Dota 2 all-time great Clement "Puppey" Ivanov's legendary streak of attending every iteration of The International (TI), the game's annual world championship tournament, has finally come to an end after Team Secret were knocked out of TI 2023's Western European regional qualifier by Quest Esports on Thursday (31 August).
While his streak has now been ended, Puppey still holds the disctinction of being the only player in the history of Dota 2 to have attended 11-straight TI's.
Puppey won the first-ever TI with Natus Vincere (Na'Vi) back in 2011 then went on to reach back-to-back TI grand finals in 2012 and 2013. After finishing 7th-8th in TI 2014, Puppey left Na'Vi to form Team Secret.
As Secret's captain, Puppey led the team to seven consecutive TI appearances with multiple rosters that featured star players, veterans, and rookies alike. Since 2018, Secret has also enjoyed improved results with every succeeding TI, starting with a 5th-6th place finish in TI 2018, a fourth place finish in TI 2019, followed by a third place finish in TI 2021.
— Wykrhm Reddy (@wykrhm) August 31, 2023
Since their second place finish in TI 2022, Secret has been on a downward spiral throughout the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season that saw them undergo multiple roster changes and would eventually culminate in them missing out on TI 2023.
Following their second place finish at TI 2022, Secret lost superstar midlaner Michał "Nisha" Jankowski to Team Liquid, which lies at the heart of all the team's woes this season. The team signed former Gaimin Gladiators midlaner BOOM to replace Nisha but the former player struggled to fill the massive shoes left behind by his predecessor.
A mere three months after TI 2022, Secret were relegated to Division II for the first time this season after they finished dead last in the Winter Tour regional league with an abysmal 1-6 record.
Secret's decision to replace Nisha with BOOM stings more when considering how Gaimin Gladiators and Team Liquid have emerged as the two most dominant teams in the DPC.
After BOOM's departure, Gaimin Gladiators replaced him with Quinn "Quinn" Callahan then went on to win all three Majors this season in Lima, Berlin, and Bali. Nisha and Team Liquid also finished second in all three Majors.
Following Secret's horrid start to the season, Secret parted ways with Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok and Bakyt "Zayac" Emilzhanov in early March. They were replaced by Armel "Armel" Tabios and Daniyal "yamich" Lazebnyy, who took over as the midlaner and position 4 support, respectively. With Armel in the fold, BOOM was also shifted to the offlane role.
Following that roster overhaul, Secret regained its spot in Division I after finishing the Division II Spring Tour regional league in first place with a 6-1 record.
But while Secret looked great against Division II competition, Division I proved to be too much for them. The team finished the Division I Summer Tour regional league dead last once again with a pitiful 1-6 record.
Secret had a promising start to the Western European regional qualifier with a 2-0 sweep over OG. However, the next round saw them get knocked down to the lower bracket by Entity, who would go on to claim the first of two spots in TI 2023 for Western Europe.
Secret swept Level UP in the lower bracket quarterfinals before meeting Quest Esports in the lower bracket semifinals.
Secret had a strong start to the series and looked to be in position to take an easy game one win. However, Quest were able to mount a late game comeback to steal the win after 54 minutes.
Armel then willed Secret to a deciding game three, putting up 19 kills and eight assists on just one death as Ember Spirit to fuel his team's 31-9 kill lead in a 39-minute game two rout.
Game three started with both teams on relatively even footing before Quest blew things wide open at the 18-minute mark. Despite Secret's best efforts to mount a comeback, Aybek "TA2000" Tokayev's Sven was simply too much for them to overcome and they were forced to concede the series after 37 minutes.
TA2000 notably ended Secret's hopes for a spot at TI 2023 by racking up 16 kills — including a double Rampage in the game's closing seconds — and eight assists against just one death.
With their victory over Secret, Quest have advanced to the Western European regional qualifier's lower bracket finals, where they will have the chance to claim the region's second spot at TI 2023 over Luna Galaxy.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what is next for Puppey and Secret as their tumultuous season ends in disappointment.
China's Azure Ray, North America's Nouns Esports, Eastern Europe's Virtus.pro, Southeast Asia's Team SMG, Western Europe's Entity, as well as Vivo Keyd Stars and Thunder Awaken from South America were the first six teams to earn a spot in this year's world championship tournament for Dota 2 through the regional qualifiers.
TI 2023's regional qualifiers were held from 17 to 31 August, with the competition split into three five-day phases where two regions competed in each phase. The first set of qualifiers were for North America and China, followed by South America and Eastern Europe, and with Southeast Asia and Western Europe closing things out.
TI 2023 will be hosted across multiple weekends from 12 to 29 October in Seattle, the United States. This year's tournament also features a revamped format split into two distinct phases, called 'The Road to The International' and 'The International' itself.