Modern Day LegendIn the final moments of The International 2017, when Team Liquid’s triumph was apparent to everyone in Key Arena, the reality of what they had just accomplished began to dawn on the team. Excitement and adrenaline raced through the booth. Shouts of victory began erupting from the mouths of the players, climaxing in elation. Newbee had called the game and Team Liquid were now the champions of TI7.
The players took some time congratulating each other within that isolated booth. They had spent much of the past week in there, fighting for this moment, and now it was finally over. As the door opened and they began filing out, their emotions were echoed throughout the stadium by their fans. All of the voices of Key Arena harmonized together to shower Team Liquid with the adoration they had earned in their victory. The faces of the players reflected a range of reactions from gratitude to relief to stunned disbelief as they crossed the stage and made for the The Aegis of Immortality.
The air was full of smoke and confetti, the scene lit by sparkling pyrotechnics. The team approached the pedestal together, but they deferred to one man to hoist it from its perch: the undeniable leader of the team, the captain that molded this group of relative newcomers into the world champions they had become. It was only fitting to give this honor to him, to allow him this moment to commemorate the fulfillment of his dream of winning The International. This was the culmination of a career spanning a decade in length, an achievement earned by the most deserving player in Dota.
The saga of this man’s journey from his beginnings in Defense of the Ancients to his place at the pinnacle of Dota 2 is the stuff of true legends. It is, in some ways, the story of the game itself; the evolution of an esport personified in the trials of one specific competitor and his lofty goals. It is the story of Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi and his quest to become the best in the world.
GenesisThis story begins, like all good myths, with a young, talented child who has a passion; in Kuro’s case, it was for video games. He has been quoted as having played games since he was as young as four years old, attributed to the fact that he had a disability that impaired the use of his legs. His love of games only grew over time until, in the early 2000’s, someone introduced him to Warcraft 3. It was then, during the birth of DotA Allstars and its nascent scene, that Kuro found a community and an outlet for his competitive drive.
Early on, Kuro tried playing in teams with others from his home country of Germany, but none of them garnered any real attention. Throughout the years, he has given his thoughts on the problems with his native scene, ranging from the relatively low priority players from the region placed on the game in their lives to their complaints about the game that hindered them from improving. These factors and others drove him to joining his first international team, mousesports, in 2008. That year, at Dreamhack Winter, Kuro would meet and play with Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, forming the beginning of one of the most important relationships of his career.
Every protagonist needs a true friend to grow and learn with - Clement and Kuro would officially become teammates on KingSurf.int, bringing together two of the better international players at the time. Kuro was the star core player, focused on being individually skilled and being recognized as the best at his role. Clement, on the other hand, was the leader and the strategist. Together, they were a formidable pair, a complement of strengths that would form the basis of many successful teams now and in the future.
Ultimately, though, KS.int was Puppey’s team. Kuro may have had his say, but he still followed his friend’s lead as the captain. The other players, too, believed in Clement and his ideas, finding some success briefly before succumbing to the fragmentation that was common to teams at the time.
KuroKy (bottom left) with KS.int at Dota-League Masters 2009
In that era, esports was still a small-time endeavor. Without large companies to sponsor teams and tournaments, salary and prize money was negligible, making the cost-benefit analysis of being a professional gamer quite skewed. Kuro has said as much himself in interviews over the years-the reason he and others like him played wasn’t for the money, it was for love of the game. Unfortunately, even among talented players, few shared this level of devotion, and even fewer still maintained that passion throughout the many years of DotA’s infancy.
As a result, Kuro spent much of the rest of his time in the game floating between rosters with varying levels of success. Interestingly, some of those rosters included players now known as pillars of the community in their own right. Clinton “Fear” Loomis, Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho, and Ben “Merlini” Wu all played with Kuro under the OK.Nirvana.int banner for a brief stint. This period of the esport was truly unstable; many teams formed and changed rosters seemingly from tournament to tournament, with little but friendship bonding the disparate players together across the thousands of miles of land and sea that separated the diverse devotees of DotA.
