Eastern European Dota 2 juggernauts Team Spirit have been crowned as champions of DreamLeague Season 21 after they completed a near-perfect run in the tournament with a 3-0 sweep over North American powerhouse Shopify Rebellion in the Grand Finals on Sunday (24 September).
Spirit dropped only two games throughout the entire tournament, one against BetBoom Team in the Group Stage and another against Shopify Rebellion in their first meeting of the Playoffs at the upper bracket finals.
With their victory, Spirit claimed the grand prize of US$300,000 while Shopify Rebellion settled for US$175,000.
With titles at Riyadh Masters 2023 back in July and now here at DreamLeague Season 21 under their belts, the champions of The International (TI) 2021 are looking like one of the biggest favourites to claim this year's Aegis of Champions at TI 2023 in Seattle, the United States this October.
Here's how Spirit's journey to the DreamLeague Season 21 championship went down:
Spirit had a flying start to DreamLeague Season 21, finishing the Group Stage with the best record of all teams at 9-1 and topping the standings of Group B. Meanwhile, Shopify Rebellion grabbed the top seed of Group A with the second-best record of the stage at 8-2.
Spirit continued their momentum in the Playoffs, earning a spot in the upper bracket finals with a 2-0 sweep over TI 2022 champions Tundra Esports. Shopify Rebellion defeated BetBoom, 2-1, to earn their first meeting with Spirit of the tournament.
The TI 2021 champions then defeated their North American opponents, 2-1, to become the first team in the Grand Finals. Shopify Rebellion bounced back by defeating BetBoom, 2-1, in the lower bracket finals to earn a rematch with Spirit for the DreamLeague Season 21 title.
Spirit started the finals with a late game draft centered on Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk's Phantom Lancer, with Denis "Larl" Sigitov on Earth Spirit and Magomed "Collapse" Khalilov on Centaur Warrunner tasked with making space for their carry.
Shopify Rebellion countered with a strong tempo lineup anchored by Templar Assassin for Artour "Arteezy" Babaev, Invoker for Abed "Abed" Yusop, and Beastmaster for Jonáš "SabeRLight-" Volek.
The North American squad came out swinging to start the series, dominating the laning stage and looking primed to run Spirit over before their lineup could come online. However, a series of ill-advised pushes cost Shopify Rebellion their crucial window to seal the win in the midgame and letting things slip late, where Spirit's lineup were poised to take over.
Despite the clock ticking against them, Shopify Rebellion maintained a lead and a chance to take the opening game of the finals behind some excellent plays by Abed. But with Spirit's high-ground defense remaining resilient and Abed winning the teamfights out in the open for Shopify Rebellion, a stalamate ensued that dragged the game past the hour-mark.
In the end, Spirit outplayed Shopify Rebellion in the decisive ultra-late game clashes their draft was designed to excel in, giving them their first win of the finals after a grueling 68 minutes.
In a game that ended with Spirit down 28-33 in kills despite the win, Yatoro notably finished with an excellent statline of 12 kills and 13 assists on three deaths.
Both teams looked to decide game two in the midgame clashes as they each drafted teamfight-heavy lineups.
Spirit looked to Yatoro's Terrorblade to dish out the damage while Larl on Kunkka and Collapse on Tidehunter provided teamfight control. In that same vein, Shopify Rebellion drafted Gyrocopter for Arteezy and flanked him with Earthshaker for Abed and Centaur Warrunner for SabeRLight.
Both squads remained on relatively even footing for much of the game, though Spirit notably focused on Abed during the laning stage and mitigated his impact heading into the midgame. While Shopify Rebellion's lineup looked to be the stronger in the straight-up fights, Spirit were able to outmaneuver them in the crucial teamfights to take the lead.
In the end, Shopify Rebellion were unable to find the fight they needed to mount a comeback, giving Spirit the 2-0 series lead after 39 minutes of action.
Yatoro paced Spirit's 25-17 kill lead with nine kills and five assists against three deaths. Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov on Enchantress also pitched in with eight kills and 11 assists on three deaths.
With their backs against the wall in game three, Shopify Rebellion looked to Arteezy's Alchemist, Abed's Storm Spirit, and SabeRLight's Night Stalker to lead them to a comeback. Meanwhile, Spirit looked to close things out with a hard-hitting tri-core of Faceless Void for Yatoro, Earth Spirit for Larl, and Dawnbreaker for Collapse.
Spirit were smelling blood in the water, as hamstrung Shopify Rebellion's strategy by scoring multiple kills on Arteezy and Abed during the laning stage. The North American squad kept themselves within striking distance by getting pickoffs on Spirit's supports and with Arteezy's Alchemist preventing their opponents' net worth lead from getting too out of hand.
However, Spirit blew the doors wide open around the 22-minute mark, demolishing Shopify Rebellion in teamfights and never looking back. Despite the North American squad's best efforts to mount a comeback, they were eventually forced to concede the 3-0 sweep after 34 minutes.
Spirit's core trio all had excellent performances to close out the finals, with Yatoro pacing the team's 39-17 kill lead with 14 kills and 17 assists on just one death. Larl pitched in with a clean eight-kill, 20-assist outing while Collapse added nine kills and 19 assists against four deaths.
DreamLeague Season 21 was split into two phases: the Group Stage took place from 18 to 20 September while the Playoffs were held from 21 to 24 September. With almost all of the teams in DreamLeague Season 21 set to play in TI 2023, it also served as the undercard event to this year's Dota 2 world championship tournament.
TI 2023 will be hosted across multiple weekends from 12 to 29 October in Seattle, the United States. This year's tournament also features a revamped format split into two distinct phases, called 'The Road to The International' and 'The International' itself.