Another International, another appearance by Team Secret. With the organization’s attendance each year since their formation in late 2014 comes captain Puppey’s accompanying lifelong perfect record at TI, making him one of only 4 veterans to attend all 8 (with DDC, Universe and Kuroky). While the road to the year’s biggest tournament has not always been easy for the multinational squad, this year’s implementation of the DPC system has seen Secret vacuuming up points early and often with their high placements. This year’s journey has also featured the same cast all season long, devoid of the roster swaps or team drama of previous seasons.
After a regrettably low bottom eight finish during the main event of TI7 (all things considered, a step up from their last place finish at TI6), Secret parted ways with core players Khezu and MP. These holes in the roster were not easily filled: MP, a volatile yet dominating carry, had come over with MidOne and Forev during Secret’s ‘SEA-cret’ experiment, and offlaner Khezu had made his mark as another highly skilled player that had successfully defected from the Heroes of Newerth pro scene. To resolve this, Secret replaced a well established carry player and an emerging offlaner with an emerging carry player, and a well established offlaner, picking up the promising Ace and the experienced Fata. Ace’s time with his countrymen in Danish Bears/The Imperial brought him to prominence after a few grand finals appearances on LAN and exceptional carry play, and Fata’s dependability made him an easy pickup after NP/Cloud9 shattered in the wake of TI7.
During the later half of 2017 following TI 7, Team Secret quickly established themselves as Europe’s strongest qualifier team, taking first place in five out of five Major and Minor regional qualifiers. On LAN, the new squad had a multitude of results, missing out on DPC points at the Perfect World Masters and PGL Bucharest Minors, but taking it all home in the grand finals of the DreamLeague Season 8 Major. As the calendar flipped over to 2018, Secret had proven themselves a cut above regional qualifiers and enjoyed direct invitations to ten straight DPC events. While their largest accomplishment at these tournaments amounted to only a Minor championship at DreamLeague Season 9, their five top-four placements compounded with their earlier successes were enough to punch a ticket to TI 8.
You never know what you’re going up against with Team Secret. One can only imagine the cold fear running down the spines of opposing captains, knowing full well the captain on other side of the river has made his career by constantly upending the metagame and baffling opponents. Whose signature heroes to ban first? Are we going to suffer a slow, aggravating strangulation by an unforeseen split push lineup? Will we be run down by a full throttle early push? Are we going to end up out-gunned in a mid game focused teamfight oriented line-up? Can we even stack up against the years of experience and the raw talent that these players have put on display all year in tournament after tournament? These are but a few of the daunting possibilities that come with pairing up against Team Secret.
This fearsome unpredictability comes as a result of having a roster capable of excelling at any tweak or adaptation a strategy might demand from them, be it the roaming support focused meta from earlier this year to the more classical 2-1-2 CS’ing revival that is presently in vogue. Consider Ace’s performances on Lone Druid against Pain Gaming at Epicenter XL: one game, he opts to defer to MidOne’s dominance on Outworld Devourer, letting the mid laner take charge of DPS while he shifted to a the classic aura-centric bear build, rather than the potent ranged threat more popular on Lone Druid at the time. Secret have employed the increasingly popular modular-position philosophy for their core players and regularly swap MidOne and Ace back and forth between safe and mid to ensure favorable lane matchups, putting the larger strategy before the comfort of their players. Even when it comes to signature picks, like the micro-heavy Arc Warden, adaptability is prized; both MidOne and Ace were drafted the hero at the China Supermajor.
Ace’s playstyle and hero pool re-introduced a facet of play not effectively employed since w33’s time on Secret: a penchant for carry heroes that require a high degree of micro. Couple Ace’s precise micro play with ultra efficient (and borderline ultra greedy) support from Puppey and Yapzor on recent simple-yet-effective favored heroes like Rubick, Vengeful Spirit, Skywrath Mage, and Witch Doctor, and the result is an almost assuredly won lane for Secret. While MidOne’s Invoker and Fata’s Puck may be out of the picture for now, the two have brought a high level of finesse and mastery to more reliable and relevant picks like Ember Spirit and Beastmaster respectively.
