Pro Breakdown: Previewing The International 11's Finals Weekend metagame

This is Pro Breakdown, a series by Yahoo Esports Southeast Asia where we talk with pro players, coaches, experts, and other personalities about anything and everything in the region's esports scene.

The International 2022 (TI11) Finals Weekend is almost upon us. From 29 to 30 October, the final four teams still standing in the tournament — Western European powerhouses Team Secret, Tundra Esports, Team Liquid, as well as the last standing Chinese representative Team Aster — will be battling to claim the coveted Aegis of Champions and the lion's share of its over US$18.2 million prize pool.

We sat down with Singaporean Dota 2 veteran and coach Nicholas "xFreedom" Kelvin Ileto Lim (@xfreedom on Twitter) to break down how the TI11 metagame will look like in the Finals Weekend.

After watching the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Group Stage, and Main Event, how would you describe each of the teams playing in Finals Weekend? Let's start with Team Secret.

Team Secret (from left to right): Roman
Team Secret (from left to right): Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok, Michał "Nisha" Jankowski, Bakyt "Zayac" Emilzhanov, Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, Remco "Crystallis" Arets. (Photo: Valve Software)

xFreedom: Team Secret are playing a very fast-paced style and pick strong laning and teamfight heroes. If you look at Remco "Crystallis" Arets, he's very active early, just look at how he played his carry Dawnbreaker.

They're also not afraid to just pick Leshrac and Nyx Assassin straight-up. They're all about going at people after they win the lanes with very aggressive heroes. They also don't want to give you even an inch of the map, they'll just keep coming and coming at you.

How about Secret's opponent in the upper bracket finals, Tundra Esports?

Tundra Esports (from left to right): Oliver
Tundra Esports (from left to right): Oliver "skiter" Lepko, Leon "Nine" Kirilin, Martin "Saksa" Sazdov, Neta "33" Shapira, Jingjun "Sneyking" Wu. (Photo: Valve Software)

xFreedom: Tundra is similar to Secret, they pick strong lanes and even sometimes run a position 5 Mirana. But they do have their own identity, just look at Oliver "skiter" Lepko. Tundra always picks their carry late because they want to give him a very good matchup, and if ever you want to kick skiter out of lane then you'll have to bring numbers. That's why he's playing Chaos Knight and Slark into favorable matchups, and even when he wins the lane, you still have to bring a lot of heroes to get him out of there.

But you also have to remember that Tundra also plays tower siegers like Visage on the offlane for Neta "33" Shapira.

So now you see Tundra's strategy: they hold their safelane as long as they can while pressuring the offlane as much as they can. The enemy team is then forced to choose; if you don't stop skiter, he's free farming, but if you don't stop 33, he's gonna push. Then there's Leon "Nine" Kirilin, who will disrupt things and act as the force that protects whichever of skiter or 33 you want to stop. That's why he's been picking Spiritbreaker and Tusk mid.

Now for the first team in the lower bracket semifinals, Team Liquid, how would you describe them?

Team Liquid (from left to right): Samuel
Team Liquid (from left to right): Samuel "Boxi" Svahn, Aydin "iNSaNiA" Sarkohi, Michael "miCKe" Vu, Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen. (Photo: Valve Software)

xFreedom: Team Liquid is kinda different from the others because they like playing flexible lanes, if you look at Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, his team is also getting him to play teamfight heroes.

They want to do well in three lanes if they can, but Liquid really depends on playing good teamfights and a scaling carry for Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen. They've figured out that MATUMBAMAN can fall off with non-carry heroes, they played this one series where he played Death Prophet and they though that wasn't working out.

So, they settled on picking MATUMBAMAN a stable carry hero and let him carry the team to victory. It's TI, so you don't want to try out too many things, you want to stick to what works.

Finally, the other team in the lower bracket semifinals, Team Aster, who are also the last Chinese team in TI11. What can you say about this team?

Team Aster (from left to right): Ye
Team Aster (from left to right): Ye "BoBoKa" Zhibiao, Du "Monet" Peng, Lin "Xxs" Jing, Zeng "Ori" Jiaoyang, Yu "皮球" Yajun. (Photo: Valve Software)

xFreedom: Team Aster mainly prioritizes their side lanes and having enough teamfight. They also tend to play dual farming cores on Du "Monet" Peng and Zeng "Ori" Jiaoyang while Lin "Xxs" Jing is on a teamfighter.

