News

Player Spotlight: KuroKy — An All-Time Great

Patrick Bonifacio  | 
KuroKy

With an over 13 year career in esports, KuroKy remains to be one of the best names in Dota 2.

Only a handful of successful professionals in Dota 2 can even say their legacies come even close to that of Kuro Salehi “KuroKy” Takhasomi. The 27-year-old German player has been around since the DotA Allstars days, back when he played a different role to what fans, fellow players, and experts are used to seeing today. His career of around 13+ years is one of the greatest stories in all of esports.

He is one of a kind, as someone who truly personifies perseverance, grit, and determination even after so many years of going through cutthroat competition on a daily basis. Likewise, his consistency is the stuff of legend, having participated in every iteration of The International so far — a record matched only by his longtime friend and comrade-in-arms Clement “Puppey” Ivanov.

Destined for Glory

Born in Iran but raised in the city of Berlin, KuroKy represents Germany first and foremost. Suffering from a medical condition that affects his ability to use his legs in strenuous activities like physical sports, he turned to Dota as his hobby of choice — igniting a love and passion for the game that would last for many years to come.

His career began around 2008, playing for a few German teams in the DotA Allstars era. He steadily gained traction as part of said teams until late that year, when he was picked up by internationally-famous German esports organization mousesports at the tender age of 16-years-old. This mousesports roster set their sights on DreamHack Winter 2008, with Puppey standing in for the team.

Although they placed just third at the tournament, the result marked the true beginning for the young man’s career, and a long and fruitful relationship with Puppey himself. In addition, he was awarded “Carry of the Year” by esports publication GosuGamers, ahead of esteemed peers from the European/CIS scene like Jonathan “Loda” Berg and Dmitriy “LighTofHeaveN” Kupriyanov. KuroKy was rising through the ranks quickly — garnering Puppey’s attention going into the new year.

Peaks and Valleys

It didn’t take long for Puppey to hit KuroKy up after his early success, and the two formed Kingsurf International (KS.int) after mousesports closed their Dota division in 2009. The new squad was actually a combination of the old mouz roster plus the existing Kingsurf lineup at the time, making them a team with a whopping nine members in total. Regardless of the massive size of the roster though, KS.int swiftly planted themselves as one of the teams to beat in the region — destroying the competition at the 2009 Dota League Masters after their formation.

Despite the rousing success he experienced with KS.int however, KuroKy decided to jump ship to Meet Your Makers in late 2009 — though his stint with MYM would last just a few months, as he once again joined up with Puppey at the end of the year. Unfortunately, his reunion with Puppey bore little fruit, as the Estonian player signed a deal with the top-tier Natus Vincere in 2011. KuroKy was left with a tough decision to make: quit playing professionally given his waning interest in the game, or soldier on and go for broke one more time.

A New Beginning

He chose the latter, spurred on by his other teammates after Puppey’s departure. They made the call to then make the jump to Dota 2, which had gone into closed beta at the time with the first ever International looming over the horizon. Playing under the GosuGamers.net banner, they were invited to TI1 for a chance at the $1.6 million prize pool — but their campaign ended in absolute disaster as they failed to win even a single map. Their finishing position below the top eight also meant that they won no prize money at all.

Though the result was less than desirable for the fiery competitor, he kept at it after TI1 — playing for several stacks until finally signing with Virtus.pro in May 2012. He and his squad tried for the TI2 West Qualifiers, where they managed to defeat Mortal Teamwork in the first round. In an ironic twist, however, VP were stopped in the next round by mousesports, the same organization that KuroKy himself played under in his DotA Allstars days.

Despite their best efforts to rally in the lower bracket of the qualifiers, they were quickly eliminated by all-Russian roster zNation. Luck was on KuroKy’s side though, as mousesports’ hard support player Alexandru “ComeWithMe” Craciunescu officially named him as his substitute at TI2 after running into visa issues.

Moreover, it was announced that the entirety of the Malaysia-based MUFC lineup would not make it to the tournament given visa issues of their own. This prompted Valve to hold a best-of-five wild card match between mousesports and Chinese team World Elite in order to determine who would have the right to replace MUFC at TI2. mousesports won the match handily, and KuroKy found himself with another ticket to The International.

