Veni, Vidi, Vici Gaming: Chinese squad Vici Gaming looks to affirm its return to prominence in the Dota 2 world with its first TI title 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 be looking at 1 of the 6 Chinese squads in the field at TI8 and something of a surprising addition to the Pro Circuit elite: Vici Gaming.
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 6th (2835 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: Direct Invite (DPC Top 8)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 11 (5 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: TI4 (2nd), TI5 (4th), [As Vici Gaming Reborn] TI6 (13th-16th)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
2nd – ESL One Katowice 2018
3rd – MDL Changsha
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
2nd – AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League
2nd – Perfect World Masters
2nd – Captains Draft 4.0
Non- Pro Circuit Events
1st – H-Cup Season 9
1st – Dota2 Professional League Season 5 – Top
4th – Dota2 Professional League Season 4 – Top
Vici Gaming is an organization that doesn’t have quite as long of a history in the esports world as some of the other notable names in the Chinese region. Despite that, the organization has been hard at work establishing itself and expanding its reach, with squads across a wide range of games and genres from shooters to strategy and card games. The organization’s Dota 2 division was the earliest of its lineups though, with the team being created in 2012 from a selection of prominent players in the amateur Chinese scene. Though it was founded near the end of 2012, the Vici Gaming roster didn’t see any official matches until the start of 2013, when it began making appearances at Chinese and Southeast Asian events. After failing to qualify for TI3, the team opted for some significant roster changes, and closed out the year with a string of impressive performances within its home region. In 2014 the team began to truly establish itself as a power within China, consistently performing well in various regional events and qualifiers. Those successes carried over into the team’s first international appearances as well, with spots at the Dota 2 League Season 4, WPC 2014, The Summit, and ESL One Frankfurt 2014 all going to Vici Gaming. The squad even earned itself an invite to TI4, where Vici Gaming very nearly claimed the Aegis of Champions with a 2nd place finish at the event. In the post-TI roster shuffle, Vici Gaming ended up going through another round of roster changes, but once again managed to come away with a formidable lineup. The team closed out 2014 with a number of high profile performances, including wins in i-League Season 1, ESL One New York 2014, and The Summit 2.
2015 brought some significant developments to the Vici Gaming organization, beginning with an impressive 2nd place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 in February. In March, the organization announced the creation of a youth and development team to be named Vici Gaming Potential, though the squad met with little success in its inaugural year. As for the main Vici Gaming squad, 2015 proved to be an excellent year that saw it rise to near dominant status in China while making multiple appearances on the international level. Those performances led to the team returning to the TI stage for TI5, finishing in 4th place at the event. The team’s lineup remained largely the same as it transitioned into the Major Championship system, and Vici Gaming closed out 2015 with a 5th-6th place appearance at The Frankfurt Major, the first official Dota 2 Major. In 2016, the Vici Gaming organization experienced a period of near constant change, beginning with a rough, 13th-16th place finish at the Shanghai Major in March. Just a few weeks later, the organization announced that Vici Gaming Potential would be rebranded to Vici Gaming Reborn. With that, much of the main Vici Gaming roster either transferred to other organizations are were shifted into the Vici Gaming Reborn roster. The organization acquired a new roster to play under the main Vici Gaming banner, but that squad was met with little success within the Chinese region and made no appearances on the international level. Meanwhile, the Vici Gaming Reborn roster was faring much better, winning 4 straight season of the Chinese H-Cup as well as the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 1. The team earned a 7th-8th place finish at The Manila Major in June, and even qualified for TI6 over the main Vici Gaming roster. The squad ended up finishing in the 13th-16th place position at TI6, and in September the organization shifted the Vici Gaming Reborn lineup back to the main roster. That shift did little to improve the team’s performance in the post-TI scene, as the new Vici Gaming continued to struggle through the end of the year and entered 2017 with an uncertain future.
