While the eyes of the Dota world were turned to Seattle this summer, the CIS scene was in turmoil. Na`Vi were the sole CIS representative at biggest tournament of the year. Five out of six CIS squads that attended the European qualifier filled out the bottom half of the ranks in the round robin, with only Fantastic Five making it close to qualification (read: third in round robin, followed by two straight losses in the playoffs).
The ensuing CIS roster shuffle didn’t even wait for TI6 to end. Virtus.pro started especially early, dropping their entire roster two days after the conclusion of the TI qualifiers. Unlike Na`Vi’s similar roster purging strategy in late 2015, VP didn’t turn around and pick up any of the players from their most recent roster, instead opting to start fresh. After a little over one month of deliberation and failed tryouts, the team announced their full new roster, which brought together well-known players from Empire, Vega Squadron and Fantastic Five.
Though no one expected much of the roster at the time, they now seem to be on a path to give Virtus.pro their best Valve event finish since TI5, where VP upset tournament favorites Team Secret and took 5th-6th place. The new roster’s results since taking first place at BTS Europe #4 in September have arguably been the best in the history of the organization.
In just the last few weeks, VP have won The Summit 6, the ESL One Genting EU qualifier and the Dota Pit League Season 5 CIS qualifier, defeating teams like Wings Gaming and OG. In fact the only events or qualifiers they’ve played in but haven’t won since TI6 were DreamLeague Season 6 and The Boston Major qualifiers. The former was because they dropped out mid-event, having already played all of their League Play games and finishing in second place; the latter was their Boston Major qualifier run, where Team Liquid knocked them into the lower bracket, but they turned around and eliminated Liquid to qualify for the Major.
VP’s fall roster
- Vladimir "No[o]ne" Minenko (former team: Vega Squadron)
- Alexei "Solo" Berezin (former team: Vega Squadron)
- Ilya "Lil" Ilyuk (former team: Polarity)
- Roman "RAMZES666" Kusnarev (former team: Team Empire)
- Pavel "9pasha" Hhvastanov (former team: Fantastic Five)
Of the five players that were signed to the roster in August, only Lil and Solo have been a part of a VP team in the past, with Solo being by far the most experienced member of the squad (fittingly, he is the current VP captain). In the modern Dota scene, a roster’s chance of success isn’t just a question of whether the players are skilled, but whether their particular mix of five individuals “clicks” — and this VP roster definitely clicks.
Virtus.pro as a team have been known for playing their own style for some time, and this iteration is no different. They have a tendency to pick certain heroes that other teams don’t favor as heavily, like Dragon Knight, Chen, Slardar and Disruptor. They are also often on the forefront of experimentation with using non-traditional heroes as supports, such as support Phantom Assassin or support Weaver, usually played by Lil.
Lil is close to a VP mainstay at this point, having played with rosters fielded by the organization for the better part of two years. He is most famous for his skills on Visage, but has lately been playing a lot of Chen and Enchantress, two other heroes that put his fantastic micro skills to use. His opening rotations help Virtus.pro dominate the early game, which has been a major factor in many of their wins. Out of their nine game wins at The Summit, VP only gave up their early lead once — to Wings Gaming in the semifinals, who turned a 6k VP net worth lead into a 6k Wings lead before VP came back and ended the game up almost 11k.
Virtus.pro’s most picked heroes this month also have very high winrates. Ogre Magi is their favorite, with 16 games and an 81.25 percent winrate for the team. Solo mostly plays the hero, though Lil occasionally takes the reigns. Meanwhile, Ramzes’ Lifestealer has been picked in 11 games this month, and has lost just once. It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s also the second-most banned hero against VP over the same period.
Banning out VP’s best heroes is a difficult task. Shadow Demon is the most frequently banned hero against them, but he’s won 100 percent of nine games in which they’ve been allowed to pick him. Even if a team bans Shadow Demon, VP will very likely pick Ogre Magi first phase. That puts opponents in an untenable position, since banning both SD and Ogre first phase leaves VP free to take just as scary options, like the Lifestealer/Slardar combo that they used to dominate OG learned in The Summit 6 Grand Final.
Though Virtus.pro already looked strong coming into The Boston Major, their run through The Summit 6 was what really cemented the expectations of fans and analysts. Their first round opponents, EHOME, seemed off their game, but when VP came up against Wings Gaming in the semifinal round they really shone. Wings did usual Wings things, never picking the same hero twice in two games, but Virtus.pro were in full control with Ramzes on Lifestealer in both games, while Solo and Lil alternated on Disruptor. Game 1 was quick and decisive, and though Game 2 stretched out with the two trading leads, VP still came out on top.
When VP met OG in the winner’s finals, they seemed to know exactly what they wanted and how to execute. OG took a significant early lead in Game 1 of winner’s, and VP called GG at the 11-minute mark — before turning around and using an unconventional Bloodseeker for Ramzes and support Weaver for Lil to win Games 2 and 3. OG hardly looked like themselves in the Grand Finals, which VP won with three crushing victories.
After their dominant first place finish at The Summit 6, Virtus.pro have gone from being just another qualifier team to a tournament favorite. The single-elimination gauntlet will leave no room for error, but VP have never been in better shape to go all the way.
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.