Team Spotlight: OG
Although Dota 2 will likely hold the crown of being the most mechanically demanding title in the MOBA genre, even the most hardened professional players will agree that it is more of a mental game at the highest levels of the play. All the skill in the world combined means nothing if they don’t have the confidence and poise to win it all at a major or similar event. OG happens to be the very definition of the phrase “mental fortitude” — particularly in the most recent periods within the team’s five-year existence. 2018 in particular was when they had to hunker down and steel themselves, after going through a big roster change just a few months before that year’s edition of The International. The squad they cobbled together during this time was seen as the weakest going into the world championship event, as it was a weird mix of veteran players who had hit a seriously low point in their careers prior as well as some that were totally unproven on the big stage.
And yet, they went on to win it all in spectacular fashion, defying all odds, expectations, and the laws of Dota at the same time. It was an incredible Cinderella story for the ages — one that proved that the power of friendship and perseverance in the face of supposedly insurmountable obstacles truly conquers all. And they did it all over again the next year, becoming the first ever back-to-back International champions.
The roster started out as a group of mostly veteran players, with the founders having been in esports for several years at the time of the team’s formation. Close friends Johan “n0tail” Sundstein and Tal “Fly” Aizik were at the center of it all, having just come from pretty mediocre campaigns with Cloud9 and CompLexity Gaming, respectively. They were joined by fellow former Heroes of Newerth player David “MoonMeander” Tan who was definitely no stranger to the pair.
Filling out the rest of the lineup were up and coming talents Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi and Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen, playing the carry and soft support roles respectively. Swedish young gun Steve “Xcalibur” Ye, a consummate Tinker specialist, served as the official substitute. The team’s name? “(monkey) Business”.
The roster found their groove almost immediately, qualifying for the MLG World Finals and the Frankfurt Major in the two months after TI5. They placed in the top four at MLG, and soon after, dropped the (monkey) Business name to take up the OG banner on October 31st, 2015.
Gang Green’s Season of Success
With a new name and new colors in tow, OG set their sights on the Frankfurt Major in 2015, the first such event under the old seasonal Dota 2 Major system. The $3 million tournament featured heavy hitters like Team Secret, Evil Geniuses, LGD Gaming, and Vici Gaming. OG placed third in their group, relegating them to the lower bracket from the start of the main event.
Surviving the sudden death round, they proceeded to rampage through the lower bracket, dispatching squads like Virtus.pro, EHOME, and TI5 second placers, CDEC Gaming, on the way to the Grand Finals. Miracle- in particular (who had achieved the top spot at the time in the Dota 2 leaderboards with 8,000 MMR) put on a show with Shadow Fiend, displaying immense levels of mechanical skill and forcing teams to ban the hero out of respect. Riding the wunderkind’s hot hand, OG soon found themselves in the Grand Finals against Team Secret.
Though they were seen as the underdogs compared to Team Secret, who placed first in their group and kept their spot in the upper bracket going into the final round, OG dug deep to put their opponents away in just four games. The era of “#DreamGreen” had begun in earnest — but true enough, it really was just the beginning.
OG continued to be a top tier squad in the European scene in the months following their win at Frankfurt. They swept Team Empire at the DreamLeague Season 4, and placed second and fourth at The Defense Season 5 and The Summit 4 respectively. They hit their first real snag at the Shanghai Major in 2016, however, as they had to settle for eighth place after dropping their lower bracket series to the surging Fnatic. They bounced right back just two months later, though, taking third place at the first ever EPICENTER and defending their title at DreamLeague Season 5.
Thrilla in Manila
The real comeback took place in June 2016, however. Arriving in the Philippines as one of the direct invites to the Manila Major, OG set out to prove themselves as the best team in the world yet again. And that’s exactly what they did, manhandling their rivals in the upper bracket to secure a second appearance at a Valve Major Grand Finals match.
This time they played versus Team Liquid, who simply could not contend with the team in green. This cemented OG in Dota 2 history as the first and only team to ever win two Valve Majors in the same season. It also started them on the path to becoming one of the most successful esports organizations of all time.
