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The International: Dota 2’s World Championship

Patrick Bonifacio

Dota 2 and its premier competitive event The International will celebrate its 11th iteration in October 2022. The annual world championship tournament will take place in the Suntec Arena in Singapore, located in the city’s Central Area. Since 2011, The International has been the benchmark for Dota 2 competitive supremacy.

Explore the history of Dota 2's The International, the greatest esports event of all time (Image via JoinDota)

Explore the history of Dota 2's The International, the greatest esports event of all time (Image via JoinDota)

Nine teams thus far have captured the coveted Aegis of Champions, with the tenth waiting in the wings this year. With Dota 2 developer and publisher Valve Corporation’s penchant for crowdfunding campaigns, we can expect The International 11 (TI11) to once again shatter the all-time esports prize pool record.

Dota 2 The International TI7

The International remains the single most lucrative esports tournament, dwarfing its own payout record year after year. (Image credit: Valve)

Aside from the enormous payout the tournament is known for, it is also far and away the most prestigious event in Dota 2, with the kind of rich history befitting such a contest. Let us take you on a tour of the history of Dota 2’s The International.

Prelude: The Dota 2 Beta

The International is unique in the sense that the first edition took place before Valve even released Dota 2 to the public. As shown in the premiere episode of the True Sight documentary series, Valve contacted competitive teams at the time to announce the $1 million prize pool for the first International — back when those teams were still playing the original DotA Allstars.

Upon hearing the news from Valve, teams immediately got to work familiarizing themselves with the new game. Using the beta access given to them by Valve several months prior to TI1, the 16 invited squads prepared for what was then the biggest esports tournament ever. Some of these rosters came from DotA Allstars, while others, came from the soon to be defunct Dota clone Heroes of Newerth (HoN).

2011 The International Dota 2 Champion: Natus Vincere

In truth, TI1 was not exactly a big event in the grand scheme of things — at least with regards to Gamescom itself. It was more of a sideshow to the gaming convention at large, in spite of the huge prize pool at the time.

Moreover, because the game was still in its beta testing phase, it had a severely limited hero pool compared to the 100 plus available today. In fact, only 46 heroes were available for selection. Nevertheless, the event was a rousing success, with fan favorite team Natus Vincere winning the inaugural tournament.

The all-star Na’Vi lineup of Ivan “Artstyle” Antonov, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, Oleksandr “XBOCT” Dashkevych, Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, and Dmitriy “LighTofHeaveN” Kupriyanov defeated legendary Chinese squad EHOME three games to one in the Grand Finals, cementing themselves as legends of the game right off the bat. Dendi and Puppey in particular still play Dota 2 competitively to this day, with the latter being the captain of perennial tournament winners Team Secret.

While it’s arguable that TI1 didn’t put Dota 2 on the esports map just yet compared to other giants in the space at the time such as StarCraft II, one thing’s for sure: the first ever $1 million esports tournament caught pro players’ attention immediately. Never had there ever been a single more lucrative event in the industry up to that point, and it was clear that Dota was going to lead the way in this regard.

2012 The International Dota 2 Champion: Invictus Gaming

With the success of the first International fresh in their minds, Valve geared up to run it back the next year in 2012. This time, they saw fit to move the event to a venue of its own, rather than hold it within a gaming convention as they did with TI1.

Inviting 16 teams to the world championship tournament, Valve brought The International to their home state of Washington, hosting the event in Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Located around 15 kilometers from Valve’s offices in Bellevue, Benaroya Hall would serve as the home of The International for the next two years.

Valve upped the ante this time around as expected, bumping the prize pool to $1.6 million for TI2. All eyes were on the defending champions Na’Vi, who ran a slightly different roster — swapping out ArtStyle for Sergey “ARS-ART” Revin. XBOCT would move into the safe lane position to account for ArtStyle’s departure. LighTofHeaveN, meanwhile, relinquished his spot as the hard support to give way for ARS-ART.

Even with the roster changes, Na’Vi looked just as good coming into TI2 as they did the previous year. They showed incredible consistency throughout the regular season, bagging several championship trophies in premier events. This made them the favorites in Seattle — expectations they fulfilled by winning all their upper bracket matches on the way to the Grand Finals.

Dota 2 The International IG TI2

Image credit: Valve

There, they would run into the legendary Invictus Gaming roster, spearheaded by veteran captain Zeng “Faith” Hongda. And even though Na’Vi had the odds with them again in this International, a successful title defense was not to be. They won just one game in the best of five series, even after pulling off what has gone down in Dota 2 history simply as “The Play” in Game 3.

