Prelude for a Champion 2018: A TI8 Team Profile – Invictus Gaming

Morior Invictus: After surviving a disappointing Pro Circuit season, Chinese squad Invictus Gaming stands ready to prove it can compete with the best 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 will focus on 1 of the 6 Chinese teams in the field at TI8, one of the longest standings organizations in the Dota 2 world, and a squad that managed to earn a spot in Vancouver without holding any Qualifying Points on the Pro Circuit: Invictus Gaming.

 

Invictus Gaming 600px-Ig_logo

Region: China

Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)

Qualification Method: TI8 China Qualifiers (2nd Place)

2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 2 (0 Top 4 Finishes)

Previous TI Appearances: TI1 (5th-6th), TI2 (1st), TI3 (5th-6th), TI4 (7th-8th), TI5 (9th-12th), TI7 (5th-6th)

2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Non- Pro Circuit Events
1st – World Cyber Arena 2017
2nd – H-Cup Season 8
3rd – China Top 2017
4th – Dota2 Professional League Season 5 – Top
5th-6th – Dota2 Professional League Season 4 – Top

 

Team History

The Invictus Gaming organization has been around since the very beginning of the Dota 2 scene, as the Chinese team traces its roots back to August of 2011 when it acquired both the DotA and StarCraft 2 squads of Catastrophic Cruel Memory. In fact, the DotA division of Invictus Gaming actually ended up acquiring 2 lineups, as the former CCM players formed Invictus Gaming Zhou (iG.Z or iG.Zhou), while Invictus Gaming YYF (iG.Y or iG.YYF) was formed after the acquisition of 4 of the 5 players from LGD Gaming. The iG.Z squad would represent the organization at TI1, finishing in the 5th-6th place position overall at the event. In November of 2011, roster instability prompted the organization to consolidate its 2 lineups, merging iG.Z and iG.Y in to a single Invictus Gaming squad. That new squad made its mark on the Dota 2 world in 2012, as Invictus Gaming claimed a victory over Na’Vi at TI2 to become the first ever Chinese TI winner. The organization kept that TI winning squad together through the rest of 2012 and most of 2013, and the squad returned to the TI stage in its entirety at TI3 to attempt a defense of its title. Instead, the squad ended up finishing in the 5th-6th place position, and in the aftermath of the event the organization opted to make changes to the roster. The changes appeared to be beneficial for the squad, as Invictus Gaming closed out 2013 in solid fashion and opened 2014 with a string of strong results within the Chinese region. The team’s success carried over to the international level as well, as iG won both WPC 2014 and ESL One Frnakfurt 2014 in the run up to TI4. On the TI stage itself, the squad managed to finish in the 7th-8th place position, but that performance could not stave off another round of lineup changes in the post-TI roster shuffle that followed. The team finished 2014 with strong performances within its home region, but made just 1 appearance on the international level with its new squad. That trend continued through the first half of 2015, as the squad proved itself to be a dominant force within China but struggled to match that success at international events. Despite those struggles, iG still made its way to TI5, but put together an unimpressive 9th-12th place campaign in Seattle. In the wake of that poor performance, the iG roster shattered, with 3 of its 5 players leaving the organization by the end of the year. While the future of the organization’s main lineup was still undecided, in December of 2015 it announced the signing of a youth squad to play under the name Invictus Gaming Vitality (iG.V).

As 2016 began, iG still had not officially announced its new lineup, and the team was playing with trial players and stand-ins across the first few months of the year. At the same time, the iG.V lineup was showing some potential in its first few months together, which prompted the organization to promote the majority of the team’s roster to join the main Invictus Gaming squad as its new flagship team. With that, Invictus Gaming’s roster was reborn, and the organization signed a new roster to rebuild the iG.V lineup. Unfortunately, the new iG lineup was unable to maintain its previous momentum, as the squad’s results declined significantly over the next few months and the team failed to qualify for TI6. Meanwhile, the new iG.V had also failed to qualify for the event, but the youth squad was performing admirably within the Chinese region and appeared to be on the rise where its sister squad was struggling to stay afloat. That situation was emphasized near the end of the year, when iG.V managed to qualify for The Boston Major in December while the main Invictus Gaming roster could not despite having revamped its roster in September. As 2017 got underway, the main Invictus Gaming roster finally appeared to find its footing as it dominated the Chinese region with 7 straight Top 4 finishes in regional events and qualifiers. The team got back to winning on the international level as well, as iG famously laid low the juggernaut that was OG at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, and earned a 3rd-4th place finish at The Kiev Major. While it wasn’t even close to matching the tear that its sister squad was putting together, iG.V was putting together a solid first half as well in 2017, and the squad joined the main iG roster as a participants at The Kiev Major with a 9th-16th place finish at the event. Both squads also managed to find their way to Seattle for TI7, with iG receiving a direct invite while iG.V won the TI7 China Qualifier to earn its place in the field. The main Invictus Gaming lineup ended up finishing in the 5th-6th place position at the event, while iG.V put together a slightly less impressive 13th-16th place run on the TI stage. While its 2 squads ended up on opposite sides of the standings in the end, having both of its teams compete at TI7 was an incredible triumph for the Invictus Gaming organization. Although both rosters would go through some minor roster changes in the post-TI period, the Invictus Gaming organization entered the Pro Circuit season with confidence that one or both of its squads could continue to be a threat at the international level.

