All photos courtesy Valve

This Year, 'Dota 2' Gave Us A Cinderella Story for the Ages

After a time of wild turmoil, personal conflict, and losing key members, 'Dota 2' team OG just clutched the ultimate prize. Here's their story.

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Aug 28 2018, 6:00pm

All photos courtesy Valve

Last Saturday, one of the greatest Cinderella stories in esports came to a head. OG, a team shattered by internal fractures and vital departures, climbed up through the bracket to the top of The International, Dota 2’s annual world championship. The tournament brought together the greatest in the game to compete for millions of dollars. It was a gauntlet of the best, and OG had, against all odds, emerged victorious.

It is a squad that came together in mere weeks, stacked up against lineups that had been playing together for years. A motley crew of old veterans, returning young talent, and a rookie with barely any mark on the scene became the new “green dream.” OG didn’t just overcome team changes; it overcame a dramatic division within itself, after a founding member left for greener pastures. OG’s International run is a story of revenge and resilience, and it’s a clear marker of the power of storytelling in esports.

OG was originally (monkey) Business, a team formed in August 2015 under longtime teammates Johan “n0tail” Sundstein and Tal “Fly” Aizik. The two had met while competing in another game, Heroes of Newerth, eventually forming a team under esports organization Fnatic and carrying that banner over to Dota 2. After bouncing around teams, they reconvened in (monkey) Business and, thanks to some early success, formed an organization under the banner OG.

The Aegis. All Photos courtesy Valve.

The squad would undergo a rollercoaster ride over the next few years. OG became the first team to win four Dota 2 majors, but despite being a frequent favorite, never managed to seal the deal with an Aegis, the trophy awarded to the winners of The International. While other tournaments provide financial rewards (and, in the new model, Dota pro circuit points), The International is the greatest accolade in the game, and even a low placing at the tournament guarantees a significant purse due to its massive crowd-funded prize pool. Over the years, OG would suffer roster shuffles and heartbreaking loss, while also setting records and wowing crowds. Through it all, Aizik and Sundstein were the cornerstones of the team, always looking ahead.

Coming into the 2018 season, OG was looking strong. Prodigy mid-lane player Anathan “ana” Pham took a leave from the team, and Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok stepped in. Fresh off a promising run with Team Empire at the 2017 International as a stand-in, it seemed like all the gears were in place for the OG machine to make its International run.

But 2018 was unkind. The team fell in qualifiers, constantly curtailed by other rosters who seemed to have found their stride. While a few teams tussled for the top spot in the Dota circuit, OG was struggling to earn points at all. By the Bucharest Major in March, the cracks were starting to show. OG was knocked out of the group stage by Team Liquid, failing to make the playoffs, and after the return trip home, the team’s coach Sébastien “7ckingMad” Debs was spotted playing Fominok’s role in matches.

The theory was later confirmed: Fominok would be departing the team. Due to Valve’s rules on roster changes, OG would not be able to earn a spot at the 2018 International through circuit points and would not be eligible for an invite to the regional qualifiers. To get a spot, the team would have to play through the open qualifiers, a grueling gauntlet of match after match against anyone and everyone who thinks their Dota squad is up to International snuff.

Despite an early sign of hope at DreamLeague, where OG finished a respectable 5th-6th place with a new lineup, the challenges kept piling it on. In tournament after tournament, OG would perform well during the group stage, but would be unable to make any headway once the playoff bracket started.

In May, the news came. Gustav “s4” Magnusson and Tal “Fly” Aizik would be leaving for Evil Geniuses. It was a shocker for the community at large; Aizik and Sundstein had played on separate rosters before, but OG was their team. The two were its founding members.

Speaking to VP Esports later on at the 2018 International, Aizik gave a little elaboration, saying he started to lose motivation after repeated losses and he couldn’t see a way to fix the team. “In the end, I decided to do what was best for myself,” Aizik told VP Esports. “Where I saw an opportunity to join a team I believe in and can see myself winning TI with.”

Sundstein has not said as much. In an interview during The International, he told Kaci Aitchison he wasn’t willing to talk about it yet. “It’s just personal,” said Sundstein.

Regardless of the reasons, the team had been gutted. And with just two weeks until the European open qualifiers for The International began, the team had been pushed into a corner. OG had to withdraw from the then-upcoming Chinese Dota 2 Supermajor and focus on building a new team, or else give up on The International entirely.