It was the promise of competition, the opportunity to prove themselves that drew these players from across the globe to the LAN tournaments which served as their gladiatorial arenas. Every team had their own idea, their own identity they wanted to imprint upon the game that would serve as proof of their mastery of it. Kuro was, of course, one such competitor, driven to be recognized for his mechanical ability and knowledge. This individualistic expression was seen time and time again; whether he was playing mid or carry, Kuro was often hailed as a star on his team, and those teams were regularly placing on the podium.
Despite this modest level of success, Kuro still went through a period of doubt. Though he loved the game, the lack of professionalism in the scene hurt his motivation to continue playing, as evidenced by this quote he gave in an interview with GosuGamers in 2010 after playing in a StarCraft 2 match:
The game [StarCraft 2] is really good, but DotA is the best game of all times in my opinion. I thought about quitting DotA a while ago, because it's impossible to enjoy being a progamer. There are hardly any tournaments, and only a very few LAN tournaments in a year. Like now, 4 months passed and not a single nor an important tournament has started, it simply saddens me. This fact led me into playing really little DotA for some months now, I play up to 3-4 games a week. Another thing that saddens me is the fake money put in DotA, I miss like 2000 Euros from various tournaments. These events made me lose a lot of motivation, I mean, I'm a gamer, I love to play the game and prove myself, but the chances to really prove yourself is not given. Just one tournament outside europe in a year just doesn't cut it. So, to say it in short: I might change the game if I feel it's right to, time will tell.
Despite these misgivings, Kuro stayed with DotA for the next year. 2011 would prove to be a turning point in the young man’s path in two ways. The first change came as he hit one of the lowest points of his career. His longtime friend Puppey left their team GG.net midway through the year to join Natus Vincere. Kuro had another crisis of faith upon this news, but came out of it in a blog on the GosuGamers website titled Brave New World. His words:
I knew that Puppey wasn't satisfied with the teams result, eventhough we won 2 out of 3 online competitions, and reached 2nd on the other. I know him well enough, he wants perfection. Our play was lacking, sometimes we barely won games we should have won much smoother.
When Na'Vi contacted him, he asked me about this situation. In that moment, I felt like a burden to him. I asked myself: What should I do? Should I tell him to stay in this team for my sake, even though he is unhappy? No, I can't be that egoistic. I know that he would have stayed If I called it.
But I couldn't do that. It would be wrong. He got an offer which might lead him to the success we always wished for but never achieved. I can't kill his dreams.
It was a natural move of him, and I showed him all support I could to leave GGnet and join Na'Vi. I hope he will find what he seeks.
He asked me to continue playing. If I would have said that I would go inactive, he would probably stay in GGnet. So at first, I lied to him and told him I will keep playing, but my true intention was to disappear from the scene.
I thought this team will break apart, our leader and friend is gone. The guy who build this team shall destroy it. He was the pillar which hold us together.
As I logged into IRC to say good bye to my teammates, to abandon my pro-gaming wishes, to destroy my dreams, I got messaged by my teammates. AZEN was the first to tell me that he wants to stay and keep playing, I didn't expect it. Not at all. He told me he wants me to lead the team. In that moment I thought: me? leader... again? Can I really do it?....
Then Kebap messaged me, our standin in the recent games, he told me the same. He told me to lead the team. Both players ensured me their full trust, they showed me what friendship is in that moment - not just online DotA teammates.
Then I continued to talk to Pajkatt, he confirmed the same things.
On the next day, I contacted Miracle to ask him about his thoughts. At first he shared doubts about our future, but then he decided to give it all.
From that moment I knew, I can't leave this. I.. I always told myself:
Never lose your goal. NEVER. Why should I lose it now? My goal to be the best player in the world, my goal to play in the best team in the world.
Now that I shall be in charge in the team, I have full control to lead this team to success. With great power comes great responsibility.
These people showed me their trust and now I know. I need to do everything in my power to not disappoint them, I can't just surrender like this.
Ideals alone can't change the world. I need to take actions.
Maybe this team will fail. But only failures makes you learn.
Maybe we won't achieve anything. But we will keep trying till we reach our aim.
Maybe we stumble seven times. We shall recover eight times.
In the end, after the rain, earth hardens.
Man wishes to believe his victory to be inevitable, but hope is useless when one's fate has already been decided.
