Prelude for a Champion 2018: A TI8 Team Profile – VGJ.Thunder

A Sound of Thunder: After an impressive and somewhat surprising regular season run, VGJ.Thunder looks to realize its potential at the highest level 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 can focus on 1 of the 6 Chinese teams in the field for TI8, and 1 of the 2 squads that will be playing under the VGJ banner in Vancouver: VGJ.Thunder.

 

VGJ.Thunder VGJ Thunder

Region: China

Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 8th (1935 Qualifying Points)

Qualification Method: Direct Invite (DPC Top 8)

2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 7 (3 Top 4 Finishes)

Previous TI Appearances: None (TI Debut)

2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
2nd – The Bucharest Major

Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
2nd – GESC: Indonesia Dota2 Minor
2nd – StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5

Non- Pro Circuit Events
1st – H-Cup Season 8
1st – Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds
2nd – China Top 2017
3rd – Dota2 Professional League Season 4 – Top
3rd – H-Cup Season 9
7th-8th – Dota2 Professional League Season 5 – Top

 

Team History

VGJ.Thunder, and the VGJ organization as a whole, have a rather interesting history in the esports world, though it may not be the longest one among the TI8 participants. The organization began as an offshoot venture of Vici Gaming, as the organization announced an agreement with a new sponsor company as well as professional basketball player and Dota 2 enthusiast Jeremy Lin. The resulting organization became known as VGJ, and fielded its first Dota 2 roster in September of 2016 to moderate success in the Chinese region. The team placed 2nd on the Dota2 ACE – Provisional tournament in November, and closed out 2016 with a 1st place finish in the Secondary Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 2.

The Chinese squad began 2017 with a stretch of relatively solid play, placing Top 4 in 3 straight regional qualifiers and earning appearances on the international level at the StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3, The Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, and The Kiev Major. However, the squad began losing momentum in the months leading up to TI7, and ended up failing to qualify for the event with a 6th-10th place run in the TI7 China Qualifier. In September of 2017, the team’s roster fell apart, and the organization opted to make a change. The squad signed 2 squads to participate on the Pro Circuit, the first being a North American squad under the name VGJ.Storm, and its new Chinese roster playing as VGJ.Thunder.

 

Season in Review

With its new roster only having recently been put together, VGJ.Thunder opened its Pro Circuit campaign in surprisingly confident fashion. The team finished in the Top 4 in 2 of its 3 qualifier runs in September, and made its debut on the Pro Circuit stage in October with a 5th-6th place finish at the PGL Open Bucharest Minor. Within the Chinese region, the team was proving to be a formidable force, as the squad earned Top 4 finishes in 3 of its final 4 Pro Circuit qualifiers in 2017, and continued to find success against its regional rivals in 3rd party events as well. In November, VGJ.Thunder finished 3rd in the Top Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 4, won H-Cup Season 8 in December, and finished in 3rd in Season 9 of the same event just 2 weeks later to end the year. 

The 2018 section of the season saw VGJ.Thunder pick up right where it had left off in 2017, as the squad claimed Top 4 finishes in all 3 of its qualifier appearances in January. Outside of the Pro Circuit, the squad claimed a 1st place finish at Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds, but unfortunately failed to replicate that success in its return to the Pro Circuit stage at the ESL One Genting 2018 Minor, where it finished in the 7th-8th place position overall. Soon after, the squad opted for a change, removing support player Fan “Ayo” Tianyou in order to add Leong “ddc” Fat-meng to its lineup on loan from LGD.Forever Young. Despite continuing to perform consistently in regional qualifiers and events, and earning its first Qualifying Points of the season via the transfer of ddc, the Chinese squad could not break through on the Pro Circuit stage. That all changed in March, when the team put together an incredible run at The Bucharest Major that saw it finish in 2nd place and skyrocket up the Pro Circuit standings. After finishing in 2nd at the GESC: Indonesia Dota2 Minor just a week later, the squad had completed run all the way from the 17th position in the Pro Circuit standings, to 6th overall. In April, the team’s momentum took a hit with a 9th-12th place run at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major, but another 2nd place finish at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor later that month kept the squad inside the Top 8 in the standings. Unfortunately for the team, that performance would be its last bit of success on the Pro Circuit stage, as the team fell short of a Top 4 finish in its final event appearance at the China Dota2 Supermajor in June. Despite the lack of further Qualifying Points, VGJ.Thunder’s total as a team allowed it to survive the final stretch of the Pro Circuit rat race and hold its Top 8 spot through the end of the season.

