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Dota 2 championship ends in a pulse-pounding, curse-breaking Cinderella story

The International 2018 has come and gone, and this year's Dota 2 championship was spectacular. The $25 million tournament ended with a five-game grand finals series between the much-maligned European squad OG and storied Chinese team PSG.LGD. After going to all five games in the grueling series, OG just barely claimed victory and the top prize for the first time ever.

It was the conclusion to a bizarre, winding Cinderella story that began with OG’s formation in 2015. The squad came together that year under captain Johan "N0tail" Sundstein (aka BigDaddyN0tail). While N0tail was well-liked in the Dota community, he had yet to win a championship. Although that didn’t stop fans and analysts from predicting ultimate OG victory in 2016.

That’s because OG won two out of three Majors, the highest profile tournaments in pro Dota behind The International, before the big event. It went into that year’s championship looking like the team to beat. Which is why it was so surprising when the organization folded like a house of cards—taking the 9th-12th position at TI6. That’s a fancy way of saying OG didn’t win a single match-up on the main stage back then.

One could brush that off as a fluke. OG went on to win another two Majors, after all. It was enough to earn the team a second TI invite in 2017.

And once again OG completely choked. The squad won a single series before being knocked out of the tournament by LGD: the same brand they faced off against in this year’s grand finals, albeit with only two-fifths of last year’s players remaining on the Chinese squad. It was still a symbolic victory for the beleaguered OG.

Speaking of bleeding players, that’s exactly what OG did after its second fumble at The International. Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok dropped off the team in March. That left N0tail’s squad ineligible for an invite to TI8 or to its European qualifier tournament. The roster was essentially forced to qualify for the qualifiers. 

And it did, no thanks to Gustav "s4" Magnusson and Tal "Fly" Aizik (who was a founding OG member). Those star players defected to rival team Evil Geniuses at the last possible second before one of this year’s Majors, forcing OG to withdraw while it scrambled to find warm bodies before The International. 

The roster filled out with returning member Anathan "ana" Pham and Sébastien "Ceb" Debs. The latter player was semi-retired from active play. He was serving as OG’s coach and only stepped in to fill an empty seat. Topias "Topson" Taavitsainen, an almost total unknown from Finland, rounded out the replacements.

The ragtag group quickly proved that the third time’s the charm, however. OG performed admirably in The International group stages and didn’t lose a single series on the main stage. Though a pattern emerged. N0tail and company would come recklessly close to defeat over and over again, only to come back and win take it all at the very last second.

It happened against Evil Geniuses, the team that carried two former OG members and ultimately took third at the tournament. It happened against LGD, the team that bodied the squad 2-0 the year before. It even happened during the incredible grand finals that were the polar opposite of the last International’s 3-0 shutout.

OG won its first match of the day just as handily as LGD won the next two. The Chinese team then spent the first 45 minutes of game four packing its European counterpart into the dirt. Team captain Xu "fy" Linsen was at the top of his game and it genuinely looked like the LGD couldn’t lose the match, much less the best-of-five series.

One incredibly surprising fight in LGD’s home base (plus stellar aggressive play from Ceb, ana, and OG fifth Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka) was all it took to completely turn things around. Something similar happened in game five, but much more quickly. OG appeared completely hosed for 20 minutes before finding its footing and closing things out without a hitch. 

The three-year curse was lifted. The comeback kings were born. 

Dota 2 fans typically look back on 2013’s TI3 as the most exciting championship in the game’s short history. One reason for that is because it was the first, and until this year only, time that the grand finals went to a full five games. That comparison alone puts year’s tournament in the running for the most heart-pounding finale to a Dota season yet. But the numbers alone wouldn’t have been half as entertaining without the story of comebacks, curses, and betrayals that paved the way.

Next year’s International will be held in China for the first time ever. That makes sense given the size and passion of the Chinese Dota 2 scene, which roared with dedication and assurance for LGD this year. That tournament will have a lot to live up to.