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Top
Dota 2

Player Spotlight: Topson — From Zero to Millionaire Hero

Patrick Bonifacio

Very few players out there in the esports industry as a whole can boast about earning life-changing amounts of money in a short period of time relative to when they started their professional careers. It is truly an esteemed club, one that is reserved for those with the skill and mental fortitude required to elevate themselves from “ladder fiends” to the highest echelons of competitive play in the blink of an eye. In Dota 2, this honor belongs primarily to Topias Miikka “Topson” Taavitsainen, the current mid laner for OG — one of the most successful esports organizations of all time.

With a professional career elapsing just four years and nine months to date, the fact that he is now fifth on the list of highest-earning pro gamers of all time is nothing short of incredible. A true zero to hero story, Topson emerged on the scene surrounded by extreme doubt and uncertainty from both spectators and experts, particularly when he was brought onto OG for the first time in 2018 as part of their roster for The International 8 at the age of 20. He nevertheless rose above the noise, keeping his head above water throughout the nerve-wracking tournament in order to capture the Aegis of Champions and cement himself as one of the most inspiring figures in esports history.

And then he did it all over again the next year with a ton more swagger and audacity. This is the story of Topson — also affectionately known as “Godson”.

The Slumbering Beast

Born in Finland in 1998, Topson started playing the original Dota Allstars at the tender age of eight years old — which means that his love for the game began all the way back in 2006. The son of a construction worker and a housewife, Topson had a limited amount of free time available for gaming at first, as he had to do chores at home and go with his father to the construction sites he needed to be at. Upon turning eight though, he finally had the chance to try his hand at Dota, which he says he was introduced to by his older brothers.

He presumably became more focused on playing the game at a high level with the rise of Dota 2 in the early to mid 2010s, taking it as one of his foremost hobbies. According to Topson himself, his parents initially did not approve of his love for gaming, resorting to restricting his playing privileges by taking away his peripherals and even the internet connection at home. Topson was also lined up to become a culinarian, as he was studying to become a chef before quitting school in order to focus on Dota full time.

“When I was studying to become a chef, I spent almost all of my free time play Dota anyways,” said Topson on his personal website. “I felt I was pretty good, so I thought that maybe I should give it a shot [professionally].”

However it was not until 2016 that he would put in his first recorded participation in a pro tournament, namely the European division of the ProDota Cup in February that year. He played with a team called Oogway at the event, banding together with other Finnish players like Mikko “Vaalix” Ristimäki and former Ninjas in Pyjamas coach Niklas “okcya” Koskinen. He continued playing with them in other European cups over March and April that year, but the team didn’t really have any results to speak of even then.

Stirrings of Power

Topson would not play in any more competitive events until 2017, when he became a part of the Russia-based squad SFTe-sports alongside familiar names like Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev and Tommy “Taiga” Le (who went by the handle “ST_ST” at the time). Together with his new teammates, Topson won his first ever professional event at the 21st edition of the ProDota Cup, sweeping Double Dimension (featuring former Cyber Legacy core player Zaur “Cooman” Shakhmurzaev) in the Grand Finals three games to none.

Topson

Topson also played for the Finnish national team at the World Electronic Sports Games Grand Finals in 2017. (Photo courtesy WESG)

He and the rest of SFTe-sports would replicate their success in the 22nd edition, defending their title and earning $1,500 for their troubles. He would however spend the rest of 2017 with no other significant results, transferring over to the “Finnstack” 5 Anchors No Captain by the tail end of December.

Topson enjoyed another victory in a tier 3 tournament once the year changed, winning the third edition of the OverPower Cup in February 2018. This result in particular was the best and most important placing in his career at the time, as their opponents in the Grand Finals happened to include CIS mainstays such as Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin and Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko. The result proved that he wasn’t just any other European player forever doomed to be stuck in the lower tiers of one of the top regions in Dota 2 — and that his potential was higher than what most knew at the time.

Cast into the Flames

From there, Topson would continue to play with 5ANC until April, when he and his teammates placed third overall at joinDOTA League Season 12. Just two months later, though, he was given an offer by Johan “n0tail” Sundstein that not even lesser players would refuse: join him and the rest of OG for the TI8 open qualifiers. This was of course right after one of the most dramatic and shocking roster changes in the game’s history, which saw n0tail’s longtime friend and partner in crime Tal “Fly” Aizik leave OG of his own volition to seek greener (or bluer, if you will) pastures over at Evil Geniuses.

