This year will be remembered as the one that lacked The International and the bulk of the Dota Pro Circuit. But some teams have made the most out of the online season in 2020, making rising stars out of themselves in regional competitions.
Some of these rosters feature familiar names and will be burdened with expectations and watched like a hawk by fans and detractors alike. Some of these teams will be looking to take the next step, whether it’s to solidify their statuses as tier-one competitors or contending for trophies and glory. All of these teams will definitely be entertaining to watch next year—and you might even find your new favorite.
Here are the Dota 2 teams to look out for heading into 2021.
Elephant’s roster formation had an inauspicious start, but the copious amount of talent on this team makes them worth mentioning.
On paper, it’s a collection of players with spades of talent. Aside from the relatively unknown Ru “RedPanda” Zhihao, the other four players boast experience, accomplishments, and a burgeoning trophy cabinet.
But there’s one thing that their shelves lack: the Aegis of Champions. Traditionally one of the strongest regions in Dota 2, China’s claim to the throne has been repeatedly blocked in recent years with European teams dominating the scene.
You have to go back four years to find the last Chinese team, Wings Gaming, that claimed TI. For captain fy and midlane superstar Somnus, who have both been on the podium three times, it’s a decidedly more personal affair. They ran into eventual TI8 and TI9 champions OG three times over the two tournaments—and they lost three times.
Fy shares the dubious record of being one of two players—along with Nigma’s w33—to have attended the grand finals of TI twice but never hoisted the championship.
And Dota 2 isn’t played on paper. It’s obviously not as simple as putting the five best players together and hoping that their collective skill outshines everything else. Sure, Invictus Gaming pulled it off at TI2, but Team DK and Team Secret dominated their respective seasons leading up to TI4 and TI5 and fell short when it came to the ultimate prize.
Elephant have some chemistry already in place, though. Fy and Somnus played together for three years under PSG.LGD, while Eurus and Yang were teammates for two years on Vici Gaming. It helped them claim two trophies at the tail end of 2020 in China Dota 2 Pro Cup season two in November and OGA Dota PIT season four in December.
There’s no need to mince words—for this team, anything short of an Aegis would be a disappointment. The roster has jumped through so many hoops, burned so many bridges, and garnered so many detractors all in a bid to create the best possible collection of players China could offer.
But come TI10, if they actually mold themselves into a functioning team, even just as a sum equal to its parts instead of a fantasy drafter’s wet dream, it might just be worth it.
The savvy veterans on mudgolems have made a splash in the scene. Fata’s transition to captain and drafter has been exceptional to watch. After playing with some of the greatest minds and leaders in Dota 2 throughout his career—Ceb on Sigma, N0tail on Cloud9, KuroKy on Liquid, Puppey on Secret, and ppd on Ninjas in Pyjamas—his lineups always seem to buck the trend in some way and forces opponents to think twice.
His team is equally versatile and willing to commit to their style of play. Several of them might not be household names, but they’ve spent years in the scene grinding it out. Duško “BoraNija” Boranijaševic and Oliver “skiter” Lepko have flourished, striking fear in so many enemies with their Lina and Lifestealer that just never seem to stay quiet.
With BoraNija’s departure following a disappointing last-place finish in Division One of the EPIC League, there’s work to do for mudgolems to return to their brief but heady heights.
The team is looking for an organization, according to offlaner 33’s post, with a preference to play in North America or Europe. With regional leagues in effect from the restart of the DPC, where they end up will have ramifications. Evil Geniuses’ reign over the NA region might come under threat or Europe will continue to be a bloodbath among the several elite teams capable of cutting down one another.
VP are one of the best teams in the CIS region, but they look ready and willing to go further than that.
The new VP, consisting of the promoted Prodigy players, couldn’t be more different from its predecessors. The organization handed the reins to Solo in 2016, who sought out and plucked some of the finest and most established talent from the other CIS teams.
Now, the roster is filled entirely with young pubstars, none above the age of 20 and many of whom have been in the pro circuit for less than two years. Frequent battles online have meant that they’re supremely confident in their talk and seem to have no problems walking it.
