The Chongqing Major was a rematch between Secret and Virtus.Pro. The last time these two teams faced off in a finals was at the Kuala Lumpur Major. In that finals, Virtus.Pro defeated Secret 3-2 to claim their first trophy of the new DPC circuit. This time around, Secret got their revenge as they won 3-1. For the Secret members, this was an important victory as they beat the number one team in the world and secured their spot for The International 9. For Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, this was another victory in one of the most storied careers in all of esports. Puppey started his career in Dota1 in 2007 and he has won another trophy in 2019. It’s been over a decade since he has begun and at the age of 28, Puppey continues to stand at the apex of the Dota2 world.
The Chaos of Dota
Puppey has been playing professionally since 2007 since the Dota 1 days. Dota is a game of chaos and a game of change. Icefrog continually changes, introduces, and iterates things like: Heroes, patches, items, and mechanics. Another level of complexity is added on top of that as players and teams across the world fine tune the tools Icefrog gives them and pushes them in a direction that that no one could have predicted.
Then the new patch comes in and there is a soft reset. The core concepts of what people have learned may continue to be the same, but the game can change to the point where the game demands a different style of play. Thus the meta continues to cycle as the power balance between late-scaling, global aggression, four protect one, gank/pick style, objective based, and more constantly come into and out of the meta as the game and players change.
For players, these changes demand players improve or challenge the authenticity of old paradigms. For leaders, it demands a level of deep understanding of both Dota2 and the player pool. Each player within Dota2 has their own particular hero pool, playstyles, and attributes that suit them towards one style play or another. It has been up to the in-game leader to find the correct players for a team, the right draft for the game, and the best way to win the game. As Puppey notes in an interview with Cybersport,
“It’s[Dota] just very stressful and the complexity of the game always changes direction. Sometimes it’s all about skill, sometimes it’s all about strategy; it just changes all the time and that’s the stress. We’re playing on sand instead of grass now, and it’s like “Why?””
This is why in-game leaders have been the polarizing forces in the Dota2 competitive scene. You need only look to The International tournaments to realize that the players that have had the largest amount of success have all been in-game leaders. People like: Peter “ppd” Dager, Zhang “xiao8” Ning, Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi, and Puppey.
Among all of the Dota2 players in history, few can boast to have the same level of consistency or longevity as Puppey. Regardless of how the rest of his career pans out, he has long ago stamped his entrance into the Dota2 Hall of Fame as one of the greatest leaders to ever touch the game.
Puppy as a Leader
What makes him amazing as an in-game leader is his absolute confidence in how he views the game and his ability to manage any group of players. When Puppey drafts in a Dota2 game, it often feels like the drafts can border on crazy or genius. We’ve seen memes of this over the years (the most infamous being MY NAME IS PUPPEY, I DONT BAN SNIPER CUZ IM COOL), but there is always a logic as to how and why he drafts. He isn’t someone who will shift towards the accepted meta at the moment, but rather someone who will push the boundaries to find the next best thing. This is reflected in a Cybersports interview where he says,
“Finding a new thing that is the best thing — and knowing it’s the best — is a different thing. I think a lot of people are thinking how to win TI, but a lot of people don’t know how to win TI. Crazy shit looks only crazy if it doesn’t work, truth be told. If it works, it’s going to be the norm and everybody will start doing it so it’s not crazy anymore.”
In terms of man management, he is someone who has a clear view of what a player’s potential is regardless of what lane they play. The best example of this was the original Team Secret, the iteration that had: Puppey, KuroKy, Tal “Fly” Aizik, Gustav “s4” Magnusson, and Johan “n0tail” Sunstein. In that iteration, KuroKy was playing the carry, n0tail was playing support, s4 was the mid-laner, and Fly was relegated to the off lane. In that team, one of the biggest issues was that the roles didn’t make sense. Years later, Puppey gave some insight in a Cybersports interview into what he and KuroKy were thinking when they made that lineup,
“All the players kind of ended up in the roles we predicted. Fly was playing offlane, even though we thought he would have to play support. We believed that n0tail was an amazing midlaner because from his HoN days he was a potential midlane player. And s4 really still wanted to play midlane and we wanted him to play offlane.”
One Leader, Many Rosters
Puppey has been playing Dota2 since its inception. As that’s the case, he has played with multiple rosters and players over the years. There are too many to name, but in general there have been four major arcs to his career: Na`Vi, All-Star Secret, Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao-Secret, and the modern secret. Each has had their own identity and unique styles of play or players.
In Na`Vi, he led a gank heavy aggressive style to dominate the game from the outset. It was an electrifying style and one that saw the team become the second best team in the world from 2012-2013. This was the lineup that had: Puppey, KuroKy, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, Alexander “XBOCT” Dashkevich, and Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov. When people think of Na`Vi Dota, this is the squad people think of to this day.
From 2013-2014, the team started to decline and this eventually led to Puppey and Kuroky leaving the CIS region to start the All-Star iterations of Secret. They first acquired all of the greatest minds they could in S4, Fly, and n0tail. Later on, they iterated on the lineup to get the right players and roles in the team and eventually landed on Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg and Artour “Arteezy” Babaev. This iteration became the most dominant team in mid 2015. It was a complete departure from the Na`Vi style of play as they had so much skill in the lineup.
After the team broke up at TI5, the EternaLEnVy Secret teams came to the fore. These were lineups constructed by EternaLEnVy and at the beginning it was amazing. The team got to five different finals at ESL New York, MLG World Finals, Nanyang Dota2 Championships, The Frankfurt Major, and the Shanghai Major. Among those, they won three of them: MLG, Nanyang and the Shanghai Major. The team slowly disintegrated due to a lack of team chemistry both internally and in the game.
