Empire - True Tenacity
For many teams, staying current and relevant in the swirling maelstrom that is the CIS scene is a hard-enough bar to hit. There are always ups and downs: the immortal Natus Vincere and the newly remade Vega Squadron fell short of this year’s International, while other long timers like Moscow Five, Power Rangers, and RoX have fallen dormant. From the pile of hopefuls that had entered the CIS Qualifier for TI7, one team has risen above once again: Team Empire. A suitable name for a club that since 2012, has provided stiff competition for the crown of Eastern European Dota, but has never quite ascended to the top of the scene. Famous for having their star players poached by Na`Vi and other CIS teams (most notably Funn1k and Vanskor), as well as failing to breach the coveted top eight at past Internationals, there is much still left for the storied organization to achieve.
Their most recent line of tribulations began at the end of TI5. After losing their entire lineup, which had consisted of old legends like XBOCT, Resolut1on, and Funn1k, following a narrow miss at the Shanghai Major qualifiers in early 2016, Team Empire needed to roll the dice and reconstitute using the best players they could find. After another bottom eight finish at the Manila Major and a failure to qualify for TI6 later, only one member of the TI7-qualifying Empire squad remained: Miposhka, their current captain, tagged along by his support brother-in-arms, KingR.
Following another rebuilding process, their current offlaner Ghostik would join from Team Spirit along with other notable players from around the CIS region, ALOHADANCE and G, to compete in the TI7 Major season. Failing to even make it to the main qualifiers for Boston, more roster changes were on the way with the departure of ALOHADANCE and G. In their stead, two safelane carries players came in to round out the roster: Chappie, a pubstar who was known for his bad manners in his matchmaking games, and fn, who had spent time manning the helm of various incarnations of Power Rangers and a late iteration of Vega Squadron.
Their results were good enough to get them into the CIS qualifier for the Kiev Major, but still were not enough to get over the hump and into the LAN final. Finally, Empire bid adieu to KingR in favor of RodjER, who rolled with former Empire star Vanskor in various stacks in the two Major cycles. With the roster set, the new Empire did have what it took to survive the unforgiving CIS qualifiers, beating out favorites like Na`Vi, Vega Squadron, and Team Spirit to book their trip to Seattle.
In addition to achieving their penultimate goal of reaching TI7, Empire has achieved a number of smaller victories along the way as well. The first LAN tournament the new team had qualified for in 2017 was the second Dota Asia Championship, in which they shocked the masses with an upper bracket berth on a killer group stage with a placement above LFY, Team Faceless, and the reigning TI champs, Wings Gaming. A win at the online LootBet Invitational landed them a spot at Dota Summit 7. While neither of these LAN appearances had them breaking into a top four finish, their presence was proof enough that they had the skill and temperance to make it to the big stage.
Team Empire is first and foremost a CIS team, meaning that they, like many of their kinfolk, love to fight. They find themselves in a somewhat unique position for their core lineup, in that Chappie and fn both are used to playing the safelane farmer role. By using draft strategies that could see either in the safelane or in mid lane, Miposhka’s drafts have a degree of fluidity that makes it hard to target bans against Empire’s main men. While fn and Chappie tend to get drafted a bit on the greedier side of things, initiation duties are traditionally passed on to Ghostik or one (or, often both) of the supports.
Despite heroes like Broodmother, Nature’s Prophet, and Arc Warden making their way into Empire’s drafts, do not mistake them for a ratting team. Let it be clear: these guys want to fight, all the time. Not just some four-protect-one or forced deathball strats, but really all these guys want to do is come online as soon as they can and raise a ruckus. There’s a healthy mix of player centered picks, like the aforementioned Arc Warden for Chappie and Puck for Ghostik, as well as meta-friendly standards like Venomancer, Sand King, Nyx Assassin, and Dark Seer.
Chappie and fn’s rotating 1 and 2 position play both bring their own tempo and power spikes to the game. While Chappie’s heroes usually tend towards the more intimidating and passively strong heroes like Razor, Drow Ranger, Venomancer, and a side of ratty push heroes like Arc Warden and Broodmother, fn prefers a more active and classically strong one-on-one heroes like Dragon Knight, Wraith King, or Storm Spirit. Their symbiotic relationship creates the core of the strong fighting engine that powers their central game plan, as the strong mix of man-fighting passive dominance makes direct confrontation a tall order for their opponents.