 

Roster

Liu “Sylar” Jiajun (Carry) – In the Chinese region, the majority of Dota 2 teams are built around either young talent or veteran experience. In the case of VGJ.Thunder, Sylar falls into the latter category for sure, as the carry player has been involved in the Dota 2 world dating back to some of the earliest days of the game. Throughout his career, Sylar has excelled in the hard farming, hyper carry style that has been a hallmark of the Chinese region for years. However, in recent times he has begun throwing in a few more team fight oriented heroes into his hero pool, and has even taken over duties in the middle lane from time to time with heroes like Death Prophet and Dragon Knight. At heart though, Sylar is a carry player through and through, as he has held that position since the very beginning of his days in the Dota 2 world back in November of 2011. After spending some time as a professional player in the original DotA, Sylar made the transition to Dota 2 that year by joining the roster of LGD Gaming. He attended TI2 with the squad, and helped LGD Gaming earn itself a 3rd place position at the event. Sylar and LGD Gaming closed out 2012 with wins at both the G-1 Champions League Season 4 and The Asia 2012, cementing their place near the top of the Chinese scene. That success carried over in 2013, as the squad put together 5 straight Top 4 LAN finishes and won the TI3 Eastern Qualifiers to return to the TI stage. Unfortunately, the squad struggled at TI3, putting together a 9th-12th place finish at the event that prompted the organization to replace Sylar in its lineup. After spending around 2 months on the roster of minor squad RisingStars, Sylar was picked up by Vici Gaming in October of 2013. With Sylar in the lineup, Vici Gaming closed out the year with back to back victories in its home region, and entered 2014 with a bit of momentum on its side. 2014 saw Vici Gaming begin to break through both at home and on the international level, making appearances at 4 international LAN events and earning a direct invite to TI4. The team would put together an incredible 2nd place run on the TI stage in Seattle, but in the days that followed, Sylar left the team to rejoin the LGD Gaming organization. Sylar would spend nearly 2 years with LGD Gaming, helping the squad earn another 3rd place finish on the TI stage at TI5, and playing a large role in keeping the organization at the top of the hierarchy in China. After 5 LAN victories, 2 Major appearances, a showing at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 and a 3rd place TI5 finish, Sylar once again left LGD Gaming for Vici Gaming in April of 2016. His time there would be somewhat short though, as Vici Gaming failed to qualify for TI6, and Sylar left soon after to join the roster of EHOME in September. With Sylar in the lineup, EHOME was able to close out 2016 with a few solid qualifier runs and an appearances at The Boston Major in December, but couldn’t quite find the consistent success that it was hoping for. By the start of 2017, Sylar had left the organization, and remained inactive through most of 2017 before joining the VGJ organization in September. Sylar has proven himself to be a skilled and experienced leader for VGJ.Thunder, and if the team wants to live up to its Top 8 ranking and find success in Vancouver, he is going to have to continue being a strong, leading presence for the team as it prepares to take the TI stage.

