Chinese organisation Azure Ray announced on Tuesday (28 November) sweeping changes to its Dota 2 roster following their fourth place finish at The International (TI) 2023 in October.
Midlaner Lu "Somnus" Yao, offlaner Yang "Chalice" Shenyi, position 4 support player Xu "fy" Linsen, and coach Zhang "LaNm" Zhicheng have left the team. A machine translation of Azure Ray's post on its official Weibo account read that their departures came "after several communications and negotiations and on the premise of fully respecting the players’ personal wishes".
The departing members will be replaced by midlaner Guo "Xm" Hongcheng, offlaner Lin "Xxs" Jing, position 4 support player Zhao "XinQ" Zixing, and coach Wang "Liekkas" Yutian, according to a separate post by Azure Ray.
Prior to joining Azure Ray, Xm last played for Team Aster, Xxs and XinQ last played for Xtreme Gaming, while Liekkas last coached Vici Gaming.
Meanwhile, carry player Lou "Lou" Zhen and position 5 support player Jiang "天命 (tiān mìng)" An retained their positions in Azure Ray's roster.
The departures of Somnus, Chalice, and fy comes as no big surprise, as they came out of retirement in May to form Azure Ray in an effort to qualify for TI 2023. The trio even voluntarily played without salaries, having been some of the most successful players in the Chinese scene prior to their retirements and enjoyed lucrative streaming careers while away from the competitive scene.
Despite their impromptu return to competitive play with Azure Ray, the trio of Somnus, Chalice, and fy far exceeded expectations for the squad.
They earned a spot in TI 2023 through the Chinese regional qualifier by beating Xtreme Gaming in the finals and even scored a partnership with Honkai: Star Rail, the space fantasy RPG developed by Chinese gaming giant HoYoverse.
In TI 2023, Azure Ray finished the first phase of The Road to The International Group Stage as the third seed of Group B with a 4-4 record before sweeping Entity in the second phase to earn an upper bracket berth in the Road to The International Playoffs.
Azure Ray then swept Nouns Esports in the first round of the Playoffs to advance to TI 2023's Main Event. They were swept by fellow Chinese powerhouse LGD Gaming in the upper bracket semifinals to get knocked down to the lower bracket, where they defeated BetBoom Team to make the Top 4.
Azure Ray's run in TI 2023 ended at the hands of three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators, who knocked them out in fourth place and with US$185,898 in consolation.
"From May to now, half a year has passed, and we have left countless memories worth recalling together. At the beginning of the team's establishment, there were doubts from the outside world, and with the expectation of relegation, they continued to practice through competitions, forged ahead, and overcame many difficulties," a machine translation of Azure Ray's statement regarding the departures of Somnus, Chalice, fy, and LaNm.
"I am very sorry to see the departure of our members, and I am extremely grateful to the players and coaches for their great contributions and efforts to the team. The green hills remain unchanged and the green waters flow forever. We will meet again if we are destined to meet again! I wish you all a bright future and success, and at the same time, I wish you all the best and continue to exert your energy for CNDOTA!"
Meanwhile, Azure Ray welcomed its new players and hoped they "can adapt to the situation as soon as possible, devote themselves wholeheartedly to the subsequent training and competition, and contribute their own efforts to [Chinese] Dota."
Azure Ray's new roster is set to make its debut in ESL One Kuala Lumpur 2023, the last big tournament of the year that features 12 teams fighting to claim the lion's share of the US$1 million prize pool from 11 to 17 December.
ESL One Kuala Lumpur will begin with a three-day Group Stage, taking place from 11 to 13 December, and will split the 12 participating teams into two groups of six teams each to compete in a single round-robin format.
The top six teams from the Group Stage will then proceed to the Playoffs, which will be hosted in the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre from 15 to 17 December. The Playoffs will follow a double-elimination format.
Azure Ray Dota 2 roster:
Lou "Lou" Zhen
Guo "Xm" Hongcheng
Lin "Xxs" Jing
Zhao "XinQ" Zixing
Jiang "天命 (tiān mìng)" An
Wang "Liekkas" Yutian (coach)