It's hard to make a name for yourself in Dota 2. Familiar faces show up at the game's world championship, The International, year after year, ready to fend off the cast of young talent that wants to take their place. To break through into the upper echelon of Dota is noteworthy; only a select few over the past few years have been successful in usurping the legends of old.
Team Liquid's ace, Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi, 20, is one of those special exceptions. Miracle- has become one of the faces of the new generation of Dota 2 superstars, along with Evil Geniuses' 18-year-old Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan, who won his first world championship at the age of 16. They're both confident in their abilities, but their personalities could not be more different. Where Sumail has a straightforward, sometimes blunt way of carrying himself, the best word to describe Miracle- would be aloof. He walked into the press room for The International media day laughing with his teammates, and relaxed in his chair, hands in pockets, for an interview.
"I actually never thought about [Dota 2 in a professional way], like I'm going to join a team," Miracle- said. "I just played my ranking, and from there some team just picked me up."
Dota 2's ranking system, MMR, is where Miracle- first started to build his name. Early last year, he became the first player to achieve over 9,000 points on the official leaderboard, and from there his legend online transitioned into excellent offline results with OG. The rookie organization won Valve's first Major in Frankfurt. After doubling up Majors with a victory at the Manila Major, all that was left to put a bow on his historic first year as a pro was a world title in Seattle at The International 6. There, though, the wheels came off for the first time for the solo mid player from Jordan, as OG failed to take home Aegis. The defeat derailed what many believed could be the start of a dynasty in the making.
Majors are special; winning one, even more so. But in Dota 2, The International, the $24 million world championship, is everything. Winning one world title can make up for years of sorrow, and for Miracle- and OG, losing that one TI was enough to break apart a club that was on the verge of doing something extraordinary. While OG would rebuild and go on to win two more Majors following the post-International shuffle, Miracle- would join another European squad, Team Liquid, one that he defeated to win his second Major in Manila. It was a joining of Europe's best on a single team, and Miracle-, a mechanical wizard and one of the best in the game already after a single year, was the last piece to an organization invested in bringing home a world championship.
"I don't think [of the pressure] that much," he said. "Just focus on the game, do whatever you have to do. Play games, and don't think about it. It'll get to if you keep thinking about it. ... Just focus on your game and play and don't think about anything else."
To not get overwhelmed is a must in Dota 2. In a scene where teams can disband quicker than a blink of an eye or where a player can get replaced over one poor performance, brushing things off and not letting the world get to you is an almost essential skill. If not, and you can't focus on the game itself, nothing else will matter; you will be gone from your team before you even know it. In Dota 2, winning matters above all else; in "Game of Thrones" fashion, you win or you die. There is no middle ground a lot of the time.
For Miracle-, his pursuit of the Aegis is not only for his own legacy but also for that of his captain Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi.
"[Winning TI] means a lot," he said. "To me, to my friends and everyone who supports me, my teammates. I actually want to win it a lot because of Kuro as well. He's been to seven TIs now, and hopefully we can win this one for him."