When it was announced in 2013 that Valve was partnering with game company Nexon to bring Dota 2 to South Korea along with a bevy of regional tournaments, it was met with much fanfare. Korea has a rich history with eSports and an equally rich pool of potential players. In League of Legends, Korea lords over all other regions, the same expectation was held for Dota 2.
At the Nexon Invitational Super Match, eight of the top teams internationally were invited to Korea to compete with their top four teams from the first season of their Nexon Sponsorship League. The Koreans didn’t win a single game.
The Korean’s lack of pedigree was clear. Dota has been played competitively for the better part of a decade in various parts of Europe, China, Southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, North America. While those regions birthed the stars we know today, Korea was unproven as a breeding ground. It’s been two years since the game has been released in the region and Korea now has a representative at The International 5: that team is MVP Hot6ix.
The team’s history largely starts with the previous roster of their “primary” squad, MVP Phoenix. Formed in late 2013, it was a roster that featured Lee "FoREv" Sang-don, Lee "Heen" Seung Gon, among others. They dominated the Korean tournaments and performed well internationally. They finished fourth in both StarSeries 11 and i-league 2 and were looking good going into the Dota 2 Asia Championships (DAC).
DAC boasted a $3M+ prize pool, making it the largest Dota tournament outside of TI itself. Phoenix were direct invitees and based on their previous performances, the team was expected to do decently well, but their group stage went abysmally. They lost every single match of the round robin stage except one and were knocked out of the tournament with a 1-14 record.
It was a devastating loss for the organization, one that didn’t bode well for their prospects at TI5. A drastic decision was made: the Phoenix roster was split in two, shuffled with their existing Hot6ix roster and created two new lineups. Heen and FoREv were moved to the new Hot6ix with Heen retaining his role as captain. Among the other new players joining the Hot6ix ranks was Pyo "MP" No-a, best known as an ex-player for StarTale, the team that won the first Nexon Sponsorship League. Hot6ix was complete, but far from stable.
In the middle of their run in The Summit 3’s Southeast Asia qualifier, just over a week since the formation of the roster, Finnish player Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka was brought in as the team’s new support player. It was a transfer that came completely out of the blue, but it wouldn’t be the first time that MVP enlisted the help of a foreigner. “Mercenary Dota” himself, Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho was brought into the Phoenix roster to compete in the second season of the Nexon Sponsorship League, a tournament they won.
There were still concerns on how JerAx would fit into the Korean team, or Korea for that matter, despite his impressive individual play.
This roster competing in The Summit 3’s SEA qualifier, but came short after getting eliminated by their sister team, Phoenix. This prompted yet another roster change, bringing back Lee "SunBhie" Jeong-jae, who was part of the Hot6ix roster before the DAC split.
This young roster would not find immediate success either. They made it to the grand finals of the SEA qualifier for MLG Pro League 2, but were outclassed by the ex-Team Malaysia giants, Fnatic.
Bent, but not broken, the team stuck together for the Mineski Pro Gaming League 7. There, they fought through Signature.Trust and G Guard Esports during the group stage and the Best of 1 bracket, but had to face off against the Chinese wildcards, Energy Pacemaker. EP were a team that’s shown a lot of promise, considering a team of new players in the hyper competitive Chinese region, and they’ve been known to take games off of teams like Invictus Gaming and EHOME.
The Hot6ix squad were not intimidated. They beat EP in two separate Best of 3 sets and took home $30,000. It wasn’t the biggest prize pool, but it was more than enough; their performances earned them an invite to the SEA qualifier for TI5.
The team had only been together for the better part of two months, but they were going into the qualifiers as a favorite of many Dota personalities. A reputation earned from their showings at MPGL7 and the various LAN qualifiers, even though they didn’t win any of them.
They didn’t disappoint: Hot6ix topped their group over G Guard Esports and the Filipino upstarts TnC Pro Team, then bested Phoenix twice during the playoffs. Hot6ix claimed the qualifier while Phoenix snatched the wildcard slot; a clean sweep for MVP and a big win for Korea.
This was just step one: Hot6ix have a steep climb ahead of them in Seattle.
Strengths: Organized chaos
In the original Phoenix roster, the team’s confidence grew as their performances improved, but this also meant that the players started to get their own ideas on how to play the game.
Regardless of which idea was correct, cohesion became a problem. The split had a negative perception, but it was the perfect solution; the leaders were allowed to lead and both teams became stronger as a result.
Aggression is the name of the 6.84c game and Hot6ix have it in spades. This was shown throughout the SEA qualifier for TI5, but it was exemplified in the first game of the grand finals, where Hot6ix ran absolutely roughshod on Phoenix, closing the game with a 30-7 kill score at 14 minutes.
This aggression also means that the team has one of the lowest game time averages. It’s a style they’ve committed to, meaning that they end the game fast whether they win or lose, but hopefully they can dictate that pace.
The team also has a fairly unique mindset coming into games. According to an interview with Heen, he tends to ignore the meta, instead relying on strategies of their own making:
“...if our game play makes the opponent go “what the heck is happening?” I think we might have a chance.”
This also comes through in the drafts, making use of less common heroes such as Weaver, Broodmother and Omniknight. This can throw off opponents who haven’t done their research on the team, or for those who have, they are torn between banning out respect picks or meta picks during the draft.
One of the biggest concerns for Hot6ix coming into TI5 is that they haven’t played a single official game since the end of the qualifiers, which was two months ago.
The team has been undoubtedly practicing in the meantime, but there’s only so much to be gained from scrimmaging, especially when the team wants to run more unique strategies, a huge risk when every game means so much.
Their aggression can also be used against them as well, the perfect example happening between two other teams during the TI4 grand finals. Vici Gaming perfected the death ball, but Newbee had the exact answer for it. VG didn’t shift gears and they came in second place because of it. There’s no telling if the same will happen to Hot6ix, but they definitely have a penchant for early-game fights that can be taken advantage of.
The biggest problem for the team — and it’s probably the simplest — is they haven’t played enough games against top tier teams. They’ve certainly played against them as individuals on previous teams, but not as Hot6ix. The best teams they’ve faced off against were their sister squad, Phoenix, and Fnatic in Best of 3 set. That’s it; Hot6ix are going to TI5 blind.
Hot6ix are going to have a tough time in Seattle, but if their ideas are solid and they execute them well, they may force teams to adapt to them and not the other way around. But their lack of experience at TI and their skill level compared to the top teams may get the better of them, regardless of their innovations.
As one of the underdogs in the tournament, they can hope for a top 12 finish.
Dennis Gonzales is a Toronto eSports writer who enjoys whiskey, Dungeon & Dragons and first-picking
Timbersaw Windranger Abaddon Slardar. You can follow him on Twitter.