But... can passion overcome fate?
This team will show you that passion is stronger than everything else. And if it's not that team that will show, then I will. I will never abandon my dreams again.
I will never have regretful thoughts about my future again.
I shall never lose my goal for even one second.
When I joined mousesports, I showed you a little K who dreamed.
Now I will fulfill this dream.
Now that I'm in charge of this team, I will take full responsibility. Every failure is to be adressed to me. But my teammates shall follow me into hell, from there, we will rise to heaven.
Thank you Puppey for everything, I had a great time with you. I know I didn't show you enough, and I'm sorry from my heart. I promise, if our ways cross again, maybe one day... I won't take you for granted.
But you are nothing but my enemy now. From this point, everything standing in my way will get eliminated.
A Brave New World... arise. ~~~~~~ NEW WORLD ORDER IN OUR HEARTS;
This renewed motivation was matched by the second development that would shape the future of Kuro and the rest of the DotA scene. In late 2010, Valve had announced Dota 2. The game was revealed to the public at Gamescom in 2011 in the first of what would become a series of tournaments bearing a name that reflected the multicultural nature of the game’s vibrant community. This was, of course, The International.
MetamorphosisIt’s not much of a stretch to say that The International 2011 was more marketing ploy than true competition. Dota 2 was still unreleased to the public, and the teams were given the game with only a short time to practice. Still, the prize pool of $1.6 million was more than attractive enough to get nearly all of the invited teams to participate. The stage was set for Dota 2’s debut in Cologne, and on August 17th, the tournament got underway as 16 of the world’s best teams clashed to see who would become the first champion of this new game.
Kuro was there with his GosuGamers.net team. Unfortunately, it was an inauspicious start to his career in the sequel as they were eliminated in the first round of playoffs after a dismal performance in the group stage. To make matters more grave, Puppey’s Na`Vi would go on to become champions of the first International, defeating Chinese juggernaut EHOME in the final to claim the $1 million first place prize. The gap between them had widened, and Kuro had a lot of work to do if he was going to make good on his promise to challenge Clement.
Following The International 2011, the entire scene was in flux. Valve had shown a willingness to support the competitive scene should it adopt their new game and become ambassadors for it. Many players were skeptical, and rightly so. Early on, Dota 2 was a mess of a game, riddled with bugs and limited in its scope compared to the rich hero pool of DotA All-Stars. Still, as time went on and more organizations hopped aboard the Dota 2 train, it became apparent that sustaining a career as a competitor in the original game would no longer be an option. And so, the community that had developed around DotA slowly made its way to this new game, misgivings and all.
Kuro played in a few teams during this period, none of which achieved any lasting success. He was still the elite talent he had been in the original game, but finding a stable international team was a challenge. Dota 2 was a step forward for the maturing esport, but the scene around it still lacked the commitment needed to truly make strides towards legitimacy. The aspiring adept would mire in this nebulous region of underperformance right up to the second edition of The International in August of 2012.
Having failed to qualify for the tournament with the Virtus.pro team he was playing for at the time, Kuro only made it to Seattle as a standin for a team that qualified at the last possible moment as a replacement for a different team, MUFC, that was unable to secure visas to the United States. Already stretched thin by circumstance, the mousesports roster that limped into TI didn’t put up much of a fight, and again Kuro found himself on the outside looking in as Clement’s Na`Vi team made another wondrously deep run, this time coming second in the tournament after a legendary series against eventual champions Invictus Gaming.
After the dust settled on TI2, Kuro would stay with the mousesports organization for a small time. In doing so, he had an opportunity to play on a high level, all-German roster for the first time since his early days. It also marked a change in position from his usual 1 or 2 role to 3, foreshadowing things soon to pass. The players he gave up his roles for are important ones even today to German Dota: Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier and Adrian “FATA-” Trinks. This stint wouldn’t last long, though, as changes were brewing at the top echelon of the scene, and Kuro’s path was about to take a sharp turn.
Natus Vincere was undoubtedly the best Western team in the world. Their play at both TI1 and TI2 had proven that they were even capable of taking games and series from the strongest Chinese teams, something that the West had struggled to do in DotA. Still, despite this success, or perhaps because of it, some of the players on the team began to lose motivation in late 2012, and conflict would soon split the team. Early the next year, the team came to a decision about their future, and it was a controversial one at the time.