Failure Under Pressure
Their success at the Manila Major had practically secured them an invite to TI6 that year. With the momentum they were on, OG were hailed as the absolute strongest favorites to win the championship tournament in 2016. They did extremely well in the group stage, dropping just three maps out of 14 played and clinching the top spot in their group to secure a slot in the upper bracket. The stage had been set for yet another historic OG run — but things went south right away at the main event itself.
In a move that coach Sebastian “Ceb” Debs would come to regret later on, OG chose Korean squad MVP Phoenix as their opponents in their first upper bracket match — thinking that they could repeat their 2-0 thrashing of the team in question as they did in Manila. Instead, they lost to the Koreans, falling to the lower bracket after just the first day of playoff games.
Although people were expecting them to make a run for the Grand Finals through the lower bracket as they had done at the Frankfurt Major, the actual outcome was completely disastrous. The fledgling Filipino squad TNC Pro defeated the two-time Major champions in just two games in what is still one of the biggest upsets in Dota 2.
This result exposed some serious deficiencies in terms of the team’s chemistry, which came as a real surprise considering how well they did at the Manila Major. In the wake of their abysmal TI6 campaign, MoonMeander stepped away as an active member of the roster, while both Cr1t- and Miracle- sought opportunities elsewhere. The first OG lineup was no more… but it was clear that n0tail and Fly were not content with fading into obscurity thereafter.
The Second Generation
During the great post-International shuffle of 2016, n0tail and Fly once again went to look for players to fill the void left behind by their former teammates. They recruited soft support Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, TI3 champion midlaner turned offlaner Gustav “s4” Magnusson, and rising star Anathan “ana” Pham as official members of the roster.
The new roster clicked right away as the new season started, with the team getting third place at the Mars Dota 2 League and second place at The Summit 6.
Thanks to their great results coming out of the summer break, OG secured yet another direct invite to a Valve Major. This time, they had their sights set on the trophy at the Boston Major. As expected of a team like OG, they blitzed through the group stage to earn a top seed, which meant that they would proceed to the single elimination bracket matched against a random bottom seed from a different group.
Lo and behold, they met with MVP Phoenix yet again in the first round of bracket play — but this time they made sure to leave nothing to chance against their rivals by putting them away in just two games. This result spurred OG onwards, giving them the confidence to defeat WarriorsGaming.Unity and Evil Geniuses on the way to their third major Grand Final against a surprising opponent: the dark horses Ad Finem.
Although Ad Finem had the adoration and support of the Boston crowd, they were ultimately able to take just one game away from the juggernauts in OG. With ana, JerAx, and s4 really hitting their strides, OG were simply unstoppable, thus allowing them to make history yet again as three-time Dota 2 Major champions.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention ana’s breakout performance in Boston, which could only be described as stellar considering he was barely 17 years old at the time. For him to have won a Major just two months into his tenure with OG was nothing short of magnificent, considering that he didn’t have much time to build his confidence as an up and coming player.
Four In The Bag
With the newfound strength and resolve brought about by the instant success of their new roster, OG carried their momentum into the events following the Boston Major. They narrowly lost out to EG at the Dota Pit League Season 5 Grand Finals, placed top four at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3, and fell just shy of the gold at the 2017 Dota 2 Asia Championships. These results yet again afforded them an invite to the next major at Kiev, Ukraine — where they would make their mark on Dota 2 history for the fourth time.
OG began the Kiev Major fifth in the group stage standings out of 16 teams. In the first round of the single elimination bracket they proceeded to get past every major obstacle on their way to their fourth Major Grand Final match. This time around, they faced the now-legendary Virtus.pro roster — the very same one that stayed together for two years to win several premier events.
The match went down to the wire. VP and OG played all five games in an absolute barn burner, with both sides refusing to give an inch. Motivated by the cheers from their hometown fans, VP rallied for two straight maps after the loss in the first game to put OG’s backs against the wall. The stage was set for the Ukraine-based team to capture a major title on home soil but OG held on for nearly 60 minutes to turn the game around and seal the deal once and for all.
With four Major titles now under the team’s belt, OG’s dominance of the first two competitive seasons they played in was now complete — or so it would have been, had they done well at TI7 that year.
The months following the Kiev Major were unfortunately tumultuous for OG. They failed to qualify for the second edition of EPICENTER, went out in sixth place at the Manila Masters, and generally looked out of rhythm despite successfully defending their Major title. Nevertheless, their results throughout the year earned them a ticket back to Seattle for another shot at Dota’s greatest prize.
