The International 11 (TI11), this year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament, is the concluding event of the 2021-2022 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season with 20 teams competing for their slice of the biggest esports prize pool of the year.
Western Europe remains arguably the strongest region in the DPC and is a strong contender to reclaim the Aegis of Champions. While OG are Western Europe's strongest squad, three more teams from the region have secured direct invites to TI11.
Foremost among them is Tundra Esports, arguably the most creative team in the entire circuit.
Tundra Esports started the season strong before limping into TI11
After nearly qualifying to TI10 through the regional qualifiers, Tundra Esports' roster decided to stick together and signed a three-year contract with the organisation.
Most Dota 2 rosters stick together for one season in order to qualify for TI, but Tundra's long-term approach offered the team more stability.
With job security no longer a problem, the team could focus entirely on playing the game.
But it wasn't the smoothest start for them, as they placed fourth in the 2021-2022 DPC season's Winter Tour regional league and third at the Regional Finals.
Worried that the team would miss out on another TI invite, Tundra controversially kicked captain Adrian "Fata" Trinks from the roster and replaced him with Martin "Saksa" Sazdov, OG's former position 4 support player.
While it was a controversial change to the roster, Tundra's second place finish at GAMERS GALAXY: Invitational Series Dubai 2022 and third place finish at the ESL One Stockholm Major proved they knew what they were doing.
Tundra continued to dominate Western Europe and placed first in the Summer Tour regional league.
But after doing well throughout the year, Tundra stumbled in their last two tournament appearances before TI11.
At both the PGL Arlington Major and the Riyadh 2022 Masters, Tundra were among the bottom teams. It was an odd end to a dominant season run, even if they did secure a direct invite to TI11.
I believe that after qualifying for TI11, Tundra took their foot off the gas and relaxed, which led to their less-than-ideal results at their last two tournaments.
Another factor is that offlaner Neta "33" Shapira couldn't make it to Riyadh, forcing Tundra to play the tournament without their full strength.
Can Tundra get back into form for TI11?
It's hard to predict precisely how well Tundra will perform at TI11 due to the team's unpredictable drafting and uneven performance in the DPC season.
Tundra started the trend of putting Winter Wyvern and Keeper of the Light mid and it's likely they will have new tricks at TI.
I believe Tundra will either bomb out early if their drafts don't work or make the Top 8. Since the team has always had a creative approach to the game, they will have a couple of unorthodox picks that other teams won't see coming and won't have time to prepare for.
Another advantage in favour of Tundra is their coach, Kurtis "Aui_2000" Lin. Aui_2000 was key to Evil Geniuses' (EG) run to the championship at TI5 due to his ability to play unorthodox support heroes like Techies and Naga Siren, which forced bans from teams and gave EG a huge edge in drafts.
Playing at TI puts an enormous amount of pressure on the team and having a coach whose done it all guide them through the process will be pivotal for Tundra.
Tundra's carry, Oliver "Skiter" Lepko, prefers to join his allies early in the game on heroes such as Razor, Weaver, and Chaos Knight in order to take over the map and choke out their opponents.
His lane partner and team captain, Jingjun "Sneyking" Wu, matches his aggression with offensive supports such as Phoenix and Grimstroke.
A big reason for the team's success is due to Leon "Nine" Kirilin's unorthodox mid hero pool. Nine came up with the idea to put supports such as Keeper of the Light and Winter Wyvern mid, heroes that received multiple nerfs after he showcased how strong they can be.
Nine will likely showcase a couple of new mid-heroes at TI11, delighting viewers while ruining pubs for months to come.
Another key factor for the team is 33's impact in the offlane. A master on micro heroes, 33 focuses on pushing down towers in his lane using heroes such as Beastmaster, Lycan, and Visage. His job is to force enemies to expend a huge amount of resources in the mid game to avoid losing all their structures.
Due to 33's independent playstyle, Saksa often leaves him alone early in the lane to roam around the map on heroes such as Tiny, Clockwork, and Marci.
Tundra Esports are a creative team full of talent and working with one of the best coaches in the world. Their unorthodox drafting and fast-paced gameplay will be a challenge for any opponent to deal with.
While they did falter at the end of the DPC season, there's no better time for them to return to their once dominant form than TI11. Time will tell if they can rise to the challenge.
Tundra Esports are one of the 12 teams to receive a direct invite to TI11 out of a total of 30 participants. They will be one of the 20 teams to start in the Group Stage alongside the other directly-invited teams, the six winners of the regional qualifiers, and the two winners of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ).
TI11 will be hosted in Singapore from 8 to 30 October and features a revamped format with the new LCQ and a longer schedule. For everything you need to know about TI11, check here.
Tundra Esports roster:
Oliver "Skiter" Lepko
Leon "Nine" Kirilin
Neta "33" Shapira
Martin "Saksa" Sazdov
Jingjun "Sneyking" Wu
Otomo is a long-time gaming enthusiast and caster. He has been playing games since he was 10 and is the biggest Dota 2 fan.
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