There and Back Again: Clement "Puppey" Ivanov and Team Secret - Part 3

Team Secret holds the Mystic Staff trophy after beating Team Liquid 3-1 in the finals of the Shanghai Major at the Mercedez Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. Here is a look at their path to the title over the final two days of the event. Tim Franco for ESPN

The final part of There and Back Again recounts Team Secrets' final days in Shanghai as Puppey leads his squad to a Major win. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

A Tale of Two Captains

In hindsight, perhaps we should all have seen this coming. In their opening two series on the Shanghai Main Stage, Team Secret overcame their Frankfurt nemesis OG, which featured two former (and founding) Team Secret Members, and bested their longtime rival EG, which housed their recently departed young superstar Arteezy. Puppey matched wits with Fly and ppd, considered two of the strongest drafters in Western Dota 2, if not the two strongest worldwide. Both series went the full three games, and in both cases Puppey's drafts gave Secret a significant edge in the decisive match. After two dramatic victories, Team Liquid was waiting for them in the upper bracket final. Waiting for Puppey and KuroKy.

The Game 1 draft opened with KuroKy banning two of Puppey's signature heroes, Enigma and Chen. Puppey showed his hand fairly early, opting to continue his success with greedy jungling supports and picked Doom in the second phase, following it up with a w33 Windrunner and EnVy Spectre. Leaving his own hero for last, Kuro took his cue from pub Dota 2 matches worldwide and picked his own greedy support, a 5-position Legion Commander, leaving both captains on their respective hero for only the fourth time as professional players. Puppey struck first in the game, going boots first to set up a mid gank on Adrian "FATA-" Trinks's Invoker. In what was fast becoming their calling card in the tournament, Secret took control at 10 minutes, with w33 landing a spectacular Shackle on two Liquid heroes and Focus Firing downing Kuro for three unanswered kills.

Two minutes later, yet another spectacular multi-hero Earth Spike from pieliedie's Lion completely shut down a Liquid rotation into the Dire jungle, and bought Secret time to form up for a defense of Liquid's push on their top tier 2 tower. And, as they had all tournament long, the team capitalized. Puppey, MiSeRy and pieliedie smoked out of the Dire base, forcing FATA- back out of the Dire jungle and leaving EnVy free to Haunt in on four Liquid heroes, setting up a spectacular four-hero Vaccum-Wall combo from MiSeRy's Dark Seer and four unanswered Secret kills.

"At 28 minutes, Secret saw the game begin to slip away, as w33's Invoker was picked off outside the Radiant base."

Liquid wasn't done. Trailing in kills throughout, they maintained a slim Net Worth advantage, taking down five of six Secret outer towers by 18 minutes. Just before the 20-minute mark, Liquid mounted a coordinated push mid toward Secret's tier 2 mid tower, the last standing outside the Dire base. In the ensuing fight, w33 quite simply took over the game. Again using smoke to start the fight, Secret sent Puppey down past the Dire secret shop to flank Liquid, drawing a Roar from Liquid offlaner Ivan "MinD_ContRoL" Borislavov on Beastmaster. As Liquid repositioned to respond to the threat on their right flank, MiSeRy and pieliedie responded with another brilliant Vaccum-Wall combo and multi-hero Earth Spike on Liquid's cores. Secret wiped out all five Liquid heroes, earning an Ultra Kill for w33's Windrunner, one of only five in the tournament and the only one to come before the 20-minute mark. Liquid held on, but Secret executed nearly the same combo only five minutes later, getting four unanswered kills and an uncontested Roshan, and scored another four unanswered at 32 minutes after catching out FATA-'s invoker. Liquid hung tough and stayed close in a game they lost nearly every major engagement, but Secret's teamfight execution was simply too much.

