Apex Predators?: Southeast Asian squad TNC Predator wants to show the Dota 2 world what it’s young lineup is capable of with a successful run 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 will turn our eyes to 1 of 3 squads in the field representing the Southeast Asian region and a team making its third straight appearance on the TI stage: TNC Predator.
Region: Southeast Asia (SEA)
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Rank: 17th (495 Qualifying Points)
Qualification Method: TI8 Southeast Asia Qualifier (2nd Place)
2017-2018 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 6 (2 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: [As TNC Pro Team] TI6 (7th-8th), TI7 (9th-12th)
2017-2018 Season Notable Achievements:
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Majors
4th – Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018
Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minors
2nd – MDL Macau
Non- Pro Circuit Events
1st – China Top 2017
5th-6th – Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds
The TNC organization came into being as part of an effort to elevate the Dota scene within the Southeast Asian region, with that effort being spearheaded by Philippine net cafe chain TheNet.Com. The company had been organizing events and minor tournaments through its net cafe locations for some time, but the TNC opted to take things a step forward by venturing into the esports scene in their own right. In 2013, TNC Pro Team was born, though the organization’s original roster quickly fell flat in the Dota 2 world. After 3 months and limited success within the Southeast Asian region, TNC Pro Team announced in May of 2013 that is was shutting down its MOBA operations. At that stage, it appeared that the organization’s gamble in the esports scene had failed spectacularly, but the Southeast Asian squad would eventually rise from the ashes of that initial failure.
In February of 2015, the organization returned to Dota 2 with the announcement of a new roster to compete within the Southeast Asian region. That squad was able to put together a string of fairly impressive regional results, including a 4th place run in the TI5 Southeast Asia Qualifiers. While the team was still somewhat far removed from the international level, it was showing a level of early potential that served as an encouraging sign for the team as it closed out 2015. The team’s regional success would continue in 2016, as the squad emerged as a threat within Southeast Asia and even won the TI6 Southeast Asia Qualifiers to earn its first ever trip to the TI stage. Though the team put together an incredible 7th-8th place finish at TI6, its performance took a sharp decline over the final months of the season as the post-TI roster shuffle hit TNC Pro Team hard. By the time 2017 began, the team had managed to rebuild and stabilize its roster, and the new-look TNC Pro Team once again set to work establishing itself within the Southeast Asian hierarchy. With the team performing well within its home region, TNC Pro team also managed to make a return to the international level as well, with appearances at 4 major LAN events in the first half of 2017, including The Kiev Major in April. After winning the TI7 Southeast Asia Qualifier, the squad looked ready to make a strong return to the TI stage and build upon its previous performance. However, the squad fell short in Seattle, finishing in the 9th-12th place position overall. While that performance was somewhat disappointing, it did little to erode the resolve of the squad, and TNC Pro Team opted to keep its lineup intact as it entered the first ever Pro Circuit season in the second half of 2017.
Season in Review
TNC Pro Team’s Pro Circuit campaign began in fairly solid fashion, as the squad was able to secure Top 4 finishes in 3 of its first 5 qualifier runs in September. Outside of the Pro Circuit, the squad was able to make a small appearance on the international level as well, as the team won The Manila Invitational, a showmatch event featuring 4 teams from North America, CIS, China, and Southeast Asia. In the months that followed, TNC Pro Team continued to be a formidable contender within its home region, posting Top 4 finishes in its final 5 Pro Circuit qualifiers in 2017. 1 of those qualifiers resulted in the team making its long awaited debut on the Pro Circuit stage in December at the MDL Macau Minor, with TNC Pro Team claiming a 2nd place finish and its first Qualifying Points of the season. The squad also managed to step outside of the Pro Circuit and find success once again at a 3rd party event, with the team winning the China Top 2017 tournament at the end of November. With the team finding success on the international level and standing as one of the leading teams within the Southeast Asian region, TNC Pro Team seemed poised for a strong run in the second half of the season.
The new year saw the squad pick up right where it had previously left off, as TNC Pro Team placed in the Top 4 in all 3 of its Pro Circuit qualifier runs in January. However, the end of the month brought some changes to the team’s lineup, with support and captain Sivatheeban “1437” Sivanathapillai being removed from the roster. In his place, the team brought in midlaner Armel Paul “Armel” Tabios, and moved former midlaner Carlo “Kuku” Palad to the support and captain positions. Though the team went through a bit of an adjustment period following its roster changes, TNC Pro Team continued to be a consistent force within its home region, claiming 3 straight Top 4 finishes in qualifiers during the month of February. In March, the team attended its first Major of the season at The Bucharest Major, and finished just shy of a Top 4 position there with a 5th-8th place run overall. One month later, the team returned to the Major stage at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major with a new name, as the squad had rebranded itself from TNC Pro Team to TNC Predator as part of a new endorsement deal. The team got off to a fantastic start under its new name, as the Southeast Asian squad made its breakthrough on the Major stage with a 4th place finish in Shanghai. While the team was beginning to heat up on the international level, its performance at home remained steady throughout the rest of the season, with the squad failing to finish any worse than 2nd across 5 Pro Circuit qualifiers from March through June. That string of qualifier success also netted TNC Predator 2 more appearances on the Pro Circuit stage, as the team was set to compete in both the MDL Changsha Major in May and the China Dota2 Supermajor in June. Unfortunately for the Southeast Asian squad, it was unable to secure any more Qualifying Points in those events, with TNC Predator finishing in the 7th-8th place position at both Majors. However, the squad entered the TI8 Qualifiers in a position of strength within the Southeast Asian region, and its 2nd place finish in the TI8 Southeast Asia Qualifier proved enough to earn the team its place in Vancouver.
Marc Polo Luis “Raven” Fausto (Carry) – Raven has been able to establish himself fairly early into his career as one of the leading carry players in the Southeast Asian region, and will be making his third appearance on the TI stage in Vancouver despite being just 19 years old. His rise to prominence has been impressive so far, fueled by an slightly more aggressive and active play style and a wide hero pool. While Raven continues to play his favored aggressive carries, his recent time with the team has allowed him to introduce a higher degree of the more traditional, hard farming, late-game oriented heroes. While Raven has been making quite a name for himself within the Southeast Asian region, he has not actually been playing at a professional level for all that long, as the Filipino carry began his career in April of 2014 with a squad named Click ‘N Search. Aside from local events and tournaments though, that team had no significant presence within the region, and in January of 2015 Raven left the team to join the roster of Mineski. Unfortunately, his time with his new organization would be relatively short, with Raven returning to the roster of Click ‘N Search after just 2 months with Mineski. Click ‘N Search disbanded in June of 2015, and Raven found himself moving to the roster of MSI-Evolution Gaming Team just days later. That stint would prove to be short lived as well, as Raven was picked up by TNC Pro Team in August. With TNC Pro Team, Raven finally manged to find some degree of stability, and that stability bled through into the performance of both himself and his new team. TNC Pro Team began working its way up the regional hierarchy in 2015 and 2016, and in June of 2016 the squad fought through both the Open Qualifier and the Southeast Asia Qualifiers to earn a place at TI6 where it put together an absolutely incredible 7th-8th place run. In the post-TI shuffle, Raven left TNC Pro Team to join regional rival Fnatic, but stayed with the team for just 2 months before returning to TNC Pro Team in November of 2016. He has remained with the organization ever since, helping the squad make an appearance at The Kiev Major and TI7 in 2017, and contributing heavily to its Pro Circuit campaign. Raven has played a monumental role in helping to build TNC Predator up into a leading team in the Southeast Asian region, and now the next step will be to build the squad up into a leader on the international level as well. In order to do that, the squad will have to put together another quality performance on the TI stage, and those efforts will likely need to be spearheaded by a world class showing in Vancouver from the team’s carry player.
