Over the course of Virtus.Pro’s championship run through The Summit 7 LAN, they picked 81 different heroes, a deliberate feat that would be impossible otherwise. Their 17 game run towards first place includes a 16 game stretch where no hero was picked twice. It was only their final game where they played four duplicate heroes.
From an interview during the tournament, the strategy to abandon any notion of a meta appeared to be on a whim, after VP realized they had accidentally picked 15 different heroes after 3 games. They picked unique heroes, as much as they could, for the rest of the tournament, until they backed themselves into a corner when what was left of the pool were bottom of the barrel heroes.
They lost game 4 against Team Secret in what was a complete stomp. That was the first time Lion and Brewmaster appeared in any game during the tournament, and Axe, Terrorblade, and Juggernaut to round up that lineup was more proving a point than just good common sense.
It was a strategy that ultimately worked in VP’s favor. Team Secret was banning unpicked heroes rather than following the standard by banning strong heroes. Sometimes teams stray from convention by banning heroes that the opposing team favors, even if they aren’t necessarily strong in the meta, in order to knock them out of their comfort zone. Except in this case, VP was already doing that themselves. They were comfortable being uncomfortable.
This is an extreme case of gamesmanship that we may be seeing more frequently in the events leading up to TI7. In VPs case, since it was certain they would be invited to TI7 after their Kiev Major 2nd place finish, it may have been more about exhibition. When the stakes are greater, there are few teams who are comfortable, and more importantly, skilled enough, to pull off what VP did. Wings.gaming at TI6 set the bar for this.
VP’s tribute to icefrog and Dota’s balance
Saving Strategies For TI-1000
Teams competing in TI7 will now have just a handful more opportunities to practice in a tournament environment. The question is how seriously they’ll use these opportunities to prepare for TI7, while still maintaining any advantage by obscuring their drafting strategies.
There will be differing philosophies here. Considering the surprise upsets in the single elimination format of this years Majors, we can be certain that teams won’t make the same mistake twice. Every team entering TI7 is going to thoroughly vet each other, with analysts and support staff scouring their match history and their pick and ban data.
Some teams are unabashed with showing their cards. They’ll reserve some strategies in pocket, but their profiles are public, and they’ll be using tournaments and scrims as practice more than diversion (in a previous TI, EG.Universe was spotted spamming Batrider in the hotel lobby, prompting opposing teams to ban the hero in the ensuing matches, even though EG never intended to pick it).
But for the most part, teams leading into TI will benefit most from reinforcing good habits than playing mind games with their drafts. TI is a marathon compared to the now shortened Major format. Teams who have succeeded at TI have had in common the ability to endure and adapt.
Being able to sustain success will have less to do with pocket strategies than just sheer experience. Give credit to the Dota professional community for realizing this and supporting each other. Top tier teams in Dota actually communicate, discuss strategies, and scrim with each other to prepare for a tournament they might be opponents in. That’s something that can’t be said for many other sports and esports.
There was a time when TI wasn’t the only tournament that mattered in the Dota circuit. But now since it’s the only one that’s crowd funded, breaking prize money records year after year, it comparatively dwarfs every other tournament. This year’s prize pool is set to break last years record, one month ahead. It’s become truer that for many teams it’s “TI or bust.” With these stakes, we can expect a degree of gamesmanship from teams leading into TI7. In VP’s case, they still won, but if they lost their ruse could have easily been viewed as a disservice to the game and its fans. With qualifiers wrapping up, the days are counting down until TI7. The teams will need every one of them to prepare.