A Cinderella Story?: Chinese squad and unexpected addition to the TI8 field Team Serenity hopes to shock the Dota 2 world with a strong run 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 1 of the 6 Chinese teams in the field at TI8 and a team that earned itself a place in Vancouver without making a single appearance on the Pro Circuit stage: Team Serenity.
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: TI8 China Qualifier (1st Place)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 0
Previous TI Appearances: 0 (TI Debut)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Non- Pro Circuit Events
9th-12th – H-Cup Season 8
Team Serenity is an name that hasn’t been around in the esports scene for all that long, as the organization was only founded in September of 2017. Created by a wealthy Chinese enthusiast, the squad entered the Pro Circuit season lacking the organizational structure and myriad sponsorships of many of the bigger names in the Chinese region. The team’s initial roster didn’t have much in the way of star power either, as the majority of its players were relatively new to the professional scene and had limited experience in their careers. To attempt to compete with some of the biggest organizations in the Chinese Dota 2 scene was certainly an ambitious undertaking, but Team Serenity entered the 2017-2018 Pro Circuit season with hopes of establishing itself as a power within the region.
Season in Review
Almost immediately, Team Serenity was feeling the repercussions of its newcomer status and lack of notoriety in the Dota 2 world, as the squad could not earn itself invitations to Pro Circuit qualifiers directly and repeatedly had to participate in Open Qualifiers. In September, the squad won the China Open Qualifier for the ESL One Hamburg 2017 Major, but finished in the 9th-12th place position in the main qualifier. The team’s struggles within the Chinese region appeared to be taking their toll outside of the Pro Circuit as well, as the team finished in the 9th-12th place position in H-Cup Season 8 before following that performance up with an abysmal 21st-24th place run in Season 9 just 2 weeks later.
Team Serenity entered 2018 with very little to show for its efforts over the first months of the Pro Circuit season. Following another series of poor Open Qualifier results in January, the organization opted to make a change, swapping out 3 of its 5 active players in a massive overhaul of its roster. The changes to the team’s roster brought about a period of increased consistency for Team Serenity, as the squad proceeded to win 5 straight Open Qualifiers in the Chinese region over the final months of the season. Unfortunately, the team’s consistency also meant that it was consistently missing the mark once it advanced out of the Open Qualifiers, and into the main Regional Qualifiers for Pro Circuit events. Even with a follow up roster change in March, Team Serenity finisehd in the 7th-8th place position in three straight Pro Circuit qualifiers. Only its final qualifier run on the Pro Circuit changed things up for the team, with Team Serenity advancing 1 spot higher than before with a 6th-7th place finish in the China Qualifier for the China Dota2 Supermajor. Overall, the team’s results in the 2017-2018 season were anything but encouraging, but the squad proved itself to be far more resilient than many might have given them credit for. The squad put all of its extensive Open Qualifier experience to use, winning the TI8 China Open Qualifier #1 and giving itself a chance to fight for a spot in Vancouver. That chance ended up being all that Team Serenity needed as it put together a 5-2 Group Stage record and marched past both LGD.Forever Young and Invictus Gaming to secure its place at TI8 with an astounding breakthrough performance.
Jin “zhizhizhi” Zhiyi (Carry) – For a squad like Team Serenity that has received almost no attention on the Pro Circuit this season, it’s hard to identify any particular player that has emerged as a more prominent figure for the team. However, zhizhizhi has shown himself to be a talented player with other Chinese squads, and has become a strong presence in the Team Serenity lineup. The carry player has embraced a style that emphasizes heroes capable of farming heavily whilst still contributing to early team fights, with Phantom Lancer and Gyrocopter being particularly favored heroes for him. That style is not one that has come naturally for zhizhizhi, as he has spent time as both a carry and midlaner in his career, beginning in 2013 as a part of the semi-pro squad Five Personal Beliefs. That squad was met with little success, and in April of 2015 zhizhizhi joined his first major organization by joining the roster of DUOBAO. He would spend over a year with the Chinese squad, but could never mange to fully break through and find significant success against other teams in the region. In May of 2016, he left the organization behind in order to join EHOME.Keen and transition from the carry role into the team’s midlaner. With EHOME.Keen, zhizhizhi was finally able to find some success within the Chinese region, with the squad earning itself a handful of solid results in regional qualifiers and events in a period of around 15 months. Following a 4th place finish at the TI7 China Qualifier, zhizhizhi and his teammates opted to leave its parent organization in September of 2017, becoming Keen Gaming just in time for the start of the Pro Circuit season. Zhizhizhi played a large role in helping Keen Gaming fight its way to its Pro Circuit debut at the ESL One Hamburg 2017 Major in October, but the squad could not manage to establish itself as a true contender on the international level or in the Chinese region. In January of 2018, he left Keen Gaming to join the roster of Team Serenity as part of its roster rebuild, and has remained a central part of its lineup ever since. Team Serenity is not exactly expected to be a significant contender for the Aegis of Champions in Vancouver. However, if the Chinese upstart is going to have any chance at making a surprise run at TI8, zhizhizhi’s play will likely have to be one of the driving forces for the squad.
