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Ever since the inception of The International (TI) nearly a decade ago, there has been a particular phenomenon that has kept on repeating itself year after year within the Dota 2 competitive scene. Make no mistake — it is none other than the infamous TI curse. The “TI curse” is used to describe the fact that no team has ever won TI more than once, from Natus Vincere to Team Liquid. However, as the 2018-19 season comes to a close, the end of this curse may be approaching.
The nearest a team has been to repeating victory at The International was NaVi’s second-place finishes all the way back in 2012 and 2013, with the latter being dubious due to how many changes the roster had undergone during the previous two years. Ever since then, the only two remarkable performances by past years’ TI champions have been the third and fourth-place runs by Evil Geniuses in 2016 and Team Liquid in 2018 respectively. Thus, most Dota 2 fans are already completely convinced, some of them even against their own will, that the TI curse will be with us forever.
However, if there is one year in which it could finally be broken, it is with no doubt 2019. Nowadays, there are two active rosters that could end this frustrating pattern once and for all: Team Liquid and OG.
Team Liquid’s current Dota 2 division turned into the one we all know today with the addition of Maroun “GH” Merhej. The Lebanese support was brought on to replace Kanishka “BuLba” Sosale in January 2017. The team did not struggle too much at all with its new iteration, as they went on to win their first premier LAN tournament in StarLadder & i-League StarSeries Season 3 on their first try. That year ended up being a complete blast for Steve Arhancet’s guys. Right after getting a couple more wins in important offline Dota Pro Circuit events, they closed out the season with a much desired TI champions trophy in their hands.
Surprisingly enough, they managed to stay at the top throughout the whole 2017/18 DPC season, and by winning the China Dota2 Supermajor in June, they started to look like one of the main contenders for the TI8 trophy. It seemed as if Team Liquid were the chosen ones to finally break the curse.
In actuality, they did not perform badly in Vancouver, concluding in a more-than-respectable fourth place. However, they had not changed history as they were supposed to do. Moreover, what followed after appeared to be a disaster. After failing to qualify for the first Major of the year in Kuala Lumpur, Team Liquid decided to withdraw from its respective Minor, DreamLeague Season 10, citing health reasons as the cause of their absence.
However, Lee “Heen” Seung-gon, Team Liquid’s then-coach, explained that the truth was much simpler. Properly advised by the doctor, the players had decided to take some time off in order to not get burnt out right at the beginning of the new season. This proved to be a very wise decision in hindsight, as one of the common problems for teams that suffer the TI curse is actually the burnout that comes from being unable to rest appropriately.
Now, after having gone through a period of annoying visa issues that forced them to use stand-ins in most tournaments, Liquid seem to be finding their own selves again. At IEM Katowice, they showcased one of the best performances we had seen from them in a while. It is true that they were knocked out of DreamLeague Season 11 in last place, but nonetheless, Liquid is still a force to be reckoned with after their almost two-and-a-half years of existence.
So why is this roster a serious contender to break the TI curse? Well, the current iteration of Liquid has always been known for two main characteristics that actually correlate with each other: Kuro “Kuroky” Salehi Takhasomi’s drafts and their versatility. Or in other words, an ability to adapt to whatever metagame exists at any particular moment. Taking these two into account, it seems reasonable that Liquid can make steady improvements from here on until TI comes around.
They are one of the rosters that have stayed together for the most time in almost all of esports, and regardless, no signs of unhappiness or discomfort have been shown by any of the team’s members. Team Liquid has been a staple in the scene since a long time ago. So when they have still managed to win MDL Macao and IEM Katowice despite finding themselves in a mediocre run of form, their rivals have to start wondering how scary this roster will be when the truly important moments of the season arrive once again.
OG, for their part, are the main characters of a completely different story. This roster formed as a last-minute solution for Tal “Fly” Aizik and Gustav “s4” Magnusson’s departure but ended up incomprehensibly winning TI8. And after Anathan “ana” Pham took some time off to care for himself, this same roster seemed completely lost and started to have its largest success called a mere fluke.
Stand-ins became a necessity and during that time, OG did not look like their past selves in any imaginable way. Not qualifying for Majors and entering a 0-9 losing streak against a CIS team like Gambit were reason enough to think the green dream had fallen victim to the curse. On March 13, 2019, however, everything would change completely, as the most important player throughout the TI8 run, ana, announced his return. Ever since that moment, OG have gone on to qualify for their first major of the season and, thus, have been looking stronger every time.
This is not to say that they will be able to pull out the miracle again, but they will certainly try. Assuming that every player reaches a similar individual strength to the one they showed at TI last time, they may very well end up reaching success. In terms of team chemistry, there is absolutely nothing for which to reproach Johan “Notail” Sundstein and his teammates. As seen in True Sight: The International 8 Finals documentary and as deduced by their performance at the most important Dota 2 tournament in the whole world, this team is just the perfect mix of player personalities and egos.
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen has kept on improving and finding himself more comfortable in high-pressure situations after the big test that The International meant for his career. If OG are able to get a consistently reliable mid in him, then this squad is definitely an underdog to have a look at once they qualify for TI9. Maybe it is just a coincidence, but they currently have the possibility to be in the same position as last year, both before and after fighting for the Aegis.
Team Liquid and OG are two very strong candidates when it comes to breaking the TI curse this year. They may not be dominating the scene as of now, for sure, but both prospects look definitely promising.
Will we see the end of the TI curse take place in Shanghai? Will the Mercedes-Benz Arena be home to one of the most important feats in Dota 2 history? Unfortunately, these questions may only be asked further in time. Until then, the best idea would be to keep an eye on the DPC season and see how these two outstanding teams evolve in their path to becoming part of Dota 2 history once again.