The Real Deal?: CIS squad Winstrike Team looks to prove that it’s more than a one-hit-wonder with a strong performance at TI8.
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 1 of the 2 representatives of the CIS region at TI8, and the most recent addition to the Dota 2 world among the 18 participating teams: Winstrike Team.
Region: Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 15th (675 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: TI8 CIS Qualifier (1st Place)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 2 (1 Top 4 Finish)
Previous TI Appearances: 0 (TI Debut)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
3rd – EPICENTER XL
In terms of history, Winstrike Team has not been around for all that long at all, with the organization having only come into exist a month ago in June of 2018. The Russian organization made its debut in the esports worlds by simultaneously announcing the signing of teams in both Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2. In both cases, the organization opted to pick up an already established lineup rather than attempt to build one from scratch, with its CS:GO division signing the roster of Quantum Bellator Fire while the Dota 2 lineup was made up of the former members of FlyToMoon.
The history of Winstrike Team is essentially nonexistent, but the history of the team that it acquired isn’t exactly the longest of tales either. FlyToMoon was announced as a team in February of 2018 at the roster lock deadline, and consisted of 5 CIS players that had either left their organization or been dropped from the lineup during the first half of the season. The squad had no significant sponsorships and were playing as an independent team with no organizational affiliation before being acquired by Winstrike Team.
Season in Review
Technically speaking, Winstrike Team wasn’t actually a participant on the Pro Circuit this season, as the organization acquired its new team during the TI8 Qualifiers and after the official end of the regular season. The squad’s only competition under the banner of its current organization was its victorious run through the TI8 CIS Qualifier in June. While Winstrike Team did not participate in the Pro Circuit season itself, the squad that it signed did, as the roster in its entirety saw action as FlyToMoon over the final months of the season. The team registered in February, and just 1 month later launched an impressive series of qualifier runs that saw it put together 4 straight Top 4 finishes. In April, the team made its debut on the Pro Circuit stage with an appearance at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in Shanghai. Unfortunately for the team, its fell just short of success in its Pro Circuit debut with a 5th-6th place finish at the event. The good news for FlyToMoon was that it continued to perform well within its home region, with 2 more solid qualifier runs to close out the month of April. In May, the team got a second chance to perform on the Pro Circuits stage and a chance to perform in front of a hometown crowd at the EPICENTER XL Major in Moscow. The team earned its first success on the Pro Circuit stage there, as FlyToMoon made and incredible and somewhat surprising run for a 3rd place finish at the event and its first and only Qualifying Points of the season. Those points were not nearly enough to have the squad in contention for a Top 8 spot and a direct invite to TI8, but they did help secure it an invite to the TI8 CIS Qualifier which it won fairly convincingly to earn its place in Vancouver.
Airat “Silent” Gaziev (Carry) – Silent is a name that has circulated around the CIS region, as the Russian carry has been involved in the professional scene for quite some time. Despite having left the organization, Silent still stands as the player to have played the most number of matches for Team Empire, having played in 1144 games for the team. That number is nearly 300 matches higher than the next highest player in the team’s history, which should go a long way to show just how valuable and reliable Silent has been throughout his career. For the majority of his professional career, Silent has employed a traditional style at the carry position, playing hyper-carry, high volume farming heroes that dominate the late-game stages and close out matches. In recent times, he has taken to combining that farming ability with some of the more popular, fighting heroes at the carry position, making him an even more serious threat to opponents. That adaptability has not come suddenly for Silent, as the carry has grown use to having to adjust and make changes to his game throughout his time in the Dota 2 world. His career began in 2012 with Moscow 5, where he drifted between the 1, 2, 3, and 4 positions with the team in just a 6 month span. After a 13th-16th place finish at TI2, Silent left Moscow 5 in order to join Team Empire as a support player. That team put together a dominant run to close 2012 that