Two of the organization’s most beloved players stepped down or left the team in February of 2013: Sergey “ARS-ART” Revin and Dmitriy “LighTofHeaveN” Kupriyanov. Their spots were filled by the friends of two of the remaining players; Alexander “XBOCT” Dashkevich brought in Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov, and Puppey convinced the organization to buy Kuro from mouz. With living legend Danil “Dendi” Ishutin still on the team, this reformed Na`Vi set out to prove themselves.
Natus Vincere at The International 2013
Kuro had finally rejoined Puppey almost two years after their fated split ahead of the first International. With this reunion came a role change for the star core player - he would be playing support, a duo with Clement that would set the pace for the rest of the team. They would be the brains behind the brawn of their skilled teammates, an arrangement that put Kuro in unfamiliar territory. Used to being the beneficiary of the machinations of his teammates, he would now have to put his skills to use in devising and executing those same plans to ensure the success of his team. In spite of these challenges, this change would mark a new, more stable chapter in Kuro’s career as partner to Clement as the two sought to reach the peak of the Dota world together, the odds be damned.
With about half a year left to prepare for The International, the retooled Natus Vincere roster got to work. Unsurprisingly given the pedigree of the players, the team maintained its status at the top of the West, winning several tournaments and showmatches throughout the spring, and ending the summer on a streak of three premier tournament victories right before preparations for TI truly got underway. Having already been invited to the tournament, Na`Vi readied themselves in a period of calm before the calamity that descended on Seattle. This year’s edition would prove to be a landmark event in the history of the game, and Natus Vincere would be in the eye of the storm.
Everyone remembers the final series of that tournament, but the real story lies in the surrounding context. Na`Vi and Alliance had both topped their respective groups, and they both dispatched challengers from the East in the first and second round of playoffs, setting up their first meeting in Winner’s Finals. Alliance would win the series handily 2-0 on the back of their Naga-Alchemist drafts, asserting their dominance. Undeterred, Na’Vi would come right back and earn a rematch after a hard-fought, if controversial series against Orange Esports, setting up the ultimate clash between the two titans.
Until the final, Alliance had only dropped a single game, and that was to DK, led by Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei’s Anti-Mage. That Natus Vincere were able to take it to five games was a feat in and of itself, but the manner in which it happened is truly astounding. Both teams had strong ideas of how they wanted to play the game, and those ideas clashed head-on, with hotly contested picks like Batrider and Kuro’s Io having a huge impact on the way the series played out. In the end, Na`Vi would come just short yet again, but they had truly given it all in that series, and could go home with a modicum of pride to salve their wounds of defeat.
The effects of this final were much further reaching than simply being a conclusion to the tournament. It seems strange to say, on its own it does not lack for a sense of magnitude, what with a million dollar prize on the line and the best teams of the year taking it down to the wire to decide on a victor. What the grand final of TI3 ended up becoming was the perfect advertisement for the game and the esport. In the same vein of Na`Vi’s “The Play” from TI2, the “Million Dollar Dream Coil” and the surrounding base trading excitement of Game 5 sold fans across the world on the magic of Dota 2, helping the game continue to grow at an absurd pace.
In accordance with that growth in player numbers came a growth in the esport itself. More players meant more viewers, and more viewers translated into more sponsor attention for both tournament organizers and teams, which finally meant more respectable money for the players, both in terms of prize money and salary. It didn’t happen overnight, Kuro himself gave an interview during this period rightly stating that only a few of the best teams could truly support themselves, but it was the beginning of a shift in the ecosystem towards the sort of legitimate career Kuro had always dreamed it would become.
With this influx of fresh talent and interest in the game came a rise in the competitive level of the esport. Natus Vincere and Alliance had earned their spots in the elite tier of teams, but the following year brought with it many challengers to the paradigm, and also saw a few super-teams formed. This rise in the skill of competing teams in combination with the sweeping changes made to the game in the wake of Alliance’s victory were warning signs for the shifts in the scene yet to pass. It’s too bad Na`Vi didn’t see them coming.
