ArtStyle: The Hallowed One

And why he’s my favorite Dota 2 player: It’s one part being the most aggressive support in the pro-scene, one part the weird drafts and item builds, but for the most part it’s the highs and lows in the storyline of his career — and the fact that whenever he’s in a team, you can always expect an exciting early game.

He’s also the subject of my favorite copypasta.

Anyway, memes aside, Ivan “ArtStyle” Antonov is my favorite Dota2 professional player. I’m gonna start with the TL;DR because this is gonna be a pretty long post.

TL;DR = He’s got a great story line (falling off hard after winning The International 2011 and worked hard to make his way back into the scene), pioneered an entire region’s approach to Dota (prevalent even now, seven years later), and just makes unique in-game decisions that are extremely entertaining for a spectator.

Okay, long bit coming through:

First off, he popularized the now Na’Vi-trademark “fast push / hyper-agressive” strategy when he used it on the Chinese from way back 2010 with DTS in the original DotA, beating what was considered the best team in the world, EHOME, and being the only western contender in the Chinese-dominated pro scene back then — with the meta being slow, farm-oriented games, he instead took an early-game dominating approach marked with plenty of lane-ganks and eventually transitioning that advantage into a the mid-game to push down the lanes before the enemy team has farmed up enough.

One of the most memorable matches of the era was DTS vs. EHOME, which was one of the first games that featured his signature Enchantress “zoo strat” which used a creep-army to quickly push down towers — he was also awarded “Captain of the Year” at this time.

A year later, in 2011, he went on to captain Na’Vi to their win in the first International (interestingly he’s also the only person to have captained Puppey in Dota 2), earned the title of ‘legendary captain’ and made a name for himself on tanky initiators like Chaos Knight, Slardar, Nightstalker, and Viper. (“Ivan Balanar” was one of his popular nicknames at the time.)

But now in 2017, most people would write him off as a washed-up pro way past his prime. It might be the case that his glory days are done, but seeing one of his early interviews from 2012 when he recently left Na’Vi the first time (due to either choosing not to give the organization it’s cut due to there being no actual contract or due to personal internal problems I guess we’ll never really know) and he was kind of self-imploding (he is drunk in this interview though)... things didn’t go well on his other teams, the most relevant achievement probably would’ve been his attendance to The International 2 under Darer, and he went inactive for a long time and then played on some low profile teams and then surprisingly came back to Na’Vi in 2015 in time for the TI qualifiers (I remember a statement from Puppey that it’d be a desperate move for Na’Vi to take him back again — after a year-long slump after TI4, the times definitely called for desperate measures I guess).

He went on to captain them through what some describe as a miraculous run through the European qualifiers and all the way to the International (Na’Vi is the only team to have made it to all of them) and the character development he’s gone through seemed pretty amazing — as seen in this interview, he admitted his faults, worked extremely hard, and the old ego was gone. He’d clearly matured and mellowed out in the years he was absent from the scene.

The way his teammates talked about him — like how they’d follow his calls and trusted him, and how the atmosphere in the team improved — even XBOCT respected him. Also it seems true that he’s really the ‘team spirit’ guy in-game. There was also a documentary that detailed his life story, which gives a lot of insight into how hard it was to become a professional gamer in the earliest days of esports.

There was that unfortunate self-grave at TI that happened in their elimination match that is still a meme people haven’t gotten over (not that it would’ve changed anything by that point, but people still pin the blame on him) — besides, the entire team honestly just couldn’t compete at TI level at the time. He left the team soon after. 
Anyway, after that rumors around the CIS scene said he was practicing 12-hours a day, playing pubs on his own, and it seemed to have really paid off — Na’Vi took him back when they reformed their Dota 2 team after a short disband near the end of 2015.

In early 2016, Na’Vi was 39th in the world rankings and they played nearly every qualifier there was — because really, no one was going to invite them anywhere anymore — but they started improving rapidly, finally getting to tournament grand finals again, and winning the last tournament before TI after a two-year title drought. They managed to claw their way to 5th in the world in less than six months!

Acquiring Viktor “GeneRaL” Nigrini for the offlane (ArtStyle played together with him on ScaryFaceZ prior), and finally stabilizing the roster enough to form synergy within the team was probably was the biggest reason for the resurgence, but comparing ArtStyle’s 2015 to his 2016 performance, one can objectively say he’s improved immensely. He’s clearly one of the best Chen and Enchantress players in the world, and while those were his signature niche picks, his hero pool was much deeper by last year as he seemed confident on Witch Doctor, Disruptor, Shadow Demon, Dazzle, Shadow Shaman and Kunkka, and could play the regular stable of position 5 supports decently.

