As an organization, Fnatic has retained a presence in the Southeast Asian Dota 2 space for several years now after moving away from their European roots. The roster has undergone quite a change in the past couple years, moving away from the Mushi-led rosters that defined Fnatic’s image in Dota 2. Now, the roster is majority North American, retaining only one player from the squad that attended The International 2016 with Mushi at the helm.
Djardel “DJ” Mampusti is also the only player from the Fnatic roster that attended TI7 with the organization, a tournament that shattered the squad after their last place exit in the group stage. At the same time, in the other group, another team was struggling to find its footing, and ultimately met its own demise in the first round of loser’s. That team was Cloud9, the new-old NP roster with all of the familiar faces, two of which would come to Fnatic in the game of musical chairs that always follows Dota 2’s perennial championship tournament.
Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao and Johan “pieliedie” Åström, longtime teammates across several varied rosters and organizations, both made the move to Southeast Asia to join ranks with DJ and two other notable names from the region, Khoo “Ohaiyo” Chong Xin and Steve “Xcalibur” Ye. However, this iteration of the roster was short lived after a flatlining at Hamburg in October: Xcalibur was on his way out, and Abed Asel L. Yusop came in to give the team a significant boost in the mid lane.
The roster wasn’t finalized quite yet, however, as the team still had difficulty finding their footing, again coming last at another Major in DreamLeague. Despite their ability to win the qualifiers over Mineski and TNC, Fnatic clearly lagged behind the teams at the top of the DPC. In January, the final piece of the puzzle shifted into place as Ohaiyo was ejected and the recently-kicked Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora found a new home. With this, Fnatic’s roster was among the most promising in the region on paper, and they set out on the path to TI8.
Their performances at the Majors since have improved, coming fourth at both Katowice and Birmingham, with a few decent showings at Minors in-between. Ultimately, though, they were forced to go through the TI qualifiers. With both TNC squads in their path, Fnatic easily could have missed TI altogether, but managed to sweep both of them with some interesting performances to nab their ticket to Vancouver.
Coming into the tournament, Fnatic is perhaps the definition of a dark horse. They have been on the outside of the top tier of Dota 2 teams the entire year, but they have a wealth of experience to match their young talent, a dangerous combination at The International. They have some serious questions to answer to make good on that promise, though. Perhaps the most important of them all is, can Jacky Mao truly captain a team of this caliber through the gauntlet of TI?
In answer, it’s certainly possible.
As one of the few core players that also captains a team in the modern era, EnVy is in a unique position in the Dota scene. He’s certainly moved beyond the early portion of his career where he was known for the dichotomous nature of his midlane play, a yin-and-yang of flashy playmaking and boneheaded overextensions. Now, his play as a carry is more reserved, more team-oriented, giving up some farm priority and lategame superiority to the heroes that his other core players employ. He’s most often on midgame tempo-setters like a 2-position would be on, playing a significant amount of Mirana over the course of the past few months.
Abed is instead the priority farmer, a role that suits his favored heroes well. He became famous for his Meepo, but he has been able to adapt to a wider hero pool with a reasonable amount of success. Still, he is almost always at the top of the networth charts, and he is usually relied on to deal damage in the lategame and carry the team to victory. As befitting, his heroes are generally drafted quite late to attempt to secure a favorable lane, and many of Fnatic’s drafts revolve around enabling his splitpush-heavy playstyle, which is one of the reasons that Mirana is such a valued pick for EE.
Likewise, UNiVeRsE favors a farm-heavy playstyle, especially so for a 3 player. He’s always been known as a Dark Seer player, and the hero meshes well with the rest of the team, flexible in laning setups with some strong dual-lane pairings like Sand King that make the hero pickable early in drafts without giving away much in terms of direction. He’s also famous for another teamfighter, Enigma, that is dominant in the current laning-focused metagame with his ability to deny the ranged creep and last hit with Eidolons.
DJ’s heroes generally pair well with Saahil’s, with the aforementioned Sand King being a high-priority pick for the team due to its laning strength and midgame utility. The hero not only lanes well, but also supplements the splitpush game with strong waveclear and decent escapes. When Fnatic go on the aggressive, it is DJ’s hero that is relied on to have impact in the midgame, and he is outstanding in teamfights with a knack for getting the most out of his hero’s cooldowns.
Pieliedie’s role is to sacrifice for his cores. This man’s play is rivalled only by Peter “ppd” Dager’s in terms of how much he gives up to allow the rest of his team to succeed. Not only does PLD manage to maximize the utility out of the farm he is able to find, he also successfully draws the attention of the enemy team regularly throughout the game to allow the rest of Fnatic to make a play or take an objective on the other side of the map. He does all this on heroes that are designed to be strong laners to pair with EnVy’s heroes, with his Crystal Maiden being a classic pick, but also ahead of the curve in terms of skill build.
