Team NP: The phoenix of NA.
“In order for a mediocre man to defeat a genius, he has to become a monster.”
After The International 2016, a band of North American rejects, beaten and battered, banded together to achieve something greater. Over the past year, they had faced uncountable challenges and obstacles, in the forms of roster swaps, internal breakdowns, and record lows in form. Their roads had all led to failure at Ti6. Their story, albeit trite in many aspects (Dota seems to be filled with “reject” rosters, such as NAR, or post 3/22 roster shuffle DC), is still one to be admired. A combination of the old DC, C9 and Secret, Team NP will seek to challenge EG, Evernova, and complexity for NA supremacy.
To an outsider, this NP squad may have looked like potential championship team, after all, it boasts a Ti champion, a Major winner, and the coach of one of the best teams in Dota 2 history. Unfortunately, almost every member has struggled competitively over the past 6 months, except for perhaps SVG.
“Freedom is something that you need to actively acquire. It’s not something that’s given with no strings attached. To be free means to take responsibility, and to prepare yourself for what’s to come.”
Even most causal esports observers will recognize EE’s name within the NP roster; over the past year, he has played a role in Team Secret’s numerous successes. Many may also remember Aui_2000, and his role in EG’s wins at DAC and Ti5. What many people will not know, are the backstories of MSS, SVG and 1437.
At the end of Ti5, two NA teams formed, competing for the coveted “NA Qualifier spot” (as EG were directly invited to almost every event). Both tried to fill the void left behind by the disappearance of T2 teams in NA, due to complexity’s partial disband, Archon’s collapse, and the full and final dissolution of mousesports. One publicly sought to be “top 2 in NA Dota”, and featured an exciting mix of proven talent and new blood. The other was formed with much less fanfare, and evoked a measure of disappointment among the community, many of whom were disheartened by the perceived quality of the team. Of course, the former was the Sunsfan sponsored Digital Chaos, featuring the likes of TC, Yawar (Sumail’s older brother), BulBa, Aui_2000, and Biryu, and the latter was the 1437-led Cloud 9, featuring Ritsu, Brax, MSS, SVG, and 1437. Throughout the Fall, these two teams constantly tried to get one over another in trying to qualify for outside events.
Unfortunately for DC, C9 ended up coming on top more often than not, except for the Summit 4 qualifier, which, fueled by Aui’s “top 2 NA” comment, made DC the laughing stock of the community. From the Nanyang Championship qualifier, to the Frankfurt major qualifier, DC couldn’t even qualify for most events; and even when they were, after C9’s collapse, they performed in a mediocre fashion, their runs ending in last place at both the Summit 4 and WCA 2015, even with NA superstar Arteezy standing during the latter. In particular, newcomers Biryu and Yawar bore most of the criticism, eventually leading to Biryu’s replacement with 1437. Although the team certainly fared better with 1437’s arrival, they were certainly no top 10, or even top 20 contenders globally.
Similarly, C9 did not find much success either internationally, and eventually, began to face problems domestically. After all the hype around them during the early fall months, the team ended up last place at MLG World Finals 2015, going out 2–0 to a then weak MVP. While they did have one decent series win, defeating Newbee.Young during the group stage of the Frankfurt Major, they immediately bombed out versus Alliance in the lower bracket, at a time before Alliance showed good form and meta understanding (that came at the beginning of 6.86). During all this time, Ritsu was widely regarded as a standout player on Cloud 9; he had good performances on a multitude of heroes, and was praised by EternalEnVy. His stock with the community fell however, after it was revealed that he and former EG player Mason had colluded together to share DC’s scrim results between themselves, and that he had engaged in online stalking of Beesa’s sister years prior. On a gameplay level, C9 had begun to fare worse even earler. The team had already been in decline since MLG; they would proceed to lose to a revamped EU-NA col lineup in the Summit 4 qualifier, and go out in groups during the Starladder: Americas qualifier.
