Iterative progression is a skill often overlooked in modern Dota 2. In the current race to win majors and minors, where the best way for a player to be picked up seems to be straight out of high-mmr matchmaking, Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev is a star seemingly bred to improve.
While he’ll come to TI9 as a veteran of the Dota 2 scene - even aged just 20 - RAMZES666 is a player who has climbed steadily from the lowest rungs of tier-three competitive Dota, to the top of the world.
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Unlike many European stars who have bounced from team to team without ever settling into a consistent roster, RAMZES666 found consistent improvement in large part due to maintaining the same players around him, even in the lower tier scene. His first Dota organisation, ScaryFaceZ, had him featured in it for six whole months. Back in the days when lower-tier tournaments were a regular feature of the Dota scene thanks to JoinDota and a range of small organisers, ScaryFaceZ were a team that regularly featured as an invited or qualifying team.
This was a dog-eat-dog world, and despite being a consistent invite on the lowest of rungs and proving that they had talent, SFZ almost never made it to the big leagues. They often found themselves failing midway through the qualifiers.
The tier-three scene was notoriously peppered with hidden stars, and Ramzes might not even have been considered anything more than a stop-gap for a tier-two team that might be looking at him. However, his improvement was visible to those who keenly watched for talent in the lower rungs - and ultimately, his chance came with a band of rejects.
The spirited CIS rejects
Artur "Goblak" Kostenko, the legendary CIS captain who had replaced Puppey at Na'Vi after the creation of Team Secret, had found himself teamless. Fortunately enough for him, a team which had already been getting some attention, the CIS Rejects, had recently had certain players drop out, leaving space for him. Alongside him joined - presumably with his approval - our TI Icon, RAMZES666.
RAMZES666 and Goblak had played one official best of one against each other in recent days, where the last game of an online qualifier saw them battling it out for first seed. That said, they likely shared scrim groups, and with how close-knit players of a particular skill tier become, RAMZES666 had finally shown up on the radar.
The Rejects didn’t remain rejected for long though, as Team Spirit soon became the organisation to sign them. Spirit was RAMZES666’s first real foray into the tier-two scene of professional play. Despite qualifying for major events - including the Shanghai Major - they seldom made it to playoffs, and became used to group stage and early lower bracket exits. The team wasn’t bad, it just couldn’t make the leap across into tier one.
Unfortunately, the previous statement was seemingly true for the entire CIS region of the time. Virtus.pro and Empire - the two CIS teams who had a long history of always giving the best a run for their money, were floundering as well. Na’Vi - the most iconic CIS brand in Dota 2 history - couldn’t even make it past qualifiers into any of the majors.
It was time for a shuffle, and Spirit had enough proven players to show that they were worth something more than just last place finishes at majors.
A new era
The roster shuffle saw Empire invite RAMZES666 on to their team as part of a brand new lineup. RAMZES666 was fortunate enough to inherit two major LAN slots, as ESL One Manila and the WePlay Dota 2 League both saw them finishing in fourth place - incredibly respectable performances. Though their online results where somewhat lacking, to the point where they couldn’t make it to many big tournaments (with the exception of the Manila Major), Empire was able to get enough LAN experience to showcase this upcoming star to the whole world.
ESL One Manila was a particularly impressive showcase of his talent, where despite facing off against much more-experienced opponents in Secret, Fnatic and Liquid in multiple best-of-threes, RAMZES666 only had one game where it could be said that their carry truly lost the lane. It was becoming clear that this Empire team was going to be rocking some boats.
The Manila Major wasn’t too far off either. Although not quite the same kind of performance as ESL One, it was enough to see that RAMZES666 was one of those carry players who - if given any space at all - would wriggle out farm even in a losing game. It still wasn’t enough to push him into Miracle levels of stardom, but it was enough to raise some eyebrows.
Those eyebrows didn’t mean as much when the International qualifiers rolled around and they were unable to make it through. However, it did allow RAMZES666 to find his next move upwards again. In the post-TI shuffle, Virtus.pro decided to replace ALOHADANCE with RAMZES666 in their next total roster overhaul.
This was the big break that RAMZES666 had needed. This was the Virtus.pro lineup that entered into the era of majors, and started truly rocking the world. Unfortunately, internet issues where the Virtus.pro squad was DDOSed during the DAC qualifiers saw them being forced to forfeit the deciding match against team LQ, resulting in them dropping out prematurely. The world was only able to see VP at two of the majors that year, but even that was nothing short of impressive.
A top 8 finish at Frankfurt and a top 2 finish at their home major of Kiev gave hope to the CIS region, that their long dry run at TI’s might be close to finishing. TI7 saw them losing out to Liquid despite being considered one of the dark horses to win the tournament. Some would call it bad luck to face the eventual champion of the tournament, but a top 6 finish was massive for RAMZES666. He’d found his new home in Virtus.pro
Heading into TI9
Fast forward two years, and Virtus.pro - with four of the same members from the TI7 squad - have become the team with the highest success rate across two years of the DPC system. Finishing number one in the 2017-18 circuit, and number 2 on the 2018-19 circuit, they’ve conquered every single accolade in incredible fashion.
Changes in meta, changes in map, changes in style, changes in items have all breezed past RAMZES666. He isn’t an explosive one-meta style of pubstar who would be rattled by changes that come his way. RAMZES666 is the true example of a classic Dota player, who has weathered both time and the gruelling wear and tear of climbing the lower rungs of the pro scene.
He’s proven himself to be a different kind of generational player. Not one who comes out of nowhere and amazes the world, but one who is the solid rock that you can build your team around, knowing that you’ll have someone who will withstand the test of time.
Virtus.pro and RAMZES666 with them, have not been able to make the climb into the very upper end of The International’s stage. They’ve proved themselves to be an elite team - worthy of the legendary brand that they sport on their jerseys, but they must make the final run to stand up to the true test of Dota 2: they must show that they are worthy of the title of the most successful team of the past two years at TI9.
RAMZES has climbed upwards steadily, but TI is not a gentle hill to ascend. It is the mountain that has broken dreams, teams and players before him. Can he make the last big leap?
Feature Image: EPICENTER
Article Pictures: Bart Oerbekke and Adela Sznajder / ESL