Their run did not pan out at all. They played poorly in the group stage relative to the strong start they had to the season, causing them to start in the lower bracket. And although they took their revenge on TNC for the drubbing they received from them the year prior, they were stopped cold by LGD in the round after. The Aegis of Champions had eluded them once more. Worse still, former compatriot Miracle- had been part of the Team Liquid roster that eventually won the TI7 grand finals — adding salt to what were already grievous wounds.
After what was then their second failure to capture the Aegis, ana decided to take a break from competitive play. Veteran Ukrainian carry player Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok joined the squad to replace ana in the mid lane, and the rest of the squad suited up for the first ever Dota Pro Circuit season.
The Long Road To Glory
The start of the 2018 Pro Circuit season was overall unkind to OG, as they were unable to qualify for the first three events on the calendar. They dispelled this short curse by winning the European qualifier for the Dota Pit League, but their performance at the event itself left a bit to be desired. Nevertheless, finishing within the top six spots earned them a good handful of Pro Circuit points to work with.
Things really started to look up after the Dota Pit League, with OG bagging more points with their win at MDL Macau just a month after. An invite to DOTA Summit 8 saw them placing within the top four at the event itself, while the same happened at Captains Draft 4.0 after the year had turned. At this point, OG had once again cemented themselves as mainstays of the European scene, qualifying for several Pro Circuit events including two Majors in the form of ESL One Katowice and The Bucharest Major.
Regrettably, their actual placements at these Majors were not up to par. They got trounced by Team Liquid in both events, and overall they just looked completely lost in the months leading up to TI8. Despite qualifying for important events like ESL One Birmingham 2018 and EPICENTER XL, they choked away upper bracket placements at both tournaments.
They didn’t know it then, but the top six finish at Birmingham, in particular, would cause one of the most shocking and dramatic roster changes in Dota history.
The Pain Of Parting…
Not even three days after Birmingham, Fly and s4 stunned the world by announcing that they would be leaving OG to join Evil Geniuses. Fly, in particular, had been one of the founding members of OG and one of n0tail’s very best friends, which added more fuel to the drama that ensued from the announcement. While it likely wasn’t a deliberate act of betrayal on Fly’s part, it was clear that the dead end that OG had hit at the time prompted him to seek change in the form of a new team to play for.
Thus, OG were left with a broken squad of just three players, including Ceb who had stepped back into an active playing role to fill the gap left behind by Resolut1on’s departure. As per the rules of the Pro Circuit at the time, the roster change forced OG out of TI8 invite contention and into the open qualifiers. Scrambling to complete the team just in time for this, n0tail once again turned to ana, who agreed to join as the carry this time around. To fill the mid lane position, n0tail recruited a pub player completely untested and unproven in high pressure, high stakes events like The International: one Topias Miikka “Topson” Taavitsainen.
They went through the open qualifiers without a hitch and played almost perfectly at the regional qualifier to punch their ticket to Vancouver for TI8 — but it was clear to fans, analysts, and casters that they were among the weakest on paper going into the world championship event. In fact, writers over at Liquid Dota pegged them dead last in their TI8 power rankings, below even squads like Invictus Gaming and Team Serenity.
…Is Nothing To The Joy Of Vindication
And so, OG entered the tournament with the lowest of expectations surrounding them. Placed into a group with Pro Circuit leaders slated to at least make Grand Finals, it was clear that they had their work cut out for them. A slow start to the group stage saw them falling down the order early — but they showed signs of life and potential at the midway point. They went 5-1 in maps on the third day to clinch fourth place in their group, allowing them to start the playoffs in the upper bracket.
This alone was a seriously impressive feat for a team that was predicted to not even make it to the main event, but what followed was even more awe-inspiring. Showing no signs of faltering whatsoever, OG charged through the bracket, disposing of VGJ Storm two games to none — stupefying the Dota world in the process. This would set them up for a grudge match with EG; a fateful encounter with Fly and s4.
In spite of a marvelous performance by EG in the group stage, it was OG that won the day in a fiery three-game series against their now bitter rivals. The post-match handshake between the two teams drew gasps from the Vancouver crowd, particularly when n0tail shot Fly a venomous stare. The passion and emotions were palpable, but OG were nonetheless happy to advance to the upper bracket final. They would not get a rematch with EG later in the tournament.
