The last time we saw any of the Wings players at a premier international tournament was at the Kiev Major 2017. It was also the last time was the five man lineup: Chu “shadow” Zheyu, Zhou “bLink” Yang, Zhang “Faith_bian” Ruida, Zhang “Y” Yiping, and Li “iceice” Peng play together. Soon after the miracle story of Wings fell apart as the entire team combused and all of the players separated. That was over a eighteen months ago and since then, none of the Wings players have ever reached the world stage since. Not until now as Y and Faith_bian have won the Bucharest Minor with EHOME and are now slated to make their first appearance at a Major since 2017.
The Flight and Fall of Wings
To understand the import of this moment, we have to understand the reverence that people have for Wings gaming. It was possible to say that all of modern Dota has been influenced by the Wings victory at The International 6. At that tournament they displayed a style that electrified Dota2 fans. They were the most open team in history up to that point. They could pick any hero and draft any lineup. In an interview, I once asked Sebastien “7ckngMad” Debs what made Wings such an incredible team. He answered that,
“Every time they went into a game they had everything that was in the game. Not the meta or anything. Just everything, 110 or whatever…all the heroes, all the ways to play, all the items. Everything was on the table for them to grab and every game they were grabbing very different things because when you have everything to grab, there’s so many things you can do to break whatever people try to put in front of you. So Wings gaming was pure Dota knowledge. It was amazing.”
Even now it’s a mystery to everyone involved as to what method they came up to that particular style of Dota. After all, there were almost no signs. They core of that team: bLink, Y, and faith_bian had played together for years before on Speed Gaming, but there were no signs of what they’d become. Shadow had played on a bunch of lower tier Chinese teams, but his style of play showed no clue of what he’d become under Wings. Iceice was actually the biggest name player on the team as he had played with Big God in 2015 and was a pubstar, but after that his star faded into obscurity.
After they came together at the end of 2015, they slowly grinded their way up and exploded into the Wings we all remember right before their TI6 run. As brilliant as that run was though, it faded just as quickly. The team started to decline in results soon after, they then got into a feud with ACE, and eventually the entire team split apart in 2017. Y and faith_bian joined EHOME, iceice joined Sun Gaming, and Shadow joined eclipse.
The most mysterious thing about the subsequent year after their breakup was that none of them had any kind of success. They all failed within their respective lineups to get any results worth noting and just as quickly as those players had risen, they had faded away. That looked to be the end of the story.
Putting it Together at EHOME and the Bucharest Minor
Then EHOME pulled off one of the biggest coups in the Chinese scene. On May 25th, EHOME acquired Zhang “xiao8” Ning as their coach. Xiao8 is a legendary in-game leader in the Chinese Dota2 scene and arguably the greatest leader of all time. He is one of the few leaders to have had massive amounts of success with completely disparate lineups and players. His joining was to be one of the major keys that turned around EHOME’s success.
Then EHOME made three key changes to the roster as they filled it out with a bunch of young talented players. They got Luo “eGo” Bin and Li “ASD” Zhiwen on loan from CDEC and Jiang “天命” An on loan from Keen Gaming. All three were young talented players and under the guidance of xiao8, they’d show the world what they could do at the Bucharest Minor.
The lineup of EHOME is built around three polarizing players: eGo, ASD, and faith_bian. EGo thus far has shown himself to be a versatile position one carry player that has shown himself capable of farming and aggressively fighting. Throughout the minor, he showed himself capable of winning on heroes like PA, Huskar, Medusa, Anti-mage, and Luna. He is always one of the two win conditions for the team. Behind him ASD and faith_bian swap places as to which of them is the second carry of the team depending on the draft.
In the case of ASD, he’s shown himself capable of playing between three different archetypes of mid laners: gank heavy carry lanes, more traditional carries, and utility heroes. The first type includes heroes like Tiny, Queen of Pain, and Kunkka. The second type has him play heroes like Sniper or Shadow Fiend. The third type are heroes like Rubick*, Drow, and Legion Commander. In general, the team has him play the gank heavy heroes so that his aggression can be used to control the map and the other team.