Armel Paul “Armel” Tabios (Mid) – If you haven’t heard of Armel before the start of TI8, then get ready to see some incredible talent on display in Vancouver. The 18 year of Filipino has been impressing within the Southeast Asian region, and if not for fellow regional phenom and TI8 attendee Abed Abed Azel L. Yusop, he may well be considered the most talented young player in the region. As it stands now, he certainly shows a high degree of skill and potential, with a penchant for lane controlling, team fight oriented heroes that made him an incredibly desirable addition to the TNC Predator lineup as its new midlaner. While his play has been impressive so far in his career, it’s important to note that said career has not been particularly long, as Armel only began playing at a professional level in March of 2016 with Acion Arena. He spent around 9 months with the squad, competing in minor tournaments and regional qualifiers before being picked up by Clutch Gamers in December of 2016. As a member of the Clutch Gamers roster, Armel began attracting a fair bit more attention with his play, as the Southeast Asian squad put together an impressive string of performances in the first half of 2017. With Armel’s help, Clutch Gamers were even able to take its first steps on the international level, making appearances at both The Manila Masters and EPICENTER 2017 in the run up to the TI7 Qualifiers. Unfortunately, Clutch Gamers ended up falling short in the TI7 Southeast Asia Qualifier with a 4th place finish, and the lineup fell apart soon after. Armel opted to remain with the organization though, keeping his place on the roster through its rebuild and through the first half of the Pro Circuit season. The team’s performance across Pro Circuit qualifiers proved fairly inconsistent, and Clutch Gamers failed to make an appearance at a Pro Circuit event during Armel’s tenure with the organization. In January of 2018, Armel’s time with Clutch Gamers came to an end, and the Filipino midlaner made the move to TNC Pro Team, now TNC Predator. As a young and talented player on the roster of a prominent organization, the expectations are significant for Armel heading into TI8. If the Southeast Asian squad is going to find any success in Vancouver, then it is going to need its young phenom to live up to those expectations and produce a standout performance on the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world.
Samson Solomon Enojosa “Sam_H” Hidalgo (Offlane) – As is the case for many of the teams in the field at TI8, TNC Predator relies upon its offlaner to provide a consistent and stabiliting presence on the roster. Sam_H has proven himself to be just that, as the Filipino offlaner has been the rock of the TNC Predator roster and stands as its longest tenured player. His play style often emphasizes individual play making, with aggressive, initiating heroes being heavily favored in his pool. While he appears to prefer a more aggressive pace of play, Sam_H has shown himself more than capable of also picking up the less mobile, tanky, team fight controlling heroes in the offlane. Consistency and flexibility are often calling cards of particularly skilled offlaners, and while Sam_H may rarely single handedly win his team a match, he is always a major factor in the team’s strategy and overall performance. That kind of position of importance on a team’s roster is fairly impressive, but it’s even more notable when one considers the fact that Sam_H does not have an extensive amount of experience in the professional scene. His career in Dota 2 began just a few years ago in January of 2015, and the TNC organization is the only one that he has ever played for. Sam_H has been a cornerstone of multiple iterations of the TNC Predator lineup in his career, and his presence will be crucial for the squad if it wants to have a legitimate shot at finding success in Vancouver. The team’s other cores are all talented in their own right, but those players will need to rely upon Sam_H’s play making abilities to create opportunities to get ahead and establish a favorable pace.