After the Frankfurt Major, Ritsu was removed from the team due to “past indiscretions”, leading to a fracture within the squad. While 1437 moved to DC, and played for them at the Summit 4 and WCA, the rest of the squad moved on to form Shazam with Ritsu, bringing in Mason as an alternate core, and moving Brax to offlane and MSS to support respectively. On this new team, SVG took up the mantle as captain and drafter, a role he would show a lot of talent for in the coming months.
“All we can do is live until the day we die. Control what we can…and fly free!”
In their first months, Shazam had generally poor results. Although they won the ProDota Americas Cup #1 over Peruvian squad Elite Wolves, they crumbled during the playoffs of the Shanghai Major Americas qualifiers, not even able to take a single game. The team at the time was heavily limited by poor mid performances by Ritsu, having been forced into the position by mason’s arrival. Shazam also seemed to suffer from systematic communication issues, resulting in tons of dis-coordinated ganks and movements. After this loss, Ritsu and mason officially left Shazam for unspecified reasons, forcing the team to try to pick up new members once again.
Meanwhile, DC continued to struggle mightily, even though they did play better with 1437. During the playoffs of the Shanghai Major qualifier, they barely missed qualification, crumbling in game 3 against complexity for the last spot at Shanghai. 1437 was invited to coach Team Secret at the Shanghai Major during this time, which would influence DC’s roster a few weeks laer. The team also failed to qualify for the Dota Pit League Season 4 LAN finals, placing second in the round robin qualifiers right under complexity.
On the other side of the world, Secret were able to win the Shanghai Major, with the help of 1437. Their win was a stark turnaround from a period of consecutive last place finishes at LANs, and surprised many in the community, some of which had previous called for certain players to get the boot, or even for the team to completely disband. Like Secret’s journey was ripped from the script of a typical shounen anime, disaster would soon follow this turn of good fortunate.
Suffering repeated loss after loss had a detrimental effect on the DC players; TC moved to Shazam. DC proceeded to recruit Resolution, a player who was praised by Arteezy and EternalEnVy as the “best mid in CIS”. For Resolution, the move was an inevitability; according to Sunsfan in a later interview, he had been learning English ever since the end of Ti5, preparing to leave the CIS region. After getting fourth place in Dota Canada Cup #4, the newfound team mounted a resurgence, qualifying for 3rd Captains Draft event, and wining BTS Americas #3. Unfortunately, the team began to lose multiple tournaments, culminating in Yawar’s removal. From then on, the team moved Aui to the carry role, and brought as Saksa from team 4CL to make up for the loss.
On 3/24/2016, 1437 announced his departure from DC, in order to coach the new Team Secret, while BuLBa simultaneously joined EG. Through a series of chain reactions, w33 and MiSeRy, the very players kicked from Secret, joined DC, along with the similarly displaced Moo. The move allowed DC to establish dominance in the region. Despite one hiccup in the ESL One Frankfurt 2016 North American Qualifier, the team became the de-facto NA representative at LAN events, able to continuously beat out Shazam and complexity. As cliched as it sounds, the rest is history, from the team’s initial struggles at international LANs, to their miraculous Ti run through the lower bracket all the way to the finals.
“A lesson without pain is meaningless. For you cannot gain something without sacrificing something else in return. But once you have recovered it and made it your own… You will gain an irreplaceable Fullmetal heart.”
Before the roster swap that started it all, EternalEnVy and 1437 were Major champions, the former as a player, the second as a coach, and were seeking even more victories. As 1437 was preparing to return to DC, to play with Aui_2000 and star CIS core player Resolution, the infamous, apocalypse-level 3/22/2016 occurred. In a bizarre and completely unexpected twist, Secret cast out Misery and w33, and brought in Arteezy and Universe from EG. As Secret had just won the Shanghai Major, no one had expected this change. In retrospect, however, Secret’s swap wasn’t completely unjustified. Ignoring the issue of “upgrading players”, it was clear that the team was not finding much success. Between the Frankfurt and Shanghai Majors, the team struggled to even hit top 6 in any given LAN, placing 9–12 at WCA 2015, 5–6th at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 1, and 7th-8th at MDL Winter 2015.
