The Western Dota 2 professional scene brings the heavy artillery this year to challenge the Chinese teams on their home soil. The International 2019 is about two weeks away, the perfect time to take a look at one of the teams that travels to Shanghai, China as one of the TI9 favorites.
Virtus.pro are no strangers to what it means to head into TI from the front of the pack. Last year they felt the bitter taste of not delivering the performance everyone expected from them. They went to TI8 as the DPC rankings leaders after winning four Majors through the season, but once they arrived at the biggest tournament of the year, it seemed like everyone was prepared for them. Nonetheless, TI8 meant the third time when they would finish in the top 6 at The International. But, while for other teams a top 6 finish at TI might be a great achievement, for VP the result was disappointing. Heading into a new season, VP kept their roster intact, but changed the coach. They dropped Ivan “Artstyle” Antonov for Arsenij “ArsZeeqq” Usov, about whom they speak very highly. “That was a very hard decision for us, because before anything else Artstyle is our friend, not only our coach. It was more about him not feeling that he is good at this meta, he had no fresh ideas and he realized this by himself. ArsZeeqq is younger than ArtStyle, he plays more Dota than him, he is watching a lot of tournaments, a lot of teams, he has his own opinion about Dota and he has a lot of new ideas,” told us Solo at the very beginning of the season, when we met him at ESL One Hamburg 2018.
Virtus.pro roster for TI9:
- Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev
- Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko
- Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov
- Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan
- Alexei “Solo” Berezin
- coach: Arsenij “ArsZeeqq” Usov
ArsZeeqq was the one to bring a fresh approach in VP’s drafts and the supporting shoulder that helped ease the transition of the captain role from Alexei “Solo” Berezin to Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev. The new DPC season arrived and VP started to dominate once again. They took the Kuala Lumpur Major trophy and for the first few months of the 2018-2019 Dota Pro Circuit, everyone was talking about a possible new year where VP would raise above all others in the scene. At the second Major of the season, which was held in China and gave Virtus.pro the first chance to take revenge over PSG.LGD, the team that dropped them in the lower bracket at TI8, Solo got extremely sick and had to stay out of the competition until the main event. However, the big surprise came from their coach, who stood in as support. VP took down PSG.LGD 2-0 in the upper bracket semifinals and that result sent an alarm signal for the Chinese team. The defeat was hard to swallow; VP were winning with a stand-in against the TI8 finalist team on Chinese soil.
One of their biggest adversaries was defeated, but as they were dispatching with relative ease the Chinese team, an old rival was breathing down their necks. Team Secret was to become the arch enemy of VP through the entire season.
Since TI8, the two teams faced each other in 29 games with VP winning 15 of those clashes. These two went neck and neck at every following tournament, fighting for that first place in the DPC rankings up to the MDL Disneyland Paris Major where the CIS team was reminded that the Chinese Dota scene is working hard at preparing for TI9. Vici Gaming defeated them in the DreamLeague Season 11 Major grand finals while in Paris PSG.LGD eliminated VP from the competition in the top 8. At the same time, Secret had a smooth Major victory at Disneyland Paris and took a decent points lead on the board. Only one Major was left on the schedule and it was scheduled to happen on VP’s home turf. EPICENTER Major represented the last chance for VP to re-establish themselves as 2018-2019 DPC leaders. 2850 points separated Secret and VP, who needed to reach the grand finals in Moscow to overtake the Europeans. But, while this western duel between the first two teams on the leaderboard was in full swing, Vici Gaming were making their claim on the EPICENTER stage. Coach Bai “rOtK” Fan made sure his team was the one to have the final word at the end of the season and won with his inspired drafts VG’s group stage. VG continued to march forward and managed to take the trophy home, finishing the season with a clear statement, despite not being allowed to say a single word on the EPICENTER stage when they were celebrating their hard-earned victory by lifting the last trophy of the 2018-2019 Dota Pro Circuit.
Virtus.pro are heading now to Shanghai, China for TI9 with a lot on their minds. On one hand, there’s Team Secret who challenged them numerous times this season and took the leadership position from them, on the other hand, there’s PSG.LGD and Vici Gaming against whom VP hold a negative win-loss record and if we look at how the season shaped up, these are in fact some of the biggest contenders for The International 2019 title.
Both Solo and 9pasha were pretty open this season and didn’t hide the fact that their future hangs on the TI9 results. In an interview with us at EPICENTER, 9pasha said “I still really don’t know what I’m gonna do in the next season. It really depends on our result at TI. We just need to wait and see what happens.”
Despite being one of the greatest teams that the scene has ever produced, everybody knows that Virtus.pro has a tilt problem. They often hastily conceed games after a lost team fight, and while there’s an argument to be made that they can evaluate their chances better than the average player, we have all witnessed impossible comebacks. There’s no better stage than TI for Virtus.pro to shed their impatience and start fighting for every game as if it was their last one.