SEA Dota has been rising for a while now, but do the region’s two representatives have what it takes to conquer the gauntlet that is TI10?
In terms of success, perhaps the most prominent year for the the region was in 2016 at TI6. It was that year that saw the now legendary TNC vs OG upset. Of course, who could forget the tear that Korean squad MVP Phoenix went on to finish Top 6. TI6 also saw Fnatic finish 4th overall, an SEA team's highest ranking since TI3.
Since then, the SEA region has yet to replicate the same results. With TI10 on the horizon, the lynchpins behind SEA's TI glory have returned - hoping for a second shot at shining bright.
We take a look at the two contenders hailing from South-East Asia - the newly minted regional kings T1 and the storied but untested Fnatic; and their road to TI.
The Undisputed Kings of SEA - T1
Across many major esport titles, the world has cowered under the might of our Korean overlords. In the case of Dota 2 though, there is only one Korean team that has made a mark - and what an unforgettable one it was. Between the roar of a run to finish Top 8 at TI5, and Top 6 the following year - MVP Phoenix remain the most iconic Korean squad in Dota 2's competitive history.
At the heart and soul of the team was Park "March" Tae-won, the steadfast offlaner and captain. Though he would retire for military service shortly before their emphatic TI6 showing, he was no doubt an instrumental part of their success.
Fast forward to 2019, where South Korean esports giant T1 announced they would be entering the Dota 2 scene. It would be Lee "Forev" Sang-don, March's replacement, that would head the squad. Despite many adjustments, the team simply couldn't hit their stride. From there, March was enlisted to rebuild the team from the ground up.
He would gather the remains of a disbanded GeekFam, and the T1 we now know and love was born. It was only fitting that this team would have an offlaner as a captain too - in Carlo "Kuku" Palad. Alongside him were Karl "Karl" Jayme - an unpolished (at the time) mid-laner brimming with potential, and the stable support duo of Kenny "Xepher" Deo and Matthew "Whitemon" Filemon. Finally, they recruited Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong from Motivate.Trust as their carry.
SEA has the player base with the highest mechanical skill
The SEA DPC Season Begins
The team's existing synergy was apparent, and on the back of their teamplay, T1 would finish third in Season 1 of the SEA DPC Regional League. This booked them a flight to play at the Singapore Major. In a last minute controversial decision, T1 would switch out JaCkky for superstar Nuengnara "23savage" Teeramahanon - to mixed response from their fans. On top of this, due to health issues, Kuku was unable to attend with the team. Forev would be brought back to take his place - but the lack of their captain hit the team hard. T1 would not make it out of the Wild Card stage and were sent home after losing to every team but Nigma.
From there, it was back to the drawing board for T1. They would use what they learned and came into Season 2 ready and refreshed. The fruits of their labor paid off, and they would dominate the rest of their competition to finish first this time.
Strangely, even though they were through to the playoffs of the WePlay AniMajor, no one really ranked them that highly. Perhaps it was the ongoing Top Seed curse, that saw teams like Alliance and Virtus Pro, who had finished top of their regions, fall unceremoniously to squads from the Group Stage. For T1 though, they were here for one thing and one thing only - a direct invite to TI10. All they needed was a single series win to secure the DPC points needed.
The T1 Way - Take It Late and Take It Home
Seeded against what many analysts had called the favorites in Team Aster, many wrote T1 off. With their TI hopes on the line, T1 came out firing on all cylinders. They proceeded to completely dumpster Aster in back-to-back sub-thirty minute games.
From there, they would move on to defeat NA's Quincy Crew 2-1 in the completely opposite fashion. This series would see T1's playstyle perfectly encapsulate that of a classic SEA Pub - "it's never over until it's over". With this mantra at their core, they'd dance around the map, dragging their opponents around and the game duration along with them.
The once volatile Karl was now the team's anchor - entrusted with sturdy front-liners like Dragon Knight and his signature Doom, acting as a central figure for the team. Despite their best effort, Quincy Crew couldn't hold a candle to the bright flame of T1.
While they would fall ultimately in third place to EG and PSG.LGD, T1 had no doubt made a statement. Of course, T1 weren't done just yet.
ESL One Summer - An Emphatic Major Win
Up next was ESL One Summer, a second shot for T1 to test their mettle on the international stage. In a similar fashion to their winning games at the AniMajor, T1 would employ the same strategy to outlast their opponents. They would beat Vikin.gg and Quincy 2-0, before getting knocked down to the Lower Bracket by a VP on fire.
Demonstrating the adaptability that every winning team needs, they would claw their way back with a strong 2-0 over Alliance. Their win secured them a fated rematch against VP in the Grand Finals.
In the ensuing explosive best-of-five, both teams were pushed to the limit. With a blend of guts and innovation, T1 ultimately took the win on the back of insane teamplay and patience.
Road to TI10 - SEA's T1 Hit By The Meta
Over the short span of half a year, T1 had built themselves a solid formula for success. Under March's tutelage and Kuku's leadership, the team had a polished direction of how to play the game. Of course, all this changed when the Patch 7.30 arrived.
While the patch was touted by many to not be as major as they expected, the changes proved just enough to tip T1 out of their flow. Gone was their impenetrable late-game, and their host of staple picks. Kuku and co would go on to play in ESL One Fall and the OGA Dota PIT Invitational as well, where they placed fourth for both.
Despite this relatively positive result, it was clear they didn't pack quite the same firepower. With that said, they are still undoubtedly SEA's greatest hope. They've already proven their smarts to adapt on the fly, and shown synergy out the wazoo. All that remains is to see if they can cement their own place in the current meta.
