StarLadder, one of the oldest tournaments in Dota 2, recently returned for another edition in Kiev.
The tournament attracted a number of top teams as a result of its $300,000 prize pool and the DPC points on offer, which facilitate qualification for this year’s International.
It was OpTic Gaming who claimed the lion’s share of the prize – $135,000 and 150 DPC points – as the young North American team bested the other seven over the course of four days to claim the trophy.
Road to the Finals
OpTic Gaming were one of the favourites heading into the tournament and were drawn in Group A, where two wins were enough to see them finish top.
First, Team Kinguin fell victims, succumbing 2-1 to the North Americans. They then met another strong contender, VGJ.Thunder, but OpTic made light work of them, securing a 2-0 victory to qualify for the Playoffs.
They faced Fnatic in the semifinals and after losing a long first game, OpTic found themselves in a rather unfavourable position. However, they did manage to turn things around in Games 2 and 3, outplaying their opponents to reach the showpiece clash.
Champions for the first time
OpTic versus VGJ.Thunder was the anticipated Finals before the tournament began, so it was no surprise to see the two sides face each other in the battle for the title.
The Chinese outfit needed every point they could get to maintain their place in the top eight of the Dota Pro Circuit rankings, while OpTic were hoping to claim their very first DPC points. In a four-game Finals, OpTic outplayed and outdrafted the Chinese team and deservedly claimed the crown.
The Finals opened with a very evenly contested affair. OpTic were in charge in the early and the mid game, but VGJ.Thunder held on into the late game and prevailed in just over an hour.
In Game 2, it was the Chinese side who this time controlled the early game, but OpTic got themselves back into the tie thanks to winning several well-executed fights in the mid game. CC&C and his Visage were the heroes for OpTic.
In the next game, ppd’s drafting caught VGJ.Thunder unprepared – OpTic got a Broodmother and 33 created enough space with it for Pajkatt to get enough farm to win.
VGJ.Thunder got a push line-up in Game 4, but ppd managed to outdraft OpTic’s opponents with a last pick Phantom Lancer versus a Sniper pick. VGJ enjoyed more kills in the early game, but Phantom Lancer got enough space and farm, then snowballed early. OpTic started gaining momentum in the mid game with the Phantom Lancer getting stronger and stronger before VGJ.Thunder realised their chances were minute and conceded just after the half hour mark.
A team with great potential
OpTic Gaming are one of the teams that were formed post-TI7. Led by TI5 champion ppd, the roster has been together since September 2017, with the only exception being 33, who joined the team in December. Alongside them, the line-up features zai, who has played in some of the world’s top teams, and Pajkatt, who has been playing competitively since the very beginning of Dota 2. CC&C is the fifth member and although he and 33 are less experienced than the others, they are players with high potential.
In terms of playstyle, the team favours the classic 4-protect-1 strategy, where Pajkatt is the pivotal figure. In this scenario, the team provides space for their main carry to farm undisturbed in order to get crucial items and eventually win the game for the team. This can include giving the other farming core (CC&C) a more utility hero, rather than a playmaker. This strategy worked twice in the Finals, but Pajkatt’s performances were solid throughout the tournament. He fits well in the role of a farmer, but he is also adept at split-pushing, especially with Morphling.
CC&C is the other core of the team, but his role can vary. He performs much better when he is on playmaking heroes and it is clear he feels a lot more comfortable with the likes of Puck and Lina than on more team play pushing heroes such as Death Prophet and Razor. Whether due to lack of experience or his emotions taking over, sometimes his decision making can be questionable.
Zai can be another playmaker and tends to act as the roaming support of the team. Having already played in some of the world’s best teams, he can be considered an experienced player at the modest age of 20. Generally versatile and with a wide hero pool, zai is great at making space for his team. However, in the tournament he really shone in team fights with his timings of crucial spells that turned around the battle or secured a kill.
33 is an up-and-coming star who can be quite versatile in his approach to the game, depending on what the team requires. He can play a sacrificial role despite being a core, while on other occasions, he can farm as a main core. Very team player orientated, his duties include space creation and disrupting the farm of the enemy carry in the laning stage. 33 demonstrated some unorthodox builds (e.g. tanky Sand King in the Finals) that proved successful.
The team’s victories are also strongly related to the performances of their captain and shot caller, ppd. The former TI5 champion has earned a reputation for being a mastermind drafter. He practices a counter-drafting style and prefers to hard counter the enemy draft than play the team at their own strengths.
Where are OpTic Gaming going?
Staying together and constantly improving despite not winning trophies finally paid off for OpTic as they claimed their first Major victory since their formation in September.
Having tasted success before and having at his disposal a roster that has only improved, ppd is surely aiming for a TI8 qualification spot. While finishing in the top eight of the PDC rankings is certainly not impossible as OpTic are still in contention for ESL One Birmingham and the China Dota 2 Supermajor, OpTic would need to win both and this seems rather unlikely. The more realistic option would be to secure themselves a spot through the qualifiers, but with the presence of VGJ.Storm and EG (if they don’t finish inside the top eight – they’re currently ninth) in the NA region, this task won’t be easy either.
Nevertheless, OpTic Gaming demonstrated that they cannot only match, but also beat, a team from the top eight of the DPC rankings and it would not be a surprise to see them serve another surprise in the forthcoming Majors or on the stage of TI8.