Sadly, he and the rest of mouz suffered the same fate that GosuGamers did in the year prior. They won just two maps in the group stage and bombed straight out of the tournament after being seeded into the lower bracket from the get-go, marking yet another disappointing chapter in KuroKy’s career. Nevertheless, KuroKy did as KuroKy is known to do, and remained with mouz until 2013.

(Almost) Striking Gold

Once his time with mouz was up, KuroKy was again in talks with his old friend Puppey — this time with regards to joining him in Na’Vi after the Ukranian team narrowly missed out on defending their International title in the TI2 Grand Finals. Na’Vi notched several important wins in premier tournaments during the lead up to TI3, thanks to KuroKy’s contributions, and cemented themselves as one of the strongest teams in the world alongside Alliance.

He and the rest of the lineup smashed their way through the group stage in Benaroya Hall, scoring 11 wins and just three losses on their way to the main event upper bracket. Upon reaching the main stage, they took care of Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung’s Orange Esports squad, followed by the Group B second placers TongFu — in a match that would go down in infamy thanks to the unorthodox and controversial “fountain hook” strategy that Na’Vi employed in the third game.

The upper bracket grand final was the first clash between them and Alliance at the event, and many were excited to see the two undisputed best teams go head to head before the Grand Finals. Loda and his crew just proved too much for them, though, sending KuroKy and the rest of Na’Vi into the lower bracket for a rematch versus Orange Esports. Na’Vi survived the elimination round and found themselves in their third consecutive International Grand Final appearance — something which no other team has achieved to date.

Thus, the Dota 2 version of the matchup known as “El Clássico” was born. Alliance and Na’Vi, the two titans of the 2013 season, met in the Grand Final match of TI3. KuroKy had finally earned the chance to play for Dota’s most coveted prize, and against such worthy opponents no less. Alliance took the first map in just 15 minutes and change, with Na’Vi striking back in the second almost as speedily. The two sides exchanged blows up until the fifth game, which has gone down in history as the greatest single game of Dota 2 ever played — and not just at The International.

Though KuroKy and his teammates played their hearts out (and then some), Alliance just proved to be too crafty and too on point for them to handle. Though he was unable to capture the Aegis of Champions, getting to the Grand Finals was an exceptionally high point in the German’s life, and one that he would build on for the rest of his career.

The Open Secret

After such a great result at TI3, KuroKy decided to stay with Na’Vi for the 2013-2014 season — and, for the most part, remained within the higher echelons of competitive play. He and the team continued to place well in certain events in the waning months of 2013, but there was a noticeable decline in their performances as a whole in 2014. They bagged gold medals at StarLadder in January and the Dota 2 Champions League in April, but experienced relatively disappointing results in other important tournaments throughout the season.

They still received an invitation to TI4 that year — but for the first time since the inception of Dota 2, Na’Vi was not one of the teams most favored to win the event. True enough, they struggled to replicate their success from previous years, breaking more or less even in the group stage with an 8-7 record and finishing 7th-8th at the main event. By and large, it was a terrible year for KuroKy, which prompted him to seek greener pastures elsewhere. He left the team in 2014 shortly after TI.

Interestingly, Puppey likewise left the squad around this time — and by August 27th had formed the “Secret Team” alongside KuroKy. The other members of the roster included Fnatic’s Tal “Fly” Aizik and Johan “n0tail” Sundstein, as well as Gustav “s4” Magnusson, who departed Alliance after their own abysmal run at TI4. For the first time in years, KuroKy played carry for this lineup instead of his usual support role.

The Secret is Out (of Contention)

The name was reversed shortly after, and the Team Secret that fans know and love today was born. The newly-christened squad was slow out of the gates, however, and soon found themselves swapping members out just five months after their formation. Fly and n0tail were out, and in their place came Artour “Arteezy” Babaev and Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg. KuroKy went back to playing support in order to make way for Arteezy, and fans were excited to see him in the same role that brought him so much success in Na’Vi.

