This is the last entry in a series profiling the 18 teams attending The International 8, which kicks off on Aug. 15.
Ferocity of the polar bear
At last, we arrive at the final team in the field of 18 going to Vancouver, Canada. Virtus Pro ran roughshod over every other squad in this inaugural Pro Circuit season, placing themselves firmly in the top spot on the leaderboard. The Russian/Ukrainian juggernauts took first place in five separate Pro Circuit Majors, while placing no lower than top six in events that they didn’t win. There is one simple fact about them this year: they are the undisputed final bosses of Dota 2.
Their run in 2018 so far is actually a significant improvement over last year—which is still saying a lot considering how well they did in the 2016-2017 season. Once the Pro Circuit rolled around, it took them almost no time at all to unleash their power. They stomped everyone at ESL One Hamburg last October, dropping just two games out of the nine that they played at the event. As a result, they bagged $500,000 and 750 Pro Circuit points early in the season—an immediate display of what they’d worked on in the offseason.
They did, however, change their roster in February, trading Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk to Na’Vi in exchange for rising star Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan. It was an obvious “selling” of Lil’s Pro Circuit points to Na’Vi, who had been struggling to stay relevant throughout the season. The exchange paid for itself, though, as RodjER instantly bolstered VP’s already frightening lineup—allowing them to lift the trophy at the end of Dota Summit 8 last December.
Another two months after that, their total domination of the Pro Circuit began. It started with their victory at ESL One Katowice in February, followed immediately by first place at the PGL Bucharest Major in March. These two events were no more than two weeks apart, which speaks volumes about their incredible consistency as a unit. They followed the one-two up with even more amazing performances, always placing within the points of the last four Majors of the season. In fact, they even won ESL One Birmingham in May, as if mathematically qualifying for TI8 through Katowice wasn’t already enough.
They owe much of their success this season to their mechanical prowess. At every position from carry through hard support, there sits a player at the absolute peak of their Dota 2 careers.
The Russian prodigy Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev is still one of the best carries from the CIS region, and becomes a massive threat if given space by his partner Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko. Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov is the master of initiation, regularly playing heroes such as Dark Seer and Sand King. RodjER has grown into a fearsome utility support player, and captain Solo has not gotten one bit rusty over his long tenure.
Put together, the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Each player fulfills their role to perfection, which is especially important in today’s laning-focused metagame. Their mechanical skill lends well to the 2-1-2 meta, as they are able to make the most of the resources available in the early game to fuel their fast mid game pressure. Once they have their core items, they hunt down prey as a pack, never relenting and never backing down from a fight. Few teams can match their tempo and momentum, and oftentimes their opponents get completely left behind in their wake.
When they’re on fire, they’re practically unbeatable. Challengers quake in their boots whenever they have to go up against Virtus Pro—and for more than just a few good reasons.
Thanks to all their results this year, they are projected to win TI8. In fact, anything less than total triumph on the grand stage would be unacceptable for them, considering just how much better they’ve been compared to everyone else this season. While they would certainly want to be in this position rather than be in the middle or the bottom of the barrel, this presents a couple of problems: immense pressure and a set of huge targets on their backs.
The former has been their undoing in the past. They were one of the favorites at TI7, but they exited the tournament after losing to their arch-nemeses in Team Liquid. This year, the burden on their shoulders will be even greater—and so they will have to rely on Solo’s veteran experience and the wisdom of their coach, the legendary Ivan “ArtStyle” Antonov to get them through the event.
They’ve shown fantastic composure through the Pro Circuit season, but as we all know The International is a different beast altogether. If they keep their spirits up throughout TI8, though, they will more than likely come out as world champions. Can they finally seal the deal this year?
Player to watch
RodjER has single-handedly saved Virtus Pro on many occasions this year, and has earned the right to call himself one of the best utility support players in the world. His impact on the game cannot be understated, and VP would be a lesser team without him.
The sting of losing to Liquid at TI7 likely still lingers, but they cannot let the mistakes of the past get to them this year. The pressure is really on this time around, and even the best of the best succumb to it when it matters most.
The only A+ in this series goes to Virtus Pro, the one team that has been close to perfection this season. Seeing them lift the Aegis of Champions at the end of the tournament would be no shock whatsoever.