Zhang “Zyd” Quanda (Mid) – As a mid-season addition to the Team Serenity roster, Zyd was brought into the lineup with some moderate expectations weighing on him with regards to his performance. The midlaner has proven himself to be a strong driving force foe the team, and has played a large part in its surprising run to TI8 despite having somewhat limited experience at the professional level. The midlaner has spent the majority of his career favoring a more active and aggressive style of play, but his recent matches with Team Serenity have seen him begin to shift towards the more stable, team fight controlling heroes of the current meta. The difficulties of a shift in play style should never be underestimated, but Zyd’s transition may have been helped along by the fact that he is still relatively early into his Dota 2 career. The Chinese player began his time as a professional with FTD Club C back in July of 2016, although he remained with that squad for just a little over 2 months. In October, he joined the youth/developmental team of the Wings Gaming organization, playing under the name Wings.Red. Zyd participated in the TI7 China Champions Qualifier with Wings.Red, but ended up finishing in the 5th-8th place position in a field of 8 teams and left the squad soon after. In September of 2017, he joined the roster of CDEC Avenger as part of its Pro Circuit lineup, but the team found no significant success in its region and failed to ever advance beyond the Open Qualifier stage on the Pro Circuit. Zyd left the team in January of 2018, and remained without a team for around 2 months before being picked up by Team Serenity in March as the final addition to its roster. His addition to the lineup coincided with the squad’s run of Open Qualifier victories, and Team Serenity is hoping that the midlaner will be able to help the squad take another significant step forward on the TI stage in Vancouver. The odds will likely be stacked against Team Serenity at TI8, but if the squad wants to make a shocking run a la CDEC Gaming and Wings Gaming of years past, then Zyd will have to step up and put together some incredible performance on the TI stage.
Zhao “XinQ” Zixing (Offlane) – Very rarely in the Dota 2 world do we see Chinese squads accepting non-Chinese players into their ranks, but what is even more rare is to see a Chinese player leave his home region to pursue opportunities elsewhere. XinQ is one of the few to have done so, and his experience playing in another region is a potential asset that few other Chinese teams can lay claim to. In terms of his play style, XinQ has shown himself to be rather unorthodox among Chinese offlaners, at least as far as his time with Serenity Gaming is concerned. He has favored a style that emphasizes farming, high damage heroes in the offlane as opposed to the hard initiators and team fight controllers that typically dominate the position. Part of the reason for this style may be the fact that XinQ has not always played as an offlaner, as the Chinese player has spent stretches of his career at the carry position as well. His career began as a hybrid carry and offlaner in October of 2014 as a member of the Tongfu organization’s secondary squad, Tongfu.WanZhou. He would spend the next 2 years shifting back and forth between the roster of Tongfu.WanZhou and the main Tongfu lineup, making appearances at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 and winning 3 strategist regional LANS in July of 2015. Despite those notable performances, XinQ never found consistent success with the TongFu organization, and in March of 2016 he made the decision to move to the North American region to join the roster of Asian-American squad Void Boys. Unfortuantely, that move was short lived, as XinQ spent only a few months with the team before returning to China in June to join FTD Club A (now For The Dream). The squad faced significant struggles in 2016, but in the first half of 2017 it appeared to be finding its footing in the Chinese region. With XinQ’s help, the team put together a handful of solid showings in regional events and even won the TI7 China Champions Qualifier, though it would finish in the 6th-10th place position in the main regional qualifier. XinQ would remain with the team through its transition in For The Dream, and spent the first half of the Pro Circuit season with the squad despite finding little success in regional qualifiers. In January of 2018, he left For The Dream in order to take over the offlaner duties for the new Team Serenity lineup. With most of the members of the team’s lineup having limited experience at the professional level, XinQ’s impact for the squad will likely extend beyond his own play as the team looks to make a Cinderella run in Vancouver.
