Malaysia-based Team SMG are the seventh team to qualify for Dota 2's The International (TI) 2023 from the regional qualifiers after they swept the Philippines' Blacklist Rivalry, 3-0, in the grand finals of the tournament's Southeast Asian regional qualifier on Thursday (31 August).
SMG qualifying for TI 2023 completes an incredible turnaround for the team from an abysmal showing last year, where they missed out on TI 2022 after failing to register their roster in time for the regional qualifiers.
SMG looked to bounce back in the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season with a revamped roster consisting of Lee "CDR" Jia He, Kam "Moon" Boon Seng, Yeik "MidOne" Nai Zheng, Tue "ah fu" Soon Chuan, and Marvin "Boomy" Rushton.
However, the team had a rough start and only managed a fifth place finish in the Winter Tour regional league for Southeast Asia. As a result, SMG parted ways with Boomy and replaced him with Wilson "poloson" Koh.
SMG managed to improve with those roster changes, finishing third in the Spring Tour regional league and earning a spot in the ESL One Berlin Major. However, they bombed out of their only Major appearance this season in 15th-16th place.
That prompted another roster change for SMG, starting with the departures of Moon and poloson. Natthaphon "Masaros" Ouanphakdee and Jaunuel "Jaunuel" Arcilla came in as their replacements while MidOne took over as the midlaner.
Despite another roster revamp, SMG had another disappointing showing in the regional league and finished fifth in the Summer Tour. In one last bid to improve the team ahead of the TI 2023 regional qualifiers, SMG parted ways with CDR and welcomed Ukrainian veteran Volodymyr "No[o]ne" Minenko as their new midlaner while MidOne shifted to the carry role.
No[o]ne's addition seems to be what SMG finally needed to get over the hump, as they lost only two games throughout the entire Southeast Asian qualifier to punch their ticket to TI 2023.
SMG started their campaign with back-to-back 2-1 victories over Geek Fam and Execration to advance to the upper bracket finals, where they faced Blacklist Rivalry for the first time.
SMG swept the Filipino squad, 2-0, to become the first team in the grand finals, but Blacklist Rivalry were quick to sweep Geek Fam in the lower bracket finals to force a rematch for a spot in TI 2023.
SMG came out swinging to start the finals, taking a comfortable 23-minute game one win behind MidOne's Lifestealer, who paced his team's 26-13 kill lead with seven kills and 13 assists on just one death. No[o]ne on Earth Spirit, Masaros on Doom, and ah fu on Elder Titan also pitched in with five kills apiece.
Game two was another one-sided affair, this time with SMG routing Blacklist Rivalry to the tune of a 28-3 kill lead in 35 minutes of action. MidOne on Slark and No[o]ne on Puck led the team to a commanding 2-0 series lead by combining for a clean 17 kills and 23 assists.
Blacklist Rivalry looked to come back into the series in game three, as Marc Polo "Raven" Fausto showed out on Templar Assassin to put his team in a winning position. However, SMG were able to mount a comeback of their own behind MidOne's Gyrocopter and No[o]ne's Puck to complete the 3-0 series sweep after 41 minutes and claim a spot in TI 2023.
No[o]ne had nine kills and nine assists to lead SMG's game three win, where they finished down 23-26 in kills. Meanwhile, Raven had a commendable 14 kills and seven assists against three deaths in the loss.
With their victory over Blacklist Rivalry, SMG are the seventh team to qualify for TI 2023. China's Azure Ray, North America's Nouns Esports, Eastern Europe's Virtus.pro, Western Europe's Entity, as well as Vivo Keyd Stars and Thunder Awaken from South America were the first six teams to earn a spot in this year's world championship tournament for Dota 2 through the regional qualifiers.
SMG will only be the second Southeast Asian team in TI 2023, joining directly-invited squad Talon Esports.
TI 2023's regional qualifiers were held from 17 to 31 August, with the competition split into three five-day phases where two regions competed in each phase. The first set of qualifiers were for North America and China, followed by South America and Eastern Europe, and with Southeast Asia and Western Europe closing things out.
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.