On June 3, OG announced its new lineup. Pham would return, taking up the mantle of hard carry, the position that plays some of the biggest damage dealers and late-game fighters. Sundstein would move to support, alongside one of OG’s now longer-running members, Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka. Coach Debs would fill Magnusson’s shoes in the offlane.

And for that pivotal mid-lane role, the playmaker position where greats like Sumail, Somnus, and Miracle- fought in one-on-one bouts of skill? A Finnish rookie named Topias Taavitsainen, playing under the handle “Topson.” Taavitsainen had bounced around a few teams, but was most well-known among the general Dota populace for his eccentric hero pool in the mid lane. He likes heroes like Arc Warden and Monkey King, and plays other mid lane mainstays like Invoker in innovative, different ways from just about everyone else.

It was a unique but untested team. Critics and fans were unsure whether OG could even compete at the level The International demands. Despite making it through the European open and regional qualifiers, doubts were still cast on this ramshackle roster. In a power ranking, community and news site LiquidDota placed OG last among the 18 teams flying to Vancouver. At the time, it was not that far from reality. No one knew what this team was and, in the public’s eye, the talent and very life force of OG had been gutted.

What OG accomplished at The International 2018 is nothing short of astonishing.

After a tough group stage, including 0-2 losses to both EG and Team Liquid, OG rallied to secure the fourth spot in group A. The team would be in the upper bracket to start the tournament, playing with two lives instead of one thanks to the double-elimination format. But the road ahead was tough. Vici Gaming J Storm, the top squad of group B, selected OG as its opponent.

For most teams, this would be the greatest moment of tension, the breaking point. OG swept them 2-0 in a convincing win. The magic was just getting started.

Then came Evil Geniuses. This was a team of all-stars, including two former members of OG. There wasn’t supposed to be a way for OG to manage that upset, right? Tied 1-1, battling in the decisive game 3, Sumail was clearly in control of the game and EG seemed set for its top 3 berth when, somehow, OG turned the tables.

Throughout its playoff run, the green dream would frequently find itself playing from behind, scrounging for advantage when it could. But the masterful way OG played always catapulted them back into the game, just shy of the brink of defeat. Pham’s carry play was immaculate, finding space where none existed in games like the third bout with Evil Geniuses, eventually making his Spectre too commanding to ignore and too powerful to stop. In a heart-stopping turnaround, OG pushed back and beat Evil Geniuses, securing top 3 at the tournament. This team was supposed to be watching from the team boxes by now. Instead, it was looking like The International’s greatest underdog yet.

But beating EG wasn’t just a sign that OG was in Vancouver to win. It was victory over a former teammate who, in his own words, left to find a team with better chances for winning The International. Words could say so much about this moment, but video of the post-game handshake line will do best.

Sundstein’s cold stare was burned into Dota’s history. Whatever he might have been thinking there, whether it was bittersweet revenge or sadness at what could have been, OG had made it clear it was a contender. Now guaranteed a top 3 finish, only one team would stand in its way: the powerhouse PSG.LGD.

In a series of stunning matches, OG would overcome PSG.LGD not once, but twice, to win the tournament. Battling once in the upper bracket finals and again, when PSG.LGD earned its second shot at OG in the grand finals, the green dream ultimately prevailed.

What OG accomplished at The International 2018 is nothing short of astonishing. It was a run so unbelievable that even days afterwards, I still have to remind myself it really occurred. OG’s story is the kind movies are made of, that should garner some incidental swell of strings and horns accompanying moments like Debs’ incredible Axe spins or Pham’s repeated comebacks, fighting to climb the steepest of gold deficits. In every role, OG found its perfect synergy. Rookie mid laner Taavitsainen said he only had a few thousand in his bank account coming into The International. He’s leaving Vancouver as part of a team that just won over $11 million.

But OG’s narrative could also be one of disappointment and loss. This team, this run, only happened because the longtime comradery of Sundstein and Aizik had been torn apart. This roster exists now thanks to months, nearly years, of missing the mark and seeing teammates come and go. OG’s story is about triumphing over insurmountable odds, with a bittersweet addendum. That asterisk can linger as much as the win can.

The green dream, a fan phrase meant to support OG, has finally been realized. In the coming days, Dota 2 will undergo its regular shuffle, as teams attempt to dissect what went wrong and who goes where in the aftermath. Each squad will set its sights on a new season, a new circuit, and a new Aegis. But for the members of OG, they’re hopefully getting some deserved rest. Those five players, alongside their coach, underwent hell to earn their spot in the books. Whatever next season holds, it’s hard to think any Cinderella story could match theirs.

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