— by JulmustAt ESL One Hamburg I ran into Cyborgmatt just as Team Secret was about to finish their semi-final versus Team Liquid. Everyone could see that the game was over–everyone but Matt. I congratulated him on the big win. "This is not over. Liquid win two teamfights in a row and they're back in it," he said. "They [Liquid] have been our kryptonite this patch." Just as he finished that sentence, Secret wiped Liquid one last time and the GGs fell. It was clear that this was a huge win for Secret. They celebrated like they had won the tournament. Yapz0r jumped into Puppey’s arms, giving him a huge hug. The smiles on everyone's faces said more than just "we won a series." I can't help but feel that this emotional outburst, and the subsequent exhaustion, may have affected Secret in the finals, where they fell against Virtus.pro 0-2. Maybe the hunger dissipated a little bit. For Secret, this rivalry may have seemed to start recently; but I think Liquid feels differently. The story really starts at the rebirth of Team Liquid's Dota 2 squad.
The Story So FarThe 2015/2016 season was a strange one for both teams. For Liquid, the competitive year was defined by their struggle to find stability. There’s no doubt the team was on an upwards trajectory, but they faced constant setbacks. They started off by failing to qualify for the first Valve major, the Frankfurt Major, only to turn around and beat the major champions, OG, on LAN less than a month at The Defense Season 5. Meanwhile, Puppey and Team Secret, following a full retooling of the team, did the opposite of Liquid. They easily qualified for the Frankfurt Major and rolled through the tournament until they fell to OG in the finals. A string of disappointing results followed, and the team seemed to have been unable to recapture the magic of the previous superstar squad.
While the two teams had clashed previously, the Shanghai Major was their first high-stakes encounter. Both teams finished 2nd in their respective groups and were seeded into opposite sides of the upper bracket. Liquid took down Alliance and MVP Phoenix while Secret dispatched OG and Evil Geniuses to the lower bracket. The Secret - Liquid rivalry started here, in Shanghai, as the two faced off in the upper bracket finals. It was the first time Kuroky and Puppey met on LAN after the TI5 meltdown. Liquid lost that first series, but was granted a second chance after beating EG in the lower bracket finals. However, Secret smacked them down again in the grand finals, 3-1. After that, it just seemed like Secret had Liquid's number; by the time 2016 ended, Secret had a crushing 13-4 record against Liquid.
Both teams retooled their rosters after disappointment at The International 2016. Team Secret lost all three of their cores; Liquid, meanwhile, added wunderkind Miracle- and veteran BuLba to round out their roster. This set the stage for the next stage of the rivalry; a stage where Team Liquid were heavily favored. While you could claim that Liquid ended the fight when they raised the aegis after TI7, you could also claim that the brawl had just begun. At the end of "True Sight" for TI7, mere minutes after lifting the aegis, Kuroky starts talking about the new major system. The team jokes, laughs, and the documentary ends. What wasn't included in this clip was Kuroky, again, insisting on talking about the majors. The show goes on and so does the rivalry.
Things ChangeThe current iteration of Liquid and Secret feature a playstyle where the safelaner is not the big star of the team, as it was in the early days of Dota 2. The position is instead occupied by a player that can sacrifice farm to benefit the team. While this might be less true with Ace joining Secret, it was definitely the case with MP. In an unpublished interview I conducted with MP, he said that he sacrifices himself for the team, and that the team's play is not centered around him. This playstyle is one I've dubbed the "Fear style carry", as it was originally popularized by EG’s TI5 winning squad. The reason as to why the carry sacrifices his farm is to facilitate a very talented mid-player. Both Liquid's and Secret's midlaners are flashy and known for aggressive, high risk-high reward plays. When that works, they can carry the team to victory by themselves. When it doesn’t, the safelaner needs to come in and bail the team out. So, while Miracle- and MidOne are seen as the stars of the teams, their respective safelaners need to be able to pick up the slack when the high risk plays aren’t paying off. At least in my eyes, MATUMBAMAN and Ace's stability in this regard makes them the best carries in the game. The eerie similarities between the two teams are also reflected in their position 4 players. On both teams, the roaming support can outshine the entire team (GH's Io or Yapz0r's Rubick, for example) with limited resources. The biggest contrast between their lineups comes in the offlane, where Secret currently features FATA-, a veteran of the scene, while Liquid's Mind_Control is a relative newcomer.
While the teams share their similarities in most positions, it is even more true for the team captains. Kuroky and Puppey’s friendship is well known in the Dota community, and there can be no doubt that the two have exchanged ideas about the game over the years. This is why their teams are so similar, and also forms the basis of the rivalry. But it was never clear that this would happen. During their time in Na`Vi and in the first iteration of Team Secret, Kuroky was never seen as the mastermind of the team. It was always Puppey getting the attention and praise as he led Secret through the 2015 season, leaving few victims alive to tell the story.
