Team Aster runs into the SEA wall once again. TNC Predator knocks Team Aster out of the WePlay Animajor.
Yet again the stakes of the game were astronomical, but for Team Aster, the odds were lopsided. Though elimination was on the cards for both, Team Aster were almost guaranteed to qualify for TI, erstwhile TNC were in a position where failure in this series would result in them having to play qualifiers with no route to qualifying directly for TI.
On paper, Team Aster were heavily favored against TNC. However in terms of form, Team Aster looked shaky at best in their first outing against T1, so their record against SEA teams would speak against them in this series.
It would all come down to this single series.
The moment of truth
Game 1 got underway with an early advantage for TNC gained. Drafting Templar Assassin for Armel and Bristleback for Gabbi, TNC were off to a dominant laning phase which allowed them to control the early game entirely. Despite the Monet Troll Warlord being beefed up by the White Album Magnus, Team Aster struggled to find the farm needed to make the Troll Warlord competitive.
Team Aster, recognizing the dire situation they found themselves in, attempted to regain control by sneaking the 2nd Roshan of the game. TNC, loathe to give up the advantage in the game, managed to catch wind of this attempt and went to stop it in it's tracks.
Team Aster would be able to kill Lion and Night Stalker early on, seeming to open up the potential opportunity to also kill Gabbi and claim the Aegis. TNC though, are famed in the scene for their lack of fear in using buybacks. Utilizing it on both heroes, they were able to return to the fight in time to force Team Aster away from the pit, killing Magnus and Troll Warlord in the process.
Control the map, control the game.
TNC would use this Aegis to accrue more farm on the map and remove all vision on the map from Team Aster. Slowly but surely, TNC would corral Team Aster within their base and not allow them to gain any additional gold.
Though the Aegis would expire, TNC would still be so strong on the map that Team Aster had no fighting options anyway.
With complete map control, vision control, a farm advantage, level advantage and heroes that are stronger at this stage of the game, it seemed that TNC was simply waiting for the 3rd Roshan in order to get another Aegis, and use that to end the game.
There's no way back...is there?
TNC with an advantage this large felt they did not necessarily need to wait for the Roshan. Despite the fact that they had a Psionic trap from Templar Assassin laying within the Pit giving vision of Roshan, they still decided to forgo this objective and move onto the high ground directly.
It didn't seem to be important however, as the fight taken on the highground was extremely successful for TNC, finding a quick pick on the Troll Warlord, giving a seemingly insurmountable advantage to TNC as Aster had now lost their main method of dealing damage.
Though they did manage to get a kill on the Bok Night Stalker close to the fountain, at this point they would never have enough damage to kill Gabbi or Armel.
Fortunately for Aster, they would not need to do that damage themselves.
Zhang "LaNm" Zhicheng. Legendary player and captain led his team to a strong fight here.
With Bristleback showing his back, Berserker's call on cooldown and no further lockdown available; TNC had virtually no worries about escaping the base in one piece.
But the LaNm Winter Wyvern had his ultimate come back off cooldown at the crucial moment, able to land the Winter's Curse onto the Bristleback, borrowing damage from the Armel TA to kill Gabbi. Suddenly Armel was isolated from his team, and was easily brought down.
With TNC having lost 4 heroes, you could almost hear the lightbulb clicking above Team Aster, as they realized that the Roshan being alive meant that they could still funnel the Aegis to Monet.
Next thing you know, not only had Team Aster defended their base but also brought themselves back into a positive position by taking back the networth lead.
Is this real?
TNC seemed to have lost themselves completely in the aftermath of that awful fight in the base. Yet again, Team Aster seemed to be aware of this and made efforts to solidify this game. Smoking up on their side of the map, Team Aster made their first aggressive move in more than 10 minutes. Given the advantage they had been able to claw back from almost certain defeat, Team Aster were in a hurry to secure this comeback.
Catching Armel farming apart from his team, Aster not only killed him, but managed to bound to the other side of the map and kill Gabbi as well.
At this point, Team Aster had managed the impossible comeback and TNC knew it. The GG call came shortly thereafter, and within all our minds was the idea that Team Aster may have had their form revived.
Game 2: Do or Die
Going into game 2, Team Aster would seem to fear the potential of TNC, and draft a lineup meant to dominate the lanes and end the game as early as possible. Having the Xxs Broodmother and WhiteAlbum Razor for the early game, and the Monet Morphlinh for later, Aster were all business coming into the draft of game 2.
TNC, with a carry TA and midlane Batrider, drafted something a bit more unorthodox, especially when taking into account the aggression from Aster.
