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Team Liquid: Returning Champions

Aug 082018

In the momentary speck that has been Dota 2’s lifespan thus far we have never seen the same team, let alone the same player, lift the Aegis above his head twice. Every year the list of possible two-time winners gets larger and yet, aside from the Na`Vi of yesteryear, we never seem to come any closer to seeing a two-time champion emerge; that is, until this year. Team Liquid have not only gone from winning TI7 to entering TI8 as a strong favorite to win the whole thing, but they’ve done it without changing their roster. While they have had rough patches, they worked through it as a team, confident they would be able to work out their problems amongst themselves and become stronger for their efforts — and they have.

KuroKy’s strict discipline and focus on the task at hand has been well known for a long time; the end of Team Liquid’s TI7 True Sight revealed that he was already thinking about the 2018 season before getting back to the hotel after the single biggest win of his career. That drive pushes not only himself but the team as a whole to new heights, satisfied with what they have achieved but never complacent. They are always reaching for the next objective, always aware that the competition continues to grow fiercer day-by-day. Perhaps due to this awareness, Team Liquid did not limp into TI8 like some former winners have done in previous years. They racked up win after win, amassing 12 top 4 placements after TI7, including 5 first place finishes and 3 2nd’s. Their last win came at the end of the DPC season with the Supermajor; a massive 16 team, group stage into double elimination tournament with best of 3’s all the way up to the finals. In the biggest match of the DPC season, they beat their rivals Virtus Pro in a best of 5. With this being the last major tournament of the year before TI8, it cemented Team Liquid as the best team in the world once again. No one could dispute their reign over the Dota 2 scene, no one could argue about their resolve or the effort each member has put into maintaining their performance over the grueling 8 months of non-stop competition.

 

This brings us back around to the fact that no player has won The International twice, let alone back-to-back as Liquid has the opportunity to do. A back-to-back win for Team Liquid would immortalize them forever in the annals of Dota 2 history. MATUMBAMAN, Miracle-, MinD_ContRoL, GH, and KuroKy are undoubtedly five of the best individuals who have ever played Dota 2. All that is left is to prove that they are the five best players, and a second TI win would do that for years to come.

 

What has made these results possible for Team Liquid is the adaptability shown by every member of the team. Usually the team that wins The International understands the meta of the patch the best; they are able to tap into something other teams haven’t been able to figure out and use that to their advantage. Then, when the patch changes, the winners begin their descent until eventually the game has changed to the point where we see different teams with different playstyles better suited to the new patch overtake the former champions. It wasn’t like that for Team Liquid. Instead of trying to force a playstyle that would no longer work they quickly abandoned the tools that had made them the best in the world, opting to master new ones instead.

 

MATUMBAMAN’s Lone Druid and Venomancer have been nerfed both directly and indirectly, so instead he began playing Visage and Phantom Lancer. Miracle- is hailed as the greatest Invoker player on the planet but has started playing Templar Assassin, Tinker, and Morphling instead because they bring a higher rate of success with them. While these examples might seem obvious, imagine how difficult it would be to abandon a style of play that has brought you victory after victory and embrace the unknown. Admittedly the experience of the players on Team Liquid make playing different heroes that haven’t been seen in competitive play for a while less of an unknown and more like going back to an old friend you haven’t seen in some time, but it is still getting out of their comfort zone. To take it a step further we only need to look at what has happened to Newbee after their loss to Team Liquid in the grand finals of TI7. They have been slow to change the tactics that got them 2nd place and, while they are still highly competitive, they’ve lost a lot of their edge and many teams have surpassed them.

 

While this is what Liquid has accomplished, let’s go into a bit of detail on how they accomplished their incredible 2018 season. The playstyle of Team Liquid has changed in small but significant ways throughout 2018. This is in large part due to Kuro’s willingness to experiment during tournaments, even to the detriment of immediate tournament results, to secure better placements further down the line. We saw this at ESL One Birmingham where their drafts were a far cry from normal. However, at the subsequent Supermajor, while traces remained from what was being tested at ESL One Birmingham, it was much more fleshed out. Team Liquid went on to win the tournament in convincing fashion.

 

Individually each player on Liquid has always had three or more core heroes that they excelled with at any given time. For MinD_ContRoL it was his Nature’s Prophet, Enchantress, and Dark Seer, or for Matumbaman his Lycan, Brood, and Venomancer. Miracle- is somewhat unique in the way he play seemingly anything and make it look like the most natural thing he’s ever done. 

 

Why this matters so much is because when a team is trying to draft against Liquid they usually have to pick one player to focus their bans on, but when every player has heroes that must be target banned it makes preparing for them a nightmare. At TI7, what most teams decided to do was focus on the newest member of the team, GH, by banning his Io, KotL, or Earth Shaker. This created the opportunity for Liquid’s cores to get favourable matchups on heroes they were most comfortable on, which in turn lead to won games. When teams tried to ban other heroes, GH would steal the show.

