Team Nigma started their campaign in the second season of the 2021 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) with a bang on Sunday (18 April), pulling off a massive 2-0 sweep over Team Secret, the top team of the European regional league's upper division last season.
The addition of Igor "iLTW" Filatov prior to the start of the season seems to have revitalised Nigma, as his takeover of the carry role moved Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi back to being the team's midlaner, the position he arguably plays the best in.
Miracle showed he was still one of best midlaners in the world in game two versus Secret, where he made an otherwise unorthodox mid Sand King pick look like a stroke of genius. Miracle dominated in the laning phase and got a quick eight-minute Blink Dagger, which he used to annihilate Secret in the early clashes.
In one particular team fight, Miracle combined with Ivan "MinD_ControL" Ivanov's Dark Seer and pulled off an incredible four-man Vacuum-into-Burrowstrike combo that annihilated four Secret heroes and gave Nigma full control of game two. That notably happened with Miracle not using Epicenter, which he wasted in a foiled counter-initiation attempt in the earlier part of the clash.
Miracle led Nigma to a 27-minute victory in game two to secure the series sweep over Secret and finished with 10 kills and 16 assists against just one death to pace his team's 31-9 lead in kills.
While Miracle was the star of the show in game two, iLTW had an excellent showing himself in his first official game with Nigma. In a much-closer affair than game two, iLTW led his new team in outlasting Secret in crucial midgame clashes and eventually take a 43-minute victory to start the series.
In the pivotal team fight of game one, iLTW on Juggernaut was able to survive Secret's initiation — with some help from a clutch Snowball save from Maroun "GH" Merhej's Tusk — and turn the fight around to score a huge team wipe and control of the Aegis of the Immortal.
ILTW ended his first game with Nigma with a cool 12 kills and 13 assists against just one death, with Miracle on Puck adding 14 kills and 15 assists against two deaths.
ILTW's bold playstyle from the carry position fits very well with how Nigma wants to play. Throughout their series versus Secret, iLTW would repeatedly cast himself as bait and force their opponents to initiate on him, trusting that his new teammates were there to back him up. The rest of Nigma repaid their new carry player's trust in kind, as they would either keep him alive and spark the turnaround or punish their opponent's over-extension should he fall.
ILTW's willingness to be in the front lines also makes Miracle's job as the team's primary playmaker easier, as he can wait for their opponents to present an opening while they're initiating on his carry player then jump in at the right time to make the big play.
In the post-match interview on the DPC's official European regional league stream following their victory, Team Nigma captain Kuro "Kuroky" Salehi Takhasomi said that he likes what iLTW is bringing to the table and how he enables the team to play their signature fast-paced, aggressive playstyle.
"Our favorite style is what you just saw. It has really just been our [signature] playstyle, we want to smash our opponents and destroy them as fast as possible," said Kuroky.
"[iLTW] is bringing us some fresh ideas, mainly about heroes he wants to play and what he wants to do. It’s always about finding a middle ground, I’m getting inspired by him and he takes inspiration from us. The goal is to just bring it all together."
While the addition of iLTW was a significant factor in Nigma's victory over Secret, Kuroky added that the pressure on the team to perform well in the second season of this year's circuit has also elevated their play.
"The roster change helps, in the sense of it’s something fresh and there’s a honeymoon phase where we’re more unpredictable and people don’t know what’s going on in the draft. But I think it’s a combination of our freshness and a little bit of having our backs against the wall for us to perform better. We thrive on pressure," said Kuroky.
Can Nigma keep up with the pressure?
Teams like Nigma are under a lot of pressure to perform well in Season 2 of the 2021 DPC as the race to qualify for The International 10 (TI10) continues to get tighter.
Nigma currently sit in a four-way tie with AS Monaco Gambit, T1, and SG Esports for 16th place in the overall standings with 170 DPC points. Nigma originally had 200 from finishing third in their league in Season 1, but it was reduced by 15 per cent in accordance with DPC rules after the team parted ways with Aliwi "w33" Omar earlier this month to make way for iLTW.
If Nigma want to secure an all-important direct invite to TI10, their best bet to earn the needed DPC points would be to secure one of the Top 2 spots in their league and finish in the Top 8 at least in the second Major of the circuit in June. Sweeping Secret is probably the best start Nigma could have asked for as they continue towards that goal.
Maintaining a high level of play through six weeks of competition in the regular season to get to the Major all in the hopes of getting a direct invite to TI10 is a lot of pressure to put on a player, especially one that has just joined a new team. With that said, Kuroky felt iLTW could handle such pressure well after his excellent showing in their first official match together.
"We are seasoned players, so we’re used to [the pressure]. My worry was only about iLTW and how he’s going to deal with it. But man, he played insane so I don’t need to be worried," said Kuroky.
Nigma will continue their campaign in Week 2, starting with a match against Team Liquid on 21 April then going up against Alliance on 24 April. Meanwhile, Secret will look to bounce back from their loss to Nigma as they take on Hellbear Smashers on 20 April then face off against Tundra Esports on 24 April.
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