invite to TI8. While it’s place in Vancouver was secure and Team Liquid was guaranteed a chance to defend its TI title, the team still had a chance to claim 1 achievement that had eluded it throughout the season: A Major Championship. The team’s 7th-9th place finish at the ESL One Birmingham 2018 Major at the end of May kept that goal just out of its grasp, but Team Liquid was able to finally break through at the final even of the Pro Circuit season at the China Dota2 Supermajor. The squad’s 1st place finish in Shanghai earned Team Liquid its first Major Championship, and gave the team a massive boost to its confidence as it entered the break between the end of the season and the start of TI8 in Vancouver.
Lasse Aukusti “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen (Carry/Mid) – MATUMBAMAN has earned a place as something of a fan favorite in the Dota 2 community, as the Finnish carry’s upbeat attitude and various on-camera antics have ingratiated him with many fans. He brings more than just a friendly face to the Team Liquid lineup though, as MATUMBAMAN has earned a reputation for playing a strong style combining both push heavy heroes and team fight controlling cores. That flexibility has allowed the team to shape their lineup in just about any way that it wants to while still having confidence that it can control of the pace of the match. It’s a style that many have attempted, but few have found success with consistently, which is why it is even more impressive that MATUMBAMAN has appeared to master it in span of a relatively short professional career. The Finnish carry began playing professionally in 2013, but it was not until August of 2014 that he made his first prominent appearance with a victory at Assembly Summer 2014 with Veni, Vidi, Vici. Though MATUMBAMAN had attracted a fair amount of attention with his performance at the event, his time with the squad didn’t last much longer, and by October MATUMBAMAN had formed his own all-Finnish team called 4 Ahcnors + Sea Captain. That squad found somewhat limited success to across the end of 2014 and the first few months of 2015, but began heating up in the run up to TI5. MATUMBAMAN was able to help lead the team to a 2nd place finish at the Hitbox EU CHampionship #2 and a 1st place finish in StarLadder ProSeries Season 12, but the squad fell short in the TI5 European Qualifiers and missed out on the event. With the team failing to qualify for TI5, it ran through a final series of minor tournaments and events before MATUMBAMAN announced his departure from the team. The Finnish carry ended up joining the roster of the newly formed 5Jungz, helping the team win the Alienwar Summer’s End Cup and qualify for the Nanyang Dota 2 Championships. In October of 2015, the 5Jungz lineup was signed buy Team Liquid, and MATUMBAMAN has remained with the organization for nearly 3 years and counting. While the Team Liquid roster has undergone some changes over the past few years, MATUMBAMAN has remained as 1 of the 3 original members to still be on the roster. That core trio has served as the backbone of the squad, providing a stable base for the team to fall back on that has proven to be incredibly successful in the Dota 2 world. If Team Liquid want to have the best chance at becoming the first back to back TI Champion, then MATUMBAMAN will have to continue being a reliable, pace setting piece in the team’s game plan as it makes its way to Vancouver.
Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi (Carry/Mid) – Miracle-‘s story in the Dota 2 world is a rather interesting one, and one that many high level players of the game aspire to emulate. He has earned a reputation for a dynamic and explosive play style that matches perfectly with Team Liquid’s flexible drafting and strategy. With the capability to play both aggressive, tempo controlled heroes and more conventional farming picks, Miracle- provides confidence and variance for his team. For a player with his level of skill and professional success, it may be surprising to learn that Miracle-‘s origins in the professional Dota 2 scene are much more humble than one would expect. His first experience at the professional level came in January of 2015 when he joined the roster of European squad Balkan Bears as its midlaner. However, that stint with the team lasted just 4 months before he was removed from the lineup and left teamless in the middle of the season. Without a squad, Miracle- opted to grind his way up the ranked leaderboards, earning fame within the scene via his climb to the #1 spot both on the European and teh global MMR leaderboards. Miracle- succeeded an making himself an unignorable commodity, and in August of 2015 he was invited to join the roster of the newly formed (monkey) Business squad that would become OG just 2 months later. With OG, Miracle- was thrown head first into the deep end of the competitive scene, but managed to hold his own and played a massive role in helping the squad earn 2 Major Championships in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, the team could not replicate that success at TI, as the squad posted a 9th-12th place finish at TI6, and Miracle- opted to leave the team to join Team Liquid soon after. Miracle-‘s story saw him go from a little known talent into one of the Dota 2 world’s elite players through sheer determination, and with Team Liquid he has continued to pile up victories and accolades in rapid succession. His flexibility and explosive play style makes him hard to plan against, and his sheer talent and mechanical skill makes Miracle- both a nightmare for his opponents as well as a key piece of Team Liquid’s plan for success at TI8.
