theScore eSports is taking a look at all of the teams taking part in The International 5, two a day leading up to the beginning of the tournament. Today’s team is Team Empire. This will be both a history of the team as well as a look at the individual players that make up the roster headed to Seattle.
Heading into The International with an invite for the second year in a row, Team Empire is in a position to show that they are not only the best Russian team, but a team that can stand toe-to-toe against the likes of Secret, EG and Vici. As any Empire fan would tell you however, a team that appears to be strong and capable can just as often falter when the pressure rises.
Team Empire has always been a team that exists in two forms: The team that goes on long winning streaks, winning tournament after tournament against teams around the world, or the team that chokes and sputters when a major international tournament is underway. It’s a harsh description, yet one that conveys the core issues the team suffers from. And to understand how this is possible, one only has to look at the difference in Empire’s performance before and during TI4.
In the middle of 2014, Team Empire were riding high off a string of victories throughout the year. They had beaten Cloud9 in the joinDota League European Finals, dominated most other Eastern European teams to win the Excellent Moscow Cup, and in their last tournament before TI4, overcome Fnatic to become the Season 3 champions of the Dota 2 Champions League.
Coupled with numerous other first place finishes and top 3 placements throughout the preceding five months, including an impressive second place in Starladder Season 9, Empire was one of the lucky few to earn a direct invite to TI4, avoiding what could have been a disastrous set of qualifiers.
For a team that had only recently been ranked the number one team in Europe, earning an invite to The International was a sign that times had changed for the formerly struggling Empire. While they had frequently performed well in smaller-scale tournaments in the past, whenever a premier tournament such as TI began, Empire would dramatically lose games against their opponents and fail to make it past the qualifiers or group stages, such as in the qualifiers for TI3.
Yet the roster was strong, with Mag acting as captain while Silent, Resolut1on, ALWAYSWANNAFLY and VANSKOR composing the remainder of the team. Silent in particular performed particularly strong as carry, a role he only started when he joined Empire but one which he quickly grew into and mastered. With this roster, perhaps Team Empire could reverse their past failures and show the world that they can win when the world was watching.
Instead, Empire fans were treated to resounding defeat after defeat against the top teams in the world, with sparingly few victories to soften the blows. By the time Phase Two of the playoffs finished, Team Empire placed a disappointing 13th.
Instead of surpassing their legacy, Empire only added to it.
Unlike other teams which suffered at TI4, such as Fnatic and Titan, Empire remained together despite a couple of departures. VANSKOR left at the end of August, while Mag stuck around until yoky took his place on the roster in October, with ALOHADANCE standing in until he formally joined the team in December.
With the new roster, Empire kicked off a new string of post-TI victories by knocking out Na’Vi to win Excellent Moscow Cup Season 2 in October. And while the victories weren’t as numerous as they were at the start of 2014, as 2015 came around Empire came through in the games that mattered.
They won Starladder Season 11 against perennial rivals Virtus.pro, and shut out Alliance to win the joinDOTA Masters XV in January. Empire came back against a dominant EG to succeed at the MLG Pro League Season 1 in April, and capped off an extremely dominant set of games against Vici to win Season 5 of the Dota 2 Champions League with an invite to TI5.
During this period, the new Team Empire operated like a well-oiled machine, only this machine controlled the laning phase of the game and drafted exceptionally well. yoky, as the team’s shotcaller, has demonstrated an innate understanding of knowing when and where his teammates should strike from, particularly in the mid-game mark. And while online tournaments provided some difficulty for the team due to network connection issues, Empire has succeeded no matter the format.
That is not to say that Empire has only earned success so far this year. Notably, the team lost to HellRaisers in the semifinals of the European Qualifiers for the Dota 2 Asia Championships in January, once again providing evidence for their inability to win at major tournaments. But if one wants to see what problems Empire has to overcome at TI5 the recent Esportal Dota 2 League a few weeks ago.
At the Grand Finals against Virtus.pro, Empire was comfortably in the lead in the Bo5 with two wins under their belt. In the third game, Empire’s early game lineup prevented them from counteracting VP’s Phantom Lancer, but there were no major missteps in Empire’s play. And then Game 4 occurred.
Team wipe after team wipe occurred throughout the game, with Empire unable to start any meaningful plays throughout the game. It wasn’t because of a bad draft, nor was it because of VP out farming them. Empire just played poorly, and the kill score of 49-20 in favor of VP illustrates that perfectly. And even though Empire had one more game to turn things around, the sloppy play continued, with VP coming back to win a series that Empire by all accounts should have won.
If Empire is going to succeed at TI5, they’re going to have to surpass their own legacy at TI4. With a 13th place finish under their belt however, surpassing that legacy should not be very difficult. Whether or not they can truly achieve success on the biggest stage in Dota 2 remains a question that won’t be answered until Empire takes the stage in a few short weeks.
Preston Dozsa is a writer for theScore eSports. Follow him on Twitter.