This year, Virtus Pro received a direct invite to Valve's The International in Seattle. After years spent in the shadow of CIS giants and their greatest rival, Na`Vi, Virtus Pro claimed one of the two invitations to CIS teams and relegate the historically more successful Na`Vi to qualifiers. The Russian bear that is Virtus Pro (and was Virtus Pro Polar prior to that) deserved their direct invitation on the back of steady, reliable and solid performance.
Since finalizing their roster in April, the team has had a run of top honors in premier regional competitions in Europe. They finished atop Alliance, Na`vi, and even beat a strong Team Empire as recently as July 5th. Prior to April, as the Polar squad of Virtus Pro, the team played alongside the main squad, but had legitimate claim to being the better of the two. Their string of second place finishes from Dota Pit to the unfortunate D2L tournament in Las Vegas to StarLadder Season 11 is evidence of the team's staying power and overall performance.
Virtus Pro has fielded teams at previous Internationals. They were invitees in 2013 and a wildcard team in 2014, although that year they failed to reach the main tournament. Over the years, the only player constantly playing under the VP brand has been Ilya “Illldan” Pivcaev, with Sergey “God” Bragin as the only other carryover from the all Russian squad of 2014. Ever since Virtus Pro lost 2 of their biggest names in NS and Ars-Art’s retirements, their roster has suffered a lot of turnover. The three newcomers to Virtus Pro organization, Alexander “DkPhobos” Kucheria, Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk, and Artem “Fng” Barshak, are also relatively new to the professional Dota2 scene and have all had breakout years. DKPhobos broke off from the Na`Vi organization where he served as substitute player of choice from 2012 through 2014 and showed the Dota2 scene that he deserves a full time spot on a team. Fng broke away from the giant-killing team Power Rangers in order to captain team with world class ambitions, and is doing exactly that at Virtus Pro. Lil broke out into the professional scene from no prior professional experience with DKPhobos on NVMI in the second half of 2014. Virtus Pro is, in short, is a full mix of breakout players playing with established players.
For the current Virtus Pro team, the breakout players and the the established players have complemented each other with amazing success. Fng has provided creativity and vision to Virtus Pro Dota. Lil has provide ambitious playmaking from the support role. DKPhobos has played an opportunistic offlane and punishes mistakes by opposing teams. The more established players, God and Illidan, are providing the execution, experience, and finishing touches on wins. The successful combination of the two kinds of players is proving to be a successful model for Dota2 organizations and team construction in the future. The successful combination of the old and new professional players perhaps can serve as a model for other teams to follow. Yet, no Dota2 team can truly be crowned a success without a solid performance at an International, and this Virtus Pro team is no different. Illidan and God have not been part of a good placement at The International. They have to expect that their new teammates will make this Virtus Pro team different and special.
PlaystyleVirtus Pro is representative of the top tier of CIS Dota 2 teams and plays an action packed game. Like their mascot, the bear, Virtus Pro comes out with strong swipes at the opponent in the laning phase, looking to secure an early advantage. The laning phase is followed by a vigorous middle game of aggressive punches. When Virtus Pro is ahead DKPhobos takes over the game and fights the enemy with a well farmed offlane hero. When the team has been on the worse end of things, G make sacrifices and takes control. After the middle game, Virtus Pro then tries to wear the opponent down with a constant barrage of attacks utilizing the deep game experience of their carry and cores.
In the laning phase, Virtus Pro can be extremely versatile. The three solos, DKPhobos, G, and Illidan are expected to be able to hold their own without support. While Illidan does most often enjoys the protection of the supporting pair in the safe lane, Virtus Pro can deploy the laning configurations that best suits their draft, which always favors heavy aggression. Over the most recent half year, Virtus Pro played a good share of dual safe lanes, safe tri-lane, hard tri-lane, dual mid lane, etc. The supporting duo have safe laned, roamed, hard laned, jungled, and even split up. The flexibility of the team enables Fng to execute a variety of laning aggression simply because the team can deploy more optimal laning configurations.