 

Season in Review

Unfortunately for Invictus Gaming, it’s Pro Circuit campaign did not get off to the most fantastic of starts. The Chinese region proved to be far more competitive and crowded than many had anticipated, and iG found itself a bit lost in the mix across the first month of the season. The team fell outside of the Top 4 in 3 of its first 6 qualifier runs, though it did manage to put together a slightly improved record away from the Pro Circuit. In October, the team won the World Cyber Arena 2017 China Qualifier, and finished in the 5th-6th place position in the Top Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 4 just a month later. In December, the team finished in 2nd place in H-Cup Season 8, but still had difficulties in Pro Circuit qualifiers. In the end, iG earned 5 Top 4 qualifier finishes out of its 9 attempts, but failed to qualify for a single Pro Circuit event before the end of 2017.

As the 2018 section of the season began, the iG roster underwent some significant changes to its roster. In January, legendary carry Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei left the team to reform the Big God roster, and later that month the team put together a temporary trade that saw Ou “Op” Peng exchanged for Xie “Super” Junhao of LGD.Forever Young. Those changes did little to improve the team’s performance, as iG still earned just 1 Top 4 finish across its first 3 qualifier runs and still couldn’t qualify for an event. In February, the team was hit by roster changes once again, beginning with the reversal of its previous trade with LGD.Forever Young. Rather than rejoin the roster though, Op was shifted to an inactive position while carry player Sun “Agressif” Zheng and offlaner Sun “Srf” Runfa were added to the lineup. Those changes slightly improved the team’s performance, but the true breakthrough for iG on the Pro Circuit actually had nothing to do with its current lineup at all. As the team that had won the Dota 2 Asia Champions 2017, Invictus Gaming received a direct invite to the 2018 iteration of the event, which just happened to hold a status as a Pro Circuit Major. So, the squad made its Pro Circuit debut at the event in April, although it finished in the 9th-12th place position overall and never stood as a real threat to retain its title as Champion. Despite the lack of success at the event, the team’s chance to play on the Pro Circuit stage and its recent roster changes inspired some significant improvements to its performance. Across the rest of April, the team put together 3 straight Top 4 finishes in Pro Circuit qualifiers, won the non-Pro Circuit World Cyber Arena 2017, and managed to finish 4th in the Top Division of the Dota2 Professional League Season 5. That last accomplishment earned the squad another shot at success on the Pro Circuit stage, as the DPL.Top Season 5 served as a substitute for the China Qualifier of the MDL Changsha Major. Unfortunately for iG, it didn’t have much better luck the second time around, as the squad finished in the 9th-10th place position at the event. The squad ended its Pro Circuit season without having earned any Qualifying Points, but its improvement over the final months of the its campaign combined with experience on the international levels from its 2 event appearances did help Invictus Gaming in the long run. The team put together a successful performance in the TI8 China Qualifier, and found its way to Vancouver despite its cavalcade of struggles throughout the season.

 

