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Team Spirit 'the ultimate boss' of TI 2023, says Liquid's zai ahead of anticipated showdown

Team Liquid and Team Spirit are the two biggest favourites to take the Aegis this year, and whoever wins their upcoming showdown may very well go on to win TI.

Ahead of their anticipated showdown with Team Spirit in the opening day of The International 2023's Finals Weekend, Team Liquid offlaner zai says Spirit are 'the ultimate boss' they will need to beat to claim the Aegis of Champions. (Photo: Valve Software)
Ahead of their anticipated showdown with Team Spirit in the opening day of The International 2023's Finals Weekend, Team Liquid offlaner zai says Spirit are 'the ultimate boss' they will need to beat to claim the Aegis of Champions. (Photo: Valve Software)

Western European juggernauts Team Liquid and The International (TI) 2021 champions Team Spirit stand as the two biggest favourites to claim the Aegis of Champions in TI 2023. And the two are set to clash in the upper bracket semifinals of the tournament's Finals Weekend on Saturday (28 September).

For Liquid offlaner Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, Spirit are the "ultimate boss" they will need to defeat in TI 2023 if they hope to be crowned as this year's Dota 2 world champions.

"I think [Team Spirit] are the ultimate boss this tournament. I think they've been in very good form. All their players are beasting, so I think they're very scary," said zai in a press conference ahead of TI 2023's Finals Weekend.

Liquid are by no means 'scared' of Spirit, however, as the team's position 4 support Samuel "Boxi" Svahn was quick to add that "zai ain't scared of nothing".

If anything, there's mutual respect between the two heavyweights.

When Liquid's players were asked which players from other teams have impressed them in TI 2023 so far, carry player Michael "miCKe" Vu, captain Aydin "iNSaNiA" Sarkohi, and coach William "Blitz" Lee named their counterparts in Spirit.

"There's only one dude to look up to and his name's [Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk". He's above all us [carry players]," said miCKe.

"[Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov] is always someone to look at, he's been playing really well," added Insania.

"[Airat "Silent" Gaziev] is very good, I feel like their strategies are always up to date and he's been around forever," pointed out Blitz.

Mutual respect between Liquid and Spirit

Liquid's respect for Spirit comes from experience, as the TI 2021 champions were among those to deny them one of many championships this season after defeating them, 3-1, in the grand finals of July's Riyadh Masters 2023.

Spirit acknowledges Liquid as one of their biggest challenges in TI 2023 too. Myroslav "Mira" Kolpalkov for one thinks that "Liquid are strong but we are stronger".

Both teams have very good reason to view each other as their biggest rival for this year's Aegis of Champions, having only lost one game apiece heading into their highly-anticipated showdown.

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.

Meanwhile, Spirit had a perfect 10-0 romp through the Road to the International Group Stage. They finished as the top seed of Group A with a spotless 8-0 record in phase one then bulldozed through North America's Shopify Rebellion in phase two en route to the Road to the International Playoffs.

The TI 2021 champions only loss so far came in a too close for comfort 2-1 victory against fellow Eastern European team Virtus.pro.

Can Liquid finally do it this year?

For iNSaNiA and zai, Liquid's near-perfect run at TI 2023 so far is a sign that the team has what it takes to finally capture that one tournament win that has eluded them all season so long — and what better place to do it than Dota 2's world championship event?

"I think the first game was more of an outlier, I'm not sure what's going so right in the other games. I think we're just in a good headspace and my coach is drafting good heroes, makes it easy for us to play," said iNSaNiA.

"We only lost one game and I can't recall any other game that was close. Apart from that, Spirit for sure will be a difficult test, so [our biggest challenge] is still to come," added zai.

Even so, Liquid have found challenges elsewhere and seem to be suffering from success. With TI 2023's new format featuring five-day breaks between the Group Stage and Playoffs then the Playoffs and Finals Weekend, winning too much seems to have left Liquid chomping at the bit to get back to playing.

"I like the old format more. Especially this week, it's been very difficult to play pubs because there's nobody queuing. And then we just don't really know what to do most of these days. Outside of scrimming you're just waiting on the tournament to begin again," said iNSaNiA.

"You know that meme from Narcos? The one where [Pablo Escobar] is just standing in a playground? He's just standing around, waiting. That's us. We're just waiting to play some Dota, that's how it is," added Boxi.

The looming threat of China

With that said, all the idle time has afforded Liquid a chance to look at the bigger picture. Should they defeat Spirit, they will be playing either one of China's LGD Gaming or Azure Ray in the upper bracket finals.

Zai notably had a lot to say about both Chinese teams.

"I think both teams are strong. I think LGD is probably favoured to win in that matchup, I think all their strats are good, all their players are good," said zai.

"Azure Ray is a bunch of old Chinese Dota boomers, and they just kinda showed up and now they're just smashing it. And it's kinda dope. It's fun to watch them play. In the event we do win against Spirit, I'm looking forward to play either of them."

Of course, there's still three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators lurking in the lower bracket. They have been Liquid's kryptonite all season long, defeating them in the finals of the Lima, Berlin, and Bali Majors as well as DreamLeague Season 19.

Liquid's players seem split on whether or not they want to finally get their revenge on Gaimin Gladiators here at TI 2023.

"I'd rather play any other teams [in the finals]. Not Spirit, not Gaimin," said midlaner Michał "Nisha" Jankowski.

"If we knock down Spirit, I'd rather Gaimin knocks them out then we play Gaimin," added Boxi.

"If it happens, it happens. I think the pressure is more on them to get there, instead of on us," zai retorted.

But for Blitz, whoever Liquid ends up facing matters little. Ultimately, they will be the ones deciding if TI 2023 will see them capture that elusive championship or fall short of a title once again.

In that regard, Blitz thinks his players have so far shown they have what it takes to finally get over the hump. We will see if they can finally do so in TI 2023's Finals Weekend.

"I'm really proud. I think a big reason for our success is that everyone understands what it takes to play at this level now, I don't think anyone gets nervous anymore. I think last year that was a big deal, and this year it's like, you just get up there and get it done. I think once we figure stuff out and get cleaner, we will definitely reach another level," said Blitz.

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.

Here are the matchups for the opening day of TI 2023's Finals Weekend:

Lower bracket round 3:

  • Gaimin Gladiators vs Nouns Esports

  • BetBoom Team vs Virtus.pro

Upper bracket semifinals:

  • Team Spirit vs Team Liquid

  • LGD Gaming vs Azure Ray

For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.

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