Run It Back: OG and its TI8 winning lineup have returned to defend their title as the European squad looks to become the first team to ever win multiple TI titles
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 shift our focus to looking at the squad that will be defending its title in Shanghai: TI8 Champion OG.
Pro Circuit Rank: 10th (1,218 Pro Circuit Points)
Qualification Method: Direct Invite (Pro Circuit Top 12)
2018-2019 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 4 (0 Top 4 Finishes)
Previous TI Appearances: TI6 (9th-12th), TI7 (7th-8th), TI8 (1st)
2018-2019 Season Notable Achievements:
Pro Circuit Majors:
5th-6th – MDL Disneyland Paris Major
7th-8th – EPICENTER Major
Pro Circuit Minors:
5th-6th – The Bucharest Minor
5th-6th – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 1
Pro Circuit Qualifiers:
1st – The Bucharest Minor Europe Qualifier
1st – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Europe Qualifier
3rd – MDL Disneyland Paris Major Europe Closed Qualifier
3rd – EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier
5th-6th – The Chongqing Major Europe Qualifier
5th-6th – DreamLeague Season 11 Europe Qualifier
Non-Pro Circuit Events:
3rd – AMD Dota 2 Pro Series 2018
3rd – ESL One Katowice 2019
7th-8th – ESL One Birmingham 2019
2nd – WePlay! Dota 2 Winter Madness
5th-8th – WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Radiant
The origins of the OG organization stretch back to the post-TI5 shuffle, as the annual rush of roster changes and player departures resulted in the formation of a squad by the name of (monkey) Business. After putting together some impressive performances in September and October of 2015, the team announced the formation of a new organization named OG. The new organization was met with near instant success, as OG claimed the first ever Dota 2 Major Championship title with a 1st place finish at The Frankfurt Major 2015. 7 months later, the squad claimed another Major Championship title at The Manila Major 2016, and between its 2 Major titles and a slew of Top 4 finishes in significant international events, OG had firmly established itself as one of the leading teams in the Dota 2 world. The team’s incredible success easily earned it a direct invite to TI6, but the squad stumbled a bit on that particular stage with a disappointing 9th-12th place performance. In the aftermath of that underwhelming run, OG found itself parting ways with a trio of players as the organization was forced to rebuild its roster.
As it turned out, the change to its lineup was more of a reload than a rebuild, as the new-look OG roster bounced back with a dominant stretch in the final months of 2016. The squad notched Top 4 finishes in 6 of its final 7 appearances of the year, and claimed yet another Major Championship title at The Boston Major 2016. The team’s considerable momentum carried over into 2017 as well, with OG putting together another 5 consecutive Top 4 performances that were capped off by the team earning its fourth Major title at The Kiev Major 2017. With the squad seemingly back in top form, it came as no surprise that OG once again received a direct invite to that year’s iteration of TI, as OG stood as one of the favorites to win TI7. Though the team performed better than it had the previous year, OG still fell a bit short of expectations with a 7th-8th place finish at the event. With the onset of the first ever Pro Circuit season in 2017-2018, OG found itself again facing a change to its lineup, as ana announced a 1 year hiatus from professional Dota. Despite putting together relatively consistent performances within its home region, and earning appearances at 5 Minors and 6 Majors throughout the season, OG found itself far removed from the top of the Pro Circuit Rankings. In May though, and even bigger bombshell dropped on the team, as the duo of s4 and Fly left the team to join North American squad Evil Geniuses. The move forced OG into a position where it would need to both rebuild its roster and make a run through the TI8 Open Qualifiers.
The response from OG was to bring ana back into the team’s active lineup, while also adding a, at the time, little known Finnish Carry and Midlaner by the name of Topson. The squad’s new lineup fought its way through the Open Qualifiers, then the main Europe Qualifier, then the squad conquered TI itself to claim its place at TI8 Champion. In the space of around 4 months, OG had gone from an underdog squad with its glory days seemingly behind it, into the strongest team in the entirety of the Dota 2 world.
Season in Review
Coming into the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season, OG was expected by many to be one of the major players within the Dota 2 world, with the team’s roster unchanged from the one that had claimed the Aegis of Champions in Vancouver. However, the season started a bit slow for OG, as the team opted to sit out the first round of Pro Circuit qualifiers. By the time the squad made its first official appearance in November, it had undergone a change to its lineup, as ana has shifted into a substitute role while Pajkatt had been added to the roster in his place. Even with the change to its lineup, OG was able to put together a fairly solid stretch to close out 2018, earning 2 Top 4 finishes in its 3 total appearances and qualifying for The Bucharest Minor.