In an interview with Ken “Hotbid” Chen in November 2013, Kuro spoke about Natus Vincere’s lack of practice since the 6.79 patch hit. As was relatively common in professional gaming at the time, he was still going to school while playing, so his team used tournaments as practice instead of scrimmaging to figure out the game. They were playing tournament after tournament with little downtime in-between, slowly wearing themselves out travelling around the world. Na`Vi maintained its reputation as one of the best Western teams throughout the year, but were falling behind the curve as hungrier teams climbed the ranks and grabbed the spotlight.
Everything came to a head at The International 2014. With a complex new format, a new venue in Key Arena, and a massive prizepool boosted by the explosion of crowdfunding that had been introduced the previous year, TI4 was a representation of the changing nature of the game and of the community. Suddenly, the proud pedigree of the players on Natus Vincere mattered much less than it did a year ago, competing against the rock-star status some of the favorites of the year like Evil Geniuses and Team DK enjoyed both in and out of the game.
To their credit, Na`Vi put up a respectable fight. In a cutthroat tournament structure, they managed to go even in groups and make playoffs, a far sight better than Alliance performed. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the first round by the up-and-coming Cloud9 Dota 2 squad. For a team used to being in the grand final of the competition, the loss was a disappointment. Kuro was back to being a spectator as a different team had the chance to live out his dream. Thus, the impetus to change would again come to Na`Vi, bringing an end to the longest-standing roster in Kuro’s career.
The next step for the veteran would be into relatively uncharted territory. In joining a new roster and founding Team Secret, he was making a statement about how he viewed his worth as a player. Free of sponsor obligations and able to keep his winnings, he banked on the fact that he and his chosen teammates would be good enough to win the money they needed to live on; thankfully, he had picked his friends well. Kuro brought Puppey with him to this new team, maintaining the duo that had been the backbone of Na`Vi. He also wanted to play with Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, who brought Tal “Fly” Aizik with him from Fnatic. To round out the roster, both Kuro and Johan agreed that the captain of Alliance, Gustav “s4” Magnusson, would be a superb choice.
This collection of players did not lack for savvy or strategy. Between them all, they had a plethora of experience as competitors along with multiple members who had been captains of their previous teams. Unfortunately, the roster would only last a few months before the Fnatic friends would be swapped out for an allstar pair of EG players: Artour “Arteezy” Babaev and Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg. It was this roster that would go into the Dota 2 Asia Championships with the world watching in anticipation. The expectation was that they would dominate the scene given the promise of these players, but it would not be met right away.
Despite a 15-0 record in the round robin group stage, Team Secret would end up in third place at DAC 2015, falling to EG in the loser’s finals as that retooled roster was making its own statement about overcoming adversity. The summer of 2015 would be a duel between the two teams, with Team Secret solidly coming out ahead by defeating their rivals at both The Summit 3 and ESL One Frankfurt. Going into The International 2015, Kuro and his team were the favorites to win, seen as perhaps the best team in the world. Everything favored them coming out on top; they seemed to have the best players playing on some of the strongest heroes of the patch, all backed up by the best minds in Dota 2.
The story of what transpired that year in Seattle became the talk of the scene for quite a while after. Perhaps it was the clashing of egos, perhaps it was overwhelming pressure that caused underperformance, or perhaps the team was unable to keep up with the rapidly evolving metagame at The International. Whatever the reason, Team Secret’s hope of winning TI was ended by Virtus.pro in a series that featured head-scratching play and drafting. Rumors swirled about internal conflict within the team, spurred on by the public’s fascination for drama.
For the players, the disappointment of having been eliminated in 7-8th place splintered Team Secret apart. Arteezy went back to EG, s4 returned to Alliance, zai took a break to finish school, and Kuro split with Puppey for the first time in years. It was a departure that signalled the end of an era in his career. After having found so much success together with Clement, Kuro’s decision to leave was a watershed moment. If he was going to fulfill his dream of winning The International and becoming the best in the world, he was going to do it on his own terms.
And so the hero set out on his own, to find a new band of friends to continue his journey, and to find himself.