Star midlaner Danil “gpk” Skutin, who’s played a far more mature game than his age suggests since his breakout qualifying campaign with Vega Squadron during the TI9 CIS qualifiers, is the one to watch. But his teammates have improved tremendously over the course of the 2020 season.
Egor “epileptick1d” Grigorenko and Vitaliy “Save-” Melnik have looked far more comfortable along more familiar faces than when they were first recruited to the organization. VP look completely in their element in the online season and will hope that their youthful fire can help paper over their inexperience in higher-stakes offline competition upon the DPC restart.
Liquid has come a long way. Instead of retooling their roster every year, they’ve stuck together since their Alliance days, slowly improving from an inconsistent tier-two team with flashes of brilliance to an inconsistent tier-one team that goes hot and cold like a malfunctioning thermostat but never fails to entertain.
The team has a penchant for executing high-risk, high-reward plays and years playing together give them an almost preternatural sense of teamwork and timing. Roles, heroes, and priority are barely adhered to and if the team thinks it might remotely work—hard support Rubick and Windranger, safelane Snapfire, mid Earth Spirit—they’ll try it against anybody.
The first game of Liquid vs. Secret in the lower bracket of ESL One Germany on Oct. 30 comes to mind. Boxi’s Void Spirit practically takes on a position four role, ceding priority to Taiga—known for his boggling teamfighting prowess on heroes like Dark Willow and Enigma. Still, Liquid were in trouble. Their Huskar gambit hadn’t worked out quite as well as they hoped and their opponents had the top-tier Enigma counter: YapzOr’s Rubick.
Liquid managed to make it work, somehow. Every time Taiga chose to cast a Black Hole, his allies instantly and unhesitatingly followed up, even at the cost of their own lives.
Liquid are entirely capable of playing like this against the best team in the world, but they’re also equally able to throw away advantages against unfavored opponents. They’ve improved a fair bit at closing out compared to their Alliance days. The streakiness isn’t as prevalent but still present.
Aside from their play, the players are genuinely interesting personalities, especially captain iNSaNiA. He’s a brilliant Dota 2 player and a charismatic and funny person who’s always willing to take up the mic and share his knowledge, such as his interim casting role during The Summit 12 after his team was knocked out early in the tournament.
Winning a premier offline tournament is the next step for this team. For new fans, have a fun ride on the Liquid rollercoaster. It’s hard not to get attached, but make sure you have a cardiologist on speed dial.
It’s strange that the organization’s most well-known name might be their coach, Daniel “ImmortalFaith” Moza, who’s known for consistently creating and updating guides for every Dota 2 hero. That’s a familiar name to any aspiring MMR grinder—and his team is on its way there.
As ImmortalFaith himself wrote, the team consisted of “nonames” and “pub players,” but toppling giants put them on the map. The players lack professional experience, with Vikin.gg being most of the players’ first few stints on a pro team. But their commitment to getting better shows in their results and consistent play.
The education doesn’t stop there for fans. Vikin.gg also releases cool tidbits like internal voice comms on YouTube, a rarity in Dota 2. With how the team has been playing and styling on their opponents, ImmortalFaith might have to take a backseat to his players soon.
Quincy Crew has gone through several organizations: VGJ.Storm, Forward Gaming, Newbee, and Chaos Esports Club. But its core has stuck together as Quincy Crew.
Initially starting the season with SumaiL, it took them months after his departure to find their last man, finally settling on Brazillian talent Lelis who just came off a successful but short stint with ppd’s Ninjas in Pyjamas.
The team has since been quietly dominating the North American circuit. The big caveat is that they’ve been doing it in the absence of Evil Geniuses, either through EG opting to skip tournaments or simply missing their rostered players due to geographical differences.
Still, the Crew is one of the best teams in NA. They’ve proven that they have what it takes to hang on the international stage, but there’s still room to grow.
This isn’t an end-all, be-all list of the teams to watch going into the new year and the restart of the DPC. But these are some of the best options for you to dip your toes into and you could be well on your way to finding a new team to love.