Rise of the Phoenix: Part Two
image source: deviantart/Sheron1030
The Koreans went into Shanghai Major as underdogs. After all, they had just brought in DuBu who had never played an international LAN before, and MP and Forev whose greatest achievement was a last place finish at TI. Phoenix weren’t even the best team in the region; they made it to the regional qualifier playoffs by winning a best of one tiebreaker against Mineski-X and then got utterly destroyed by Fnatic in the upper bracket.
MVP were seen as a subpar team who played a gimmicky early game fighting style. The games they won were usually over by the thirty minute mark. After the qualifiers, Phoenix played in the WePlay qualifiers and BTS series with that same style, going 15-3 when games ended before the 35 minute mark. Even though these matches were against tier two SEA teams, it was evident this strategy was definitely more than a gimmick, although the common consensus was still that this won’t work against top tier Western and Chinese teams. Boy, did Phoenix proved them wrong.
The QO-led squad went 6-0 in the group stage, sweeping EHOME, Team Secret and LGD with an average game time of 24 minutes. MVP had figured out the meta. Early game aggression wasn’t a gimmick anymore, rather, it was the most efficient way to play the game in 6.86. The Western and Chinese teams that had stubbornly refused to play this style during the group stage were now scrambling to learn it going into the playoffs. There was an obvious meta shift. The average game time of the group stage was 30 minutes while that of the playoffs 27 minutes; a drop of three minutes in average game between two stages of the same tournament is huge.
Then the playoffs started, MVP beat LGD with their trademark aggression and secured a meeting with Team Liquid. The first game's draft took everyone by surprise.
Dakota “KotLGuy” Cox put it perfectly, “the Scrooge McDuck of DotA 2 drafts”. MVP picked four heroes that they hadn’t played in that tournament and Juggernaut, a QO staple, was played by Febby instead. It was straight up one of the greediest drafts ever and it failed miserably. The game was over by 17 minutes with a kill score of 17-5. In the second game, they picked another late game draft with Phantom Lancer, Outworld Devourer and Faceless Void, for some inexplicable reason choosing these late game heroes while other teams were playing their signature fast paced game.
After losing to Liquid in the upper bracket semi finals, they dropped to the lower bracket and played Fnatic. They handily beat them with the early game aggression that made them successful in the first place. Next up was Evil Geniuses, and the NA team controlled the pace from the start, made no early game mistakes and got farm on their cores. Phoenix just couldn’t find any openings. In a sense, this was the counter to the MVP’s entire game plan; a perfect game of DotA. The second game was different though, EG didn’t play a perfect game of Dota, rather, Universe put on a show. He created so much space with the mid Broodmother that Phoenix had no chance from the get go. That was it for it MVP's cinderella story.
The Koreans had managed to exceed expectations like they did at the International, but this one was different. Phoenix dominated the group stage, won three BO3s against top tier opposition, dragged a perfect game from EG and transformed the meta. Moreover, no one had to retire this time. This was just the beginning for this new roster and their best was yet to come. They would go on to win Dotapit and WePlay, get their revenge on EG and beat OG, Vega and CoL in the process.
A question still remains in some people’s minds; How did MVP.Phoenix pull this off? How did they become this good? It definitely wasn’t individual skill. They do have QO, who has been one of the breakout stars of the year, but they are no Secret, EG or Liquid when it comes to talent. It isn’t DuBu’s drafting prowess either. Even though he is doing a fine job, especially if one considers his inexperience at this stage, but he is no ppd or Puppey. It isn’t some practice haven with a rigorous practice schedule. Afterall, they live in Korea and didn’t even scrim with Chinese teams before Shanghai. So what is it then?
It’s all about the system for MVP. The players are like cogs in a machine. Their strategy is geared towards getting the maximum output from this five man unit. Even though the game plan is mostly about early game aggression and lane pressure, that is the simplest way to think about it. Phoenix knows when to actively look for kills and when to farm on their cores, they know how to make adjustments, they know how to play a perfect game of Dota.
There were some doubts around the time the major ended about this team; whether they are a one trick pony or the real deal. The answer to that is clear now but one could have deduced it just after Shanghai as well. MVP wins when their strategy works. There isn’t some inexplicable reason for their victories, rather, it is a well thought out strategy executed to perfection. Phoenix gets early pickoffs, control the tempo of the game, get key items on cores, take objectives step by step and slowly chokes the life out of the enemy. And when they lose, it's very easy to point why they lost; say they committed a mistake during an early team fight, the other team played safe while MVP wasted their resources looking for pickoffs or they didn’t take adequate advantage of their early leads. All these are their win and loss conditions, this proves they aren’t a fluke team, rather a very serious contender.
Let’s look at Manilla now, the field is undoubtedly extremely competitive but to say anyone can beat anyone would be a stretch. There is clearly an upper echelon of teams - Liquid, Newbie, OG, and dare I say, MVP. They’ve won two tournaments since Shanghai against top tier opposition and leaving them off of this top tier would be wrong.
So will they decimate the entire field? Unlikely. But the very fact that a DotA team from Korea, a region which doesn’t even have its own game server, can be a legitimate contender for a world championship is astounding.