Clearly this attitude also reflected in the game, as they proceeded to crush all the lane matchups they played into, which also led to strong early game pressure and diving behind towers.
At this stage of the game and with this advantage, it seems inevitable that Team Aster would win this game.
Pain and Suffering
Losing a bevy of early fights, TNC found themselves very far behind. Team Aster decided that an Aegis would be a great pickup for Morphling to allow them to play even more aggressively. TNC realized that if they let this Roshan go uncontested, it would be unlikely that they would be able to recover this game.
Bravely heading towards the pit, TNC were racking their brains about what to do to prevent the first Aegis of the game going towards TNC.
Winter Wyvern. For the second time in the series the hero creates an opportunity from nothing. The repositioning from the Winter's Curse not only enabled them to get a quick kill on Dark Willow, but also dragged the Team Aster cores off position to allow Bok to somehow steal the Aegis with his Centaur.
Unfortunately it would not matter at all, as Team Aster were still able to clean up the fight, killing both Bok and Gabbi.
However, what they did not do was claim the Aegis, which would buy TNC some much needed time.
TNC Aggression: Classic SEA
Since they had no Aegis to claim, Team Aster decided to rather go back to farming their side of the map. An arrangement that worked perfectly for TNC, as it gave them much needed time to catch up on their own farm.
Team Aster would not be able to fully control the map in the same way TNC did in Game 1, which granted some space even more space to TNC.
TNC, never a team to waste any sliver of space given, got the few tools they needed to take a fight and immediately went searching for one. Yet again, the fight would come around the Roshan pit where TNC were intent on preventing yet another Roshan.
Off all the heroes who they would want to catch, somehow it was Morphling as the straggler from the team. TNC were fast enough off the mark to instantly jump him, dragging him along with the Armel Batrider into the rest of TNC, where they killed him at a speed that definitely surprised the Morphling.
With this death. TNC forced Team Aster back into a farming state yet again.
Delay, Delay, Delay
And that state seemed to never end.
Just as Team Aster would feel comfortable enough to try take a fight for a pick advantage, TNC would kill 1 hero then flee, stalling the fight. Whenever Xxs would attempt a side lane push, Batrider would catch him and they would squish the bug.
Gabbi, having purchased BKB and Aghanim's Scepter, split the map very effectively and forcing Team Aster to continually chase him around. Buying yet more time. However this was not idle time, as during this, Gabbi was continuing to get bigger and bigger on his TA.
TNC, though in a losing position all game, still managed to extend the tie to 50+ minutes.
Our time has come!
This series will be remembered as a contest made or broken by Roshan.
TNC, now finally ready to take a fight on even ground made sure to make a stand around the pit as Team Aster were yet again attempting to get Aegis.
Despite Team Aster killing Bok as he tried to steal the Aegis for a 2nd time, this time around Aster had to deal with Armel. The superstar midlaner not only snatched the Aegis, but also managed to again catch the Morphling in the process, bringing him to Gabbi to bring down.
At the exact same time, TNC were able to catch the Xxs Broodmother behind the pit, taking out the 2 most dangerous heroes from Team Aster. To make matter worse, both Monet and Xxs bought back almost immediately, but by the time they could reenter the fight, TNC had escaped completely and thus it was simply wasted gold.
Not to mention that now Gabbi was able to 2 shot the Dark Willow, demonstrating that the TA was truly online.
Suddenly, TNC were ahead on Gold for the first time in the entire game.
Game of throws continues?
Team Aster, feeling under pressure to recover something from this terrible fight, chased way to deep onto the Radiant side of the map.
Razor felt strong enough with drained damage to charge forward to try and kill Tims on his Snapfire and force a fight. Unfortunately, TNC at this stage of the game had become too powerful to easily kill, and it took incredible effort from Team Aster to even take down the Snapfire.
Though able to kill him and start a fight with a numerical advantage, even preventing Armel from coming early into the fight, they simply only had enough resources to secure a single kill.
TNC caught Team Aster dead in the water once their BKBs wore off, being very far forward. Suddenly taken down piecemeal leading to massive, and final teamfight victory.
With GG called shortly after this, TNC would find redemption for Game 1 and overcome having lost an almost certain victory earlier.
Who's going home?
For the final game, Team Aster would decide to rely on simplicity for the final draft of this game. Picking up the Monet Faceless Void in tandem with the Boboka Skywrath Mage and WhiteAlbum Puck, Aster wanted to be able to burst down targets and quickly move on to taking objectives with their Dragon Knight.