Overall, it makes much more sense to look at the swap from a personality /internal conflict point of view than from a skill or role based one. Due to the lack of extensive support staff in Dota, it makes sense that certain conflicts between teammates may cause serious problems in-game, while the same troubles will rarely affect LCS teams of similar caliber. While Secret’s issues weren’t heavily publicized, recent interviews with Envy and Misery have revealed much about the state of that team. We would later learn that the team had been suffering internal strife, and were stagnant in terms of ideas; they were further encouraged by Theeban’s departure to make a switch. The fact that even the threat of having to go through open and regional qualifiers did not faze Secret does suggest that something may have been wrong within the team.
Unfortunately for the other teams, Secret’s roster change sparked a tidal wave of disaster throughout the NA scene, starting with EG. When Secret brought in Universe and Arteezy, EG was forced to find quick replacements; and ended up making offers to Aui_2000 and BuLBa, who were playing on DC at the time. After these two joined EG, DC was left without a full roster. With Resolution and Saksa about to leave the team, the roster shuffle went full circle . Sunsfan’s army was also helped out by a match-fixing incident between Infamous (former Unknown) and Elite Wolves, which resulted in ztok, Smash mstco getting banned. The ban, which was announced to the players 3 days before the roster lock, practically disbanded Moo’s new Team Archon. After ztok’s ban each of the players to go their separate ways, because team was unable to find another suitable fifth. However, DC were able to snatch up Moo, right before the roster lock. Infamously, these changes occurred after the roster lock, forcing both EG and Secret to play in the open qualifiers for Ti6.
On the other side, SVG and MSS were still playing for team Shazam. After their sound defeat in the playoffs of the Shanghai Major qualifiers, the team went through a period of tryouts. In the end, they recruited carry player TC from DC, and picked up newcomer Fun, a.k.a Jason/JSN from Root gaming. Moving MSS to the mid position, the team began to see a period of greater success. During this period, MSS’s amazing versatility as a player was becoming more publicly known; he had already switched between the offlane, support and mid positions within the year, and displaying a high level at all three.SVG’s tactical prowess and dedication became more apparent during this time. During the Manila Major qualifiers, he introduced the 6.87 support Elder Titan, which would later become commonplace within the competitive scene, despite nerfs in the patch after. Unfortunately, while the team did fairly well domestically, they were famously unable to beat the likes of complexity and DC in order to qualify for any international LANs, falling short to either team 5 times in a row from the EPICENTER: Americas Qualifier on 3/31/2016 to the Summit 5 Qualifier on 5/17/2016. During the Manila Major qualifier, the team was able to mount a successful run, and even defeat DC 2–1 to face them again in the grand final; however, their relative strategical rigidity prevented them from winning once more. After a final victory in the ProDota Cup Americas #5, SVG left the team in order to coach EG, effectively meaning the death knell for the squad.
Due to Valve’s roster lock rules, the team was forced to play in the NA open qualifiers for Ti6, where they lost in both of their attempts. The nature of their losses, which both came against lesser teams around the Ro16, marked a large downturn in the Shazam’s quality. With SVG’s departure, the team lacked a competent and dedicated drafter/shot-caller, a hole that Brax was ultimately unable to fill. After playing one last Canada Cup, with Pandeago, the team finally disbanded.
“The country? The skies? You can have them. I’m busy just protecting what’s right in front of me. I don’t know what’ll happen to me in the future, but if something has fallen at my feet, then the least I can do is pick it up.”
Similarly, Secret’s hopes were looking down after the Manila Major. The team had struggled mightily after bringing in Universe, to the point where he left Secret before the tournament had even ended. From w33 and MiSeRy’s kicks on, Secret placed last at every tournament they attended, from ESL One Manila 2016, to EPICENTER, to the Manila Major itself. Clearly, the team’s roles were not properly set. By roles, we don’t mean what positions they were playing; but rather, how they played relative to each; who made space, who farmed, who starved themselves, etc… Along came BuLBa, who swapped places with Universe. According to EE, BuLBa became the “messiah” of Team Secret, the one who would supply them with new ideas about Dota over team Skype calls.
