A Royal Welcome in Shanghai?: Chinese squad Royal Never Give Up looks to turn around a season of inconsistency on the Pro Circuit stage to mount a surprise run at TI9
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’ll take a look at 1 of the 4 Chinese squads that will be taking the stage in Shanghai, the winner of the TI9 China Qualifier, and a squad that will be making its debut on the TI stage at TI9: Royal Never Give Up.
Royal Never Give Up
Pro Circuit Rank: 20th (204 Pro Circuit Points)
Qualification Method: TI9 China Qualifier 1st Place
2018-2019 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 4 (1 Top 4 finish)
Previous TI Appearances: None (TI debut)
2018-2019 Season Notable Achievements:
Pro Circuit Majors:
9th-12th – EPICENTER Major
Pro Circuit Minors:
3rd – DreamLeague Season 10 Minor
7th-8th – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 1
7th-8th – OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019
Pro Circuit Qualifiers:
1st – DreamLeague Season 10 China Qualifier
1st – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor China Qualifier
1st – OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019 China Qualifier
2nd – EPICENTER Major 2019 China Closed Qualifier
4th – The Bucharest Minor China Qualifier
4th – DreamLeague Season 11 China Qualifier
5th-6th – The Kuala Lumpur Major China Qualifier
5th-6th – The Chongqing Major China Qualifier
7th-8th – MDL Disneyland Paris Major China Closed Qualifier
Non-Pro Circuit Events:
5th-6th – MDL Macau 2019
1st – WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Dire Asia
5th-6th – H-Cup Season 11
9th-10th – 2018 Sanya DOTA2 New-Stars Play Closed Qualifier
9th-11th – H-Cup Season 12
12th-14th – H-Cup Season 10
The history of Royal Never Give Up and its parent organization, Royal Club, is a relatively short one, at least so much as it pertains to the Dota 2 world. The organization itself was founded in 2015, though at the time, Royal Club was mostly interested in the management of its League of Legends division. In September of 2018, the organization announced its first Dota 2 squad, acquiring the duo of Monet and ah fu from LGD.Forever Young, signing Setsu of CDEC Gaming, and picking up the free agent duo of Srf and 343 to complete its roster for the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season.
Season in Review
The season began in relatively promising fashion for RNG, as the squad put together Top 4 finishes in 3 of its first 5 regional appearances, and managed to post an impressive 3rd place finish in its Pro Circuit debut at the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor. In the wake of that event though, the team had to make a change to its lineup, as Support 343 parted ways with the team and was replaced by September from the team’s youth squad (Royal). While the squad adjusted to the change in its lineup, its results within the Chinese region began to drop off a bit, as the squad closed out 2018 with just 2 Top 4 finishes in its final 6 appearances in the Chinese region.
The 2019 section of the season would see the squad finally appear to reclaim its momentum, as the team rattled off 4 straight Top 4 finishes in its home region. In February, the team added a veteran presence to its lineup, sending September back down to the organization’s youth squad to make room for LaNm. Unfortunately, the change did little to help the squad’s efforts outside of China, as RNG posted a 5th-6th place performance at MDL Macau 2019 and a 7th-8th place showing at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 1. The team’s struggles on the international level began to creep into its regional performances over the course of March, with RNG earning just 1 Top 4 finish in 4 regional appearances in the month, and that lone Top 4 finish came in the form of an open qualifier. While the squad was able to qualify for a Minor in its first qualifier of April, the organization felt that it needed to make a change to turn things around in the final months of the season. On April 14th, the organization announced more changes to its roster, with Srf being replaced by Flyby while Royal’s Coach Super was promoted to the same position with RNG in the place of departed Coach Mikasa.
