TI5 Preview: Newbee

by Preston Dozsa Jul 20 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Newbee

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 Newbee. 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.

Newbee has a chance to become the first team to win The International twice heading into this years installment. And as the returning champions, the pressure is even greater to see if they can live up to its former winning roster in the face of extremely intimidating opponents.

Not that pressure ever stopped Newbee from winning TI4.

A Brief History

Formed in February 2014 against the backdrop of a major Chinese reshuffle, Newbee started off as a collection of former players from TongFu and Invictus Gaming. The initial roster of Zhang “xiao8” Ning, Chen “Hao” Zhihao, Gong “ZSMJ” Jian, Zhao “KingJ” Yang and Zhang “Mu” Peng lasted all of two weeks before ZSMJ was replaced by Wang “Banana” Jiao.

The final roster, the same one that won them TI4, was only finalized in later April, as KingJ stepped down to let Wang “SanSheng” Zhaohui take his place as support. Despite not participating in any major tournaments since their founding, Newbee earned an invite to TI4 based off of the strengths of the players and the potential they had when they worked together.

That potential was best expressed at the Mars TV Dota League 2014, where Newbee went undefeated against the likes of Invictus Gaming, Team DK and Vici Gaming. What proved to be particularly effective was the large pool of heroes that xiao8, Hao and Mu shared, enabling them to use multiple heroes in different positions while simultaneously confusing their opponents in every draft.

Despite this victory, along with a respectable third place finish against TI3 champions Alliance at WPC League, Newbee continually ranked lower against other Chinese teams heading into TI4. Vici and iG in particular were the primary favorites, as countless tournament victories and years of playing helped to elevate their notoriety above that of Newbee, who had existed for less than five months heading into TI4.

The International 4

Newbee’s journey at TI4 nearly ended just as it began, as the team narrowly escaped elimination from the group stage with a 7-8 record, finishing 9th in the pool. Despite the close call, Newbee fought back hard and earned a spot in the upper bracket by defeating Titan, Na`Vi and Chinese favourites iG during Phase Three of the competition. Their aggressive gameplay, particularly with Hao farming kills as carry and earning multiple pick offs in the early game, enabled them to win many of their matches in under 25 minutes.

The upper bracket gave Newbee the opportunity to really show off their skills, as they narrowly dismantled Vici in a 2-1 series before steamrolling Evil Geniuses in two games. The Grand Finals, as disappointing as they ultimately were for many watchers, earned Newbee the world championship and a cool $5 million dollars when they utterly destroyed Vici in extremely short order.

As one of the newest teams on the professional Dota 2 scene, winning The International in such a short time has allowed for Newbee to leave a permanent mark on the game itself. You could start to see many other Chinese teams, particularly Vici, start to adopt a much more aggressive style of gameplay in the early game.

Like many other teams however, The ending of the International would not be complete without several roster changes. And that’s when the cracks in Newbee’s dominance began to emerge.

The Struggle to Win

Just over a week after their victory at TI4, xiao8 announced a break from professional gaming and left Newbee, whereupon former LGD Gaming off-laner Wang “Rabbit” Zhang joined in late August.

For a while, Newbee remained as strong as ever, winning World Cyber Arena 2014 quite handily in October against Cloud9. They even won several smaller tournaments before the start of 2015, keeping themselves afloat across the ever competitive Chinese scene.

In the new year, Newbee earned an invite to the inaugural Dota 2 Asia Championships. While the teams were different, the format was essentially the same as The International, with many players having previously participated at TI4. For Newbee, this was a chance to show that the TI4 champions were still dominant over six months later against the best international teams.

Newbee was eliminated in the group stages with a 2-13 record, finishing 15th out of a pool of 16.

Instead of being a chance to show how well they could still play, Newbee’s humiliating loss only raised questions as to whether or not the team could even compete at TI5 later in the year. There was no excuse for their poor play in the tournament: Newbee just played terrible Dota.

To make matters worse, Hao left the team to join perennial rivals Vici in March, being replaced by Lin “June” Shiyang a few days later. The loss of arguably their best player further shook up the decaying team, as Newbee failed to qualify for tournament after tournament. Newbee still earned an invite to TI5; a small consolation for a team that is now of the least favored to win.

Newbee has been playing better since their loss at DAC, but it remains to be seen whether or not they can succeed with a new roster and a style that has just as much risk as it has reward. But Newbee has faced worse odds before, and as their opponents at TI4 now know, never let your guard down when playing against Newbee.

What to look for at TI5

Despite the roster shake ups, Newbee still utilizes an aggressive style of play focused on dominating the early game. Nowadays the team rarely initiates ganks, instead preferring to counter them when other teams try to initiate. They also rely heavily on rotating supports, allowing them to control lanes early while dominating their safe lane.

The loss of xiao8 and Hao has left a noticeable mark on the team's style of play, however. Their pool of heroes is smaller, so don’t expect Newbee to switch up hero roles as often as they did during TI4. Newbee’s draft is not particularly noteworthy as a result.

Their lack of play in 6.84 is both a strength and a weakness: on the one hand, teams haven’t had much of a chance to play against Newbee under the patch, while on the other hand Newbee hasn’t really given opponents a reason to be worried with their recent style of play. Whether or not Newbee is saving special strategies for the tournament remains to be seen.

Of the players, pay attention to supports Banana and SanSheng. The two work extremely well together, and both players are among the best supports in China, with Banana’s Enchantress and SanSheng’s Rubick being particularly well regarded. Combined with Newbee’s style of aggression, expect the two to go for chances that their opponents wouldn’t even think to take.

Despite winning last years tournament, poor play and roster changes have left Newbee a shell of it’s former self. Unless they can surpass their performance over the previous six months, don’t expect the team to make it past the group stage.

Preston Dozsa is a writer for theScore eSports. Follow him on Twitter.