When everything is going to Fnatic’s plan, the team splits the map effectively, making use of the tri-core drafts EnVy likes to employ in order to build a networth lead on their better-scaling heroes. Within this framework, it is the maneuvers of DJ that find or create openings in the enemy’s positioning that allow Fnatic to become aggressive, and they tend to play well in small skirmishes across the map that secure territory and allow them to exert their influence over a wider area of the map.
Unfortunately for Fnatic, EnVy’s questionable decision-making has found its way into his shotcalling. One can see flashes of brilliance at times, when the team’s movement is clearly superior, taking advantageous tower trades and getting the upper hand on Roshan. On the other hand, EnVy can just as easily send his team into a death spiral, squandering a solid draft with poor cohesion in the midgame that sees their heroes picked off sequentially until they can no longer recover lost ground. This is the other side of the splitpush style that they use; when behind, the team can become easily separated and lost, unable to gain any traction.
As a player, EnVy is well-versed enough to play almost any hero that fits in the metagame. He has never lacked for individual skill at the 1 position, and is especially solid when it comes to his farming mechanics. Even in a team as greedy as this one is, he still manages to pick farming split pushers like Mirana and Lycan from time to time. Still, this is nothing new for him as a player, and is certainly not the most important aspect of his contribution to Fnatic’s successes and failures.
What defines his role in this team is his leadership, and in that area he has the most to grow. While he has years of experience under his belt, EnVy lacks the calculated decision-making of the truly best captains that set their teams apart. He has his particular, quirky brand of greedy Dota, and that does not always play out the way he wants it to. His ability to adapt to chaotic situations is strong, but he falters when behind and is known to tilt as a player. In order to have true success at The International, something that has escaped him thus far in his career, EnVy must embrace his role as a leader and overcome the team’s weaknesses through smart drafting and shrewd shotcalling.
Abed functions well in the laning-focused metagame currently, but struggles to stand out as a player if his lane is unfavorable. Considering the farm-heavy playstyle of the team, starting the midgame from a deficit can hamper his ability to farm in riskier areas of the map. For this reason, some of the drafts at The Summit featured him on Dragon Knight as a late pick to ward off any extremely bad lane matchups and guarantee that Abed could have an impact even if he didn’t manage to outright win his lane.
That sort of development of style is essential for young players to grow into more complete pieces of successful squads, and playing in a team with players like EnVy and UNiVeRsE that have a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw from could be beneficial for Abed in the long run. At this year’s TI, however, he will need to be at peak form to compete with the world class midlaners that the top teams employ.
In the recent era, this play revolves around heroes that dominate in the dual-lane metagame. Beasmaster was a common pick for a long time due to several strong 4-position pairings that picked apart weak safelanes, and UNi was no stranger with the hero. More recently, he’s been on Dark Seer and Enigma, two heroes of similar style that win lanes with their ability to control waves, frustrating melee carries and making pulling an impossibility.
In the midgame, he uses this farm superiority to great effect, often buying teamfighting items like Mek and Greaves to supplement his team’s ability to group up and take objectives. Since these heroes also splitpush well, they fit into the style that Fnatic often employs, and are often able to be drafted early due to this flexibility. In this way, UNi is one of the few offlaners in the world that are able to generate draft advantages for their captains, a quality that makes him even more invaluable to Fnatic’s chances at The International 2018.
With recent changes to that hero, however, and the rise of other 4 picks like Windranger, the Fnatic draft has looked somewhat different. At the Summit, DJ played many different heroes, with EnVy seemingly trying out different priority picks for the 4 role with varying levels of success. Still, DJ did have many great games on Windranger, a pick quickly rising in the ranks for many teams.
With the wide range of heroes viable at the position currently, it will be important for DJ and EnVy to find what works best with the rest of the team in Vancouver. Hopefully for them, their experimentation at The Summit lead to some important discoveries that will allow them to have the upper hand on other teams in a landscape full of skilled 4 players.
As a player, PLD has rarely garnered accolades for his play, but he has been a stable support to EnVy for years now, and that level of familiarity is important in building strong relationships within a team. His value as a player is difficult to see in statistics, but is nonetheless an integral part of a winning team. He was, after all, on the Secret team that won the Shanghai Major. This roster has an eerily similar feel to that one, and they have the potential to surprise at The International.
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums