Photo: By Adela Sznajder for DreamHack
“Only a united team can march towards victory.” – interview with rOtk via IMBATV, translated by gosugamers
For VICI Gaming, the DreamLeague Season 11 was a tournament of firsts. VICI Gaming became the first team in the DPC to win the minor and the major. They were the first Chinese team to win a major since the new DPC has begun. For all of the players, this was their first Major victory in their careers. For Bai “rOtk” Fan, this is his first Major victory as a coach. Beyond all of those firsts, what makes this victory so important is that it is the culmination of VICI’s efforts to raise up a new generation of Chinese Dota2 players to take up the mantle of Dota2. In many ways, rOtk has become the personification of that change.
From leader to coach
ROtk is one of the legends of the Chinese Dota scene. Nicknamed “The roaring god” for his penchant to scream and yell at LANs. In Dota2, rOtk has been one of the legendary Chinese players in the scene. He played in DK from 2012-2013 as one of the top Chinese teams. In 2014, he made his best every TI run with VG where he led the team to second place. As a player, he was either feast or famine. He either had high impact games as the offlaner or fed like a madman. There was no inbetween with him as he was too stubborn to back down from any challenge. As the years went on, he became more famine than feast.
Despite the decreasing level of form from 2015-2017, he was still a sought after player in the Chinese scene. While his skills deteriorated and his hero pool continued to shrink, the intangibles he brought on as a leader were invaluable. He understood the importance of team unity and his ideas had a solidity to them. He figured out his plan, refined it, and the had his team execute it in the game. There were no surprise gimmicks or paradigm breaking strategies, it was just fundamentally solid Dota from beginning to end.
ROtk was also someone who had his eye on the future of Chinese Dota. He was one of the first Chinese leaders to realize that there was a generational shift happening in the Dota2 scene from 2014-2015. That was why he decided to join EHOME so that he could help raise the next generation of Chinese players in Chen “Cty” Tianyu and Yang “Zyf” Pu. As the years dragged on though, it was clear that rOtk’s time as a player was coming to an end. He finally retired as a player in 2017 and moved on to his career as a coach. Ge started off as the coach of iG, but later transitioned into VGJ.Thunder, VICI’s sister team.
The New Generation
The current VICI squad is one built around the idea of raising the next big Dota2 stars. This idea came about in 2017 when VICI gaming got two prospects. The first was Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang, someone who showed promise at the lower levels of Chinese Dota and was promoted to the main team at the beginning of 2017. The second was Zhang “Paparazi” Chengjun. Paparazi had his start on team FanTuan at the end of 2015 and was recruited by iG.Vitality. He grinded his way up through 2016 and in 2017, he became the superstar of the squad. As a player, he was able to carry the team through the online qualifiers consistently, but was unable to perform at the big LAN events.
On September 2017, VICI Gaming bet on that potential as they had him join the main squad of VICI. Together Ori and Paparazi were to become the core duo that VICI built their team around. The first iteration in 2017 had them surrounded by three veterans: Ren “eLeVeN” Yangwei, Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng, and Lu “Fenrir” Chao. The team was inconsistent as they either went deep in tournaments or bombed out.
After bombing out at The International 2018, VICI decided that they needed to reshuffle the deck. Instead of having three veteran players, they recruited three more up-and-comers. They promoted Zhou “Yang” Haiyang and Pan “Fade” Yi from their sister team VGJ.Thunder and got another relative rookie for their fifth in Ding “Dy” Cong. In order to make this team complete, they also moved rOtk over as the coach.
Putting it all together
Looking back through the 2017-2018 period of VICI Gaming, their biggest problem was a lack of consistency. There were multiple reasons why, the three biggest were likely inexperience, role balance, and team identity.
Paparazi and Ori were the polarizing star players of the VICI lineup, but neither had the experience necessary to perform at the biggest LANs. This was exacerbated by the fact that both were resource heavy core players. While both players had a wide hero pool, neither looked comfortable on playing low resource heroes. In some ways, it reflects the problem that EG had where they could never figure out which star they were supposed to play around: Artour “Arteezy” Babaev or Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan.
ROtk has been slowly solving this problem through the 2018-2019 circuit. The two superstars generally take turns at being the hard carry. For instance, if Paparazi is on Terrorblade or Morphling, then Ori will play something like a DK, Death Prophet, or Necrophos. Heroes that don’t need as much gold to come online, but can still have a large impact in the team fights or in getting objectives. If Ori was on a farm heavy hero like Medusa, then Paparazi would take the secondary star role with heroes like Razor or Bloodseeker.