Game 2 started differently, as Puppey took both Invoker and Earth Spirit first phase. It was the Secret Captain's first competitive Earth Spirit appearance. At 28 minutes, Secret saw the game begin to slip away, as w33's Invoker was picked off outside the Radiant base. EnVy's Slark, trying for a counter-kill behind Liquid's push, walked directly over a Dire Sentry and was immediately picked off, giving Liquid a 3-0 exchange, and costing Secret their top barracks, the melee 'rax mid, and buybacks on EnVy and MiSeRy's Beastmaster. EnVy narrowly avoided another possibly game-losing dieback as Secret pushed back outside their base, killing four Liquid heroes. Ten minutes afterward, Secret found the fight they needed. In an engagement that recalled Puppey's glory days with Na'Vi, the team executed a near perfect fight outside the Roshan pit, first picking off Tusk to limit Liquid's ability to disrupt initiation, then picking apart Liquid's remaining four heroes behind a virtuoso w33 spell combo on Invoker (set up by a terrific pieliedie blink-hex on OD) at the radiant side Roshan pit landing. The fight was an astonishing 12k Net Worth swing and gave Secret an uncontested Roshan.

In the fight's aftermath, holding an Aegis and its extra life, EnVy went all-in, purchasing a Divine Rapier. It was a brilliant move, and one of which few players are capable. Secret were down two sets of barracks against Liquid's Nature's Prophet/Death Prophet combo, a pair fully capable of both split pushing well into the late game and/or destroying Secret's base after any mistake. Just minutes later, EnVy's gamble paid off, as Secret took a fight in the Dire jungle, applying just enough control to keep EnVy free to continue attacking. At 45 minutes, EnVy and Secret barreled into the Dire base, taking down buildings and heroes alike. Secret took their first 2-0 series win of the playoffs, and were headed to the Grand Finals.

The Unlikely Champions

The tournament's final day dawned. Just as in Frankfurt, Secret awaited the winner of a loser's bracket final in which Evil Geniuses faced a promising new European squad. Just as in Frankfurt, EG were upset by a less experienced team, who came into the Grand Final with renewed momentum. To claim their first major title, Secret faced a best-of-five rematch against Team Liquid and KuroKy.

Secret opened the series with a statement win, posting 13 of the first 16 kills and leading by 10k Net Worth by 20 minutes. EnVy was once again brilliant on Slark, employing a very different Midas-Manta build that kept him safely ahead while allowing him to split push against a teamfight-focused Liquid lineup. Though the game ended at 45 minutes, Liquid was never seriously threatened. The final kill score is 14-37, an accidental tribute to Sivatheeban "1437" Sivanathapillai, who, himself a promising young North American captain, served as Secret's coach in Shanghai. Secret were two wins away.

In Game 2, Liquid struck back early. Rallying behind their young Finnish carry Lasse "Matumbaman" Urpalainen on Lycan and superstar support Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka (probably top 2 in the world at his position) on Oracle, Liquid notched five of the match's first six kills and took down two Secret towers before 11 minutes. With EnVy on Ursa for only the third time in his pro career, both teams knew Roshan would be decisive. For NFL fans, Roshan fights are the special teams of Dota 2, and through the game's history, nobody has executed in these fights better than Puppey's teams. The game's first two significant engagements both broke out near the Roshan pit, both ending in virtually even trades. Secret took the first Roshan of the match at 15 minutes, sacrificing pieliedie's lion top to a flashy Roar-Sunstrike combo initiated by MinD_ContRoL on Beastmaster. But Secret could not get away cleanly. Armed with the Aegis, EnVy's Ursa chased Liquid up the Radiant side Roshan pit landing, and was forced to use Enrage as three Liquid heroes respond. The Aegis was wasted, and EnVy went down.

"In a nod to pieliedie's support Tiny, KuroKy picked Wisp and Matumbaman's Tiny used Toss from Dire jungle camp to pull the mid lane."

Rapidly losing map control, Secret desperately hung on. They took a four-to-one trade mid as Puppey's Winter Wyvern used Cold Embrace to disrupt a Liquid initiation on w33's Death Prophet. Minutes later, he followed this with a spectacular Winter's Curse initiation in yet another Roshan fight, capped by w33's Death Prophet luring FATA-'s invoker in for a kill by EnVy. Yet another Aegis went Secret's way. But just shy of 30 minutes in, Liquid finally found a critical fight. JerAx's oracle baited EnVy brilliantly, and KuroKy used a crucial buyback on Tusk to give his team the edge in the fight. Liquid ruthlessly exploited their map advantage, and though Secret held valiantly against several pushes, EnVy was eventually caught out mid, and Secret lost their mid-lane barracks.