The start of 2019 brought further issues for OG though, as Pajkatt parted ways with the team in January, prompting OG to bring in another long-term stand-in in the form of Russian Carry iLTW. The team’s results proved to be somewhat inconsistent over the first few months of the new year though, as OG attended 8 events between January and March of 2019 and earned Top 4 finishes in 4 of them. 2 of those appearances came in the form of Pro Circuit Minors, but OG was not able to take advantage of those appearances as it posted 5th-6th place finishes in both The Bucharest Minor in January and the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 1 in March. However, the end of that somewhat hard stretch brought a bit of good news for OG, as ana returned to the team’s active roster to fully reform its TI8 winning lineup. With ana back, OG put together a surge over the final months of the season. Despite putting together just 1 Top 4 finish over its final 4 appearances, OG managed to earn a 5th-6th place finish at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major and put together a 7th-8th place performance at the EPICENTER Major. Those runs on the Pro Circuit stage earned OG just enough Pro Circuit Points to slip into the Top 12 of the Pro Circuit Rankings, earning the European squad a direct invite to TI9 and a chance to defend its title as TI Champion.
Anathan “ana” Pham (Carry/Mid)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 9.38 kills, 7.24 assists, 4.59 deaths per game (37 matches)
Today, ana is considered to be among the top tier of Carries within the Dota 2 world, which is incredibly impressive considering how quickly he has managed to achieve that status. The Australian Carry took his first major steps in the professional scene in 2016 as a substitute for Invictus Gaming in China, but did not always see consistent playing time with the organization. In August, ana began his first stint with the OG organization, playing with the team for a year before his hiatus from the professional scene in the aftermath of TI7. After spending around 5 months away from active play, ana made a return in January of 2018 with brief stints on Team World and Echo International before rejoining OG in June. He has remained with the organization ever since, and has continued to build up his reputations as a premier Carry in the Dota 2 world. Over the course of this 2018-2019 season, ana has excelled in the traditional Hard Carry role, preferring to play with high volume farming heroes. Heroes like Troll Warlord, Morphling, Phantom Lancer, and Spectre have been among his most played this season, with ana’s average Last Hits per game across all appearances this season sitting at 304. That average currently sits at 15th among all players attending TI9, but considering the fact that ana has about half the number of matches played this season compared to the players above him on that list, his place in that list becomes even more impressive heading into this event.
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen (Carry/Mid)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.40 kills, 9.47 assists, 5.16 deaths per game (92 matches)
In a little under 2 years, Topson has gone from an unheralded pubstar to a key piece of a TI winning lineup that has a shot at becoming the first squad to ever win multiple TI titles. Topson has accomplished quite a bit in a short span of time, with his career having begun in August of 2017 with SFTe-sports. After spending just 2 months with the squad, Topson moved to the roster of 5 Anchors No Captain, spending a period of around 4 months with that team before its disbanding in March of 2018. A few months later, Topson was picked up by OG, and he has remained with the organization ever since. While ana has preferred the higher volume farming heroes, Topson has drifted towards somewhat more aggressive heroes with significant damage and team fight power. His most played heroes in this 2018-2019 season include picks like Monkey King, Ember Spirit, Invoker, Pugna, and Pangolier, with Topson capable of coming online earlier in the map and often creating the space necessary to enable ana’s hero. Of course, we’ve seen enough examples of Topson simply taking over a match in his own right to know that OG often doesn’t have to wait for the late-game power spike from its other cores, but his ability to help the squad establish the pace of play that it prefers is one of the strongest aspects of Topson’s play style heading into TI9.
