Born from the remnants of the Invictus Gaming squad that attended The International 2017, this iG roster is an eclectic collection of Chinese talent. Fu “Q” Bin reprises his role as the captain of the team, having led the former squad to a respectable 5-6th placing in the tournament. The rest of the foundation of the iG team remains intact, with fellow support Ye “BoBoKa” Zhibiao also remaining on the team, along with offlaner-turned-mid Lin “Xxs” Jing. The three of them were the workhorses of the Invictus team, with BoBoKa and Xxs doing much across the map with limited resources.
The new members of this year’s team replace two of the star players of that TI side, namely Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei and Ou “Op” Peng. The latter player is a relative newcomer to the scene, only making his debut in the iG organization in 2016. Still, Op was a strong mid player for the team, able to play at a high enough level to keep iG at the top of the Chinese Dota scene for much of the TI7 season. The former, however, is a legend, and undoubtedly was the primary reason that the team was able to achieve as much as they did.
However, neither of those players are still on the team. Instead, Sun “Srf” Runfa steps in to the offlane role, with Xxs returning to the mid role where he began his pro career. To replace BurNIng, Sun “Agressif” Zheng joined the ranks. In recent years, he has been one of the up-and-coming carry players looking to take up the mantle of the premier Chinese cores that have been in and out of retirement - BurNIng notably among them. That Agressif takes his place here, with B-god coming in as coach for TI, is only fitting.
The team hasn’t qualified for anything outside of China the entire DPC, with only 2 showings at Majors in the country to put their skill on display. They had a difficult group draw at DAC where they placed middle of the pack, and then again only just made it out of groups at MDL Changsha before being eliminated in the first round of playoffs by their fellow countrymen in Newbee.
With these being the team’s only DPC showings, they were forced into the qualifiers for TI. With many of China’s best teams having already been invited, the qualifiers were a mix of sister teams and a few open qualifier hopefuls. In this mix, iG did fairly well, ultimately beating out LFY for the last spot in a close series. Now, on the eve of the tournament, this iG team is an underdog in the truest sense, a team with little but name recognition to justify their place among the rest of the competition.
Invictus’ playstyle is typical of their Chinese brethren. They play fairly safely in the early game, always sure to guarantee Agressif the best start they can. In one of their qualifier games they even trilaned, unsuccessfully, in an attempt to secure the safelane. With map control being so important even in the early game, the advantage gained by placing greater emphasis on the safelane than the offlane is negated or even surpassed by the enemy team’s free reign over both their own safelane bounty rune and the trilaning team’s offlane rune. Additionally, the experience disadvantage of a trilane is compounded by the weakened offlane’s experience deficit that is made worse than in the past due to the denied experience in turn strengthening the enemy carry.
Even when iG isn’t trilaning, BoBoKa is more of a roaming support than a stationary lane player. He become famous in the past year for his Monkey King and Earth Spirit, but the current metagame generally favors heroes that are not quite as effective across the map, and less able to repeatedly gank mid lane. His rotations are often an attempt to prop up Xxs when in a bad lane, but since he is generally on heroes that are less effective at ganking, these rotations are less fruitful and give up valuable space on other parts of the map. This compounds when Agressif also needs help, making any failed rotation doubly disadvantageous.
Instead, iG’s success has come when Agressif is playing heroes that are more self-sufficient in lane. He plays a lot of Phantom Lancer and Lifestealer, heroes he is well-known for as a hard carry player, but the team plays well when he’s on semi-carries like Venomancer and Mirana that can control lanes by themselves and free up Q to rotate with the rest of the team. The captain compliments these heroes with building-hitting supports like Jakiro and Leshrac that make up for the more magic-damage focus of his safelaner.
Xxs, though, is the primary tower killer of the team. Whether he is on Templar Assassin, Dragon Knight, or Death Prophet, iG relies on him to deal damage to objectives. When the draft allows, he tends to favor the high-skill heroes like TA or Storm Spirit that he can easily take over games with. In many ways, he is often the most important hero on the map for the Invictus Gaming team, making his lane matchup one of the most important. As such, his hero is either last-picked, or is Dragon Knight, who can safely be picked earlier in the draft.
Srf’s role is the most straightforward - he almost exclusively plays initiators for the team. He plays the metagame-relevant heroes like Beastmaster and Brewmaster, but he also plays Batrider, a hero many teams ignore, and even had a memorable game on Legion Commander in the Chinese Qualifier for The International. In that game, BoBoKa’s Clockwerk gave him a favorable start against the dual-melee safelane of For The Dream, allowing iG to come back from an otherwise disastrous laning stage on the back of some choice teamfight plays by the pair.
Other than that game, iG’s winrate generally depends on their laning, as is common in the current era of Dota. When things are going well, Xxs has a favorable matchup, BoBoKa is making plays across the map, and Agressif is farming in enemy territory because the enemy team is preoccupied by his teammates’ movements. Unfortunately, iG have yet to show that they can reliably secure these favorable drafts against experienced captains, and their playmaking ability will be tested against The International competition.
Once the carry player of a second place team at The International, the career path of Agressif has taken some turns in the years since. His name is on a short list of the best carries of the region, but he has been unable to return to the same heights he reached in 2015 on CDEC. With this iG squad, he has been relegated to intraregional play almost exclusively, unable to truly display his evolution as a player on the world stage.
At his best, Agressif is a dominant carry player. He has a sharp sense for how far he can push his luck when farming in dangerous areas, and he pushes the limits of his heroes in teamfights. He favors Phantom Lancer not only due to the hero’s unusual staying power in the metagame, but also because of how well it fits his strengths, with abilities that allow him to find a precarious balance between aggression and safety; life and death; winning and losing.
Q has realized this young star’s potential, and has allowed him to play riskier picks like Storm and Templar Assassin because of this. To their credit, iG seems to be making it work despite the metagame generally favoring stabler laners, but Xxs will truly have to step his game up against the world-class competition at TI.
In today’s metagame, these sorts of heroes need to pair well with a support pick to be relevant. While many of them do, and there are a few supports that make good dual lanes on their own, iG seems to struggle finding synergy between his hero and the supports, making his lane more difficult than it should be at times and leading to him being unable to properly fulfill his role as an initiator.
For iG to do well, they need to find a way to integrate Srf’s heroes into the drafts more. Instead of treating him as a player on an island as in years past, he must be an active part of the team’s gameplan from the start, lest iG be at a significant disadvantage.
Regardless of his hero, though, BoBoKa is the key to iG’s successes in the lanes, with his sense of when to make rotations uncannily sharp. For the team to have any chance in Vancouver, he will have to be on the top of his game, always in the right place at the right time to prop up his core players and give Invictus the edge.
As a player, he often fills the void the rest of his draft leaves. Whether he be on a push hero like Lesh or Jakiro, or a strong laner like Undying, he often makes up for the deficits that picks like Phantom Lancer or Storm Spirit bring with them. In this way, Q uses himself as yet another tool in the draft, allowing him to pick whatever he feels is best for his core players, sure in his own ability to make up for their faults.
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums
Graphics: Valve, Julmust, Exitiums