Third Time’s the Charm: Veteran Captain ppd leads the third iteration of NiP into Shanghai as the organization looks to claim the Aegis of Champions in its first TI appearance
With the conclusion of the second even Dota 2 Pro Circuit campaign, the attention of the Dota 2 world now shifts to the game’s biggest and most prestigious of stages: The International. The 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season set the stage, but now the time has come for 18 of the world’s best teams to take their shot at earning immortality as they look to cement their place in Dota 2 history with a victorious run at The International 2019 in Shanghai, China. For the first time in its history, TI moves away from the western world into the waiting arms of the Chinese scene, with TI9 set to be hosted in the Mercedes-Benz Arena as the venue will transform into the crucible from which one squad will emerge with the Aegis of Champions in hand. With the even itself fast approaching, this series will serve to highlight each of the 18 participating squads that will be making their way to Shanghai in the hopes of becoming TI9 Champion. Each post will focus upon a specific team in the field for this event, with a small overview of the organization’s history, a review of its 2018-2019 season, a run down of the members of its roster, keys to success entering TI9, and expectations for the squad at the event itself. Whether one is a newcomer to the pro scene or an avid Pro Circuit spectator, these posts will hopefully serve as a useful source of information or a refresher course on the teams that will be battling it out in Shanghai in August. With that in mind, we will look at 1 of the 6 European squads that will be attending TI9, and the only team to win multiple Minor Championship titles in this 2018-2019 season: Ninjas in Pyjamas.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP)
Pro Circuit Rank: 8th (2,620 Pro Circuit Points)
Qualification Method: Direct Invite (Pro Circuit Top 12)
2018-2019 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 7 (4 Top 4 Finishes, 2 Minor Championship Titles)
Previous TI Appearances: None (TI Debut)
2018-2019 Season Notable Achievements:
Pro Circuit Majors:
4th – The Kuala Lumpur Major
5th-6th – MDL Disneyland Paris Major
9th-12th – DreamLeague Season 11 Major
9th-12th – EPICENTER Major
Pro Circuit Minors:
1st – OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019
1st – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 2
4th – The Bucharest Minor
Pro Circuit Qualifiers:
1st – OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019 Europe Qualifier
1st – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 2 Europe Qualifier
1st-2nd – DreamLeague Season 11 Europe Qualifier
2nd – The Kuala Lumpur Major Europe Qualifier
2nd – The Bucharest Minor Europe Qualifier
5th – EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier
5th-6th – MDL Disneyland Paris Major Europe Closed Qualifier
7th-8th – The Chongqing Major Europe Qualifier
Non-Pro Circuit Events:
5th-6th – ESL One Katowice 2019
9th-10th – ESL One Hamburg 2018
9th-10th – ESL One Birmingham 2019
1st – GG.Bet Invitational Season 1
1st – WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Radiant
2nd – WePlay! Dota 2 Valentine Madness
3rd-4th – Maincast Autumn Brawl
3rd-4th – WePlay! Dota 2 Winter Madness
5th-6th – LOOT.BET Winter Masters
While NiP stands as one of the most revered and accomplished organizations in the Counter-Strike world, its history within the Dota 2 scene has been a bit more complicated. The organization took its first steps into the Dota 2 world back in 2015 with the signing of all-Swedish squad LAJONS. The initial squad was able to put together some solid showings within its home region, emerging as a relatively consistent force in the European scene. Unfortunately, the team’s play wasn’t quite strong enough to get it to any major international events, as the squad failed to qualify for both TI5 and The Frankfurt Major 2015. Despite continuing to put up decent numbers in its home region, NiP pulled the plug on its Dota 2 squad, with the team effectively disbanding by the end of the year.
It wouldn’t be until 2017 that we would see NiP make a return to the Dota 2 world, as the organization announced the formation of a new roster in February. This time around though, the new NiP lineup struggled rather significantly within the European region, as the team earned just 3 Top 4 finishes across 12 total appearances while never finishing any higher than 4th in regional competitions. The squad failed to qualify for The Kiev Major 2017, and before the squad had the chance to compete in the TI7 Europe Qualifier, the NiP organization opted to once again shut down its Dota 2 division and released all of its members to free agency.