The updated roster was not met with immediate success though, as RNG proceeded to post a 7th-8th place finish at the OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019. However, the squad would return to its home region to put together a pair of impressive performances, finishing 2nd in the EPICENTER Major 2019 China Closed Qualifier and winning the WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Dire Asia. At the end of June, RNG attended its first Major in the organization’s history, putting together a 9th-12th place finish at the EPICENTER Major. While that performance wasn’t enough for RNG to earn a direct invite to TI9, the squad proved more than capable of fighting its way to the event. With a 12-7 record agaisnt its regional rivals, RNG managed to win the TI9 China Qualifier, taking down CDEC Gaming 3-2 in the Grand Final to end its season on a high note and punch its ticket to Shanghai.
Du “Monet” Peng (Carry)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.46 kills, 9.14 assists, 3.33 deaths per game (145 matches)
Monet comes into TI9 as one of the younger players in the field, as the Carry will be just 19 years old when the event begins. Despite his young age, Monet has earned himself a bit of notoriety in the Chinese scene, and across the wider Dota 2 world as well. His career did not begin in the most glorious of fashions though, as Monet spent his first year or so among lower tier teams in his home region. His professional career began in December of 2015 as a member of FTD Club C, though he would remain with the squad for just a month before leaving to join CDEC Avenger in March of 2016. While CDEC Avenger wasn’t able to find much success as a team, Monet’s talent was certainly noticed, and in September of 2016, he was acquired by LGD.Forever Young. Over the next 2 years, Monet helped turn LGD.Forever Young into a premier team both within the Chinese region and on the international level. The squad rattled off an incredible 16 straight Top 4 finishes between May and December of 2017, including a 3rd place showing at TI7. In 2018, Monet would attend his first Majors as a member of LGD.Forever Young, but the team would fall short of the mark to qualify for TI8 with a 3rd place showing in the China Qualifier. In the offseason prior to the 2018-2019 season, Monet was acquired by RNG, where he has remained throughout the season. Over the course of this season, Monet has preferred the traditional hard-farming, high damage Carry role, leaning heavily towards heroes capable of accruing high level of Last Hits and controlling late-game fights. Heroes like Terrorblade, Lifestealer, Morphling, Troll Warlord, and Phantom Assassin are among his most played this season. The style has been fairly effective for Monet himself, with the Carry averaging 337 Last Hits per game, which comes in at ninth among all players at TI9. With 7.39 kills per game this season, Monet also leads all member of the RNG roster, as the Carry has often managed to make the most of his high levels of farm. While RNG has not always managed to find success, having a Carry that it can reliable count on to find farm and make contributions to the squad is certainly a potential advantage for the squad on the TI stage in Shanghai.
Gao “Setsu” Zhenxiong (Mid)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.43 kills, 9.20 assists, 3.52 deaths per game (117 matches)
Setsu comes into TI9 as a relatively unheralded player, as the 20 year old Midlaner has not received much attention outside of the Chinese region. A large part of that has to do with the fact that Setsu has spent much of his career playing for relatively minor squads within his home region, with this stint on RNG giving him some of his first significant experience on the international level. Setsu’s career began back in 2016 with a series of incredibly short runs with boomloomdoom, FTD Club B, and FTD Club A. In September of 2016, Setsu was picked up by CDEC Gaming, playing for the squad for around 4 months before being shifted into a role as a substitute player. Between January and September of 2016, Setsu would not not see regular playing time, and as the start of the 2017-2018 Pro Circuit season, he left CDEC Gaming to join Eclipse, but would return to CDEC Gaming just 2 months into the season. This time around, Setsu would be a regular member of the CDEC Gaming roster, though the squad would never manage to advance beyond the open qualifier stage in any of its attempts to reach the Pro Circuit stage. In September of 2018. Setsu left CDEC Gaming once again, joining the roster of Royal Never Give Up where he has remained throughout the 2018-2019 season. Throughout said season, Setsu has emphasized two different styles of play, with the first relying upon high damage, team fight centered heroes, while the other focused around more maneuverable and position based damage dealers. That first group of heroes featured the likes of Outworld Devourer, Medusa, Kunkka, and Dragon Knight, with Setsu holding a 63.64% win rate in 55 matches on those heroes. Meanwhile, Setsu’s other style featured heroes like Templar Assassin, Queen of Pain, Ember Spirit, Puck, and Storm Spirit, with the Midlaner holding a 58.33% win rate in 48 matches. Considering the fact that Monet tends to play the slower and more methodical farming Carry heroes, having the team’s Midlaner be capable of employing multiple styles with heroes able to play at multiple paces and speeds serves as a strong complement to his fellow Core.
