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Dota 2

Azure Ray Pull Off Reverse Sweep at ESL One Kuala Lumpur

Patrick Bonifacio

The first major Dota 2 event of the new competitive season and the last for 2023 has concluded — with Chinese squad Azure Ray being crowned champions at ESL One Kuala Lumpur. Though they were down two games right away in the best of five Grand Final match, Azure Ray rallied in incredible fashion to reverse sweep Gaimin Gladiators in the three games that followed.

ESL One Kuala Lumpur crowd

via ESL

At first, it looked like business as usual for Gaimin Gladiators, who had been the undisputed most dominant team of the entire Dota 2 scene this whole year. In fact, the first two maps both ended just shy of 30 minutes of in-game time, making it seem like Gaimin were headed for yet another resounding victory at a major tournament.

Instead, they were met with crushing defeat. Digging deep into their bag of tricks in order to outsmart Gaimin, Azure Ray battled back tremendously despite being cornered early in the series.

Game One: GG’s Laning Phase Sets the Tone

The first game set the crowd up for what we’ve all come to expect this year: Gaimin Gladiators winning the laning phase by a country mile and snowballing their advantage out of the opposing team’s hands. That’s exactly what happened as every player on the side of Gaimin put the pedal to the metal right off the bat.

Thanks to some stellar play from Marcus “Ace” Christensen on Broodmother, they won all three lanes without even breaking a sweat. The few deaths they suffered in the laning phase were on Melchior “Seleri” Hillenkamp, who was only playing Crystal Maiden and not a core that required plenty of farm.

Speaking of “plenty of farm”, how about that performance from Anton “dyrachyo” Shrekdov as Alchemist. His item progression was just completely out of control, bagging himself a 12 minute Radiance on his way to a 6-1 kill-death ratio. There was really nothing Azure Ray could do to stop Gaimin in this game, as they were held to just five kills compared to Gaimin’s 24.

Game Two: Match Point in a Hurry

Game Two was even more dominant than the first, with Gaimin Gladiators seemingly wanting to eat some of the local delicacies in Kuala Lumpur before it got too dark outside. Quinn “Quinn” Callahan certainly looked like he was hungry for the quick win, hunkering down as his signature Pangolier and cruising to a 10-2 scoreline after destroying Guo “Xm” Hongcheng’s Slardar in the mid matchup.

Dyrachyo followed suit as Slark, using his typical aggressive playstyle to full effect by picking Azure Ray off with ease. He ended the game with an unreal number of permanent agility stacks, too — a testament to just how much sharking around he did in this game. And although Jiang “天命” An pulled off some heroic plays as Vengeful Spirit to try and keep Azure Ray alive, Gaimin were just too far ahead for them to ever mount a comeback.

Game Three: The Cracks Begin to Show

As the crowd at Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC) settled in for what looked like a formality in favor of Gaimin Gladiators, things took a surprising turn in Game Three. From here on, both 天命 and Zhao “XinQ” Zhixing would pick up Phoenix and Shadow Demon respectively, which would prove crucial to solving their problems against Gaimin in this series.

The picks paid off instantly, as both supports protected their teammates beautifully throughout the third map. Their activity through Game Three allowed Xm to really shine as Storm Spirit, marking what might have been the first sign of life for Azure Ray in this entire series. Thus, Azure Ray stomped Gaimin right back, giving the fans in attendance a series to look forward to.

Game Four: Holding On

Game Four was where Azure Ray really captured the momentum for themselves — though things didn’t get to that point until the late game. The early to mid game was very rough for them, actually, as carry player Lou “Lou” Zhen found himself dying again and again while trying to farm up as Luna. Gaimin used their Dota Pro Circuit Major-winning game sense to find him wherever he tried to hide, which turned Lou’s game into an almost hopeless situation by the 25 minute mark.


Xm went god mode in Game Four, ensuring that his team would get a real shot at the trophy. Photo via DreamHack

But Xm said enough was enough and went ballistic as Puck, turning the game on its head after securing his Blink Dagger at 18 minutes. From there, Azure Ray was able to assert their presence all over the map, allowing them to claw their way back into the game. Their focus on stacking the new items that focused on reducing enemy magic resistance paid dividends, as neither Ace’s Timbersaw nor dyrachyo’s Slark could withstand the sheer burst damage coming in.

Dyrachyo struggled mightily as a result, as it seemed like he underestimated the need for a Black King Bar in this game. With so much magic damage being dished out by Azure Ray’s spellcasters, he couldn’t stand his ground long enough to actually deal any meaningful damage himself. And with the tide shifting against them, Gaimin could not repel Lou’s Luna as he finally got his items.

Game Five: Outdrafting the Kings

With an immense amount of momentum now on their side, Azure Ray showed their drafting skills in order to secure Game Five and the trophy at ESL One Kuala Lumpur. Choosing to draft a save-heavy lineup centered around Phoenix and Shadow Demon as mentioned before, they countered Gaimin Gladiators’ Faceless Void strategy with ease.

Throughout the whole game, dyrachyo was just unable to land Chronospheres that actually allowed them to win teamfights — thanks in no small part to Azure Ray’s fantastic positioning. Whenever one of Azure Ray’s heroes was caught in dyrachyo’s ultimate, there were at least two others ready to protect them. This meant that dyrachyo couldn’t actually get any kills inside Chronosphere, which spelled disaster as Azure Ray were able to drag out engagements in their favor.

Gaimin were completely helpless in this final game, scoring just five kills compared to Azure Ray’s 27. It wasn’t even close; Azure Ray simply cruised to the series win off the back of their intelligent drafting and impeccable execution.

Congratulations to Azure Ray on their victory at ESL One Kuala Lumpur. Could this result mark a shift in the competitive landscape going into the new year? At the very least, they’ve made it clear that Gaimin Gladiators are not invincible, and can be beaten with both smarts and overall good gameplay.