TI11 preview: Can Team Spirit win back-to-back championships?

·8-min read

The International 11 (TI11), this year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament, is almost upon us.

From 15 to 30 October, the best teams in the world will be battling in Singapore for the right to claim the lion's share of a multimillion-dollar prize pool and the mantle of Dota 2 world champions. The Aegis of Champions awaits, so let's get to know the ones seeking to claim it.

We'll start with the team still in possession of the Aegis, the dark horse that overcame impossible odds to become the champions of TI10: Team Spirit.

Team Spirit players in black and white against a gold and grey background
Team Spirit (from left to right): Mira, TORONTOTOKYO, Miposhka, Yatoro, Collapse. (Photo: Valve Software)

From dark horses to juggernauts

It has been almost a year since Team Spirit's epic Cinderella run to become the champions of TI10, which culminated in an epic 3-2 victory over PSG.LGD in the grand finals.

To this day, I'm sure some Chinese Dota 2 fans still have nightmares about their team not banning Magnus.

That was undoubtedly one of the greatest runs in the history of Dota 2, if not all of esports.

But I think that has overshadowed just how much Team Spirit had to overcome to be crowned as the champions of TI10.

Does anyone still remember how Team Spirit was given a cramped practice room with no internet while other teams had better accommodations? Does anyone remember how they lost all four of their games in the first day of the Group Stage?

I bring these things up because they help show how much Team Spirit grew to become TI champions.

After that winless first day in the Group Stage, Team Spirit won 10 of their next 12 games to qualify for an upper bracket berth in the Playoffs.

Despite an explosive start in their first upper bracket match against Invictus Gaming (IG), Team Spirit were quickly knocked down to the lower bracket.

By then, I'm sure many thought they were a fluke and would be eliminated in the next couple of rounds.

But they didn't, instead carving a path of destruction through the lower bracket.

Team Spirit knocked out Fnatic, ended OG's dreams of a three-peat, defeated regional rivals Virtus.pro, got their revenge over IG, then sent Team Secret home to get to the grand finals. And we all know how that went.

Or not. At the moment, we don't know enough about what went down during that epic showdown between Team Spirit and PSG.LGD. But we will know more soon, on 24 September to be exact, when the TI10 grand finals True Sight will finally premiere.

But the point is that it's important to recount Team Spirit's journey to becoming the TI10 champions now that we're looking ahead to TI11.

You have to appreciate everything Team Spirit had to go through to win TI10, and then everything they had to go through in the 2021-2022 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season, to fully realise that the defending champions are the favourites to win TI10.

Will Team Spirit become Dota 2's second back-to-back TI champions?

It's very difficult to win TI. It's almost impossible to win it twice, let alone in back-to-back years. But OG proved it was possible back in TI8 and TI9.

And from what Team Spirit have shown us in TI10 and in this DPC season, I'm confident they have what it takes to repeat as champions.

The TI10 winners continued to look strong to start the 2021-2022 DPC season, winning the Winter Tour regional league and regional finals for Eastern Europe.

However, things got rough for Team Spirit during the Spring Tour, when Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February forced a temporary suspension of DPC competition in Eastern Europe.

One can only imagine how hard the situation must have been for the team, especially considering their roster consists of both Ukrainian and Russian players.

But, all things considered, Team Spirit navigated through the situation well. They were notably among the first organisations to speak out against the invasion, and even ceased plans to expand their infrastructure in Moscow and instead relocating to Belgrade, Serbia.

With that said, it's clear the fallout from the invasion affected Team Spirit's performance. Despite qualifying for the ESL One Stockholm Major in May, they bombed out in 9th-12th place.

But that didn't stop the TI10 champions.

Just when everyone was starting to count them out for TI11, Team Spirit reminded everyone why they're the defending champions.

They dismantled PSG.LGD to win the PGL Arlington Major, even outlasting their Chinese rivals in an epic 75-minute game two, and punched their ticket to Singapore.

How Spirit lines up this year

But beyond all they have gone through in the past year, what makes Team Spirit so good that made me consider them the favourites to win TI11? Well, let's just look through their roster.

Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk remains a beastly carry with a huge hero pool, with his versatility also helping to give his team the edge in drafts.

If you've watched Team Spirit's games, then you should agree with me when I say he's earned adding 'god' to his in-game name.

Midlaner Alexander "TORONTOTOKYO" Khertek embodies Team Spirit's playstyle of calculated aggression, making plays and applying pressure throughout the map to help give his fellow core players space to shine. And when he pops off, he POPS OFF.

Then there's Magomed "Collapse" Khalilov, hands-down the best offlaner in the world.

Whether he's got Magnus, Axe, or, heck, even Viper, you can expect he'll make some game-winning plays. Collapse should also follow Yatoro in adding 'god' to his in-game name, as I think he fully deserves that moniker.

Miroslaw "Mira" Kolpakov is a very underrated position 4 support player, always at the right place at the right time to make the right plays. When Yatoro, TORONTOTOKYO, and Collapse come charging in, Mira's not far behind to give his cores the opening they need to rampage through the enemy.

Team captain Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov has proven himself to be one of the best in-game leaders right now, acting as a steady and stabilising presence for his aggressive teammates.

He's everything a position 5 support player should aspire to, always making an impact — be it with a well-placed or ward or timely save — despite having the least amount of resources devoted to him.

And let's not forget team coach Airat "Silent" Gaziev.

After spending much of his career as one of the most prolific players in Eastern Europe, Silent has shown he's also a championship-calibre coach with his leadership and innovative drafts.

But make no mistake, Team Spirit, as a whole, are much better than just the sum of their parts.

Their teamwork is immaculate, if one player makes an opening then the rest will be quick to follow up, and enemies are simply overwhelmed.

I'd say they're the best teamfighting squad I've seen since the OG roster that won TI8 and TI9.

More than that, I think it's Team Spirit's supreme confidence in themselves that gives them the edge over any opponent.

They have faced overwhelming odds and never backed down. Lesser teams succumb to pressure when facing giants like OG or PSG.LGD.

Team Spirit, on the other hand, seemingly care little, if at all, who they're facing.

No one embodies that more than TORONTOTOKYO, who all-chatted "ez game" when they eliminated OG back in TI10 and "HATERS WHERE ARE U NOW?" when they won the Arlington Major.

Team Spirit will be entering TI11 as both defending champions and heavy favourites. They may not have a stellar start, just like in TI10 and during the DPC season, but they will play themselves into championship form.

If I have to give a prediction, I'd say Team Spirit are a lock for Top 3. But I'm sure anything else than a repeat championship will be a disappointment for them, because they are no longer the dark horses that they were before they won TI10.

They are now the juggernauts, the team to beat, the ones with the targets on their backs. They know that, they're the defending champions after all, and they're ready for the challengers.

Team Spirit is one of the 12 teams to receive a direct invite to TI11 out of a total of 30 participants. They will be one of the 20 teams to start in the Group Stage alongside the other directly-invited teams, the six winners of the regional qualifiers, and the two winners of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ).

TI11 will be hosted in Singapore from 8 to 30 October and features a revamped format with the new LCQ and a longer schedule. For everything you need to know about TI11, check here.

Team Spirit roster:

  1. Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk

  2. Alexander "TORONTOTOKYO" Khertek

  3. Magomed "Collapse" Khalilov

  4. Miroslaw "Mira" Kolpakov

  5. Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov

  6. Airat "Silent" Gaziev

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