Despite countless champions in Starcraft and Warcraft, almost no competition in League of Legends and a long legacy in Esports as a whole, Korea is surprisingly unheard of in Dota 2. Their first attempt to break into TI was in 2014 with a roster of then unknown players, but they came short one series to qualify for the actual event.
In 2015, however, two teams from the Korean organization MVP managed to pull through taking both first and second place in the SEA Qualifier, beating TNC and Mineski. While the actual winner of the qualifier ended up taking the last place in this tournament, MVP.Phoenix, who came second in the qualifier, shocked the Dota community with their performance and ended up taking 7-8th place, beating defending champions Newbee and Team Empire along the way.
But it wasn’t until TI6, when the talks of potential Korean presence in the world of Dota 2 actually started gaining momentum and the reason for it was the reformed MVP.Phoenix — best players from both MVP teams coming together to form one of the most entertaining and scary rosters in the history of Dota.
MVP.Phoenix first came together in the December of 2015 and they immediately started showing impressive results. They were still relatively unknown in the scene and were often disregarded by the better established teams at the beginning. However, after impressive showing in Dota Pit Season 4, with a 3:0 win over reigning TI champions, EG, no one ever questioned them again.
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They went on and won another tournament, now dismantling the CIS Vega Squadron and Na’Vi, as well as getting through EG in the group stage. This earned them their first high-profile invite to Manila Major where, once again, they managed to solidify their dominance over EG in groups, but would ultimately fail from a one-two punch from OG and LGD, finishing with a 5-6 placement.
Overall, the 2015-2016 season was a success for the team. A little over half-a-year after forming, the squad was directly invited to the biggest tournament of their lives: The International 2016.
Biggest competition of the year with the best teams from all over the world highlighted the weakness of the Korean squad: they can win any other team, but they can lose to any team as well. Of all the top-seeded teams in the tournament, MVP.Phoenix was the only one without a single win during the group stages, drawing their bo2 series against Newbee, Secret, VG.Reborn, DC, Fnatic and Liquid, while losing both games to EHOME.
However, when they won the then two-times Major Champions, OG, the hopes of the fans were lifted. Not only was OG the dominant force throughout the whole season, but they were also the top seed of the Group A of the tournament, picking MVP as their opponent.
They wouldn’t go much further, however, getting knocked out to the lower bracket in the next match and eliminated by Fnatic soon after. They still finished with a 5th-6th placement, performing better than any other invited team and showing some exceptional Dota, and if it was any other TI it would probably make them the biggest breakthrough of the year.
But it was the International 6 and the International 6 was the tournament of surprises and underdogs, with an unparalleled performance by Wings Gaming and the Cinderella story of Digital Chaos.
MVP.Phoenix wasn’t a highlight in the aftermath of TI6 — with the amount of storylines this tournament created, their impressive win over OG and respectable placement was forgotten really fast.
No one questioned the personal skill of players and for former MVP roster it was a good thing — all of them found themselves with top teams during the season: QO and Febby ended up in Fnatic, rebuilt around Ohaiyo and DJ, MP was taken by Team Secret, filling EE and RTZ’s shoes, while Forev and Dubu ended up in the new Digital Chaos roster, alongside rising star Abed and a NA veteran Bulba.
None of these teams worked out, however. For teams filled with both experience and talent, the results were astonishingly disappointing, hence none of the teams were invited to the International 2017. They still managed to qualify for the biggest tournament of the year, but their road to it wasn’t filled with spectacular victories.
Fnatic (QO and Febby) qualified for The International 2017 as a runner-up of the SEA qualifier, losing to TNC and only beating Team Faceless once in a bo1 Round Robin.
Team Secret (MP) had no real opponents in the EU qualifier, since both OG and Team Liquid were invited to the tournament directly, while CIS got its own separate qualifier. Their only loss throughout the whole tournament was to Mousesports (ex-Ad Finem).
Finally, Digital Chaos (Forev and Dubu) were in the NA qualifier. Alongside SEA and SA, NA performed poorly on the international stage,so the level of competition was relatively low.
The actual tournament results were equally disheartening: none of the teams made it into top8 of the tournament, with Fnatic being eliminated in the group stage straightaway. Even Team Secret showed very poor results, with a top12 finish.
This tournament had no big surprises, with Dota coming back to its roots of China, EU and CIS dominance. With such poor results, the changes to the rosters of the bottom ten teams were expected. And someone somewhere had a brilliant idea, crazy enough to be interesting and rational enough to be effective: from the ashes of MVP.Phoenix, team Phenoix was born.
Team Pheonix existed for a total of six days: from September 7th to 13th. Soon after they were acquired by the Immortals, fully switching to the NA region. They had a bumpy start, losing to Team Dire (zai+ppd stack) in SL | i-League qualifiers and Digital Chaos in Perfect World Masters Qualifiers, but have picked up the pace since.
They’ve already won qualifier points from PGL Open Bucharest, with a top4 finish, beating Team Secret twice during the group stage and taking a game off Mineski. And they are also to appear in the Dota Pit Season 6. Time will tell, if the team will be able to reclaim their Dota Pit champion status from two years ago, but they’ve already beaten EG on their way there and are ready for more.
No matter the tag, be it MVP.Phoenix, Team Pheonix or the Immortals one thing stands true — this Korean squad is amazingly entertaining. Unlike many teams “in the business” it is absolutely and undoubtedly clear that this team has fun playing, perhaps even more so than it has fun winning.
Their personal skill is on the same level with the best players in the world, with QO’s star shining especially bright. And while more competitive and more accomplished teams try to figure out their own game-winning formula, be it Liquid’s objective-based drafting, Secret’s laning stage gambles or Virtus.Pro’s aggressive babysitting, Immortals play true-to-its-heart Dota.
They like fighting and they are good at it. When stars align, fights by Immortals are an absolute beauty to watch, with risky initiations, chaotic movements, constant re-engagements and unnecessary overextensions. And after winning a fight, when regular teams try to take towers, barracks or Roshan, Immortals try to find the next fight as soon as possible.
Sometimes it even works out — disciplined teams are so used to the regular pattern of “lose fight — regroup safely and abandon the objective — engage when comfortable” that this aggression often takes them off-guard, both when they are attacking or defending in the aforementioned scenario. But there is a reason this pattern is so ubiquitous — it is the most rational approach to the game and sometimes when the Immortals start looking for the next fight they get punished hard. And because of it they often lose games they should have won.
But that shouldn’t take away from the appeal of the team, because almost as often, they win games they should have lost. And perhaps more importantly, they are the team that really proves that Dota can be fun, crazy, chaotic and very unique even at the top levels of play.