Liu “Freeze” Chang (Mid) – VGJ.Thunder is a squad where veteran experience mixes with young talent, and Freeze is the player on the team’s roster that comes the closest to straddling those 2 sides of the spectrum. At just 21 years of age, he is still considered fairly young within the Dota 2 world, but he has been playing the game at a professional level for some time already. Freeze has shown himself to be somewhat adaptable as a midlaner, with his style mostly favoring the sort of aggressive, active, lane dominating heroes that we often see at the position. His aggression has proven to be a double edged sword for the team at times though, and in this recent season he has taken steps to supplement his pool of aggressive heroes with more stable, team fight oriented midlaners. The change has not been easy for Freeze, as he has been playing with his signature aggressive style since the very beginning of his career back in 2014 when he appeared on the roster of semi-pro squad 2144 Gaming.Shield. That first foray into the professional scene was not particularly successful, but it did get Freeze noticed enough to be picked up by EHOME.K in March of 2015. After 4 months with the team, Freeze was transferred to another of EHOME’s secondary squads, EHOME.Luminous. Unfortunately, the developmental team found little success during Freeze’s tenure, but the midlaner continued to advance and in December of 2016 he was signed by Team VGJ. With VGJ, Freeze finally began finding success in the Chinese region, and also made his first appearances on the international level as the squad appeared at 5 international LANs in 2017, including The Kiev Major in April. Despite that success, the team failed to qualify for TI7, and Freeze was soon after sent to the roster of Vici Gaming.Potential. However, the team’s roster rebuild and rebranding as VGJ.Thunder brought Freeze back into the lineup, where he has remained for the entirety of the season. Freeze has needed to develop at an incredible rate in his career, and his recent time with VGJ.Thunder has seen some significant changes made to his style of play. Finding success on the TI stage will not be an easy task for VGJ.Thunder, but if the Chinese squad wants to truly impress in Vancouver, then it will need Freeze to put all of his skill and adaptability on display at TI8.

Zhou “Yang” Haiyang (Offlane) – In the Chinese region, much of made of the efforts of organizations to foster up and coming talent through developmental teams and systems, and Yang stands as one of the testaments to the efficacy of those efforts. Despite his youth and relatively recent addition to the professional scene, Yang has proven himself to be a capable offlaner and a valuable contributor to the VGJ.Thunder roster. He has embraced a play style at the position that emphasizes both highly aggressive, play making initiators and team fight controllers, giving VGJ.Thunder an ability to draft around multiple different tempos and paces of play. The 21 year old hasn’t had quite as long of a career as some of his more experienced teammates, with Yang having entered the professional Dota 2 scene back in March of 2015 as a member of Vici Gaming Potential, the developmental team of the Vici Gaming organization. Yang spent around a year with VG.P, and while the squad itself found limited success in the Chinese region, the offlaner established himself as a player with talent and potential. When Vici Gaming Potential was rebranded as Vici Gaming Reborn, Yang remained with the roster and immediately helped the squad establish itself as a leader in the Chinese region. During this time, he also earned his first experience on the international level, with the team winning the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 1 and finishing in the 7th-8th place position at The Manila Major. He even helped the team qualify for TI6, but was unable to secure a visa to travel to Seattle and ended up missing the event. Despite that missed opportunity, Yang continued to play with Vici Gaming Reborn, and remained part of the lineup when the squad was rebranded back to the main Vici Gaming roster in September of 2016. Unfortunately, the change in name didn’t help to stave off a decline in performance for the squad, as Vici Gaming closed out 2016 in disappointing fashion. The first half of 2017 saw the team recover to a certain degree, but it could not reclaim the momentum that it had built up under the Vici Gaming Reborn name and ended up failing to qualify for TI7. In September of 2017, Yang was announced as one of the members of the new Team VGJ lineup, and he has remained with the team through its transition to the VGJ.Thunder name. Like many players at the offlane position, Yang is not always one to be in the spotlight or to single handedly determine the outcome of a match. However, his steady contributions to the team will be a vital factor in determining whether VGJ.Thunder can find success in Vancouver regardless of exactly how much attention gets paid to him on the TI stage.

