Southeast Asia is a region filled with passionate Dota 2 fans for whom the game means a lot. However, none of the SEA teams have ever won The International. But it is a region of unpredictable teams and if anyone can pull off a shocker and bring the Aegis to SEA, it’s TNC Predator! The International 2019 is two weeks away which makes this the best time to take a look at the team which is SEA’s undying hope.
The SEA region hasn’t been the most stable of regions when it comes to Dota 2. MVP Phoenix was once the most dominant team in SEA, but those times now feel like a distant memory. Fnatic have had their share of ups and downs with the organization making it to TI7, but failing to make it out of the group stages. If there is an iota of certainty in this randomness, it is team from Philippines: TNC Predator.
TNC made their comeback to top tier Dota under Jimmy ‘DeMoN’ Ho’s captaincy in 2016 and since then, they have been an SEA powerhouse even after DeMoN’s departure. TNC finished 7th-8th at TI6, 9th-12th at TI7 and 13th-16th at TI8. Year by year, their performance went down at the biggest Dota 2 competition, but this time around they seem like a team on the rise as they head to Shanghai for TI9. Their roster has three similar faces from last year, with Sam_H and Raven, two long serving members parting with the organization at the start of 2018-2019 DPC season. The position of coach has also seen a number of changes, but the one they have right now in the form of Lee Seung ‘Heen’ Gon is a TI winning coach (won TI7 with Team Liquid) and that could have a big effect on their push for the Aegis this year.
TNC’s Roster for TI9:
- Kim ‘Gabbi’ Villafuerte
- Armel Paul ‘Armel’ Tabios
- Carlo ‘Kuku’ Palad
- Timothy ‘Tims’ Randrup
- Nico ‘eyyou’ Barcelon
- Lee Seung ‘Heen’ Gon (coach)
Start of the season
TNC’s season started off well qualifying for the first Major on the Dota Pro Circuit schedule, the Kuala Lumpur Major, with their new carry Gabbi and captain ninjaboogie. The coach’s role was taken up by Kipspul, who had led TNC to successes before she moved to Vega Squadron. She came back to SEA, where it all started for her as an analyst and coach. TNC finished 5th-6th at the Major, losing to Ninjas-in-Pajamas. It was a respectable finish and it seemed things could only get better. As it turns out, they didn’t. TNC qualified for the second Major of the season as well, but in November 2018, controversy struck. The team’s most decorated and oldest serving player, Carlo ‘Kuku’ Palad got himself in trouble making a racist comment towards the Chinese community. The issue heated up quite a bit leading to the municipal government banning TNC’s talismanic player from attending the event. The issue escalated quite a bit with Dota 2 community members taking sides and eventually, Valve who had stayed quiet for a long time stepped in. Valve banned Kuku from the Chongqing Major themselves as punishment for TNC not taking proper responsibilities for their actions. But before that, Valve also did say that the team would not incur a points penalty for playing with a stand-in. TNC apologized without retaliation and played the Chongqing Major with Ryo ‘ryOyr’ Hasegawa. But without their star player, TNC could only manage a 12th-16th finish.
Kuku took a personal leave from the team for a few days while ryOyr continued to fill in. When Kuku came back, it seemed their troubles might have been behind them, but that was not the case. TNC qualified for the World Electronic Sports Games 2019, which were also held in Chongqing. This again meant Kuku would not be able to play. Around this same time, TNC failed to qualify for the third Major and Minor, a result that was shocking for the Filipino powerhouse and meant change was necessary. Michael ‘ninjaboogie’ Ross departed from TNC after this which meant the team needed two new faces to fill in for Kuku and ninjaboogie. In retrospect, all this was a blessing in disguise. TNC brought in their old player, Raven and an SEA veteran Eyyou (who had also been a part of TNC, in 2016) for WESG 2019. Miraculously, this makeshift roster won WESG 2019 and bagged half a million dollars! Eyyou’s performance there cemented a permanent place for him in the TNC lineup as their position 5 player and captain.
End of the season
Although they had managed to win WESG and had Kuku back, things weren’t all peachy. TNC failed to qualify for the fourth Major and Minor as well, meaning a direct invite to TI9 seemed to be a distant reality. But this was when they made their master move – no change in the roster but the addition of a new coach, coach Heen. Heen’s addition to the mix was the catalyst TNC needed to stir the boat in a positive direction. After that, they managed to qualify for the Epicenter Major, the last DPC Major of the season in dominating fashion. The Filipino team achieved a 4th place finish in Moscow to secure enough points for a direct invite to TI9! They also managed to grab a 5th-6th place finish at ESL One Birmingham. A lot of analysts saw the difference in TNC’s approach in these last events of the season. They have always been a team with aggression, but what they needed was controlled aggression, which is where coach Heen comes in. With this mix of experience, youth and talent along with a TI winning coach, no one can rule out TNC from doing the unthinkable. TNC is undoubtedly SEA’s biggest hope in Shanghai this year and all the teams will be watching out for them.
The Philippines – China feud
After the Kuku incident, where many thought he was unnecessarily punished as a first time offender, there has been a bit of bad blood between the Filipino and Chinese Dota 2 communities. The International 2019 being in China this year will be a major motivational factor for TNC; to go to the land that banned their star player and do the best that they can.
The Heen factor
Coach Heen has proved himself before and he will want to do it again. He has a big bag of experience and will definitely make full use of his wealth of knowledge to take TNC as far as they possibly go, which makes TNC a bigger threat this year. Heen did a long interview with VPEsports last year, which gives and idea of how he thinks as a coach.
Kuku – the versatile warrior
This will be Kuku’s fourth TI with TNC Predator and he will be playing his third role this year around. At TI6 and TI7, Kuku played mid (position 2). At TI8, he was the captain of the ship, playing the position 5 support role. Now at TI9, he will be playing offlane (position 3). Kuku really loves TNC and is willing to play anywhere necessary to make sure the team achieves great heights. This kind of devotion is not found often.