KuroKy Secret

TI5 would be the last time KuroKy and Puppey would play on the same team together. (Photo courtesy Valve)

Team Secret 2.0 as they were nicknamed by fans were a lot more successful than the first iteration, winning a staggering four consecutive Grand Finals in premier tournaments leading up to TI5. Their stellar performances were more than enough for Valve to invite Secret to the fifth International, marking the fifth straight appearance at the event for both Puppey and KuroKy. They went into the world championship tournament as the heavy favorites alongside Arteezy’s former team Evil Geniuses, and placed second in their group after a great start to the event.

But internal issues and an overall demoralizing environment within the squad took their toll in the main event, and Secret choked away their shot at the Aegis of Champions in 2015. They exited the tournament in eighth place — far from the Grand Final appearance that everyone expected out of such a star-studded lineup. The world title had once again eluded KuroKy, forcing him to go back to the drawing board after TI5. He left Secret behind, walking away from a strained relationship with Puppey at the same time.

Restarting From the Ground Up

To that end, KuroKy decided to create his own team, with him as the captain. He gathered Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen, Adrian “FATA-” Trinks, Ivan “MinD_ControL” Ivanov, and Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka to form the 5Jungz for the 2015-2016 season. The team was notable for having relative unknowns at the time in MATUMBAMAN and MinD_ControL, with both players having been part of tier 2 squads before KuroKy approached them.

Two months after their formation, Dutch organization Team Liquid signed the 5Jungz, marking the start of a new era for KuroKy and his newfound friends. Playing under their new banner, KuroKy and the rest of Liquid fared decently in the last few months of 2015, winning a few minor events and placing third at World Cyber Arena in December. They did miss out on the Frankfurt Major, but made up for it by qualifying for the Shanghai Major once the year changed.

KuroKy Liquid

KuroKy could not turn their mid-2016 momentum into a good run at TI6. (Photo courtesy Valve)

They did exceptionally well in China, placing second overall after losing to Secret in the Grand Finals. This result set off a chain of fantastic finishes for Team Liquid in the following months: second place at ESL One Manila, first place at the inaugural EPICENTER, and second place at the Manila Major. All in all, KuroKy and friends were smashing expectations, and looked like a serious threat going into TI6.

The team were invited to participate, giving KuroKy another chance at the Aegis. Their poise and form disappeared almost completely at TI6, however, as they floundered in the group stage and barely held on to take eighth place at the main event. The disheartening outcome was enough for JerAx to leave for OG, and to cause FATA- to take a break from competitive play.

Teething Problems

Sam “BuLba” Sosale, who played for the old North America-based Liquid squad, signed with the team to replace JerAx around two weeks after his departure. FATA-’s replacement, however, was someone that Liquid fans could only dream of having on the team: the incredibly skilled and immensely talented Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi. His arrival bolstered Liquid’s strength by a huge amount going into the new season, and KuroKy’s growing experience as team captain meant that they were one of the strongest teams to come out of the post-TI6 roster shuffle.

They were unable to fulfill the lofty expectations in their first few months together, unfortunately. They didn’t qualify for the Boston Major at all, and they found themselves unable to secure decent results in other events. Following such discouraging results, BuLba opted to sit on the sidelines, but a blessing was forthcoming in the wake of his inactivity.

To replace him, Team Liquid brought in Maroun “GH” Merhej, an up-and-coming support player from Lebanon. With his flashy style of support play and excellent use of “team support” picks like Io and Earthshaker, GH helped turn Liquid’s misfortunes around immediately upon his arrival. With his help, they placed first at DreamLeague Season 6, their first LAN victory in seven months.

With KuroKy attending to his growth as a player, GH further assisted the squad after the new year. They qualified for StarLeague Season 3 (which they won just three weeks later) and the 2017 edition of the Dota 2 Asia Championships, though their 9th-12th result at DAC wasn’t much to be proud of. Still, their position as one of the top teams in Europe helped them secure an invite to the Kiev Major, the first true test of their chemistry and strength as a whole. Sadly, they could only manage to make it to the top eight spots in Ukraine, conceding defeat to the DAC runners-up Invictus Gaming.