Pan “Fade” Yi (Support, Captain) – Fade has been given the responsibility of serving as the captain for VGJ.Thunder in its Pro Circuit and TI campaign, which is quite a lot to handle for one who has only recently joined the professional scene. Fade’s experience as a pro player is not extensive by any means, but he has very quickly shown himself to be a valuable asset for his team as its position 4 support. The position is often called upon to be an aggressor and initiator, and Fade has embraced that role all season long for the squad with roaming, aggressive support picks. Heroes like Tusk, Sand King, and Earth Spirit have been used to fantastic effect by him, and that his aggressive style has helped VGJ.Thunder to establish favorable paces of play across most of their matches. Fade’s abilities as both the team’s captain and support player are even more impressive considering, as previously noted, that he is a relatively recent addition to the professional scene. Fade’s career in Dota 2 began in March of 2016 with ThundeRobot Gaming, a relatively minor squad in the Chinese region. After 2 months and little success with ThundRobot Gaming, Fade was picked up by the Vici Gaming organization as a member of its developmental squad, Vici Gaming Potential. Fade spent over a year with the team, improving his game but never finding much success within the Chinese region. Prior to the start of the Pro Circuit season, Fade and 2 of his teammates ended up transferring to the newly formed roster of Team VGJ, and Fade would remain with the squad through its rebranding as VGJ.Thunder and through the Pro Circuit season as a whole. In his role as captain, Fade has had some help in the form of experienced teammates and a reliable coach, which has helped him guide the Chinese squad to a position as one of the leading teams on the Pro Circuit. The question will be whether a player like Fade with limited experience on the international level will be able to continue performing at the level that we’ve seen once he reaches the TI stage. If VGJ.Thunder are going to make a serious push in Vancouver, then the squad will need its captain to be at his best both as a player and a leader.

Leong “ddc” Fat-meng (Support) – Ddc is in a rather interesting position at the current time, as the player is attending TI8 with VGJ.Thunder despite still technically being signed by LGD.Forever Young. The veteran player was loaned to his current team around half way through the season, and came as a valuable and experienced new piece to the VGJ.Thunder roster. Ddc is truly a veteran in the Dota 2 world, as he has been playing the game from the very beginning of its run and is 1 of just 4 players in Dota 2 history to have attended every single iteration of TI. That fact alone should probably tell you everything you need to know about ddc, as his consistent and reliable play as the position 5 support has been invaluable regardless of what organization he has played for in his storied career. That career dates back all the way to 2011, when ddc attended TI1 with Invictus Gaming Zhou and earned a 5th-6th place finish at the event. Soon after the end of the event, ddc was one the move, leaving the Invictus Gaming organization to join LGD Gaming in August. He spent over 3 years with LGD Gaming, helping the squad establish itself as one of the leading squads within the Chinese region in 2012 and 2013 with a slew of solid performances both at home and on the international level, including appearances at both TI2 and TI3. Across the first half of 2014, the team continued its impressive performance, but began to stumble around June as its results took a significant turn for the worse. While the team still qualified for TI4 and finished in the 5th-6th place position at the event, ddc left the organization in September to join LV Gaming. That LV Gaming squad famously claimed a surprise victory at the Dota 2 League Season 5 in January of 2015, and soon after ddc and 2 of his teammates were picked up by EHOME. That EHOME squad represented itself relatively well with ddc in the lineup, making an appearance at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 and putting together an impressive 5th-6th place run at TI5. In the post-TI roster shuffle, ddc left the EHOME organization and returned to LGD Gaming, where he helped the squad make back to back appearanes at the Frankfurt and Shanghai Majors in 2015 and 2016. However, LGD Gaming opted to release ddc from the lineup in March of 2016, forcing the support player to move to the roster of Vici Gaming Reborn. The squad put together a solid stretch of play both at home and on the international level, headlined by appearances at both The Manila Major and TI6. In September of 2016, ddc and most of the Vici Gaming Reborn lineup was rebranded as the main Vici Gaming squad. However, ddc’s contract was not renewed in April of 2017, and the Chinese veteran jumped ship to join LGD.Forever Young, where he helped the squad become a leading team in the Chinese region and finish in 3rd place at TI7. He began the Pro Circuit season with LGD.Forever Young, but its roster changes at the start of 2018 sent him to the roster of VGJ.Thunder as a loan between the organizations. Ddc’s unbelievable level of experience both within the Chinese region and on the international level have been incredibly important in the rapid development of this VGJ.Thunder roster. In order for the squad to make a truly successful run in Vancouver, they will likely have to lean heavily on ddc’s leadership and experience on the TI stage.