Over a year later, in September of 2018, NiP returned for one more run in the Dota 2 scene. This time around though, the organization has looking to put the reigns of its team in the hands of a proven winner, with NiP turning to renowned North American Support, Captain, and TI5 Winner ppd to head up the new roster.
Season in Review
Together with ppd, NiP was able to put together a strong roster for its first ever Pro Circuit campaign, bringing in ppd’s former OpTic Gaming teammate 33 while adding the experienced trio of Ace, Fata, and Saksa to round out its lineup. The team started out its 2018-2019 season with some strong results on the home front, with NiP claiming Top 4 finishes in its first 3 regional appearances. In November, the squad attended its first ever Pro Circuit event in The Kuala Lumpur Major, though it had to do so with a stand-in due to the fact that the host county would not issue a visa for 33. With Team Liquid Offlaner MinD_ContRoL playing with the team, NiP managed to put together an impressive 4th place position at the event to claim a favorable position in the Pro Circuit Rankings in the early stages of the season. The rest of 2018 proved to be a somewhat difficult time for the squad though, as NiP proceeded to finish outside of the Top 4 in 2 of its final 3 regional appearances to close out the year.
The team entered the 2019 section of the season with some concerns, but the squad manged to bounce back fairly well in the first months of the year. The team earned Top 4 finishes in 4 of its 5 first regional appearances, and appeared to recover on the international level as well with a 4th place finish at The Bucharest Minor and a 5th-6th place performance as ESL One Katowice 2019. In March, the team’s momentum took a bit of a hit, as the squad put together a somewhat disappointing 9th-12th place finish at the DreamLeague Season 11 Major, and just 2 weeks later failed to qualify for the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. The situation was certainly not ideal, but rather than panic or fall apart, NiP was able to regroup and put its difficulties behind it to qualify for the OGA Dota PIT MInor 2019 and later win the entire Minor outright. That Minor Championship title was the organization’s first Pro Circuit title in its history, and it also served to earn the team a place at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major, where the squad put together a 5th-6th place run to secure itself a direct invite to TI9. While the team’s place in Shanghai had been secured, there was still a period of just over a month left in the 2018-2019 season, and NiP produced some relatively mixed results over than final stretch of the campaign. The team claimed a Top 4 finish in 1 of its final 2 regional appearances, and claimed 1 Top 4 finish in its last 3 international appearances as well. That lone Top 4 finish was a 1st place performance at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 2, earning the organization its second Minor Championship title of the season. However, the team’s other 2 international event appearances results in a 9th-10th place showing at ESL One Birmingham 2019, and a 9th-12th place performance at the EPICENTER Major, leaving NiP with some questions and concerns as the regular season came to a close.
Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard (Carry)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.37 kills, 8.59 assists, 3.55 deaths per game (143 matches)
Ace comes into TI9 as a central pice of the NiP lineup, and a fairly well known player within the European region. However, this has not always been the case, as Ace has been playing at the professional level for quite some time despite only recently having gained much notoriety. His career began back in 2012 with stints on some minor European rosters, before Ace joined up with Team Life in 2013. 2 months after joining the squad, Ace and the majority of the Team Life lineup was picked up by Mousesports. However, his time with the organization would last just over 3 months, before the team parted ways with Mousesports to reform Team Life. In February of 2014, Team Life was signed by Meet Your Makers, but after 7 months of poor results and a failed run through the TI4 European qualifiers, the organization dropped its Dota 2 roster. That pattern would repeat itself multiple times over the following years for Ace, as every team he joined would be signed by a larger organization before being dropped within 6 months of the signing. In 2017, Ace finally appeared to find stability as a member of Team Secret, remaining a member of the team for an entire year while earning 1 Major Championship title, 2 Minor Championship titles, and making his first TI appearance as part of Team Secret’s 5th-6th place run at TI8. In the offseason period following the end of TI8, Ace opted to move to the roster of NiP alongside teammate Fata for the 2018-2019 season. Across this Pro Circuit season, Ace has excelled in the role of the high volume farming hyper carry, with heroes like Troll Warlord, Anti-Mage, Spectre, and Terrorblade among his most played. His average last hit count of 362 is the third highest among TI9 attendees (only counting matches played for a player’s current team), and his ability to consistently find farm for himself allows him to have a significant impact on the game that NiP will likely come to rely to a sizable degree in Shanghai.
