South American team Thunder Predator have emerged as the dark horse team of the ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major. Despite coming from what many consider to be the weakest region in the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC), Thunder Predator have bested some of the top-rated teams in the Major's Group Stage and are looking to continue their rampage through the Playoffs.
Many previously wrote Thunder Predator off as one of the teams that would make an early exit from the Major, but now all eyes are on them after a string of outstanding performances.
In a post-match interview on the second day of the Playoffs on Thursday (1 April), Thunder Predator's position 4 support player, Joel Mori "MoOz" Ozambela, says the heightened attention on his team has not affected them.
"We just want to keep doing what we do, play some Dota and have fun. There’s no pressure, actually. We just wanna play our game and do our thing, we don’t really have any expectations," said MoOz.
Thunder Predator had a blazing start in the Group Stage, ending the first day with a perfect 8-0 record. They swept through the likes of China's Team Aster, North American team Quincy Crew, as well as Alliance and Team Liquid from Europe — the region many considered to be the strongest in the circuit.
The South American squad ended the Group Stage atop the standings with a 12-2 record, sweeping Chinese team PSG.LGD and being forced to draws by another Chinese squad, Vici Gaming, and Southeast Asian team OB.Neon Esports.
While not many expected Thunder Predator to do so well against some of the best Dota teams in the world, they themselves were optimistic of their chances heading into the Major.
"We were doing pretty well in our scrims before this tournament so we had really good hopes and a good mentality that we can actually play some good games in this tournament," MoOz told Yahoo Esports SEA.
As the top seed of the Group Stage, Thunder Predator were rewarded with an upper bracket berth in the Playoffs, where they faced Europe's Team Secret — widely-considered the best team in the world and the favourites to win the Singapore Major — in the first round.
Thunder Predator didn't balk at the challenge, instead seeing that match against the best team in the world as a true test of their strength.
"We didn’t feel anything out of the [ordinary], we had a really good Group Stage and we kinda wanted to play Team Secret to see how good [we really are]," said MoOz.
Unfortunately, the South Americans were defeated in two games and sent down to the lower bracket. Team Secret captain Clement "Puppey" Ivanov said in the post-match interview that the key to their victory over Thunder Predator was the draft, where they prevented the South Americans from having a good laning stage and snowballing to a win as in their previous games in the tournament.
"The relationships between their drafts are very similar. So, breaking the pattern is the best way to go with this team and I think we broke a lot of the things [they wanted to do]. It was very awkward for them to play the laning stage overall in this match," said Puppey.
MoOz said that Thunder Predator treated their loss to Secret as a learning experience, as it revealed what their weaknesses were and how other teams could potentially exploit it.
"I think they gave us very good lessons in the draft," said MoOz. "We knew what [Puppey] did, it’s not gonna happen again and we’re gonna improve our draft."
That improvement showed in Thunder Predator's first lower bracket match against Team Aster, who they already swept in their previous meeting in the Group Stage.
In the first game of the series, the South American squad had a late game-focused strategy anchored by carry player Alonso "Mnz" León's Anti-Mage. Aster responded with a line-up headed by Troll Warlord, who countered the Anti-Mage and could win the game for the Chinese before his counterpart could come online. However, Thunder Predator were able to repeatedly outmanoeuvre their opponents in team fights and take game one after 50 minutes.
Game two saw both teams have similar starts in their drafts. Aster anticipated that Thunder Predator would go for the late game like they did in game one and picked up Troll Warlord once more. However, the South Americans pulled a bait-and-switch and opted for a stronger early game instead with Mnz on Juggernaut and midlaner Leonardo "Leostyle-" Sifuentes on Lina.
Thunder Predator proceeded to dominate the laning phase and finish game two after 33 minutes and with a 20-9 kill lead, securing the series sweep and keeping their tournament hopes alive.
One of Thunder Predator's strengths throughout the Major has been their confidence in their hero picks, no matter if they fit the current meta or not. A prime example would be Tusk, who has shined in the capable hands of MoOz as he repeatedly saved his teammates with Snowball or cut off the enemy's retreat with Ice Shards.
"Actually, it’s kind of funny, before this Major I wasn’t going to pick Tusk because I believed I had better heroes. But then I said to myself, “I’m going to practice my [Ice Shards] 200 times.” So that’s what I did until I mastered the Shards. I’m a master of the Shards now, there’s no way I can throw a bad Shard," MoOz said of his Tusk play.
Midlaner Leostyle has also excelled with his diverse hero pool. He played Windranger and Lina in Thunder Predator's lower bracket match against Team Aster, but has also shined with Morphling, Razor, Templar Assassin, and even a mid Nature's Prophet in previous matches.
Fans of Thunder Predator can expect more off-the-wall mid heroes from the team in the future, as Leostyle's continued excellence in his role will surely go hand-in-hand with the success of his squad.
"[Leostyle] really likes Shadow Fiend, so he want to play Shadow Fiend. In the right situation we will pick it for him, I believe Leostyle is the best Shadow Fiend in the world," said MoOz.
Other than their drafts and comfort heroes, Thunder Predator has been successful in the Major because they're really just playing some damn good Dota. According to MoOz, the team is just doing "our own thing" and playing every game like they always have.
"We just want to be as aggressive as we can so we make super aggressive calls. That’s how we like to play and that’s how we put pressure on the enemy teams. We are very loud during the games, so you should just imagine [how we are] while we play," said MoOz.
Thunder Predator will next play against CIS team Virtus.pro in the final match of the third day of the Singapore Major Playoffs on Friday (2 April). No one really expected the team would have lasted this long in the tournament or dominated the Group Stage in the way they did.
With that said, MoOz and his team knows they can go further, play more Dota and play it even better, expectations be damned. No one expected them to be here and no one can tell how far they can go. At this point, Thunder Predator just wants to play and the Dota world is just waiting to see what more they can do.
"I think we are actually playing worse than how we did in the Group Stage. This kinda goes with how it’s our first time in the main stage but I believe we are going to keep improving as the tournament keeps going," said MoOz.
"We don’t think that much about how it’s going to be, we just came here to play our game and try to win."
The Singapore Major is scheduled to run until 4 April. The event features 16 teams from the DPC's six regional leagues competing for the lion's share of a US$500,000 prize pool and 2,700 DPC point pool.
For everything you need to know about the ONE Esports Singapore Major, check here.
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