Su “Flyby” Lei (Offlane)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 3.39 kills, 13.52 assists, 4.34 deaths per game (56 matches)
Flyby comes into TI9 as a name that is not very well known outside of the Chinese region, as the Offlaner has very rarely managed to find himself playing on the international level. His career began in 2015 on CDEC Avenger, one of the secondary squads of the CDEC Gaming organization. As a member of the squad, Flyby would find only scattered success in minor events in the Chinese region, but his efforts eventually earned him a promotion to the main CDEC Gaming roster in September of 2016. Flyby would remain with CDEC Gaming for nearly a year before moving on to the roster of iG Vitality, though he would leave the team after 5 months following a string of disappointing performances. Flyby remained a free agent for most of 2018, before returning to CDEC Gaming in September for the start of the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season. Just 1 month into the season though, Flyby left CDEC Gaming, being picked up by Royal just a month later. Throughout the rest of the 2018-2019 season, Flyby would be transferred between the Royal and Royal Never Give Up roster multiple times, before finally being locked into the RNG lineup in April of 2019. As a member of RNG, Flyby has employed a mix of traditional, team fight controlling Offlane heroes and more aggressive, damage focused picks. Heroes like Tidehunter, Centaur Warrunner, Dark Seer, and Omniknight featured heavily in the team fight oriented role, while the likes of Doom, Night Stalker, and Mars comprised the second group. Regardless of which role and style he has been called upon to play, Flyby has succeeded in creating opportunities for his squad, as the Offlaner comes into TI9 with an average of 13.92 assists per game this season. That average sits at first among all Offlaners in the field for TI9, and is the twelfth highest assists average among all TI9 players in general. Of course, part of that high average stems from the fact that Flyby has played just 64 official matches for RNG, but from what we have seen from him so far, it is clear that Flyby is a valuable and relatively consistent play maker for the squad coming into TI9 itself.
Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng (Support)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 3.17 kills, 14.03 assists, 6.00 deaths per game (75 matches)
Coming into TI9, LaNm stands as the veteran leader of this RNG squad, with the Support being the most experience member of the team’s roster. His career in Dota 2 stretches back to the very beginnings of the game in 2011 as a member of EHOME, attending the first 2 iterations of TI with the squad. In January of 2013 though, LaNm left EHOME to join Rattlesnake, though he would leave the squad in the aftermath of a disappointing 13th-16th place finish at TI3. In September of 2013, LaNm became a member of Team DK, sparking a run of dominante with the squad in which it would claim 17 Top 4 finishes in 18 total appearances from the end of 2013 through 2014. Included in that stretch was a 4th place performance at TI4, but that impressive showing was not enough to keep the Team DK roster together. After a brief run with Big God at the beginning of 2015, LaNm made his return to EHOME in March, remaining with the squad for over 2 years as a player and coach. During that time, LaNm attended 2 TIs and 3 Majors with the squad, before transferring to Vici Gaming in May of 2017 to be the team’s new coach. By the start of the 2017-2018 season though, LaNm had been shifted out of the coaching role and back into active play, helping the squad to earn 5 Minor and 6 Major appearances and claim a direct invite to TI8. After posting a 9th-12th place finish at the event itself, LaNm left Vici Gaming, beginning the 2018-2019 season as a member of the DeathBringer Gaming roster. After finding little success with the squad, LaNm joined Royal Never Give Up in February of 2019, playing out the remainder of the season with the squad. With RNG, LaNm has emphasized a mix of team fight damage and lock down potential, with his most played heroes featuring Earthshaker, Warlock, Jakiro, Nature’s Prophet, Pangolier, and Shadow Shaman. The veteran Support has shown his effectiveness with those heroes with an average of 13.78 assists per game that comes in as the nineteenth highest average among all TI9 players. His style of play is not one that can single-handedly win his team matches, but his consistent contributions allow the rest of his squad to control engagements and hopefully take control of a match through their own efforts.