included 9 Top 4 finishes in both regional events and international tournaments. However, the first few months of 2013 saw the team’s results slide a bit, and in May of 2013 Silent joined the lineup of DD.Dota that would end up being signed by Quantic Gaming just 2 months later. After just 2 months with Quantic, Silent opted to return to the Team Empire organization, where he remained for nearly 2 years at the carry position. He helped build up the team as a power in the CIS region, and even secured 2 TI appearances for Team Empire at TI4 and TI5, though the team failed to find much success at either event. In December, Silent left Team Empire to join the roster of Virtus.pro, earning an appearance at The Shanghai Major with the team in March. In June of 2016, VP dropped its Dota 2 lineup, and a few weeks later Silent announced a hiatus from active play due to health concerns. He returned to active play in April of 2017 with Vega Squadron, but by September had announced another break from the game. He served as an inactive substitute and stand-in for both Vega Squadron and Team Empire for about 2 months, before being signed by the latter in November. However, just 1 day before the roster lock deadline in February of 2018, the team announced that he had been replaced in the lineup, leaving Silent to help form FlyToMoon just in time to register for the second half of the season. Silent has remained with the team through its signing by Winstrike Team, and the squad will need both his steady performance and his experience playing on the TI stage if it wants to put together a solid run in Vancouver.
Bogdan “Iceberg” Vasilenko (Mid) – Icerberg is no stranger to the professional scene in the CIS region, as the 21 year old Ukranian has already been active in the Dota 2 world for a few years now. However, this Pro Circuit season has given him a level of exposure on the international stage that has been harder to come by with his previous teams. The increased time in the spotlight has not been much of a hindrance for Iceberg, as he has established himself as a formidable midlaner within his home region and now looks to earn a similar reputation on the international level. His play style on the Pro Circuit has shown a preference for high impact, active heroes, with Iceber often looking either to dominate team fights or keep his opponents off balance with frequent rotations and aggressive moves. That kind of aggressive style has always been popular in the CIS region, and Iceberg has already spent quite a bit of time learning how best to employ it in his Dota 2 career. Iceberg first appeared in the professional scene in 2014 in a series of minor tournaments with Duza Gaming, though he appeared to be off of the team’s roster by the end of the year. In April of 2015, he made his first appearance with .aSpera., but remained with that squad for just 2 months before joining CIS Rejects in September. It was with CIS Rejects that Iceberg found his first measure of success, winning 4 qualifiers and minor events with the team. Those successes earned the team some recognition, and in December the entire roster was signed by Team Spirit as its first Dota 2 lineup. Though his team was not quite able to make a full breakthrough on the international level, Iceberg did earn his first major experience on the international level with Team Spirit at The Shanghai Major in March of 2016. In June, Iceberg parted ways with the Team Spirit organization to join the roster of Polarity, though he played for the team for just over 1 month before it disbanded. After spending some time as a stand-in and free agent, Icerberg was picked up by Vega Squadron in August as part of the post-TI roster shuffle. Iceberg would play with the team for around 3 months, though during that time the squad was unable to find any consistent success. That inconsistent performance with Vega Squadron helped lead Iceberg back to Team Spirit, as the Ukrainian midlaner began 2017 on the team’s roster. He helped the team earn a 2nd place finish in the TI7 CIS Qualifier, and remained with the squad through the start of the Pro Circuit season. In November, it was announced that Iceberg and Team Spirit were parting ways, and the midlaner spent the next few months as a stand-in for Gambit Esports. It wasn’t until February of 2018 that Iceberg officially joined a new roster, as he was revealed as a member of the FlyToMoon roster that would go on to be signed by Winstrike Team. Iceberg’s talent and experience in the CIS region have given him a strong foundation to work with in his professional career. The Pro Circuit season gave him his first levels of consistent exposure to the international scene, and the young midlaner has stepped up for his squad so far. The question for Iceberg will be whether or not he can put together that same level of play on the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world, with his team’s success in Vancouver potentially depending on it.
