It has now been close to two and a half years since Alliance was on top of the world of professional Dota. Early in 2013 the Swedish juggernaut featuring Henrik "AdmiralBulldog" Ahnberg, Jerry "EGM" Lundkvist, captain Gustav "s4" Magnusson along with Dota veterans Joakim "Akke" Akterhall and Jonathan "Loda" Berg became one of the first Western-based Dota teams to win a large-scale international event on Chinese soil. In the summer the Swedes blew through the competition at The International (TI) 2013, finishing with a 24-3 overall record at the event, winning the war over rivals Natus Vincere in the finals and cementing their place as the best team in Dota for the year.
The majority of the 2014 and 2015 seasons were not as kind. Filled with complacency, communication issues, roster changes and ultimately poor placements, Alliance fell from grace as one of the top title contenders. In August, Magnusson returned after a year stint with Secret, with Lundkvist coming back to the team in December. The question of whether Alliance is back began to be answered with the team's championship run at the 2015 World Cyber Arena finals, but the event's on-site problems marred the results. But now with a second consecutive win at StarSeries XIII, including a best-of-three win over Secret and a finals sweep of Evil Geniuses, there's no doubt about it.
"Well I suppose we can honestly say that we are back again," a smiling Berg told ESPN. "It feels amazing to be able to win something again, but other than that it just feels good to be able to compete at a top level with other great teams. Even though we wouldn't have won the tournament, this experience would have given us the confidence needed to know that we can beat anyone. Sure, a few years ago we did dominate the scene, but now we are maybe a bit reminded of how we did it."
Berg emphasized the impact of Alliance's recent win and overall importance of team chemistry.
"We did win WCA about one month ago in China, when we just remade the team a week prior to the event," he continued. "That win pretty much secured our invite to the Major, but this win showed everyone that we deserved the invite over certain other teams that had to fight their way through the qualifier. It's obviously very nice to prove all the haters wrong, but even more than that I'm just truly happy that we are back together again. I feel like every player on the team makes the rest play better than we would have done on other teams, and that's something that is honestly quite hard to do. For example, I have an easier time focusing on my carry role with EGM back on the team, because he reinforces a lot of my ideas, and in the same way I usually support his ideas.
"Then again we are prepared for more hardship, and when stuff does not go as well as it does right now, well then you just have to remind each other that our true goal is to win another TI and you have to keep your eyes on that, even though it might feel like it's far away."
Alliance's run at StarSeries was capped with the previously mentioned win over EG, the team led by captain Peter "ppd" Dager that has been the one to beat in 2015. Dager's expertise in the draft phase has been crucial to EG's TI5 and DAC championships.
Akterhall explained Alliance's thought process behind the team's finals picks.
"During the draft we made sure to ban out the heroes that we thought that they were comfortable with and what we have seen them play before" Akterhall told ESPN. "For example, we didn't want them to have Faceless Void or when they picked Witch Doctor we banned out Treant one of the games because we've seen them play it before. It helped a bit that we faced and beat EG in the group stage because it made us confident enough to not switch up too much in the finals. We tried to use things that we had practiced before the tournament but at the same time we weren't afraid to pull out new unconventional picks like in the second game when we picked Night Stalker for S4 in the mid lane."
These wins are nice for Alliance, but the team has its eyes set on the next Major in Shanghai, and ultimately the chance of being the first Dota 2 team to win two TI championships. For Berg that's the only goal, but he knows it won't be getting any easier.
"I'm very happy with our performance at Starladder, and especially our games versus Secret, Liquid and EG means a lot to us as a team," he said. "At the same time this is only one tournament, and it's very hard to predict the future. We need to win a Major to secure a slot at TI, and we need to win one more TI to have as good of a year as 2013, so I suppose we are not quite there yet.
"I don't really think Dota is at the same place as it was two years ago," Berg continued. "There are just so many amazing teams that will fight us every step of the way. If a team wins a few LAN [offline] tournaments in a row, every other team will have their eyes on them, and that's quite scary. Before this tournament I think a lot of teams underrated us. I think it might be different for the future."