Tue “ah fu” Soon Chuan (Support)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 2.53 kills, 13.76 assists, 6.79 deaths per game (145 matches)
ah fu occupies a rather interesting spot within the roster of Royal Never Give Up, as he is one of the few non-Chinese players to play for a Chinese squad. The Malaysian Support began his career within the Southeast Asian region, getting his start in 2014 and 2015 as a member of Mineski. His time with that organization would last less than 2 months though, with ah fu spending most of 2015 as a free agent before joining SabunWarrior in September of 2015. After just 2 months with that squad, ah fu moved to the roster of WarriorsGaming.Unity, spending the next year with the squad. As a member of WarriorsGaming.Unity (and its brief stretch as Team Bazaar), ah fu helped transform the squad into one of the stronger teams in the Southeast Asian region, and even put together a 5th-8th place performance with the squad at The Boston Major 2016. By May of 2017 though, ah fu’s run with the organization had com to an end, with the Support making the move to China to join the roster of LGD.Forever Young. With the Chinese squad, ah fu was part of an incredible run of success over the second half of 2017, as the team put together a stretch of 16 straight Top 4 finishes, including a 3rd place showing at TI7 in what was ah fu’s TI debut. 2018 would see LGD.Forever Young slow down significantly though, as the team saw a significant drop in its results and ended up missing out on a spot at TI8. In the aftermath of the season, ah fu opted to leave LGD.Forever Young, moving over the RNG alongside teammate Monet. As the team’s Position 5 Support, ah fu has heavily focused upon heroes with high levels of lock down and team fight potential, with this most played heroes of the season including the likes of Grimstroke, Bane, Earth Spirit, Shadow Shaman, Nyx Assassin, and Ancient Apparition. With an average of 13.58 assists per game across the season, ah fu has proven himself to be fairly reliable in terms of his ability to contribute to team fights and create pick off opportunities for his cores. While his play making ability may not necessarily be elite (his 13.58 assist per game average sits at twenty first among players at TI9), his consistent production will surely be a valuable asset for RNG as it looks to shock the Dota 2 world with a strong showing at TI9.
Xie “Super” Junhao (Coach)
RNG’s coach hasn’t been with the team for all that long, as Super was only promoted from the organization’s youth squad in April when former coach Mikasa left the organization. The former Midlaner certainly has an impressive amount of experience as a player, with Super having played professionally from 2011 to 2019, but his experience as a coach is not quite as extensive. His coaching career began just 1 month before he came to RNG, with Super having served as the coach of Royal for a period of around 1 month. As the coach of RNG, Super hasn’t quite been able to address the squad’s struggles on the international level just yet, with the team finishing in the 7th-8th place position at the OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019 and the 9th-12th place position at the EPICENTER Major. However, having a player working behind the scenes with Super’s level of professional experience can only serve as an advantage for Royal Never Give Up, and hopefully Super’s insight will help the squad put together an impressive performance on the TI stage in Shanghai.
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.
