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How did Team Secret go from top 2 at The International 11 to division 2 in 3 months?

The drop to the DPC's second tier means Secret will likely miss out on a direct invite to the next TI

After finishing in second place at The International 11 less than three months ago, Team Secret were knocked down to Division II at the end of the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit season's Winter Tour. How did Secret collapse so quickly? Pictured: Team Secret captain Puppey. (Photo: EPICENTER)
After finishing in second place at The International 11 less than three months ago, Team Secret were knocked down to Division II at the end of the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit season's Winter Tour. How did Secret collapse so quickly? Pictured: Team Secret captain Puppey. (Photo: EPICENTER)

Team Secret have just figured in one of the most spectacular collapses in Dota 2 history.

It was less than three months ago during The International 11 (TI11) in Singapore when Secret came all the way from the Last Chance Qualifier and made an incredible run to the Grand Finals, ultimately falling to Tundra Esports and bowing out in an unexpected second place finish.

But on Saturday (28 January), Secret ended the Winter Tour of the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season with a league-worst 1-6 record and got demoted to Division II.

What happened? How did Secret go from being the second best team in the world to bombing out of Division I? Let's break it down.

A Nisha-shaped hole is very hard to fill

Former Team Secret midlaner Nisha has moved to Team Liquid, with miCKe shifting to the carry position to make way for his new teammate. (Photo: Team Liquid)
Former Team Secret midlaner Nisha has moved to Team Liquid, with miCKe shifting to the carry position to make way for his new teammate. (Photo: Team Liquid)

Dota 2, as we all know, is a team game. A team's success is not wholly determined by just one player, and almost every great team in the game's history has been greater than the sum of its parts.

But, as recent results suggest, the Secret roster that finished second at TI11 may have been an exception.

The most obvious reason why Secret collapsed as it did is because they lost midlaner Michał "Nisha" Jankowski, who continues to make his case as the outright best mid player in the world.

In the four years that Nisha played for Secret, it was clear as day to everyone that he was a huge part of the team's success. But perhaps what wasn't really clear was how much of Secret's success was solely because of Nisha. Well, we have an idea now.

Just look at the team Nisha left Secret for: Team Liquid.

Thanks in large part to the midlaner's continued excellence, Liquid finished the Winter Tour of the 2023 DPC season with a perfect 7-0 record. Across seven matches in the DPC's strongest region, they only dropped two games, one each to Gaimin Gladiators and OG.

Liquid were already a great team before they got Nisha. After all, they finished third at TI11.

But they took the retirement of Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen in stride and now look even better. Many are now calling Liquid with Nisha the favorites to win the next TI.

It's too early to say such things, to be sure, but it's perfectly understandable when considering how good they've looked so far.

Losing a world-class player like Nisha will obviously make any team worse, but such a loss goes far deeper than that when you consider how Secret's roster was constructed and functioned.

Throughout their run at TI11, Secret's success largely hinged on Nisha. It was either him outright carrying the team or making space for either Remco "Crystallis" Arets or Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok to shine.

Nisha is one of a rare breed of midlaners who can win a game by themselves, alongside illustrious company as Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan or Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi in their primes. It was a no-brainer that Secret's winning formula was dependent on him, and why everything fell apart with him gone.

Of course, this is all said with due respect to Nisha's replacement, Miroslav "BOOM" Bičan. He's a good player, but he's not on Nisha's level and can't make things work with Secret like his predecessor did.

BOOM is more of a playmaker type of midlaner, setting the tempo for his team but still needing someone else to push the team past the finish line.

With the dynamic within Secret set during Nisha's time there, Crystallis would have to take the reins as the team's sole carry.

Unfortunately for the team, they were unable to adjust to that new dynamic in time to stay in Division I.

Secret's collapse is also not just because they lost Nisha and had to replace him with BOOM. While the team clearly took a step back, much of their competition improved over the offseason.

Liquid, obviously, dominates Western Europe now that they have Nisha.

Gaimin Gladiators, BOOM's former team, has significantly improved with Quinn "Quinn" Callahan and finished the league in second place. OG look better with a natural offlaner in Dmitry "DM" Dorokhin.

Even Nigma Galaxy look to have figured things out with Ammar "ATF" Al-Assaf replacing Miracle and SumaiL finally getting the chance to flex his muscles again.

Nowhere to go but up?

Now that the dust has settled, Secret will have some big questions to answer before they move forward.

Not only will they miss out on the upcoming Lima Major, they will also be unable to compete in the Spring Major in Berlin, Germany.

That effectively rules out their chances of earning their spot at the next TI through a direct invite.

So, will they continue to stick with this group, grind through Division II, and hope to improve enough by the time TI rolls around?

As Nisha's replacement, BOOM sticks out like a sore thumb and will likely be the subject of most talks of player movement. But I think this group at least deserves the chance to figure things out for one more Tour before a shuffle.

With that said, any win-now moves will have to be made immediately. If Secret waits until the Summer Tour or before the TI qualifiers for that, it may already be too late.

Should that come to pass, the most likely players to be moved are either BOOM or Crystallis. The team will have to build around either one of the two and pick another player that fits such a dynamic. Considering what Crystallis has proven back at TI11, I'd wager he's more likely to stay. But you never know.

Whatever the case may be, it's a safe bet that we'll see Secret back in Division I by the Summer Tour. Although whether or not they'd be able to fight for a spot at TI by then remains to be seen.

Of course, we all know what a squad led by Clement "Puppey" Ivanov can do.

After all, he did take (most of) this team from the Last Chance Qualifier of TI11 all the way to the Grand Finals. Setbacks such as this will surely just be the catalyst for more growth.

Secret are most definitely down right now, but they are by no means out. Expect them to bounce back soon.

Team Secret roster:

  1. Remco "Crystallis" Arets

  2. Miroslav "BOOM" Bičan

  3. Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok

  4. Bakyt "Zayac" Emilzhanov

  5. Clement "Puppey" Ivanov

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