Roster

Sun “Agressif” Zheng (Carry) – For many in the Dota 2 world, the first time they likely heard of Agressif was in the midst of his incredible run at TI5 with CDED Gaming, where he helped the Chinese underdog earn a 2nd place finish. Since then, his profile in the international scene has taken a small step backwards, but he Chinese carry is still just as talented and dangerous now as he was back on the TI stage in 2015. His is a very aggressive play style, emphasizing heroes capable of committing to early fights and pushing the pace of a match. It’s a style that Agressif has been known for throughout his career, dating back to 2013 when he first began playing at a professional level in China with New Element. Though that squad was Agressif’s first professional team, he didn’t stay with New Element for long, remaining on the roster for just 3 months before leaving in November of 2013. He spent the next few months without a team, until he was picked up by LGD.CDEC in April of 2014. Though the new team’s results were not particularly impressive, LGD.CDEC showed a degree of potential and promise, and in October the squad left the LGD Gaming organization to form CDEC Gaming. Under the new name, Agressif and CDEC Gaming began to significantly improve its standing within the Chinese region with an impressive run of regional success in 2014 and the first half of 2015. Included in that run was the team’s first appearance on the international stage as well, as Agressif and his teammates participated in the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015 in February. The squad’s efforts resulted in its famous run at TI5, and the Chinese squad followed up that showing with back to back appearances at The Frankfurt Major in November of 2015, and The Shanghai Major in March of 2016. At that point, things began to change for Agressif, as the carry player was acquired by LGD Gaming just after the conclusion of the Major. With LGD Gaming, Agressif earned a 4th place finish at The Manila Major in June, and earned a direct invite to TI6, though the team ended up with a 9th-12th place finish at the event. In the post-TI roster shuffle, Agressif once again found himself on the move, joining the roster of Team VGJ in September of 2016. Though he was able to add another Major appearance to his resume with Team VGJ at The Kiev Major in April of 2017, the squad’s performance during his time on the roster proved incredibly inconsistent. In around 1 year with the team, the squad’s results fluctuated to a dangerous degree, and the team ended up falling short in the TI7 China Qualifier to rob Agressif of his shot at a third straight appearance on the TI stage. In September of 2017, he left Team VGJ to join For the Dream, spending the first half of the Pro Circuit season with the squad. Following a string of unimpressive results, Agressif moved to the roster of iG in February and closed out the season with the organization. Invictus Gaming’s Pro Circuit campaign was not very encouraging for the team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that iG is doomed to failure in Vancouver. Agressif will need to channel that TI5 era level of play, and lead from the front for iG, but the possibility for success is still there for a player that has seen the TI stage before.

Lin “Xxs” Jing (Mid) – Xxs is a player that has gone through a rather impressive change on the Pro Circuit this season, as he has had to transition from the offlane position to the role of midlaner in the midst of iG’s campaign. So far in his tenure as a midlaner, Xxs has favored lane dominant, team fight oriented heroes, which may be something of a holdover from his time at the offlane position. Regardless of the influence that has brought it about, Xxs’s new play style has given the squad a stable presence in the middle lane and in team fight scenarios. While he isn’t going to be in any discussions about the best player at the position, Xxs’s transition is still impressive considering the fact that he had been playing as an offlaner for the entirety of his career up until that point. That career didn’t begin all that long ago, as Xxs first entered the professional scene in September of 2015 with Team DK on its DK Scuderia squad. His time with the organization was cut father short though, as Team DK shut down its Dota 2 operations just 2 months later in November of 2015, with Xxs and the rest of the DK Scuderia roster being signed by Invictus Gaming Vitality soon after. Under the iG.V banner, Xxs found near immediate success within the Chinese region, as the new youth squad put together an impressive stretch of performances across the end of 2015 and the first few months of 2016. The team’s performance was so impressive that when the main iG roster was restructured in March of 2016, Xxs and 3 of his teammates were promoted to form the new Invictus Gaming lineup. Xxs has remained with Invictus Gaming ever since, and alongside teammates Ye “BoBoKa” Zhibiao stands as the longest tenured players on the iG roster. The change to the middle lane was a much more recent development for Xxs, as he was moved to the position in February of 2017 when the squad made its final roster changes before the Pro Circuit roster lock deadline. Since the addition of new players and Xxs’s change to a midlaner, Invictus Gaming has seen its performance improve both within the Chinese region and on the Pro Circuit stage. However, if the team wants to come anywhere close to finding success in Vancouver, Xxs is going to have to show that he is ready to, and capable of, competing with some of the best players in the world at a position that he has only held for around 6 months. Time will tell if the young midlaner is up for such a daunting challenge on the TI stage.