Given the rules of the Dota Pro Circuit on changing rosters in the middle of the season, OG were thus forced to qualify for TI8 through the sudden death open qualifiers. After calling on the young Anathan “ana” Pham back from his vacation, coach Sébastien “Ceb” Debs filled the offlane-shaped hole left by Gustav “s4” Magnusson, who likewise joined Fly in his exodus to EG. Needing one more player to serve as the team’s mid laner, n0tail chose Topson as the final piece — which caused fans and pundits alike to consider them one of the weakest tier 1 teams in the European scene prior to the open qualifiers.

Regardless of their dire circumstances at the time though, OG breezed through the open qualifiers as expected, dropping just one map before advancing to the regional qualifiers. They pretty much cruised there as well, posting a perfect 7-0 record in the group stage and losing just twice in the playoffs. They disposed of the motley crew Wind and Rain (captained by Kartik “Kitrak” Rathi) in the Grand Finals after four games, thus claiming their ticket to Vancouver.

TI8 OG

Prior to TI8 itself, Topson was seen as the biggest question mark in OG’s roster — and combined with other factors the whole lineup was considered to be automatic bottom-feeders at the event. Team Liquid’s Dota writers placed them dead last in their TI8 power rankings, citing the fact that they had been “picked clean of all but one of its charter members” as the primary reason. Moreover, OG as an organization had already earned a reputation for constantly underdelivering at The International, which cast an even worse light on their chances at the event.

For someone like Topson who had never played in a Pro Circuit event in his life, it was a true trial by fire with millions of dollars on the line. The young gun had no experience playing in any significant LANs, yet here he was on one of the biggest stages in all of esports playing for a team that picked him up just over two months prior. True enough, his performance at the event was rather inconsistent. Topson held the record at TI8 for the highest number of deaths per game on average in the core role (counting carry, solo mid, and offlane), looking great at times but shaky in others. His play as Invoker in particular made OG fans everywhere nervous with every death he gave up in the lane, despite the hero being one of his signature picks.

Against all odds however, OG kept their losses to a healthy minimum in the group stage, scoring three wins and three draws while going 0-2 just twice in the best-of-two preliminaries. The start to their campaign went just about as expected — with early struggles against squads like defending International champions Team Liquid and of course their newfound bitter rivals in EG. But key wins against others like Mineski and Vici Gaming J Thunder gave them the boost they needed to stay alive and avoid elimination. This result gave them just enough points to place fourth in their group, giving them the last upper bracket slot available to Group A.

Forged in Fire

From there, OG simply soared. They began the main event by destroying VGJ.Storm in two games, which was no small feat given that the latter clinched the top spot in Group B (albeit with a caveat to consider). This set them up for the grudge match of the century against EG, which went right down to the wire with a full three-game series. Topson was on fire right out of the gate in the series in question, holding his own against Syed “SumaiL” Hassan’s Templar Assassin as Invoker in the first game.

He also performed admirably as Arc Warden in the second game, though he and his team ended up losing the map. And though he lost to SumaiL’s Tiny in the third game (with which SumaiL scored 34 kills!), he contributed enough as Zeus to keep OG afloat and for ana to take over as Spectre.

Thus, Topson found himself with a guaranteed share of the third place purse amounting to almost $2.7 million, and suddenly his chances of making the Grand Finals in his very first appearance at The International looked bigger than most people assumed before. All he and the rest of OG had to do now was survive the upper bracket final against PSG.LGD Gaming — a herculean task in every sense given that the Chinese team was touted as one of the frontrunners for the title that year.

Amazingly enough, that’s exactly what they did. Despite facing down a gargantuan opponent with unfathomable amounts of skill and experience, OG hung on in all three games of the upper bracket final to secure themselves a shot at the Aegis of Champions. Incredibly, OG came back from the absolute brink of defeat in Game 3, staving LGD off for nearly an hour’s worth of gameplay despite being on the backfoot the entire time. Topson once again turned to Arc Warden in the final game of the series, racking up nearly 900 gold per minute and dishing out even more damage to LGD’s heroes than ana’s Spectre did at 63,400 points. His effort helped lift OG out of dire straits, even when it seemed like all hope was lost.

A Royal Road Like No Other

With their slot in the Grand Finals now guaranteed, Topson waited for the team that would administer the final test of just how good he and the rest of the hastily-assembled OG roster were. Many were hoping that the championship match would see EG and OG facing off in the most anime way possible, but sadly it never materialized as LGD easily brushed Fly and his crew aside in the lower bracket final. Thus, the rematch between LGD and OG was set in stone — only this time it would require three games for Topson to pull off the impossible.