2017 began with roster changes for Vici Gaming, as the squad struggled to put together a solid roster and return to a competitive position in the Chinese region. Unfortunately, the squad was almost exclusively confined to regional qualifiers and events over the first half of the year, though Vici Gaming was able to make 1 international appearance at Galaxy Battles in June. The team wasn’t able to find success on a very consistent basis in its regional campaigns, and ended up finishing 5th in the TI7 China Qualifier to miss out on attending the event. It was the first time in 3 years that Vici Gaming would not be represented at TI, and that failure caused the organization to make some significant changes in the post-TI roster shuffle. 4 of the team’s 5 players were released from the organization in September, and a new roster was introduced just days later to compete for Vici Gaming in the upcoming Pro Circuit season. With a near completely new roster, Vici Gaming entered the first ever Pro Circuit season unsure of exactly where its place now was in both the regional hierarchy in China, and in the wider international scene.
Season in Review
Vici Gaming opened up its Pro Circuit campaign with some impressive results, as the team’s new roster posted Top 4 finishes in 5 of its first 6 qualifier runs. Those 5 Top 4 finishes helped the team earn itself 3 appearances on the Pro Circuit stage in 2017, beginning with the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 3 in October. While Vici Gaming missed out on earning Qualifying Points at that event with a 7th-8th place finish, its next 2 appearances at the AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League and the Perfect World Masters Minors each resulted in 2nd place finishes that put the Chinese team on the board in the Pro Circuit standings. The squad continued its impressive play within the Chinese region through the end of the year, finishing in the Top 4 in its remaining qualifier runs and even finding regional success outside of the Pro Circuit. Vici Gaming pulled in a 4th place finish in the Top Division of the Chinese Dota2 Professional League Season 4, and claimed a 1st place finish in H-Cup Season 9 on the last day of 2017.
Those performances had Vici Gaming sitting in the Top 8 in the Pro Circuit standings heading into the 2018 section of the season, and the Chinese squad would continue to play well in the new year. The team started things off with another 2nd place run at the Captains Draft 4.0 Minor in January, but fell just short of a Top 4 finish later that month at the ESL One Genting 2018 Minor. 1 month later at the end of February, the team finally made its debut at a Major with an impressive 2nd place performance at the ESL One Katowice 2018 Major. From that point on, success on the Pro Circuit stage became a bit harder to come by for Vici Gaming, as it began fighting to stave off a slide down the Pro Circuit rankings. Of its final 5 appearances on the Pro Circuit stage this season, Vici Gaming earned a Top 4 finish at just 1 of them: a 3rd place showing at the MDL Changsha Major in May. While Vici Gaming’s performance on the international level took a bit of a hit over the final months of the season, its impressive standing within its home region remained largely unchanged. The team finished in the Top 4 in all 4 of its qualifier runs in 2018, and managed to finish in 1st place in the Top Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 5. When all was said and done on the Pro Circuit and the season had officially come to an end, Vici Gaming has managed to hold on to its position within the Top 8 in the standings, and received a direct invite to Vancouver for TI8.
