Virtus.Pro and Team Spirit are the two teams representing the CIS region at TI10. While extremely talented, both teams lack experience, something that might hold them back at the $40 million event.
Virtus.pro and Team Spirit are the two TI10 CIS region teams at The International 10. One qualified directly through points alone, having topped their division in each DPC season. While the other beat the odds in the regional qualifier, refusing to yield against 13 other teams. But both CIS teams will have their work cut out for them as they head to Bucharest for TI10.
As part of our TI10 preview for the CIS/Eastern European Region, we talked to Austin "Capitalist" Walsh. As a commentator and analyst for the region during both the ESL One CIS Online Season 1: Upper Division and ESL One DPC Eastern Europe Season 2: Upper Division, he's seen a great deal of these two teams. So just how do the TI10 CIS teams measure up to the competition at this TI? Can Virtus.pro, who has struggled on LAN, get it together? Has Team Spirit, who has improved so much in such a short time, done enough work to compete at an international level?
We try to answer those questions and more below with thoughts from Esports.gg's Austin "Cap" Walsh.
Team Spirit: Is It Enough?
In recent memory, there's no other team that's improved so much in so little time as Team Spirit. In late 2020, the lineup of Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov, Magomed "Collapse" Khalilov, Alexander "TORONTOTOKYO" Khertek, Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk made headlines as they 2-0'd Team Nigma under the mantle Yellow Submarine.
It was no surprise to those who followed their progress for the rest of the year when Team Spirit picked up the squad in December 2020. Adding Miroslaw "Miroslaw" Kolpakov and replacing former captain Vitaly "so bad" Oshmankevich, the team came a respectable, perhaps even surprising fourth-place in the first DPC season of the year.
Miroslaw added a bit more aggression to the team's laning phase, ensuring the cores have a strong start. Miro and Collapse formed a formidable laning presence and complemented each other's playstyle well.
But over the next few months, the team would surge. The next DPC season saw them only lose three games and one series the entire time. That was to Virtus.pro, who were the run-away winners of the two DPC seasons.
There seemed to be a massive gap between VP and the rest of the pack. But even still, Team Spirit continued to improve, most recently taking second place at the OGA Dota PIT Invitational.
When we asked Cap whether Team Spirit closed the gap in the meantime, he wasn't sure: "At their ceiling, I think it's pretty clear that VP is still the better team. However, Team Spirit seems to have better performances of late, particularly at LANs."
However, Cap had hope for both CIS teams heading into TI10. "I think experience is the only thing holding back either of these teams, and this will be the first TI for all of them. It's a unique tournament that I don't believe can be directly compared to the Majors," said Cap.
For Team Spirit to thrive, they need to rely on the same thing that brought them to prominence: Others underestimating them. When watching them shock Team Nigma or take games of the likes of OG and others in online tournaments, it was raw surprise that had led to victory. If Spirit can replicate that on some level and do something unique for TI10, then they could progress far deeper than expected.
Virtus.Pro: Inexperience or Innovation?
The praise heaped on Virtus.pro has become almost cliché. This line-up has consistently proved they're the best in the region for almost two years straight. Some of the players on the stack went from beating their sister team in their time as VP.Prodigy, to becoming the main roster and sweeping the DPC without a single series loss. Virtus.pro is clearly the very best their region has to offer.
But there's one thing that blights VP, and that's inconsistency. The team goes from clean sweeping an opponent in a bracket to losing in the same tournament. We saw this at both recent ESL One events. At ESL One Fall, the team stomped PSG.LGD in a surprise upper bracket victory.
However, later the team could barely put points on the board in the lower bracket. ESL One Summer had a similar story as VP faced T1 in the Upper Bracket Final and Grand Final. Again, cleanly winning the former, only to drop the ball in the best-of-five.
We asked Cap what he thought the reason for this inconsistency was. He made a clear guess: Inexperience.
"Virtus Pro are my favorites to win TI. Just not this one," said Cap. "If I could bet on any team to claim the aegis for future TIs, I would probably bet on VP just because it's plain to see how talented they are and how many fresh ideas they have about Dota. They seem fearless, innovative, and unstoppable in their element."
But Cap also pointed out one of VP's most significant flaws of late: Their tragic record on LAN. Despite headed to both the AniMajor and ONE Esports Singapore Major, they struggled in the offline tournaments. They just weren't the fearless team we expected. "We haven't seen that VP on stage yet. Instead, they seem afraid to lose. Instead of a polar bear, we get a teddy bear."
"One of the biggest things that VP have been criticized for is how formulaic they’ve been in terms of strategy. We saw them in action with their new coach at ESL One Fall - is that enough to give them an edge?"
The Youngest Teams at TI10
If there's one thing that both teams share, it's their youth. The two CIS teams are the youngest at TI10 this year and show that new blood can still enter the highest levels of Dota 2 competition.
But is this youth a benefit or detriment? We've already talked about how VP's kryptonite is their inexperience. But could the relative age of these players lead to some great things? Well perhaps. If not for this TI, then for the next, and the TIs down the road.
Cap echoed this sentiment: "This has been the first year in a long time that I've had some real hope for the depth of the CIS region. "
"Even when the old VP was dominant, the region didn't feel like it had multiple threats for a championship," said Cap. "It was just cycling the same names and faces around in a different order. Now, with the rise of Team Spirit, Puck Champ, and Team Empire, it feels like there's lots of fresh talent revitalizing the scene and giving a bright future to this region."
It felt like the best the CIS could muster for years was a team with at least one member of 2011 Na'Vi or the same dozen names from VP rosters. Now, for TI10, it feels like a CIS team could make a deep run, as the region as a whole edges closer to the podium.