The match was a total barn burner, going the full distance with all five games played in the series. Topson himself found a level of confidence that nobody in their wildest dreams could ever have expected him to have deep down, particularly in the first game when he busted out his now-infamous Monkey King. He drew more or less even against Chinese superstar Lu “Somnus丶M” Yao’s signature Storm Spirit — a respectable achievement in its own right. Together with ana, Topson led the way for OG throughout the 34 and a half minute game, even when they were down about 8,000 gold in the mid game.

LGD countered convincingly in the two games that followed, though, and it looked like OG’s miracle run had finally come to an end. The Chinese juggernauts seemed like they had finally woken up after being sent to the lower bracket the day before, and that they were ready to take their rightful place as champions of the Dota world. After all, the organization had missed out on the Aegis in all of its prior visits to The International, despite previous rosters consistently being top squads that could have won it all.

It was LGD’s time by all accounts — but Topson and OG would have none of it. In the most unbelievable display of sheer mental fortitude and willpower, they forced the series into a deciding final map, once again coming back from a supposedly unwinnable situation in Game 4. It was this game in fact that birthed one of the most iconic moments not just in Dota but in esports as a whole, when Ceb turned the game right back around in OG’s favor with the Berserker’s Call of a lifetime.

Topson TI8

Rising above the pressure, Topson played within the moment against LGD — refusing to give up along the way. (Photo courtesy Valve)

The fifth game was no less breathtaking than the fourth even though it lasted half as long. Yet again OG refused to surrender in the face of insurmountable odds, turning the tables for the last time after LGD got off to a fast start in the early game. Topson had himself a terrible time as Zeus against Somnus丶M’s Kunkka, but still managed to deal a ton of damage to LGD’s heroes after recovering somewhat in the late game; only ana put out more damage as Ember Spirit.

Nevertheless, it was just enough for them to squeak past LGD, allowing Topson to complete the Cinderella story for himself and his teammates. Winning The International is the most difficult goal for any pro Dota player to achieve, but here Topson was on top of the world and millions of dollars richer — around two and a half years after his first recorded professional match. Before lifting the Aegis of Champions, very few people could have been rightfully blamed for not even knowing who Topson was, but the man had done the improbable.

Ascension to Godsonhood

Topson remained with OG going into the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season, even as ana decided to take his umpteenth vacation. Swedish veteran Per Anders Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille filled in for ana while he was away, but left just two months after joining the team. Rising star Igor “iLTW” Filatov was brought in the day after Pajkatt’s departure, but it was clear that things just weren’t working out between OG and other prospects. Upon iLTW’s exit from the roster, ana returned to active play, and the team set out to prepare for TI9 and to defend their title.

Ironically, the defending champions barely even made it into direct invite territory. As a result of their struggles throughout the season, OG only had enough points to place tenth in the Pro Circuit standings, and doubts about their title defense started to sprout in everyone’s minds. Most experts and journalists pegged them somewhere in the middle when it came to power rankings this time around, as it was obvious that they were much better than they looked going into the previous year’s tournament — but not good enough to be obvious choices for the Grand Finals or even the top four spots.

It’s likely that Topson read some of the predictions surrounding him and the rest of his teammates before the tournament began, all while laughing to himself knowing what he was about to unleash upon the competition. OG strolled into the tournament with a devil-may-care aura about them, as they massacred each and every one of their would-be rivals in both the group stage and the playoffs. Utilizing crazy strats like Carry Wisp and playing an entirely different way compared to the rest of the field, OG smashed Dota itself to pieces and reconstructed it as they saw fit.

Topson TI9

Topson was a wrecking crew all on his own at TI9. (Photo courtesy Valve)

Topson looked like a completely different player compared to what he was at TI8, firing on all cylinders and toying with the competition. Combined with the savvy support play of Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, Topson baffled his enemies every step of the way, completing his transformation into a terrifying godlike figure. Not even the reinvigorated Team Liquid led by former champion Kuro Salehi “KuroKy” Takhasomi could put a stop to his rampage in the Grand Finals, where OG defended the Aegis three games to one.

Uncertain Future

With OG now firmly his home in Dota 2, Topson opted once again to stay with the team that he was so successful with. The 2019-2020 Pro Circuit season however has been anything but normal thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, forcing the Dota scene as a whole to stay indoors and play in online tournaments with smaller prize pools relative to Pro Circuit Majors and the like. Topson and OG have been stuck in the middle of the pack since the lockdowns began in early 2020, and with no International this year it would seem that they’ll be in tier 1.5 for the foreseeable future.

Still, with some countries starting to ease lockdown restrictions and Valve now having a plan (well, sort of) for the new Pro Circuit season, there is plenty of time for Topson to bring out the Godson within him and bring OG back to where they belong: the top of the Dota 2 food chain. Until then, we can all bask in his glory.