Zhang “Paparazi灬” Chengjun (Carry) – Paparazi灬 has quickly established himself as a star player on the Vici Gaming roster, playing a significant role in the team’s return to prominence over the course of the Pro Circuit season. The Chinese carry has shown himself to be adept at playing both heavy farming hyper carry heroes as well as more fight oriented picks. In some instances, Paparazi灬 even has taken over duties in the middle lane, making Vici Gaming even more difficult to draft against. That kind of flexibility often takes professionals quite a long time to fully master or feel comfortable with, but Paparazi灬 has found himself in this position fairly early into his Dota 2 career. Though he began playing back in the days of the original DotA, Paparazi灬 did not begin his professional career until 2015 as a member of Immortal Magneto Gaming under the in-game name Yuno. After 3 months as a back up player and substitute, he joined the roster of Team FanTuan as its new midlaner, though he was met with little success with his new squad. In 2016, Yuno joined the roster of Invictus Gaming, but played for the team for just 2 months being being transferred to Invictus Gaming Vitality in March. During that time, he gained notoriety as the first player to reach 8000 MMR on the Chinese servers, and officially moved from the midlane position to the carry role with his new squad. With his help, Invictus Gaming Vitality began working its way up the ranks in the Chinese region with a series of impressive performances in qualifiers and regional events. It was during this time period that Yuno first began playing with the in-game name Paparazi灬, and by the end of the year the change appeared to be permanent. Paparazi灬 and iG.V closed out 2016 by qualifying for The Boston Major, and made one of its first international appearances with a 9th-16th place finish at the event in December. 2017 proved to be a breakout year for Paparazi灬, as he lead iG.V to a 4th place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, and notably won the 1v1 tournament at that event. Invictus Gaming Vitality also made an appearance at The Kiev Major in April and managed to qualify for TI7 as well. While those performances didn’t go very well for the team as a whole, Paparazi灬’s impressive play attracted the attention of other organizations in China. In September, Vici Gaming offered Paparazi灬 a place in its newly rebuilt lineup, and the Chinese carry has remained with the team throughout the 2017-2018 season. The rise of Paparazi灬 and of Vici Gaming as a whole this season came as something of a surprise considered the team’s complete roster overhaul in the preseason. However, the Chinese squad won’t be able to fly under the radar in Vancouver, and if Vici Gaming wants to find success at TI8, Paparazi灬 is going to have to prove that he can continue to play at a high level even one the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world.
Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang (Mid) – As the only player to be carried over from Vici Gaming’s previous lineup in its preseason roster shuffle, Ori was the de facto centerpiece of the team heading into the Pro Circuit season. The Chinese midlaner was quickly able to prove that he was up to the task though, as Ori established himself as a significant and steady contributor to the Chinese squad’s successful Pro Circuit campaign. With a play style heavily emphasizing team fight control and damage, Ori often serves as the anchor of Vici Gaming’s drafts and is relied upon to contribute significantly to the squad’s team fight power. That level of responsibility on a team would be a heavy burden for any player, but Ori’s performance becomes even more impressive when one considers that the Chinese midlaner has only been playing at a professional level for a bit under 2 years now. Ori’s career began in September of 2016 when he joined the roster of DUOBAO as its new midlaner. While DUOBAO found very little success during Ori’s time on the roster, his impressive play attracted attention in the Chinese region. After just 4 months with the organization, Ori left the DUOBAO roster and was signed by Vici Gaming in January of 2017. Since joining the team, Ori has played a large part of helping the Vici Gaming organization return to a prominent place both in the Chinese region and the international scene as a whole. As Vici Gaming prepares for TI8, the Chinese midlaner is due to face his greatest challenge yet in his short professional career. Ori has been able to shine within his home region and in the team’s many appearances on the Pro Circuit stage, but if Vici Gaming want to be a legitimate contender in Vancouver, then he will have to show that he can continue to perform under the highest level of pressure and on the Dota 2 world’s biggest stage.