Again, the general way he and his team played Dota was centered on early-game rotations to secure the lanes and carry on to a teamfight-centric mid-game. The drafts for Na’Vi were well-attuned to this philosophy — they shined very well on ‘global fast-push’ strats, playing around Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev’s Io or Oracle, sometimes coupled with a fast-pushing core for Dimitrii “Ditya Ra” Minenko like the Lycan, Huskar or Drow Ranger, with GeneRaL on Natures Prophet to help the push, or Batrider and Sandking to control teamfights. They left Danil “Dendi” Ishutin on his signature playmaking mids — Magnus, Puck, Invoker, Queen of Pain. This was the Na’Vi 2016 default playbook. Of course that wasn’t all they had to show, but if they got the heroes they wanted in the right composition, they could steamroll a game extremely confidently, as seen in Wings vs. Na’Vi in the TI6 groupstage — where they were able to 2:0 the then future TI champions.

His plays are also extremely entertaining to watch — he seems to always find farm (he’s got the record for the top 3 Assault Cuirass timings on Chen) and just does off-beat things and makes them work, like at last year’s TI groupstage vs. LGD he had built Guardian Greaves + Boots of Travel + Blademail on Dazzle, walked near the enemy base for a high ground push, and tanked the damage, graved himself, then walked out to safety after they’d damaged the tier 3 tower. He even got Assault Cuirass eventually — on a Dazzle, typically one of the least farmed heroes in the game.

There was also this one time at DreamLeague when he was playing Undying, dived all the way into the enemy base at four minutes with two teammates, killed 2 enemy heroes with them, bought a TP from the enemy shop, and got out to safety. I don’t think any of the pros make such ballsy early-game plays that are borderline crazy.

He’s basically an inspiration for roaming jungle supports and destroys the 5th-position i-just-ward-and-babysit-the-carry stereotype — his ability to farm so well on supports, and unusual item builds are a breath of fresh air. I personally really miss seeing him on strength carries though, because of all the high-risk plays he makes, but he’s admitted in interviews that he himself didn’t feel he could play carry anymore — and he’d prefer to play support as it’s more attuned to shot-calling.

There were also rumors that he was originally supposed to come back to Na’Vi (before the TI5 qualifier run) with a secondary roster — basically to train out young talent in an ‘academy’ team. That seemed to be a big deal for him (He was playing on Tier 2 teams with younger rosters like ScaryFaceZ before the comeback and really emphasizes the importance of training new blood for the health of the CIS scene even in his more recent interviews).

The 2016 Na’Vi roster disbanded after they failed to qualify for last year’s Boston Major (the team cited internal communication problems), and though they did sadly place last at TI6, they did manage a respectable 8th place at The Manila Major, semi-finals finishes in a number of LANs, three second places at premier LANs, and took home StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2 — not bad for ‘a washed up pro’ at all.

Now he’s currently coaching Virtus.Pro, who were the only CIS representative at the Kiev Major and the team seems to have only good things to say about him, calling him a ‘sixth player’ and integral to the team’s successes especially in terms of morale and the psychological aspect. As he’s someone who’s kind of pioneered an entire region’s play style (classic ‘davai’ = early-agression transitioning into fast pushes or mid-game team fights) I’m personally extremely glad to see Virtus.Pro’s performance at the Major — a hard-fought second place in the first 5-game Grand Final in a Valve event since TI3. They even picked an Enchantress in the last game of the Finals.

CIS Dota is personally my favorite to watch because it’s very dynamic and explosive, and it’d be really nice to see the region in a resurgence right in time for the pre-TI7 gauntlet of LANs — with Virtus.Pro getting into the Grand Finals, they’re almost assured of that TI7 invite, leaving the CIS qualifier spot wide open (I’m personally hoping to see Na’Vi at TI7, I was a huge fan of the 2016 roster and they’ve got SoNNeikO back. I’d also love to see Dendi go 7/7 on his International attendance record.)

I’ll end this post with my favorite ArtStyle (and mostly Na’Vi 2016) games that showcased some impressive plays from him:

  1. Na’Vi vs Alliance: “El Classico at the Manila Major” Game 2
This was the game where he set the record for fastest Assault Cuirass timing on Chen. It was also one of the hypest games of the Major — and one of Na’Vi 2016’s best comebacks.

2. Empire vs Na’Vi: Red Bull Battle Grounds Dota 2

One of his first games since coming back to Na’Vi — a great way to introduce his trademark early-ganking Chen.

3. Secret vs NaVi: Dota Pit League Season 4, Game 2

This was one of GeneRaL’s first LANs with the roster, and one of Na’Vi 2016’s biggest upsets, 2:0 over the Team Secret roster who had just won The Shanghai Major — with ArtStyle’s Enchantress scoring a RAMPAGE to boot.

4. Na’Vi vs LGD: SL-Invitational LAN, Game 1

A clinical performance from ArtStyle’s Witch Doctor — multiple full-duration death wards during critical team fights.

5. Na’Vi vs Evil Geniuses: TI6 Group Stage Game 1

They didn’t win this game unfortunately, but those early-game rotations from ArtStyle’s Enchantress were a joy to watch. He’s such a high impact support on his signature junglers and it’s always fast-paced and exciting.
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