The laning phase then gives way to the middle game where G can exert his greatest influence and demand utmost attention from the opponent. In latest patch, the heroes of choice has been Shadow Fiend, Queen of Pain, and Leshrac. G plays these with the aggressive presence demanded from a mid player and in line with his disposition. Well positioned in the face of the enemy, G manages the middle lane like an experienced veteran, entering the battle on his cue and throwing out all of his skills to burst out key enemy heroes or wear down the enemy team as a whole. The Virtus Pro game plan calls for G to lead non-stop aggression in the mid-game. Sometimes, Virtus Pro will overwhelm their opponent in the melee. Sometimes, Virtus Pro will lose the game completely and get knocked out. But Virtus Pro can often and will go late.
Much of the sustained success of Virtus Pro in professional dota prior to 6.84 can be attributed to the role of Illidan and the strong late game strategy of the team. Due to the strong rubber banding effects of 6.82, early game aggression went out of style and the carries dominated the game. In that atmosphere, when a true carry is picked, Virtus Pro know that they can rely on Illidan in the late game to have great farm and a good chance of winning as long as they can weather the middle game. When a semi carry is picked for him, Virtus Pro know they can count on Illidan to have stronger presence in fights and provide numerical superiority. Because this is true, Virtus Pro believe they have the advantage in the long run and don’t have to feel like their hand is forced in the middle game. They could be patient and pick their opportunities, but that would be uncharacteristic of the team.
Conversely, the opponents know that they have a potential ticking bomb on their hands. There are a few instances of Illidan being given free farm as Antimage where Illidan proceeded to mechanically farm the map as fast as possible and then destroy enemy team nearly 1v5. This knowledge of past performances puts a heavy burden of pressure on opponents, and at the highest level of competition, the extra mental exertion is part of the Virtus Pro winning formula to wear their opponents down. The 120 minute epics of 6.82 that Virtus Pro won against C9 are a good example this phenomenon at work.
While there are still instances of “throws” and losing won games, the Virtus Pro game plan covers all phases the game. When watching Virtus Pro, as long as the game is still winnable, it is hard to get the feeling that the team doesn’t know what its next step should be or the feeling that the team is not unified in their execution of strategy and tactics. This is very impressive for a young captain like Fng, who can’t draw from years and years of top flight Dota2 experience and leadership. Particularly noteworthy is that Fng’s success with Virtus Pro is in sharp contrast with the failed one-month experiment with Na`Vi. The difference in results can only highlight how important it is for the team to buy in into the game tactics put forward by their captain.
For Virtus Pro, the game plan is clear and simple if not a bit predictable. Virtus Pro will be providing a relentless series of jabs and attacks and enjoy taking the initiative and dictating play around the map. Their games will be fun and bloody.
In 6.82 Fng had excellent positioning with Vengeful Spirit. In 6.83, his map awareness and healing with Treant Protector contributed to many wins, and more recently Winter Wyvern has been great in nullfying single core compositions.
But what impresses me most about Fng is his hair. Oh that hair and the styling, shampoo, and upkeep.
Lil’s hero pool overlaps quite a bit with Fng and they’ve both played number of games as Rubick and Vengeful Spirit. The hero that Lil has played the most is Skywrath Mage, the flavor of 6.82. In the more recent patches, Skywrath and Vengeful Spirit have fallen out of style in favor of Rubick and Visage. In 6.83, his Dazzle was often the difference maker in saving heroes both offensive attacks and defensive counters. Of these heroes, Lil has shone the most on Rubick and Dazzle.
DKPhobos supports an impressive Centaur Warrunner and has found much success with the hero in recent months. As an offlaner, he enjoys most success on heroes where he can charge into the fight and tank quite a bit of damage. He’s favored heroes of this kind like Brewmaster and Spirit Breaker. DKPhobos has also enjoyed playing Tuskar, an extremely strong hero in 6.84.
Over the years, God’s style of aggressive tempo mid has not really changed and he has been key to his team’s success across the years. LGD.int, for example, enjoyed their bout of early success in China in large part due to God as his movement around the map. When other Chinese teams caught up to what God was doing, the strength of LGD waned.
Now that the rubber band has weakened in 6.84, God has reestablished himself as the key player on the team with good command on a variety of up-tempo mid heroes. The recent surge of results by Virtus Pro is also centered around a strategic shift from their more late game tendencies of 6.82 towards a middle game aggression centered around God.
His Antimage and Slark are unstoppable forces when opposing teams afford him space to farm and having to face that is a scary proposition. Illidan is a player that demands early game attention and pressure.