The third season of the StarLadder i-League Invitational was the opening tournament of the 2017-18 campaign and saw reigning TI champions Team Liquid win the competition once again. The team continued where they left off from last season by dominating the event, losing only one game of 10 in Kiev.
Road to the Finals
Team Liquid were drawn in Group A alongside Mineski, SG e-sports and Vici Gaming. They opened with a dominating 2-0 win against Mineski, followed by a repeat performance against SG e-sports.
This secured them first spot in the group, with Liquid advancing directly to the semifinals, where they met the new roster of Team Secret. Liquid did not have much trouble winning the first game with their better late game line-up, but Secret gave them a run for their money in the second. Here Secret devastated their opponents in the early game, but were unable to close out as Liquid kept themselves alive by picking on their opponents’ mistakes. It was this which proved crucial as Liquid went on to secure game two to secure a 2-0 sweep and qualify for the Finals.
The deciding clash of the tournament was quite fiercely contested.
Having easily defeated Mineski in the Group Stage, Liquid were initially unprepared for what the SEA team had in store. Mineski set a lightning pace in the first game and steamrolled their opponents. While Liquid did enough to prolong the game, Mineski’s advantage was never really in jeopardy and they closed the affair with an astounding 37K gold lead, inflicting the first defeat of the tournament on Liquid.
Liquid reacted angrily and unleashed all of their might in game two with an aggressive trilane seeking early engagements and chasing their opponents right from the beginning. This aggression paid off as Mineski could not match Liquid’s tempo and trailed throughout the game, with Liquid prevailing after 45 minutes.
The third game seemed within Mineski’s grasp as both the draft, the successful early game rotations and Mushi’s uncontested Anti-Mage farm suggested that things might turn out for the better. Liquid thought differently though and displaying the same ruthlessness that saw them become TI7 champions, they turned things around in the mid game to win yet another encounter from an unfavorable position.
Mentally broken, Mineski did not put up much of a challenge in the last game and Liquid closed the series with a 21-minute affair.
Understandably, after winning The International 2017 Team Liquid did not undergo any roster changes and kept the same trophy-winning line-up.
Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi – the leader of the pack, the seasoned Dota veteran has earned the reputation of being one of the best drafters in the game. He is also famous for his ability to grasp the best heroes in the new meta quickly, along with devising winning combinations. KuroKy prefers to secure heroes with whom his team are comfortable in the opening phase of the draft, with the further ability to counter their opponents in the later stages. Another distinguishable trait of his is that he likes to pick heroes who can play in any position, thus keeping his opponents guessing. Some of KuroKy’s picks, such as Chen and Pugna, made their way into this tournament and were adopted by other teams as well. KuroKy revived Chen in the current meta by playing the character in the first four wins of his team.
Maroun “GH” Merhej – the latest addition to the team, joining back in January, GH proved to be Liquid’s missing link, both on the stage of TI7 and StarLadder. In the short span of time since joining his first professional Dota 2 team, GH has quickly turned into one of the best position 4 players in the world, with heroes such as Keeper of the Light and Earthshaker being signatures of his. While the former has not proven to be as frequent a pick in the post-TI7 meta, Earthshaker remained a solid hero for him in Kiev. GH thrives on heroes with strong team fight skills that can also make an individual play as a roamer and rarely fails to execute a great team combo or a crucial disable. His rotations usually define the team’s early game and set the pace of the clash.
Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov – MinD_ContRoL has built his reputation as one of the best offlaners in the world incrementally. Before making his big breakthrough alongside KuroKy in Team Liquid, MC gained various experience with smaller teams. He has proven himself as a man for the big occasion by putting in strong performances when it counts, including in Kiev. He can either be a split pusher or initiator, and Nature’s Prophet, Dark Seer and Beastmaster are the heroes that best reflect his playing style. Whenever Team Liquid play a split pushing style, MinD_ContRoL plays a crucial role in taking down objectives, as well as providing space for his carries. Occasionally he risks himself to chase heroes around the map with low hit points and can dive into towers if he smells blood.
Amer “Miracle-“ Al-Barqawi – a fan favourite, Miracle- is the cherry on top of the cake for Team Liquid. Generally considered one of the most skilled players around, Miracle- arrived on the big stage when he signed for OG in late 2015. However, after being unable to win TI6, he joined the ranks of Liquid. Miracle- is a flashy and creative player who often demonstrates moves that exhilarate the crowd, but which are also effective. Liquid rely heavily on his ability to carry the team to victory, and he is often given high impact heroes with playmaking ability. His Invoker is legendary, but he can also play hard carry heroes such as Anti-Mage and Bloodseeker. Miracle- usually needs farming space and the team strives hard to provide him with time to acquire his items so that he can carry the game. Miracle- usually plays in the mid lane, but his versatility generally allows him to play anywhere. He likes 1v1 laning scenarios and he often wins the laning stage.
Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen – MATUMBAMAN is the man who delivers when Miracle- is being shut down. He can also play playmaking heroes, but the role of hard carry suits him much better. Although he likes farming, MATUMBAMAN participates in the team clashes and ganks a lot earlier in the game compared to the average hard carry player. He loves to fight and in this tournament, he was quite often given aggressive heroes such as Lifestealer and Venomancer with whom he won crucial team battles. MATUMBAMAN can also perform a sacrificial role and despite being a carry player, he does not shy away from dying on the battlefield if this will help his team win the clash or kill an enemy hero. MATUMBAMAN performs equally well with a teammate in lane or if laning solo.
The first minor was a great warm-up for the upcoming season and offered some typical upsets. Team Liquid’s performance, however, was not among them and the best team of last season merely confirmed their leading position. They did so quite impressively and similarly to TI7, they demonstrated that they cannot only adapt to the meta, but dictate it too. While talk of winning back-to-back Internationals is premature, with this kind of performance, it seems more reality than dream.