OG then found themselves facing one of the heaviest favorites to win the whole thing: PSG.LGD Gaming. Many were right to think that OG’s miracle run would stop at this juncture given the immense talent within LGD’s roster — but instead, the opposite came true. In yet another hair-raising three game series, OG persevered in the face of adversity once again to secure their first ever International Grand Final appearance.
The two met again in the final round after LGD eliminated EG for good. OG took the first game in the series thanks to dazzling performances by ana on Spectre and Topson on his signature Monkey King. LGD took back the initiative in the next two games, and were poised to prove once and for all that OG were not meant to stand as kings of the Dota scene.
But against all odds, OG came back in the fourth map from a terrible string of deaths between ana’s Phantom Lancer and Topson’s Invoker in the mid game. In spite of their two cores getting shut down repeatedly, they refused to give up, capitalizing on key errors from the side of LGD to slowly, but surely, claw their way back into the game. In the waning minutes of fame four, Ceb hit the Berserker’s Call of his career in order to close things out, eliciting the now-legendary call from caster Owen “ODPixel” Davies.
The comeback win in game four meant that The International would see its first ever five-game Grand Final match. Game five started out auspiciously for LGD once again, whose players proved that such a devastating loss in the previous game would not deter them from the ultimate goal of winning TI. It just so happened that OG were even more determined to prove their critics wrong, as they dug deep and steeled themselves mentally to positively and absolutely seal the deal.
OG had done it. After two unsuccessful campaigns at The International, the Aegis of Champions finally belonged to n0tail and his ragtag band. Against all expectations, they became the first team to win TI through the open qualifiers, proving that jumping ship was not always the right answer when it came to chasing ultimate success.
Their sheer resilience, grit, and ironclad mental game all allowed them to defy the very gods of Dota to achieve the impossible. Their run at TI8 was simply unprecedented, and to this day, remains one of the greatest underdog stories in all of esports.
Defending The Aegis
After no doubt celebrating the hard-earned victory for days on end, the team announced that ana was taking another vacation from competitive play. OG decided to have players like Per Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille and Igor “iLTW” Filatov substitute for him in the meantime, up until his return in March 2019.
With ana back in their ranks, OG went through the new Pro Circuit season mostly under the radar, with their best finish at an official Pro Circuit event being top six at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. Despite the relatively quiet season they had going into TI9, what they did at the world championship event was anything but.
For once in the organization’s short existence (when compared to others like EG and LGD), OG looked like complete monsters at The International. They placed first in their group with a 14-2 record in maps, and stormed through the upper bracket to silence the critics that said their win at TI8 was nothing but a fluke. Throughout the event, they utilized an unorthodox strategy that involved putting Io in the carry position in the hands of ana, which proved to be instrumental in their runaway success that year.
Thus, the first ever successful defense of the Aegis of Champions was complete, and OG became the first back-to-back TI champions as well. They did it in a way that baffled everyone in Shanghai, as they deconstructed the game of Dota and reassembled it in a way they alone understood. The result made them the most successful Dota 2 team to date, with more than $33 million in total prize money obtained over the years.
Into the Unknown
From there, OG stuck together for a few months but largely stayed out of the spotlight. They had a single appearance at Midas Mode 2 in September 2019, but had no further results to speak of afterwards. When the year turned, ana went on another break from competitive play until the next season, while JerAx announced his retirement after a fantastic career as one of the best soft supports to ever play the game. Ceb likewise stepped down from the active roster, opting to guide OG’s other teams and players.
With n0tail and Topson left behind as active players, it was once again time to recruit new teammates. First up was TI5 champion Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, who joined the squad to replace ana as he went on vacation. The following day, former Team Secret member Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng sat down as the team’s offlaner, while Martin “Saksa” Sazdov signed on as JerAx’s replacement.
The current roster represents a somewhat different future for OG. Gone is most of the squad that took their first Aegis and defended it in spectacular fashion, but this new one definitely has the chops and experience to make another push for the title. Whether or not they accomplish this has yet to be seen, but given what we’ve seen them do in the past, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it’s still very much in the cards for OG.