Timothy John “Tims” Randrup (Support) – The TNC Predator roster has a number of rising stars in the Southeast Asian roster, and Tims has been hard at work on putting his name on that list. The support player has already made a name for himself as one of the leading talents in the region at his position, employing an aggressive style of play that has flourished under the current meta. He proved his mettle as an Earth Spirit specialist for TNC Predator, but has also shown the flexibility to effectively play more lane and team fight oriented supports. That flexibility has helped give TNC Predator a valuable degree of variance in its drafting strategy, and becomes even more impressive considered Tims has been playing at a professional level for only around 2 years now. His career began in March of 2016 as a member of Execration, and helped the Filipino squad put together a solid run of regional events and qualifiers headlined by a 3rd place finish in the TI6 Southeast Asia Qualifiers. That performance advanced Tims and Execration to the Wild Card stage of the event, but the team was unable to secure itself a place in Seattle with a 3rd place finish overall. In the post-TI roster shuffle, Tims left Execration, joining the roster of Rave in September and very nearly finishing out the year with the organization. While Rave was able to string together a few strong performance in regional qualifiers, it couldn’t quite break through with any appearances on the international level, and in December of 2016 Tims left the squad to accept a position with TNC Pro Team. He has been a member of the team’s roster ever since, helping the squad make appearances at both The Kiev Major and TI7 in the first half of 2017, and playing a significant role in its Pro Circuit campaign. While his career is not extensive heading into TI8, Tims has seen more than his fair share of action both within the Southeast Asian region and on the international level as a member of TNC Predator. With many of his teammates in a similar position in their own careers, the Southeast Asian squad has to hope that its impressive talent and early experience on the international level will be enough to propel it to success in Vancouver. While Tims may not be a player that will grab headlines at TI8, his support play will be one of the cornerstones of TNC Predator’s campaign on the TI stage, and he will need to continue being a steady and flexible presence for the team.
Carlo “Kuku” Palad (Support, Captain) – At the professional level, position changes from a player are always one of the more interesting changes to see play out for a team. Adjusting to a new position and a new style are often significant challenges for players that have spent so much time and effort on their strategies and play styles. Despite the challenge, Kuku has risen to the task of switching positions for TNC Predator, making the rare move from a position as a midlaner into the squad’s position 5 support and captain. He has taken to the new position fairly well, emphasizing both control heavy laning support and team fight oriented heroes since his transition away from the middle lane. For Kuku, the situation surrounding his positional change may have actually been a bit easier to handle, as the switch to the support role came fairly early into his career. Kuku’s time as a professional player began in March of 2015 when he was introduced as a new member of the Mineski lineup. The first few months of his time with the team produced only middling results, and Mineski put together a less than impressive 5th-10th place finish at the TI5 Southeast Asia Qualifiers. However, the team began to pick up momentum in the months that followed, winning multiple regional qualifiers. The squad closed out the year with appearances on the international level as well, with Mineski participating in both The Summit 4 and The Frankfurt Major. However, the team’s performance declined to open 2016, and by March the organization had decided to revamp its roster without Kuku as a member. Just days after leaving Mineski, Kuku was picked up as the midlaner for TNC Pro Team, and he has remained a member of the organization’s lineup ever since. The move to the support and captain positions was a much more recent development though, as that move only occurred at the end of January of 2018. With the removal of the team’s former captain and the addition of Armel Paul “Armel” Tabios as its new midlaner, Kuku’s talents were needed elsewhere on the team’s roster. In his new capacity as the team’s captain, Kuku now plays an important role in creating and implementing the team’s drafts and strategies. Though every player will need to put forth their best effort on the TI stage, success for TNC Predator will most likely begin with its captain and leader in Vancouver.