Alexey “nongrata”‘ Vasilev (Offlane) – The CIS region is often known for its emphasis on aggressive and fast paced gameplay, and nongrata is a player that appears to have embraced that style in his own play. The Russian offlaner has shown a penchant for playing aggressive, play-making heroes with a heavy emphasis on initiation and control. Nongrata has proven himself to be a very capable member of the Winstrike Team lineup, despite not having as extensive of a career as some of his teammates. The offlaner began his time as a professional player with a semi-pro squad called Dagon5 back in 2014, but didn’t advance further than small regional events and qualifier runs in a little over a year with the team. In June of 2016, he was picked up as a member of the new sQreen’s Squad, but the team’s roster did not participate very consistently and had intermittent periods of inactivity. During this time, nongrata was seen playing for Russian squad Chew Toy, and remained with the team’s roster after sQreen’s Squad’s officially disbanding in September. After finding little success with Chew Toy, nongrata moved to the Double Dimension lineup in February of 2017, where he helped the team make an unsuccessful run in the CIS Qualifier for The Kiev Major. In April, he left the Double Dimension roster, finding his way to the lineup of Effect around a month later in May. Once again though, nongrata’s tenure with a team would prove short, as he departed the team in July less than 2 months after joining its roster. Though he would spend around 2 months on the roster of No Creativity in the later half of the year, nongrata closed out 2017 without a team and with somewhat reduced prospects of finding one with the Pro Circuit season already underway. However, nongrata was able to find himself a squad in the end, joining the FlyToMoon roster just before the roster lock deadline in February and remaining with the team through its signing by Winstrike Team in June. Nongrata had proven himself to be a fairly aggressive player, but not exactly a flashy one. His name is not one that will likely be spoken all that often as a star player to be watching out for at TI8. However, he knows his role within the team, and his aggressive play-making will be one of the key factors in deciding whether Winstrike Team can make a solid run and a strong impression on the Dota 2 world on the TI stage in Vancouver.
Alexander “Nofear” Churochkin (Support, Captain) – Nofear is a player that has been active in the CIS region for quite a long time, although his name rarely comes up when discussing some of the better known veterans of the region. He has never quite had the same level of success as some of more famous names in the history of CIS Dota, but his experience makes him a valuable asset and leader for Winstrike Team as the squad’s captain. His ability to play both aggressive, roaming heroes and team fight controllers from the support position brings a dangerous level of utility and flexibility to the team’s strategies. Nofear’s penchant for playing an aggressive, pestering style has been one that he has held since the very beginning of his days in the professional Dota 2 world. His career began back in 2012 with SoWhatYouCan, somewhat minor squad that he remained with for over a year before leaving in August of 2013. In October, he reemerged as a member of FlipSid3 Tactics, but remained with the squad for just 4 months before it disbanded in February of 2014. The rest of the year would see Nofear bounce between quite a few organizations and names, beginning in March with The Retry. Just 1 month into his tenure with the team, it was signed by Ahead Gaming for all of 1 week before being dropped by the organization. The roster opted to continue playing together under the name DreamTeam168, but eventually fell apart, with NoFear moving to the roster of Album Sheets in August. He spent the first half of 2015 as a stand-in and temporary roster member for a handful of teams, before joining the roster of newteam123123 in August. During this time, Nofear also served as a stand-in for Team Empire, and in October of 2015 was offered a place in the team’s lineup. Nofear would see significant action on the international level with Team Empire, with the team making notable appearances at events like DreamLeague Season 4, the Dota 2 Champions League Season 6, and Dota Pit League Season 4. However, the team’s run ended in March of 2016 when Team Empire announced that it was dropping its lineup, with Nofear moving to the roster of Virtus.pro. With VP, Nofear put together an impressive string of performance int he run up to the TI6 Qualifiers, but fell short of qualifying for the event itself. The day after the end of the qualifier, VP dropped its Dota 2 squad, though Nofear and his teammates continued to play together under the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. name. The squad’s performance declined significantly over the final months of 2016 though, and didn’t improve much to start 2017. In April, Nofear opted for a change, leaving the remnants of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. lineup to join the roster of Cyber Anji. Follwoing a poor performance in the TI7 CIS Qualifier, the squad disbanded, and Nofear ended up joining the roster of Double Dimension as the Pro Circuit season got underway. Despite numerous runs in various regional events and qualifiers, Double Dimension could not find any significant measure of success, and Nofear departed the team in December. The offlaner remained teammless until February of 2018, when he was recruited to form the roster of FlyToMoon that would go on to be signed by Winstrike Team in June. Nofear’s time in the professional scene has been extensive, and though he has not managed to remain with a single team for very long, he has accrued valuable experience across a variety of different levels in the Dota 2 world. Though he has never seen action on the TI stage before now, Winstrike Team is hoping that their captain’s years of experience in the CIS region will be enough to guide them through what will be its most formidable challenge yet against the field at TI8.
Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko (Support) – ALWAYSWANNAFLY is a player that has been around in the CIS Dota 2 scene for nearly the entirety of its history, and stands as one of the region’s longest standing veterans. He has never really been one to particularly stand out or demand the spotlight, but he has consistently been a vital piece of successful rosters in the CIS region. His style of play revolves heavily around lane and team fight support, although he has been known to branch out with some unexpected, aggressive heroes when needed. ALWAYSWANNAFLY has been dedicated to the support role since the very beginning of his career in 2011 with a victory at the Dota2 Star Championships with The Retry. At the start of 2012, that roster was picked up by DTS Gaming, but by May of that year ALWAYSWANNAFLY would join the roster of Team Empire. After a short and unsuccessful stint with the organization, he joined the roster of Team Kharkiv, which was signed by Eclypsia just 1 months later. That squad would be short lived though, as Eclypsia disbanded in November and ALWAYSWANNAFLY finished the year on the roster of iLuminate. By March of 2013, that roster had broken up as well, with ALWAYSWANNAFLY moving to ICCUP for about 5 months before rejoining Team Empire in September. He remained with Team Empire for nearly 2 years, helping the squad elevate itself to a position of strength in the CIS region and earn back to back TI appearances at TI4 and TI5. Unfortunately, neither of those TI runs proved very successful, and ALWAYSWANNAFLY found himself leaving Team Empire in the aftermath of TI5 to join CIS Rejects. In December, that CIS Rejects squad was picked up by Team Spirit, though its performance would decline soon after. Although it managed to make an appearance at The Shanghai Major in March of 2016, the Team Spirit lineup found little success under its new organization. In May, ALWAYSWANNAFLY left Team Spirit to join Polarity, though that squad ended up folding only 2 months after his joining the roster. ALWAYSWANNAFLY closed out the year on the roster of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. before reappearing as a member of Double Dimension in February of 2017. After failing to qualify for The Kiev Major with Double Dimension, ALWAYSWANNAFLY left the team to join the roster of Thug Life in April of 2017. Just 1 month later, the squad was signed by Gambit Esports, and ALWAYSWANNAFLY served as the team’s support player over the course of the first half of the Pro Circuit season. When the team announced its new roster in February, ALWAYSWANNAFLY had been shifted to a substitute position, which caused the support player to leave the organization to join the newly formed FlyToMoon lineup, where he has remained through its transition to Winstrike Team. ALWAYSWANNAFLY has been a player that has flown under the radar for most of his career, with his play often being consistent to the point of being almost expected. Whether the spotlight is on him or not, he will continue to provide a steady, veteran presence at the support position, which exactly what the team will need if it wants to take down some of the giants of the Pro Circuit in Vancouver.