Fnatic at TI10 - SEA's Veterans Flanked By Untested New Faces
For SEA Dota 2 fans, there's no household name quite like Fnatic. Since the organization's pivot to a SEA roster in 2015, Fnatic has retained their position as one of the top teams in the region (*cough* we don't talk about 2018 *cough*). Still, the organization's road to TI10 is perhaps their most tumultuous and abrupt one yet.
While Fnatic has undergone more roster changes than anyone can really remember, the bastion of Djardel "DJ" Mampusti has remained. The reliable support has been part of the team since 2016, and was instrumental in their fourth place finish at TI6. With that said, even with their regional prominence, Fnatic has been unable to replicate their international success, with their highest placing at TI since then an abysmal 13th.
Fnatic, as mentioned, still have a lot of untapped potential as they work to each others limits as a team
The Fnatic Parable - Regional Success into Faltering International
If you turned the time back just a couple months ago, you would be hard pressed to find anyone predicting Fnatic's TI10 qualification.
After the departure of Daryl "iceiceice" Koh, the team would sign Natthaphon "Masaros" Ouanphakdee, the rising offlaner from Motivate.Trust. With him by their side, they would go on to sweep the Upper Division of SEA, finishing first with a 6-1 score, with thanks to Marc Polo Luis "Raven" Fausto's undefeated Carry Io.
Despite not having to contend with any health related or time-zone issues, Fnatic had a lackluster performance at the Singapore Major. It was really just their bad luck - seeded against EG in their first bout. With iceiceice on the opposing side, EG had all the insight on Fnatic they needed, and swept them 2-0.
From there, Fnatic would go on to lose to a surging OB Neon 2-1, and, just like that, were eliminated from the Singapore Major.
The CEO Problem
Following their poor showing, Masaros would return to Motivate.Trust, with Ng "ChYuan" Kee Chyuan replacing him. This was quite an odd change, considering ChYuan's main role was mid. Nevertheless, the team was determined to give it a go.
It was also around this time that many fingers were pointed at Kam "Moon" Boon Seng. The Malaysian mid was an easy scapegoat for the team's mediocre results. After all, it couldn't possibly be the fault of any of the other veterans. Eventually, Moon would gain a notorious nickname - "CEO", coined for how despite his subpar play, he was still on the team. Fans were sure that he must have had a part in the higher management, which was the only reason he hadn't been kicked yet.
All memes aside, the team simply didn't seem to gel like it did in Season 1. As we've seen time and time again, simply assembling good players doesn't automatically build synergy. This was more than apparent with this iteration of Fnatic.
They would fail to qualify for the AniMajor, which meant changes to the roster yet again. This time it would be the CEO that would take his leave, with ChYuan moving to mid. The man in the offlane would be none other than Yang "Deth" Wu Heng, who stood-in for the OB Neon roster that had knocked Fnatic out of Singapore.
The Ultimate Test - A Bloody SEA TI10 Qualifier
With only 446 DPC points to their name (penalties from roster changes), Fnatic were left with one last shot at TI10 - the SEA Qualifiers. It was an apt challenge for the revamped roster. With T1 being the only SEA team with a direct TI10 invite, the qualifiers were set to be stacked to the brim.
With the odds against them, Fnatic would rise above their competition. The new faces of Deth and ChYuan brought their unexplored hero pools along with them. Coupled with Raven's ability to play just about any "carry", this allowed Fnatic immense flexibility in their draft. Each game would see them whip out something new, from Venomancer for Deth, to even an Arc Warden Pos 1.
As the dust settled on the SEA qualifiers, it would be TNC, who Fnatic had already beaten, standing in their way of a ticket to TI10.
After a spook of an 0-2 start for Fnatic, they would turn the tides and reverse sweep TNC 3-2 to emerge victorious.
Are Fnatic TI-ready?
Shortly after, the team would take part in the BTS Pro Series Season 7, where they would only narrowly be beaten by Galaxy Racer. This was no doubt a strong showing, but the question still remained: how would this untested lineup fare in the international arena?
For better or worse, that question still has yet to be answered. Though they were invited to the OGA Dota PIT Invitational as well, they would only defeat Thunder Predator. They would go on to lose to Tundra, the ESL One Fall champions, and Team Spirit, the eventual runners up of the event. Their performance there left little to be discovered as well - they didn't look much improved or evolved from their caliber at the qualifiers.
All-in-all, Fnatic is very much a blind spot for fans as much as they are for their competitors. Much like many of the other qualifier teams, Fnatic has only played a handful of matches outside their region. Slap onto that the new patch that everyone is still trying to figure out and we've got ourselves quite the wild card.
With that said, it's no coincidence that Fnatic has made every TI since 2013. Behind them is an incredible roster of support staff - from experienced manager Eric "ReiNNNN" Khor, to coach Lee "SubBhie" Jeong-jae and even their performance coach Paolo Gonzales Bago.
The core trio of DJ, Raven and Anucha "Jabz" Jirawong are no strangers to the international stage too. With them at the helm, Deth and ChYuan should have all the room to play without fear.
High Hopes for SEA At TI10
While no one is exactly expecting an Aegis for SEA, a high placement may not be out of the question. Even with only two slots, there's no doubt that Fnatic and T1 will bring a unique brand of SEA Dota to TI10, and may catch unsuspecting teams by surprise.
The two squads will represent SEA at The International 10, which will take place from 7th to 17th October.