Sébastien “7ckngMad” a.k.a “Ceb” Debs (Offlane)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 3.9 kills, 12.29 assists, 4.45 deaths per game (92 matches)
The story of 7ckngMad, or Ceb, is certainly one of the more interesting ones in the Dota 2 world, as the French Offlaner has gone from player to coach and back again all while claiming the title of TI winner in the process. Ceb’s career began all the back in 2011 as a founding member of the French squad Team Shakira/Western Wolves. In 2012, Ceb moved to the roster of Mortal Teamwork, helping the squad earn a handful of event wins before leaving the squad after a disappointing 13th-16th place run at TI2. Over the next 2 years, Ceb would turn into something of a journeyman, ending up on the roster of 7 different squads between late 2012 and the end of 2014. By the start of 2015, the idea of an all-French lineup, or even a partially French one, had effectively died, and Ceb opted for a move to the North American region. After a stint of just over a month in the region though, the veteran returned to Europe, joining the roster of Alliance for a period of about 5 months. The back end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 saw Ceb on the roster of European squads Monkey Freedom Fighters and Kaipi, but by May of 2016 it appeared that Ceb was ready for a shift away from active play as he joined OG as its new coach. For two years, Ceb served as the coach of OG, helping to guide the squad to 3 of its 4 Major Championship titles. However, the team’s roster issues near the end of last season called him back into an active position on the OG lineup, where he had remained ever since. As the Offlaner for this current OG squad, Ceb has embraced a role as a play maker for the team, employing a mix of team fight controllers and single target initiators. Heroes like Magnus, Beastmaster, Dark Seer, and Batrider sit among his most played this season, with Magnus in particular being one of his most devastatingly strong heroes with an 84% win rate in 25 matches across the 2018-2019 campaign. While Ceb’s style rarely has him dominating a match in terms of his stat line, his play making abilities allow him to significantly affect the pace of a match, giving OG the opportunity to strike where and when it wants.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikk (Support)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 2.85 kills, 12.79 assists, 5.76 deaths per game (92 matches)
JerAx has earned himself a reputation as one of the most exciting and dynamic Supports in the Dota 2 world, with the Finnish player employing a frequently active and aggressive style of play. Despite his relative fame and reputation today, JerAx had to build himself up in the Dota 2 scene after switching over the game from Heroes of Newerth. JerAx got his start in professional Dota 2 back in 2013 as a member of Rat in the dark and QPAD Red Pandas, though neither squad was met with a particularly high level of success. After remaining largely inactive for most of 2014, JerAx had his breakout moment in 2015 when he was picked up as a member of MVP HOT6ix. With JerAx in the lineup, the squad won the TI5 Southeast Asia Qualifiers, though the team strugled at the event itself with a 13th-16th place finish at TI. That run with the team had earned JerAx a bit of attention though, and in the aftermath of TI5 he was picked up by the 5Jungz lineup that would later be signed by Team Liquid. He would spend just under a year with the Team Liquid roster, claiming a slew of Top 4 finishes including back to back 2nd place performances at The Shanghai Major 2016 and The Manila Major 2016. After Team Liquid’s 7th-8th place performance at TI6 though, JerAx opted for another move, joining the roster of OG in August of 2016. Since then, JerAx has earned 2 Major Championship titles, 1 Minor title, and 1 TI title with OG, and has cemented his place as a member of one of the most successful teams in Dota 2 history. He has done so with an aggressive style of play in the Position 4 role, with his Earth Spirit and Tusk in particular proving to be effective to the point of necessitating a ban from opponents in many situations. Even so, the duo remained among his top played heroes this season, with the likes of Earthshaker, Grimstroke, and Oracle also being picked often for the aggressive Support. JerAx’s play style has always been about setting his teammates up for success, which is evidenced by the fact that he led OG in assists this season. If he can continue to create opportunities for his teammates to succeed with his play, then OG should be in a relatively solid position as it prepares to defend its TI8 crown.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein (Support, Captain)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 2.32 kills, 11.83 assists, 7.40 deaths per game (82 matches)
N0tail’s professional career in the Dota 2 world has certainly been one filled with highs and lows, as the Danish Support and Captain of OG has seen his fair share of triumph and disappointment. The veteran player originally came over to Dota 2 from Heroes of Newerth back in 2012, making the transition from Midlaner to Support as a member of the Fnatic.EU roster. N0tail spent the first 2 years of his Dota 2 career with the Fnatic organization, finding scattered success with the organization and attending both TI3 and TI4 with the squad. In the wake of a particularly disappointing 13th-14th place finish at TI4 though, N0tail opted to part ways with Fnatic, becoming a founding member of Team Secret in August of 2014 alongside former Fnatic teammate Fly. His time with Team Secret would not relatively short though, as N0tail left the team in January of 2015 to join Cloud 9, which soon after announced a move from North America to the European region. N0tail helped build the new Cloud 9 roster up into a formidable force in the Dota 2 world, but after finishing in the 9th-12th place position at TI5, the organization pulled the plug on its roster. In the post-TI5 roster shuffle, N0tail would help to found (monkey) Business, the team that would go on to form the OG organization in October of 2015. Since then, N0tail has remained a permanent fixture on the OG lineup, helping the squad win 4 Major Championship titles, 1 Minor Championship title, and the coveted title of TI8 Champion. As the Position 5 Support for OG, N0tail has embraced a style of play that favors lane support and defensive team fight capabilities, with heroes like Chen, Enchantress, Abaddon, Orcale, and Keeper of the Light being among his most played in the 2018-2019 season. His style of play certainly isn’t flashy or attention grabbing, but N0tail has made it a habit of putting himself in the best possible position to help his teammates find success, which is something that he will have to continue to do in Shanghai as the squad looks to repeat at TI Champions.