 

Liquid was keen on hitting timing pushes that revolved around GH’s Keeper of the Light getting his Aghanims Scepter around the 20~ minute mark and endlessly pushed with the healing power he provided. Many teams have fallen to Team Liquid’s perfectly timed push-strats and few have ever been able to find an appropriate response to it. Likewise, when Kuro was able to draft GH’s Io it would create situations where nowhere was safe to farm alone. It forced teams to farm sub-optimally and Team Liquid would get ahead just by simply playing standard Dota. If they caught a team without sufficient members ready for a fight they would immediately overpower them with Io’s relocate. Similarly, if Team Liquid found themselves on the receiving end of a smoke gank, GH and his tether partner would be there in mere seconds to turn the fight to their advantage. It isn’t only with Io that Liquid is quick to react and move around the map though; they show a high degree of competence when it comes to predicting enemy map movements. This allows them to set up situations that bait the enemy into overextending and in turn gives them map control and often leads to objectives like Roshan or towers. While these heroes haven’t seen much play as of late, especially with IO’s nerfs, their fundamental strategies revolving around pushing and teamwork are exactly why Team Liquid is to be feared.

 

Team Liquid has even started to bring back something that has been out of favor in competitive Dota as of late: stacking camps for their mid laner Miracle- to give him even more of an edge. The reason stacking has almost entirely disappeared has to do with the common current laning set up of 2-1-2. This means a support is often found in both the safelane and offlane making it difficult to passively stay in your jungle to stack camps. Liquid however plays around the clock so incredibly well that the supports are able to assist their lanes and stack camps for their cores to fall back on at the same time. It also assists the supports who are stacking because, due to a recent change, a percentage of the gold from stacked creeps also goes to whoever stacked the camp, a mechanic that is currently very underutilized in Dota 2. This helps pay for wards, detection, smokes, and dust, all while they still build up towards their key items.

 

The different approaches Liquid bring to each game, and Kuro’s ability to make the right calls and improvise on the fly are some of their greatest strengths. When you combine them with the versatility of the players it’s no wonder Team Liquid consistently excels against their competition. 

The Breakdown

 

There are jokes about MATUMBAMAN only playing green heroes due to the amount of Necrophos, Venomancer, Viper, and Pugna he had been playing in the run up to their TI7 victory. Of course while it is true that we saw him playing those heroes regularly it is ignoring his Lycan, Broodmother, Lone Druid, Razor, and many other heroes that on any other team would warrant bans against him in the first phase of the draft. Matu’s willingness to play the role his team needs is quintessential for a carry, especially on a team where he shares the spotlight with Miracle-.

 

Miracle made a name for himself on OG, winning Major after Major but when the team crumbled at TI6 he looked to put his skills to use elsewhere. As fate would have it he decided to join Team Liquid, who had suffered a similar fate at TI6 and was looking to rebuild. While it did take time for the team to properly synergize with each other the results could not have been better. The wide array of heroes Miracle- can play, as well as his lane flexibility, brings out the full potential of Team Liquid’s lineup. The current meta in which mid players often match up against each other in a pure 1v1 with little outside interference is where Miracle- shines. Not only does he often come out ahead in the lane, he often forces rotations from the enemy team to help their mid which their side lanes can barely afford due to the strength of Liquid’s safe and offlane.

 

In the offlane Mind_ContRoL has become known for his high pressure initiators like Nature’s Prophet and Beastmaster. With GH at his side, he’s crushed an uncountable amount of safelane carries in situations where a lane may normally go even. Not only is he capable of dominating his lane, he’ll often make early rotations and pick off couriers, supports, and core heroes alike in one fell swoop. He also has a penchant for farming extremely well as far as offlaners go, often snowballing early and carrying the game on his back while Matu and Miracle- simply enjoy the ride.

 

The support duo of Kuro and GH is quickly rising to the levels of the legendary Fy and Fenrir combo in terms of how feared they are. While GH’s hero pool may be smaller than his companion’s he makes up for it by being second to none at nearly every last one of them. His Keeper of the Light and Io have been first ban material for nearly his entire tenure on Liquid. His Earthshaker and Earth Spirit have both been lane and game winning in crucial moments while his Naga Siren has been the set up his team has required to set their plans into motion. Like every member of Team Liquid, GH plays an irreplaceable role in their success and his movements around the map, with Kuro or alone, are always perfect.

 

This finally brings us to Kuroky. The leadership from Kuro along with his deep hero pool and seemingly endless strategies may be what he is best known for but it would be a mistake to think that is all he is to his team. While it would be easy to put Kuro in that box, he has many qualities from all walks of competitive Dota 2. He’s played carry in the past, can micro as well as anybody, and he can play greedy or selfless depending on what is called for. The effort he has put in to honing his abilities has come from thousands upon thousands of hours playing and thinking about Dota 2. While he leads his team, he can also follow their calls, or take their suggestions into consideration during the draft. His experience has taught him that accepting the valuable input from his teammates makes them stronger as a whole and we have seen the results from that ourselves. All that is left now is to once again make history.

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