Team Liquid's star offlaner Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg may soon be hanging up his mouse and keyboard following his team's 5th-6th place exit at The International (TI) 2023 at the hands of rivals three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators.
In Liquid's exit interview, zai said TI 2023 "is probably my last TI" and that he is planning to take a break from competitive play.
"This is probably my last TI, it remains to be seen a little bit. But I think I'm gonna take a little break, see what's up. What that means for me, I'm not quite sure," said zai.
Liquid were considered one of the biggest favourites to claim the Aegis of Champions this year, a belief further reinforced by a dominant run through much of TI 2023.
After dropping their first game of the tournament to China's Azure Ray, Liquid won their next seven games and finished as the top seed of Group B in the first phase of the Road to The International Group Stage. In phase two, the Western European juggernauts soundly swept North America's Evil Geniuses to earn an upper bracket berth in the Road to The International Playoffs.
Liquid then scored another sweep over Southeast Asia's Talon Esports to advance to the upper bracket semifinals in TI 2023's Finals Weekend.
However, Liquid were defeated by TI 2021 champions Team Spirit in the upper bracket semifinals in the first day of Finals Weekend to get dropped to the lower bracket quarterfinals.
Liquid's first and only elimination match of TI 2023 was against a very familiar foe in Gaimin Gladiators. The three-time Major champions have been Liquid's kryptonite all year long, defeating them in the grand finals of the Lima, Berlin, and Bali Majors as well as DreamLeague Season 19.
While Liquid won the opening game of the series, Gaimin Gladiators won the next two in dominant fashion to knock them out of TI 2023 in 5th-6th place and with US$101,685 in consolation.
In his team's exit interview, zai said Liquid still had a good year even if they fell short of the championship in multiple tournaments.
"Performance-wise it's been pretty good. Obviously not winning anything per se, but we've been constantly performing and doing good. And I think looking back, Top 6 at this TI is not the worst performance. Of course, we would have liked to do more in this one," said zai.
"I've definitely done better and I've done worse, so this is kinda bang in the middle. I think the saddest part is maybe in this third game we kinda s— the bed and didn't really perform as we wanted. I think in game two we could've done much better. But, you know, life goes on."
Liquid coach William "Blitz" Lee had positive words for zai in a post on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account following their loss.
I very much am grateful to have worked with both Lasse and Ludwig at the end of there careers. One of my great joys in life to be a part of the journey especially at the end. I wish the best for whatever comes next for Zai. Mf made it out of prison
— William (@Blitz_DotA) October 28, 2023
Meanwhile, zai posted in his own account that Liquid's exit from TI 2023 was an "unlucky ending".
Unlucky ending thanks all for support throughout the season 👍
— Ludwig Wåhlberg (@zai_2002) October 28, 2023
Zai is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest players in the history of Dota 2 to not have won TI.
After starting his esports career in Heroes of Newerth, zai's decade-long career in Dota 2 saw him play key roles in many illustrious teams under the banners of Evil Geniuses (EG), Team Secret, and Team Liquid.
With EG, zai finished third in TI4 in 2014 and in TI6 in 2016, notably playing as a position 4 support instead of his usual role as an offlaner.
With Secret, zai played as the offlaner and finished 7th-8th in TI5 in 2015, 4th in TI9 in 2019, and third in TI10 in 2021. He also won three Major championships in the Chongqing Major, the MDL Disneyland Paris Major, and DreamLeague Season 13.
Zai joined Liquid in November 2021 and helped the team finish third in TI11 in Singapore despite coming all the way from the Last Chance Qualifier. This year, he also helped Liquid finish second in the Lima, Berlin, and Bali Majors.
While zai and Liquid are already out of TI 2023, the battle for the Aegis of Champions this year is still ongoing.
TI 2023's Finals Weekend will be hosted in the Climate Pledge Arena from 27 to 29 October in Seattle. There, the eight remaining teams will be battling to decide who will be crowned as this year's Dota 2 world champions.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.