Dota 2 fans want drama, history and storylines. We want to see crazy emotion from the players. But very few teams truly have that right now, because teams keep swapping players. Reshuffling is fun for theory-Dota and rumor-mongers, but they destroy team identity. They just do. Every time we see the same faces rearranged under different banners, it kills a little bit of the specialness in history.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any Dota pros owe us to stay on the same teams. We have all played Dota 2, and we’ve all gone from loving to hating a complete stranger on our team in the span of 40 minutes. These players have been playing with each other for years, and there’s so much more at stake for them than 25 MMR points. It’s understandable, and they should do what they have to do.
Still, this past year has been especially hard, like a serial killer for team identity and history.
Na`Vi is a shell of legacy; their management facing a Dendi-or-Puppey decision like what the Los Angeles Lakers had with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. It appears that they have chosen poorly.
That old Na`Vi team was truly special. They were back-to-back The International finalists and the lone western hope in 2012. Na`Vi made “the play” and ran an indigo child in the offlane. The team and brand was so magic that its fans actually bought into the irrational “Na`Vi only tries when it matters” justification for poor results for almost all of 2014, culminating in wheels finally coming off the bus at TI4.
I’ll bet that somewhere, Na`Vi fans still believed that team could make the finals just minutes before they tapped out against Cloud9. They bought into the Na`Vi magic not knowing that game would be the last time they saw Dendi and Puppey play together for the foreseeable future. That Na`Vi team at TI4, the one with the core of players that had never placed below silver at TI, finished eighth. And to be honest, they overachieved.
I doubt we’ll ever see a brand in Dota capable of producing an entrance walk like this one or inspiring the level of irrational fan belief and fervor that Na`Vi’s yellow and black did. All the team had to do was raise their hands and fanboys rained from the sky. It won’t ever be like that again.
Fnatic had an identity. They were five attractive dudes who didn’t look like nerds and were bros for life. They yelled at each other during wins and losses. They lifted weights, charmed girls and drafted Meepo. They had a support player who could kick your ass because his dad literally invented a military hand-to-hand combat defense system. And now these guys are scattered into the wind, an unfortunate casualty of middling results and that awful Era-Excalibur incident between management and Valve. This team had some of the most loyal fans ever, and those fans deserted in droves when the team left. I can’t imagine a new Fnatic team with five fresh faces ever getting those fans back in Dota 2.
Liquid was responsible for some of the most memorable moments in TI3 and TI4. Fans will remember the million-dollar Dream Coil and AdmiralBulldog going nuts in the booth at TI3. But fans will remember Bulba’s Clockwerk and LD screaming “Sylar to fall, Liquid are doing it” which remains to this day probably second all time in recognizable caster calls (the first being “Patience from Zhou”). The image of an exultant Bulba rushing out of the booth remains burned into my brain.
Liquid retooled after TI3 but their team was built for an old patch. A string of losses and a few blogs later, they were all but counted out. But somehow, they made TI4 memorable. Cheering for Liquid, as one fan put it, is like eating a cake with razorblades at the center. You know the razorblades are there, but you eat the cake anyway.
The team somehow manages to pull fans in and give them hope right before breaking their hearts. That’s what happened at TI4, a miracle run where Liquid, a qualifier team, was positioned at the top of the group standings before throwing several very winnable games that ultimately cost them $400,000. Liquid as an organization still hasn't recovered from that in Dota 2.
Cloud9’s fifth place TI4 team is down to EternaLEnVy and Bone7. C9 fans love the strange, awkwardness that is Jacky Mao, but they also loved SingSing and Aui_2000 and PieLieDie and that logo... damn, that logo is beautiful. But Cloud9’s 2014 anything-can-happen play style, the team culture that won them popularity polls — that is gone. They may be more consistent or even a better Dota 2 team now, but I, like many other fans, will always mourn their unpredictability and flair.
Jacky did what Jacky had to do. But in some alternate dimension, C9 fans deserved to clone Artour and see that MLG-winning team play at TI.
