The four-month gap the Boston and Kiev Majors in Dota 2 has been especially vacuous, as precious few tournaments gave fans a chance to gauge each team's potential headed into this week's Kiev Major group stage play. After Boston it seemed like TNC Pro Team was in disarray, but Kiev is showing that just might not be true.
Image credit: TNC Pro Team
The southeast Asian squad made a name for itself at last year's International, where it shot up through the qualifiers and eliminated OG, a tournament favourite, before finishing at 7th/8th. The months since have not been so kind to TNC, as they failed to qualify for Boston after most of their players scattered to other teams during the off-season, and only recently did three return for this week's Kiev Major. Despite all this, TNC has had an incredible run so far in Kiev, taking down the North American titan Evil Geniuses 2-0 and Thunderbirds, formerly of Digital Chaos, at 2-1 in the group stage.
In a chat conversation, team coach Muriel "Kipspul" Huisman expressed extreme confidence, and said she expected to defeat Evil Genuises:
"We knew we could take EG -- I personally expected to win game 1 and then get pressured out during the rest of the series, but instead we managed to keep the momentum going," said Huisman.
In their matches against both North American teams, TNC operated as a cohesive unit, working together to overcome the star players of each squad. In both games against EG, TNC was in a minor gold deficit, but rallied behind small skirmishes and rotations. And even after a game was dropped to Thunderbirds, TNC rallied and fought back to win the series. It's a characteristic Huisman believes is core to the team: The players treat each other like family. They eat, sleep and breathe Dota together, and the mistakes of one are the mistakes of all.
Those rallies led to incredible moments, like Monday's record-setting match between TNC and Thunderbirds. Marc Polo Luis "Raven" Fausto, a 17-year-old carry player for TNC, set the all-time record for kills in a single game at a Valve event, with 33 on the haunting Spectre. But it was only possible to set the record because the match went on for so long.
"TBH, if we just finished that game like we should instead of slipping up, he would have never been able to set that record!" Huisman told me.
— Nahaz (@NahazDota) April 24, 2017
Now in the winner's side of the groups, TNC is a single best-of-three series win against Virtus.Pro away from being a top seed in the main stage of the tournament, which starts Thursday morning Kyiv time (Thursday afternoon in Australia). When discussing which teams TNC might be worried about, it sounds more like the team is excited to tackle giants rather than avoid them. Invictus Gaming is still top dog, according to Huisman, and Team Secret also had a strong group showing; both are tantalising opponents for TNC to test its mettle against.
For Huisman, who has been with TNC for just a month, it's also the story of an underdog making good.
"What drew me to them was how open and respectful they were," said Huisamn. "I never had to prove my worth or justify my low MMR [matchmaking rating]. I was looking to find a team that would let me coach on top of being a scout/analyst and these guys weren't just ready, they were enthusiastic. It was like stepping into a warm bath."
Whatever results may occur in the coming days, Kiev seems to be a warm bath for TNC, as they look to solidify their spot at the top and make the case for a direct invite to the coming International. With a big win at Kiev, TNC could take Southeast Asia's direct invite spot for themselves.