Dota 2: Azure Ray defeat Team Liquid to advance to ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023 Grand Finals

Azure Ray will now have a rematch with Gaimin Gladiators in the Grand Finals of ESL One Kuala Lumpur for the US$300,000 grand prize.

Azure Ray are through to the Grand Finals of Dota 2's ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023 versus Gaimin Gladiators after they defeated Team Liquid in the lower bracket finals. (Photo: ESL)
Azure Ray are through to the Grand Finals of Dota 2's ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023 versus Gaimin Gladiators after they defeated Team Liquid in the lower bracket finals. (Photo: ESL)

The Grand Finals of ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023, the last big Dota 2 tournament of the year, is now set.

Chinese powerhouse Azure Ray defeated Western Europe's Team Liquid, 2-1, in the lower bracket finals on Sunday (17 December) to earn the right to challenge The International (TI) 2023 runners-up Gaimin Gladiators in the Grand Finals.

Azure Ray have been one of the most dominant teams in Kuala Lumpur. The Chinese squad hit the ground running in the Group Stage, topping the standings of Group A with a 8-2 record.

They then defeated MENA-based superteam Team Falcons, 2-1, in the upper bracket semifinals to meet Gaimin Gladiators in the upper bracket finals. However, Azure Ray were knocked down by the Gladiators in a 2-0 sweep to the lower bracket finals.

Azure Ray had a formidable opponent in Team Liquid, who have gone on a lower bracket rampage through the likes of Team Secret, Team Falcons, and BetBoom Team to make it to the lower bracket finals.

With a spot in the Grand Finals on the line, Azure Ray showcased their understanding of the metagame from the recently-released 7.35 update with unorthodox picks like Bounty Hunter, Viper, and Nyx Assassin.

In game one, Azure Ray had a dominant start in the laning stage and looked to be in a winning position through most of the midgame. However, Liquid scored some huge teamfight wins between the 26 and 30-minute marks that gave them the momentum to suddenly claim the series opener in 36 minutes.

Michał "Nisha" Jankowski led the way with 13 kills and 10 assists on two deaths to pace Liquid's 28-17 kill lead. Michael "miCKe" Vu on Monkey King also added seven kills and 17 assists on four deaths.

Azure Ray struck back hard in game two, even pulling out the surprise mid Bounty Hunter pick for Guo "Xm" Hongcheng.

Things were looking good for Liquid early on, but Azure Ray blew the game wide open around the 20-minute mark once Lou "Lou" Zhen's Faceless Void came online and landed some spectacular Chronospheres. With Xm's Track boosting the amount of gold Azure Ray earned from winning the ensuing teamfights, they overwhelmed Liquid in one clash after another to force the series to a game three after 44 minutes.

Lou paced Azure Ray's 38-24 kill lead with 17 kills and 15 assists on two deaths. Xm pitched in with nine kills and 20 assists on four deaths.

Azure Ray carried their momentum to a dominant showing in game three, where they routed Liquid with more unorthodox picks in the form of a mid Viper for Xm and Nyx Assassin for Zhao "XinQ" Zixing.

Both teams traded a lot of kills in a bloody early game, but it was Azure Ray that emerged with the lead as Xm got four kills off of timely rotations to get his snowball rolling. Once the Chinese team started forcing fight as a full five-man squad in the midgame, Liquid could do little to stop them and were eventually forced to concede the series after just 27 minutes of action.

Xm shone with 10 kills and six assists on three deaths, pacing Azure Ray's 26-16 kill lead in the closeout game. Lou on Luna also had a clean five kills and nine assists.

With their victory, Azure Ray have guaranteed themselves at least a second place finish and US$175,000 in winnings. Of course, they have their sights set on the US$300,000 grand prize and, more importantly, take their revenge on Gaimin Gladiators to close out the year.

Meanwhile, Team Liquid bow out in third place and with US$120,000 for their efforts. It's still a commendable performance for the team when considering they had to play with Jonáš "SabeRLight-" Volek as a stand-in for new offlaner Neta "33" Shapira.

The ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023 main event is being hosted at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre from 15 to 17 December, where the champions will walk away with the grand prize of US$300,000 out of the tournament's US$1 million prize pool.

For everything you need to know about ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023, check here.

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