Every tournament has its favorites, its underdogs and its dark horses. The International 2018 is especially rich in the latter category—several teams in the tournament’s final lineup might succeed despite all expectations. It is hard to imagine them winning the International, but imagining them win against top teams doesn’t induce the same amount of disbelief.
Taking it one step at a time, they have decent chances of getting to the top. Team Serenity, Winstrike, Pain Gaming, OG and Fnatic are not the tournament’s favorites, but they are certainly no underdogs.
Until recently no one heard about this team. Their roster was only finalized in March of this year and they had no luck getting to the big tournaments. After storming through open qualifiers for DAC 2018, EPICENTER XL, ESL One Birmingham and China Supermajor, the team would get stopped in regional qualifiers, failing to get any exposure and DPC points.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise—there was no target on their back, it was harder to prepare for them and some underestimation from their opponents probably took place. That, and a decent surge in performance allowed Team Serenity to get to the International 2018, only losing a total of three games throughout the qualifiers.
There were signs of it happening, however. According to Russian analytics from Maincast, Team Serenity didn’t come out of nowhere. In the last couple of months they were dismantling every single team they scrimed against in their own region and even got to train against top international teams during the China Supermajor.
It is hard not to draw comparisons to the TI6 phenomenon, Wings Gaming, but there are some differences. Wings Gaming had a lot of international LAN experience and they were one of the favorites in several tournaments leading up to TI6. We still know very little about Team Serenity, except for their impressive run through Chinese qualifiers and rumors coming from the region. It makes for an ultimate Dark Horse of the tournament and Team Serenity will definitely surprise in one way or another.
Given their recent performance, Winstrike and Pain Gaming raise a lot of “what if?” questions. What if w33 joined the South American squad several months earlier? What if FlyToMoon/Winstrike got together at the start of the season, rather than at the end? What if Pain Gaming didn’t have scrim partner limitations due to being based in SA and what if Winstrike was taken seriously from the very beginning and not only after placing third in EPICENTER XL?
Both these teams could appear in top8 of the DPC if their rosters were finalized earlier. Pain Gaming won big time from acquiring w33, giving the team an experienced leader. Winstrike did more with two LAN appearances than many other teams did with several.
Winstrike and Pain Gaming recently got top3 in two Major tournaments. Former managed to beat Mineski and Virtus.Pro. The latter won against Vici Gaming and Team Liquid.
As the only qualifier representatives of their regions, there is a lot weight on their backs. People are going to use every opportunity to make statements regarding the state of the region as a whole based on their performance and it will probably add a little bit of pressure. Will they strive in this environment or will they falter? Time will tell.
There is something mesmerizing about the tenacity of this squad. It was a very difficult season for them, but the convincing manner with which they went through the qualifiers shows how hungry for victory they are.
Odds were heavily stacked against OG, with them losing two key players mere weeks before the qualifiers. Despite that, they will be at the International: an old veteran coming out of retirement, a young prodigy storming back into professional Dota after a year of inactivity, an experienced support player looking for the biggest title of his life and a very special flower.
No one knows how the team will perform at TI. They swapped players, swapped roles and brought in untested fresh blood. Will it pay off, giving us a miracle run? Or will they get heavily outclassed by teams who had a lot more time to prepare and develop as a unit? Either of these outcomes will be a surprise.
Fnatic has some of the best players on all of their positions—Abed, Universe, DJ and Pieliedie do their job exceptionally well in the majority of their games. Abed is an extremely talented player with a wide hero pool that includes potential surprise picks. Universe is one of the most stable offlaners in the game who is capable of adjusting to the ever-changing offlane meta. DJ is an absolutely beastly position four support and Pieliedie definitely knows how to squeeze out maximum utility and space from his deaths.
And then there is Eternal Envy. It is almost customary to single out EternalEnvy for his occasional questionable plays that lead to team losses, but too often people are unwilling to give him credit for his moments of absolute brilliance.
The reality is that EE is simply always playing to win. He is willing to take big risks for even bigger gains and that makes for some very entertaining Dota. It also makes Jacky absolutely capable and worthy of the Champion title.
Too often teams play too conservatively. They are afraid to make mistakes, they are unwilling to bet their moderate advantage for a chance of victory. They choke the enemy in their base, control the map and end up in an infinite loop of trying to “win more”. Why go highround when you can wait for another 5 minutes and get extra 2k gold from bounty runes?
That’s usually when experienced teams start hatching plans for a comeback and that is what will never happen to Fnatic. This team is not afraid to lose, it is not afraid to gamble and they have more than enough experience to play in this high-risk, high-reward manner and emerge victorious. Sometimes their gambles pay off, sometimes they might not, but Fnatic was, is and will be a team full of surprises as long as Envy is at its helm.