Just three months ago OG were in a tough position, with two long-standing members of the team leaving the organisation after a fairly disappointing season. The remaining members were left in the position of having to find two new players, when most teams were already well into their preparations for their TI season run. At that moment, even just qualifying to TI probably seemed like a stretch, so winning the whole thing would have been an impossibility.
But here were are, 13 weeks later and OG are champions of The International and the best Dota team in the world. Having picked up a familiar face and a new star, OG breezed through the EU qualifier to make it to TI, then had a solid performance in the group stage before going undefeated on the main stage to become TI champions in Vancouver, Canada.
It may have been unlikely, but it certainly was not undeserved. The OG team played some unreal Dota, and on multiple occasions they managed to win matches that seemed lost. Many other teams would probably have GGd out, but OG always found a way to comeback in the late game, even if they were destroyed early on. They stuck with heroes they felt comfortable on, played in a way they knew suited them and forced other teams to react to their unique style.
You could make a case for any OG player, or even team coach Cristian ‘ppasarel’ Banaseanu, to be the MVP of TI8. They all had amazing plays, turned key fights and were often the deciding factor in matches. But there was one player that time and time again managed to come up big in the key moments, and that was Anathan ‘ana’ Pham.
Throughout the event ana made some unbelievable plays on which entire games and victories hinged. Predominantly playing Phantom Lancer and Spectre meant that he was mostly playing heroes that can move around in fights and survive a lot longer than, say, a Gyrocopter, while also dealing significant damage. As a result, ana would smartly identify the target he needed to go for, take them down even if they were on the very back line, and still make it out alive.
His ability to stay alive was unreal at times. There were times he'd back off from a fight with just a tiny sliver of health left and still make it out. Or when playing on PL he would use Doppelganger at the final possible second, and then bait the entire enemy team into chasing down an illusion while he simply slipped away unnoticed.
Even just looking at the grand final in game five, ana’s TP came off cooldown when he has just 132 health left, with a lot of damage over time spells ticking him down. Instead of TPing away instantly, he jumped onto PSG’s Earthshaker to secure another kill before just making it out with one HP. A death there could have stalled OG’s comeback in the game, which was just starting to gather steam.
Another area that ana excelled at, along with the rest of OG, was buying back. A buyback is always a risk when a fight is still going on because it may be over by the time you rejoin it meaning you just wasted a tonne of gold. But as ana proved multiple times, a buyback can turn a fight and even an entire game.
Again in game five of the final, which OG would have surely lost without ana’s incredibly smart plays, a rosh fight went badly for OG, with ana going down early but he instantly buys back, TPs to the shrine and turned what was surely a lost fight into a full team wipe. It’s amazing this hasn’t been called the US$11m buyback yet, because that is how crucial it was.
He also knew how vital having a buy back was at all times. In that ridiculous game four of the final, ana got massively caught out of position near his bottom bounty rune and had no chance of surviving. He managed to grab the bounty for a little extra gold and then hit Doppleganger to buy some time. During this time he checked the amount he needed to buy back, noticed he was short of money to do so, and managed to sell two of his items, giving him enough money for buy back before he died. We expect players at TI to come up with things we have never seen before, but this was truly next level and genuinely unbelievable. Just look at it.
We could easily wax lyrical about ana’s massive plays throughout the event – or even just the final – but perhaps his biggest impact was giving OG a way of coming back. We knew from last time ana was on OG that he might not be the best laner, but he'd always find a way to comeback in the mid or late game if OG could make it that far, and that certainly hasn't changed.
It seemed like in almost every series there would be at least one game where OG lost the early stages – sometimes catastrophically – but then somehow would come back find a few fights and turn a game. It even happened multiple times in the final alone. OG’s lanes weren't a strong point, but ana always knew how to bring things back.
Sometimes he knew it was all on him, so he'd find a way to get some farm and slowly but surely catch up and be ready to fight. But at other times he realised he was in a solid position and others were struggling, so instead of going all in on himself when he wasn’t the issue, he'd masterfully create space for his team-mates. Sure, this may have resulted in a few deaths for himself – and there were times when he perhaps could have played safer – but nine times out of 10 his distractions created enough space for the other OG members to catch up, and even out the game.
Every member of OG played out of their minds at TI and their run will never be forgotten, but for us it was ana that stood out. His masterful understanding of the heroes he played meant he could stay alive when others would surely have fed away their life. His timing on buybacks was impeccable. And his uncanny ability to catch up in the mid game after a poor lane was a joy to watch. At TI ana was on another level, and we've never seen Dota like it. Now we want more.