Titouan “Sockshka” Merloz (Coach)
Sockshka hasn’t been the coach for OG for all that long now, as he came on board for the organization in January to fill the void left by ppasarel’s departure, but was not officially confirmed as the team’s coach until late April. However, his addition as the team’s new coach coincided with something of a surge for OG, as the squad came alive in the second half of the 2018-2019 season to earn itself a direct invite to TI9. Of course, part of surge undoubtedly came from the reformation of the squad’s TI8 winning lineup, but Sockshka’s influence should not necessarily be understated either. The French coach brings a significant level of experience to OG, having been a professional player himself from 2011 through 2015 while spending much of his career as a teammate for OG Offlaner Ceb. The members of the OG lineup certainly have a fair bit of experience in their own right, but having a veteran presence critiquing and adjusting the team’s play from an outside perspective is a valuable asset, and every bit of insight and potential help that Sockshka can provide will be invaluable for OG as it begins its quest to become the first team to ever win multiple TI titles.
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.
Take advantage of ana’s late-game strength, but don’t rely on it
With ana’s tendency to play the traditional hard carry, high volume farming role, OG often finds itself with 2 windows in which it has the potential to take over a match. The first usually arrives somewhere towards the back end of the transition from the mid to the late-game stage (somewhere in the ballpark of 30-ish minutes in). The other window usually comes much later, when that match is firmly entrenched in the late-game stage around the 45 minute mark or later. The ability for ana to remain calm and collected in the that second set of circumstances is one of the most impressive aspects of his game, and it is something that has earned OG more than a few victories on the international level. While ana has proven himself to be reasonably reliable in those situations, OG will likely want to avoid finding itself in those kinds of games as often as possible. The longer a particular match goes, the slimmer the margin for error becomes, and even with a player on the roster that has built up a reputation for coming through in late-game scenarios, those matches always present the riskiest prospects for the team’s involved. Considering the fact that OG is set to go up against some of the best squads in the Dota 2 world in Shanghai, that aforementioned margin for error is going to be even more minuscule for the team. ana’s ability to turn the tides of matches in the late-game stage is certainly a valuable asset, and it is one that OG won’t be afraid to utilize on the TI stage. However, moderation is considered a virtue for a reason, and if OG finds itself frequently relying on late-game heroics from ana to pull out victories, then the squad will spend much of the event standing on a knife-edge in an incredibly uncomfortable position for itself and its fans.
Stay aggressive and control the pace of play
While OG has been able to rely upon ana to pull it out of some late-game situations, many of the team’s victories have come without the squad needing to take the game that far. One of OG’s strengths in this season and in previous campaigns has been its ability to exert control over the pace at which a match is played. If the team wants to strike faster and earlier in a given match, it has been able to take advantage of some of the aggressive capabilities of its lineup in order to do so. In particular, the play of JerAx and Topson has lent itself well to this degree of flexibility, as the duo has shown itself capable of shifting into a more aggressive pace that has often succeeded in keeping the team’s opponents on the defensive. Add into the mix Ceb’s considerable talent for finding the right time and place to initiate fights, and OG has the capacity to dictate when, where, and at what frequency fights occur more often than not. That ability will be incredibly important if the squad wants to find success at TI9, as it opens up just about every strategy that the team has employed this season. If the squad wants to play fast and keep its opponent in a defensive posture, then the team’s aggression can play into that style. However, the same aggression can also be fine tuned to play into the squad’s more late-game strategies and tendencies as well, with more selective aggression from the rest of the team’s lineup helping to hold opponents at bay while ana comes online on a slower, late-game Carry hero. No team ever wants to feel as though it is being forced to play faster or slower than it would prefer, and OG’s ability to set and maintain the pace of play that it wants will play a large role in whether the squad is able to find success in its TI title defense in Shanghai.