I’m not here to mourn the loss of those teams, because something great did come out of this shuffle: Arteezy and Zai left Evil Geniuses to join Team Secret. It was intriguing and unexpected and distilled everything down to a single binary choice for western fans. Everyone has an opinion on this, ranging from disbelief to sadness to excitement.
These two teams have created the single best storyline in all of Dota 2. Let's look at the reasons why.
Europe vs. North America
To understand why you’re either on Team EG or Team Secret — why this choice has to be binary — let's revisit the age old question of North America versus Europe that’s been hiding in the trees recently.
NA Dota has always been the little brother to Europe. It’s a place where players talk the talk regardless of whether they can walk the walk. Many European fans see NA as a cesspool of overrated trash talkers, forever doomed to mediocrity and failure on the biggest stages when the prize monies were high and pings were equal.
NA Dota is that slacker in high school who thought he could get really good grades if he bothered to study. Where NA fans saw hidden NEL (NADotA Elite League) talent and untapped potential, EU fans saw bloated egos and over-hype.
The narrative was one-sided. NA had eight total teams participate through four Internationals. Europe had 25. NA had three top 8 finishes, Europe had nine. Europe also had two 1st, two 2nd, and five top 4 finishes. NA had none, none, and one 3rd place.
But that one 3rd place…
It just happens to be the most recent and the most important, because it was the only hope the west had of winning TI4 amid a crowd of hungry Chinese teams.
Because, you see, Europe got crushed this past TI. Before TI4, teams from Europe made up 66% of grand finalists. Last year, Europe’s lone representative in the bracket finished 7th-8th (yes, I count C9 as 50-50 EU-NA).
Meanwhile, the year leading up to TI4 saw everything about NA Dota vindicated. EG had a team of three Americans, a Canadian, and a Swede, and they become the consensus best team in the west.
I don’t know if you remember the comments on joinDota and Reddit when the pre-EG test team “S A D B O Y S” started out, but I do. “EG will never win with these guys” or “No NA team will ever place high at TI” or “You can’t win with a captain from NEL.”
Those haters shut up quick, and for a while, Euro fans didn’t say jack about EU vs NA. The narrative had changed. However, now that there’s a real contender to EG’s place atop the western mountain, the Eurofans are back and filtering out of the woodwork.
The way these fans rally behind Secret, it’s almost as if they’re insulted by EG’s period of prolonged dominance. They’re thinking to themselves, America is supposed to be bad at Dota. Who is this guy out from this state in America I’ve never heard of? How can his team of misfits and children (PPD’s words, not mine) be so consistently better than Fnatic, than Na`Vi, than Alliance? How is this guy churning out core players from NEL spare parts like some sort of pro-making sweatshop? Why can’t we make a Euro superteam now? Can we go back to 2013 when Alliance versus Na`Vi was the biggest deal?
These two teams legitimately don’t like each other. EG has this tendency, after a year of what felt like a western coronation, to mail it in. Their effort dropped because they had no challengers, and they’d often flirt dangerously with losing before buckling down. Or sometimes, like at ESL Frankfurt, they’d pack it up and laugh as they got crushed 22-0 by iG.
So when Secret beat EG in the winners bracket final at StarLadder a few months ago, the EG team, already self-destructing and on the verge of disbanding, got mad. The salt, as the Twitch chat would say, was real. EG stormed back to win a series and a tournament they had no business winning, because, in the words of Arteezy, during a stream session:
“We got so angry seeing Secret cheering after beating us. We were incredibly angry. They were throwing headsets and high fiving. Since we're depressing guys on EG we looked at those guys and said we're going to f---ing beat those f---ers.
Beating those guys that were so happy when they won a winner bracket match made me feel so good. That was first time I saw Universe yell out. He went crazy. We all shared the same thought about being happy to beat Secret.”
Every single match these two teams play from now on carries some more weight and edge. Because rivalries are born better amidst salt and hate rather than love and mutual respect.