Adrian “Fata” Trinks (Mid)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 6.94 kills, 10.15 assists, 4.02 deaths per game (143 matches)
Fata stands as one of the most experienced members of this NiP lineup, as the veteran player has been active in the professional scene since 2012. After beginning his career with a trio of relatively minor squads in the European region, Fata joined his first major organization in December of 2012 as a member of mousesports. With the mousesports organization, Fata was able to build up experience playing at the higher level of competition within the European region, and even attended his first TI with the squad as part of a somewhat disappointing 13th-16th place performance at TI3. In the aftermath of that event though, Fata parted ways with mousesports, only to return to the organization 6 months later when it signed the roster of Team Dog for a run at TI4. 3 months later, Fata once again left the team, this time to join the roster of Cloud 9. With Fata in the lineup, Cloud 9 put up some impressive results on the international level, but came up short at TI5 with a 9th-12th place finish overall. After TI5, Fata joined the 5Jungz roster that would later be signed by Team Liquid, earning back to back 2nd place Major finishes with the squad as well as a 7th-8th place performance at TI6. In 2017, Fata joined the roster of Team NP, helping the squad put together a late-season run that caused the team to be signed by Cloud 9 just before its unsuccessful run at TI7. In the aftermath of TI7, Fata joined the roster of Team Secret, helping the team claimed 1 Major and 2 Minor Championships titles in the 2017-2018 Pro Circuit season before finishing 5th-6th at TI8. In the post-TI roster shuffle period, Fata and fellow Team Secret member Ace opted to leave the team, finding a place on the newly formed NiP roster. As the Midlaner for NiP, Fata has proven himself capable of serving as both a team fight anchor and a heavy damage dealer. Hard hitting, frontline team fight heroes like Razor, Outworld Devourer, and Timbersaw have seen significant use for Fata, but so too have more elusive damage dealing picks like Mirana, Templar Assassin, and Ember Spirit. The flexibility that Fata has been able to provide for NiP has been one of the reasons for the team’s willingness to get somewhat greedier with fellow core Ace and 33, as Fata has often provided a stable and consistent level of production for the squad to fall back on. That consistency will be paramount for the team as it prepares to take on the Dota 2 world’s best squads in Shanghai.
Neta “33” Shapira (Offlane)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 5.35 kills, 10.69 assists, 4.28 deaths per game (127 matches)
Today, 33 holds a reputation as being on the most versatile Offlaners in the Dota 2 world, with the Israeli player boasting one of the wider hero pools in the game. However, 33 hasn’t always been so well known, as he spent the vast majority of his career attempting to work his way up within the European region. His professional career began near the end of 2015 as a member of Hehe United and No Logic Gaming, and 33’s first few years at the professional level would be spent bouncing between tier 2 and 3 teams in Europe. He spent all of 2016 and the first half of 2017 bouncing back and forth between Kaipi and Prodota Gaming, before joining the roster of Planet Dog for the TI7 Europe Qualifier. The team successfully qualified for TI7, and was subsequently signed by HellRaisers before putting together a 17th-18th place finish at the event itself. 33 finished out 2017 with HellRaisers and Planet Dog, but by the time 2018 rolled around, the Offlaner had fully transitioned to the roster of OpTic Gaming. As a member of OpTic Gaming, 33 made 5 Major and 1 Minor appearance, winning his first Pro Circuit title with a win at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor before playing a huge part of the team’s 7th-8th place run at TI8. In the aftermath of that event though, 33 opted to follow team captain ppd to the newly formed roster of NiP. As a member of NiP, 33 has brought his signature versatility to the squad with solid contributions with team fight controllers, single target gankers, and hard farming cores. Heroes like Sand King, Dark Seer, and Tidehunter sit among his most played as team fight controllers, while the likes of Doom, and Night Stalker have given 33 the ability to hunt down kill opportunities for his squad. When NiP has needed a true third core to out farm its opponent, 33 has stepped up with picks like Lone Druid, Nature’s Prophet, and Bristleback to provide his team with enough firepower to out gun the opposition. 33 has been the jack of all trades for this NiP lineup, and his versatility will be a massive determining factor for the squad’s success in Shanghai.
