If there's one thing that has become clear during the 2021 Dota Pro Circuit season, it's that the European region has a lot of teams who are all capable of beating each other on any given day. This high level of competition has been great for us fans watching the action every week, as we have never had so much quality Dota to enjoy, but for the teams competing it has meant every single win or loss could impact your chances of making it to The International 10, the biggest Dota event of the year – and the biggest esports event of all time by prize money.
After two decent but somewhat underwhelming DPC seasons and no Major appearances, OG, the defending back-to-back TI champions, were forced to play in the European qualifier to even have a chance at defending their TI crown. But they were not alone: Team Nigma, the roster that OG beat back in the TI9 final, Team Liquid, a team that looked like the best in Europe mere months ago, Tundra Esports, a team full of veteran talent and some exciting young players, and many other top teams who all had a decent chance of making it to TI were also fighting for just one place at the biggest esports event in history.
Despite OG being the two-time, defending champions and being at the very least competitive against all of the top European teams this year, they didn't enter the competition as the favourites to win the qualifier. Team Nigma had proven that they could compete on the international stage at the WePlay AniMajor just a few weeks ago, placing fifth/sixth and looking very impressive. Some even favoured Liquid over OG, as the defending champs had a lot going against them. But the squad that surprised everyone with two unlikely TI wins once again managed to shock the Dota world.
The return of the king
Global events in 2020 and a few surprise retirements brought an early end to one of the most exciting rosters the Dota world has ever seen in OG. But when Syed Sumail ‘SumaiL’ Hassan joined OG to kick off the 2020 DPC season it seemed that the back-to-back TI champions were once again listed as a favourite to win the tournament again. Despite two TI players taking a break from Dota, OG replaced them with some amazing talent, and we were excited to see how it would work out.
Then worldwide travel came to a screeching halt, meaning SumaiL had to play on European servers all the way from North America, and while he was more than good enough to play on high ping, when it became clear that this would be the norm for some time he left OG, and outside of a brief stint on Liquid, didn’t play much pro Dota.
Then Anathan ‘ana’ Pham decided to retire from Dota after failing to qualify for the AniMajor and OG were in a tight spot, needing to find a new superstar carry player on short notice. Fortunately SumaiL was still available and the king of Dota returned to the roster. Picking up anyone else would have made the task of qualifying near impossible, as learning how to play with someone new in just a few days would be tough. But the roster already knew SumaiL, how to play with him and what his strengths are. This meant they went into the qualifier feeling confident, and SumaiL was hungry to prove that he deserved to be back at the top of pro Dota after almost a year of no competition.
An old nemesis
When the bracket for the qualifier was released many were shocked to see OG and Nigma on the same side of the upper bracket, meaning they would meet after just one victory. That of course happened, and the two battled it out in a best of three for a spot in the winners’ bracket final.
This first meeting of the two was just as epic as many imagined. OG took game one, Nigma responded in game two, and then OG took game three, but it wasn’t as simple as that. Every game was a back-and-forth affair, with big fights that turned games and some surprising miss plays from both teams. But with this being an upper bracket match, everyone knew the two would meet again, most likely in the final.
But that was not to be; OG found themselves in the lower bracket final against Nigma. A rematch of the last TI grand final was being played not for a chance to make it to TI, but for a chance to simply keep that hope alive. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the action delivered. The two teams put on a show that, if it weren’t for another series yet to come, would be remembered for a long time.
Crossing the tundra
The team that, somewhat surprisingly, managed to knock OG down to the lower bracket was Tundra Esports. The upper bracket final between the two was one of the most shocking series of the entire qualifier, with Tundra dominating OG 2-0 and making the TI champions look almost out of their depth.
But after dispatching Nigma in the lower bracket final OG earned themselves a rematch against Tundra, and this time OG were ready. Game one was an epic hour-long affair that was back and forth and could have easily gone either way. Tundra came out on top, giving them the early advantage in the series, but then OG brought it back in another entertaining game to even the score at 1-1. Even at this stage we knew the series would go down in history, with some genuinely unbelievable team fights coming out from OG, who knew the exact limits they could push without overextending.
Before you knew it an entire afternoon had gone by watching incredible Dota. The two traded wins, with OG even beating the Nyx and Luna strategy that Tundra had used so effectively previously, to set up a tense final game where one team would advance to TI and the other would go home empty-handed. Amazingly, this was the shortest game in the entire series, with every OG player playing near perfect. But it was the king himself, SumaiL, who really put this game to bed, going 14-0-10 on a safelane TA and completely dominating the game, to secure his and OG’s return to TI, despite the deck being stacked against them.
So here we are yet again, with OG, despite their pedigree, qualifying for The International after running a gruelling gauntlet of last chance qualifiers. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Don’t say it too loudly, but the three-peat might just be on.