Never Say Die: A new-look OG lineup hopes to live up to the team’s legacy of success with a return to prominence on the TI stage 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 taking a look at 1 of the 3 European squads in the field at TI8, a 4-time Major Champion, and a team coming off of a significant restructuring of its roster: OG.
Region: Europe (EU)
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 14th (930 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: TI8 Europe Qualifier (1st Place)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 11 (3 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: TI6 (9th-12th), TI7 (7th-8th)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
1st – MDL Macau
3rd-4th – DOTA Summit 8
3rd-4th – Captains Draft 4.0
Non- Pro Circuit Events
4th – Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds
OG has become one of the most recognizable names within the Dota 2 world, which is rather impressive considering the fact that the organization hasn’t been around for nearly as long as some of the other big names in the esports scene. OG was officially created in October of 2015, with the members of European squad (monkey) Business forming its first Dota 2 lineup. Under its new name and organization, OG was able to find near immediate success, as the team won the first ever Valve Dota 2 Major at The Frankfurt Major in November. In March of 2016, the team attended The Shanghai Major looking to defend its title as Major Champions, but fell short of that mark with a 7th-8th place finish. The team quickly put that performance behind it though, putting together an incredible stretch of play in the run up to TI6 that saw it claim 6 straight Top 4 finishes at international events. Those 6 Top 4 finishes included 1st place runs at both DreamLeague Season 5 and ESL One Frankfurt 2016, as well as the team’s second Major Championship title at The Manila Major in June. Those performances made the team an easy choice for a direct invite to TI6, but the squad stumbled in Seattle and ended up in the 9th-12th place position at the event. Following that performance, the organization underwent significant roster changes, with 3 of its players leaving the team. However, the squad’s new roster was able to quickly regain its footing on the international level, closing out 2016 with another Major Championship run a The Boston Major in December to mark the organization’s 3rd title.
The team’s new roster had shown itself capable of carrying on the legacy of the organization’s original lineup, and it continued to show that in the early months of 2017. The squad put together a run of 4 straight Top 4 finishes to begin the year, culminating in yet another Major Championship as OG finished 1st at The Kiev Major in April. The team’s results declined slightly in the months before TI7, but not by nearly enough to prevent the team from earning itself another direct invite to TI. The team ended up finishing in the top half of the standings, but its 7th-8th place finish was still a bit below what many had been hoping for from the 4-time Major Champion. In the aftermath of TI7, OG went through another roster change, as midlaner Anathan “ana” Pham announced a hiatus from professional Dota 2 and was replaced by Roman “Resolut1ion” Fominok to complete the team’s lineup heading into the first Pro Circuit season.
Season in Review
The team got its Pro Circuit season started in September with some solid play, placing within the Top 4 in 3 of its first 4 Pro Circuit qualifier runs. One of those performances earned the team its first appearance at a Pro Circuit event in November at the AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League, but the squad’s debut found it falling just short of a Top 4 position with a 5th-6th place finish overall. However, the team was able to put together back to back victories in qualifiers later in the month that would earn it opportunities to play at both the MDL Macau Minor and the DOTA Summit 8 Minor in December. The former would see the squad earn its first bit of success on the Pro Circuit, as OG claimed a 1st place finish to put it on the board in the standings with its first Minor Championship. 1 week later, the team earned a 3rd-4th place finish at the DOTA Summit 8 Minor that had it sitting inside of the Top 8 in the Pro Circuit standings heading into the 2018 section of the season.
OG started 2018 in dominant fashion, beginning with a 3rd-4th place finish at the Captains Draft 4.0 Minor in January that added to its Qualifying Point total. Later that month, the squad finished 4th at the Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds event, though by that time the tournament has lost its Pro Circuit status and did not contribute to OG’s Pro Circuit campaign. While the team appeared to be off to a strong start on the international level, OG also held near complete control over the European region in the new year, with the squad winning all 7 of the Pro Circuit qualifiers that it participated in. Those qualifier victories earned the team a multitude of opportunities to perform on the Pro Circuit stage, but OG’s fortunes were about to take a turn for the worse over the second half of the season. Back to back poor performances at the ESL One Katowice 2018 Major (7th-8th place) and The Bucharest Major (9th-11th place) prompted the organization to make changes to its lineup. In March, the team released Roman “Resolut1ion” Fominok from the roster and announced that coach Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs would temporarily serve as the team’s new midlaner. The changes didn’t quite bring the improvement that OG had been hoping for, as the team closed out March with a 5th-6th place finish at the DreamLeague Season 9 Minor before beginning April with an abysmal 13th-14th place run at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major.