This system has brought stability into the team and has been enhanced by the fact that Yang is a low economy offlaner who doesn’t need much attention. As the lineup continued to play through the 2018-2019 DPC, ViCi have slowly grown with it. Each of the players have started to gel more as a unit and perform at higher levels at each LAN. All of that work culminated at the major.
The Major Run
At DreamLeague Season 11, rOtk’s drafting came to the forefront. Strategically, most teams seemed to understand what rOtk was going for. rOtk put Dy on utility based heroes like Venge, Oracle, or disruptor. For Fade, he put him on aggressive playmakers like Nyx, Earth Spirit, and Shadow Shaman. Yang was a role player, who primarily focused on sacrificial teamfight offlaners, but could also flex to utility hero (Venge) or a carry threat (Broodmother/Prophet). As for Ori and Paparazi, the two of them took turns either being the hard carry or the secondary threat.
What made VICI’s run so interesting was that they didn’t pull out any particular surprises (beyond the Broodmother draft against PSG.LGD). Most of the teams seemed to understand the basic strategic archetype that rOtk was using. Despite that, they were unable to stop him in the draft and his players were able to consistently execute on their heroes.
The series that exemplified rOtk as a drafter was the second game in the upper bracket bo3 against Secret. In that series, rOtk out-drafted Clement “Puppey” Ivanov twice. In the second game, rOtk last picked Medusa. The pick put Secret in a bad spot as none of their heroes were natural counters to Medusa. Up to that point, it looked like Secret was trying to setup a 4-1 draft with Lone Druid playing the rat hard carry. By picking Medusa, rOtk was simultaneously able to stick to his team’s core philosophy and counter Secret’s draft.
The only good counter pick to the Medusa was Antimage, which was eventually the pick that Secret went with. The problem with that pick is that while it “countered” Medusa in terms of a raw 1v1, it made the Lone Druid pick redundant and forced the LD to play in the main pack rather than as the split pusher. The VG players recognized this in the game and were able to punish Secret as a result. In the third, rOtk figured out that Secret were aiming for a final Morphling pick and used their own final pick to deny Puppey and put Secret in a disadvantageous draft for a second time.
This trend continued throughout the tournament as VG stormed through the tournament. After beating Secret, VICI Gaming went outplayed PSG.LGD with a surprise Broodmother draft in the third game. Against Fnatic, rOtk showed his understanding of Fnatic’s strengths as he consistently banned out their tank heavy, team-fight oriented heroes like Timbersaw, Lifestealer, and Pangolier.
Finally, VICI met Virtus.Pro in the finals, this was the test. Ori and Paparazi had shown incredible skill throughout the last two years, but both had performance issues in high pressure moments. In the finals of premier non-Valve events like ESL Hamburg or ESL Katowice, they’d make it to the finals to only lose to Secret or Virtus.Pro. At the Valve Majors or The Internationals, the pair of them often underperformed relative to what their skill level.
None of that appeared in this finals. The consistent style of drafting from rOtk, the deliberate understanding of the roles, and the increased experience the team has had as a whole all came together for the finals. It was a bo5 that went the distance, but one where despite the scoreline being 3-2, VICI Gaming looked to have the initiative throughout the series. What made it so dominant from their side was that they fought Virtus.Pro in Virtus.Pro’s specilaty, the laning stage. Virtus.Pro had made their legacy based on their aggressive, dominant win-lane, win-game style. However VICI were unintimidated as they easily matched and surpassed the Virtus.Pro players. Paparazi in smashed the laning stage, which constantly put Virtus.Pro on the backfoot. While Virtus.Pro put up a strong fight, VICI Gaming were too much as they closed out the fifth game in a little over 20 minutes.
For VICI Gaming, the DreamLeague Season 11 victory is a culmination of their hard work and experience. They were the ones who made the decision to invest in the next generation of Chinese superstars. Paparazi and Ori were the first. Now Yang, Fade, and Dy have joined them. While each of them has shown a lot of skill, rOtk was probably one of the biggest factors. Almost no Dota2 team has ever been successful without a strong in-game leader as they provide the team with a sense of unity, strategic identity, and the understanding of the draft. In the 2018-2019 DPC, rOtk has shown that he brings all of those things. VICI Gaming has continued to become stronger under his guidance and his drafting was immaculate at this Major. Though Chinese Dota2 has declined in the last one to two years, the next generation is starting to arrive at the top. PSG.LGD are no longer the only shining light in Chinese Dota2. Now there is also VICI Gaming. A team composed of a new generation of Chinese players led by rOtk.
“He[rotk] told to us that this is a new chapter, a new beginning and he encouraged us to keep fighting together.” – Ori, in a post winner’s interview with VPEsports
*Disclaimer: VPEsports is a Washington State based esports news media company funded by VPGame.