Team Spirit's International 10 win: Dota's ultimate underdog run
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The last moments were merely a formality as Team Spirit marched into the PSG.LGD base to deliver the finishing blow to one of the best teams in Dota’s history.

Team Spirit’s Alexander “TORONTOTOKYO” Khertek jumped to a Fire Remnant to catch up to PGSG.LGD’s Wang “Ame” Chunyu’s Tiny. He caught him with a Searing Chain in order for Spirit’s Illya “Yatoro” Mulyarchuk’s Terrorblade to deal the finishing blow to the PSG.LGD carry. With no buyback on Ame, PSG.LGD had lost their anchor, and they were adrift in an open ocean. Team Spirit marched toward victory, using Ame’s absence to slowly whittle down PSG.LGD’s base until there was nothing left.

The PSG.LGD ancient crumbled, and the confetti erupted in a glow of black and gold in the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania. Yatoro pointed at the Aegis of Champions, signaling to his teammates that they had just done the impossible. With the Aegis lifted, Team Spirit were The International 10 champions.

The last time a team from the Commonwealth of Independent States won The International was in 2011, the inaugural event for Dota 2’s largest tournament, during Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. The first season of “Game of Thrones” had just been released, and Steve Jobs had just resigned from his position at Apple. Natus Vincere, a long-time staple in the CIS scene, hoisted a $1 million check instead of the Aegis of Champions; that iconic trophy didn’t exist yet.

Na'Vi wins ti1
Na’Vi were the first team from the CIS team to win the International. Back then, Dota was still in Beta, there were limited heroes to pick and the Aegis of Champions did not exist yet. | Provided by Natus Vincere

Now, a decade later, Team Spirit are the second CIS team to win The International 10, and they did it with one of the most unexpected runs that professional Dota has ever seen.

Setting the scene

The story of Team Spirit’s run can really be condensed in the final best-of-five series against PSG.LGD in the grand finals; a series full of momentum shifts, adaptation and some of the highest level Dota ever played. And, to understand the magnitude of Team Spirit’s achievement this year, just look at their competition.

PSG.LGD were heavy favorites to win The International 10. They dropped one game during the group stage to Team Secret and handled the rest of the competition with ease. Coach Zhang “xiao8” Ning, one of the most tenured coaches in the Chinese scene, led the squad.

Team Spirit, meanwhile, almost didn’t make it into The International 10 through the Eastern Europe Regional Qualifier. They barely beat Team Empire 3-2 to claim their place, and fans did not expect them to make it beyond the first round of the main stage. But, upset after upset, Team Spirit fought their way up the bracket to face off against the final boss: PSG.LGD.

Game 1: A surprise Naga Siren by Team Spirit

In the first game of the grand finals, PSG.LGD drafted a proven and effective lineup: a melee carry paired with Lycan in the offlane. PSG.LGD wanted to play for an early timing where their Ursa could be powered up with their Io, paired with Lycan’s Aghanim’s Scepter ability, Wolf’s Bite. In this game, both the teams were evenly matched for a while, but the difference-maker was Illya “Yatoro” Mulyarchuk’s Naga Siren.

Team Spirit’s advantage in game 1 centered around  Yatoro’s unique item-builds and creativity. He built an Aghanim’s Scepter in order for Ensnare to go through Magic Immunity, limiting the mobility of Ursa and Pangolier. He then built a Bloodthorn to limit mobility even more by silencing enemies. Team Spirit recognized that PSG.LGD could not take fights without the Ursa. Naga Siren split the map apart with illusions, slowly choking out any space PSG.LGD had and denied them the crucial Roshan objective. Thus, Team Spirit took a crucial first win in a series where they were predicted to win none.

“Team Spirit proved to LGD that they can beat them at their own game, and so far no team at the tournament has done that,” OG Esports’ Sébastien “Ceb” Debs said as the draft for Game 2 began. “Team Spirit did that.”

Game 2: The Collapse Magnus

Collapse hugs Miposhka
Collapse embraces Yaroslav “Miposhka” Naidenov ahead of a game two win. | Provided by Valve

Team Spirit’s Magomed “Collapse” Khalilov had been a force throughout the entirety of The International 10. He has the second highest KDA of any offlaner, only behind Carlo “Kuku” Palad. The 19-year-old offlaner has had several outstanding performances on Mars (58% winrate), Tidehunter (71% winrate) and, most importantly, Magnus (67% winrate). The addition of Horn Toss transformed this hero into a game-changing pick, and Collapse took full advantage. Magnus did not get banned in the first phase and Team Spirit immediately picked it. Collapse, with Magnus in hand, then dismantled PSG.LGD.

