WePlay Dota2 Group E Preview – Isurus vs Rat, and the Rest

The WePlay Dota 2 tournament begins this weekend. It’s received a little less attention than many other tournaments, since this is an especially busy weekend in the Dota 2 world. In fact, we’re heading into a period of extreme activity in professional Dota 2, with The Defense wrapping up as well as playoffs for Starladder Starseries 5, TPL Season 4, Raidcall EMS One, and Raidcall D2L all coming in rapid succession, all contemporaneous with big Asia/SEA tournaments like the GEST Challenge, the ramp-up of G-1, and so on. Consequently, a tournament run by a CIS organisation, with very short lead time on the big announcements, was bound to go under the radar a bit.

Nonetheless, the tournament contains an abundance of talent- almost every relevant Tier 1 team in the Western scene is represented via direct invite and 8 ‘wildcards’ entered via qualifier rounds. The tournament’s pool play structure is innovative and appealing: each group of 4 has a “mini-bracket” with a pseudo-double elimination structure. You can find the group info at the usual suspects (please note, their translation of the pool play structure is NOT CORRECT). Today, March 16, is the kickoff, with Group E (the No Tidehunter group). Not a lot of people know about the competitors in this group other than No Tidehunter, which makes it one of the more interesting groups to predict the outcome of. Certainly NTH will advance, but who else? Who ARE these teams? I have a bit of knowledge about least one, so I thought I’d share. I hope this acts as a decent resource or viewing companion for those observing the games today. 

Match 1: Isurus Gaming vs Rat in the dark (1600 CET)

This is the one I wanted to make sure I covered off, since these are two interesting, up-and-coming teams that I think basically no one knows about. Isurus, a Peruvian team, qualified out of the Americas qualification bracket, placing first in the 2nd set of qualifiers. Rat in the Dark, a Finnish team, placed first in the 1st set of EU qualifiers, above iCCup.

I’ve been observing Isurus for a pretty decent while as I’ve been commentating the Netolic.TV RaidCall Weekly Americas Cup over at my twitch channel, and they’ve put up some very good results against fairly stiff competition. In fact, the full list of laurels they’ve received in the last month of amateur Americas tournaments is pretty impressive:

[1] Netolic RaidCall Americas Cup #5 – Champions
Netolic RaidCall Americas Cup #4 – Champions
Netolic RaidCall Latin Weekend #7 – Champions
Netolic RaidCall Latin Weekend #6 – Second Place

And it’s not even clear that Isurus are the #1 team coming out of Peru right now! There’s been very compelling play coming out of teams like SplasH Gaming, Netolic.SA, and Artyk* (also competitors in WePlay, but in Group H). I don’t know that Peru is the country that will trailblaze professional Dota 2 from South America, but it certainly seems like the primary contender at the present moment.

Let’s break down Isurus a bit strategically. Their standard lineup is composed of these players:

Nova (#1 position) – The captain and I think drafter for Isurus, as well as their main carry player. When I’ve seen Nova in action he’s played a highly competent and patient style- this is something we’ll see repeated as a general theme for this team. As you can probably see, Nova’s public matchmaking history is primarily mids rather than carries, but this is fairly common for top-end players. Favoured heroes: In tournament games we’ve seen Nova primarily utilise Lifestealer and Luna.

Ifrit (#2 position) – Isurus is the sort of team I like as a fan of “crisp Dota” because at their best they act as a very cohesive unit, with players rotating around the map and excellent warding. Still, if there’s a star on this team it’s their solo mid, Ifrit. Ifrit favours highly mobile play and can blow games out by appearing at unexpected points of the map to turn team engagements around. When Nova isn’t around- more on this later- Ifrit usually fills in as Isurus’s #1 position player, once again picking up heroes that can truck around, like Anti-Mage (a hero he plays but Nova doesn’t) and PL. Favoured heroes: Puck, Tinker, Storm Spirit. (Not QOP!)

ShokO (#3 position) – The 2nd “plays generator” of Isurus is at their #3 position. Shoko, who usually pilots the solo hardlane, stands in for solo mid when Ifrit is playing #1, and he’s not as spectacular as Ifrit is in mid, but he does bring something special: the Magnus. Ifrit generally doesn’t touch Magnus, but Shoko plays this critical teamfight hero in both the mid and suicide lanes. Shoko’s position is usually where Isurus deploy their pocket picks as well: I’ve seen well timed Broodmother and Tidehunter fifth picks blow games wide open. Favoured heroes: Magnus, Broodmother.