Martin “Saksa” Sazdov (Support)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 3.09 kills, 13.56 assists, 5.25 deaths per game (143 matches)
Coming into TI9, Saksa is more than likely the member of NiP that receives the least amount of attention, which is somewhat surprising considering his importance to the team’s lineup and the fact that he leads the team in average assists per game this season. The Macedonian Support is a relatively experienced player as well, with his professional career tracing back to 2014. After spending around 2 years with minor squads in the European region, Saksa broke out as a member of Digital Chaos between 2016 and 2017, playing a big role in the team’s 2nd place run at TI6. After the disbanding of Digital Chaos’ two successors squads (Thunderbirds and Planet Odd) in 2017, Saksa did a bit of wandering in the European and North American region, serving as a player, coach, and stand-in for a bevy of squads over the course of 2017 and 2018. In 2018, Saksa joined the roster of Five Dogs/BlinkPool for a run in the TI8 Europe Qualifiers, but when that run proved unsuccessful, he was left without a team until being picked up by NiP at the start of the 2018-2019 season. With NiP, Saksa has proven himself to be a dangerously effective set up man, creating opportunities for the rest of his squad both with single target initiators and team fight oriented heroes. Shadow Shaman, Rubick, and Enigma stand as Saksa’s three most played heroes in this 2018-2019 season, but more aggressive picks like Tiny, Tusk, and Sand King has popped up fairly frequently as well. The fact that Saks leads his team in assists per game this season should stand as testament to his effectiveness with those heroes. Saksa’s ability to create opportunities for his teammates, along with his tendency for team fight controlling heroes, makes him an incredibly valuable part of the team’s game plan heading into TI9.
Peter “ppd” Dager (Support, Captain)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 2.18 kills, 12.38 assists, 6.43 deaths per game (143 matches)
ppd comes into this event as one of the most accomplished and well known captains in the Dota 2 world, and has been so for a very large portion of his professional career. After coming over from Heroes of Newerth to Dota 2 in 2013, he spent some time with minor squads within the North American region before being picked up by Evil Geniuses in 2014. Over the next 2 years, ppd helped transform EG from a regional leader into an international powerhouse, claiming multiple event titles for the squad and leading EG to the ultimate success in the form of its 1st place finish at TI5. In September of 2016 though, ppd opted to part ways with Evil Geniuses, returning in 2017 at the head of the short lived WanteD lineup that lasted just over 1 month before disbanding. As the 2017-2018 Pro Circuit season got underway, ppd once again put together a new squad, forming the team known as The Dire that would go on to be signed by OpTic Gaming. After leading OpTic Gaming to a Minor Championship title, 5 Major appearances, and a 7th-8th place finish at TI8, ppd made the move away from North American to head up the new NiP roster. With NiP, ppd has held his usual position as the team’s Hard Support, favoring lane support heroes and picks with heavy defensive and team fight oriented capabilities. Heroes like Abaddon, Lich, Bane, and Chen stand among his most played this season, and his average of 12.42 assists per game speaks to the effect that he has been able to have with that play style. While his play in game has been impressive in his own right, one of the true strengths of ppd as a captain is his drafting ability, as he has consistently been able to put his teammates on the right heroes to find success. Between his drafting prowess and his solid Support play, ppd is likely to have a massive impact on the potential success of NiP as the team prepares for its first TI appearance in the organization’s history.