ApotheosisThe German decided to return to his roots, joining up with fellow countryman and former teammate FATA- to forge a new path. Their new team 5Jungz was rounded out by 3 promising, if inexperienced members in Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen, Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, and Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov. This roster was hand-picked by Kuro, and he was going to be its captain. In assuming the role for the first time since his GG.net days, Kuro set out to prove to himself and to the world that he had what it took to lead a team.
The team found quite a bit of success early on in the European scene, leading to a rather swift pick-up by Team Liquid that cemented the roster for the upcoming Major season. Though they failed to qualify for Frankfurt, the team steadily improved throughout the following months, culminating in their first LAN win at The Defense Season 5. They followed it up with a grand final appearance in Shanghai, where Puppey’s shiny new Team Secret edged out Kuro’s Team Liquid in a drafter’s duel between the erstwhile teammates.
This iteration of Liquid would reach its peak during this period, taking silver at ESL One Manila, winning EPICENTER in Moscow, and losing a close series to OG in the Manila Major grand final. Kuro had guided this team of relative unknowns to an invite to The International 2016, again coming in as contenders to win the event. For the captain, this was an important validation of his ideas about the game, and about his capacity to lead a roster and develop players into a successful squad. Still, the spectre of TI loomed ahead and it’s visage haunted Kuro’s past, having repelled his efforts time and time again. As always, it would be the true test of his team - everything else was just practice.
Team Liquid at EPICENTER 2016
Team Liquid’s struggles at TI6 came early on. After a middling performance in the first two days of play, Liquid had a disastrous showing on the final day, losing 0-2 to both Digital Chaos and Team Secret to end the group stage second-to-last and solidly in the loser’s bracket. To the team’s credit, they won their first best-of-one to avoid ignominious defeat, and even eliminated Newbee, who had also come into the tournament playing well. Unfortunately, Liquid’s tournament would end there as Fnatic sent them home 0-2. This was Kuro’s third straight 7-8th place finish at The International, another performance that came up far short of his goal.
Team Liquid underwent some changes after this failure. FATA- decided to go inactive, JerAx departed for greener pastures in OG, and one of the team’s coaches William “Blitz” Lee also left the team. To fill the two spots in the roster, Liquid was able to sign the prodigal Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barqawi and infamous veteran Sam “BuLba” Sosale, both players who had also suffered much disappointment at TI6. This was seen as somewhat of a net gain for the team at the time, as Miracle- was a highly sought-after mid player and BuLba had the ability to help Kuro with strategy.
Somewhat unexpectedly, this iteration of the roster underperformed quite heavily. The team tried different roles and drafts to make it work, but ultimately were unable to find any success. At this time, Kuro had a crisis of faith as a captain, doubting his ability to lead the team and ceding the duty to one of his teammates. Ultimately, BuLba stepped down from the starting roster, and the team picked up a highly-rated and flashy pub support player in Maroun “GH” Merhej as a stand-in. After some but marked improvements in results, the team made their final decision, and GH was signed by the team in early 2017.
Having missed the Boston Major, Team Liquid had a lot to prove in the new year. Fortunately, with the Dota 2 Asia Championships, the Kiev Major, and EPICENTER all upcoming, they had many chances to prove that they deserved their reputation as an elite team, that the failures of last year were just temporary setbacks in the progression of these players as they made their way to the top. And so, the team set out with only one goal: to win.
Over those three tournaments, one could see Liquid actively improving from month to month. At DAC, they fell early on to Team Faceless, but came back to beat that very same team in Kiev 2-0 in groups. While they didn’t make a deep run at the Major, they were still bolstered by that improvement and a series taken over Newbee, showing that they were learning, and still motivated to become better. It all came together for them at EPICENTER, where they beat the Manila Major champions OG, Virtus.pro, LFY, and Evil Geniuses en route to defending their title in Moscow.
The EPICENTER win combined with a couple more victories at smaller tournaments around the same time bolstered Liquid’s case for an invite to The International. Sure enough, a week after the victory, the invites for TI7 were announced, Liquid among them. For the team to have clawed back into the top tier of Dota 2 only half a year after such a low point was a feat of true grit. Kuro would once again lead his band of friends into TI as favorites to take home the prize - people he picked to play with, players he helped develop into the world juggernauts they were now.