Ren “eLeVeN” Yangwei (Offlane) – Vici Gaming’s offlaner sits in a rather interesting position heading into TI8, as eLeVeN is still techincially signed by the EHOME organization despite being a member of the Vici Gaming roster. He is playing with Vici Gaming on loan from EHOME, a concept that is somewhat more common across other games in the esports world and and traditional sports, but in the Dota 2 world is almost exclusive to the Chinese scene. Despite still being under contract with another organization, eLeVeN has proven himself to be a valuable addition to the Vici Gaming roster. Though he has had stretches of somewhat inconsistent play this season, his prowess in the offlane still makes him one of the most formidable players at the position. ELeVeN’s career began back in 2013 with a Chinese team called Subvert, although that squad played in just 1 event before disbanding. After months as an inactive player, eLeVeN returned to the Dota 2 scene in June of 2014 with U5, but his time with that team would prove short as well. After just 2 months on the roster, eLeVeN left the team, and in November of 2014 found a place in the lineup of Immortal Megneto Gaming. In his 4 months with the team, Immortal Magneto Gaming did not find much success, but eLeVeN’s impressive play attracted the attention of the EHOME organization. In March of 2015, eLeVeN was signed by EHOME and joined the roster of EHOME.K (later EHOME.Keen), before being transferred to the main roster in September. As part of the EHOME roster, eLeVeN earned his first experience on the international level, as the team attended 6 international events in his first year with the team, including 2 Major appearances. Those performances lead to a 5th-6th place finish at TI6, which helped reestablish EHOME as a power in the international scene and helped put eLeVeN on the map at the offlane position. In January of 2017, EHOME announced the formation of a new roster, pushing eLeVeN into an inactive position with the organization. In March, he was sent to LGD Gaming on loan from EHOME, serving as the team’s offlaner during its pre-TI run and helping the organization earn a 4th place finish at TI7 itself. In the aftermath of the event, eLeVeN opted to leave LGD Gaming to accept a position in the new lineup of Vici Gaming, all while still being signed by EHOME. Though he has suffered from some setbacks and poor performances, eLeVeN has been a solid contributor for Vici Gaming, and another veteran presence to balance out some of the inexperience from its other core positions. While the teams carry and midlaner will most likely be the ones most often in the spotlight, eLeVeN’s play in the offlane will be one of the most significant factors that could differentiate a decent effort in Vancouver from a truly successful run at TI8 for Vici Gaming.
Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng (Support) – As one of the oldest and most experienced players in the Chinese scene, LaNm has been an absolutely invaluable asset for Vici Gaming in its Pro Circuit campaign. In addition to his veteran presence and insight, LaNm has earned a reputation as one of the most reliable support players in the Dota 2 world, and he has certainly defended that reputation with his play for Vici Gaming this season. As the position 4 support for the team, LaNm has shown off his skills as both a roamer and initiator and as a team fight controller. His skill in the role of support and tempo controller is one that LaNm has cultivated and refined over a long career in the Dota world, stretching back to his time as a professional in the original DotA. In 2011, he transitioned into Dota 2 with EHOME at TI1, helping the team earn a 2nd place finish at the first ever iteration of The International. 1 year later, LaNm returned to the TI stage with EHOME for TI2, but could not replicate the success of the team’s previous run with a finish in the 5th-6th place position overall. In 2013, LaNm left EHOME to join the founding roster of the RattleSnake organization, though the squad struggled to find much success aside from a 2nd place finish in the TI3 Eastern Qualifiers. That performance earned LaNm his 3rd straight TI appearance, but RattleSnake ended up finishing at the bottom of the standings in Seattle with a 13th-16th place finish at TI3. In the aftermath of TI3, LaNm left RattleSnake in order to join the newly formed Team DK, taking his place in what was deemed at the time to be a Chinese “super team”. The team lived up to that billing though, winning 8 tournaments in 2013 and 2014 and earning a 4th place finish at TI4. Unfortunately, Team DK’s roster fell apart in the post-TI shuffle, and LaNm found himself inactive for over 5 months before reappearing with the roster of Big God in 2014. After finishing in 4th place at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 in February, the roster of Big God went their separate ways, with LaNm returning to the EHOME organization. Back with his old organization, LaNm helped EHOME return to prominence in the Chinese region, helping the squad earn appearances at 3 Majors from 2015 to 2017, including a 4th place finish at The Frankfurt Major in November of 2015. During this time, LaNm also led the squad to back to back appearances at TI5 and TI6, finishing in the 5th-6th place position at both events. When EHOME announced its new roster in January of 2017, LaNm found himself pushed out of the active lineup and took up a position as the team’s coach. That coaching role lasted just over a month though, before he returned to the active lineup in February. However, that return proved to be temporary as well, as LaNm was loaned to the Vici Gaming organization in May to serve as the team’s coach. Vici Gaming’s results during his time as its coach were not particularly impressive, and the team quickly realized that LaNm would serve better in a more active position. When the team restructured its lineup in the run up to the Pro Circuit season, LaNm was officially acquired by the organization and returned to active play as its new support, a position that he has held throughout the season. LaNm has been involved in the Dota 2 scene for longer than most, but the support player has shown himself more than capable of adapting to current strategies and trends. His confidence playing the more aggressive support role in today’s meta has given Vici Gaming a definitive advantage over most of its opponents. If the Chinese squad wasnt to be a contender for the Aegis of Champions in Vancouver, then LaNm will have to continue being that tempo controlling presence in the team’s game plan heading into TI8.
