A chorus of cheers reverberated throughout the Suntec Singapore arena upon the conclusion of the Thunder Awaken vs Team Liquid playoff series in The International 11. In what is regarded as the most exciting series in the competition so far, with a spot in the event finals in the balance, both teams threw everything they had on the table to come out victorious.
Even when nearly every game surpassed the 50-minute mark and every player drained every last bit of their energy, when all was said and done, it was TL who outlasted their South American opponents to progress further and continue their march of securing a second world title in the team’s history. Such was the magnitude of the series that TL players immediately popped off of their chairs upon its conclusion and embraced each other not just out of joy but in pure relief as well. Team Liquid’s head coach Blitz broke down in tears amidst the aftermath. Indeed, they had survived by the skin of their teeth.
The other side of the spectrum was a crestfallen Thunder Awaken team who, despite exerting their best effort in the main event phase, which was emphasized by their initiation on micke with a Black Hole-Unleash combo, diminishing his health to 1 HP, that was then thwarted by MATUMBAMAN's game-saving Infest on LIfestealer in the closing moments of Game 3, had to look on and see their TI11 run whittle away in real-time.
One such team was Thunder Awaken. Like the rest of SA in its early stage, TA oversaw its flurry of adjustments before eventually turning the corner for the better. Intermittent lineup changes, organizational dysfunction, and constant instability that swarms players with uncertainty on whether they can continue their careers were seen through their initial years in Dota. It explains why some of the region’s best have a journeyman-like list of stints with various teams despite still having a young age, such as Matthew who played for 14 different squads before settling with TA.
As the scene eventually consolidated itself with proper regulation and support, its brooding potential gradually went into full bloom. Better management decisions were made, and salaries were properly instituted to give players peace of mind and allow them to primarily focus on their careers. teams stuck together far longer than usual–teams such as No Ping e-sports, which consisted of Pandaboo, Matthew, and Darkmago, who were signed by TA before the 2021-22 season on the back of qualifying for the Animajor, continuing both their improvement under a new banner while also the region’s crescendo among the international community.
Aided by the rise of a new promising team, the ensuing DPC saw SA’s finest contend against other top teams. Beastcoast and TA finished Top 6 in both ESL Stockholm One and the PGL Arlington Major. Even during moments where either or both teams looked shaky, such as TA placing bottom in Arlington and Beastcoast starting in the lower bracket in the year’s two Majors, they still manufactured incredible victories such as BC beating defending champions Team Spirit in Sweden. As the DPC progressed, more heads started slowly towards their direction, thus recognizing SA’s improvement in Dota. Still, due to its rough past where it regularly placed bottom in international play on the back of a shoddy competitive infrastructure, many viewed it as a brief upswing that would ultimately fizzle out in inglorious fashion.
Instead, SA continued its excellent form in TI11 as it sent three teams to Singapore, the most in the region's history in a single year. In terms of country representation, 13 players from Peru, long revered as the cradle of SA Dota, attended the event, boasting the highest percentage of participants (13%) from a single nation according to Liquipedia, another first for the region. Looking at the rest of SA, four players from either Brazil or Bolivia attended also, bringing the total to 17 SA players, the most the region has seen in a single TI.
Astonishing as it is, just looking at the number of players attending won't explain the whole story behind SA's success in TI11. One must also look at the change in playstyle the region adopted that made their turnaround possible. The team previously opted for an uber aggressive playstyle that hounded the enemy team with constant advances as a measure to counteract their lack of technicality to build and coordinate a cohesive strategy. Such was the consequence of always changing teams with little time to prepare for events. In due time, however, and with a greater influx of players building adequate experience, such a sophisticated approach became feasible and, most crucially, sustainable.
Such a shift in play was most evident in TA's first-round upper bracket series against Evil Geniuses that kickstarted the TI11 main event. There were various times in which TA could have extended fights to snag more kills for an extra bit of an advantage, but by taking the methodical approach of slowly mounting a lead in gold and item composition--add to that a tinge of their traditional aggression--the team steamrolled their NA opponent, who finished in first place in Group A heading into the playoffs.
On top of that, Beastcoast reprised their TI9 form by reaching the Top 8 once again by eliminating their regional brethren in Hokori and EG before falling to PSG.LGD is in a close 2-1 series. Even as they were marred by COVID which prevented all but one player from being on the main stage in their main event run, BC played as best as any top team, thus garnering the respect of their peers far beyond their homeland. Some consideration must also be given to Hokori as well as thanks to a 9-9 group stage display, they became a feared dark horse team.
Whenever someone clamors for Valve to give SA more slots, they were almost always met with incessant ridicule, but given how the region performed in TI11 and everything that came before it, with each team vindicating its proponents in every match along the way, it's only right to see the region finally receive their due after seeking for it for a long time.
No longer the butt of jokes, SA is truly here to stay and everyone must respect them.