This marked the first Chinese victory at The International, reminding the world at large just how good the region was at playing Dota.

2013 The International Dota 2 Champion: Alliance

The International 3 was the first in the championship series to feature crowdfunding, via what was then called the Interactive Compendium.

25 percent of the proceeds from the Compendium went straight into the prize pool, bringing the final amount to almost $2.9 million. This was almost double that of the previous year, which gave teams even more of a reason to fight tooth and nail at Benaroya Hall. Moreover, this was the first edition of The International that featured any sort of qualifier tournament, which is now standard across the Dota Pro Circuit today.

For the third year running, Na’Vi was once again the favorite coming into the tournament. With new support player Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi in tow, the Ukranian squad went 11-3 in the Group Stage, and went undefeated in the upper bracket until they ran into the red-hot Alliance.

Alliance was the true undefeated team at TI3, however. Playing a hit-and-run, split pushing-focused style of Dota that seemingly no one had an answer to, they went a perfect 14-0 in the Group Stage, dropping only a single map on their way to the Grand Finals. They played absolutely flawlessly throughout, meeting their match only upon running into Na’Vi again in the Grand Finals.

The championship match went all five games in absolutely epic fashion. By most accounts, the TI3 Grand Finals are still considered to be the greatest in the history of the game. The winning moment had it all — hectic action, both teams making critical mistakes, and a throne race for the finish.

And so, the Dota 2 equivalent of El Clásico was born. Alliance and Na’Vi would become archrivals as a result of the TI3 Grand Finals, and the Dota 2 community at large would celebrate the match for years to come. Arguably, TI3 is what really allowed Dota to explode in the esports industry, evidenced by the huge increase in player count and the success of the next year’s crowdfunding campaign.

2014 The International Dota 2 Champion: Newbee

Given the gargantuan success of TI3, there was only one logical thing left for Valve to do to make things even more exciting: move The International to an indoor sports stadium. They chose Seattle’s own KeyArena for this purpose, while also increasing the number of participating teams to a total of 19.

Valve further expanded the qualifier system as well, allowing four teams from the Americas, Southeast Asia, China, and Europe to enter the tournament without a direct invite.

But the real spectacle came in the form of the prize pool. Riding Dota 2’s immense popularity after TI3, Valve put out yet another compendium to fund the payout — and the community certainly delivered in this regard. By the end of the crowdfunding campaign, TI4 had a mouthwatering $10.9 million in the pot — dwarfing that of the previous year.

As for the tournament itself, TI4 saw the precipitous fall of both Na’Vi and Alliance from the top of the Dota 2 food chain. While Na’Vi made it past the Round Robin stage, they did not survive to see action past the first round of the lower bracket. Alliance, meanwhile, completely bombed out of the competition, placing 12th in the Round Robin stage.

The International Dota 2 Newbee TI4

Image credit: Valve

In their place rose three teams in particular: the United States’ Evil Geniuses, and China’s Newbee and Vici Gaming. EG, with their star-studded lineup that included mainstay Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, made it to third place, giving North America plenty to cheer for heading into the next season.

Newbee and VG on the other hand, mastered the breakneck pace of the deathball metagame that the latter had developed throughout the event. Newbee took VG’s strategy and destroyed them with it in the Grand Finals, winning in convincing fashion three games to one. This result emphasized the growing superstition that the Aegis of Champions must change hands between East and West each year, with the East winning this time around.

2015 The International Dota 2 Champion: Evil Geniuses

Despite the International calling the United States home for three years up to this point, the North American region had yet to produce a winner. And with the stunning regular season performance of the newly-formed Team Secret, it looked like the fifth Aegis would belong to Europe. Plus, with almost double the prize pool yet again at $18.4 million, more and more teams became hungry for that life-changing payout.

North America winning an International would come to pass, as legendary captain Peter “ppd” Dager made International history by leading EG to the Grand Finals. With generational superstar Syed “SumaiL” Hassan and fellow Dota genius Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling in the roster as well, EG would perform extremely well throughout the tournament. They placed first in their group, which included defending champions Newbee and upstart Chinese squad CDEC Gaming, the latter of whom would go on to be their final opponents.

Though they fought valiantly, CDEC were no match for the collective brilliance of EG. The North American team extinguished any hopes of a comeback for the Chinese team, sealing the deal with what is now known as the $6 million Echo Slam.

2016 The International Dota 2 Champion: Wings Gaming

With the high from EG’s victory at TI5 still fresh in the community’s minds, Dota 2 fans met TI6 with much excitement. This was the first iteration of the event that saw the rise of OG, now one of the most decorated teams in the history of the game. With a star-studded lineup led by best friends Johan “n0tail” Sundstein and Tal “Fly” Aizik, OG took the scene by storm, winning the Manila Major and ESL One Frankfurt in 2016.