Nico “eyyou” Barcelon (Coach) – As a former player for the organization, eyyou still maintains fairly close ties with TNC Predator, and emerged in the later half of the season as the team’s coach. While the team’s play was not quite as consistent as it may have liked over that period, eyyou likely played a significant role in helping the team earn its few bits of success on the Pro Circuit stage as well as its 2nd place run through the TI8 Southeast Asia Qualifier. In terms of experience, eyyou’s career is not much longer than the players that he is coaching, as the Filipino coach began his playing career back in January of 2015 with the TNC Pro Team organization. He was a member of the team’s first official roster since its collapse in 2013, and he played a large role in helping the squad establish its early presence within the Southeast Asian region. He spent nearly 2 years as a member of TNC Pro Team, building the squad up within its home region and helping it take its first steps onto the international scene. He was a member of the organization’s TI6 roster, and contributed heavily to the squad’s impressive 7th-8th place finish as well as its famous underdog 2-0 series victory against OG in the Lower Bracket. Following TI6, eyyou left the organization, and has spent the time sense bouncing between a number of other squads and organizations. He moved to Fnatic in September of 2016, but stayed there for just 2 months before closing out the year on the roster of HappyFeet. In March of 2017, he left HappyFeet to join Mineski, but lasted for only 2 months there before the organization completely changed its roster. In June, he joined the roster of O2esports, but left that team in September to join the roster of Entity Gaming just prior to the start of the Pro Circuit season. Unfortunately, none of these squads were able to secure any sort of consistent success, and when Entity Gaming announced its new roster in January of 2018, eyyou was not included on it. Instead, he decided to step down from active play, returning to original organization in TNC Predator to serve as the team’s coach over the final months of its Pro Circuit campaign. Eyyou may not have an overly impressive pedigree or a overwhelming amount of experience, but he has helped TNC Predator analyze and improve its play in his time as the squad’s coach. Its unlikely that he manages to directly lead the squad to success in Vancouver, but sometimes playing on the TI stage comes down to having just 1 small advantage over another team. If eyyou can provide that sort of slight advantage, then he will have helped put TNC Predator in a position to succeed at TI8.
Expectations at TI8
At the beginning of the Pro Circuit season, TNC Predator looked like one of the strongest teams in the Southeast Asian region. Organizations like Execration and MVP had either shut down or fallen from prominence, and regional rivals Mineski and Fnatic both had new rosters that were impressive on paper but hand’t played any official matches together. After its 7th-8th place finish at TI7, TNC Predator looked poised to lead the way within its home region, but it didn’t end up being the dominant force that some were expecting. Mineski and Fnatic’s new lineups proved more than capable of holding their own, and while TNC Predator was putting together solid runs in regional qualifiers, it just wasn’t getting over that final hump and qualifying for Pro Circuit events. The team didn’t make its debut on the Pro Circuit stage until December, and by that point it was already behind its regional rivals. The team’s performance over the second half of the season was a bit more impressive, but the squad still enters TI8 with a few concerns and questions surrounding it. The first concern for the team is the fact that its current roster is fairly inexperienced in terms of the length of their careers, as most of its lineup has only 2 or 3 years of experience at the professional level. In many cases, a team’s talent and team play is enough to counterbalance that issue, but most of those teams also have some sort of veteran presence to fall back on. Also of not is the team’s performance on the international level this season, as TNC Predator came close to success on many occasions but couldn’t seem to close the deal on the Pro Circuit stage. Of the team’s 6 appearances on the Pro Circuit, the squad finished in the Top 4 in 2 of them. Of those other 4 event appearances, the team finished 5th-8th in 1, and 7th-8th in 2 others. On the one hand, those performances could be encouraging, as it shows that the TNC Predator lineup has the talent and potential to get close to success on the international level. On the other hand, consistently getting that close and failing to get over the final obstacle presents a serious issue for the squad, and one that will not be any easier to overcome on the biggest stage in the Dota 2 world. The Southeast Asian squad certainly has a lot of potential, but there is a fine line to be drawn between where a team could potentially end up in the standings and where it should most likely be expected to fall. For TNC Predator, its performance this season leaves open the possibility for a run into the top half of the standings in Vancouver, but that possibility is remarkably optimistic. Unless the team puts together an incredible showing at TI8, it is most likely headed for a spot in the lower half of the standings, with an exit somewhere in the first of second round of the Lower Bracket. Keep hopes high and expectations low for TNC Predator in Vancouver, and time will tell if the Southeast Asian squad has another Cinderella run to make on the TI stage.