IG - Burning is Back
The immortal god of Chinese dota has come back to The International. Yet he possesses an advantage that he never had before - low expectations from the fans.
BurNIng is back. The emperor of Chinese DotA has qualified once again for The International. To make the comeback sweeter still, the B-God has led his teammates into the annual Seattle battle, given a direct invite from Valve from the back of their title win at the Asia Championship (in which they 3-0’d OG in the finals). Xxs, who was in primary school when Burning first made his name in 2008, let the world know how scary it would be to give iG Magnus. The tournament also marked a welcome return for Q, who is having his second spring as a brilliant strategist and drafter since his initial memorable run with CDEC at The International 5. Q is now widely and rightly recognized as one of the best support player and the mastermind behind IG’s successes.
As for iG itself, the hype and ridicule in the Chinese community that is normally surrounding the team, its owner Wang Sicong, can be described as abnormally muted. Wang Sicong is the son of the richest man in China and has had an incredible fall from Chinese netizens’ grace and popularity, alongside a dent on his family assets. Perhaps that fall has given iG less distraction than previous iterations.
When B-God got married, the man who once was a magnet of adoration and controversies seems to have matured and chose to shun away from spotlight. There have been photos that went viral inside the Chinese community where BurNIng would sit behind Wings players, who were once his pupils but claimed the most coveted prize of a TI win last year, figuring out what is the best style of play in 2017.
Such humility and trust is also reflected in their strategies and results: there have been noticeably less 4 protect 1 games for iG than in previous BurNIng teams. Even when iG is picking Anti-mage and Spectre, we can see a BurNIng that is more eager to fight early. But more often we see fighting heroes picked for the position 1 in iG's line-up: Clinkz, Weaver, and Ursa.
Yet, maybe the most refreshing thing to see is this brand new hero pool where he would sometimes play sacrificial roles: Vengeful Spirit buying the Hood of Defiance or even the Pipe of Insight and Wraith King whose first life is spent entirely absorbing damage. The most typical of this kind of strategy was undoubtedly Game 3 of the Grand Finals of the Asia Championship, where BurNIng’s end-game items were Phase Boots, Magic Wand, Pipe, Solar Crest, Dragon Lance and Ring of Aquila.
His choices are an eminent illustration that no longer is he only the young man who only knows how to farm. Given that the Shadow Fiend and Legion Commander were extremely farmed and have high physical damage output already and taking into account that the enemy line-up consisted of an Ember Spirit and a Lone Druid, his items were possibly the most sensible choices.
But how did this team come to be? When this team was formed after the Fall Reshuffle, we could still see traces of WC3 DotA Strategies. Very old school 4 protect 1 with BoBoKa and Q protecting BurNIng in the safelane. That was their strategy of choice. Even when they picked Invoker, they would let Op go for Quas and Wex.
But their decision to try to maximize BurNIng’s farm soon backfired. During the Shanghai Open, their flaws were ruthlessly exploited and abused by their opponents, most notably by Newbee. Op played a terrible roaming mid. His tp's were not only ineffective, they often turned out to be feeding missions as well. In contrast, Sccc not only could stay in the middle lane, but also actually received support from... er... his support players!
When BurNIng was playing Morphling or Spectre, it was Op who should be able to buy key items and do things in team fights. Rather, he would choose to be altruistic and bankrupt his own economy. In Game 2 against Newbee, when Op had Soul Ring and Soul Booster at 14 minutes, it took him another five to finish his Bloodstone on a Timbersaw. No prizes for guessing whom he died for in this process.
But iG’s issues weren't limited to a single player. It was a systemic issue as all players were feeling a bit raw. Xxs would now be considered one of the best offlane players and initiators. His senses of opportunities are unparalleled, especially when he is put on Magnus.
Having seen all of this, iG came up with some adjustments: giving BurNIng more fight-heavy heroes instead of just farming maniacally, trying to expand Op’s hero pool rather than let him stay a Tinker-only player, and drafting good mid-game initiators like Magnus for Xxs and good early roamers like Earth Spirit or Monkey King for BoBoKa. And there starts to be an intrinsic logic in this: since BurNIng no longer needs to stay in Lane forever to farm Linken’s + Ethereal Blade or Radiance, his supports can naturally be relieved of some duties as well.
Even though the team was still losing to opponents like EHOME Keen and CDEC, the change of feeling is self-evident in their play: no more painful stun stacks, no more hilarious self-cliffings. Even when they tried playing Io or other unexpected heroes like mid Legion and went on to lose, the viewers would have felt that they were genuine attempts at experimentation rather than a comical team playing the best Dota they possibly could.
And there they would lay the foundations of future success: carry Vengeful Spirit coupled with Shadow Fiend, surprise picking Rikimaru to disrupt and throw off all kinds of enemy strategies and plans, letting Op play Alchemist right before they are due to play OG so Fly had to ban it in the first phase rather than reserving it for Ana.
Talking about Op- he also got the hang of how to play suicide Lina - use Bloodstone after using all three of his spells to save BurNIng’s life! This time, the sacrificial plays were placed at the right time and the results turned out to be much different. IG was winning games.
So what happened after DAC? What can possibly explain the current slump in their results? A resounding title win over the strongest teams will inevitably divert all the attention that would be normally elsewhere to your team, your players, your plans, and your strategies. In any competitive sport there can be no worse things than being the center of attention and being studied through and through.
That might well ring true. BurNIng and Op are now appearing to encounter new problems about what heroes they can play when their comfort heroes are either banned, countered, or nerfed. Xxs seems to have lost some of the acumen that he acquired during the time when Invictus Gaming’s itinerary grew and prospered. BoBoKa is as sharp as ever, but as a position 4, a gank that starts off successful can be easily be turned into an unfortunate situation where he can die to enemies lurking in the fog.
There may well be an alternative explanation as well as an alternative solution, even if maybe there is no such a things as alternative facts. It might well be- and I believe it is the case - that iG is simply holding their heads down and just preparing for the TI. Op is now trying to play Death Prophet and Templar Assassin and even Sniper and Dragon Knight are no longer out of question when Q decides which hero his mid will be playing. BurNIng has regained the courage to play Sven after the Shanghai Major (while he was on VG) where he was wildly mocked for buying BKB and Linken’s Sphere and not providing enough damage for the team fights. To the chagrin of memers, the item itself was invariably labelled as ‘Bken’s Sphere’ or ‘Zhilei’s Sphere’ in China. The reemergence of the blue Rogue Knight on iG's menu is a piece of new evidence that BurNIng has regained his mojo.
For a team like iG, a recovery like that can mean more than anything. Offlane Zeus is on the rise, and to differ them from other teams, BurNIng would play the Thunder God. IG has laid in wait and I believe they are wholly prepared to meet the challenges ahead of them.