Throughout the next month, it appeared that 7ckngMad’s addition to the roster was a more permanent move for the team, as no new addition was announced prior to the team’s final stretch of appearances on the Pro Circuit stage. Those appearances saw the team come close to success, as it finished in the 5th-6th place position at the EPICENTER XL and ESL ONE Birmingham 2018 Majors alongside a 7th-8th place run at the MDL Changsha Major. The team was beginning to look like it could recover its previous form, but roster changes rocked the organization once again just 1 day after its last Pro Circuit appearance in May. The team announced that offlaner Gustav “s4” Magnusson as well as support and team captain Tal “Fly” Aizik would be leaving the team to join Evil Geniuses, which prompted OG to withdraw from the China Dota2 Supermajor in favor of rebuilding its roster in preparation for the TI8 Qualifiers. In June, the team revealed its new lineup, with Anathan “ana” Pham returning to the roster alongside Finnish phenom Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen. Those roster moves also resulted in positional changes for some of the team’s other players, as 7ckngMad shifted to the offlane position and Johan “N0tail” Sundstein moved to teh support role. The team’s restructured roster managed to fight its way through the TI8 Open Qualifiers and the TI8 Europe Qualifier to earn itself a place in Vancouver after what had been in incredibly rocky season for the organization.
Anathan “ana” Pham (Carry/Mid) – The OG organization has earned itself a bit of a reputation for finding and taking chances on younger talent, and ana stands as one of the biggest testaments to the potential success of that methodology. At just 18 years of age, ana has built himself up into a formidable and successful midlaner, and is often someone whose name is mentioned as being on the cusp of entering discussion of the world’s best at the position. His play style with OG has place an emphasis on controlling the tempo and pace of a match, relying heavily on heroes capable of playing aggressively and rotating frequently in the mid and late-game stages of play. It’s a style that he has appeared to favor throughout his career, stretching back all the way to his somewhat humble beginnings with the Australian squad Mobility Gaming International in 2013. Ana was a member of that team for only around a month before it disbanded, and ana decided that the somewhat smaller Australian Dota 2 scene was not providing him with the opportunities that he was looking for on the professional level. 2 years later in 2015, ana made the decision to move to China in order to play in the prestigious CDEC League and hopefully get himself noticed by a major organization. While risky, the gambit paid off, and ana was picked up by Invictus Gaming in March of 2016 as a substitute player. 4 months later in July of 2016, he made his debut with the squad and helped the team win the National Electronic Arena 2016 and place 2nd in G-League 2016 just a week later. Despite that successful debut in the Chinese region, ana’s status as a substitute player still limited his opportunities to play on the regular basis, and a difference of opinion between himself and the Invictus Gaming organization brought an end to his time with the tam. In August, he left iG to join the roster of the newly restructured OG as its new midlaner and found immediate success with the team. He played a significant role in the team’s run at the end of 2016 and the first half of 2017, and earned 2 Major Championship titles with OG at The Boston and Kiev Majors. Following the team’s 7th-8th place finish at TI7, ana announced a hiatus from professional Dota 2 and left the team. He returned in 2018 as a member of the short lived Team World and Echo International squads, before rejoining OG in June. While he hasn’t been with the team’s new roster for long, the hope is that having a familiar face and a proven talent back on the roster will help the team return to prominence on the international level, beginning with a strong run in Vancouver.
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen (Carry/Mid) – When Topson was announced as as member of the new OG lineup, many were left wondering exactly who he was. Unless one was familiar with the 2nd and 3rd tier of the professional scene in the European and CIS region, he probably wasn’t a player that many were familiar with. The Finnish player has been steadily working his way up the ranks though, and he has shown himself to be capable as both a midlaner and a carry. His play style has emphasized high damage, team fight controlling heroes, with Invoker and Windranger being particular favorites throughout his time in the professional scene. That time began just last year, as Topson has only recently started his career in Dota 2 despite having played the game and its predecessor from a young age. His first foray into professional Dota 2 came in 2016 with a semi-pro Finnish squad called Oogway that saw action in a handful of minor regional tournaments. However, it wasn’t until August of 2017 that he joined his first professional organization, as he was announced as the midlaner for SFTe-sports just prior to the start of the Pro Circuit season. He helped the squad win the ProDotA Cup Europe #21 and #22 and finish 3rd at StarLadder ProSeries Season 20, but the squad couldn’t quite get over the hump in Pro Circuit qualifiers and failed to earn a place on the Pro Circuit stage. In October, the team opted to leave the organization and continued on under the name No Rats. However, that change brought the squad no closer to success, and by the end of November the No Rats roster had essentially fallen apart. In December, Topson opted to return to the European region as a part of the all-Finnish squad 5 Anchors No Captain. Once again, Topson was able to help his team to success in 3rd party events, with the team winning the OverPower Cup Europe #3 and finishing 3rd at StarLadder ProSeries Season 22 and the joinDOTA League Season 12 Europe. However, the squad couldn’t break through in Pro Circuit qualifiers in the region, and in June Topson ended up leaving the team to accept a position with the newly rebuild OG roster. Topson’s experience with OG at this point has exclusively come from its TI8 Qualifier runs, but even from that small sample size many have gotten a chance to see why the Finnish phenom was so highly regarded by the OG organization. However, if OG wants to have a chance at making a successful run in Vancouver, then Topson will have to put together a truly inspiring performance in his first ever appearance on the TI stage.
Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs (Offlane) – 7ckngMad is something of a polarizing presence within the Dota 2 world, as the French player and coach has never been afraid to express himself fully and speak his mind. His candidness and frankness has often rubbed some people the wrong way, and while his opinions aren’t always received particularly well, his experience within the Dota 2 scene cannot be so easily dismissed. Between playing and coaching, 7ckngMad has been involved in the professional Dota 2 scene for nearly the entirety of the game’s history. His career began in 2011 with Team Shakira, though by the start of 2012 the team had been acquired by Western Wolves. That team was unable to earn much success though, and in April of 2012 7ckngMad and 2 of his teammates moved to the roster of Mortal Teamwork. That team made a name for itself on the international level, winning DreamHack Summer 2012, The Premier League Masters, and the TI2 West Qualifiers all within a 2 month span. The squad’s performance at TI2 was not quite as strong though, and 7ckngMad left the team soon after the event to reform Team Shakira, which was acquired by DD.Dota in November. In June of 2013, that squad was picked up by Quantic Gaming for around 3 months before the organization’s roster fell apart. Following his departure from Quantic Gaming, 7ckngMad helped found the first roster of Sigma.int in October, though the team found limited success together. In April of 2014, 7ckngMad left the squad, only to return a few months later in August as a member of the all-French squad Terra Firma eSports that was signed by Denial eSports within days of its creation. After 5 months with Denial eSports and only a handful of regional event appearances to show for it, 7ckngMad left the team in January of 2015, beginning of period in which he would bounce between a number of teams, organizations, and even regions. After leaving Denial eSports, he spent around a month with European squad Basically Unknown before moving to the North American region in February to join Team FIRE. Just 2 weeks later, Team FIRE disbanded, with 7ckngMad and half of the team’s roster continuing to play on in the team’s place under the name Champions of Summer’s Rift. That squad earned itself a 1st place finish at the Canada Cup – Season 4, but soon after that event 7ckngMad opted to return to Europe to accept a position on the roster of Alliance. Though the team made a number of strong qualifier runs, it failed to qualify for TI5 and disbanded after a 5th-8th place finish at ESL One Frankfurt 2015 in June. 7ckngMad ended the year with stints on the roster of Monkey Freedom Fighters and Kaipi, but by April of 2016 he was out of the professional scene as a player. In May, he was approached by the OG organization to serve as its coach, and guided the team to success for over 2 years before being returned to the active lineup this season. 7ckngMad has seen action across numerous teams and regions in his Dota 2 career, but he’s never quite gotten that flagship victory on the international level, at least not as an active player. With OG having earned itself a place in the field at TI8, the former coach will have an opportunity to put his knowledge and guidance to practical use as he will try to lead the European squad to success in Vancouver.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka (Support) – JerAx has earned himself a reputation as one of the leading position 4 supports in the world, and it is a reputation that he had more than lived up to despite still being relatively early into his career. His play style has relied heavily upon playing mobile and aggressive supports, with heroes like Earth Spirit, Tusk, and Chen being particularly deadly in his hands. JerAx is a support player that has become so dangerous that opponents have to specifically draft against him, banning some of his stronger heroes in an attempt to limit his impact on a match. It is rare that a support player garners that level of fear and respect, but JerAx has spent his entire career proving that he is capable of dominating the pace of a match regardless of his hero. After spending some time as a professional player in Heroes of Newerth, he made the transition to Dota 2 in 2013 with Rat in the dark, though he was picked up by QPAD Red Pandas only a month later. After 9 months and limited success with the team, JerAx left the team in December and took a hiatus from the professional scene. In September of 2014, he returned as a member of the all-Finnish squad 4 Anchors + Sea Captain, helping the team make a handful of unsuccessful appearances on the international level. In January of 2015, JerAx left the team to join the roster of Team Tinker, though he remained with the team for just 2 months before being picked up by Korean squad MVP HOT6ix in March. With JerAx in the lineup, MVP HOT6ix was able to win the TI5 Southeast Asia Qualifier, but finished in the 13th-16th place position at the event itself. In the aftermath of TI5, the MVP HOT6ix lineup fell apart, and JerAx found himself returning to Europe as a member of the 5Jungz squad that would go on to be signed by Team Liquid. With Team Liquid, JerAx found his first significant success on the international level, winning 3 major events in 2015 and 2016 and earning back to back 2nd place finishes at The Shanghai Major and The Manila Major. Despite that success and a 7th-8th place finish at TI6, JerAx opted for a change in August of 2016, joining the roster of OG. He has remained with the team ever since, winning 2 Majors with the team and attempting to help guide it out of its recent struggles on the Pro Circuit. With the team bringing in 2 relatively young players at the mid and carry positions, JerAx’s ability to both control the pace of the game and demand attention in the draft will serve as valuable assets that should take pressure away from the team’s cores and help set them up for success on the TI stage.