Following a long Team Secret tradition of fishing players up from promising yet underperforming teams, Ace has been with the team from the very beginning of this DPC season following the breakup of the Danish Bears squad (truthfully, the Danish Bears-Imperial-Cloud9-Danish Bears squad) that competed for a spot at TI7. Much like when w33 was on Secret, Ace’s ability shines on micro-intensive heroes that prosper in the safe lane like Arc Warden, Lycan, and Lone Druid. Keen eyes at Reddit have noted a streak of pub games where Ace has been cleaning up on Meepo, a hero he has publicly professed his love for, further establishing the link between him and his predecessor.
This soft spoken Dane fits right in with the constantly shifting playstyle that Puppey-headed teams have a reputation for. Morphing his Lone Druid playstyle, as an example, from ranged carry DPS to an aura-based bear-centric Druid across matches in Epicenter XL showed off his inherent dynamism, and the dynamism emblematic of Secret as a whole.
Earlier on this year, amidst a colder than usual winter results-wise following a white hot autumnal romp through the pro circuit, he bemoaned the state of the metagame in an interview with Cybersport: the joy of dueling a single opponent had been marred by the constant intrusions of roaming supports. As patches have progressed and the meta continues to shift, the 2-1-2 lanes of yesteryear have returned with the emphasis on an unsupported, 1-on-1 middle lane. Perhaps it is this shift in the meta that will see the return of flashier heroes for MidOne, and thus better results for this Secret squad.
Life for Fata has not always been wacky builds and widespread popularity, however. He has had to step aside from several online qualifiers and most recently the ESL Genting LAN finals this past January, due to factors outside of the game, ranging from illness to family emergencies. Following Team Liquid’s elimination from TI6, Fata took a break from professional Dota for three months before a brief cameo on B)ears with his future teammate, Yapzor, and ultimately landing a spot on Cloud9 just in time for TI7. His periods of inactivity have since subsided, with his recent performances on Mirana and Beastmaster at the China Supermajor and his Doom play at MDL showing that he still has it in him to dominate the competition. Don’t be surprised if his signature Puck orbs back into the limelight in Vancouver: with over 200 pro games logged accompanied by an over 60% win rate, Fata’s wealth of experience on the hero makes him a serious asset in the offlane.
Despite a less-than-stellar showing last August in Seattle, Yapzor and Secret have defended a spot near the top of the DPC leaderboards all season long. His flashy and greedy playstyle is a treat to behold whenever he gets his hands on big playmakers like Earthshaker, Enigma, or Sand King. It would be a disservice, however, to bring up Yapzor and not give praise to his legendary Rubick, which rivals even the mastery shown by spell-stealing extraordinaire and charter member of Team Secret, Kuroky. With skill as unbelievable as his rocket to support stardom, Yapzor’s continued quest for total victory on Dota’s largest stage remains a more-attainable-than-ever climax in his career’s story.
Throughout Puppey’s long and storied career, apart from his meta making (and breaking) drafts, he has always excelled at squeezing in extra farm as a position 5 support player, as well as his distinction on micro-intensive junglers like Enigma, Enchantress, and most infamous of all, Chen. It’s not all pushing towers and securing teamfights with his global heals on the Holy Knight, however, as he famously orchestrated the game breaking Pudge-Chen Fountain Hook combo in NaVi’s do-or-die set against TongFu in the lower bracket during TI3. The willingness to push the game of Dota 2 beyond its limits by concocting ingenious strategies is what has kept Puppey relevant all these years, and as his eighth trip to Valve’s main event draws nearer, it would be fruitless to guess what he has in store with his all star cast this August in Vancouver. A bet that it will be unexpected is probably safe.
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums