Don't call it a comeback for OG. The surprise victors of the Frankfurt Major are coming into Manila with a chip on their shoulder after a seventh/eighth place finish in Shanghai. In the weeks and months since that, all eyes have been on this team to see which OG will show up at the Manila Major. Evany Chang, manager of the OG Dota 2 squad, succinctly defines their outlook on the matter:
"It goes without saying that any competitive player should aim for first place," says Chang. "Any less is a disappointment, even unacceptable."
Through several past LANs, OG has shown that drive for the top. From a tough-fought appearance at Epicenter to a definitive 3-0 sweep of Natus Vincere in the DreamLeague Season 5 Grand Finals, this team has shown it can put up results.
But it's performance time in Manila; tensions are high as teams gather for one of the last big tournaments before The International. So which OG will show up?
Have you heard the word?
As far as the new patch goes, team OG is taking it in stride. Fluidity is key: being able to adjust and adapt to new situations, and not getting caught up in the minutiae of "flavor of the month" picks. As Chang puts it, adjusting to new patches is "difficult, but refreshing."
But the meta OG plays seems unlike any other. While other teams are focusing on picks like Beastmaster, Doom and Mirana, OG is looking to picks that many would consider niche, off-meta or even just strange.
Take Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barqawi, the star core player for OG who recently achieved 9000 MMR in solo ranked play. In the team's sweep of Na'Vi in DreamLeague, Barqawi played Timbersaw mid in two of the three games, an odd pick to say the least. But what's more, he played it convincingly, going 25/4/10 in the final match of the series and dealing 40,000 damage to heroes in the 49-minute victory.
Run down the matches of any of these players, and you will find similar pocket picks. Alongside the standard Earth Spirit and Dark Seer picks, you'll find Juggernaut, Templar Assassin, Spirit Breaker, Tinker and more. It doesn't portray just flexibility, but confidence. This is a team that knows what they're good at, and what they want to play.
Of course, it's difficult to talk OG's picks without bringing up the bird in the room. A team that has heavily taken to the influx of support role Phoenix play, OG has a 66.67% win-rate with the firebird overall. Teams have taken to first-round banning it against OG in knee-jerk fashion, avoiding dealing with the Sun Ray and team fight presence it provides.
"Phoenix is pretty easy to play around," says Johan "N0tail" Sundstein. "I think he is trending for a lot of teams and not just us."
Eyeing the throne
Many teams have seen the Phoenix results and began utilizing it, so there will be many teams watching OG to see what they do in Manila. Competition is strong, with the OG team facing off against one of the strongest Chinese teams in the world in Newbee in Group A. This same squad that halted OG's climb of the ladder at Epicenter will be competition for a top seed out of the group stage, and there's even more challenges ahead in the upper bracket if OG makes it. Andreas "Cr1t-" Franck Nielsen says the team is looking to take it slow, though.
"While other teams are focusing on picks like Beastmaster, Doom and Mirana, OG is looking to picks that many would consider niche, off-meta or even just strange."
"So far, we haven't looked at teams outside of our group specifically, since we're focused on the group stage games ahead," Nielsen explains. "There are other teams to keep an eye on that we know are strong, like Liquid in particular."
Nielsen calls attention to coach Sébastien "7ckngMad" Debs, who has traveled with the team to Manila in order to provide analysis and an extra set of eyes to watch other squads' performances in the group stages. The players can work on the match ahead, while the coach watches the landscape and preps for the big fights on the horizon.
As a group, OG seems comfortable in this mindset of relying on each other, likely due to their time spent together. As a team, they've been together since August 2015, when they formed under the name "(monkey) Business." Sundstein and team captain Tal "Fly" Aizik have been together even longer, as members of Fnatic.EU and Team Secret. Aizik explains that playing as a team for a longer period of time has its benefits.
"Every team has some problems, and after playing together for over half a year, you will face a lot of things as a team," says Aizik. "If you overcome those things, you can become very strong."
Of course, shifts in teams occur. Many rosters at Manila have been plagued by issues in the past months, ones that arose not long after sudden roster changes. While other teams might be looking for changes, OG hasn't felt the same compulsion.
"At first, you get this fresh wind and can really get off to a good start, but after a while some problems will start to surface," Aizik explains. "It might be too late to change the lineup for the upcoming big tournaments. So after being together for half a year, we chose to stay together because we already faced of lot of challenges and overcame them. In the long run, I think this is the right choice."
Making A Statement
That cohesion is admirable, as many Dota 2 teams look to shuffle players around this time every year before The International. While the majors have added a little more stability in that respect, there's no doubt that teams are already looking past the Manila cup to the bigger prize.
Results in Manila don't mean the same as they did in Frankfurt or Shanghai, with TI6 approaching. Teams are taking more than a shot at a prize pool in the Philippines; over the next few weeks, they're making their final bid to TI6, and a convincing argument means the difference between a short break before TI bootcamps, or a slog through the open qualifiers with many other teams hungry for the ticket.
David "MoonMeander" Tan says the team is hoping to get a direct invite to TI6, but for now, the team is focusing on Manila.
"I prefer to take things one at a time," Tan says. "We take every tournament seriously and try to win every one of them."
Within this tournament, though, OG is settling for nothing less than the top. "To settle for a lesser placement would be a defeatist mentality," says Chang. "Every team member needs to be on the same page in this regard, or they will not realize their full potential."
This year's majors have shown us two different versions of OG: the young upstart and the fallen victor. Which one will show up in Manila? It seems like neither. This OG is new, confident, and intent on the title. This OG squad seems like it has a new lease on life, and a sole mindset: to seize its spot atop the Dota landscape once more.