In line with the theme of “bootcamps”, the series would be one full of experimentation like we’d never seen before.
On the other side of the coin were Tundra. The EU representatives followed their near flawless Group Stage performance with an undefeated Upper Bracket Run to land them in the Finals. Being the only team in the competition not qualified for TI10, it was clear they had something to prove. Of course, Tundra had a resident madman of their own - captain Adrian "Fata" Trinks. Between the veteran's own brand of innovation, coupled with the sharp play of his allies, Tundra looked unstoppable.
These two titans had yet to meet thus far, and the best-of-five ahead would be unlike anything else Dota 2 fans had seen this season. Here's how it all went down:
Game 1 - Tundra's Boundless Aggression Leaves PSG.LGD Blue
Straight out the gate, it was clear Tundra came prepared, banning Io and Clinkz. In the face of xiao8's now signature Spirit Breaker, the EU challengers opted for Monkey King to counter him in lane. Tundra were also able to snag favorites in Jingjun "Sneyking" Wu's Shadow Demon and Fata's Pangolier. In line with their newly-minted playstyle, LGD last-picked a Templar Assassin for their carry, putting all their eggs in the Wang "Ame" Chunyu basket. The plan was one they'd executed time and time again throughout ESL One Fall - make space for Ame. Unfortunately, LGD would not make it very far in that bid.
The lane match-ups were very obviously in Tundra's favor, and they pushed that advantage to the limit. Between slick mechanical outplays from Leon "Nine" Kirilin, and the non-stop bullying from Tundra's sidelanes, LGD had no room to breathe. Backed by the Dark Seer of Neta "33" Shapira, Tundra rolled through the early game - decimating the LGD ranks.
With Zhang "Faith_bian" Ruida's Tiny and xiao8 completely starved, LGD had no moves to make. Even though Ame managed to keep up in farm, Tundra would be making a move somewhere on the map at every point in the game. By 25 minutes, Tundra had gathered a 15K gold lead and Aegis for themselves to boot.
Seeing their window slowly slip away, LGD rallied for a hail mary smoke to catch Tundra by surprise. Alas, Tundra were just too far ahead at that point.
While LGD would hang on for a while longer, the ending was already written. Tundra would force LGD to tap out, with Oliver "Skiter" Lepko ending the game 11/0/12 on his Lifestealer. With one of their more succesful experiments ripped apart, it would be back to the drawing board for LGD.
Game 2 - LGD Bite Back with a Vengeance
Game 2 saw the same bans from Tundra, once again grabbing Pangolier. In response, LGD would draft a range of BKB-piercing disables, with a Bloodseeker last pick for Ame as salt in the wound. Notably, LGD had brought out yet another one of their strats - the undefeated Faith_bian Vengeful Spirit Offlane. Tundra would not be shaken though, and stuck to the plan to secure early lane dominance. With Dark Seer, Luna, and Fata on Gyrocopter this time - the Tundra deathball was set to roll.
In a similar fashion to the first bout, Tundra were diving Tier 2s by 15 minutes. The key difference was that, this was exactly what PSG.LGD wanted. Amidst the relentless skirmishes, it was Ame's Bloodseeker that lapped up all the stragglers. Still, Tundra had control of the map, and net themself an early Roshan at 16 minutes. Crucially, Faith_bian would get his Aghanim's just a minute later - and that's where things turned sour.
Although Tundra still had the superior five-man comp, the low-risk initiation options on PSG.LGD forced mistake after mistake. Despite some clutch RPs and Horn Tosses from Nine's Magnus, the side of LGD would not relent. With Fiends Grip, Ruptures and Swaps galore, LGD ran Tundra dry.
With even the supports of LGD ascending to the power-level of cores, Tundra were forced to call GG. The series was now tied 1-1.
Game 3 - The Rogue Knight Claims Another (and another...and another...)
After the terror Tundra faced at Faith_bian's hands, they decided to pick Vengeful Spirit for themselves, despite having never played it so far. The draft would devolve back into one we'd seen earlier in the tournament, with Lycan for LGD and Beastmaster for Tundra. Up against such a physical heavy line-up, LGD concocted the perfect last pick - Sven.
The constant lane shove between Leshrac, Keeper of the Light, and Lycan left Tundra with no routes for aggression. While they did manage to pick xiao8 off, LGD had succeeded in their goal - draw attention away from Ame. By the time Tundra came knocking after securing the first Roshan, Ame was ready to fight. In a perfect sushi chef cosplay, LGD's Rogue Knight would chop up Tundra, Aegis and all.
While they had no doubt denied Venge from LGD, Tundra were clearly uncomfortable with the hero. As experts themselves, LGD would punish every swap misuse, putting Skiter and co further and further behind. Of course, Tundra were no lackeys - they knew far well what they had to do. To quote NA's finest "When game goes bad, make it so that no one understands Dota anymore - because if both teams understand Dota, both teams will know you have lost."
In a last ditch effort, Tundra would group up for a smoke move which in all honesty might've gotten them somewhere if the first person they found wasn't Sven. Oh well.
Just as quickly as Tundra's heroes disappeared, the curtains would close on Game 3 in LGD's favor. As if that brutal end wasn't enough, Ame and Zhao "XinQ" Zhixing would end the game without a single death too. LGD had reached match point - and were one game away from glory.