Supporting them are an equally intimidating supporting cast, with initiation duties traditionally taken up by Ghostik. He had burst through the CIS qualifiers off the back of classic Blink jumping heroes like Axe, Enigma, Dark Seer, and most effectively, Puck. Backing him up are the bloodthirsty RodjER charging out in front of their hard-5 playing Miposhka. Much like Ghostik, who played a ton of Puck in the qualifiers, Rodjer stuck mostly with Spirit Breaker and Sand King throughout CIS qualifier and even broke out a support Sven to seal the deal in their final game against Team Spirit. To be blunt, Miposhka has been playing an awful lot of Ancient Apparition lately and shows no sign of slowing down, but other teamfighters like Witch Doctor and Disruptor have cropped up in the past to follow up his comrades’ initiations, and may be pulled out again during TI7 to keep things fresh.
Talent in the CIS region has become increasingly fluid: today’s pubstar might be tomorrow’s tier 2 ace. For Chappie, who started out in months preceding TI6 on Comanche, his ascent to prominence on an International-qualifying squad, it is another page out of the pub-to-stud storybook that gave us scene staples like w33 and AdmiralBulldog. While he had been called out by N0tail on his toxic antics in pubs, it would not deter his performance in the TI7 CIS qualifiers. Riding the 1 position trends of the meta, his recent play has boasted ranged standards like Venomancer, Razor, and Drow, whose passive presence with farm stands on their own. He was kind enough to treat us to a Meepo show in a nearly two and half hour standoff against regional rivals Vega Squadron, and even gave us some rat action on Broodmother and Arc Warden. With group stage play just around the corner, we could also see the return of his fight-heavy pushers like Lone Druid and Troll Warlord, which Chappie showcased earlier on this Spring. Whatever is in store, his stylistic flexibility may become his greatest asset to keep opposing drafters on their toes.
A lot of familiar faces shuffled around larger organizations this year in CIS. As Vega Squadron’s post-TI6 lineup were scattered to the wind, their carry player fn found a home with an Empire team that was undergoing a major facelift of its core player roster. Together with Chappie, the two have held down the primary core roles by switching off between mid and safelane farming positions. Unlike his counterpart, his hero pool during the TI7 CIS qualifier had been way more varied, with the only stand-out repeats being Storm Spirit and Dragon Knight (curiously, picking up a Desolator on Storm twice recently). The versatility in switching between mid and safe lane roles calls back to when he was solely a 1 position player: harder farming cores like Medusa played mid and Juggernaut played safelane fit this style well. Expect fn anywhere this TI, and wherever he is, to be pretty well farmed.
Along with his faithful support buddy Miposhka, offlaner Ghostik has been a season long bannerman for Team Empire. After separating from long time teammate Bzz and adventures on Fantastic Five and Team Spirit in which they missed both the Boston and Kiev Majors, he has finally found his spot in the sun after conquering the CIS qualifier. He had spent a lot of time Puck-ing through the competition, amassing an impressive 6-1 record on the hero throughout the qualifiers. Other AoE initiators and pick off specialists like Clockwerk, Axe, and Dark Seer enjoyed some playtime as well from Ghostik, though lately he has been showcasing heroes like Legion Commander and Nature’s Prophet, showing off his ability to perform as a semi-carry physical damage dealer as well. Serving as the only core that does not swap positions, leaving that to fn and Chappie, Ghostik plays his part as a valuable cornerstone to set up his carries with the opportunities to dominate.
The lasting stereotype of players in the CIS region can be summed up in one word: davai. RodjER, a scene veteran spanning back to his days on Cleave Gaming and early ProDota stacks, has embodied the phrase meaning “come on!” or “let’s go!” with his in-your-face playstyle. During the CIS qualifiers, RodjER specialized in initiating strength support heroes like Sand King and Spirit Breaker to close gaps, dominate team fights, and get quick and easy picks. Standard roamers are well inside his hero pool, such as Nyx Assassin and recently showcased junglers like Doom, Chen, and Enchantress. His time with the legendary Vanskor on Flipside Tactics and Rebels has served him well, as now his strong-armed tactics has landed him prime time.
When Team Empire lost their roster of regional legends - TI finalists, up and coming heat seekers, the final remnants of a great franchise - in late March last year, a new squad was built from the ground up with one of the team’s founders, Scandal. While most have been shuffled around to different teams in CIS, Miposhka has remained. Sticking it out with the team for nearly a year and a half now, his conservative hard-5 position play perfectly accommodates the rest of his team’s greedy, aggressive style of play. Throughout the CIS qualifiers, much like his support partner RodjER, his hero pool was dominated primarily by one hero. For Miposhka, it was Ancient Apparition, though other fragile intelligence heroes like Shadow Shaman, Disruptor, and Witch Doctor packed an equally big punch when it was time to team fight. Now at his second Valve event and first International, it is once again time to show his captaincy of emerging talent is enough to roll with the world’s best.