Gudii (#4 position) –  Isurus’s mercurial core support player has an absolute bevy of aliases that make a caster’s life hell; names he’s used in tournament games include Stop The Tears, @FanOfSoyeon, Like The First Time, and Expectation. He likes to play the role of ‘spoiler support,’ picking heroes that can amass some kills or quickly turn teamfight situations around. When Isurus are standin-heavy, we’ve seen FanOfSoyeon play a competent range of roles, from third core in a tri-core lineup to CK in a CK/Wisp pairing. Favoured heroes: Rubick, Shadow Demon.

Fallen (#5 position) – The hard support of the team is the one I have the least of a strong read on and doesn’t have much of a matchmaking history, but we’ve seen him on a range of heroes in tournaments and TMM, most prominently Rubick (again!). Favoured heroes: Rubick.

Standins: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what I consider to be a potential weakness of Isurus as a team: the frequent use of standins. At the tournament level, the ‘core’ of the team in terms of attendance appears to be Ifrit (2), Shoko (3), and Gudii (4). Nova (1), the hard carry player team captain, has been intermittently present, which means that Isurus has had to cultivate two separate, working position orders: one with Nova in the 1 slot, Ifrit at mid, and Shoko in the hardlane, and one with Ifrit as the hard carry and Shoko in the mid, with the #3 role played by either a standin or Gudii. It’s actually not yet clear from what I’ve examined which of these configurations lead to better performance, as Isurus have deployed some excellent standins, particularly Roragok in the #5 role, a full-time member of strong USA competitors and WePlay Group A entrants Eosin+4. The player prodigious13 has also provided competent standin play primarily in the #4 slot. Still, I feel for Isurus to grow as a team they need to narrow down a permanent roster of 5- even if they end up going with a Team Liquid style ‘rotating core’ approach with Ifrit, Nova, and maybe even Gudii trading off the #1 slot as needed.

Drafting: In games I’ve observed Isurus generally outdraft their opponents; whether this speaks to their drafting strength or their opponents’ drafting weakness I can’t really say. They bring two particular drafting strengths to the table: a coherent strategy from the beginning of the draft and a good sense of when to pocket pick. It’s rare that Isurus leave the drafting stage without a cohesive team composition that works, and they’ve scored the occasional blowout by spotting a weakness in the opposing composition and deploying Broodmother or Storm as a 5th pick to upend the balance.

Heroes currently popular that Isurus don’t really play often include Gyrocopter, the CK-Wisp combo, QOP (at all!), and Batrider.

For the critical first two bans, Isurus most commonly knock out KOTL, Gyro, and Bat. They’ll play KOTL if he gets through, including first picking him, but generally let the other two go.

Laning & Strategy: When leading with Lifestealer, Isurus usually aim to set up a 3v3 lane, whether that means sending an aggressive trilane or matching the opponents’ aggressive trilane. With Luna, they more commonly run a safe trilane. I don’t usually see them going for major pre-0:00 clashes.

From the laning phase onwards, Isurus seek to either blow their opponents out via a convincing win in a 3v3 lane, or to patiently work up an advantage with solid fundamentals and never dramatically losing a teamfight engagement. The latter is the Isurus I like best, and it’s one they’ll need to beat Rat in the dark.

Tactical: For early skirmishes, Isurus are extremely willing to utilise TPs to rotate their supports over. They don’t generally do small smoke runs; if they deploy Smoke of Deceit it’s generally to cloak the whole team. Ifrit or Shoko generate opportunities,  Nova survives the entirety of the engagement, and tthey pick up no more than the teamfight gives them time to. At their best, Isurus are very unlikely to overextend.

Weaknesses: Isurus’s primary drafting weakness is that its members usually play fairly narrow hero bands. This means that they leave some heroes on the table (see above); it also means they play favourites mercilessly. Nova primarily mains N’aix and Luna, Ifrit really likes Puck, Tinker, and Storm, and their supports really like Rubick.  In fact, in my dataset Isurus ran Rubick a full 50% of games. The right set of second phase bans, or an early pickup of Rubick by their opponent, could cause serious issues for Isurus’s gameplan.

Isurus’s tactical and strategic weaknesses include a lack of a strong backup plan for their trilane either not finding the correct matchup or not managing carry farm parity with the other team. Additionally, they’re kind of goofs, busting out builds like Atos-first Chaos Knight when they feel their opposition isn’t up to par.


 Rat in the dark

I know substantially less about these guys, as I haven’t happened to be casting tournaments that they’re involved in. Still, due to being in the EU scene they’ve had some very notable competition and racked up very impressive wins in the last month or two:

  • Took a series off Virtus Pro 2-0 in Gosuleague
  • Defeated StarLadder perennials FOTA, I think twice
  • Knocked both Mouz (!) and Lions’ Pride out of one of the ESL Major Series EMS One grinders
  • Almost won one over Synderen’s Redefining Madness in the same EMS One grinder
  •  ATS Gaming Tournament #1 – Second Place (lost to Out of Tangoes)

They also took a game off Dignitas in a Bo3 series during the last go-round of the Bigpoint Battle.

