Blacklist Rivalry, the new all-star Dota 2 team of Filipino esports powerhouse Blacklist International, enjoyed a successful debut in the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC), defeating Singapore-based Bleed Esports 2-1 in their first match of the Winter Tour's Southeast Asian regional league on Monday (9 January).
As a team built to represent the Philippines in the game's biggest stages, this first victory is still just one step on the long road to qualifying for the Majors or The International (TI). However, it also showed signs that Blacklist Rivalry may have what it takes to be truly great.
Blacklist Rivalry's debut match against Bleed Esports actually had a rough start, as they were soundly defeated in a 44-minute game one. However, the Filipino squad managed to secure the reverse sweep with some clever drafting.
In games two and three, Bleed Esports relied on Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong's carry Lina to secure the series. Lina has been one of the top carry heroes of the current metagame thanks to her Fiery Soul passive's interaction with Maelstrom, letting her gain and maintain absurd attack speed to melt enemy heroes from afar.
But Blacklist Rivalry were able to counter the Lina by picking Centaur Warrunner for Carlo "Kuku" Palad and Nature's Prophet for Marc Polo "Raven" Fausto.
Kuku's Centaur Warrunner prevented Lina from snowballing in the laning phase, as the hero's Retaliate passive discouraged her from using her auto-attacks to dominate the lane. The Centaur Warrunner also combined with Raven's Nature Prophet to isolate and pick off the squishy Lina in teamfights.
Blacklist Rivalry added a third big threat to the enemy carry by giving midlaner Karl "Karl" Baldovino tanky mid heroes that could also pull the Lina out of position, namely Kunkka in game two and Tiny in game three.
While Bleed Esports made them work for it, Blacklist Rivalry secured the 2-1 series victory after they took game three just before the 50-minute mark and with a 29-16 kill lead.
In the post-match interview, Kuku said the win was a team effort. While he was responsible for the team's drafts, credit for the shotcalling should go to the support duo of Timothy "Tims" Randrup and Nico "eyyou" Barcelon.
"Tims and eyyou, they are the masterminds. I'm just doing the drafting," said Kuku.
The offlaner also admitted that he expected the series to be a sweep that could go either way, as Bleed Esports was considered to be one of the stronger teams in Southeast Asia. Blacklist Rivalry was, of course, happy about the win, but also about the fact that they had Kuku to tank the interview for them.
"[We are] feeling good. We did not expect it to go to game three, and I thought it's just gonna be 2-0 or 0-2," said Kuku.
"For Bleed Esports, the feeling is like they're always sticking and no one getting picked off. I think they are really strong."
Bleed Esports notably spoiled Blacklist Rivalry's first tournament appearance at the M. Invitational 2023, which took place from 6 to 8 January, soundly sweeping the Filipinos in their group stage encounter there before going on to win the event.
Getting their revenge over Bleed Esports in the DPC - where wins actually matter - and by doing so mainly through the draft, has to feel good for Blacklist Rivalry. However, Kuku joked that his teammates were more happy that he tanked the winner's interview for them.
"The last tournament we got destroyed by Bleed, so maybe they got baited," said Kuku. "I think [my teammates] are super happy because they skipped this interview."
While Blacklist Rivalry walked away with the win, it wasn't the cleanest performance from them. Losing game one aside, there were moments in game three where the team looked disjointed, like during the 26-minute mark when both Kuku and Karl botched initiations that let Bleed pick them off for free.
Of course, such things are to be expected for a new team this early in the season. Even if all these guys have played together at various points in the past, it will still take time to build up chemistry and cohesion. Considering their resumes, Blacklist Rivalry fans can be confident that the players will gel sooner rather than later.
Even so, the team did show glimpses of what they can do once everything clicks. In a pivotal clash 35 minutes into game three, Blacklist Rivalry walked away from a chaotic teamfight with four clean kills and both Karl and eyyou barely surviving.
Dota 2 is a game of inches, and Blacklist Rivalry's players are of the type that thrive in those narrow, chaotic margins of do-or-die teamfights. That will be where they shine and best other teams at, but will that enough to push them towards that uppermost tier of TI contenders?
It goes without saying that there's a lot of work to do this early on. Mechanical skill and teamfighting have always been the strongest suit for most teams from the Philippines, and Southeast Asia for that matter.
It will be the prep work before the game that determines how far Blacklist Rivalry can go. Can they keep up with the ever-changing metagame, innovate, and set the pace themselves like many TI champs did? Can they maintain their composure when the stakes are highest at the Majors or at TI?
Time will tell if Blacklist Rivalry can do all that, and it will be a full season before that can be determined. But their victory over Bleed did show that there is a good foundation here, and from good foundations come the greatest of things.
Blacklist Rivalry will next face Fnatic on 13 January. The rest of their matches for the Winter Tour will have them face, in order, Talon Esports, Execration, Team SMG, BOOM Esports, and Geek Slate.
The Top 3 teams in the Winter Tour regional league for Southeast Asia will qualify for the Winter Major in Lima, Peru, which is scheduled from 24 February to 5 March.
The entire 2023 DPC season will run from January to July, with this year's TI expected to be hosted in September or October.
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