Puppey vs PPD
Secret vs EG boils down to Puppey and PPD. One is the embodiment of European Dota legacy, now armed with the very best team he can assemble. The other was a second generation Heroes of Newerth player leading a veteran NA squad that went nowhere before he showed up.
Puppey is undoubtedly the face of Secret. He’s got the biggest personality and brings with him some significant percentage of Na`Vi fanboys who like him more than Dendi and XBOCT. Like him or not, you have to respect him.
Two years ago at TI3 I remember watching Puppey sitting at a table and other Dota pros gathering around him in a large crowd as he told a story. It was about Na`Vi’s flight delays getting to some tournament in China. Everyone was transfixed. This guy literally told a 20 minute story about travel problems and people watching like it was a pre-screening of the new Star Wars movie. Afterward, I asked someone what was so great about the story and he responded, “It’s Puppey, man.”
Puppey seems like he’s on a mission to prove he was still has it and that last year he was totally and utterly held back by his core players. And so far, he’s succeeding.
In contrast, just four weeks ago, PPD wasn’t the most popular player on EG — Arteezy was. The only thing fans know about him is that he gets salty during losses. Last year at TI4, PPD said in an interview that before he even recruited Arteezy, he was thinking of ways to use him. What came out of that partnership was a new metagame of farming solo mids, capitalizing on Arteezy’s ability to maximize CS even through disadvantageous solo match-ups. That strategy propelled EG to great success, and one that made a lot of fans see Artour as potentially the best player in the world.
But despite all this, EG had confidence in their drafter and shot caller and went with him without a second thought. During Arteezy’s stream where he talked about his departure from the team, it was never really considered that they’d keep him instead of PPD the way Na`Vi kept Dendi and XBOCT over Puppey. It’s this same confidence that propels PPD to make those cheeky statements in game to his opponents and respond to fan outrage with insincere over-politeness.
PPD clearly believes in himself so much that he pulled a 15-year-old Pakistani kid out of NEL — who has no experience playing in live tournaments — and is attempting to make him a world-class TI contender in six months. I can see it in his mind: “I did this once with Artour, I’ll do it again with Sumail.”
(This is where the former EG Mason raises his hand and says "remember me? I played well at TI4, I finished third, why am I not on a major team right now?" Well, the answer is that PPD doesn’t come with you.)
A theme was quickly emerging: the cores win the Twitter followers, but supports win the war.
If Arteezy was a Jeopardy question, it’d read: “This skillful agriculturalist polarized fan opinion with his skill, personality, and musical choice.”
He was a guy who openly compared his life to Grey’s Anatomy and whose stream playlist includes repeat Yung Lean, the Swedish rapper who veers casually between lyrical genius and mental disorder not unlike Artour’s own stream of consciousness.
There is no doubting his ability. There’s also no doubting his ego and willingness to speak his mind. The only thing the Dota scene loves more than a trash-talker is one that backs up what he says. Remember the Twitter call-out by Loda, the “talk to me when you win a LAN”? Remember when he kept calling Liquid trash? Remember Cloud9’s only major LAN win? Remember “Congrats you can buy null talis[man]”?
This past year, Artour seemed to have lost his way for a while. If it takes a kick and move to Secret to light a fire under his ass, then so be it. Will Arteezy watch PPD and EG 2.0 celebrate a win over his new team with the same anger as he did watching Secret beat EG? Or will he simply never let that happen?
In seven months, we could be watching Arteezy play against his ex-teammates for five million dollars. That can buy a lot of Null Talismans.
PPD or Puppey, NA or EU, EG or Secret. We’ll have an answer to the most interesting question in all of Dota 2 this summer.
Ken "Hot_Bid" Chen is an eSports interviewer that has worked for Team Liquid and currently runs eSports Express. He will be doing video interviews for Beyond the Summit at the Dota 2 Asian Championships. You can follow his Twitter here.