Game 4 - The Tale of TA, 4½ Disarms and 2 Ravages
In a classic "if it ain't broke don't fix it" move, LGD would take First Pick in order to secure their oppressive XinQ KOTL. They would additionally deny Pango from Tundra as well. This would be Tundra's test to adapt - one that every strong team must overcome. Fata would switch gears, going back for the picks that had served them well in the past season. With 33's Tidehunter, Sneyking's Mirana and a beautiful last-pick TA for Nine, the game was afoot. After all - "TA Tide gives you everything, teamfight, Rosh, towers and push". They would face down an Ame Lifestealer - who would be borderline impossible to take down early to mid game. The game was afoot.
As the lanes kicked off, LGD had a clear target - Skiter on his Bloodseeker. The high-tempo carry would be routinely snuffed, falling scarily behind. In spite of Tundra's atrocious start, a smart Ravage from 33 would force Ame into a weird position, leading to him being picked off.
The two squads would continue to trade kills back and forth, allowing Skiter to catch back up. The non-stop skirmishing yet again would favor Tundra, due to LGD's cores having no innate farming ability. Slowly but surely, Nine's TA pulled further ahead. As veterans themselves, LGD knew what TA had her eyes on - Roshan. After a haphazardly thrown Ravage that would only catch supports, LGD made a beeline for the pit, knowing Tundra could not contest. Or so they thought.
In what seemed like an overreaction, or perhaps fear of Nine's TA - the side of LGD began mass building Heavens Halberds. Ame would even opt for Lifestealer's Aghanim's Scepter - that applies a BKB piercing disarm on offensively infested targets (yup). LGD would get their hands on a total of four Halberds, all except for Faith_bian who was too poor.
Tundra.33 Refresher Ravage Highlight Reel
Although Nine would spend many of the subsequent fights disarmed, and LGD would have moments of brilliance even forcing TA's buyback at one point - it would be 33 who proved why Tidehunter was a Tundra specialty. Even against Rage, BKBs and Magic Immunity, he would land Ravage after Ravage, sending the LGD heroes flying and paving the path for his team. This only got worse for LGD as soon as he got his Refresher Orb.
Naturally, it would be yet another Ravage that would be the final slam dunk to win the game for Tundra, and force a final bout.
The Final Game - The Director's Master Plan vs The Madman's Mischief
If you've worked on a set or in any type of production, you'll know how important having a back-up plan is. For Director 8, he had something special in store for Game 5. After 4 matches of losing lane, and being heavily focused, he had taken enough abuse. In a complete plot twist, it was XinQ that would pilot Storm Mid for the final game - a final gamble from PSG.LGD. Coupled with a slippery last-pick Slark, and xiao8 on Pos 4 Pango, it looked like LGD had pulled one over Tundra.
Not to be outdone, Fata would pilot a Monkey King Hard Support. Paired with Jugg in the safelane, the duo completely dumpstered the Faith_bian Viper. He would proceed to terrorize PSG.LGD across the map, making the unthinkable happen with his humble set of abilities. Despite this early lead, and Faith_bian far behind - this was not something PSG.LGD were unfamiliar with. After all, this was all simply space for Ame's Slark.
While the other four matches were unstoppable bloodbaths of different varieties, this final match felt different. You could almost see the tension and hesitation, as all ten players knew that this would be their last shot for success.
After an extended dance around the Roshan Pit, any many many buybacks, it would be 33's dieback that allowed LGD to take the first Aegis.
The Superior Tundra Vision Game
Just like in Game 4, Director 8 had drafted a beautiful Slark game for Ame. Without much extended control from Tundra, Slark was nigh untouchable. Though XinQ was no stranger to playing and dominating mid (surprise surprise), several key overextensions allowed Tundra to pull just slightly ahead. This small lead turned into a vision advantage, thanks to Fata's Monkey and 33's Night Stalker. It was this superior vision that allowed Tundra to finally take a good fight at the 44 minute mark.
Even against Aegis, LGD were the final bosses for a reason. Buybacks into a perfect set from XinQ's Agh's Electric Vortex would clear the path for Ame to cut down Nine's monstrous Lina. The two teams would continue to exchange heavy blows, trading Gems and map positions.
As the third Roshan respawned, it was a crucial ward from Fata that would allow Tundra to surge forward. In the hasty retreat, Fata's Monkey King would line-up 3 pick-offs for his team, slamming the door shut on LGD's hopes. With no buybacks - xiao8 knew LGD was finished.
And just like that, LGD bowed out of the Grand Finals, ending the series 3-2 in favor of Tundra.
Tundra's Trials and Tribulations Pay Off
On paper, Tundra Esports walk away with $175,000USD and the title of ESL One Fall Champions. While that is nothing to be sneezed at, there is something perhaps far more important that was proven.
The thing about the Dota 2 ecosystem is that it revolves almost solely around TI10. We already saw the impact the pandemic had on many orgs and players. The lack and subsequent delay of the all-important yearly affair hit many in the scene hard.
This win for Tundra is more than any other tournament win. Coming in to ESL One Fall, they were the only team that weren't TI10 qualified. Despite this, the Tundra Esports organization continued to support the roster. While many in their position would have disbanded, or looked to greener pastures for next season - this squad stuck together. And through that, they have proven not only to themselves, but everyone in the Dota 2 scene that it doesn't have to be all about TI. With this win, they have more than solidified their standing as one of the top tier teams of the world - TI or not.
As fans of Dota 2, we can only hope that this is the beginning of something greater, perhaps a move from both organizations and players alike - towards a future where the Dota 2 scene will not revolve solely around The International.
While TI10 will undoubtedly be a spectacle, and nothing else will really compare, Tundra's win has started a debate on what it means to be at TI. The changes and shifts may not come immediately, but the future looks bright, both for Tundra and for Dota 2.