As internal conflicts and a disappointing 7-8th place finish at TI5 tore Team Secret apart, Kuroky and Puppey decided to part ways. It was by no means a good break on all fronts, and the fallout even put Puppey and Kuroky’s camaraderie in jeopardy. When Kuroky later announced 5Jungz, a team sporting three unknown players, many naysayers thought he would be relegated to obscurity. “He was only good thanks to Puppey”, the critics proclaimed. But Kuroky had a plan. He had seen EG winning TI5 with a player who was new to the competitive scene: SumaiL. This showed the entire Dota 2 scene that there was fresh blood out there, ready to claim the spotlight. Kuroky saw the advantages of being able to not just form a team, but shape the players on that team.
Puppey chose not to go down the same path as Kuroky and instead remained conservative. In rebuilding Secret, he picked up players with years of top tier experience. This drive to always add players that were seemingly better than the ones currently on the roster came back to haunt Puppey. Imagine the final days of the Manila Major. Puppey had just picked up Arteezy and UNiVeRsE, two of the best players in the world. Yet he was forced to stand on the sidelines and watch his old friend come so close to claiming the tournament. That too, with a team of players very few knew anything about only a year earlier. While we can't know for sure, this could have been the turning point for Puppey, where he decided to try out Kuroky’s way of leadership. A leadership style where he is the absolute authority.
Point/CounterpointThis convergence in paths led up to not only Secret's win in Hamburg but series such as the final match in the qualifiers for the DreamLeague Major. Secret had already secured their place in the playoffs, while Liquid needed to win three out of their six remaining games. There was no mercy shown from Secret: they knew they were facing their hardest opponent and they were going to give it their all, even if they had already qualified.
In game 1, Liquid gave themselves a comfort draft. Even if they tried some new things, like Mind_Control on the offlane QoP and Kuroky on the Shadow Demon, this lineup is Liquid’s bread and butter. They picked heroes that come online rather quickly and teamfight well, while also giving themselves the option to split push with MATUMBAMAN’s Lycan. Secret’s reply was a lockdown heavy team with 4 out of their 5 heroes having some sort of disable. Early on in the game, we see the typical positions players on these teams take: On the top lane, Ace is battling Mind_Control alone, while MATUMBAMAN is left alone against FATA- in his lane. Both of these “safelane” carries have suboptimal matchups; in the earlier days of Dota they would have been more well protected. Instead, we see the opposite here. Both teams are ok with this trade and instead focus on the middle lane.
5 minutes into game 1
Liquid are the circles, Secret the arrows
At this point, the game becomes sort of a battle between the supports where Liquid comes out on top after some carefully crafted aggression and rotations. They then force Secret into teamfight after teamfight and simply out execute them thanks to the item and level timings they were able to hit. In the end, the game was very one-sided in Liquid’s favour, but this is a beautiful example on how professional teams can snowball off even the slightest lead.
Puppey has been in the game long enough to immediately identify what went wrong in game 1. He must have realized that in a balanced lane, even if it's a 3v3 mid, Liquid was sharper than him and his team. So how do you respond to that? You create an imbalance. Puppey went away from what had previously shown to be so effective for both teams, focusing on the midlane, to a traditional safelane trilane. Thanks to drafting Drow Ranger, he could make sure that the mid Gyrocopter still got farm, utilizing Flak Cannon’s extra range with Precision Aura. This imbalance threw Liquid off their game. After 4 minutes, Secret was up 5-0 in kills, while GH desperately looked for opportunities to find a kill. Secret won the early game this time around, by throwing Liquid a curve ball, and thanks to some clever maneuvering, they managed to take home game 2 ending the series in a 1-1 score. A commonly used phrase in Dota is that “best of 5’s have their own meta.” Well, in a Liquid vs Secret game, even a Bo2 can have its own meta.
5 minutes into game 2
Liquid are the arrows, Secret the circles
The back and forth between the teams, the similarities between them, and the captains’ long running friendship creates a perfect storm for a new sort of rivalry. It differs from the old Alliance vs. Na`Vi "El Clasico", where you had two very different play-styles clashing for supremacy. Here we instead see two teams who mimic and improve on each others play-style. They're almost like two horses racing: one horse pulls away by half a length only to, moments later, be surpassed by the other by just as much. Coming into 2018 there's no telling which of the two horses will be able to accelerate the fastest. And that makes me incredibly excited.
Editors Sn0_Man, tehh4ck3r
Editors Sn0_Man, tehh4ck3r