Wings Gaming are The International 2016 champions, following a 3-1 victory over Digital Chaos in the Grand Finals. They head home from Seattle with just over $9.1 million.
Though the road to the Grand Finals is a long one, Wings took the shortest path possible, cutting through the Upper Bracket with a 9-2 game record and barely breaking a sweat. They came into Day 1 one of the event bold and unpredictable as ever, pulling out crazy drafts that left the desk analysts scratching their heads. "There is no meta," Chan "WinteR" Litt Binn said ahead of Wings' draft in Game 3 of the Grand Finals.
Wings formed their current roster just after TI5, and kept it stable through the next season, despite a massive shakeup in the Chinese Dota scene after The Shanghai Major. Their breakout win on the international stage was a surprise 3-0 victory over Team Liquid at ESL One Manila 2016, but since then their results have been as erratic as their drafts — they finished last at The Manila Major, but second at the Nanyang Championships and first at The Summit 5.
That unpredictability continued in the TI6 Group Stage. Wings placed third in their Group with a middling 3-2-2 record; they tied their best-of-twos against the higher-ranked teams in their group, Evil Geniuses and OG, but fell 0-2 to Natus Vincere, who finished sixth and were eliminated the first day of the main event.
Once they were in the Upper Bracket, however, their inconsistency evaporated. Wings met Digital Chaos for the first time on Day 1, knocking them out of the Upper Bracket in a 2-1 series. Though they donated Game 2 to DC, drafting a bizarre Techies/Pudge composition and losing in 27 minutes with only nine kills, in Game 3 they made it look intentional, crushing DC with an even more brutal 27-9 scoreline in just 25 minutes. From there, they went on to 2-0 a struggling MVP Phoenix and shut Evil Geniuses out of the Winner's Bracket Finals.
Wings are the third Chinese team to win TI, joining TI2 champions Invictus Gaming and and TI4 champions Newbee. Their win at TI6 also places them amongst the highest-earning esports players in history, surpassing last year's TI5 champions Evil Geniuses.
Though their creativity occasionally backfired (particularly when they picked Pudge), in the end the individual skill of Wings' players and their unshakable confidence held them through their first appearance at TI. They were responsible for quite a few of the 105 heroes picked at TI, but no matter how offbeat their selections, their execution was solid as steel.
"They just have everything. The teamwork, the drafts. They are able to identify whatever their opponents are doing," WinteR said on stream after Wings' Grand Finals victory. "This team is by far the best team I have ever seen so far at TI."
"You can't reach perfection, but they're so close," Dominik "Black^" Reitmeier chimed in.
The Grand Finals began with Wings relying on Shadow’s carry Silencer to secure several early ganks, preventing DC from counterattacking with Global Silence. Yet they began using the ability more defensively as the game drew on; Resolut1on’s Faceless Void had several great Chonospheres that caught Wings off-guard, and w33's Skywrath Mage carry did monstrous followup damage with well-placed Mystic Flares. Without proper initiation, Wings struggled to resist DC’s burst damage, culminating in a 33-minute surrender.
DC looked to have the momentum going into Game 2, but things rapidly got away from them. Wings snagged Faceless Void for Shadow, who promptly proceeded to tear DC apart. The Chinese squad further co-opted w33’s signature Invoker for bLink, who proved to be too great of a foe to defeat in the mid lane, shutting down w33’s Mirana and rapidly eclipsing DC's top heroes in farm.
Shadow stuck with Void for Game 3, and his aggressive and frequent Chronospheres, used expertly to separate and secure kills on lone members of DC, once again won them the game. Shadow reached the end of the 45-minute game with an astounding 20/0/16 KDA. For DC’s part, their attempt to surprise Wings with a hard carry Clinkz pick for Resolut1on fell flat, as Wings secured kill after kill across the map and never allowed any of DC’s cores to get ahead in net worth. Wings’ crushing victory — with 49 kills to 24 and a 25k gold lead at 45 minutes — left the victors of the Lower Bracket Finals demoralized, exhausted and prone to mistakes.
DC pulled themselves together for Game 4, switching up their roles with Resolut1on on Mirana and w33 on mid lane Slark. This time they banned out Faceless Void in the first phase, but Wings didn’t bat an eye, picking up an Anti-Mage for their safe lane.
DC pulled ahead in kills and gold around 15 minutes, aggressively pushing past towers to secure kills. But when Shadow’s Anti-Mage finished farming, the teamfights quickly turned in Wings favor, and DC’s aggression became a liability. Though they took several important kills, they overextended and failed to safely disengage from fights where they were at a disadvantage, taking heavy losses and giving Wings space to secure objectives. By 39 minutes, DC were out of steam, and called GG.
Though DC's run at TI6 ended short of first place, their journey through the Lower Bracket to the Grand Finals shocked the Dota world. Having formed their roster after the post-Shanghai Major roster lock, DC narrowly qualified for TI6 after a tense 3-2 victory over compLexity Gaming in the Americas Qualifier. They were seen by most as a longshot for the Top 8, but as TI drew on and the world's best teams fell in their wake, they looked more and more like potential champions.
After their Day 1 loss to Wings, DC took down LGD Gaming, TNC Gaming, EHOME, Fnatic and Evil Geniuses on their way to the Grand Finals. They worked the dominant heroes of the TI meta — mid lane Mirana, Timbersaw and Shadow Demon, to name a few — into creative and clever drafts to rival that of Wings, and even hatched some brilliant strategies of their own, like an Ursa/Slark/Beastmaster split-pushing combo that took down Evil Geniuses in the Lower Bracket Finals. Their individual skill and team coordination were hard to match, from w33's jaw-dropping Sun Strikes to saksa's game-saving Disruptions and Resolut1on's carry performances across more than a dozen heroes.
DC may not leave Seattle with the Aegis of Champions, but they leave no doubt they are one of the best Dota teams in the world.
Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.
Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor at theScore esports.