Secret controlled the Roshan pit throughout the game, but Liquid controlled the rest of the map, and were methodical and disciplined in their slow siege. In one of the most thrilling endings of the tournament, Secret initiated a pickoff on JerAx's Oracle below the dire jungle, with KuroKy's Tusk distracting the enemy team on their rear flank as Matumbaman and FATA- executed a backdoor attack on Secret's lone remaining set of barracks bottom. With only seconds remaining on a Glyph cooldown that could potentially save Secret's base, Liquid destroyed the barracks, and seconds later, the throne. The series was tied.

Liquid took a page from Secret's Frankfurt playbook in Game 3. In a nod to pieliedie's support Tiny, KuroKy picked Wisp and Matumbaman's Tiny used Toss from Dire jungle camp to pull the mid lane. Secret, realizing what's happening, contested the camp, and Liquid made a critical mistake: A Kuroky tether fell just short, leaving him on the high ground away from his team just as MiSeRy's Nature's Prophet teleported in. Liquid gave up First Blood, and only seconds later stumble again, giving a free courier kill to pieliedie's Disruptor mid. Secret were merciless in their rotations on Liquid's Tiny-Wisp mid, killing both in the next few minutes while EnVy's Clinkz, uncontested in the bottom lane, pulled off a dramatic escape from three Liquid heroes when MinD_ContRoL's Tidehunter used his first Ravage of the game in a failed pickoff. For the first 15 minutes, it seemed Secret's team discipline would be simply too much.

Yet again, Liquid punched back. They caught Puppey's Doom below his top Tier one tower in the Dire jungle, and relocated in behind the kill, intercepting the Teleport response from MiSeRy's Prophet. KuroKy's Wisp escaped on 20hp, the return relocate narrowly saving him from MiSeRy's attack. Liquid traded four heroes for one, and tied the match at 7 kills apiece. Refusing to blink, Secret shrugged off the mistake, reeling off five straight kills, and picked apart Liquid's side of the map, achieving the same midgame map advantage their opponents enjoyed in the previous game.

By 25 minutes, Liquid were desperate. FATA- attempted to force an engagement mid, with Liquid bringing down Puppey's Doom, but EnVy was just too far ahead, his damage output too much as three Liquid heroes fell. Liquid fought valiantly, but Secret dealt a decisive blow six minutes later as Liquid again attempted to initiate on Doom in the Radiant jungle. Liquid's focus had turned to EnVy, but now it was w33 on Invoker, who was out of control, leading all heroes in Net Worth with zero deaths. Secret take top barracks after a pickoff on FATA-'s Outworld Devourer, and the game spirals out of control. Secret's three ranged cores were all farmed, and at a huge position advantage in fights against Tiny and the mid-ranged OD. Disruptor and Doom gave Secret all the control they needed against their enemy's Tidehunter initiation. w33 ended the game Beyond Godlike on Invoker, with 14 kills, 11 assists and zero deaths, and Secret was one game away from the title.

The tournament's final game felt like a coronation. Secret went back to Windranger, Slark, and pieliedie's Lion one last time. They notched nine of the first ten kills, winning every lane. MinD_ContRoL's Faceless Void, brilliant for Liquid earlier in the tournament, cast his first Chronosphere over 15 minutes into the match. Secret controlled the match from start to finish on the way to a 22-3 kill advantage before 25 minutes, and Liquid tapped out seconds later inside the Radiant base. Secret were the Shanghai Major Champions.

In the past eight months, Team Secret played in three Dota 2 Major Tournaments, the first two as favorites. In the third, all the pieces of their talented roster finally came together. MiSeRy showcased his veteran decision helping. w33 back to his dominant midlane form, destroying many one-on-one lane matchups and landing spectacular skillshots in mid and late-game teamfights. EnVy made the high-risk, high-reward plays that have made him famous. pieliedie, ever the unsung hero, was probably Secret's best player at the event, and certainly their most consistent.

The five players stood onstage, holding aloft a crystal trophy to a cheering Chinese crowd. Just as in game, on stage Puppey stood just a little taller than everyone else. It had been roughly 1,600 days since he first took over as captain of Na'Vi following their International win. In that time, he had become the game's most decorated leader, and in some ways the face of professional Dota 2 around the world.

And, for the first time in his career as a captain, he is a Major Champion.