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Photos of Nikobaby for TI interview

SEA-ya at TI10, Fnatic!

Oct 062021

Ask a Southeast Asian Dota 2 fan about Fnatic, and they will likely grit their teeth at the team’s constant ability at being a relentless final boss in a regional qualifier, or lament the org’s lack of international success.

They are always there, which is impressive in and of itself, (attending The International every year since 2013) but they rarely leave with medals around their necks. Since their TI-high placing in 2016 with fourth, they’ve faltered in TI7, and played just two matches on the main stage in TI8 and TI9, getting joint-13th each time.

But it’s not all international shortcomings for SEA Dota. They’ve managed to win one international tournament in the six years since: Dota Summit 12, a small, six-team tournament originally intended to be a prelude to the first official Major in the U.S., the ESL One Los Angeles 2020. After Summit 12, it looked like this was it--the roster with cool-headed veterans, supplemented with bright, young talents--the roster that could finally win it all as underdogs of the tournament.

Then, the pandemic happened.

While Team Secret dominated Europe with eight straight tournament wins, Fnatic was going through a quietly impressive streak of their own in SEA, winning six on the trot, starting with Summit 12 in March 2020, and ending with the World E-sports Legendary League in June. All was still well.

Up until Fnatic’s carry, 23savage, who broke out in 2019 with stellar performances with Team Jinesbrus, was replaced with Raven, a more accomplished and experienced player. What followed was an avalanche of roster changes as Fnatic struggled to fill their lineup, including replacing Jabz… with himself.



It looked to have paid off when the team dominated the first season of the SEA Regional League from January to February, earning direct seeding to the playoffs of the ONE Esports Singapore Major. Two series against Evil Geniuses and OB Neon and two losses later, it was back to the drawing board again--triggering another barrage of changes.


The second season of the SEA Regional League, running from April to May this year, saw Fnatic place fourth, in turn failing to qualify for the WePlay AniMajor. Without enough DPC points to break into the top 12 of the Dota Pro Circuit, Fnatic saw their rankings slip, thus missing out on a direct invite to TI10. Lacking the invite, they’d have to fight their way through a stacked last chance qualifier.


Omega Esports, OB Neon, and TNC Predator (twice) stood in their way in the SEA last chance qualifiers. Despite a relatively smooth sailing journey through the upper bracket, Fnatic would find themselves with their backs against the wall in the finals, two games down against a surging TNC, just one loss away from elimination. 


Fnatic came out of the second game in a tough loss. The team had fought back while down two lanes of barracks, and an almost mythical, stray Centaur Conqueror four-man stun, seemed to be a sign that things were going to go their way. But it was not to be, and looking on as their Ancient fell, each player might have looked back on how strange the year had been.


The journey had not been easy for each member of the squad. Fnatic’s Carry Raven was fighting against TNC, the old banner he used to fight under. One where he earned honors for taking down the then-imperious OG at TI6, then struggled to return to international relevance.


Just months before this match, Fnatic’s mid laner ChYuan was flying high with Team Aster, winning the StarLadder ImbaTV Minor in March 2020 in style. Right as they gained steam, visa issues prevented them from traveling to the Los Angeles Major (even before the pandemic really shut things down.) 


What could have been a championship quickly turned into a few months of career free-fall for ChYuan, before he was unceremoniously removed from Team Aster. He’d join Fnatic, but initially he was not at home in his normal role of mid lane. He played as the team’s off laner until the arrival of Deth.

Deth and Galaxy Racer parted ways in September 2020. He continued to grind, however, forming stacks and playing in qualifiers for months and months. Recruited as an emergency stand-in for OB Neon at the Singapore Major, he seriously impressed in what was one of the competition’s best underdog storylines--and found himself donning Fnatic black and orange two months later.


And then there was the veteran core--Jabz and DJ. Jabz has worn the orange and black for three years and DJ for even longer. DJ has played for Fnatic since 2015, save for a half-year stint at Execration, and was part of the squad that earned that fourth placing at TI6 (see below). Both made their names as electric playmakers as position fours, but one had to go five. No matter who went where, fans would undoubtedly be disappointed.


Staring down a massive deficit in the final, it seemed the easy way was closed for the team. The hard way it was again, then.

Three games later, Fnatic wrapped up a thrilling reverse sweep vs. perennial rivals TNC in the grand finals of the last-chance qualifiers, securing the sole regional ticket to TI10.


TI will write Fnatic in its attending list for the seventh year running. They won’t go in as SEA’s favorite--they can thank T1 coming third at the AniMajor and beating the domineering at ESL One Summer 2021 for that. 


But this year, without the pressure of being a regional heavyweight, Fnatic might be able to do the most damage from their position as an underdog. It’s an eclectic mixture of players representing four different countries, and five very different histories. While many of them have individual championships under their belt, they all have much to prove as a team.


The roster has played two competitions since securing their TI ticket, losing to a reverse sweep of their own vs. Galaxy Racer at the BTS Pro Series Season 7, and losing to eventual finalists Team Spirit in the OGA Dota PIT Invitational. It’s not the strongest of resumes, but there are encouraging signs for this squad of misfits and former champions.


TI10 begins in less than a month, and while little of the arrangements have been revealed by Valve, the format shouldn’t differ much from previous editions. Fnatic will have a lengthy group stage ahead of them, and it’s often here where teams can reveal surprising mettle, win or lose.  


The not often travelled path won’t be easy--but it already hasn’t been. What are a few more steps on the road to the Aegis of Champions?