“Dios aprieta, pero no ahoga.” – Spanish proverb that roughly translates to, ‘God won’t give you a cross you cannot carry.”
The International is the crucible. The most pressure intensive tournament in the Dota2 year. It is the victory that everyone is searching for, the one that everyone wants. No matter how strong a team is throughout the year, they can crumble under that weight. In the case of OG, they went in as favorites at both TI6 and TI7. Both times they failed. At TI6 they lost to TNC. At TI7 they lost to PSG.LGD. This year, they had the worst chances possible to make a TI run as Gustav “s4” Magnusson and Tal “Fly” Aizak left them at the eleventh hour. This was a team that were dropped into hell. But as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” They have gone through hell, they have reached the heavens, and now they have won TI.
The key to their victory was a quality of character that has always been a part of the squad. Some talk about their heart, but a better way to describe it is grit. The refusal to never surrender in the face of overwhelming adversity. This has been something something that has marked the team both inside and outside the team since its inception. We’ve seen this multiple times throughout the various iterations of OG in their game play. They always find a way back to win the game no matter how bleak the situation is. It doesn’t mean that they win, but it does mean that they give it their all. The moment that exemplified this trait before this TI run was at the Kiev Major 2017.
The lineup at the time included: Anatham “ana” Pham, Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, Fly, s4, Johan “n0tail” Sundstein, and Sebastien “7ckngMad” Debs as coach. At the finals of the Kiev Major 2017, they faced down Virtus.Pro at the height of their primary that year. It was an incredible series that went down to the fifth game. Virtus.Pro played their Virtus.Plow style as they ran over OG and stomped the early game and mid game.
However at that moment, OG’s quality as a team and as players shined. They refused to give up, they hung in the game, realized their win conditions and played towards the end game. They survived the plow and came roaring back at the end of the game to close out the nearly sixty minute game.
That was an incredible challenge, one that only championships level teams could pass. However when it came to The International 8, OG were forced into the ultimate gauntlet. Fly and s4 left the squad to join EG. It was a shock. The entire team had been built around the identity of friendship and family. At the core of that friendship was the long-standing partnership between Fly and n0tail. No one saw this coming and no one has been able to explain why.
Was it because they never found a fifth to replace Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok? Perhaps he had lost faith in the team and didn’t believe in their chances to improve for TI? Perhaps it was just a chance of opportunity? After all, EG already had the raw star power they needed to become championship contenders and were only missing a world class offlaner and leader. Whatever the case, he made the shuffle at the last moment and left OG in the lurch.
The OG squad were stunned. As 7ckngMad said in his interview with me,
“It was definitely one of the hardest times in my life, honestly. It’s definitely up there, like moments where you feel like the world just collapsed on you.”*
However instead of letting the pain destroy them, they turned it into fire. Later on in the same interview, 7cknMad told me,
“We’re going to turn this into something great…Eventually we might get out, we might not. It doesn’t matter, it’s the right thing”*
The burden this time was massive. N0tail had to become the in-game leader and change roles to the five position. 7ckngMad had to change roles back to the offlaner when his original role in the team was coach. JerAx had to continue giving world class support player. They then completed the team by recruiting Ana and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen to fill out their roles as carry and mid player. For Topson this was to be his first premier international LAN event outside of WESG which is a completely different kind of tournament. As for Ana, he was middling about after coming back from his break, looking for a team. It got so desperate at times that he willing took on the 4 role to try to get a team to work.
On top of that, the team had little time to prepare themselves both in terms of strategy and in terms of teamwork. Those had been the hallmarks of the OG team and everything they did from that point forward had to be improvised. They had to figure out how the synergy worked within the squad both in the game and mentally. How do you prepare someone for their first event being The International? How do you get this squad of five that have never played together on LAN to be on the same page, to get all five to act as one? You can prepare all you want, but in the gauntlet, they would have to improvise and learn as they went.
It was a scramble for OG as needed eight or nine things to go correctly for them to have a chance. The first group matches didn’t go well as OG went 1-5 in their first three matches. At that moment, everything could have fallen apart. We’ve seen plenty of other teams hit a rough patch and spira completely out of control until they’ve been eliminated from the competition. In the case of OG, they turned their failures into success. While Fly and s4 may have left, the core trait of the team remained. They refused to give up in the face of adversity. They rallied back, they got all eight or nine things to start clicking and were able to get into the top four of their group with a 9-7 score.
Being abandoned by long-standing teammates, creating a makeshift roster at the last second, and getting to the top four of their group. This alone could have been a miracle run, however their burdens were not over. Now they had an International to win. We’ve seen teams have miracle runs before, such as Resolut1on’s Empire last year, but for OG to make it all the way to the top and win was a burden that even the greatest teams of all time could not bear.
The international is a crucible. Each team has talked about the mental strain of The International. This is the tournament where legacies are made. When we speak of the history of Dota and the achievements of players, the first titles we talk about are a player’s TI victories. So while it was incredible to survive this far, the question for OG was if they could keep going.
If there was one advantage that this team had compared to the others, it was that they had already walked through hell. The pain of losing half their team and rebuilding that gave them a mental strength that cannot be underestimated. They came into this tournament with a fire and rage that could only be borne from pain. By the time they came out the other side, they weren’t content, they were hungry underdogs that wanted to prove to the world that they were a TI Championship caliber team.