Ivan Borislavov “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov (Offlane) – MinD_ContRoL is another member of the Team Liquid roster to have only a few years of experience at the professional level. Like his teammates though, the Bulgarian offlaner has been able to make the most of his career so far, and has established himself as one of the most valuable and consistent producers in the Team Liquid lineup. Team Liquid’s play style emphasizes an intense level of flexibility and variance in terms of the roles of its cores are required to play, and MinD_ContRoL has proven himself more than capable of adapting to those different strategies. From more methodical team fight controllers, to aggressive play making heroes, and even lane pushing picks, MinD_ContRoL has shown himself to be comfortable in a remarkable number of scenarios and strategies. It’s not often that a player exhibits that level of confidence and comfort so early in his career, as MinD_ContRoL’s time as a professional player began just a few years ago in 2014 as a member of a minor European squad called Vast Cast. In April, the team was signed by Aftershock Gaming, but the team found relatively limited success under its new name and was dropped by the organization in November. MinD_ContRoL and his teammates opted to remain together, playing under the name Basically Unknown as it entered 2015. The new year brought the first series of successful appearances for the team, as Basically Unknown won the Bridon Open Cup in January. From that point on, the squad was plagued by roster changes, though it continued to put together solid results in regional events. In May, MinD_ContRoL was revealed to be leaving the team in order to join the roster of hehe united, though he also served as a stand-in for multiple squads during this time. After 3 months, the Bulgarian offlaner was picked up by the newly formed 5Jungz, and he would remain with the squad through its transition to the Team Liquid organization. MinD_ContRoL is 1 of the 3 original members of the 5Jungz lineup that remain on Team Liquid, and that core trio plays an important role as the backbone and anchor of the team. MinD_ContRoL’s tenure with the organization has been one characterized by consistency and dependability, and his near constant contributions to the team have gotten to the point where they are often expected and considered routine. Whether the spotlight shines on MinD_ContRoL on the TI stage or not, he will serve as a linchpin for Team Liquid’s performance as a whole, and will be an absolutely vital part of any potential run for back to back TI titles in Vancouver.
Maroun “GH” Merhej (Support) – GH was the most recent addition to the Team Liquid roster, and came as something of a surprise when the roster change was announced. At the time, the Lebanese support was a near unknown in the Dota 2 world, having no experience with any major organization. However, GH has proven himself to be one of the premier support players in the Dota 2 world, with a hero pool that facilitates both a defensive, complementary style and an aggressive playmaking strategy. It is rare that a support player is the subject of more than 1 or 2 targeted hero bans in a draft, but GH’s impressive play an heroes like Io, Keeper of the Light, Rubick, and Naga Siren has put opponents in a position where they cannot afford to surrender those picks. Having such a far reaching impact on any given match is always significant for a support player, especially considering the fact that GH had almost no significant experience prior to joining Team Liquid. His professional career began in 2014 as a member of an all-Lebanese squad called Wired Gaming, which made its first significant appearance in the Dota 2 world at MSI Beat IT 2014. Soon after that appearance, the team was signed by E-LAB to form one of the earliest officially sponsored teams in the Middle Eastern region. Under the E-LAB banner, GH and his teammates managed to earn a handful of solid finishes in minor regional tournaments, but never quite found enough success to break through into a prominent position in the European region. After over a year with E-LAB, GH was given an incredible opportunity when a position opened up in the Team Liquid roster. The support player joined the European squad, and has remained a part of the organization ever since. GH has played an important role in Team Liquid’s rise to the top of the Dota 2 world, as his support play has often served to facilitate the team’s cores and set them up for success. The Team Liquid roster boasts quite a number of big names and personalities, but GH will serve as an incredibly dangerous threat in Vancouver if the team’s opponents opt to overlook the Lebanese support’s considerable impact.
Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi (Support, Captain) – Team Liquid’s lineup has a number of players who have managed to make a name for themselves in the Dota 2 world, but KuroKy remains the heart and soul of the European squad as its captain. The German support player has earned himself a reputation as one of the greatest leaders in the game, and his extensive experience and success in the Dota 2 world has elevated him to essentially legendary status. His career began before the Dota 2 scene even existed, as KuroKy played the carry role for a couple of all-German squads in the original DotA as far back as 2007 and 2008. After stints with organizations like mousesports and Online Kingdom, KuroKy made the transition to Dota 2 in 2011 with Team GosuGamers.net at the first iteration of The International. After a finish in the 13th-16th place position at TI1, the team disbanded in August and KuroKy was left teamless for nearly 9 months. In May of 2012, he joined the roster of Virtus.pro for just under 2 months before leaving the team to join German squad Uebelst gamynG. During this time, KuroKy found his position constantly shifting, as he spent time at essentially every role. KuroKy served as a stand-in for mousesports during its run at TI2, though the organization dropped its Dota 2 roster just 2 months after the event. KuroKy would remain with the lineup though, as it played as The GD B-Team as StarLadder StarSeries Season 3 before taking on the name Team Zero. In November of 2012, mousesports resigned its former roster by picking up the Team Zero lineup, but the team would struggle significantly through the end of the year and the start of 2013. Amidst the team’s decline, KuroKy opted to move on to greener pastures by accepting a position with Na’Vi in February of 2013. The move to the CIS squad finally brought stability to KuroKy’s game in terms of his role, as the German settled into the support role in the Na’Vi lineup. The move also saw KuroKy find his first significant successes in the Dota 2 world, as Na’Vi won 10 tournaments and events in 2013 with him in the lineup and placed 2nd overall at TI3. After a strong start to 2014, Na’Vi looked poised to continue its winning ways. However, the months leading up to TI4 proved difficult for the team, and it slipped to the 7th-8th place position at the event itself. Kuroky left the team just days later to join Team Secret and return to the carry position. By the beginning of 2015, roster changes had pushed KuroKy back to the support position, but he was still able to help the squad put together a 3rd place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 as well as a string of 4 straight victories in May and June. Those successes earned the team a place at TI5, but KuroKy got no closer to a TI title as Team Secret finished in the 7th-8th place position. In the aftermath of the event, KuroKy opted to form his own squad, creating 5Jungz in August of 2015 with a mix of young talent and veteran experience within the European region. 2 months after its formation, 5Jungz was signed by Team Liquid, and KuroKy has served as the team’s leader and captain ever since. With KuroKy at the helm, Team Liquid has established itself as one of the most powerful teams in the Dota 2 world, and finally earned the veteran player his long sought after TI title. With the team’s victory at TI7, KuroKy’s place in Dota 2 history was secured, but the captain will not be content with his already numerous achievements. KuroKy and Team Liquid now look to become the first team in history to ever claim multiple TI victories, and with the legendary captain leading the way, the squad stands as one of the most formidable threats to claim the Aegis of Champions again in Vancouver.
