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The distinction between a good team and a great team is typically decided upon by how each squad performs under pressure on the biggest stages, which is why Dota 2 having so many Major tournaments is great.
A handful of teams during the 2018-19 Dota Pro Circuit were on the cusp of being crowned as all-time great rosters, but only one of them was able to reach the apex and go where no team has gone before. But that doesn’t mean those other top teams weren’t great.
As the next season begins to hit its stride and new groups try to dethrone some of the returning top dogs, it’s important to look back and remember the best teams that were able to compete in and around The International 2019.
5) Vici Gaming
Vici were one of a few Chinese teams that got a fair amount of hype heading into the 2019 season with a team of veterans led by Pan “Fade” Yi. And they delivered pretty consistently throughout the year.
It was a bit of a slow start, but after winning the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season One the team really clicked and ended up winning two of the last three Majors outright. That pushed them over PSG.LGD in terms of ranking and they overtook Evil Geniuses for the third spot in the DPC.
That put a lot of pressure on the team to perform at TI9, which Fade’s squad did live up to for the most part. Other than a pair of bad losses to LGD and Team Secret that ended up getting them eliminated from the event in a tie for fifth, it was a strong overall season that put the team in a great place for the 2020 season.
But the squad had to deal with some internal struggle that forced them to part ways with Fade and switch up the roster. The organization is still looking good, however, after ending 2019 on a high note.
The apex of the Chinese Dota 2 scene for two seasons in a row, LGD didn’t quite break through the barrier at TI9. Regardless, the team had an incredible season.
Xu “fy” Linsen and his crew were one of very few teams able to keep up with Team Secret, Virtus Pro, and Evil Geniuses during the entirety of the regular season, which was no small feat considering how strong each of those teams were. It was especially impressive that they were able to finish in the top six at every Major of the year without having any big lapses in performance.
And when it came to TI9, it didn’t matter that Vici came on late to overtake them in the standings, LGD still showed that no one was going to keep them from another top finish. They had a very strong group stage and blew through the playoffs, including sweeps of both VP and Vici, until OG were able to beat them in the winner’s finals.
A rare lapse in judgment during two back-to-back drafts is likely what cost LGD another chance at winning The International, but they put up a great fight against the top two finishers at the event and showed out for the home crowd. Overall, it was a strong season with very few poor showings that fy and the team can be proud of.
But just in case, they should probably keep a close eye on Alchemist next time they come up against OG or Team Liquid.
3) Team Secret
Clement “Puppey” Ivanov has very rarely had a team that wasn’t among the best in the world, but the 2019 Secret squad was probably the best roster he has had since leaving Natus Vincere after TI3.
Not only did they dominate the regular season, winning two Majors and becoming the most winning team in ESL Dota 2 event history, they also earned the highest placement in the organization’s history of competing at The International. Since Puppey arrived, the team has made it to every International, but after stomping Vici in the playoffs, Secret secured a top-four finish for the first time.
It was especially impressive because the team had some late struggles when they placed outside of the top 10 at the EPICENTER Major to end the regular season. But Puppey rallied his troops and both Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg and Michał “Nisha” Jankowski performed at the highest level as they broke through that ceiling to get into the final four.
That success emboldened Puppey to make some big changes in the offseason, bringing in both Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen and Lee “Heen” Seung Gon to counter some of their weaknesses and hopefully make it even further in 2020.
2) Team Liquid
Liquid were almost a mirror of Secret during the regular season, struggling at the start and then making some small adjustments to push back into the TI9 picture with several top finishes.
Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi made arguably the boldest move by a captain of the year, choosing to remove Matu from the roster despite having placed second at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major and a strong middle of the season. But, as it turned out, injecting Aliwi “w33” Omar and his different style was a great call that helped Liquid break their mold.
Following that move, Kuro was able to use new strategies that featured different core heroes since w33 had different specialties to than Matu, which also threw off a lot of opponents who were still preparing for the older, more traditional plans that Liquid had perfected since winning TI7. It wasn’t like those Matu-era plans just vanished either, but the team was able to move beyond that and become something new.
Their run at TI9 was historic, winning five series without dropping a single game in the lower bracket and then beating LGD to make it into the grand finals with only one loss.
The biggest knock against Liquid is the fact Kuro and the other players left the organization following their second-place finish at TI9 to form the independent team, Nigma. But that doesn’t harm the legacy that the organization has and how incredible 2019 was for the players.
There was never a question that the first two-time and back-to-back International champions were going to hold the top spot on this list even though they have yet to play in the new season.
OG didn’t really even show up during the regular season, skipping the first Major, missing out on the second one, and posting two different fifth-place finishes as the high mark for the Majors they did attend. It wasn’t a stellar showing from the defending champions, but Johan “N0tail” Sundstein and the boys came out swinging on the opening day of TI9.
The flower power was on full display as OG dominated the group stage and completely flipped the meta on its head during the playoffs with some insane Alchemist lineups and Anathan “ana” Pham’s Carry Io that broke the draft board. It was incredible to watch such a unique brand of Dota utterly crush the competition.
The way OG play so freely—which was emphasized by Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen jumping into action fearlessly—is a rarity; it almost always looks like they play as if they are leading the game. Even when they are behind, they execute where they need to and don’t let the other team dictate the pace more than necessary.
N0tail and his team were already one of the greatest rosters in Dota history before TI9, but now they are likely going to be remembered as the best and most dominant to ever play the game. And we will see if they have enough in the tank to do it again in 2020 to further cement their legacy.