Filipino Dota 2 powerhouse Blacklist Rivalry have finally lived up to the hype as they qualified for the upcoming Bali Major on Monday (5 June) after securing a second place finish at the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) Summer Tour regional league for Southeast Asia.
Blacklist Rivalry earned their spot in Bali after finishing second in the league with a 5-2 record. They capped off their run by sweeping Indonesia's Army Geniuses, 2-0, and defeating fellow Filipino squad Execration, 2-1, in a tiebreaker for second and third place in the league's final day of competition.
Blacklist Rivalry will be looking to claim a Major championship for Southeast Asia on friendly ground in Bali alongside Execration and resurgent Singaporean powerhouse Bleed Esports.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Blacklist Rivalry to start the 2023 DPC season, as its roster was a veritable Filipino superteam with Marc Polo "Raven" Fausto, Karl "Karl" Baldovino, Carlo "Kuku" Palad, Timothy "Tims" Randrup, and Nico "eyyou" Barcelon.
In an interview with Yahoo Esports SEA last December, team captain Tims said Blacklist Rivalry's biggest goal was to "represent the Philippines" in Dota 2's biggest stages.
However, the team failed to live up to the lofty expectations set by its star-studded roster during the 2023 DPC season's Winter and Spring Tours.
They had a good start to the Winter Tour but collapsed on the final day of competition, missing out on the Lima Major as a result.
Despite the addition of Michael "ninjaboogie" Ross Jr. as coach back in February, Blacklist Rivalry's struggles continued during the Spring Tour. The team only managed a 3-4 record and thus failed to even sniff a spot at the ESL One Berlin Major 2023.
Such disappointing results prompted the departure of eyyou in April, with the team announcing they will also take "a new direction" away from their original plan to field a full Filipino roster.
That directional shift came in the form of Australian veteran Damien "kpii" Chok, who took over as offlaner while Kuku shifted to the position 5 role previously vacated by eyyou.
With kpii joining the squad, Blacklist Rivalry once again had a strong start, racking up a 2-1 record in Week 1 after sweeping BOOM Esports and Execration while falling to Talon Esports.
In Week 2, Blacklist Rivalry suffered a surprising 0-2 loss to XERXIA but bounced back with a 2-0 win of their own over Team SMG. A 2-1 victory over league leaders Bleed Esports to start Week 3 then put Blacklist Rivalry in position to secure a Major spot, which they locked in with their sweep over Army Geniuses.
In an interview with the broadcast panel after their match against Army Geniuses, ninjaboogie said that Major-clinching match for the team was particularly satisfying when considering how they fared the last time they were in such a situation.
"I was actually worried about the team, because they've been in this situation in [the Winter Tour], and luckily history didn't repeat itself," said ninjaboogie.
But now that they have their spot in Bali secured, the coach said they will do their best to earn as much DPC points as they can to secure a direct invite to The International (TI) and avoid the regional qualifiers.
"Every [DPC] point matters, so hopefully we can do well in the Major. You'd want to avoid the qualifiers as much as possible, but you know, you still need to be prepared for the regionals," said ninjaboogie.
In a separate interview after their tiebreaker against Execration, Kuku said the team is most looking forward to face the Western European teams in the Major.
"I just wanna fight the [Western European] teams, because [they are so far ahead in terms of] the level of competition," said Kuku.
And with Blacklist Rivalry's DPC point situation in mind — the team is currently ranked 20th with 380 points — Kuku hopes they can make a deep run in the Major to be among the 12 teams to get a direct invite.
"I'm thinking that we need to do well, at least get Top 6, Top 4, or even be champions," said Kuku.
Blacklist Rivalry will be among the 18 teams competing in the Bali Major from 29 June to 9 July. While the Major will feature a US$500,000 prize pool, the teams will really be fighting for its 3,500 DPC point pool.
Those DPC points will go towards securing direct invites to this year's iteration of The International (TI), Dota 2's annual multimillion dollar world championship tournament. The Bali Major will be the last chance for teams to earn DPC points, so the competition is sure to be intense.
TI 2023 will be hosted in Seattle this October, featuring a revamped format similar to last year's tournament, which was held in Singapore.