Roster issues? Inexperience as a team? No problem for Speed Gaming, who took home their first title as a team in spectacular fashion at the MLG Championship in Columbus last weekend.
Featuring nine of the world's best teams – Na'vi, Alliance, DK, Speed, Liquid, EG, Fnatic, Sigma.int, and Pretty Boy Swag – and a prize pool over $130,000, the event was easily the biggest Dota event since The International, and will in all likelihood retain that title for some time. The event kicked off Friday with the group stage spread over the first two days, with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs on Sunday.
Something To Prove
Speed Gaming came in with perhaps the most to prove of any team. The squad formerly known as Kaipi consists of of Canadians Jacky “EternalEnVy” Mao, Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling, Swede Johan “pieliedie” Åström, WehSing “SingSing” Yuen from the Netherlands, and Pittner “bOne7” Armand of Romania. Kaipi rose to prominence last year after the addition of EternalEnVy (following his sudden removal from No Tidehunter, the team that became Alliance), and though they weren't invited to The International 3 qualifiers, they tore up the online cup circuit and began to assert themselves as one of the best. The team continued to improve after SingSing and Aui joined up and despite being overlooked once again for an invitation to MLG Columbus, fan outcry led MLG to create an extra spot for them. Of course, now that they were given one, they had to prove they deserved it.
They were beset, however, by one massive problem. bOne7, the team's offlane player, was unable to obtain a visa in time and couldn't attend. With less than two weeks before the event, the team was forced to find a replacement for a player often called the team's most consistent contributor. They chose Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, a high-school senior well-known in North America as one of the best mid-lane players in the region and the midlaner for Kaipi over the summer. This would be Arteezy's first LAN tournament, and his addition pushed SingSing to the offlane, a role he was unfamiliar with. On top of that, the team was scarcely able to practice at all as a team before the tournament. Things weren't looking good for Speed Gaming.
Bad First Impression
On the first day, it got even worse. SingSing arrived in Columbus mere hours before their first match, and the whole team was sleep-deprived. It showed in their play, and Speed Gaming opened the tournament with a crushing loss to Alliance. Further losses to Sigma.int and Fnatic followed. With matches against DK and Na'vi still remaining and with their form looking far below their usual standard, it easily could've been over for them right there.
But Speed Gaming entered Day 2 of MLG a completely different team. Their first match of the day was against Na'Vi, and they took it handily. Next up, they downed Pretty Boy Swag, EG and Team Liquid. With a 4-3 record, Speed went up against the undefeated, seemingly invincible Team DK to end the day for a chance at making the playoffs. Exploiting DK's vulnerable Ursa pick, Speed did what few expected them to: they took out the Chinese giants and made it to Day 3.
Their semifinal match was against Sigma.int, a team added to MLG at the last minute to replace the disbanded Team Dignitas and they won that too. Already exceeding all expectations, Speed strode into the finals for a rematch with Team DK. They may have been testing an unconventional strategy the day before, but the DK that showed up in the finals was all business. They took the lead early in the first game, and while Speed was able to pull it back and take over the game, Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng on his Earthshaker completely blew the game open with a single play and brought the game back into DK's hands. They slowly wore Speed down, and even SingSing's late-game Divine Rapier wasn't enough to turn the tide. DK finally took them out in an 85 minute marathon: the longest game of the tournament.
Somehow, that grueling loss didn't affect Speed in the slightest. Rather, it seemed to encourage them to play even better. In Game 2, they tied the score and Speed was one win away from their dream.
Achieving the Dream
In the final game of the tournament, Speed worked as a solid unit, showcasing a level of coordination that should be impossible for a team with a stand-in, with near-perfect initiation and map awareness time and again. After 61 minutes of Dota, facing a DK squad just as hungry for their first title taking advantage of every mistake, with a kill score of 32-30, Speed Gaming claimed victory over their opponent and with it, the MLG title.
Exactly one year after he won his first LAN with No Tidehunter, a team that would go on to win The International without him, EternalEnVy was asked what he'd like to say to everyone watching him finally stand on stage victorious again. He said, “Thank you for believing in me.” For the rest of his team, this was a new experience: possibly life-changing. After this win, Arteezy decided to become a full-time Dota player once he graduates. Pieliedie, SingSing, and Aui have now also earned their first major title in Dota 2, joining the likes of Dendi, Loda, and Ferrari_430. In a Western scene dominated by the twin juggernauts Alliance and Natus Vincere, Speed Gaming's win at MLG shatters the established tiers and reminds us that, above all else, Dota will remain a scene where hard work and determination can and will pay off.
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