Bai “rOtK” Fan (Coach) – Within the Chinese region, the coaching position is often filled by big name former players, and rOtK certainly fits that bill as VGJ.Thunder’s coach. The player has been involved in the Dota 2 scene since some of its earliest days, going all the way back to August of 2011 with Team DK. In his 2 years with the team, rOtK and Team DK put together 6 Top 4 finishes in the Chinese region, and made appearances at both TI2 and TI3. However, in the post-TI shuffle, the team’s roster fell apart, and rOtK moved to the lineup of Vici Gaming in September of 2013. In nearly a year with the team, rOtK helped Vici Gaming put together an impressive string of results, culminating in a 2nd place finish at TI4. Just after the end of the event, rOtK announced his retirement from professional Dota 2, but made a return in January of 2015 as a member of the Big God roster. After a 4th place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015, Big God disbanded and rOtK moved to the lineup of EHOME, helping to guide the squad to a 5th-6th place finish at TI5. Despite that encouraging performance, rOtK left EHOME in the post-TI roster shuffle and found his way to LGD Gaming in August of 2015. With LGD Gaming, he would make appearances at both The Frankfurt Major in November and The Shanghai Major in March, before leaving the team to rejoin the Vici Gaming organization. After falling short in the TI6 China Qualifier, rOtK transferred to the newly formed Team VGJ. During his tenure with the squad, Team VGJ found moderate success within the Chinese region, but couldn’t quite replicate that success on the international level, aside from a 5th-8th place run at The Kiev Major in April of 2017. When the squad failed to qualify for TI7, rOtK opted to temporarily join Invictus Gaming as the team’s coach for the event, which represented his first foray into the coaching role. With the Pro Circuit season approaching, rOtK decided to remain in the coaching position rather than join a team as an active player, and returned to Team VGJ, now VGJ.Thunder, as its coach. With his help, the Chinese squad has risen to hold one of the strongest positions in the Dota 2 world with its Top 8 Pro Circuit ranking. However, the step up from competing on the Pro Circuit to the TI stage will be a significant one, and rOtK will need to put all of his knowledge and experience to work to help VGJ.Thunder adapt as quickly and effectively as possible in Vancouver.

 

Expectations at TI8

VGJ.Thunder enters TI8 as the 8th ranked team on the Pro Circuit, which in theory would make them one of the most likely teams to claim a spot in the top half of the event standings and potentially make a run at the Aegis of Champions in Vancouver. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way they appear on paper, as VGJ.Thunder’s situation is not nearly as straightforward as its ranking may suggest. The VGJ.Thunder roster showed some incredible growth and talent on the Pro Circuit this season, rising from a team struggling to find its way in the Chinese region to a power on the international level. However, the squad exposed some weaknesses along the way that raise some concerns for it as it prepares to take the stage at TI8. The primary concern for the team is the fact that almost all of its points came from a single performance on the Pro Circuit stage, that being the team’s 2nd place run at The Bucharest Major in March. While the team was able to put together 2 more Top 4 finishes in Pro Circuit Minors before the end of the season, VGJ.Thunder never came close to replicate its performance at another Major. The takeaway from that point isn’t that the team isn’t skilled enough to succeed on the international level, but that it might not be consistent enough to perform at that level when it needs to. The squads final 2 Major appearances this season both resulted in 9th-12th place finishes, the latter of which came at the China Dota2 Supermajor where the squad was in real danger of dropping out of the Top 8 in the Pro Circuit standings entirely. The team had issues reestablishing that previous level of successful play when the pressure was mounting, and no where will the pressure be higher than on the TI stage in Vancouver. VGJ.Thunder’s roster is talented and has a near perfect blend of veteran experience and leadership and young potential stars. That potential will essentially be how the squad lives or dies at TI8, as the Chinese squad sits dead center int he field in terms of expectations. One the one hand, the team’s successful performances this season displayed its skill and ability to compete, and should the squad recapture that form in Vancouver then it would fairly easily finish in the top half of the standings and maybe even push into the later rounds of the bracket. On the other hand though, it’s inconsistency around the end of the season could be a sign that the team still needs time to continue developing, and it may struggle on the TI stage and fall in the event standings. With such a wide variance to its potential landing spot, VGJ.Thunder is one of the hardest teams to get a good grasp on in terms of expectations at TI8. The safest bet would be to expect a finish somewhere in the middle of the pack for the team, but to keep hopes high that the squad realizes its potential yet again and pushes for a more favorable results in Vancouver.

 

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