Aster just wants to stall in all areas of the map until they get their timings. They may look like they play slow, but it's not really slow since they're just waiting for all their heroes to hit their power spike before they get going. To stop them you have to chip off bit by bit, they'll offer resistance in every inch of the map.

With three teams from Western Europe in the Top 4, do you think the familiarity they developed with each other during the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) regional leagues will matter in TI11's Finals Weekend?

xFreedom: I think it doesn't really matter. Maybe throughout the DPC you get to know certain team and player habits, but Dota in TI is very different. Speaking from experience, playing in the Group Stage and in the Playoffs in TI is very different, it's not your normal tournament. You can't really compare it to playing in the DPC.

What about Aster? As the only Chinese team here, do you think they have an advantage in being the only non-Western European team left?

xFreedom: I don't think it's an advantage. They're the only ones left carrying the banner for China, so I think there's a lot of pressure on their shoulders. They have to do well for China because the Chinese community has put all their hopes on them.

At this level, we can assume that all the teams understand the metagame very well. But among the Top 4, which teams do you think have showcased their ideas about the meta the best?

xFreedom: It's Secret and Tundra. Among the Top 4 teams, these two are the ones that really go at you, there's no time where they're just sitting back and waiting for something. They will come when you least expect it, they're not gonna wait before all their abilities are up before they go.

The Top 4 teams are all willing to take risks to get the win, but Secret and Tundra are the ones that have capitalized on risks the best.

How do you think the five-day break between the last day of the Main Event and the Finals Weekend will affect the final four teams?

xFreedom: It ruins the momentum you might have had. Everything has been reset already, so the results will depend on who lets the pressure get to them, who's feeling good, and who comes up with better strategies.

Let's do some predictions now. From what you've seen throughout TI11, who will win the upper bracket finals between Secret and Tundra?

xFreedom: I'd say it's Secret because they play well under pressure. For Tundra, they had this momentum going for them but then it was stopped by the five-day break. I think that's what happened to them throughout the past year, they didn't play well under pressure.

Things might have changed already, but looking at their history, Secret plays better under pressure and are way more aggressive. And if I just look at how they play, I pick Secret over Tundra.

How about the lower bracket semifinals between Liquid and Aster?

xFreedom: It's the same thing as Tundra. Liquid had a lot of momentum from their lower bracket run and then there's a five-day break. I think that really affects you, so I say Aster will come out on top of this one.

According to your first two predictions, Tundra and Aster will face off in the lower bracket finals. Who do you think will win that matchup?

xFreedom: I'd say Tundra will win, but I want Aster to win because I want a Europe versus China grand finals.

From your previous predictions, TI11's grand finals will be between Secret and Aster. Who do you think will claim the Aegis of Champions?

xFreedom: My heart says Secret will win, but my brain says Aster will win. My head says that Aster will win on paper, if everything goes right, but as this TI has shown, playing the best Dota alone is not enough to win.

There's a lot of emotional and mental aspects to winning in the TI finals, so that's why I say Secret. It's actually very conflicting for me, it's too close to call. If anything, whoever gets a grip on their emotions will be the ones to win.

Let's talk about how the meta will look like in the Finals Weekend. Which heroes do you think the final four teams will be prioritizing?

xFreedom: For Secret, it's Marci, Enigma, Chen, and Nyx Assassin, basically the heroes that will just run at you non-stop.

For Tundra, I think Doom, Visage, Broodmother, basically 33's heroes. But also Chaos Knight and Lifestealer for skiter, if the matchup allows for them.

For Liquid, it's Tusk and Marci for Boxi, as well as Leshrac on both mid and offlane. Broodmother is also a strong pick for zai.

For Aster, they like to give Leshrac and Lina to Ori, Mars to Xxs, and have Marci as support.

Primal Beast, Enigma, Marci, Leshrac, and Tiny were the most contested and successful heroes of The International 11's Main Event. Will we see more of them during the Finals Weekend? (Photos: Valve Software)
Primal Beast, Enigma, Marci, Leshrac, and Tiny were the most contested and successful heroes of The International 11's Main Event. Will we see more of them during the Finals Weekend? (Photos: Valve Software)

During the Main Event, Primal Beast, Enigma, and Marci were the most contested heroes, with each getting picked or banned in at least 30 games.

xFreedom: Primal Beast's toolkit is way too broken. I think we've all seen how strong he can be when he hits his timing, he fulfills what a lot of heroes can do with just one single pick.