Let Ceb make plays
Part of OG’s success both at TI8 and in this 2018-2019 season has come down to the play of Ceb, as the team’s Offlaner has consistently been relied upon to make the kind of plays that the team has needed to take control of matches. Across the 2018-2019 campaign, Ceb has averaged the second highest assists count for OG (12.29 in Pro Circuit events and qualifiers, 12.20 across all appearances in general). That latter average sits at 11th among Offlaners in the field for TI9, and his average KDA of 4.61 is the 7th highest among Offlaners at this event. Whether he has played team fight controllers like Magnus and Dark Seer, single target initiators a la Beastmaster and Batrider, or even been called upon for extra damage and lock down with heroes like Nature’s Prophet, Necrophos, or Pugna, Ceb has contributed the most to OG’s success when he has been allowed to be active. He is usually at his best when he is allowed to be aggressive rather than reactionary, and his penchant for knowing the right time and place to strike has been a valuable asset for OG that it needs to make the most of at TI9. Players like JerAx and Topson have earned themselves a reputation for active and aggressive play in their own rights, but Ceb has often served as the lynch pin that has kept the squad from tipping over into the point of being overaggressive and reckless. If he can continue to fill that role for the team in Shanghai, then OG will be a formidable opponent for just about any other squad in the field at TI9.
Expectations at TI9
OG’s defense of its TI8 title certainly did not begin in the greatest of fashions in this 2018-2019 season, and there were many times over the course of the campaign where some wondered if the squad could get itself back to the level of play that had earned it the Aegis of Champions last year. The path was long, winding, and bumpy at times, but OG managed to turn it on in the waning days of the 2018-2019 season to earn itself a place at TI9 and a shot at becoming the first organization to even win multiple TI titles. The question for the squad coming into this event though, is whether it is looked at as a squad that is reasonably capable of finding that coveted success and claiming the Aegis of Champions in back to back years.
Of course, every team in the field for TI9 is technically capable of winning the event, but the truth is that many of the teams that will be making their way to Shanghai have very different expectations in terms of their ability to find success at the event. Despite its winning pedigree and the team’s surge in results in the final months of the Pro Circuit season though, OG comes into this event looking just a step or two below some of the stronger squads in the field. Even when taking the team’s improved results over the last month or two of its Pro Circuit campaign, OG only managed to put together a single Top 4 finish on the international level in 2019, with that lone performance being a 3rd place run at ESL One Katowice 2019 back in February when the squad was still playing with iLTW as a stand-in. That’s the bad news for OG coming into TI9, but the situation isn’t nearly as bleak as it appears at first glance. The team still comes into this event with a roster than has proven itself capable of finding the ultimate success in the Dota 2 world, and there’s little reason to doubt that OG is at least capable of putting together a similar performance this time around at TI9. In fact, since the return of ana to the active lineup, OG has managed to put together a record of 24-28 against its fellow TI9 participants. Compared to some of the bigger squads coming into this event like Team Secret or VP, a 24-28 mark isn’t exactly the most intimidating of records, but it is certainly an improvement over the squad’s performances prior to ana’s return.
In the end, OG is not likely to enter TI9 as a favorite to claim the Aegis of Champions for the second year in a row, but that doesn’t mean that the squad is doomed to an early exit in Shanghai. Between the team’s relative improvement over the last few months of the season, and the experience of its fully reformed, TI-winning roster, the team can’t truly be counted out coming into this event. As of right now, the team should be considered somewhere in the middle of the 18 team field in terms of expectations, coming in anywhere between 8th and 12th as a sort of ballpark figure. However, it should be noted that those expectations are based only on what we saw in the final days of this 2018-2019 season, and it is perfectly possible for OG to put together another surge on the TI stage like what we saw from the squad last year. Coming into TI8, OG was expected to be one of the first teams out of the field in Vancouver, and the team managed to push its way past every opponent to claim the Aegis of Champions. Should OG be expected to put together that same kind of run this time around in Shanghai? Probably not. However, the fact that we know that OG is capable of that kind of performance will always keep the squad in a position to be a potential threat if any of its opponent lower their guard against the defending TI Champion.