Per Anders Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille (Coach)
Pajkatt came to the NiP organization as one of the most experienced players in the Dota 2 world, with the Swedish player having put together over 10 years of total professional experience between DotA and Dota 2. Pajkatt’s experience was not simply limited to his time as a player though, as the veteran had also served as a coach for Digital Chaos back in 2016. Under his guidance, the North American squad made an appearance at The Manila Major 2016, and famously put together a 2nd place run at TI6 where it lost to Wings Gaming in the Grand Finals. As the coach of NiP, Pajkatt oversaw the final month or so of the team’s 2018-2019 season, including the team’s 5th-6th place finish at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major and its victory at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 2. With 5 TI appearances as a player and 1 as a coach, Pajkatt certainly brings a high level of experience and insight to a squad that is already familiar with playing on the international level in its own right. With Pajkatt providing another set of eyes and giving the team a valuable outside perspective on its game, NiP should be an even more formidable opponent coming into TI9.
Keys to Success at TI9
Coming into this event, the term “success” has a number different meanings depending on which team one is discussing. Obviously, the ultimate measure of success for any of the squads attending this event would be to walk away from Shanghai with the Aegis of Champions in hand and the title of TI9 Champion. Considering the fact that only 1 of the 18 participants at TI9 will be able to do that though, and also considering that not all of these teams are regarded as being on an equal footing in terms of skill and experience, a “TI Champions or bust” mentality won’t fit for every squad in the field. With that in mind, this section is not a “do these things and win TI” sort of list in terms of keys to success. Instead, success in this section will be marked in a team’s ability to play its best level of Dota and put itself in the best possible position to push as far up the event standings as it reasonably can.
Employ a balanced attack, don’t over rely on one player
This one should come as a fairly obvious suggestion for any team in the field for TI9, not just NiP in particular. The more a team ends up relying upon 1 or 2 players finding success in order to win, the more likely it becomes that an opponent focuses on shutting down those star players. NiP has a lineup of experienced veterans, but none of its player stand as that kind of singular star that the team relies upon to win matches. In fact, the team’s Carry/Mid duo of Ace and Fata actually come in at 15th among the TI9 participants in terms of their combined average kills per game (14.42). At first glance, that stat might not look fantastic for the squad, but it actually could be seen as more of a strength for NiP than a hindrance. That lower kill average for the duo of Ace and Fata comes from the fact that the team often distributes its kill count a bit more evenly among its core trio, as evidenced by 33’s average of 5.11 kills per game this season (4th among Offlaners at TI9). A balanced attack is almost always an advantage for a squad at higher levels of play, as the team becomes less dependent upon one player putting together an exceptional performance in order to find success. Having the load evenly distributed among the team’s core trio will almost assuredly lower the levels of pressure on each of the team’s individual players, freeing up the members of NiP to potentially feel more comfortable in the team’s overall strategies in Shanghai.
Take advantage of 33’s deep hero pool
As previously mentioned, 33 comes into this event with one of the largest hero pools at the Offlane position, as the Israeli player has displayed an impressive level of versatility throughout his career. His average of 5.11 kills per game across the 2018-2019 season (5.35 kills per game in just Pro Circuit events and qualifiers) stands as the 4th highest average at the Offlane position among the TI9 participants, which speaks to his elite ability in his role. Across the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit campaign, 33 has 9 heroes that he has played 10 or more times, with that list being comprised of Sand King, Doom, Night Stalker, Lone Druid, Dark Seer, Tidehunter, Nature’s Prophet, Brewmaster, and Centaur Warrunner. With those 9 heroes, 33 enters TI9 with 122 total matches this season and holds a total win rate of 64.75% across those games. No matter what role 33 has been called upon to play, he has done so with a startling high level of effectiveness for NiP, and that versatility and deep hero pool will open up quite a few opportunities for the squad at this event. Even outside of 33’s actual in-game impact, the fact that he can play so any different heroes will introduce an added level of difficulty for opponents as they attempt to out draft the NiP lineup in Shanghai.
