NA Dota "Surprised" us at The International 8 - But Should it have been a Surprise?

For the first time in Dota 2 history, North America had multiple contenders for the Aegis at TI8. EG, Optic, and VGJ.Storm all had strong showings - and while they ultimately didn't win the tournament, they proved that NA was a region worth paying attention to. These results may have been surprising to the casual fan, but the signs were there early on. North America showed us that they deserved the three qualifier spots at TI8, but if we look back over the past year, these results shouldn't be too surprising.

North American Dota at TI8: Should we have seen it coming?

Was Kyle the Oracle for NA Dota at TI8?

Kyle’s infamous tweet went out at the very start of the DPC season, four days after the first event of the year had concluded and a month after all the new season rosters had been formed. Among them were Optic Gaming and the new Evil Geniuses squad, both competing in NA for the year. For the first time, Zai and PPD were playing in a non-EG NA roster, headlining the Optic gaming squad. Hopes were high-there had never been such talent on a North American team that wasn’t EG. With EG, Optic, and Complexity leading the way, could this be the year that NA shined the brightest? Kyle certainly thought so.

NA Struggled in the Dota Pro Circuit

Despite the formidable VGJ.Storm forming later in the year as well, North America wasn’t performing well at DPC events. None of them had placed top 2 in both majors and minors. It wasn’t until March that EG drew first blood, winning the minor GESC Indonesia. Optic and VGJ.S quickly followed with two minor victories of their own in April and May. These minor victories were not enough though, and by the end of the DPC season Optic VGJ.Storm and EG were 9th, 10th, and 11th on the DPC ranking chart respectively. Yet people were hopeful. While EG had been a disappointment, Optic and VGJ.Storm almost doing well enough to earn a TI direct invite had people believing in North America.

The International 8 Qualifiers Begin in NA

Valve decided to give three TI regional invites to North America, likely due to VGJ.Storm, Optic, and EG all missing the cut. Many people believed that there weren’t three god NA teams that deserved the spot. EU only got one regional qualifier spot. What if OG were knocked out? As the qualifiers began, VGJ.Storm, Optic, and Complexity all looked dominant in the NA qualifier round robin, all tying at a score of 6-1. VGJ.Storm won the tiebreakers and secured their spot with ease. EG and Optic had to go into the playoffs to make their qualifying bid successful. The stage for the North American representatives was set, and yet there was doubt among many on how they would perform on the big stage.

The Summit 9: NA's Last Chance Before TI8

The 9th edition of the Dota Summit was hosted just one month before TI started, and it previewed all three North American teams going up against TI attendees Fnatic and Pain Gaming. EG and VGJ.Storm once again absolutely dominated the field, finishing at the top of the group stages. At the end of Summit 9, EG took home 1st place, with VGJ.Storm taking 3rd. To the surprise of many, Optic went home tied for last after an incredibly shaky group stage.

The Summit 9: NA Dota Finishes Strong

The International 8 Sees all Three NA Dota Teams in the Top 8

As the TI group stage started, EG and VGJ.Storm continued their hot streak, both teams finishing top of their group (tying with Liquid in EG’s case). Optic Gaming continued to look weak, on the verge of being eliminated on day three of the group stages with a score of 4-8. They managed to pull 4 wins on the last day of groups, slinging them into a tiebreaker with Team Secret and Newbee. After defeating Newbee handily, they secured an upper bracket berth with VGJ.Storm and Evil Geniuses. From there, all three North American teams would secure their top 8 placing at the biggest tournament of the year.

How did NA get so strong?

In Dota, it’s all about different knowledge and experiences. The talent in NA isn’t inherently bad- however there was a massive difference in experienced players between NA and other regions. Until TI5, all the experienced NA players were on one team - Evil Geniuses. All the knowledge was in one place, and as a result other teams struggled. After TI5, DC was formed, bringing a multinational roster filled with experienced players like Misery to North America. While not on quite the same level as EG, Digital Chaos was another strong team for NA teams to scrim and practice against. As DC came and went, players shuffled in and out,  joining different stacks and bringing what they learned from DC to these new teams.

This year was the ultimate culmination of that effect. PPD led the team of Optic Gaming, his great captaining leading them to their TI placement. SVG, the former coach of EG, headed up VGJ.Storm. EG brought in Fly to captain before TI8 began. All of these players are experienced, and they brought strong leadership to previously struggling players. If next year’s shuffle brings even more talented leaders to North America, we can expect the region to flourish once again.

What do you think will happen with NA Dota this year?