The Modern Secret
After tinkering with various all-star lineups and EternaLEnVy lineups, Puppey decided to go a completely different direction. Younger and younger players were coming into the Dota scene and it was clear that these players were going to be the eventual future. Or perhaps Puppey just wanted to try something new. Regardless, he decided to start picking up young talent and help raise them to become superstar players on the global stage.
It was slow going at the beginning as it was hard to get the right mix of players. Secret continued to shuffle players in and out of the roster, but the two biggest mainstays outside of Puppey were: Yeik “MidOne” nai Zheng and Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat. MidOne had shown himself to be a star player in Fnatic’s TI6 run to 4th place. YapzOr was a support player who shined in the tier 2 EU Dota scene. While the team had some good players, they didn’t have the pieces to become one of the best teams in the world yet. It wasn’t until late 2017 when Adrian “Fata” Trinks and Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard joined did Secret return to becoming a potential championship contender.
In the early parts of the DPC 2017-2018 Circuit, Secret made themselves a top three team in the world. They had mastered a late-game control style that was made to emphasize the strengths of their star players, primarily Ace. In those first few months, they had great success as they got 2nd at ESL Hamburg, top 4 at ESL Genting, and won DreamLeague Seasons 8 and 9.
However the toll of travel got to the team and the other top teams in the world started to figure them out. Ace was limited in his playstyle and hero pool and being static in Dota2 can be a death sentence. By the end of the 2017-2018 circuit, Secret had dropped out of championship contention while PSG.LGD rose up and took their place. While they were still firmly a top four team, it was clear that they were a step below the highest tier of competition.
After The International 8, Secret made two more changes as they got Michal “Nisha” Janowski and zai. Nisha was another promising EU player who had shown a lot of talent on his earlier teams. Zai had spent the year playing in OpTic and wanted to play in a European team and thus reunited with Secret.
The 2018-2019 DPC Campaign Thus Far
The slow build up that of Secret was set to explode coming into the new DPC as they now had top players in every position. The addition of Nisha and zai allowed the team to evolve strategically. Before, they were limited by the ability of Ace and Fata. Nisha could still play hard carry heroes, but he was also a far more active and aggressive player on the map. Fata played the offlane role well, but zai had shown himself to be a phenom in the role back when he played in Secret 2015.
The only question was how well zai was going to fit in the offlane role. He had originally played the role in OpTic, but it didn’t quite work out for the team. In Secret however, the switch back to offlane worked perfectly as the synergy was better on this team. Nisha and MidOne were better players in their respective lanes compared to the time zai played as offlane on OpTic. This meant that there was more natural space created for him through the amount of lane pressure both of those players could generate. On top of that, he and YapzOr worked incredibly well together as a roaming duo.
This new Secret burst open the door as they won the first tournament of the season at ESL Hamburg. They then followed it up with a second place at the Kuala Lumpur Major where they narrowly lost to Virtus.Pro in the finals 2-3.
At the Chongqing Major, they arrived in good form. They looked a bit shaky in the group stages, but as the days went on, Secret continued to improve from match to match. By the end of the tournament, they had reached the grand finals after beating Thunder Predator, Forward Gaming, Liquid, EHOME, and Evil Geniuses.
Among the various series, the Secret vs EG series was the most telling as EG had also grown through the tournament by playing a stable late-scaling composition. None of the Chinese teams were able to crack them before their win condition came up. Secret were able to solve that riddle as they played with incredible speed using a Gyro/Wisp comp with incredible damage mitigation that reduced the amount of damage Arteezy could do with his Terrorblade. In the second game, EG looked better prepared to deal with Secret’s aggression until a critical teamfight that happened near the Radiant shop. In that team fight, zai vacuumed Arteezy onto a cliff where he was unable to do anything but watch as the rest of his team was slaughtered.
After winning the loser’s finals, Secret went on to rematch against Virtus.Pro in the finals. This was to be the real test as Virtus.Pro have been the alpha and omega of the Dota2 scene. While VP didn’t win The International 8, outside of that, they’ve been one of the most dominant lineups in Dota2 history. Their primary strength came from smashing lane and rolling over the enemy teams.
In this game though, that script was flipped as Secret came swinging out the door and smashed them in two quick games to go up 2-0. Virtus.Pro came swinging back as they put up a much harder fight in games three and four. The third game had Secret try to go for a push strat before VP’s Phantom Lancer could come online. They were unable to close the deal before then and VP took the game. In the fourth game, it came down to mobility, better late scale, and initiation from the Secret side which allowed them to secure the game.
With that victory, Secret have won the Chongqing Major over Virtus.Pro. They have guaranteed their slot at The International 9. For players like MidOne, YapzOr, and Nisha this will be the biggest victory in their careers. For Zai, this is a return to where he was before he had taken a break to finish his school. And for Puppey, this is just another trophy to add to his long distinguished career that has lasted over a decade. A legend from the Dota 1 days. One of the only players to have attended every TI. He’s led completely disparate teams to victory whether that’s Na`Vi, the All-Star lineups of Secret, the EternaLEnVy lineups, or the ones built around young talent. Though Dota2 constantly evolves and changes, Puppey has also continued to evolve and change. Now over a decade later since he started, Puppey continues to win the biggest trophies in the world, continues to lead one of the best teams in the world, and continues be one of the greatest captains in Dota2 history.