Liquid place second at the Shanghai Major

March 07 2016

It began with five boys. In the shuffle following The International 2015, accomplished veteran players Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi and Adrian “FATA-” Trinks formed a new team with three newer players whose talents never seemed to crest as high as they should have. Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen and Jesse “JerAx” Vainkka, former teammates on the all Finnish squad 4 Anchors + Sea Captain, and Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Borislavov rounded out the roster that started as 5Jungz, which later came under the Liquid flag.

After missing out on The Frankfurt Major in a heartbreaking loss to Alliance in the European qualifiers, the team regrouped and came back with a strong winter season. They punched their ticket to China with a convincing performance in the Shanghai online qualifiers for the team’s first taste of a Valve Major.

In an event marred by controversy, Liquid prospered. Placed in what many considered the dreaded “group of death”, they danced around an early meeting with Evil Geniuses due to an uncharacteristic loss to Virtus.Pro in the upper part of the group stage, only to overcome them later to secure a spot in the upper bracket of the main event.

The real storyline of the tournament for Liquid unfolded in front of the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz arena, who met their old foe, Alliance, in the first round. Revenge for the elimination from the Frankfurt qualifier and, more recently, from Star Ladder’s playoffs was at stake. Hot off of LAN victories at WCA and Star Ladder, Alliance had great expectations after their continued success in a flawless group stage. These expectations are what made the resulting 2-1 so shocking, as Alliance was sent tumbling to the lower bracket.

The momentum from beating their old adversary allowed them to glide over the underdog darlings of the tournament, MVP.Phoenix in an extremely well executed 2-0 sweep. Much like Alliance, MVP.Phoenix finished the group stage with a spotless 4-0 record, knocking down both the Chinese favorite EHOME and the latest iteration of Team Secret. Securing a top eight spot was a likely scenario going into an incredibly talent rich tournament, but with this victory Liquid locked in a top three finish.

The real test came in the upper bracket finals when they squared off against Team Secret. A team that, despite the small circle of elite European teams, Liquid had only faced in four matches prior. Secret had an impressive collection of trophy kills in the upper bracket, having bested the Frankfurt champions, Team OG, and the reigning International champions, Evil Geniuses, both by a 2-1 margin. To Team Liquid, they gave no quarter in a commanding 2-0 sweep and denied their spot in the grand finals.

Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid have, across rosters and even across games, had a long standing rivalry. Combine that with the recent storyline between KuroKy and Evil Geniuses’ carry player Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, and the resulting lower bracket final between the two teams had a gravity that could not be compared to any other matchup in this tournament. The final bastion of North American Dota, however, could not put a dent into Liquid and two sub-40 minute games later, Liquid was headed for a rematch with Secret in the grand finals.

In the end, sadly, the history of Liquid’s run at Shanghai repeated itself with a 3-1 loss. Despite a great game 2 where Liquid put on a show of force, utilizing excellent team fighting, pushing, and pick offs, Secret edged out the series with superior play that had been percolating since the team reformed after TI5. w33’s exemplary performance on Invoker in game 3, where he refused to yield a single death, foreshadowed the dirge of a game 4 that rounded out the grand finals on a sour note for Liquid fans everywhere.

It is a sad ending of the winter season for Team Liquid, but it is also the dawn of a great beginning. They have proven their worth, climbing over champions and tournament dandies alike, and are more than capable to ascend to the top of the international scene. This is a team whose potential has been finally realized, whose fusion of old and new alike has thrust them into the international spotlight. 2016 has been good to them so far, but still all eyes are focused on Seattle. The next stage of the journey to the Aegis runs through Manilla, and through their performance at Shanghai, Team Liquid has earned their place in the circle of Dota elites.

Writer // Dan Klein
Graphics: // shiroiusagi

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