Alas, things did not quite pan out for them in Seattle. Though they placed first in their group, they bombed out of the tournament after a legendary performance by TNC Pro Team, in what is now touted as one of the biggest upsets in professional Dota 2. They would go back to the drawing board with some roster changes thereafter.

Wings TI6

Image credit: Valve

Instead, it was the dynamic squad of Wings Gaming that would take the crown at TI6. With extremely unorthodox drafting and highly aggressive play, the mercurial roster shocked the world with the way they deconstructed the game and molded it in their own image. To this day, no other club has come close to their versatility on the biggest stage.

An unfortunate end came for the hometown heroes in Digital Chaos, too. Composed of a ragtag band of “rejects”, DC was the epitome of the spirit of The International — that being that anyone could shoot for the moon in Dota 2 and at least land amongst the stars. After knocking the defending champions EG out of the lower bracket finals, DC hyped the American crowd up with a surprise Game 1 victory in the Grand Finals against Wings.

Sadly, the storybook ending was not to be. Despite their best efforts, DC just could not keep up with Wings’ unpredictable play. Nevertheless, the crowd favorites proved that the dream was real, and that Dota 2 was all about fulfilling that dream.

2017 The International Dota 2 Champion: Team Liquid

TI7 saw the possibility of a Grand Final match featuring two separate rosters from the very same organization. LGD Gaming and LGD.Forever Young both ran roughshod over the field, placing second and first in their respective groups. The Chinese delegation enjoyed further success at the event, with Newbee and Invictus Gaming also making waves early on. True enough, four out of the top six squads were from China, giving the region plenty to cheer about despite the venue being on the other side of the world.

But it was KuroKy and the rest of Team Liquid that would triumph in the end. After an early series loss to IG in the playoffs, KuroKy would proclaim that the upper bracket was “for losers”, to paraphrase the expletive he used in reality. They would go on to steamroll through the lower bracket, which included his longtime partner Puppey, still as part of Team Secret.

Liquid TI7

Image credit: Valve

Newbee, meanwhile, became the first team to return to the International Grand Finals since Na’Vi in 2013. Powered by the virtuosic play of Song “Sccc” Chun, Newbee entered the championship round evenly matched with Team Liquid. They came out of it looking like they didn’t deserve to be there. Liquid simply destroyed them in three games, thus marking the first ever clean sweep of the Grand Finals.

For KuroKy in particular, it was sweet, sweet closure. He had been toiling for years on end in order to capture the Aegis of Champions. He came close at TI3 with Na’Vi, only to have it snatched away by Alliance. His time with Team Secret bore no fruit either. But, seven years removed from transitioning to Dota 2, he had finally done it.

2018 The International Dota 2 Champion: OG

The lead-up to TI8 was rife with drama surrounding both EG and OG. After being eliminated by Fnatic at ESL One Birmingham 2018, OG’s Fly and Gustav “s4” Magnusson (the latter formerly of Alliance) left the team for EG in shocking fashion. Fly and n0tail had been inseparable since their glory days in HoN, so seeing Fly leave n0tail so unceremoniously was astonishing to say the least.

n0tail himself was visibly hurt by the decision, as he refused to even talk about it when asked in an interview at TI8. And with half of his previous roster now gone, it was up to Anathan “ana” Pham and the previously unknown Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen to help them get through the event.

Everyone doubted OG coming into TI8 — and for good reason. Their roster completely decimated just two months ahead of the tournament, many wondered if they would even make it out of the group stage. Surprisingly, they not only survived the preliminaries, but actually made it to the upper bracket.

It was there where they met their bitter rivals in EG. Seemingly fueled by anger and bitterness, they scored a 2-1 victory over EG, putting themselves in the upper bracket finals despite placing dead last in most pundits’ power rankings prior to the event. Even more amazing was the fact that they defeated PSG.LGD — the tournament favorites — in the upper bracket final, to punch their ticket into their first ever Grand Final match.

EG, meanwhile, lost terribly to LGD in the lower bracket. The best EG roster since the one that won at TI5 had been eliminated, leaving LGD free to seek revenge in their rematch against OG. For a while, it seemed like OG had been outmatched in the Grand Finals. Facing a two-game lead after Game 3, it looked like the Cinderella story was meant to stop at this point.