Xiong “Pyw” Jiahan (Support, Captain) – Pyw stands as Team Serenity’s position 4 support and its captain, though neither of those positions are ones that the Chinese player has occupied for very long. His previous experience at the professional level came as a midlaner, which may help explain why his support style trends more towards the aggressive, roaming tendencies of a position 4 support. His hero pool frequently favors active, initiating heroes, with Clockwerk, Sand King, and Elder Titan featuring heavily in the team’s recent matches. Prior to his change in position, Pyw served as a midlaner for a number of squads in the Chinese region, beginning with HTML Gaming in April of 2016. By the end of the year, Pyw had spent time on the rosters of both Longwan and BraveHeart.Zombie, though neither squad was particularly successful. In January of 2017, Pyw left the BraveHeart organzation, and 2 months later in March joined the roster of Rampage Gaming, where he earned his first experience at the 4 position on a professional level. However, the shift in position didn’t do much to improve his team’s performance, as Rampage Gaming’s only notable accomplish during Pyw’s time on the roster was a 12th-13th place finish in the Secondary Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 3 in China. By the end of the month, he had left the team’s roster, and found his way to the lineup of Young Elite Gaming in June where he returned to his position as midlaner. Pyw ended up leaving Elite Gaming just before the start of the Pro Circuit season, spending around a month with Yuki in Ocotber and November before joining Team Serenity in December. Initially, he played as the carry for the squad, but its roster changes in January of 2018 shifted him into the support position that he holds today. As the team’s captain, much of Team Serenity’s strategy comes down to his drafting and play calling, which puts Pyw in an incredibly important position for the squad heading into Vancouver. If the team wants to have any chance at a success campaign at TI8, then it will need quality play from all of its players. However, as captain of the squad, Pyw will need to provide a level of leadership and guidance that may not come so easily for a player still very early into his professional career.
Xiao “XCJ” Chaojian (Support) – For the majority of the lineup of Team Serenity, experience at the professional level is at somewhat of a premium, and XCJ is no exception to this. None of the team’s players have had extensive careers to this point, but they have shown an impressive level of talent and potential. XCJ has proven himself to be a strong support, taking up the traditional role of the lane support and team fight controller and facilitator. Heroes like Ancient Apparition, Disruptor, and Warlock have featured heavily in his hero pool, and those picks give Team Serenity a much needed ability to fall back on solid team fight power and execution. For XCJ, the path to the TI stage has been relatively straightforward, and almost formulaic to a certain degree as he has proven to be a solid product of the developmental system in the Chinese region. XCJ’s professional career began back in March of 2016 with MAX.X, the secondary squad of the MAX organization (later Team MAX). He was a member of the team for a period of around 8 months, and during that span made his first appearance outside of the Chinese region as the team qualified for and competed in the ROG MASTERS 2016 in November. Soon after that performance, MAX.X disbanded, but XCJ would remain with the organization and was introduced as a member of the newly rebranded Team MAX lineup in February of 2017. With XCJ in the lineup, Team MAX began raising its profile within the Chinese region, putting together a number of runs through regional qualifiers and even earning a promotion from the Secondary Division to the Top Division in the Dota2 Professional League Season 3. Unfortunately, the squad fell short of the mark to qualify for TI7, with a 6th-10th place finish in the China Qualifier. In September of 2017, XCJ was offered a chance to join the newly formed Team Serenity as a part of its Pro Circuit lineup, and now stands as the only member of the organizations original roster to still be with the team. On a team that is likely to receive limited attention on the TI stage, XCJ will almost assuredly be out of the spotlight for the majority of the event. However, if the team wants to have a shot at success in Vancouver, then he will need to continue being a steady and reliable facilitator for the rest of his squad, even in the face of the strongest opposition in the Dota 2 world.
Expectations at TI8
As an organization, Team Serenity doesn’t exactly have a history of success to fall back on as it heads in to TI8, or a real history in any sense to be fair. The organization was founded just before the start of the Pro Circuit season, and its record through said season was not very impressive to say the least. Of the 18 teams in the field in Vancouver, Team Serenity has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the only one whose roster failed to participate in a Pro Circuit event this season. That lack of results and appearances on the Pro Circuit stage already bodes ill for the team’s chances in Vancouver, but it is compounded by other factors as well. 3 of its 5 players have been playing at the professional level for only around 2 years, and none of its players have particularly extensive experience playing outside of the Chinese region. However, the team’s status as a relatively unknown squad and lack of international experience could still potentially be an asset for the squad in things fall into place correctly for it. The team’s relative lack of experience could result in it potentially avoiding any sense of nervousness that would stem from heavy expectations on the TI stage. Additionally, the fact that the squad did not make any appearances on the Pro Circuit this season means that many of its potential opponents may find it more difficult to accurately scout and assess Team Serenity prior to the start of the event. On top of those potential assets, Team Serenity still has one more factor that could aid it in Vancouver: persistence. The squad never made it to a Pro Circuit event this season, but it did see action in a large number of regional qualifiers, and won 5 Open Qualifiers as well. Participating in and winning that many Open Qualifiers bred a degree of resiliency in the Team Serenity lineup that could serve it well at TI8. Of course, all of this speculation is basically played towards the best case scenario for Team Serenity, as the Chinese squad is simply not expected to have much of an impact in Vancouver. Given the team’s situation, allusions and comparisons are being made to teams like CDEC Gaming at TI5 and Wings Gaming at TI6 that made surprising runs on the TI stage as lesser known squads. However, in those situations the teams had still been relatively strong within the Chinese region prior to the start of TI, a trait that Team Serenity does not appear to share with its predecessors. As it currently stands, Team Serenity seems destined for a place near the bottom of the standings at TI8, and it would take a near miraculous run from the Chinese squad to surpass that rather pessimistic projection.