Steven R. June 30, 2019
Vici Gaming is suddenly looking like a serious contender to win The International 2019.
The Chinese team won its second major of the season, defeating Team Liquid to capture the Epicenter Major trophy. It was a great showing from a team that looked unremarkable in the early goings of the season.
The series opened with an extraordinary showing from Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi. With the departure of Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen, Miracle- has found himself as the team’s full-time carry rather than being situationally used as a mid. That versatility has long suited Liquid well, but Miracle- thrived as a full-time carry at the Epicenter Major and posted arguably his best game of the tournament in game one of the grand finals.
Playing as Anti-Mage, Miracle- jumped out to an early kill lead and quickly topped the game in net worth and experience. Anyone who has played Dota 2 knows that it’s difficult to overcome a snowballing Anti-Mage and in the hands of Miracle-, it’s almost impossible. He maintained that gold lead until the end of the game and ultimately closed things out with 19 kills and a whopping 916 GPM.
Though Liquid has been exceptional at the Epicenter Major, Vici Gaming didn’t just luck their way through the upper bracket. The Chinese team was a force at the tournament and rebounded from the opening game loss with a crushing victory.
Playing as Death Prophet, Zeng "Ori" Jiaoyang parked mid lane while Zhou "Yang" Haiyang’s Centaur Warrunner quickly maxed Retaliate. That composition was designed to steamroll towers in the mid game and after Ori hit level 12, the Chinese side got to work. The combination of Retaliate and level two Exorcism paid off brilliantly and when Ori grabbed an early Black King Bar, Liquid had no way to stop Vici from pushing.
Pushing ultimately proved to be the theme of game three as well. Ivan "MinD_ContRoL" Ivanov’s Enigma and his Eidolons was the only serious tower-killing tool on Liquid, but Vici Gaming countered that with strong wave clear heroes like Sven and Shadow Shaman.
Liquid was able to score team fight wins but had little follow-up to that. This allowed Vici to drag things out late and let Ori take over the game on Medusa. Vici secured the key items it needed and broke Liquid’s base, advancing to match point after 39 minutes.
Game four saw Liquid fall behind in farm and experience early, but Miracle-’s Arc Warden equipped with Hand of Midas turned that around. While that allowed Miracle- to rake in gold and top the net worth charts, nobody else on Liquid even had the chance to farm as Vici’s cores built up their lead and kept the lanes pushed in. The gold lead grew more skewed, but with Miracle playing as an eight-slotted Arc Warden, Vici had no way to push on Liquid’s base.
Liquid stalled things out for an hour and drew massive cheers from the crowd with a few crafty plays, but Vici eventually scored a key pick on Maroun "GH" Merhej to allow a safe take of Roshan. They made their final push at the one-hour mark and managed to get a dieback from Miracle-, but after finally hitting level 25 and buying a Daedalus, new addition Aliwi "w33" Omar made his presence felt in the game as Puck. Buybacks came quickly from Vici but Liquid had enough damage to score the kills, lock up the game, and tie up the series in stunning fashion.
It was an amazing performance, but Liquid emptied their tank in making that comeback. The final game saw Vici Gaming build an early game focused team around Zhang "Paparazi" Chengjun’s Morphling while Liquid looked to the late game with Miracle- on Spectre. Vici got the early game advantage and never gave Miracle- the opportunity to come online. Vici won the team fights, ran over towers with Warlock and Leshrac, and locked up the major with a 3-2 series win.
What should fans make of the Team Liquid Dota 2 team?
Though the team flew under the radar for much of the year, it’s impossible to ignore Vici Gaming now. The Chinese squad put everyone on notice when they won the DreamLeague Major, but now with two major victories to their name this season, they seem to be on equal footing with the likes of Team Secret and Virtus.pro.
Team Liquid’s standing is much less certain.
The team still stands as one of the better Dota 2 squads in the world and taking second place at a major is a great way to start the team’s new era with w33. That said, the sample size isn’t large enough to fully buy into Liquid as a top team again. Even though they managed to beat the likes of Virtus.pro and PSG.LGD in Moscow, it’s too early to declare that Liquid is back in 2017 form.
There won’t really be any opportunities to prove themselves further as all of Dota 2’s top teams are set to go on break en route to The International 2019. Still, Liquid fans have cause for optimism going forward.