The five Finns that compose Rat in the dark are all extremely strong players. From observing their games (quite a few of ’em!), I’ve seen some incredible play coming from various positions. Their standard lineup is composed of:

Buugi (#4 position) – The team captain and (I think) drafter for Rat has rotated roles in the tournament level games I’ve seen but generally settles into the #4 role of “active support.” Buugi has a knack of racking up massive teamfight participation and escaping out of big teamfight engagements alive- definitely a highlight on the team, especially on current FOTM pick SD. Favoured heroes: Shadow Demon.

sifla (#1 position) – Yes, this is one of those teams where I think the hard carry is the mechanical heart. Sifla plays a great N’aix, but in the end I think his heart lies with bigger fish. Banning against him is hard as he can effectively play a variety of big carries, and his excellent fundamentals and farm capacity have generated some crazy Alchemist games both at the tournament and pub level (I think he had the Featured Farmer of the Week slot in the Dota2 client at some point). Favoured heroes: Lifestealer, Alchemist, Anti-Mage.

lapiz (#2 position) – Lapiz plays a far classic modern EU solo mid role than his counterpart on Isurus, favouring rune-hungry heroes with blinks like QOP and Puck as well as teamfight/crowd control kings like Beastmaster, Brewmaster, and… Pudge! I’ve never seen lapiz deploy Pudge in the tournament games I’ve observed, but he HAS rolled over teams with it in Rat’s frequently jokey TMM games. A Pudge pick by Rat indicates that they aren’t taking their first round opponents seriously; whether this will be to their detriment is TBD. Favoured heroes: Queen of Pain, Puck, Pudge.

spin (#3 position) – While spin’s public profile has Nature’s Prophet as his most-played hero, Rat have only deployed him on Furion a couple times. More commonly, this is the Magnus slot. Rat LOVE running Magnus… who can blame them… and they most commonly have spin piloting him in the hardlane. Favoured heroes: Magnus, Nature’s Prophet.

Itake (#5 position) – An abundantly experienced player, Rat’s hard support Itake is nonetheless new to the team after the departure of Jerax (see below). I don’t know a ton about how he fits into the team yet and I won’t pretend to.

Substitution: One potential stumbling block for Rat is a recent roster change. Jerax, their strong hard support player at #5, left the team to join SingSing and Wagamama’s new international squad QPAD Red Pandas. Losing a critical role player is always tough for a team, and it’s not yet totally clear that Rat’s new and somewhat untested sub of Itake will pick up the #5 role with as much perspicuity as Jerax brought to it.

Drafting: Nothing terrifically complicated here. Rat focus on the strong heroes in the EU metagame, taking a fairly standard, non-Rusdoto approach that somewhat deemphasizes Wisp cheese in favour of big initiation from Magnus, QOP, Clockwerk, et al. and a big Mouz.Black-style carry to fill in the top end. Generally Rat come out of the drafting page neither strongly favoured nor disfavoured, but they’ve also been drafting against some extremely seasoned teams. They don’t generally deploy pocket picks except when fucking around in TMM, although we might see the Pudge come out for lapiz depending on how confident they feel today.

Their first phase ban pattern is fairly standard for Feb-Mar 2013, with Nyx, Bat, Magnus, KOTL, and Dark Seer the most common choices.

Laning & Strategy: Rat in the dark run smart, frequently conservative lanes, even once running a Shadow Demon + Lina kills-guaranteed trilane in the safe rather than aggressive configuration. This lead to low-scoring games early on until they find a temporal advantage, usually in the trilane or the opposite sidelane, that they pounce on, willing to commit heavily in that moment to gain an early-mid game advantage. Once they pick up the early kill advantage, which they usually do, they try to compound it by taking 4v5 engagements on the back of huge teamfight spells from their mid or hardlane heroes while sifla gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger…

Tactical: It’s usually about landing a big ult or two, like Reverse Polarity, Dream Coil, Sonic Wave, or even a well placed Shadow Demon Demonic Purge + Disruption + etc. If sifla or the other 2 cores are there and farmed, this follows up with a possible massacre.

Weaknesses: Rat in the dark have some difficulty going high ground. I’ve seen them lose leads, including against Redefining Madness, due to not quite getting to the point of closing the game out. Drafting weaknesses include a possible overreliance on Magnus-based lineups, and a strong tendency to play SD against whatever opposition may come. These are soft to first phase bans, especially since Rat don’t really favour some of the other popular first ban heroes like Wisp and Bat.