Enigma is a safe bet for an offlane, and we've only seen Gyrocopter picked against him. Enigma gives you a decent lane, wave clear and siege with Eidolons, stun with Malefice, damage with Midnight Pulse, and Black Hole. He checks a lot of boxes.

For Marci, people may have let her through drafts, but of those three heroes she seems like the poison you'd rather pick, if you get what I mean.

Primal Beast and Enigma were banned in over a third of the drafts they appeared in while Marci was picked and banned in roughly an equal number of games. Why is that?

xFreedom: It really depends on whether the team are comfortable playing against them, like most teams aren't comfortable playing against Primal Beast and that's why he's been banned the most. For Enigma, some are okay with letting him through but some are not.

But for Marci, it's more about how you survive her early game. Her most important aspects are her lane rotations in the early game, her ganking and repositioning abilities, and the fact she can buff her carries with Sidekick.

In terms of all the melee position 4 heroes, she fulfills a lot of things that need to be done by the position 4 when compared to other heroes like Earthshaker and Tiny.

Speaking of Tiny, he was also a hot commodity, getting picked or banned in 28 games. Why does he remain popular despite all the nerfs he's been getting?

xFreedom: If you go back to the Arlington Major, Tiny was also really contested. He didn't change much since then, they only nerfed core Tiny, but the hero as a support is still the same. Sure, Toss was nerfed, but you still get that melee position 4 hero that is quite beefy, has an annoying stun, a good repositioning ability, and decent damage by himself.

If I had to rank the melee position 4 heroes at the top would be Marci, Tiny is also up there, then Tusk, Clock, and Earthshaker. If you don't have Marci, the go-to is just Tiny, though it really just depends on a team's strategy.

During the Main Event, the most successful hero by far was Leshrac, as he had a 76% win rate in 17 games. Aside from Bloodstone being broken on the hero, what made him such a strong pick? Will teams still let him through in the Finals Weekend?

xFreedom: Bloodstone really enables Leshrac to stand in front. It's like how Storm Spirit was before with Null Talismans, you can say that Leshrac is a new version of that. He just buys Bloodstone, stands his ground and deals damage while being the frontliner. He also had a bunch of small buffs, but the main thing that makes him strong is Bloodstone.

I don't think Leshrac would be an auto-ban, but if somebody does let him through, they should have something planned for it. What used to counter him was Queen of Pain, who just made sure he had a rough laning phase and never gets runes. So I think some teams will still pick Leshrac, but if someone loses to him in a game one, in game two they'd just ban it.

Shadow Fiend had the worst showing in the main event. He was picked 10 times and only won one of those games. He looked like such a strong pick during the LCQ and Group Stage, what changed during the Main Event that made him look so weak?

xFreedom: When a hero gets picked way too much, people are gonna figure out their solutions for it, then there'll be this entire pool of ways teams are dealing with it. Shadow Fiend looked so strong in the Group Stage, but then he got picked so much to the point that people figured out how to deal with him.

So it's not an issue of Shadow Fiend being weak, but that he was so strong that teams were picking him even in drafts where he was bad? Do you think we will still see him in the Finals Weekend?

xFreedom: People were so confident in Shadow Fiend because he was so strong in the Group Stage, right? But if people know how to counter him, just pick him later in the draft so the other team can't pick a counter against him. But then that really depends on what a team's game plan is on how they want to draft.

If the situation fits, the Top 4 teams will still pick him. If you look at those teams, they just stuck with what they believed in, they didn't follow what everyone else was doing.

TI11's Finals Weekend will take place from 29 to 30 October in the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

The penultimate day of TI11 on 29 October will kick off with the upper bracket finals between Team Secret and Tundra Esports, followed by the lower bracket semifinals between Team Liquid and Team Aster.

A new Dota 2 world champion will then be crowned on 30 October, which will start with the lower bracket finals followed by the best-of-five grand finals.

For everything you need to know about TI11, check here.

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