Buy as much time for Monet as possible
Any time that a team has a player that likes to employ the traditional hard-farming, hyper Carry picks, it is in the best interests of that player’s teammates to lean towards a strategy that gives that player as much time and space as possible to find that farm and build themselves up to full strength. RNG certainly appears to have built its roster in a manner to facilitate Monet’s style though, with the rest of the team’s lineup showing an ability to get themselves involved in the action early and often. Between the play making ability of Flyby, the consistent opportunities created by the duo of LaNm and ah fu, and the high damage, team fight oriented hero pool of Setsu, RNG has the potential to keep its opponents on the defensive without having to involve Monet’s hero in fights. Of course, it should be noted that every strategy has a weakness, and RNG’s typical style of play has a rather sizable one. Should the rest of the team’s lineup fail to control the pace of play and successfully create the space that Monet needs to get to full strength, both Monet’s hero and the rest of RNG’s lineup will drop off massively just as their opponents are likely to be ramping up their own power. Having a hard-farming, late-game oriented Carry means that RNG will be looking to take most of its matches into the late-game stage, but that also means that the team’s other 4 players will have to reliably get the squad to said late-game stage first.
Rely on Flyby and the Support duo to make plays
This one very much plays into the former point for RNG, as the squad will most likely need to buy time and create space for Monet to operate in across the majority of its matches. In those situations, a team need to rely upon players to make plays and consistently find or generate opportunities for the squad to get ahead or at least remain even with its opponent in what is effectively a 4vs5 scenario. Those situations are where RNG will need to rely, not upon its Carry or Midlaner, but upon the remaining trio of players in Flyby, LaNm and ah fu. Said trio have proven themselves to be extremely talented at creating team fight and pick off opportunities for their squad, with all 3 players holding assist per game averages in the Top 25 among the players at TI9 (Flyby-13th, LaNm-19th, ah fu-21st). When one combines the averages of all 3 of those players, RNG gets an average assist count of 41.28 per game from its Offlaner and Supports. That average is the fifth highest among all trios of Supports and Offlaners in the field at TI9, putting RNG’s lineup among elite company in terms of its ability to make plays and find openings for the team. If the squad wants to have any chance of finding success in Shanghai, then it will have to rely heavily upon that trio to continue creating opportunities to get ahead and create the space needed for the team’s cores to take over matches in the later stages of the game.
Expectations at TI9
RNG began this 2018-2019 season as an interesting squad in the Dota 2 world, as the squad got its Pro Circuit campaign off to a solid start and appeared to be an early contender within a crowded Chinese region. The heart of the season saw the squad struggle to maintain that initial momentum though, as RNG dropped down into the lower tiers of the regional scene and received only limited opportunities to appear on the international level. The final stretch of the season certainly saw the squad put together something of a surge, but the team still comes into TI9 with more than a few questions in need of answering, as the Chinese squad prepares to take on some of the elite teams in the Dota 2 world on home soil in Shanghai.
RNG comes into this event as a team that proved itself to be wildly inconsistent over the course of this season, both on the international level and within its own home region. Away from China, RNG posted just 1 Top 4 finish in 5 international appearances, with 4 of those appearances coming in the form of Pro Circuit events. With a 10-18 record against the non-Chinese squads in the field for TI9, RNG doesn’t exactly cut the most imposing of figures in Shanghai, though the squad has at least shown the potential to take down squads on the international level. The issue for this RNG squad will be consistency, as potential doesn’t really account for much if a team can’t actually turn that potential into wins on the TI stage. Unfortunately, consistency hasn’t been the teams strong suit even within its home region, where the squad holds just a 12-26 record against the other Chinese teams at TI9.
With that in mind, RNG comes into TI9 itself with some fairly low expectations, as the squad simply hasn’t proven itself capable enough to contend with the top squads in the Dota 2 world for longer than a short burst. Of course, that kind of burst at the right time could push the squad into a more respectable position in the TI9 standings, but to actually stand as a legitimate contender in Shanghai, RNG will have to show the level of consistent strength that has eluded it all season long. The team’s roster certainly has a solid mix of young skill and veteran experience, but those factors alone don’t appear to be enough to push the squad to success coming into this event. Expect RNG to wind up near the bottom of the event standings in Shanghai, with the squad needing an exceptional run at TI9 to come anywhere close to the upper half of the event standings.