Sun “Srf” Runfa (Offlane) – Srf is one of the most recent additions to the Invictus Gaming lineup, having joined the squad in February alongside carry player Sun “Agressif” Zheng. Under normal circumstances, a player joining a team midseason has a slightly higher level of expectations in terms of his immediate performance, but that situation didn’t really apply to Srf. The Chinese squad was struggling significantly when he joined the roster, and all iG really needed from him was a consistent level of play since his addition bumped Lin “Xxs” Jing out of the offlane position. Srf has proven himself capable of filling that role for the team though, as his play style has provided the squad with both team fight control and sustainability and aggressive, play making opportunities. Srf has been able to adapt to the top level of professional play fairly well for someone who is still relatively new to the scene, which may be due to the fact that he spent the majority of his time as a pro player within the developmental systems of the Chinese region. Srf’s career began back in 2015 with an amateur squad called Dream Weavers Gaming, where he competed in minor events and regional qualifiers in China. In April of 2016, Srf moved to the lineup of G.Star, a squad with a bit more structure than his previous team but still a relative unknown within the Chinese scene. However, that squad did manage to qualify for G-League 2016, where Srf’s talents were put on display and noticed by more prominent organizations. In Spetember of 2016, Srf was picked up by Vici Gaming Potential, the developmental squad of the Vici Gaming organization. Though he spent a year with the team developing his talents and play style, Srf found little success with Vici Gaming Potential, and the squad ended up effectively disbanding in September of 2017. Srf found himself moving from one youth squad to another, as he joined the roster of Invictus Gaming Vitality on the same day that the VG.P lineup broke apart. He spent the first half of the Pro Circuit season with iG.V, and although the squad was unable to become much of a threat within the Chinese region, Srf’s talents continued to grow and gain him some notoriety within the organization and the Chinese scene. When the main iG lineup looked to shore up its roster in February of 2018, Srf was transferred from iG.V and took his place in the organization’s main lineup. His steady play has helped the team put together a somewhat more respectable end to its Pro Circuit season, but both he and his teammates will have to take another massive leap forward if Invictus Gaming is going to have any chance of escaping the bottom of the standings in Vancouver.

Ye “BoBoKa” Zhibiao (Support) – BoBoKa is a player that has already begun building a reputation for himself both within the Chinese region and on the international level. Though he has only been playing at the professional level for a few years, his aggressive support play style has earned him notoriety as he has gravitated towards highly mobile and aggressive initiators. He served as a pioneer for the roaming support Monkey King when the hero was first added to Captain’s Mode, and while the strategy itself may no longer be prevalent, BoBoKa’s highly active style certainly still is. BoBoKa’s career in Dota 2 began in July of 2015 as a member of TongFu.WanZhou, though he played for the team for just 1 months before joining Team DK, and later DK Scuderia, in August. That stint proved to be rather short as well, as Team DK folded in November of 2015 and BoBoKa was picked up by Invictus Gaming Vitality in December. He was a part of the iG.V lineup that put together an impressive stretch of play at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, and was moved to the main iG lineup alongside 3 of his teammates in March. He has been a part of the Invictus Gaming roster ever since, and stands alongside Lin “Xxs” Jing as the longest tenured players in the organization. Prior to joining iG, BoBoKa had seen little success in his career, with only a handful of regional results under his belt. With Invictus Gaming, he has seen both highs and lows on the the professional level, and has seen his team fall from grace within the Dota 2 world over the past year. Throughout it all he has continued to play his style, and with Invictus Gaming on the TI stage once again, that consistent aggression will likely play a large role in helping the Chinese squad as it attempts to turn around its recent struggles with a solid showing in Vancouver.

Fu “Q” Bin (Support, Captain) – On an Invictus Gaming roster that hosts a handful of players still relatively early into their professional careers, Q stands as the veteran presence for the Chinese squad. The captain and support player enters TI8 as no stranger to success on the TI stage, as he and current teammate Sun “Agressif” Zheng were both members of the 2015 CDEC Gaming squad that finished 2nd at TI5 and challenged Evil Geniuses for the Aegis of Champions. Q’s career has been more than just that incredible TI run though, as the Chinese support and captain’s time as a professional dates back to 2013 in the original DotA. Q had held off on transitioning into Dota 2, and played for Greedy for over a year between January of 2013 and April of 2014. During the latter half of that period, Q also moved into Dota 2 as a member of the Tongfu.WanZhou lineup, though he appeared somewhat irregularly with the squad. In April of 2014 he committed fully to Dota 2, and accepted a position as the captain of the newly formed LGD.CDEC. Q helped guide the team to some early successes within the Chinese region, and remained with the squad when it broke away from the LGD Gaming organization to found CDEC Gaming in October of 2014. Across 2014 and 2015, Q led CDEC to a surprising level of prominence in the Chinese region, earning 10 Top 4 finishes in regional qualifiers and events. On the international level, the team was on the rise as well, beginning 2015 with appearances at both the Dota 2 League Season 5 and the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015. Those efforts led the squad to its 2nd place finish at TI5, and just 3 months later CDEC brought home a 5th-6th place finish at The Frankfurt Major as well. 2016 would bring about the end of CDEC’s incredible run though, as the Chinese squad faced roster changes amidst a series of abysmal results in China and on the international level. After an unsuccessful run in the TI6 China Qualifier, CDEC Gaming opted to rebuild, and Q left the organization in order to take over as captain for Invictus Gaming in August of 2016. Q knows what it takes to lead a team to success on the TI stage, and doing so with an iG squad that many are considering one of the weaker teams in the field would be another impressive accomplishment for the captain. The squad has talent and potential for sure, but it will take a strong guiding hand from a veteran like Q to bring the team together and make some sort of run in Vancouver.

Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei (Coach) – When BurNIng was announced to be coaching Invictus Gaming just a few weeks for the start of TI8, the squad’s chances of finding success immediately received a significant boost. BurNIng is a living legend within the Chinese Dota scene, and really in the Dota scene in general at this point. He is one of the most successful and experienced players in the world, and his presence behind the scenes for iG is nearly indescribably valuable for the team. BurNIng has played for nearly every major name in the Chinese scene, with his career dating all the way back to 2008 in the original DotA. By the time he transitioned to Dota 2 with Team DK in January of 2011, he was already a notable name in the Chinese scene. He spent over 3 years with Team DK, helping to establish the team as one of the leading forces in the Chinese region and a terrifying opponent on the international level. His time with the squad also produced 3 straight TI appearances in which he finished 4th (TI2), 5th-6th (TI3) and 4th (TI4). Following TI4, Team DK’s lineup broke up, and BurNIng helped found Big God in December of 2014 to help foster new talent in China by pairing up and coming players with a roster of regional veterans. After a 4th place finish at DAC 2015, BurNIng opted to return to active play with Invictus Gaming, where he spent a period of about 6 months and made his 4th straight TI appearance. Unfortunately, that appearance resulted in a 9th-12th place finish, and soon after BurNIng moved to the roster of Vici Gaming, where he made back to back Major appearances but missed the mark on qualifying for TI6. In the post-TI roster shuffle, BurNIng found himself returning to Invictus Gaming, and helped lead the team to a renaissance that saw it attend The Boston Major in December of 2016 and earn a 3rd-4th place finish at The Kiev Major in April of 2017. Between those 2 events were a slew of successful campaigns both within the Chinese region and on the international level, including the squad’s famous victory at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017 where it defeated European power house OG 3-0 in the Grand Finals of the event. After leading the squad to a 5th-6th place finish at TI7, BurNIng decided to step down from the active lineup and avoid participation in the Pro Circuit season. In January of 2018, he reappeared with another iteration of Big God in an effort to help train another up and coming talent, but that stint was intentionally temporary and the team disbanded around May of 2018. At the end of July, he announced that he would be returning to the Invictus Gaming once again, but this time to serve as a coach for the team as it prepares for its run at TI8. Though BurNIng has no formal experience as a coach, his extensive time as a professional and litany of successes will make him a voice of the utmost authority for iG. With a legendary player like BurNIng helping and guiding the team, iG has a much better chance of finding success now than it may have just a over a month ago when the Pro Circuit season ended.

 

Expectations at TI8

The thing about Invictus Gaming as it enters TI8 is that the Chinese squad has done almost nothing this season that would indicate that it is ready to compete on the TI stage. The squad struggled to an alarming degree within the Chinese region, and its 2 appearances on the Pro Circuit stage were anything but impressive. However, the team’s squad has shown some improvement over the final months of the season in terms of its results at home, sparked by its roster changes just prior to the Pro Circuit roster lock deadline in February. The addition of successful and relatively experienced players seemed to help some of iG’s younger players find their focus over the last few months of its campaign, and its run through the TI8 China Qualifiers certainly stands as testament to the squad’s talent and potential. However, the one aspect where the squad appears to fall dangerously short is its experience on the international level, or rather, its track record on the international level. While none of the players on the roster are complete strangers to the international scene, most of the iG lineup has not had what we would call extensive success on that level. The team’s TI8 Qualifier run does little to alleviate this concern, as the team was playing exclusively against other Chinese teams; teams that iG has been playing against all season long and are likely more familiar with than those it will face in the field at TI8. The addition of Xu BurNIngZhilei will be an important factor for the team on this front, as the legendary player has seen more than his fair share of success on the international level. His presence will be an incredible boon for iG in Vancouver, but at the end of the day his experience can only do so much. The iG lineup is going to have to show that it is ready to compete at the highest level against some of the best players in the world, and as the team stands now it doesn’t look like that is likely to happen. Despite its late season improvements and BurNIng’s guidance on the TI stage, Invictus Gaming still appear to be a long shot for success at TI8. The possibility is always there for a Cinderella run, and the team could channel the spirits of TI5 CDEC Gaming and TI6 Wings Gaming to emerge as a surprise contender in Vancouver. However, those scenarios appear to lean more towards fantasy than reality, and for now iG seems destined for a finish somewhere in the bottom half of the standings at TI8.

 

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