​MVP Phoenix smash expectations at Dota 2's Shanghai Major

MVP Phoenix

For the first time ever, a Korean Dota 2 team have won the group stage of a Valve event

At the Shanghai Major, the second of Valve’s seasonal Dota 2 tournaments, the Korean team MVP Phoenix finished their group in first place. That’s an understatement, however. They didn’t just beat their group, they stomped all over them. They performed so well that no team should have gotten second place because it puts them too close to MVP Phoenix. They didn’t drop a single game, achieving a flawless victory.

But given that Korea has never been exceptionally strong in Dota 2, did these wins mean anything? They must have had some weak opposition, especially if they won so hard that their games averaged less than 25 minutes! Not in the least. They first went up against EHOME, a team that took first in the last international Dota 2 tournament, the MarsTV Dota 2 League Winter 2015. Hardly a cakewalk for any team, the analysts even considered EHOME to be the strongest team in the group. Their second opponents were Team Secret, a gathering of some of the highest skilled players in the world, and a team that was able to take second at the last Dota Major in Frankfurt.

Those past results turned out to be meaningless, however, as the MVP Phoenix’s playstyle style completely defied expectations. Their last match, game two against Team Secret, really demonstrates what they brought to the table (you can find both games in the series embedded in this article.) MVP Phoenix’s lineup consisted of roaming Bounty Hunter, offlane and jungling Nature’s Prophet, midlane Phantom Lancer, safelane Leshrac, and support Vengeful Spirit. Team Secret’s lineup consisted of midlane Tiny, midlane Io, support Dazzle, offlane Spirit Breaker, and safelane Invoker.

Both teams started the game looking for a fight, and a brawl at the bottom bounty rune led to a two for one kill-exchange in favor of Team Secret. Even so, this established the pace that MVP Phoenix sustained for the rest of the match. Their aggression started over a bounty rune, but it didn’t stop until Team Secret’s ancient was crumbling. The neutral creeps had barely spawned when offensive map rotations came into play.

At the 45 second mark Febby’s Bounty Hunter rotated behind Team Secret’s tier two tower and secured a kill on Team Secret’s walking courier. As that happened, FoREv’s Nature’s Prophet began using treants to attack w33’s Invoker underneath his tower - an uncommon strategy since it provides extra experience and gold for the enemy laner. It was all a setup, though, as Invoker took a ton of damage farming treants, and this allowed for a sub-two minute tower dive onto the Secret safe laner. Bounty Hunter and Nature’s Prophet eagerly ran past Team Secret’s tower and into the treeline to secure a kill.

The timing and the composition of this gank is insanely rare. most teams are comfortably farming on Nature’s Prophet in the early game, at most looking for an opportunistic gank. Even though Team Secret was able to pick off Bounty Hunter in response, this defensive rotation hindered their map control as their other lanes began to suffer.

Specifically: bottom lane, where Team Secret was struggling to maintain their composure. At the four minute mark, a single gank let MVP Phoenix use Leshrac’s Diabolic Edict and Nature’s Prophet’s treants to destroy a tier one tower. Without hesitation, the four-man push went on to destroy Team Secret’s tier two tower. They used this early surge in gold to continue blasting towers as Team Secret watched in horror. Thirteen minutes into the game MVP Phoenix had destroyed all but one tier two tower, and was already engaging on Team Secret’s high ground. There was no hesitation to engage - there wasn’t even an Aegis of the Immortal - MVP Phoenix just kept going for it until they won. Even when Team Secret tried to claw back into the game using stacked neutral camps, MVP Phoenix were ready with a gank and steal. It was closer to a mouse trying to escape a playful cat than a normal game of back-and-forth Dota.

This success wasn’t a stroke of luck, though. MVP Phoenix’s draft brought an intense focus on the early game that was reminiscent of CDEC at The International 2015. The various MVP Phoenix lineups had two strengths: the ability to easily set up kills as a team starting at low levels, and quick objective-taking. This very apparent when MP’s Leshrac didn’t level Lightning Storm until level ten, and instead focused on Split Earth and Diabolic Edict, a much older and less common build. This old school build worked, however, and with minimal setup Split Earth secured kills, which let Diabolic Edict shred through towers.

Since their pressure never let up, MVP Phoenix was constantly forcing Secret’s draft to fight before they were powerful. An early game Io and Dazzle could do nothing to stop the constant push, and Spirit Breaker was more of a gold source than viable offlaner. Secret did eventually find their feet, but they were so pushed-in, so far behind, that single mistakes were costing them Roshan, their barracks, and the game itself. This hyper aggression has shown up in the past, but recent games have usually been decided much later than the ten minute mark

Among some fans there’s been a long running fear of Korea dominating the Dota scene. This is due in part to other esports where Korean players and organizations have firmly taken root as first place finishers (and sometimes second and third as well.) The global StarCraft scene has been dominated by Korean players for many years. Meanwhile, the League of Legends world champions have been Korean teams for the past three years - more than half of LoL’s tournament lifespan.

This doesn’t mean that MVP Phoenix is signaling the Korean Dota revolution, however. The players train in China’s Dota 2 region, where three of the of the ten highest MMRs belong to MVP Phoenix players. And while solid infrastructure exists in Korean esports organizations, Dota is a much newer phenomenon there when compared to every other competitive region.

While leaving groups in first place is a big deal, it ultimately may not have long-lasting effects. Both Secret and EHOME may have slept on research, and MVP’s first opponent in the playoffs will have until March 2nd to plan around the Korean aggression. Their four stomps are going to be researched and dissected like other top games, and entering the winner’s bracket only secures ninth place for MVP Phoenix. As MVP Phoenix have already demonstrated, however, anything is possible.

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