Lu “Fenrir” Chao (Support, Captain) – As the oldest member of the Vici Gaming roster, Fenrir brings a level of experience and confidence to the captains position that the Chinese team has significantly benefited from in its Pro Circuit campaign. While Fenrir is rarely in the spotlight for his own play, he has been one of the most consistent contributors to Vici Gaming’s success this season. His ability to play heavily team fight oriented heroes as well as reliable lane supports has allowed Fenrir to create a multitude of opportunities for his teammates and put his core heroes in positions to control the pace of a match. Fenrir’s incredible consistency has been a hallmark of his game from the very beginning of his career, and has earned him a reputation as one of the best support players in the Chinese region in Dota 2 history. His time in the professional Dota 2 world began back in October of 2012 with the very same organization that he plays for today, as he was the support and captain of the original Vici Gaming Dota 2 squad. In his first year with the team, he led Vici Gaming to a prominent position in the Chinese region, but it was in 2014 that the squad truly broke through in a significant way. The team continued to perform well in China, and also made a number of high profile appearances in the international scene, culminating in an incredible 2nd place run at TI4 that officially put the Vici Gaming organization on the map in the Dota 2 world. In 2015, the team put together an impressive follow up to its breakout 2014 season, placing 2nd at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 and 4th at TI5 before finishing the year with a 5th-6th place run at The Frankfurt Major in November. In 2016, things changed for Fenrir, as Vici Gaming’s performance dropped off and the squad put together a rough 13th-16th place finish at The Shanghai Major. Just days after the event, Fenrir was bought out by the EHOME organization where he helped the squad win the TI6 Wild Card and finish in the 5th-6th place position at the event itself. In the post-TI roster shuffle, Fenrir found himself returning to the Vici Gaming organization as a member of the newly formed Team VGJ (now VGJ.Thunder). Though his new squad got off to a slow start, Fenrir was eventually able to help Team VGJ put together a run in the first half of 2017. The team elevated itself to the Top Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 3, finished in the 7th-8th place position at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, and even placed in the 5th-8th position at The Kiev Major. Unfortunately, those successes did not help the squad qualify for TI7, and Fenrir found himself leaving the team in September to make his return to the main Vici Gaming squad just in time for the start of the Pro Circuit season. Under Fenrir’s leadership, Vici Gaming put together a somewhat surprising run on the Pro Circuit stage, establishing itself as one of the Top 8 teams in the standings. Considering the team’s lineup was almost completely changed prior to the start of the season, it speaks to Fenrir’s ability as a captain that he was able to adjust his strategies and draft style to maximize the strengths of his new teammates. That kind of strategic thinking will be key for the team to find success in Vancouver, and Fenrir’s ability to put his players in the best situation to succeed will play a large part in whether Vici Gaming can make a serious run at TI8.