TNC though, maintained belief in a Ursa Magnus draft for their potential final game; spearheaded by the Armel Tiny from the midlane. Despite the hero having found very little success at the AniMajor thus far.
The story begins
Given the stakes of this game 3, we can definitely forgive the teams for playing very slowly in the 3rd and deciding game.
For the most part, all the core players spent the early game farming up necessary items for the midgame and resisting moving around all that much. With this kind of pace, it was not surprising that 15 minutes into the game, neither team had even 10 kills.
The Fever Breaks
TNC, unwilling to let the tension build forever, decided to make the first aggressive move on the map. Eager to reveal the Blink Dagger of Armel onto the map, they smoked as a full team and went searching for a target.
It could not be more perfect for TNC, as the target they found was Monet farming in the jungle. They killed him to grab the first big kill of the game, made sweeter by the fact that his team was in no position to try help him.
Faceless Void, being a hero that can sometimes run the risk of running out of damage if he lacks farm, found himself desperate to try claw back that farm to be a viable threat. Key to this would be his team protecting him in the event that TNC tried to hunt him down again.
TNC would demonstrate the need for that protection by smoking up as a team to try find Monet again in the jungle, and attempt to secure another fight.
This time around though, Team Aster were ready and prepared to not only defend their jungle but turn the fight around. Kiting around the TNC team beautifully, Aster managed to pull them apart and secure a few kills thanks to their Puck affecting the movement of the entire team.
Slow and steady wins the race
With this series full of Deja Vu moments, TNC decided to slow the game down. Though giving up some kills towards Team Aster, they swallowed these losses in exchange for getting more farm for Gabbi and Armel, confident that they would be able to outplay Team Aster when the time came.
A fight would come in a very different way than expected. Team Aster, seeming to lose their heads similar to how TNC lost theirs in game 1, cast their spells in very odd fashion. Puck used an early dreamcoil to try hold back Team Aster, whilst Faceless Void dropped a Chronosphere onto the Gabbi Ursa, who had already used BKB thus mitigating much of the damage.
Team Aster continued to commit extra spells onto the Ursa with the hope of being able to bring him down before his team could respond. TNC, however, were almost waiting for this chance. Bok, quiet so far in this game, was able to show his strength with the hero by coming in with a Blink Dagger to enable his team to easily take 3 heroes.
This fight would turn out to be instructive, as we would see the BKBs from TNC preventing extra damage into the Chronosphere throughout the game. Not only did this make them more survivable, but also ensured that Faceless Void was the only source of damage into the Chronosphere.
Yet again, off of a single fight, TNC were able to claim a genuine gold advantage for the first time this game.
WE NEVER GIVE UP!
Team Aster would seem more and more lost about how to stop TNC as the game wore on. And now recognizing their strength, TNC were able to threaten a fight on the highhround, forcing a situation before Aster were ready to properly respond.
TNC would take the lessons learnt throughout the game to put themselves in situations where either BKBs were active, or they had their supports positioned to heal whoever got jumped by Faceless Void.
As a result, the final fight looked very easy for them as Team Aster simply had no real damage to bring to bear.
With GG called , Team Aster would be the 5th team to exit the Major, keeping the hopes for TI alive for TNC!
TNC, known in SEA for their never give up and never die attitude, demonstrated that here by coming back in difficult situations to win out this series!
When observing the games from Team Aster, it seemed to be the case that they had failed to adapt to the contemporary meta forged in the tournament, despite generally being a trendsetter squad during the DPC Season.
Questions abounded about whether or not the team was simply holding out strategies for TI, or if there are other reasons affecting performance.
"Everyone is behaving worse than before, it feels like we need more time to adjust to better form."
Unfortunately it seemed that the reasons were far more organic than that, and indeed Team Aster had been struggling for reasons despite their best efforts.
"We lost those scrims, almost every one"
Team Aster did not manage to maintain the same dominant form that had gotten them an automatic Playoff berth at the WePlay AniMajor.
That additional preparation time did not help them, as both remaining SEA teams beat them back to back to dump them out of the Major.
Now looking in from the outside, Team Aster will be going home to prepare themselves for TI, and hoping that they can rediscover their old selves before the biggest tournaments of their lives.
Aster's road ends, TNC's journey begins
Now that they had dispatched Team Aster, the challenge for TNC does not end, as they still need to win at least one more series to even be in the conversation for TI Qualification. Team Aster has already qualified for The International 10 as it has secured 800 DPC points.
With their Never Say Never attitude, TNC is a team to be watched and NEVER counted out.
Featured Image Credit: TNC Predator Twitter.