Lee “Heen” Seung Gon (Coach) – In today’s Dota 2 scene, the prominence and importance of having an experienced coach cannot be understated, and Team Liquid serves as a strong example of just why the role has become so important. The European squad is incredibly talented in its own right, but the insight and guidance of Heen at the coaching position has served as a valuable asset for the squad in its ascendance to elite status in the professional scene. Heen’s experience in professional Dota stretches back to the original DotA, with the Korean player having been a part of organizations as early as 2007. After a few years in the professional DotA world, Heen went inactive for a time before transitioning into Dota 2 in 2013 as a member of MVP Phoenix. Heen and his teammates quickly established itself as a leading team in the fledgling Korean scene, and began challenging some of the major powers int he Southeast Asian region in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Heen and MVP Phoenix got its first chance to participate in a major international tournament at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015. However, the team finished in the 13th-16th place position at the event, and soon after Heen was transferred to the lineup of MVP HOT6ix. His new team was able to earn itself a place at TI5 by winning the TI5 Southeast Asia Qualifier, but ended up finishing at the bottom of the standings at the event with a 13th-16th place position overall. Soon after the end of TI5, Heen was put back on the MVP Phoenix roster, but remained on the roster for just 4 months before leaving the organization. After 5 months of inactivity, Heen returned to the Dota 2 world as the coach of Team Liquid, and he has held the position for over 3 years now. As the team’s coach, Heen has helped contribute to what has been a meteoric rise for the European squad on the international level. His guidance and experience combined with the continued development of its players has transformed the squad from a regional contender in Europe into a global superpower with aspirations of earning back to back TI victories. If Team Liquid want to accomplish that goal, it will need to take advantage of every possible asset from its lineup, and Heen will play a large role behind the scenes of any potential success for the squad in Vancouver.
Expectations at TI8
Many of the squads in the field for TI8 will make their way to Vancouver with a certain degree of variance in terms of their expectations. Just about every team in the field could reasonably end up in the top half of the standings at the event, but many of those squads could just as easily fall into the lower sections of the standings in Vancouver. For Team Liquid, things are a bit more straightforward, as the defending TI Champion is expected to compete for the Aegis of Champions as won of the favorites entering TI8. Of course, no team in the field is really in a pure “Championship or bust” kind of mindset, except maybe Virtus.pro. However, a squad in Team Liquid’s position must at least expect itself to be one of the leading contenders to claim the Aegis of Champions at TI8. After the team’s incredible regular season and its victory last year in Seattle at TI7, Team Liquid have to expected to finish at least within the Top 4 in Vancouver. Anything lower than that would honestly seem like a bit of a disappointment considering everything this lineup has accomplished over the last year. Those lofty expectations may seem a bit high, but the team appears more than equipped to handle this level of pressure on the Dota 2 world’s biggest stage. The team has already found success at TI before with this exact roster, and its cohesion and continued success on the Pro Circuit this season gives little reason to suspect that it has dropped off in any way in terms of its current form. Team Liquid claimed 9 straight Top 4 finishes on the Pro Circuit stage this season, and earned Top 4 finishes in 11 of its 13 event appearances overall. The squad even managed to claim a Major Championship this season, and came out on top against Virtus.pro in a Bo5 series in order to do so. This Team Liquid lineup has faced just about every scenario and challenge possible in the Dota 2 world at this stage, and it has proven itself capable of finding success regardless of the situation. Winning multiple TIs, let alone back to back TIs, is an accomplishment that no other squad or player has ever been able to accomplish. However, this Team Liquid roster looks to be in one of the strongest positions to make a run for that elusive achievement, and it would come as a massive shock if the European squad failed to finish at or near the top of the standings in Vancouver.