Yesterday was the grand final of the 2018 Dota 2 International, the biggest esports tournament in the world, which had a prize pool this year of nearly $US25.5 million ($34.8 million). In an underdog story nobody thought possible, the $US11.2 million ($15.3 million) title was won by a scrappy team that only came together in June. And for the first time, one of the winners was Australian.
Three months ago, OG’s chances at even qualifying for the International appeared dismal. Team captain Tal “Fly” Aizik and Gustav “s4” Magnusson had left OG to join rival Evil Geniuses on May 28, in a shocking move that all but gutted OG just 17 days before the International’s first European Open Qualifier.
Though it isn’t uncommon for players to switch teams, Fly was a founding member of OG and close friend to fellow founder and teammate Johan “N0tail” Sundstein. The pair had played together for the majority of their careers, and there had been no indication this would change - including to OG, who only learned of the departures the day before they were announced.
The timing of Fly and s4’s exits coupled with the lack of notice forced OG to drop out of the China Dota2 Supermajor, which was due to start on June 2 - less than a week away. So while s4 and Fly attended the Supermajor as members of Evil Geniuses, OG scrambled to find their replacements.
OG on their roster changes.
Fortunately, they quickly found some. The last remaining founding member of OG, N0tail stepped up into the captain role Fly had vacated. Then on June 4, the team picked up Topias "Topson" Taavitsainen and Anathan “ana” Pham - one of only two Australians who would end up playing in the 2018 International.
Both Topson and ana were unconventional picks. Topson was a newcomer to competitive gaming, having only started competing last year. His total winnings stood at just over $US4000 ($5460), and he had intended to turn to streaming after his previous team disbanded in March.
Meanwhile ana, a former OG member, had announced a break from competitive gaming after the team placed 7-8th at the 2017 International last August. Though he returned to the scene early this year, it had been a quiet reentry with little fanfare.
Add the fact that coach Sébastien "7ckngMad" Debs (also known as "Ceb") had been acting as stand-in since the team let go of Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok in March, and OG appeared to be a group cobbled together out of necessity and desperation rather than any belief their formula could actually win.
Yet win they did. Lacking an invitation to the 2018 International, OG fought their way through the European Open and Main Qualifiers just 10 days after their new lineup was announced, earning themselves a spot in the Group Stage. Not letting up, they then became one of only eight teams to place in the upper bracket of the Main Event.
One of the other teams was Evil Geniuses, who OG faced in Round 2 of the upper bracket. This was a highly-anticipated match, as many fans considered the manner in which Fly left to be a betrayal which OG would no doubt want to punish. However Evil Geniuses had the advantage, with two former International winners and a roster filled with esports veterans.
OG and EG shake hands post-game.
Despite this OG unexpectedly triumphed, defeating their former teammates 2-1 and knocking Evil Geniuses to the lower bracket. Here Evil Geniuses was eliminated, ending their International run in third place.
This result was sweet enough for many OG fans. However the team didn’t stop there, ultimately going on to win the whole tournament, besting favourites PSG.LGD in the first International grand final to go to five games since 2013.
OG’s persistent attitude and refusal to give up was clear throughout the tournament, but it became particularly apparent in their tense games against PSG.LGD. Here OG showed themselves as masters of the unlikely comeback, repeatedly coaxing victory from seemingly certain defeat to the bafflement and delight of spectators.
Witnessing ana come from behind to carry the team and Topson destroy professionals with years more experience was like seeing beauty pulled from chaos. Watching OG play left you wondering what magic had just transpired and how any of it was even possible. But then, everything about OG’s story is unlikely. By all rights they shouldn’t have even made it through the qualifiers.
Yet yesterday they stood before a stadium full of cheering fans, the Aegis of Champions held aloft and their names etched into Dota 2 history. It was a heartwarming end to a great tournament, and as good a fairy tale as any.
The 2018 International Grand Final.