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TI 7 profile: HellRaisers, the clue is in the name

Dota 2 Andreea “divushka” Esanu

A week before The International 2017 open qualifiers, on June 14, four players were dropped from the Prodota Gaming roster. It was a short lived but ugly drama and while the organization was busy clearing its name with Russian only statements, the four rejects were determined to fulfill their dream and qualify for TI 7, a goal they’ve set for themselves when they joined Prodota in the first place. On June 15 they co-opted Uroš 'Swiftending' Galić who was sharing their story to some extent, being released from Elements Pro Gaming on the 1st of June. The five named themselves Planet Dog and signed up for the TI 7 European open qualifiers.

Planet Dog was given almost no chance. They lost the first session of open qualifiers to Loda’s stack, Cool Beans, but they won the second wave of opens. In the regional qualifiers, although they made it to playoffs, ahead of Alliance, Crescendo and Cool Beans, they were still regarded as underdogs. But they marched through the lower bracket rounds, beating favorites Mouseports in the grand finals . With the biggest regional qualifiers upset in the bag, Planet Dog were not given too much space to breathe as more drama was attached to their success. A replaced manager story, an analyst denied spot, a few rumors about some organizations approaches, they are all put behind now as HellRaisers signed Planet Dog on July 20.

HellRaisers roster from position 1 to 5

Serbia Uros 'Swiftending' Galic
Greece Greg 'Keyser' Kallianiotis
Israel Neta '33' Shapira
Bosnia and Herzegovina Milan 'MiLAN' Kozomora
Belarus Alexei 'j4' Lipai
Macedonia Martin 'Saksa' Sazdov (coach)

From the shadows of local internet cafés competitions, many years of online small tourneys with low tier teams, the five HellRaisers guys grinded their way to the most important event step by step, and together, they are one big inspirational story for anyone who contemplates a Dota 2 professional career.

How and when it all started

Except for Swiftending, whose professional career began only in the second half of 2015, the rest of the HellRaisers players have been actually trying to make a name for themselves for a long time now. Arguably the most known from them all is j4 who has been around since 2012 and for three years was the heart and soul of Power Rangers. In the last year, after PR disbanded their Dota 2 team, j4 played for a few other small teams before finding a place to call home again. At the beginning of April this year he was recruited by Prodota Gaming along with Milan, 33 and Keyeser, and just when everyone thought that Ylli 'garter' Ramadani has finally put together a roster that could work, reality came crashing down upon them.

Through his five years of competitive play, j4 has always been the support in any team. He mastered heroes as Vengeful Spirit, Earth Shaker, or Rubick, but since his stint at Prodota, he has focused on position five heroes, having Crystal Maiden and Warlock as his most played ones.

In charge with the aggressive roaming on support heroes with early playmaking potential is Milan, a young Bosnian player who also had his share of tier 2-3 teams. He discovered Dota when he was still a kid, at 11 years old. A friend of his helped him back then to play his first game with Mirana. However, Milan found little to no support from his parents to pursue a professional career before he finished his University studies and was able to show his mom a degree diploma. From 2013 to 2016 he switched between nearly a dozen of teams and made friends all across Europe and the CIS region, at times having to even hide from his parents how much Dota he was playing, as he himself declared in an interview last year with Elements Pro Gaming (EPG).

When he joined EPG, last year in June, Milan met Swiftending, a carry player next to whom he improved his aggressive support play style. So, given the friendship developed during the Moscow gaming house experience with Swiftending, it’s no wonder they ended up qualifying together for this year’s International. Although Swiftending is a rather new face in the competitive scene, his raw talent rapidly skyrocketed his career. It was only this January when he was participating at his first big LAN, Dota Pit Season 5, where Elements got to play as a last minute replacement for Wings Gaming who couldn’t sort out EU visas in time. They finished 7th/8th in Croatia and back then, Swiftending couldn’t even dare to dream at a place in a TI7 line-up. We got the chance to catch up with all the EPG players in Croatia and in his interview with us, Swiftending was just grateful that he finally got to personally meet the OG, Virtus Pro, Evil Geniuses, Team Secret, and IG players.

Who would have thought back then that eight months later he will be given a second chance to show his skills against the best of the best in Seattle? Swiftending is somewhat an atypical carry. Despite his little experience, he has a vast hero pool and a similar play style to Sun 'Agressif' Zheng back at TI 5. Across the 13 games from TI 7 regional qualifiers, Swiftending played a total of nine different heroes, some very anchored in the new meta, some being just circumstantial choices. From Slark, Phantom Lancer, Gyrocopter, Clinkz, Troll Warlord, Terrorblade, Lifestealer and Wraith King, Lycan seems to be actually his and his team favorite. Due to his super aggressive style, HellRaisers like to start the game with an aggro trilane, storm through their opponents safe lane in less than 10 minutes and from there on group for a five or four man push, depending on how the other two lanes managed.

Usually, the midlane is also doing well as both Swiftending and Milan are quick to react if a gank happens on Keyser. Their mid-laner is not a newbie to the competitive scene either. Part of the first iteration of a small Greek squad, named Aggressive Minds back in 2014, then acquired by London Conspiracy, Keyser was left on the outside when the five Greeks became Ad Finem, the team that won everyone’s hearts at Boston Major with their second place finish. Him qualifying now to TI 7 in a decisive match against his ex-teammates brings some revenge for himself but the full story is yet to be written as HellRaisers’ journey for the Aegis is just at the starting line.

To emphasize their fast paced game, HellRaisers’ offlaner 33 is usually given heroes with good team fight control and pushing power. His signature hero is Dark Seer but in the TI 7 qualifiers he also played Tidehunter, Nature’s Prophet, Legion Commander and even Clockwerk, a hero who is barely used in this position anymore. More known as TheCoon, 33 is just like Swiftending, at the beginning of his career. However, his start was much more explosive, being noticed by the scene veterans in the European pubs. He has already played next to Akke at Horde and with SingSing and B0ne7 in the latest iteration of Kaipi. Now he is leading HellRaisers in their very first appearance at one of Valve’s Internationals. It happens to be the biggest International from them all, where the winners will take home over 10 million dollars. Sure, it’s really early to place HellRaisers in any other category than the underdogs, but we should expect only the unexpected from them.

They are joined in Seattle by Martin 'Saksa' Sazdov, who last year did the impossible with Digital Chaos, placing second at The International 2016. This time around his team fell short in the North American qualifiers, but his input from the coaching seat for HellRaisers can make the difference for these five players that are for sure a team to follow this upcoming weekend, in the TI 7 group stage.

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Andreea “divushka” Esanu

I can resist anything but temptations... Follow me @DivDota

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