*As an aside, ASD playing Rubick is fairly interesting in that he can win lane with it, but the hero doesn’t scale that well into the mid/late game, so he takes that advantage and snowballs/creates space for eGo and faith_bian.
Faith_bian is the third core of the team and is is an incredibly flexible player. He can fulfill whatever role is needed of him, whether that’s as a secondary carry, a ganker, a front line player, an aggressive lane dominator, or team-fight oriented offlaner. There are times where he is also the one making the calls of the game if he is in control of the vision like on Beastmaster.
All of this is possible because of the style of the two support players: 天命 and Y. The two of them play a more defensive counter-gank heavy style of support. They spend more time either intercepting enemy attempts at cutting into their lines or ganking their players or being the passive support player who comes in to help the core if they get in trouble. Though at times, both players can play aggressively if the strategy calls for it. Perhaps the best example of this counter-gank style through the tournament was the first game against Gambit in the grand finals of the Bucharest Minor. In that game, Alexander “Immersion” Hmeleveskoy was trying to make aggressive roaming plays on the map and at every single juncture, 天命 intercepted him with his support sven. When Immersion went bottom 天命 was there, when he roamed to mid, 天命 followed him, and when he tried to go top, 天命 was there as well. While that’s just one game, this style of play was used throughout the tournament by both 天命 and Y.
Overall, it’s a fairly cohesive style and I have to give credit to Xiao8 for making it possible. Xiao8 is the drafter of the team and that’s a critical position in a strategy heavy game like Dota2. As Lee “Heen” Seung Gon, former coach of Liquid, pointed out in my interview with him,
“It’s[draft] very important I’d say like 70-30, draft is 70. I don’t mean to say like drafts will win when you the game. I mean more in the minds of a draft is a reflection of your team’s understanding of the game. If you out draft an opponent, you had a moment where you’re Dr. Strange, you see what’s going to happen, all of the outcomes. Then you’re going to play correctly. If you have a good draft you tend to play really well. If you have a poor draft, you tend to play worse.”
Among all of the players in the world, Xiao8 can safely say that he has some of the best understanding of Dota2 compared to anyone. As a drafter in this team, he has synthesized the strengths of the individual players, their comfort heroes, and created winning strategies for them to use all at the same time. Through the beginning of the tournament and in their upper bracket match against Keen, they mostly stuck to the same template of drafting in such a way that eGo was the win condition, faith_bian was the team-fight oriented second carry, ASD was the gank heavy mid laner, and 天命/Y were the counter ganking support duo that got the team online.
Against Gambit in the winner’s finals, they showed a different style of play. In game 1, Gambit tried to secure the late game using a Medusa pick, but to counteract that, they shifted their style of play and draft to double down on the late game as EHOME drafted both terrorblade and sniper as their last two picks. In game two, Gambit went for a heavy teamfight oriented style, and in order to break that, Xiao8 drafted a pick heavy style that created a lot of space through his first 4 picks and then pulled out a trump card in Antimage for eGo that became a clear victory condition for the team. This ability to outdraft Gambit came out throughout the finals as EHOME consistently got the better end of the drafts and eventually won the series 3-1.
With that victory over Gambit in the grand finals of the Bucharest Minor, EHOME have sealed their ticket to play at the Chongqing Major. A dominant performance see the team win 5 straight series and go 12-1 in maps. This couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time as China is desperate for a new wave of Chinese teams to come to the fore. Outside of PSG.LGD, it’s been a hard year for Chinese Dota in general. Fitting then that EHOME’s victory here will see the return of the two Wings players in Y and Faith_bian, will see the return of xiao8 to high level international competition as a coach, and will see the rise of the young talented players of China in eGo, ASD, and 天命.