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein (Support, Captain) – Entering TI8, N0tail stands as the only remaining original member of the first OG squad, and has taken on the role of the team’s position 5 support and captain since its most recent roster changes. The return to the support position will be an interesting one for the Danish player, as his time with OG has seen him largely playing a carry role. Since the positional shift, N0tail has favored the traditional control heavy, team fight centric heroes, with picks like Witch Doctor, Naga Siren, and Warlock factoring heavily into the team’s new drafting style. Despite having played as a carry for the past few years, N0tail’s roots lie at the support position, as he entered the Dota 2 world playing that role with Fnatic back in 2012. Even then he was transitioning between positions, as he had previously been known as a midlaner in his days as a professional Heroes of Newerth player. However, the support role seemed to suit N0tail, as he helped Fnatic establish itself as a power in the European region and earned back to back TI appearances for the team at TI3 and TI4. Unfortunately, neither of those TI runs proved particularly successful, and in the aftermath of TI4, the Fnatic lineup fell apart and disbanded. In August of 2014, he was revealed as a founding member of Team Secret and helped the team earn 5 straight Top 4 event finishes to close out the year. In January of 2015, he left the organization to join the lineup of Cloud 9 just in time to help the team qualify for the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015. The squad went on to earn a 5th-6th place finish at the event itself, but was released by the organization following a 9th-12th place finish at TI5 in August. At that point, N0tail opted to form a squad of his own, reuniting up with former Fnatic and Team Secret teammate Tal “Fly” Aizik to form the (monkey) Business roster that would go on to become OG. With OG, N0tail has been one of the most successful players in the history of Dota 2, with 4 Major Championships under his belt. Despite the team’s impressive reults over the past few years, success on the TI stage has always eluded N0tail and the rest of OG. Though the team’s new roster has only been together for a short period of time, the hope is that N0tail’s proven success and experience in the Dota 2 world will help guide the team to a breakthrough performance in Vancouver that will finally return OG to the elite status that it has held in years past.
Expectations at TI8
Just about everything regarding OG stands as a question mark heading into TI8, as the team has quite a lot to prove on the TI stage in Vancouver. The team’s new roster has been finalized, but aside from its performance in the TI8 Qualifiers, we have seen very little of that lineup in action. Of course, its performance in those qualifier runs was very impressive, but the fact that this current iteration of the OG lineup has not played together outside of its home region makes it hard to gauge where its potential lies heading into the biggest event in the Dota 2 world. The team has talent in abundance, with recent additions Anathan “ana” Pham and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen being highly touted players despite both being relatively young and near the earlier side of their careers. The squad also has extensive experience on its side as well, with captain Johan “N0tail” Sundstein and offlaner Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs both dating back to some of the earliest days of the professional scene. So it would appear that the current OG lineup has the building blocks of success on the TI stage, but the question for the European team will be just how those pieces all fit together. The lack of matches outside of Europe combined with the team’s relatively recent formation makes it difficult to pin down its standing compared to the rest of the field in Vancouver. The team’s talent and experience would appear to put it a step above the weaker “just happy to be here” level of teams, but its lack of proven results keeps it significantly under the level of the favored squads as well. For now, OG stand as a team with a large level of potential, but that potential can be just as much of a burden as an asset for it. The European squad should likely be considered a “swing” team in the field for TI8. What that means is that OG has the skill and experience to find itself somewhere in the top half of the standings at TI, but could also easily fall to the bottom of the standings due to its lack of results on the international level and potential lack of chemistry. The level of variance in the team’s potential landing places in the standings is a double edged sword, and will likely leave OG incredibly dependent upon its own momentum at the event. A good game or day in the Group Stage could instill the team with the confidence needed to spark a run into a leading position in Vancouver, but a single bad day or even a single bad game could also send it into a near unrecoverable tail spin. Time will tell us just how resilient this new OG roster is as it looks to climb its way back into a position as a leading team in the Dota 2 world.