Just over a year ago Topias Miikka 'Topson' Taavitsainen competed in his first ever The International as a rookie. Up until that point, he'd earned just a few thousand dollars and was regarded by many prominent players and commentators as merely being a skilled pub player with limited professional prospects. He has now been to two TIs, won both of them, and in doing so, served up a colossal slice of humble pie to his detractors.
Every year there are debates about who deserves the honor of MVP at The International. Sometimes there's a true standout, but sometimes there's a team, like OG, where chemistry and cohesion matter so much more than any individual's performance. Dota is a team game, so the importance of chemistry might seem obvious, but no team gels together quite like them. So, instead of arguing why Topson is OG's MVP, here's how he's illustrative of the spirit of a team whose members are all MVPs.
The myth of two Topsons
Topson has two very polarised nicknames: 'Godson' and 'Flopson'. They imply a sort of inconsistency in his play – that he's either hot or cold. These nicknames demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the type of player he is. It's true that he has games where he looks like he can balance the world on his nose and games where it looks like he's feeding, but his role is not to be a star in every game. Sometimes, his game has to be sacrificed and those are the games where he looks sloppy.
During last year's tournament, the common wisdom was that winning lanes won games and that the mid lane was of particular importance. It wasn't uncommon for OG to lose their lanes, sometimes in spectacular fashion, and then have to play from behind. This was especially true of Topson.
He didn't play safe and efficient midlane heroes. He didn't play to secure his farm and snowball. If need be, he would sacrifice his own game just so Sébastien 'Ceb' Debs or Anathan 'ana' Pham could have more space on the map. Sometimes, he would play almost suicidally, much like how offlaners have traditionally played.
Topson wasn't playing to win the lane, he was playing to make space and to create chaos. If he had a bad game, it usually meant that everyone else was having an okay time.
Similarly, this year we had barn-burner matches, like their upper bracket finals bout with PSG.LGD that mirrored their fateful set from TI8. During the deciding game, Topson went 3–5–15 overall on his Tidehunter. Both he and ana technically lost their lanes, but they played for the late game, while Ceb parlayed the early game advantage he got to help them reach that point.
Evil Geniuses' Syed 'SumaiL' Hassan, one of the most lauded midlaners in professional Dota, averages about 297 last hits across his 10 most played heroes in tournaments. For comparison, Topson hovers around 218. This isn't because Topson is substantially worse at last hitting, but because his priority is on non-stop aggression over farming.
Over the past season this style became far more common. Team Secret's Yeik 'MidOne' Nai Zheng and Vici Gaming's Zeng 'Ori' Jiaoyang had amazing seasons – some of the best of their careers – and their play looked much more like Topson's than in prior years.
In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin, one of the greatest chess players ever, talks about how his style was not as clean and calculated as his grandmaster peers. The way he summarised his approach to a match was that he would employ unorthodox strategies with the intent of sewing havoc. He excelled at bringing order to chaos, to creating disarray and then navigating through it better than his opponent. This scrappy style is what Topson, and by extension the whole of OG, excels at.
Unorthodox strategies and selfless play
Topson's hero pool is unorthodox and has only grown more so over time. At TI9, he played virtually none of the most picked mid-laner, with no Leshrac, Kunkka, Templar Assassin, Lina, Storm Spirit, Outworld Devourer, Death Prophet or Razor. He did play a bit of mid Gyrocopter, Ember Spirit and Invoker, but his hero pool also consisted of off-meta heroes, like Pugna, Monkey King and Zeus. Then there's the really out-there picks, like Tidehunter and Earth Spirit.
Even in the draft he creates space. You simply can't target ban his heroes because there are too many, and too many that he can play in non-traditional ways. Even if you try to target him, you leave so much else on the table, like Johan 'N0tail' Sundstein's Chen, Jesse 'JerAx' Vainikka's Earthshaker, Ceb's Enchantress, or ana's undefeated Io.
Topson's Invoker is not exactly ordinary, either. Not only has the hero not been in the meta for quite some time, but it also only re-emerged in the TI9 meta as a position four. Not only that, but Topson's Invoker is unlike any other. He pioneered a Quas Wex Invoker build that's absolutely bloodthirsty, because of how few items it requires before it can fight. Traditional Invoker players can't participate in fights until the transition between mid-and-late game, because they had to farm with Midas and build into Aghanim's Scepter and other greedier items. His Invoker build reflects an emphasis on doing what the team needs of him: finding fights and creating space.
At times, he'll even build into your typical teamfighting aura items, like Vladmir's Offering, Pipe of Insight and Crimson Guard, which would normally be left to the offlaner, because it better suits his role in that particular game. Against PSD.LGD, Topson built an Aghanim's into a Desolator on Tidehunter – something quite unusual – specifically to take advantage of the insane amount of armour reduction the items could provide paired with his team and their burst physical damage.
As a user on Reddit pointed out, Diffusal Blade has been built on Gyrocopter only five times in pro play since the 7.00 patch came out and Topson played one of those games. In fact, it was in the final game of the grand finals against Team Liquid and the mana burn against Amer 'Miracle-' Al-Barkawi's Bristleback turned out to be the lynchpin in OG's successful Aegis defense.
These builds don't set Topson up to have star performances, but his selflessness sets his team up to win. It isn't just unique to Topson, though. One could just as easily look at Ceb doing things like building Spirit Vessel before Blink Dagger on Legion Commander, because he recognised how one of those items would be vital for the team and that he was the best person on the team build it that game, while the other item would just help his own game somewhat. That ethos is emblematic of why OG are now two-time TI champions.
OG is regularly called cocky for their flamboyant chat wheel spam and the flashy brashness of their plays. They aren't egotistical enough to be arrogant, though. As a unit, they just play with absolute faith in each other and as individuals they seem to play without ego. Is Topson their TI9 MVP? That's hard to say, but it's easy to look at him as an illustration of what makes OG the greatest team in all of Dota.