Few knew the name Warriors Gaming Unity coming into the Boston Major. The Southeast Asian qualifier had bested Fnatic and Mineski on their way to a qualifier spot, but were underplayed and overlooked.
Heads started turning in the group stage though, when this scrappy team beat defending International champs Wings Gaming 2-1 to open the Boston Major. WGU came out of the group the third seed, but had dealt a blow to Wings, and after beating Complexity in the first round of the main bracket, are now guaranteed a top 8 finish at the team's first majors appearance.
Five-role support Yap "xNova" Jian Wei described his team as very excited to be in the top 8 in Boston.
"Very excited," said Wei. "Very excited, and we are happy with our results."
At the time, the team was waiting for the results of OG vs. MVP Phoenix, which would determine his team's round-of-eight opponent. Wei said the team preferred to face MVP Phoenix; being from the same region, Unity had more experience playing MVP and would know their strategies better. OG succeeded though, a team that WGU is a little more wary to face.
"It would be tough, I think," said Wei of facing OG. "We would still try our best."
Expanding on a choice between a familiar opponent or the European powerhouse of OG, Warriors Gaming Unity coach Beh Kok Wang highlighted the trouble teams like Warriors Gaming Unity faces in large international tournaments like the Boston Major.
"We have played [MVP] so many times, so we know them better than OG, obviously," said Wang. "This is the first time we've been outside of Southeast Asia or China, and this is the first time we've met OG, to play them."
Smaller teams from regions like Southeast Asia often don't have the chance to scrim or compete in interregional tournaments, for reasons ranging from distance to lack of infrastructure to support the teams. Wang says many teams in Southeast Asia don't have the resources to travel to other countries to scrim and train. The hope is that, as SEA teams continue to perform well at tournaments, larger sponsors will find their way into the region and help reinforce the Dota scene there.
For Warriors Gaming Unity, though, Boston has been about getting that travel and training, in one of the most high-pressure situations possible.
"So far [the major] has been a really good experience,"said Wang. "We have learned a lot, about how [other teams] play."
"Opponents here are much stronger," Wei told ESPN. "And you've got all the top teams here, compared to the teams in our region."
When considering the possibility of making a run at the Eaglesong trophy, both coach and player have aspirations, but keep expectations in check.
"There is a chance, of course, but we still believe in miracles sometimes, right?" said Wang. "There's a chance, but a slight chance. We try our best anyway, because for us there's nothing to lose. We came in as an underdog, so nothing to lose, and if we win it's a bonus."
The underdogs of Unity have certainly made the most of their time in Boston. Though the weather is a bit colder than the team might have expected, and food has been an interesting experience ("We can still go to Chinatown," jokes Wang about American eating options), WGU appreciates the opportunity given to them advancing this far in a major. Wei has especially taken advantage to get some time watching games from his favorite player in Dota 2, Virtus.Pro's Ilya "Lil" Ilyuk.
"As a support, he impacts the game a lot," said Wei. "He led the team, brought it together and made a top team in CIS."
When thinking about the future, towards the distant but ever-looming International, hopes are there but kept in measure. Warriors Gaming Unity will likely be competing with the other talented teams, like Team Faceless, a reforged Fnatic and MVP Phoenix to earn a spot at the tournament.
"We haven't planned that far yet," said Wang. "We'll just start with the Spring Major first."