Southeast Asian Dota 2 powerhouse Talon Esports have pulled off the biggest upset of The International (TI) 2023 so far after they outlasted three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators, 2-1, to secure an upper bracket berth in the Playoffs on Sunday (15 October).
This is the continuation of an incredible turnaround for Talon after their horrendous 0-4 start in the first day of the preliminary Road to The International Group Stage. The Southeast Asian squad bounced back and won all their games in day two to advance to the second phase of the Group Stage, where they had to fight for placement in the Playoffs.
Gaimin Gladiators also had a shaky start to TI 2023, as they were swept by China's LGD Gaming in their opening match in Group C. However, the three-time Major champions were able to right the ship and advance to phase two.
Talon and Gaimin Gladiators then faced off in the fourth match of the first day of the Group Stage's second phase.
While an upper bracket berth in the Playoffs was on the line, it was also a chance to settle some old scores. Talon notably dealt Gaimin Gladiators their first tournament loss this season in July's Riyadh Masters 2023, so a ticket to the upper bracket would go nicely with a side of revenge for the three-time Major champions.
The opening game of the series went largely as expected, as Gaimin Gladiators methodically picked apart Talon in just under 40 minutes.
The Southeast Asian squad then stormed their way back into the series in a back-and-forth, 65-minute slugfest in game two.
Both sides were on relatively even footing through the early to mid game until Talon started pulling away once their high-damage tri-core of Bloodseeker for Nuengnara "23savage" Teeramahanon, Invoker for Rafli "Mikoto" Rahman, and Bristleback for Anucha "Jabz" Jirawong came online.
Talon maintained control of the game as they continually locked down Anton "dyrachyo" Shkredov's Phantom Assassin in the ensuing teamfights, but Quinn "Quinn" Callahan on Pangolier and Marcus "Ace" Hoelgaard managed to pick up the slack for Gaimin Gladiators.
In a clash at the 47-minute mark, the three-time Major champions wrestled control away from Talon after Ace managed to take down 23savage without buyback despite dyrachyo getting picked off earlier.
With momentum on their side, Gaimin Gladiators looked to secure the sweep and pushed up Talon's high ground with dyrachyo protected by the Aegis of the Immortal. However, the Southeast Asian squad regained control by picking off dyrachyo once again with a clutch Rupture-Walrus Kick combo from 23savage and Worawit "Q" Mekchai's Tusk.
However, some clutch plays from the side of Gaimin Gladiators stalled Talon and kept hanging on a knife's edge as it ticked past the hour mark.
Talon then proved the old adage that Southeast Asian teams thrive better than anyone else in the chaos of late game Dota in the deciding clash of game two around the 62-minute mark.
With Gaimin Gladiators' attention split between defending their base and preventing Talon from gaining control over the Radiant Roshan pit, dyrachyo was left isolated and taken down without buyback after the chaotic teamfight became split across the map.
Talon then went all-in on Gaimin Gladiators' Ancient, with Chan "Oli" Chon Kien's Ancient Apparition even purchasing a Divine Rapier to help his team force the series to a deciding game three.
Jabz and Mikoto paced Talon's 33-30 kill lead in that crazy game two, notching nine kills apiece as well as a combined 30 assists against five and six deaths, respectively. 23savage also pitched in with seven kills and 14 assists on six deaths.
With a spot in the upper bracket on the line in game three, Talon drafted for well-rounded draft with comfort heroes. 23savage led the way on his signature Morphling pick, Mikoto on Tiny and Jabz on Dawnbreaker provided burst damage and sustain, while Q on a support Earthshaker and Oli on Shadow Demon provided crowd control from the backlines.
Gaimin Gladiators also had a formidable, high-damage draft anchored by dyrachyo's Faceless Void, Quinn's Lina, and Ace's Spirit Breaker. Erik "tOfu" Engel on a support Muerta and Melchior "Seleri" Hillenkamp on Jakiro also added a lot of damage and disables to their team's arsenal.
Gaimin Gladiators seemed unfazed from their game two loss as they were in control early into the decider off some well-timed rotations. Talon responded by splitting the map and farming up in preparation for the crucial midgame clashes over objectives that could turn the tides in their favour.
Talon found their opening in a fight over Roshan at the 28-minute mark, taking advantage of dyrachyo getting bashed by Roshan to steal the Aegis and win the ensuing clash.
The Southeast Asian squad then rode the momentum from that one fight to exert full control over the map. While Gaimin Gladiators repeatedly tried to set up pickoffs in an attempt to spark a comeback, Talon were quick to respond and stamp out their hopes.
Gaimin Gladiators' last-ditch attempt to turn the tables at the 42-minute mark ended in disaster as 23savage's Morphling proved too much for them to handle at that point. Talon then completed the upset not long after to punch their ticket to the upper bracket.
23savage put up a stellar performance when his team needed it the most, fueling Talon's 31-22 kill lead with 14 kills and seven assists on just two deaths.
With their victory, Talon secured an upper bracket berth in the Road to The International Playoffs, which starts on 20 October. Meanwhile, Gaimin Gladiators will have to start in the lower bracket.
The Road to The International Group Stage phase two will be held from 14 to 15 October and will have the remaining teams play in eight head-to-head, best-of-three matches to determine placement in the The Road to The International Playoffs.
In this phase, the Top 2 teams from each group in phase one will get matched with either the third or fourth-placed teams from the opposite group. The winners of the eight head-to-head matches will then earn upper bracket berths in the Playoffs while the losers will have to start from the lower bracket.
The TI 2023 Playoffs will take place from 20 to 22 October in the Seattle Convention Center's Summit. It will feature the 16 teams that made it out of the Group Stage fighting to be among the eight teams making it to The International proper.
TI 2023 will be hosted from 12 to 29 October in Seattle, the United States and will see 20 of the best Dota 2 teams in the world fighting to claim the coveted Aegis of Champions and the lion's share of a growing prize pool.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.