At first, the team experienced promising success. They successfully went through the European open qualifiers for Ti6,despite a few scares against teams like Comanche along the way. By this point, Aui_2000 had joined their team as a secondary coach, having also been removed from EG. Additionally, they got first place in the main European qualifiers, although they were forced to play tiebreakers. Several teams also under-performed, most notably Vega, and Virtus Pro in the later stages. A month later, however, Secret cemented their status as a top tier team by getting 2nd in StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2, falling short only to Navi. The results of that tournament proved to be for naught though, as Navi and Secret both took last place at Ti6, while teams that placed below the top 3, like Fnatic and DC, placed 4th and 2nd respectively. In an interview with ESPN, BuLBa stated that the team atmosphere took a turn for the worse after the loss to Navi, and the team started disbanding on the spot.
In the end, all the future members of NP had failed to accomplish what they had sought. MSS and SVG had failed to qualify for neither a Major nor Ti, despite several good opportunities, and EE did not make a mark at Ti6, even with the extensive support of coaches Aui_2000 and 1437.
“There is no such thing as a coincidence in this world. There is only the inevitable.”
For many in the community, NP’s creation represents a waste of talent and leadership. As reported by multiple sources on NaDota.com, the team had a terrible scrim winrate while they were trying out 747 in the offlane. It is unclear whether 747 left the team of his own volition at this time. In addition, many have been skeptical of EE’s mid play, pointing to unimpressive Invoker and TA performances on his stream. While games from streams and scrim results aren’t fantastic indicators of a team’s true strength, as evidenced by both EE’s heavily criticized Ember Spirit prior to the Frankfurt Major, and mousesports’s near perfect scrim record prior to Ti4 respectively. As with the new Team Secret, Team NP will not face as much pressure from the community as any of the previous rosters that its members have been on, neither from reddit nor NaDota.com. In fact, many expect this team to be lesser than the sum of its parts, faulting the inconsistent and ineffective play of its cores, and pointing out the unimpressive resume of its supports.
Although NP’s roster will be expected to synergize well, given the long standing relationships between its members (MSS and SVG have played with 1437, who has in turned worked with Aui and Envy on Team Secret), the group still faces many issues. Disregarding Envy’s supposed deficiencies in the mid lane, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the consistency of the team. MSS’s offlane play has often been criticized in the past, especially during matches of great import. Fans may recall his disastrous Anti-mage performance during tiebreakers for the Ti4 group stage, which officially destroy any of mousesports’ hope of going to the main stage. Aui’s carry play on EG and DC was also not stellar; he was neither able to carry his team in officials, nor play as a backup carry. It seems EE will carry most of the “star” burden; I would fully expect the team to revolve around him in some way.
The most exciting aspect of Team NP is probably the reunion of 1437 and SVG as a support duo. Since their time on C9 together, the two have had major successes in both coaching and captaining; Theeban helped to revitalize DC, and inspired Secret to win Shanghai, while SVG became Shazam’s strategist, and coached EG to a 3rd place finish. This doesn’t just apply to these two; everyone on NP has been acknowledged as an exemplary Dota mind in some way. Anyone who has seen EE’s stream, or Aui’s youtube channel will know they are some of the most cerebral players in the game, a quality that both will hopefully bring to NP. With 4 great innovators on the team, NP’s drafts and strategies may be the most interesting, if not the best of the coming year. At Ti6, Wings showed the world that being the best doesn’t require a team of 5 star players, but can be achieved through hard work, amassing strategies, and never giving up. Given time to refine and revitalize themselves over the coming year, I wouldn’t be surprised if NP could hover their wings as well.
Team NP will have much to prove in this coming year, but if Envy has taught us one thing over his career, its that things won’t be boring as long as he plays. For fans of Secret, Cloud 9, or DC, the team’s success would validate the quality of its long maligned players. With the new season of the EE anime set to air, there is no doubt that all Dota 2 fans will be eagerly sitting at their televisions or laptops, waiting to see what will happen next.
Note: All quotes are from anime. I got all of them from https://myanimelist.net/featured/1497/Top_25_Best_Anime_Quotes_of_All_Time