A game-changing teamfight at 20 minutes truly showed Collapse’s mastery of Magnus. He picked off Cheng “NothingToSay” Jin Xiang with a Skewer back into the tower. LGD lost one. As they tried to retreat, Collapse found an angle to Skewer both Ame and Zhao “XinQ” Zixing into a perfect Reverse Polarity. In 23 seconds and two Magnus maneuvers, Collapse crushed PSG.LGD’s early advantage.

From that point forward, Team Spirit controlled the vision on the map, holding high-ground advantages. The moment any PSG.LGD member stepped out of the base, Collapse would Skewer them to the entirety of  Team Spirit. Collapse ended the game with a 2/0/20 scoreline, and Team Spirit were a game away from winning The International 10.

“Collapse is too good,” caster Trent “TrentPax” MacKenzie said. “He feels it and just goes.”

Game 3 – The turn around

On the verge of defeat, PSG.LGD let Team Spirit have Magnus again. This time, though, PSG.LGD built their team to counter Collapse’s pick: They responded with Rubick, Undying and Bloodseeker. These are three heroes meant to crush Magnus, and they did. Throughout the game, PSG.LGD looked to stifle Collapse and make him uncomfortable. The result: PSG.LGD took map control throughout the 50-minute game. Eventually, Team Spirit fell, their Magnus strategy broken. The series was then even in terms of momentum, and Team Spirit would have to wrestle for control of the series from one of the best teams in Dota history.

Game 4 – A dismantling of Team Spirit

PSG.LGD are all smiles after a successful game four
PSG.LGD confidence returns after an amazing game three performance. | Provided by Valve

PSG.LGD once again outdrafted and outplayed Team Spirit in Game 4, this time by taking the Magnus for themselves and building an early game lineup that Team Spirit could not contest.

One pivotal moment summed up PSG.LGD’s performance.

Team Spirit stacked ancient camps for their Templar Assassin to take as a way back into the game. PSG.LGD scouted Team Spirit out, though, and stole the camps for themselves with two supports. Yatoro’s Spectre haunted in but could not find anything in return. The gold difference in the game was at a 2000 gold lead for PSG.LGD right before the fight, and ballooned to 4000 by the end of the fight. This doubled the original advantage that PSG.LGD had. With a sizable gold lead and map control in their hands, PSG.LGD stormed into the Team Spirit base at 23 minutes to end the game.

The series was now tied at 2-2, and it all came down to one game for $18 million.

Game 5 – The $13 million game

Team Spirit, the underdogs turned almost-champions, faced the prospect of a reverse-sweep after two straight losses. In the final game, PSG.LGD returned to their patented Tiny and Lycan draft. PSG.LGD rely on Ame’s 63% winrate Tiny to carry them at the very end. Team Spirit respond with a slower lineup that centered around Yatoro’s Terrorblade. PSG.LGD set themselves on a timer; if Team Spirit could survive the Lycan Aghanim’s Scepter and Tiny combo, then it would be as good as won. a crucial fight at Team Spirit’s bottom Tier 2 tower turned the game around.

Despite being pressured the entire early game, Team Spirit remained composed. They were able to take a fight on their terms, and slow the game down from that point forward. Yatoro’s Terrorblade, given time to farm and power up, was impossible for PSG.LGD to kill. With a final kill on Ame, Team Spirit walked onto the PSG.LGD ancient to claim their win.

A few months ago, Team Spirit were barely making it out of the Eastern European Regional Qualifier against Team Empire, barely qualifying for The International 10. For everyone on Team Spirit except Miposhka, it was their first International. many veterans have come in and crumbled under the pressure of performing at the International. But not Team Spirit. They might have been young, but their work ethic was unmatched. Even went the final boss of PSG.LGD stood between them and a place in history, they never faltered and let their play do the talking.

“I think that (Team Spirit) team has been one of the most hardworking teams throughout the whole pandemic, period.” Said Ceb in an interview to Upcomer “like all the way from TI9 (The International 9) to TI10 . They were very, very hardworking, I think we (OG Esports) also looked up to them a lot in terms of how much effort they would practice, like, every day, so much. All the little things they left nothing behind. It was like the true grind, you know, and I think that’s maybe the story of this tournament.”

Team Spirit have now etched their name in history, and it was through good, ol’ fashioned hard work. There are no shortcuts to winning a championship, and Team Spirit prove that more than any other team.

The resident Dota player of the Upcomer Team that dips his toes into League, Melee and Pokemon. A chinese-indonesian living in Vancouver, Canada. Enjoys food, fashion and movies. Just another adult who decided it would be a good idea to start their own podcast