There are no teams more interesting to watch than Dark Horses. Teams that can seemingly take it all, upsetting the biggest favorites. This TI, the dark horses are especially interesting: they are in this category for very different, sometimes polarly opposite reasons.
For those of you who have been around long enough, the comparison to Team DK should be quite obvious: a super-stacked Chinese squad that for some reason performs below what the community expects from the players. At least for now.
Of all teams, this is probably the one with the highest net individual skill level. This metric is certainly subjective, but it is very hard to argue against Paparazi灬, fy and Somnus, especially when backed up by Super who was actually in Team DK as the young and energetic mid player, but is now a calm and experienced support.
Moreover, the squad is coached by VGJ.rOtk, a Team DK veteran and an iconic captain. Even after a rather disappointing start and an average season, this team is certainly worthy of both attention and caution. But there is one big “but.”
What do all these players have in common? They have exactly zero TI wins and an absolutely soul-crushing amount of top3 finishes. This is a team that was broken before and the one that seemingly still suffers from the aftermath. Will they be able to overcome their own demons this time around? Only time will tell, but for now, we can only hope they play at a level expected from them and create some memorable Dota.
Pretty much the exact opposite of team Elephant, yet an equally enticing Dark Horse nonetheless. Team Spirit is an unknown: they only have a single player with previous TI experience in Miposhka and the age of the other four players averages to around 20. With the lack of experience in mind, in most other cases it would probably put the team in the underdogs category, if it wasn’t for one small detail: they consistently take games off PSG.LGD and other tournament favorites.
Talent can only make up for so much, that is true, but how much raw talent does a team need to continuously take games off teams with more than ten times competitive experience? Between them and Virtus.Pro, the Eastern European region is sending some very young players and perhaps this is what the region needs: some breath of fresh air and a hard reset on the player pool evaluation.
Two years ago, at the previous International, an unknown South American team took top8 at the biggest Dota tournament of the year, finishing ahead of Virtus.Pro, TNC, Newbee, Alliance, Fnatic, Natus Vincere, and many other notable competitors. This was the biggest breakout moment for the SA Dota scene and the level of competition in the region started to rise rapidly.
Today, under a different name, the same five players are once again looking at the Aegis of Champions. They have sacrificed their underdog status for two full years of international experience and LAN events and while their recent results are not particularly impressive, there is a reason this squad should not be underestimated.
It grew, it adapted and it is full of surprises. They can take games and even series against teams like EG and PSG.LGD and then lose against Furia Jovem, so perhaps the squad is trying to get really hungry for the win before the International starts and test out as many different playstyles as possible: they haven’t even shown the legendary K1 Wraith King in a very long while.
This one is probably going to raise some eyebrows, but do hear us out. Team Aster might not be the strongest or the most noteworthy team from China. It wasn’t a strong DPC competitor with middling to below-average results. It finished in 9th-12th in both Majors, getting knocked out in the first round. Yet it is possibly the strongest Chinese team.
We don’t mean it is the strongest team from the region, however. We mean that Team Aster is matched up incredibly well against home competition for some reason. They handily beat Vici Gaming, PSG.LGD, iG and Elephant in regional qualifiers and tournaments and it is only on the international stage that the team falters.
Now, the International, as the name might suggest, is an international tournament, but this time around we have five strong Chinese teams, with teams like Elephant having to go through qualifiers and teams like EHOME not even getting to TI. Theoretically, the level of competition in the region is very high and that means that there is a good chance Aster will have to go through other Chinese teams to advance.
If this does actually happen, LaNm might finally lift the Aegis of Champions.