But Dota 2 legend and team captain Sébastien “Ceb” Debs would have none of it. As if playing Dota 2 to save his life, he pulled off an absolutely insane play in Game 4, which was immortalized by commentator Owen “ODPixel” Davies with a now-famous call. His heroic play allowed OG to come back from the brink of defeat and force a decisive Game 5.


Image credit: Valve

LGD started out tremendously in the final map, getting out to another early lead that seemed like them putting their feet down once and for all. But OG knew that if there was a will, there was a way. They clawed their way back into the game eventually, thanks primarily to ana’s incredible play as Ember Spirit.

The madmen had done it. They proved all the doubters wrong, and let everyone know that the “power of friendship” triumphed above all else. Topson in particular practically became a millionaire overnight. n0tail had finally won it all in convincing fashion, after being a professional gamer since his teenage years. OG’s TI8 story was one of perseverance in the face of adversity, and was nothing short of heartwarming and inspiring.

2019 The International Dota 2 Champion: OG

Up to this point, nobody had ever won two International titles. With the landscape of Dota 2 always shifting thanks to balance patches, new heroes, and changes in mechanics, no team truly rules the scene forever.

With the massive star power of PSG.LGD, Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and Team Secret coming into TI9, it looked like a repeat would not be in the cards for OG. After all, they had nothing left to prove at this point, given the way they handled themselves the previous year.

But they just weren’t quite done yet. OG strolled into TI9, this time held in Shanghai, China, and tore the very fabric of conventional Dota to reconstruct it as they saw fit. Wielding the incredible, unorthodox power of Io — a hero normally reserved for the hard support role — OG smacked the living daylights out of everyone in the tournament.


Image credit: Valve

Though its kit is designed to be that of a support hero, captain Ceb and the rest of the squad found that Io was actually best suited in the carry spot in relation to the TI9 metagame. Other teams tried to emulate their unconventional strategy with the hero, but only they truly understood how to make it work.

OG’s understanding of the game at TI9 was otherworldly, and there was not a single team in the field that stood a chance against their sheer confidence and ingenuity. And with complete dominance over the rest of the participants, OG made history, becoming the first ever repeat and back-to-back International champions.

2021 The International Dota 2 Champion: Team Spirit

Prior to 2021, Na’Vi had remained the only International champion to hail from the CIS region. Eastern Europe has always been a hotbed of professional Dota 2, but only one team had ever captured the game’s ultimate prize.

TI10, delayed an entire year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, did not look like the event that CIS fans had been waiting for. Not only did EG and LGD look unstoppable coming into the event with two Major Grand Final appearances under their belts, but’s relatively unproven roster did not live up to the lofty expectations set upon them.

LGD in particular placed no lower than fourth throughout the entire season, and even won the WePlay AniMajor just four months prior to TI10. Their crisp, consistent play made them look like absolute gods, and everyone expected them to finally win it all in Romania.

But the young guns in Team Spirit, hailing from Russia and Ukraine, stole the show by making one of the most unprecedented runs by a qualifier team since OG at TI8. After narrowly escaping defeat in the Eastern Europe qualifiers, Team Spirit would go on to crush the lower bracket at TI10. Showing no fear or hesitation, they barreled through tough competition, including defending champions OG as well as Invictus Gaming.

All five members of the team were truly on fire in the lower bracket. Magomed “Collapse” Khalilov turned himself into an instant legend with his play as Magnus, forcing teams to ban the hero against him or face dire consequences. Alexander “TORONTOTOKYO” Khertek, meanwhile, actually had the guts to drop “ez game” on the main stage against OG — the very team that popularized actively talking trash at The International.

Team Spirit TI10

Image credit: Valve

With the fire burning bright in their hearts, Team Spirit knocked Team Secret out of the lower bracket finals to earn their spot at the Grand Finals. The series began in utterly disgusting fashion, with Team Spirit taking a commanding 2-0 lead against the best team in the world. LGD would take the next two games, however, making it seem like there was just no way a “lesser” squad like Team Spirit could actually beat them in a five-game series.

But the Russo-Ukrainian team proved them and everyone else wrong. Drafting precisely to counter the Tiny/Lycan combo that LGD had pioneered throughout the season, Team Spirit put the final nail in the coffin with an astounding performance in Game 5. Four friends who had never been to The International before, led by veteran Yaroslav “Miposhka” Naidenov, had brought CIS back to the top of the Dota 2 food chain just like that.

2022 The International Dota 2 Champion: TBD

TI11 Announcement Splash

Image credit: Valve

Dota 2’s The International 11 will take place from October 15th to the 30th in Singapore. This marks the first time that the world championship will take place in Southeast Asia. The event will feature a record 20 teams, with the additional two squads coming from the Last Chance Qualifier.

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.

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