Don’t be afraid to put Saksa on “big play” heroes
Saksa comes into TI9 as the leader for NiP in terms of average assists per game at 13.33, and for the most part, that high assists count has come from Saksa playing some relatively standard heroes for the Position 4 role. Heroes like Shadow Shaman, Rubick, Batrider, and Keeper of the Light have been some of his most played in this 2018-2019 campaign, with Saksa doing well in the role of initiator and lock down specialist. However, an aspect of his game that has also played a big role in NiP’s success this season is his ability to handle some of the bigger team fight controlling supports in the game. Heroes like Enigma and Phoenix have also been frequently placed into Saksa’s hands, with the team trusting him to have the right timing and judgement to take advantage of those heroes’ team fight controlling abilities. Of course, anytime a team opts to pick up those kind of big team fight heroes, it runs the risk of becoming overly dependent on that singular team fight execution to actually win a fight. Considering Saksa’s experience handling that role though, NiP will probably feel more comfortable than most teams running those sorts of strategies, which adds another potential style to the squad’s already extensive repertoire heading into this event.
Expectations at TI9
NiP comes into this event as one of the top teams on the Pro Circuit, but the squad does have a couple of questions and concerns as it makes its way to Shanghai for its debut appearance on the TI stage. The squad and its veteran lineup showed us quite a bit of strength over the course of its 2018-2019 Pro Circuit campaign, but for every success that hte squad had there was also a stumble to go along with it. The squad earned a Top 4 finish in the first Major of the season, but did so with a world class stand-in in MinD_ContRoL. The team turned in a pair of 1st place finishes at Minors, and 3 Top 4 finishes across 3 total Minor appearances, but did so after putting together uncharacteristically bad showings in the Major Qualifiers that preceded those appearances. And while the squad also put together 5th-6th place finishes at ESL One Katowice 2019 and the MDL Disneyland Paris Major, it also turned in a pair of 9th-12th place showings at the DreamLeague Season 11 and EPICENTER Majors, and finished in the 9th-10th place position at ESL One Birmingham 2019. Coming into TI9 then, the question for NiP is going to be which version of the squad will show up in Shanghai?
When NiP has been playing at its best, the squad stands as one of the elite teams in the Dota 2 world. Even when the squad has struggled though, the European squad remains an incredibly strong team and a formidable opponent heading into this event. The fact that the team was able to make 7 total appearances on the Pro Circuit stage this season, and in a European region that many considered to be the most crowded in the Dota 2 world, is incredibly impressive. Add onto that the fact that the team was able to earn 2 Minor Championship titles along with a 1 Top 4 finish and a 5th-6th place performance in 2 of its 4 Major appearances, and it is clear that NiP is capable of finding success at the highest level of play. However, the squad is not without its flaws and concerns coming into TI9, with the biggest of those concerns being its somewhat inconsistent play against its fellow TI9 participants. Against the other teams in the field for this event, NiP holds a 65-73 record over the course of the 2018-2019 season. Despite being a negative overall record, that mark for NiP doesn’t necessarily look that bad for NiP, and at first glance it isn’t. Looking deeper into that record though, NiP does have some cause for concern. Of the team’s 65 total wins against TI9 teams, 34 of them came against its fellow European squads. While Europe will have the highest number of representatives in Shanghai with 6, the fact remains that the majority of the field for TI9 is made up of international opposition for NiP. Against non-European squads attending TI9, NiP’s record stands at 31-42, which raises some questions with regards to whether the team can come out on top against squads like VP, PSG.LGD, Vici Gaming, and Evil Geniuses.
With all of that taken into account, the question still remains of whether NiP should be considered a favorite in the field for TI9. In short, NiP likely won’t be considered a favorite outright, as the squad’s inconsistencies in the regular season appear to keep it a step or two below the absolute top tier squads of the Dota 2 world. While the team won’t be considered a front runner to claim the Aegis of Champions, that certainly doesn’t mean that the squad isn’t capable of winning it all in Shanghai. When the team is playing at the top of its game, it is the equal of any other squad in the world, with the skill and veteran experience needed to go toe-to-toe with any opponent. If the squad can prove that it can reliably play at that level in Shanghai, then expect NiP to be in the mix for a potential run at the Aegis of Champions. Even if the squad doesn’t quite hit that level though, we can reasonably expect the European squad to end up somewhere in the top half of the event standings barring some sort of massive meltdown from the squad on the TI stage.