Ad Finem were assembled a year ago — almost to the day — and have been relatively unknown for most of that time. No matter their results next week, a trip to The Boston Major is a sensational gift for their paper anniversary. This is not just Ad Finem's first Valve event, but also their fourth notable LAN. To date, they've never won more than about $5,000 from a single a non-league event, so if Boston's prize allocation mimics that of Shanghai and Manila, they are guaranteed to double their earnings from the last year.
The Greek squad led by Giorgos "SsaSpartan" Giannakopoulos are easily the top down-and-out underdog potential of Boston. They are really just hitting the first step of becoming a global name, while even the subs for China's contenders are legendary opposition. The Boston Major will likely determine if they become a new Fnatic Malaysia — a one-nationality team able sustainably rise to the top of their region — or if they are more like Unknown, a one-Major sideshow that was quickly forgotten.
In an age where nearly every other team is investing increasing resources in pre-tournament preparation, Ad Finem seem to have neither the experience nor the money to spend on researchers, analysts or coaches. Like so many underdogs before them, they’re hoping to prove that there’s more to success than money.
"We don't actually plan that much," Verros "Maybe Next Time" Apostolos told Sir ActionSlacks during the DreamLeague Season 6 group stage. Rather than being (as Slacks likes to call them) “The Team with the Plan,” Maybe Next Time preferred: "We're the team that improvises.”
Improvisation is the defining characteristic of Ad Finem’s style. Just like master jazz musicians can string together new movements on the fly, so this team often gives the appearance of deep consideration while doing the bulk of the so-called planning with in-game calls. Their in-game communication method typically defers to whichever hero has the most gold, rather than the support or captain. Although other teams have used this strategy before, it seems to give Ad Finem better teamwork than most others playing at their level.
Omar "Madara" Dabachach's farming carry still outpaces his mid laner in most games, a rare and bold statement in the current meta. Most teams that have found success since The International 6, including Wings, EG and OG, give higher farm priority to their mids. Madara's average GPM is higher than that of Arteezy, Aui_2000, Blink, Ana, Resolut1on and nearly every other player attending Boston (except, of course, Black^ and Jabz of Faceless). He’s achieved this mostly through matches against easier opponents, but even in a head-to-head match-up with Team NP’s cores, Madara outfarmed all of them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Ad Finem to win the series.
When looking at Ad Finem's hero preferences, their heavy reliance on invisibility is striking. They’re one of the few teams to continue to run Bounty Hunter (Maybe Next Time's signature hero is their third-most-played this last month), forcing opponents to ban him in about a quarter of their games. When Bounty Hunter isn't available, the team will often draft Riki, even when opponents lack a jungler or weak offlaner. Like most teams in 6.88, Ad Finem draft Dimitris "ThuG" Plivouris' Mirana frequently, leveraging Moonlight Shadow to cover Smoke of Deceit.
That leaves offlaner Haris "SkyLark" Zafiriou the burden of teamfight initiation, but he’s able to find opportunities with Batrider, Dark Seer and Clockwerk. Although Batrider has seen a resurgence, Dark Seer and Clockwerk are not widely appreciated by Ad Finem's peers. (More for them.)
Their play-by-ear style has led them to draft 52 heroes in the last month, a number unmatched by any Western team at The Boston Major. Even those forced into draft diversity by the recent Captain's Draft tournament or who have played more games total haven't topped Ad Finem’s count. The number of heroes they drafted only once or twice is higher than just about any other team, barring Wings.
Ad Finem have played 300 ticketed matches in the past year, nearly one match per day. Yet they haven’t faced 12 out of the 16 teams heading to Boston. That may mean they’ll be inexperienced in many of the matchups they face there, but it may also means that those opponents won’t be prepared for them. With teams focusing on opponent research more heavily than ever before, Ad Finem’s unpredictability plays in their favor.
In that spirit, Ad Finem are preparing for Boston, planning on spending much of Dec. 4-5 practicing and getting ready for the biggest stage yet in their careers. If this team is able to pull together even one series win in the main event, it's unlikely we'll see them disappear in Boston's aftermath.
Most observers have probably already counted them out, and that's not an unreasonable stance. (After all, nobody listens to jazz anymore.) But there's something to be said for a team rising through qualifiers with their own style, playing the notes they hear in their hearts, and not trying to mimic Wings in any way except by sticking together.
Ryan "Gorgon the Wonder Cow" Jurado writes about esports and freelances for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.