Eugeniy “Sh4dowehhh” Alekseev (Coach) – Sh4dowehhh is someone that is somewhat new to the coaching role, as he had took up the position for the first time a few months ago just after the formation of Winstrike Team’s predecessor, FlyToMoon. He’s also a bit on the younger side in terms of the average coach, with the Ukrainian being just 22 years old. He has earned a fair bit of experience in the Dota 2 scene though, with his career beginning back in 2013 with a couple of small time squads. In November of 2014, he joined his first major organization in ScaryFaceZ, and helped raise the team up from a relative afterthought in the CIS region into a team pushing the edges of the Tier 2 scene. In December, he was registered as a substitute for the Na’Vi organization, but continued to play for ScaryFaceZ through March of 2016. After ending his time with both organizations, Sh4dowehhh went inactive for a few months before reappearing on roster of DX in September. By the end of November 2016, Sh4dowehhh was once again without a team, spending the next 6 months as a stand-in for multiple squads but never officially joining a roster. In May of 2017, he was announced as a member of SFTe-sports for its run in the TI7 CIS Open Qualifier, a run that ultimately proved unsuccessful. After his time with SFTe-sports, Sh4dowehhh stepped down from a role as an active player and joined FlyToMoon as the squad’s coach in March of 2018. As coach, he helped the squad find its first and only success on the Pro Circuit stage at the EPICENTER XL Major in May, and has remained with the team through its acquisition by the Winstrike Team organization. As a coach, Sh4dowehhh doesn’t exactly have the same level of experience or a record of proven success that many other in his position may possess. However, the point of a coach is to analyze a team’s play from an alternate perspective and provide guidance from a position outside of those of the active players. On that front, Sh4dowehhh has been an asset for Winstrike Team that it can ill afford to overlook or undervalue. The CIS squad doesn’t enter TI8 as a particularly favored team, and even the smallest advantage from the squad’s coach could prove immeasurably useful on the TI stage in Vancouver.
Expectations at TI8
Winstrike Team was a fairly late addition to the Pro Circuit scene, with its squad having only started its season after the roster lock deadline in February. Because of that, the team’s list of performances is significantly shorter than any of its opponents in the field at TI8. The squad saw action across just 6 regional qualifiers and 2 Pro Circuit events in the final months of the season, which comes across as an incredibly small sample size when evaluating the CIS squad’s potential in Vancouver. Any team with that little experience together on the international level would be a tough sell as anything other than a potential dark horse squad at TI, and Winstrike Team is no exception. The good news for the team is that while its performances this season were limited in number, there will still fairly impressive. The squads 6 qualifier runs resulted in 5 Top 4 finishes, and it managed to earn a 3rd place finish at the EPICENTER XL Major in 1 of its 2 Pro Circuit appearances. For a team to come onto the scene this late in the season and put together those kinds of results is highly encouraging, and speaks to the potential of the Winstrike Team lineup. However, there is a bit of a caveat to that perspective that has some doubts lingering about the team as it prepares for TI8. First and foremost, there is the fact that the CIS region this season was somewhat weaker than in years past. Aside from Virtus.pro, who outpaced all of its regional rivals by miles, there really was no clear second or even third best team in the region. Many squads in the region did not make it through the season fully intact, and those that did such as Na’Vi, Vega Squadron, Team Empire, and Team Spirit suffered from a staggeringly high level of inconsistency in their own Pro Circuit campaigns. The concern for Winstrike Team is that its regional success came against competition that is far from the same level as what it will encounter in Vancouver. The fact that Winstrike Team managed to earn itself a 3rd place finish at a Major would serve as some not entirely irrelevant evidence that this is not the case. However, there are some concerns regarding that performance as well in terms of whether it was a true barometer of the team’s current capabilities or a one-off run that it will not be able to replicate. With its only other Pro Circuit results being a 5th-6th place finish at a Minor, it is hard to tell exactly where the team truly stands in terms of its potential at TI8. For now, the squad looks like a safer bet for a finish in the lower half of the standings in Vancouver, but another impressive run like the one it showed at the Major could be enough to push the CIS squad into a much higher position when all is said an done in Vancouver.