Team Secret suffered a 1-2 loss to Entity on Saturday (25 June), their third of the Summer Tour regional league for Western Europe in the 2021-2022 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC).
With this recent loss, the former regional powerhouse is now tied for fifth place in the league along with Goon Squad and Gaimin Gladiators.
More importantly, Secret's chances of receiving an all-important direct invite to The International 11 (TI11) in Singapore have now been practically extinguished, which would mark the first time in five years Secret haven't received it.
The last time the squad had to go through the TI Regional Qualifiers was in 2017 for TI7, where they finished in 9th-12th place.
If Secret are unable to attend TI11, it will break a historic streak in Dota 2. The captain of the team, Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, is the only player who has attended all 10 iterations of TI so far.
The Team Secret of today are a far cry from the juggernauts that ended up being one of the very best teams in the world in just the last DPC season. So, it begs the question...
What happened to Team Secret?
In 2020/2021, Secret placed first in nine tournaments. Eight of those first-place finishes happened one after another.
Not only were Team Secret defeating every team they played against, but they were also doing it in style, regularly winning the grand finals without dropping a single game.
In the grand finals of those nine tournaments, Secret defeated the likes of OG, Nigma Galaxy, Team Liquid, and VP.Prodigy in 3-0 sweeps. It was clear that Secret were the strongest team in Western Europe, if not the world.
At TI10 last October, Secret were one of the favorites to win the tournament, along with Chinese juggernauts PSG.LGD.
Secret finished in third place, falling to eventual TI10 champions Team Spirit in the lower bracket finals. It was the highest finish at TI for the team since their inception.
However, things started to fall apart for Secret after TI10, mostly due to roster changes. Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg and Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalaine both left Secret in November to join Team Liquid.
The departing players were replaced by Daryl "iceiceice" Koh Pei Xiang and Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan, giving Secret one of the most stacked rosters in the world on paper.
However, Secret only managed to finish in fifth place in both the Winter and Spring Tours of the 2021-2022 DPC season.
Following Secret's disappointing showing in the Spring Tour, SumaiL left the team and was replaced by Dutch prodigy Remco "Crystallis" Arets.
But even the injection of fresh blood in Crystallis seemingly wasn't enough to give Secret the push they needed to get back on top in the Summer Tour.
That said, all hope is not yet lost for the team.
What does Team Secret's road to The International 11 looking like?
Secret still have an incredibly small chance of still qualifying for the Summer Major in Arlington, Texas if they win all their remaining matches in the Summer Tour and the top four teams lose specific matches to allow Secret to climb up.
It's a very minute chance but it does exist.
Should Secret make it to the next Major, anything less than a first-place finish will not be enough for the team to secure the DPC points necessary to receive a direct invite to TI11.
The far more likely road for Secret is to qualify for TI11 is through the Regional Qualifiers. The top teams in the region who failed to qualify with DPC points will battle it out to secure their spot in the tournament.
Should Secret fail to win the Regional Qualifiers, they will still have one last chance to make it to TI11, if they finish the regionals in third or second place — through the Last Chance Qualifiers.
The Last Chance Qualifiers, a first for TI11, features the second and third-placed teams from each Regional Qualifier fighting for the final two spots at Dota 2's biggest tournament.
Can Team Secret attend their sixth International in a row? Or will Puppey break his streak and miss out on the tournament for the first time ever?
It remains to be seen. After all, we're still halfway through the Summer regional leagues and Secret still have a chance, albeit a very slim one.
TI11 will be hosted in Singapore this October. This year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament will last for over three weeks and feature a total of 30 participating teams and the new Last Chance Qualifier, a first for TI.
Otomo is a long-time gaming enthusiast and caster. He has been playing games since he was 10 and is the biggest Dota 2 fan.