Tong “Mikasa” Junjie (Coach) – Mikasa might not be a name that most Dota 2 fans today would be familiar with, as it has been quite a decent amount of time since the last time he was an active player. The former pro has been serving as a coach for various Chinese squad for over 3 years now, and has been an important part of the Vici Gaming lineup from behind the scenes as its coach and analyst. Mikasa is a player who speaks from experience in the coaching world, as he has spent years as both a player and a coach at the professional level. His playing career began in 2012 as a member of TyLoo’s DotA roster, as he had chosen to hold off on committing fully to a transition into Dota 2. However, in October of 2012, the Vici Gaming organization was founded, and Mikasa was recruited to join the team as the only player on the roster with experience at the professional level. He played for the team for just 5 months before being shifted to Vici Gaming’s “B Team” in March of 2013. That position effectively rendered Mikasa inactive, and in June of 2013 he left the organization officially, remaining teammless through the rest of the year and almost all of 2014. At the end of 2014, he reappeared on the roster of Big God, but by the start of 2015 he had left the team to serve as the coach of CDEC Gaming. That coaching role soon turned into that of a stand-in and substitute, as roster changes pressed Mikasa into a temporary member of the team’s lineup. After standing in for the team in its run at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015, Mikasa left CDEC Gaming in order to fully commit to coaching with LGD Gaming. After serving as the team’s coach intermittently in 2015, Miaka moved to the Vici Gaming organization in 2016 as the coach of Vici Gaming Reborn, guiding the squad to a 7th-8th place finish at The Manila Major. When Vici Gaming Reborn was rebranded into the main Vici Gaming roster, Mikasa went with the roster, serving as its coach and as a substitute player through the end of 2016 and the first few months of 2017. In March, his contract with Vici Gaming expired, and he left the organization, with his role as the tam’s coach being picked up by current support player Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng in May. In September, the restructuring of Vici Gaming’s lineup shifted LaNm back into the active roster, and Mikasa was brought back in by the organization to reclaim his coaching position. With Mikasa’s help, Vici Gaming has put together a strong run on the Pro Circuit, and enters TI8 as one of the Top 8 squads in the regular season standings. The Vici Gaming roster has both experience and talent in abundance, but every TI Champion has had 1 or more minor advantages to give them the final edge over its opponents. For Vici Gaming, the hope is that Mikasa’s insight and guidance will be one of those advantages for the squad as it hopes to claim the Aegis of Champions for the first time in the organization’s history, and bring home China’s 4th TI title in Vancouver.
Expectations at TI8
When the Vici Gaming organization announced that it was replacing nearly the entirety of its lineup heading into the first ever Pro Circuit season, there was a certain degree of uncertainty regarding how well the new lineup would mange to perform on the Pro Circuit stage. With the Chinese region looking particularly competitive at the time, it was hard to determine whether or not the new Vici Gaming roster would be able to find success in the early stages of the season. The team quickly put most of those concerns to rest with a strong start and an impressive first half on the Pro Circuit. The squad became a dominant force within the Chinese region, consistently outperforming some of its most formidable regional rivals and earning itself a multitude of opportunities to play on the Pro Circuit stage. The squad showed that it could make the most of its experience and young talent, and transformed itself into one of the leading teams on the Pro Circuit. That kind of rise to prominence always has a team sitting in an interesting position heading into TI, but things are never quite as simple as they first appear in the Dota 2 world. Yes, Vici Gaming ended the season as a Top 8 team in the Pro Circuit standings, but much of that comes down to the team having an incredible first half of the season that it didn’t quite match in the second half of the Pro Circuit schedule. Of the team’s 2835 Qualfiying Points this season, 2160 of them came in the first 6 months of the season, with 1350 Qualifying Points coming from a single event (2nd place, ESL One Katowice 2018 Major). Over the second half of the season, the did encountered some issues with inconsistent play that were not fully addressed prior to the end of its Pro Circuit run. The team did mange to put together a 3rd place finish at the MDL Changsha Major, as well as 5th-6th place performances at the DAC 2018 Major and the China Dota2 Supermajor. However, it also finished in the 12th-14th place position at The Bucharest Major in March, and in the 10th-12th place position in May at the ESL One Birmingham 2018 Major. We’ve seen what Vici Gaming is capable of when playing at its best, the only question is whether or not the team will be able to get itself back into top form on a consistent basis in time for TI8. If it can get back to that early season form, then Vici Gaming is a solid bet for at least a spot in the top half of the standings in Vancouver. However, if it cannot put its recent inconsistent play behind it, Vici Gaming risks a significant and disappointing slide down the standings at TI8.