Virtus.Pro made the biggest roster move in the last roster lock before The International 8. They were one of the most successful teams, but had yet to clinch the spot as the best team in the world. Because of that the lineup had decided that they needed a change. They removed Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk from the lineup and traded him to Na`Vi for Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan. The move worked as Virtus.Pro catapulted past their rivals to win back-to-back Majors including ESL ONE Katowice and The Bucharest Major. This is the RodjER difference.
To understand what RodjER has brought to the team, we first need to understand what Virtus.Pro is. It was a team created by Alexei “Solo” Berezin. He recruited the entire squad including: Lil, Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev, Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko, and Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov. The CIS region back then was a mess. They had all of the skill you could ever need to assemble a world class team, but everything else was a problem. Mentality issues, role swaps, lack of consistency, personality conflicts, and constant roster shuffles. These were the bane of the CIS region and the only shining light was Na`Vi, which fell into disrepair after Clement “Puppey” Ivanov and Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi left Na`Vi.
Solo was the savior of the region. He was able to utilize the incredible CIS skill and aggression while curbing their worst habits. He forced the team to follow his lead and was able to create a system and cohesive team unit for his own squad. They became one of the best in the world. From the end of 2016 to the end of 2017 they were akin to their Virtus.Pro CS:GO counterparts in 2015. A team that could win on their best day, but were only one among the best teams and were often overshadowed by their rivals. Earlier on it was OG and later on it was Liquid and Secret.
In terms of play style, this was a team about controlling the davai. The ‘Davai” is a short hand term for the pure aggression that comes out of the region’s teams. They love to fight, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. In lane, in skirmishes, in 5v5 team fights. Solo is the man who used that as the engine and then was able to scale it. The team still had the same style of all out aggression, but the strategy was deeper. In a won fight, they made sure to have heroes that could push down objectives, they could pick compositions that could scale into the later parts of the game if the other team were able to stall out, and they added additional split push so that the entire map was contested at all times.
When the team was on, they were a true Virtus.Plow. However they couldn’t consistently reach that high ceiling. They were amazing, but other teams consistently outplayed them. By the end of ESL ONE Genting, Virtus.Pro had hit their ceiling. They were good enough to be a top 3 team, but could go no further. That was when the trade was made for RodjER. After joining, the team was revitalized. Virtus.Pro won the first two majors they attended with this lineup: ESL Katowice and The Bucharest Major. So what was the difference between Lil and RodjER, and why did the change elevate Virtus.Pro to such a level?
I took a sample size of the last four tournaments Lil played in with Virtus.Pro: DreamLeague Season 8, MDL Macau, Summit 8, and ESL ONE Genting. In those tournaments we have Lil playing these heroes: Undying, Slardar, Vengeful Spirit, Night Stalker, Winter Wyvern, Clockwerk, Earth Spirit, Shadow Shaman, Bane, Shadow Demon, Rubick, Tusk, Ogre Magi, Enchantress, Rubick, and Witch Doctor. If we include his LANs when he played for Na`Vi, he also played: Naga, Bounty Hunter, Doom, Elder Titan, and Dark Willow. It is a wide hero pool, but I’d say the only two big threats in it were Earth Spirit and Tusk, though it’s harder to judge his skill on the heroes he played for Na`Vi as the team is much weaker and has different parts.
If you break down the hero list, a lot of them are niche picks that have value in some specific way, usually early in the game. So we have heroes like undying, ogre, bane, enchantress as heroes that try to roll/support lanes. You have some defensive heroes like Winter Wyvern and Shadow Demon. Heroes with strong stun/intiate with clockwerk and vengeful spirit. Among all of them though, there are only a few that scale well to the end game: Rubick, Earth Spirit, Tusk, and Witch Doctor (and Lil only played Witch Doctor when Solo had to play chen).
Virtus.Pro specifically asked Lil to change prior to the kick, but it never happened. We can only speculate on what the change was, whether it was work ethic, expanding his hero play, fixing his play, or fixing his attitude. When we look throughout those games, Lil was a good player, but relative to the level they were trying to reach, it wasn’t good enough. In contrast to that we have RodjER who has only played two tournaments: ESL Katowice and The Bucharest Major. In those two tournaments he has played: Naga, Sandking, Bounty Hunter, Tusk, Chen, EarthShaker, Nyx, Elder Titan, Earth Spirit, Kunkka, and Clockwerk.
In six tournaments, Lil has played 21 heroes. In two tournaments, RodjER has played 11. If we’re talking about the pure number of heroes played, there isn’t much of a difference considering the sample size. The difference is what types of heroes they are playing. Part of it certainly has to do with the meta, but look at the heroes RodjER has played for Virtus.Pro. They do what Lil’s heroes do except with better scaling and wider utility. Even in overlapping heroes, Lil’s strengths seem to be focused in the earlier parts of the game, whereas RodjER continues to have impact the later the game goes. On top of that some of RodjER’s heroes are better (like Naga and Elder Titan) and RodjER can just take over an entire game with something like Chen.
When you look at the differences in play, it looks like RodjER is bringing more to the game in terms of draft and impact across the game. His heroes have better scaling and he seems to be in better form than Lil right now as well. RodjER is flat out a bigger threat than Lil was on Virtus.Pro. This in turn frees up Virtus.Pro as they have more options the later the games goes and in the draft. At the same time, the style of Virtus.Pro hasn’t changed, it just got more fierce. Just as good or better early game with more potential options as the game goes further into mid/late game. The Virtus.Pro team seems stronger than ever and RodjER seems to be the catalyst of it.
It’s still too early to say if this form will stick around as this is still the honeymoon phase. Other teams will watch, study, and learn what Virtus.Pro did to get their back-to-back Major victories to find weaknesses. But for now Virtus.Pro they have taken to the next level and are finally moving forward to becoming the world’s best team if they aren’t already.