“We’re going to keep going, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, give it our everything, try our best. Be as good as we can as teammates, as captain, as offlaner, as whatever and try to make it happen.” – 7ckngMad*
Ana was even better than when he played for OG and was winning Majors. A late game monster who continually carried impossible game after game. Topson proved his worth as an idiosyncratic mid laner who could create space and carry, but from non-standard heroes. He was fearless and continued to make huge plays for the team against the best players in the world. 7ckngMad shocked the world. He was once a great player in the early parts of Dota2 history, but was never able to find a good team towards the latter part of his playing career, so he eventually became a coach. Now that he has returned, he has shown the world his own flair as an offlane player and his knowledge and understanding of the game matched perfectly with the other players on the squad. N0tail proved himself to be one of the best fives in the tournament as he consistently excelled on the heroes he played on like silencer or Furion. JerAx was a superstar support player, someone who could change the entire course of the game.
Most shocking of all was that OG refused to give up in the most dire of straits. Their series against EG was charged with emotions as Fly and s4 were on the other side of the server. After winning a close first game, they dominated the beginning of the second game. Things started to go a bit out of control as OG started to tip Fly and started to play a little loose. It’s hard to know how much that affected them in the game, but whatever the case they pushed the high ground a bit too early before securing their advantage and EG held. EG then won the entire game.
At that moment, everything could have crumbled. As any player will tell you, one of the worst feelings in the world is when you have a “won” game and throw it away. It is the psychological effect of “loss aversion”, the pain of losing something you think you “should” have deserved. Especially in a game where they had their ex-teammates on the ropes. However OG brushed it off and went into game three. Game three was a complete reversal as EG went on the offensive and dominated the early and mid game. However OG didn’t capitulate. They still believed that they could find a way to win. So long as they extended the game and secured enough farm, they had a fighting chance.
This is exactly what happened as ana became unstoppable on the Spectre and carried the game. The exact same scenario happened against PSG.LGD. In the third game of the winner’s finals bracket, they faced off against PSG.LGD. At the end of that game, PSG.LGD had taken the entire map and were pushing down mid. They were pushing down the throne and bet it all as they kept expanding buy in after buy in as they were certain that they could break OG.
OG held onto the final moments. Long enough for JerAx to comeback and win the team fight off his incredible Earthshaker play. That put them into the grand finals of the tournament. For OG, this was to be their final burden that they had to bear. They had to play the grand finals against whichever team came up from the loser’s bracket. For all competitors, the finals of any tournament is a different beast from the rest of the tournament. There is an increased amount of pressure as victory in a finals proves that they were the best at the tournament.
In the case of the International, it proves that you were the best in the world. You carve your name into the aegis and cement your legacy forever. So once again OG went into the breach as they faced off against PSG.LGD once again.
The dynamic of the match was between the unrelenting aggression of PSG.LGD against the incredible team play and late game of OG. That clash of styles mirrored the philosophies and personalities of both sides. The PSG.LGD team wanted to crush their opponents and prove the might of their Dota. The OG refused to give up, forever believing in their ability to get back up from any deficit, to fight back, and win the game. In the first game, the late game of OG prevailed as they were able to strategically defeat PSG.LGD’s plan with a tree pick from the OG side.
The next two games had PSG.LGD running over OG. It was incredible play from the squad as they pushed down OG with their aggression, particularly Xu “fy” Linsen’s incredible Earthshaker and Phoenix play.
Game four was a classic. A game that will go down in the annals of Dota2 history. 7ckngMad took over the mid game with his Axe as he slaughtered the PSG.LGD. PSG.LGD were able to fight back and pulled off incredible team fights off the back of Fy’s Tusk play. It was a battle to the very end as it strained every player to their absolute limits. In this moment, OG’s draft and strengths shined through and they were able to just barely edge out PSG.LGD in the game to force a final game.
The fifth game had both teams go all in their respective styles. PSG.LGD played an unrelenting aggressive style that took over the early and mid game. OG on the other hand kept holding on and kept looking for opportunities to punish PSG.LGD’s over aggression and creating superior team fights. However it wasn’t enough to stop OG’s team play and Ana’s ascendant carry performance. They consistently out positioned PSG.LGD, got better fights despite being down and took control of the entire game.
From beginning to end, OG were faced with challenge. From the start of their TI8 run, they were blindsided by Fly and S4 leaving the squad. When they started the group stages, they started 1-5. When they played against EG, they were nearly on the verge of elimination, but made an incredible comeback to win the game. When they played against PSG.LGD in the match after that, they nearly fell in the third game of that match, but were able to stand back up. In the finals of the tournament, they went down 1-2 and made two comebacks in game 4 and game 5.
With that victory, OG have completed their miracle run. However I don’t want you to mistake what I mean by miracle. It was a victory that wasn’t based on luck. It was a victory that was predicated on their grit, their refusal to give up in the face of all odds, both inside and outside the game. When Fly and s4 left the squad, they used that pain to motivate themselves to reach greater heights. Each time they were on the verge of losing a game, they forced themselves to stand back up. Each time they were given a burden too heavy to bear, they carried it.
This is a victory that has been wrought through their hard work, their spirit, and their tenacity. Topson has now attended his first ever international LAN and has won his first TI. Ana has returned from his hiatus and proven himself to be the best late game carry player in the world. JerAx continues to prove his worth as a superstar support player. 7ckngMad has shown the world that he is not only a world class coach, but also a world class offlaner and one of the world’s greatest Dota2 minds. N0tail has perfectly made the transition back to support, and has proven to the world that he is one of the best players, captains, and minds in the Dota2 world today. Each time they fell down, they stood back up. Again and again and again. OG have walked through hell, they have forged their way into the heavens and now they have claimed the aegis.
“All those of you who has played on the field will have tasted defeat, there’s no player who has not lost before, however the best players, as a tribute to all their efforts, will give everything they’ve got to stand up again” – Darrell Royal
*These quotes are from an upcoming interview that will be published after TI8. It is a long form interview that lasted over an hour where I was able to talk with 7ckngMad about all thoughts about OG, Dota2, and his philosophy.