As TI9 approaches, it’s becoming clearer that there is no feat across all major esports that can quite be compared to the Dota 2 International.
Counter-Strike has seen teams and players win majors many times over, with every single team to have had an era having won at least two majors across them. StarCraft has had multiple Bonjwas compete and win many times over in the GSL, and four separate players who have won the Golden Mouse - the ultimate StarCraft feat.
An argument could be made for the League of Legends World Championship, which has only ever been won multiple times by a team that has the best player to possibly ever touch an esports title. However, when you take into consideration the sheer amount of players who have made a Worlds final, even that pales.
The Dota 2 International has only ever had six players make multiple finals - five of whom were featured in the dynastic Na'Vi roster from 2011 to 2013 at some point.
Only two of them will be featured at The International 2019, and of those, only one has made top four at a TI in the past six years: captain of one of the favorite teams to win the event, Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi - the champion of 2017’s International.
KuroKy's dog days
KuroKy's and fellow legacy player Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, had a long history stretching back into Dota Allstars, one that hadn’t quite merged within Dota 2 for the first two years. With Puppey’s team being predominantly from the CIS region, as well as having made the past two Internationals in a row, it came as a shock when two of their members announced their departure. LightOfHeaven and ARS-ART, soon found themselves replaced by Funn1k, and strangely enough - the German player KuroKy.
Although expectations for a team that had just switched to English were somewhat mixed, the reunion of Puppey and KuroKy paid dividends, as the perfect storm saw them collect three straight first place finishes, at some of the biggest Dota events that year. Not just that, but Na'Vi even managed to go to a Chinese event (much rarer in the earlier days of Dota) and as the only Western team there, win the entire tournament.
Despite all the doubts that KuroKy had inspired, it was evident that Na'Vi’s magic for the International would come through again - having him as a favorite to win the entire event. Unfortunately, in the closest TI finals we would see until TI8, NaVi lost to Alliance.
Soon after, the other Dog Days began for Kuro. The Puppey-KuroKy friendship and bond continued, but without the success they were used to. Despite winning nearly every event they attended in the wake of The International - three of which were over Alliance in the finals - Na'Vi started to capitulate and fall apart as TI drew closer. KuroKy dropped out in the top eight and both he and Puppey left to create one of the first player-owned teams of the time, Team Secret.
Despite finding success right after The International, winning three major tournaments (including one in China, proving incredibly reminiscent of TI3), it was all for naught, and The International 2015 saw Puppey and KuroKy’s last event together be one without fanfare. Another disappointing finish at eighth position.
KuroKy - Master of Rookies
Soon after TI5, a stack of seemingly random European players assembled under the name of 5Jungz or "five lads", roughly translated from German. It was clear that they were waiting for an organisation to represent them, and help came through an unexpected source. Team Liquid, so far a brand that had been closely affiliated with North American Dota, had decided to go European.
No longer did they have ixMike and Bulba, but rather, they picked up a small stack of European players featuring three players who were practical freshmen in the scene: Jerax, Mind_control, and MATUMBAMAN - each with their own notoriety in the EU scene.
This Liquid was a true demonstration of KuroKy’s skill as a captain. Despite the obvious problems that having three players who had barely seen the surface of tier-one Dota, KuroKy persevered in his first captain role for many years.
Although Puppey had been attributed much of both Na'Vi and Secret’s success, this one was all Kuro. Two second place finishes in the Valve Majors left KuroKy’s Liquid looking like a solid dark horse heading into the sixth international. Despite all success with rookies, Kuro ended up repeating the performance from each of the last two years: a disappointing eighth place finish.
Of course, it was a completely different circumstance when you kept in mind how new the roster was. Despite now having credibility as a captain, and a roster that obviously had some all-star level players, Kuroky dipped into the rookie pool yet again heading to TI7.
Now, out of the very successful OG he picked up Miracle - last year’s MMR diamond - and another brand new rookie from Lebanon of all places: Maroun "GH" Merhej.
This Liquid - with three players who had only a year’s worth of experience, one who was a new rookie, and the seasoned master of all KuroKy, was his dream finally come true. Free from any weights to restrict his vision of the game, Kuroky became a talismanic leader in a way few had initially expected.
Although his strategic skill had never been questioned, it had become clear that Kuroky was not just a master of the game, but a master of men too, now.
The following Dota season saw them place top two at no less than seven significant events, albeit not doing well at DAC or the Boston Major. It was a time when the Chinese were on the rise yet again, and it seemed as if the ping pong between East and West was about to come to a close. LGD Forever Young and LGD Gaming looked untouchable. Newbee had seen a meteoric rise heading into The International 2017, and it looked like another Chinese year.
When Invictus Gaming was paired up against Liquid, they were swift to knock them out of the winners bracket in the very first series that Liquid played on the main stage.
In poetic fashion, Liquid had to defeat Puppey’s Secret to progress forward and find the most difficult path possible to the grand finals. Each and every opponent they faced could have been a championship contender. Virtus Pro, one of the strongest Western teams, gave way to LGD Gaming - another contender who had earlier been defeated by VP.
Liquid, with their four inexperienced players, now had to face off against LGD, LFY and finally Newbee, without the cushion of a winners' bracket.
History was made. LFY was the only team that could take a game off of them. The International had never witnessed a finals as one sided, where Liquid wiped Newbee 3-0, with a lot of the credit coming down on Kuroky’s shoulders.
The German had not needed experienced players. He had needed able-bodied soldiers, and he would be their general.
KuroKy’s finest hour ... so far
While most players have their best career moment be one from the game itself, it became true that KuroKy’s legend was one that was even larger outside of the game.
The True Sight documentary from TI7’s finals revealed the greatness of Liquid’s captain, in his ability to maintain discipline and control, even on the cusp of completing the greatest crucible esports has to offer a man.
Now, 26, KuroKy enters TI9 hoping to be the first to carve his name on the Aegis of Champions, twice over.
Pictures: StarLadder / Flickr