Some credit for this about-face had to be given to the newcomer as well, of course. Kuro had said many times that Maroun’s presence in the team was a catalyst for their overall chemistry, breaking down their barriers of communication and strengthening the bonds between them. For Kuro specifically, it was an opportunity to help this talented young player learn all the lessons that he learned himself through long years of failure in trying to reach the heights the team had their sights set on now.
The International 2017 was Kuro’s final test in his ascent. After a red-hot group stage, Liquid faltered against Invictus Gaming, a team that had beaten them multiple times before. Now in the loser’s bracket once again, Kuro was faced with a seemingly Sisyphean situation. Time after time, he had brought a team to this tournament, built them up into an elite side, only to be struck down each year as if he was fated to never touch the Aegis.
This year, however, was going to be different. This year, Kuro was more Hercules than Sisyphus - a hero faced with a number of monumental tasks, but none of them so difficult as to be impossible. As he so eloquently stated in his recounting of the events for The Player’s Tribune, Kuro took this low moment and turned it into motivation for the team. Instead of becoming defeatist about their current situation, he reignited the team with a fiery speech, reminding them to remain mentally strong in the trials ahead. They had tripped up, yes, but victory was still within their grasp.
And so, Kuro’s Team Liquid returned to the stage with a renewed vigor, and began their task of slaying Titan after Titan in the loser’s bracket. They nearly fell again in the next series to Puppey’s Team Secret, but regained form and came out of the other side with their hopes intact. After a less-strenuous series against Empire, Liquid faced another tough test, one that pushed their newfound resolve to the brink of snapping.
Game 1 of Virtus.pro versus Team Liquid at The International 2017 was a galvanizing moment for Kuro’s team at the tournament. In winning the 100+ minute game, they showed a level of poise and mental fortitude necessary to becoming champions. At the highest level, the margins are so thin, the differences so slight; being able to maintain an elite level of play and make the correct decisions for nearly two hours is a feat that only the best teams in the world can achieve.
The interview with Matumba after the match said it all. His voice hoarse, his face awash with exhausted relief, he recounted how the team banded together in the harrowing game to push through for the win. A less-tested team may have collapsed down the stretch, but this was not the Liquid of yesteryear, this was a refined version of the team that rebounded from their setbacks to become stronger than before. They had all taken after their captain Kuro, who lead by example by being calm under pressure, focusing on the path to victory and executing with determination.
Champions at last
Liquid followed the VP series up with a thorough dismantling of LGD in the next round, as their opponents lacked any answer to Liquid’s drafting. LFY would put up a much stronger challenge, but even a team that had looked as dominant as Forever Young could not beat Liquid twice, unable to overcome their poor laning stage in the final game as Miracle’s Terrorblade and MinD_ContRoL’s Nature’s Prophet hammered down building after building, sending Team Liquid to the grand final of The International 2017.
After all the team had been through, the final series of the tournament was almost an afterthought. Team Liquid had overcome every obstacle up to this point, and they were not going to be denied at this last hurdle. For as skilled a team as Newbee was, they had nothing on Liquid that day, unable to take a single game in the series as Kuro led his team to the top of the Dota 2 world. In taking the Aegis, he had finally achieved what he set out to do all those years ago. Now, in this moment, Kuro Salehi-Takhasomi could call himself the best in the world, and truly mean it.
There is an idiosyncrasy in the community to label these players as gods. It is only right, then, that Kuro’s victory at The International be his moment of ascension - the Aegis of Immortality a symbol of his new status that is emblematic of this man’s legendary journey from his humble beginnings to eventually becoming a champion. Kuro grew up with DotA, matured with it, and was now recognized for his efforts with the realization of his dream, the validation of his choice to be a professional gamer.
His evolution as a player and a person from the young, individualistic carry to his role as the self-sacrificing captain of Team Liquid is simply inspiring. There could be no better man to be the face of Dota 2 going forward. Whatever the future may hold for the game, and for Kuro himself, let his myth be memorialized here, so that it can awaken the passion of the next young gamer to take up the task of becoming the best player in the world.
Image Credit Valve, EPICENTER
Image Credit Valve, EPICENTER