When you're at the top, you're everyone's target.
After taking the title at Frankfurt and Manila, OG has set a strong case for being one of the best teams in Dota 2. The two-time Major-winning squad is bootcamping for a run at the Aegis, and as team coach Sébastien "7ckngMad" Debs puts it, all eyes are on OG.
"Winning two Majors definitely builds up some confidence, but it also makes you a target. Everyone looks at you through a lens," said 7ckngMad. "[The International] will be way rougher than the two Majors before."
Even with the higher level of competition, toppling the mean green will not be easy. Many have tried and failed; Team Liquid, Wings Gaming, Newbee, Vici.Gaming Reborn, almost every top team has been shown the exit by OG. Even those who take out OG have trouble replicating the victory, as the team adapts and returns stronger than ever.
This is a team that has stood the test of time, endured drought seasons and reaped the rewards. For many members of OG, this is not their first time competing for Dota 2's most coveted prize pool, but this is the first time they've come in as the favorites. Johan "n0tail" Sundstein has seen several TI's, through the viewpoint of several teams, but this time is different.
"I would prefer not to be the favorites going into a tournament, but this is the first time that I can say that I have a chance to win a TI," said n0tail. "That is more motivation than I've ever had before."
The many-faced team
It's difficult to pinpoint the most effective cog in the OG machine. Other teams rely on single players, explosive playmakers who set the tempo and lead the team. Yet OG doesn't seem to rely on the same factors. Each time one player falters, gets focused in lane or harassed out of any farm, others instantly pick up the slack.
Amer "Miracle-" Barqawi tends to be most obvious choice for teams to focus their aggression on. A 9000 MMR mid laner, Miracle- has shown proficiency across a breadth of heroes, from meta picks like Tinker to pocket strats in Medusa or Axe. Teams often focus on the "shut down Miracle-" approach, yet this tactic doesn't seem to faze him in the slightest.
"If I'm focused [on], my team sometimes tries to make space for me to catch up," said Miracle-. "It's not good for opponents to focus me because my team will just have a free game."
This is where players like n0tail step in, as he has found new rhythm in his carry role on OG. On Terrorblade alone, n0tail averages 661 gold-per-minute, and he boasts impressive stats across a wide range of carries, from Juggernaut to Naga Siren and Drow Ranger.
If it isn't the danger of Miracle- getting out of control, it's n0tail, or offlaner David "Moon" Tan, or even a support like Andreas "Cr1t-" Nielsen getting too much space to make plays happen across the map. Captain and drafter Tal "Fly" Aizik notes the flexibility of his team to move from comfort picks to necessary counters.
"When you draft for your team, it's important to keep in mind what heroes you are comfortable with," said Fly. "But as a top team, you should be able to integrate heroes you've rarely practiced as well, if the situation calls for it."
Band of brothers
It's all in the camaraderie of OG, an inherent trust these five players have built up with each other. The Dota scene has rarely been known for its stability, and past years have often been plagued with roster swaps and players constantly moving on to new pastures. This OG squad has stuck it out though, from a surprise Frankfurt win through a dry winter spell, and back on through to Manila.
Now, with The International and over $18 million in prize money ahead, is when the loyalty pays dividends.
"If you believe in your team, the players you have, and you have trust in one another, it's good to stick together because that means we'll have experienced the lows," said Fly. "If you are able to rise from that you'll be that much stronger. Teams that are only together for half a year might not have gone through the lows yet and those obstacles might happen during the most important tournament of the year. They might not be able to bounce back from that."
Moon expressed similar sentiments about players and teams that often struggle to stay in one place for long.
"As for other teams, there are some players out there who just can't make it, not because of their skill, but because they cannot work well with certain people," said Moon. "That is what I think is a core issue in other teams."
This is not a problem for OG, though, as this talented group of players hasn't just found a common standing in skill, but in personality. At tournaments like The Summit, it's easy to see how this group gets along, and how it's managed to turn that into success.
7ckngMad told us the atmosphere of their TI bootcamp is slightly different, yet similar to the team's preparations for the Manila Major.
"I think that if it is different, it's on a personal level for each and every one of us, more than as a team," said 7ckngMad. It's always fun, according to the team coach, but the team has been picking up steam.
"Every day that passes, the hype is increasing," 7ckngMad says. "You can tell that we're getting there."
There's still obstacles on the road, though. A recent appearance at The Summit 5 saw OG miss the grand finals of a tournament for the first time since Epicenter in May. Both times, it was at the hands of a Chinese squad: in May, Newbee, and at The Summit, Wings Gaming. When asked which teams the mean green is keeping an eye on, Fly was clear on who the team's greatest competitors would be.
"Right now, Liquid, Newbee and Wings seem like the top competition for us," said Fly. 7ckngMad echoed an obvious wariness of the top teams, but both captain and coach had a second list of blind spots they were watching.
"Personally, I'm interested in keeping an eye on the question marks, such as Secret and EG, mainly," said 7ckngMad.
It's no question teams have their eyes set on OG. There is no doubt OG is a team that can take the title for the first time, as a team built solely on the talent and cohesion of five players.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter," said 7ckngMad. "The only team we truly have to keep an eye on is ourselves."