OK, but who’s the favourite?

There’s an interesting give and take between these two promosing teams’ approaches. Both teams have a bifurcated plan of attack: win the laning phase AND grind out a longer dominant position. The early game, draft permitting may initially see Isurus as the pursuers and Rat as the pursued, and either team will go for an immediate kill if they smell blood from a dominated laning phase. Assuming a stalemate or undramatic advantage, in the longer term, for Isurus it’s about building up 2 or even 3 cores and patiently racking up towers; for Rat it’s about excellent teamfight initiation and Sifla getting really huge.

Neither team has an especial love of Gyrocopter, or, for that matter, CK/Wisp. If we see any of those heroes, they’re more likely to come from Rat’s side. We could very well see Puck picked higher than usual, and a possible fight over Magnus for one of the teams’ offlanes.

At the end of the day, this has to be Rat in the dark’s game to lose. They’re more proven, they’ve taken more games off bigger teams, they have a more stable roster, and their strategic approach has a bigger margin for error- if they don’t manage to overwhelm Isurus in the early game, they still have a carry that’s likely to outfarm Isurus’s that they can leverage into a more prolonged win. That’s not to say that Isurus doesn’t have a shot; in fact, I’d rate their chances at better than 30%, which is compounded by the fact that Best of 1 series can be notoriously “random.” Their chances improve if they ban Magnus or SD in the first round. 

The rest of the group stage

Looking forward, I think Rat have a decent shot at taking 2nd place in the group. The new Fnatic.NA lineup (after roster drama chronicled painstakingly and unrepeatably on NADota) of SMURF (#1), MSS (#2), F4L (#4), FNC (#5), and Hannah_Montana (#3) [2] is more or less untested. They’ve only had one big-stage matchup outside of IXDL inhousing, an 0-2 loss to Team Liquid in the Bigpoint Battle, not that that’s anything at all to be ashamed about. Hannah_Montana is a proven world-class offlane player with his role in Complexity, and they’re all high-level players, but at this stage Rat are more proven. I think we could see NTH and Rat advance with Fnatic.NA taking 3rd and Isurus taking a respectably-performed 4th, but I’ll go more into detail on this in a followup post if I get the time.

The actual match structure of the group would likely look something like this:

Match 1: Isurus vs Rat- As above, I think Rat in the dark are favoured to win this one, possibly fairly handily. The Peruvians are entirely capable of surprising, though.

Match 2: NTH vs FnaticNA- It would be a shocking upset for NTH to lose this game and in fact NTH have what I think is one of the softer groups overall in the tournament of the favourite teams (by comparison, VP and Dignitas could plausibly not advance, though it’d certainly not be a probable outcome). To the fact that Fnatic.NA haven’t been active in that many high level tournaments yet, add the general handicap that any North American team faces for finding skirmish times with high calibre teams, and NTH’s fairly strong current performance, dominating Russians and even putting a 2-0 series over their recurring nemeses Fnatic.EU. Is a team that blanks H4nn1 & co likely to fold to its little brother, even in a Bo1? I wouldn’t put any rares on it.

Match 3: Isurus vs FnaticNA- On the other hand, here’s a game where sheer star power may carry the day. Hannah_Montana has probably won or placed in more main stage tournaments than the majority of Isurus have collectively participated in, and the rest of FnaticNA’s probable roster are veterans of the scene. I don’t really know enough about how they gel as a team to render a strong analysis of what happens here, but I’d have to tip it to FnaticNA.

Match 4: Rat vs NTH– Rat are good, anchored with a strong hard carry, and they’ve upset teams as big as Mouz (with Kuroky in tow) and VP, but No Tide probably only lose this if Loda doesn’t show up to play. S4 is EXTREMELY hot in solo mid right now, so NTH are likely to win the one lane that Rat don’t really like to gank, which eventually frees him up to help out the lanes that Rat will feel like starting fights in. I don’t see Rat having a better than one in four shot of topping the group.

Match 5: FnaticNA vs Rat– This could easily end up being the closest game of the group, and the only reason I didn’t blow out a huge wordy analysis of it is that FnaticNA are still a wildcard. Maybe if I watched more IXDL I’d have a better idea, but instead I have to say that just based on my examination of Rat alone and the fact that they’ve been playing with a fairly stable roster for a good long while gives them the advantage in a vacuum.

Projected end standing table of Group E:

1) No Tidehunter
2) Rat in the dark
3) FnaticUS
4) Isurus

Also possible: NTH and Fnatic advance.

[1] Thanks to Dota 2 Wiki for these medal icons.

[2] This is more or less a guess as to their current roster. I don’t keep up enough with NADota to know exactly.

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