COMMENT: After being middling for years, SEA Dota seems headed for a downward spiral

BOOM Esports' JaCkky bows his head in disappointment after his team got eliminated from The International 11 in 9th-12th place. (Photo: Valve Software)
BOOM Esports' JaCkky bows his head in disappointment after his team got eliminated from The International 11 in 9th-12th place. (Photo: Valve Software)

You will always hear Dota 2 analysts and talking heads call Southeast Asia 'one of the most competitive regions' in the scene. And for good reason, there hasn't been a team that has dominated Southeast Asia like how Evil Geniuses (EG) or PSG.LGD reigned over North America and China in past years.

Instead, teams in Southeast Asia have always fought tooth and nail for supremacy over the region, but not one of them stays on top for very long. In the past few years, it's been TNC, Geek Fam, T1, Fnatic, and BOOM Esports.

Very competitive indeed, but that doesn't really mean much when looking at the bigger picture.

While Southeast Asian teams are very competitive within their home turf, the same can't be said when they're facing other regions. As much as people say Southeast Asia is a competitive region, the region itself has largely failed to translate that to success on the international stage.

Case in point, The International 11 (TI11) in Singapore back in October. It was Southeast Asia's first-ever TI, and many fans in the region were confident that, this time and on their home court, their teams will live up to their promise.

But as many already know, that wasn't the case.

Southeast Asia had three representatives at TI11: direct invitees BOOM Esports and Fnatic as well as regional qualifier winner Talon Esports.

Talon bombed out in 17th-18th place, finishing second to last in their group and failing to make the Main Event. Fnatic only managed 13th-16th place, losing their best-of-one elimination match against Gaimin Gladiators.

BOOM Esports had by far the best showing of all the Southeast Asian teams in the tournament, as they pulled off a massive upset over TI10 champions Team Spirit in the first round of the lower bracket. However, they lost to PSG.LGD in the next round and finished in 9th-12th place, not much to write home about.

With that, the best showing for a Southeast Asian team in any TI remains Orange Esports' third place finish at TI3 all the way back in 2013. After that, the next best was Fnatic's fourth place finish at TI6 in 2016.

Since then, the only good TI performance Southeast Asia can brag about was T1's 7th-8th place finish at TI10. No other Southeast Asian team managed to make the Top 8 of all TI's since TI6.

Southeast Asia has been in the middle of the pack for so long now, and I'd argue it's the worst place to be in.

Sure, no one likes being considered the worst region in the scene, but that can only spur the teams there to grind, improve, and grow their region's prestige. Just look at South America.

The thing about being middling is that you're more likely to fall than to rise. I'm afraid that's looking to be the case for Southeast Asia.

When Southeast Asian Dota fans said TI11 was the region's best chance to finally claim the Aegis of Champions in years, they had good reasons to be optimistic, hindsight be damned.

With promise comes disappointment

BOOM Esports is arguably the best Southeast Asian team assembled in recent memory.

The team had rising stars in Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong and Erin "Yopaj" Ferrer, proven veterans in Timothy "Tims" Randrup and Andrei "skem" Ong, and even a living legend in Chai "Mushi" Yee Fung as their coach.

While Mushi's playing days are way behind him now, he still remains the leader of those Orange and Fnatic squads that gave Southeast Asia its best-ever TI showings.

BOOM Esports (from left to right): Timothy
BOOM Esports (from left to right): Timothy "Tims" Randrup, Erin "Yopaj" Ferrer, Andrei "skem" Ong, Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong, and Saieful "Fbz" Ilham. (Photo: Valve Software)

Regardless of how things actually went, I think BOOM had what it took to go all the way, and I'm willing to die on that hill. That team had undeniable talent, a killer mentality, and proven leadership.

While raising the Aegis of Champions may have been too lofty of a goal, a Top 6 finish was well within the realm of possibility. I mean, just look at what they had to pull off just to get to the Main Event.

After only managing a 5-13 record ahead of the final day of the Group Stage, BOOM needed to score a 2-0 victory in their last Group Stage match against EG, one of the strongest teams at TI11 that went on to finish atop the standings of Group A.

Not only that, other teams had to lose in order for tiebreakers to be forced. But somehow, BOOM managed to sweep EG and force a three-way tiebreaker between them, Soniqs Esports, and BetBoom Team. They then defeated Soniqs and BetBoom in turn to secure a place in the Main Event.

If BOOM could do all that while on the verge of elimination, just imagine what could have been if things went better for them in the early parts of the Group Stage. Excuse me, I need to inhale more copium.

That's not to say the other Southeast Asian teams at TI11 were slouches either.

Talon had Nuengnara "23savage" Teeramahanon while Fnatic had Marc Polo "Raven" Fausto, Armel "Armel" Tabios, and Djardel "DJ" Mampusti — the greatest player in Southeast Asia since Mushi, aside from Daryl "iceiceice" Koh, of course.

If only they had one better day in the Group Stage or one better game in the Main Event, I'd instead be writing about the Southeast Asian Dota Renaissance right now. Damn, I'm already out of copium.

SEA Dota is a flat circle

So, where does Southeast Asian Dota go from here? It pains me to say this, but it seems like we're going nowhere.

In the ongoing post-TI roster shuffle, Southeast Asia has seen the most movement. Anucha "Jabz" Jirawong has already left Fnatic to join Talon. Iceiceice has left Team SMG (good for him). Both BOOM and T1 are headed for massive roster overhauls.

After having its best shot in years to go deep in TI, the talent in Southeast Asia is only becoming more diluted with the current roster shuffle. That will hardly move the needle for any team's chances at the next TI, unless there's some massive changes coming ahead.

If the rumours are true that EG are ditching its current squad for a South American roster, then Abed "Abed" Yusop can finally come back home and play for a team that actually drafts around him. If there are organisations willing to cough up the cash, a Southeast Asian All-Star team built around Abed will be the region's best shot at TI12.

But aside from that, there's not much to look forward to. There doesn't seem to be any captains from other regions coming to Southeast Asia like in years past. I don't think that's a proven recipe for success either, there are good captains here, they just need a chance to prove their worth.

I'm sure good teams will come out of this roster shuffle, but I'm not optimistic that Southeast Asia will be able to produce a 'great' squad.

If you think I'm just going around in circles here, then you're right. Now you know how it feels like to be a fan of Southeast Asian Dota. We've been square in the middle of the pack for years, and after failing to break through year after heartbreaking year, the region seems headed for a downward spiral.

Of course, I'm glad to be proven wrong. There are only a handful of better things to watch in Dota than Southeast Asia's signature 'controlled chaos' playstyle. While it's thrilling to watch them do that in gut-wrenching elimination matches, I'd much rather see that in a high-stakes match for the Aegis.

Oh look, I found another canister of copium. Sure, Southeast Asia isn't in a good spot right now, but at least we're not North America.

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