Seventh Time’s the Charm

Unfazed by the setbacks in their campaign for a TI7 invite, KuroKy and the gang rampaged through the events after Kiev. They successfully defended three premier event titles in the months after the major, taking first place at the StarLadder i-League Invitational, EPICENTER 2017, and DreamLeague Season 7. These tournament wins gave them plenty of momentum and confidence heading into TI7, which they deservedly received an invite for.

Thus, Liquid strolled into the world championship event with a swagger in their step. KuroKy’s seventh consecutive appearance at The International started off auspiciously, as he and his team topped their group comfortably on their way to the main event. The beginning of the playoffs were a shock to them and their fans, though, as they were sent down to the lower bracket early by iG, who had been a thorn in their side since DAC earlier in the season.

As a result, it looked like another routine “choke year” for KuroKy as in previous TIs — but the German captain would not have his dreams denied for the seventh year in a row. Fueled by sheer anger and frustration by the upper bracket loss, Liquid tore the lower bracket teams to shreds, completing a miraculous run to the Grand Finals after surviving five whole elimination rounds. Note that the teams they had to go through were strong squads in their own right, with Virtus.pro, LGD Gaming, and LGD.Forever Young as examples of the cutthroat competition they had to contend with.

KuroKy Ti7

After toiling for years on end, KuroKy finally achieved the ultimate prize at TI7. (Photo courtesy Valve)

KuroKy and his comrades soon found themselves in the Grand Finals against Newbee, to whom they had not dropped a series in any other event before. Aside from the five-game matchup against Alliance at TI3, this was to be the ultimate test of KuroKy’s mettle as a captain and a leader — which he passed with flying colors. Liquid manhandled Newbee in the final round, sweeping them clean in a 3-0 victory for the ages.

The man had finally done it after grinding for so long. KuroKy’s first Aegis of Champions had been seven years in the making, and none could blame him as he was unable to hold back tears of joy and relief during the winners’ interview. His dream of standing on top of the Dota 2 world had come true, without the help of Puppey or any of his former teammates. Fans, pro players, and pundits alike always knew that he was destined to be world champion someday no matter how long it took — and he had finally fulfilled their prophecies.

Momentary Lapse

Never one to rest on his laurels, KuroKy saw his triumph at TI7 not only as a fulfillment of his goals, but as a stepping stone to even greater things as a competitor. With the roster sticking together in the wake of their accomplishment, he and the rest of Liquid continued to post great results in the 2017-2018 season. They defended their StarLadder title yet again at StarLadder i-League Season 3, and placed within the top four spots at ESL One Hamburg 2017.

Their string of top finishes continued at DreamLeague Season 8, though this time they were halted in the Grand Finals by Puppey and the rest of Team Secret. They scored second place at ESL One Genting in January 2018, and won their fourth consecutive StarLadder championship at StarLadder i-League Season 4.

There were some areas for improvement throughout the season, though — particularly when it came to the new Dota Pro Circuit Majors. Liquid did well in several Minors, but stumbled when it really mattered at the Majors. DAC 2018, in particular, was disappointing for them, having been eliminated in 5th-6th by TNC Predator in Shanghai. They did bounce back at EPICENTER 2018, though only with a second place finish against PSG.LGD. Liquid followed this right up by crushing their opponents at the China Dota 2 Supermajor, the final ranking event of the season.

KuroKy TI8

Liquid missed their chance to make history at TI8, failing to retain the Aegis against tough opponents. (Photo courtesy Valve)

Thus, in spite of the ups and downs, KuroKy and friends went into TI8 as favorites once again — just behind Virtus.pro in terms of Pro Circuit points earned throughout the year. They finished the preliminary round at the top of their group just like in the previous year, tied at 13 group stage points with EG. This time around they made sure not to lose their spot in the upper bracket too early into the main event, but fell to the elimination rounds anyway after losing to eventual finalists PSG.LGD in the second round of the upper bracket.

Rallying his team in familiar territory, KuroKy led Liquid to an easy win over Team Secret in the lower bracket, ending their rivals’ run before they were able to reach the top four. But despite their best efforts, Liquid were forced out of the tournament in fourth place by EG, who had found new strength after acquiring both s4 and Fly from OG prior to the China Supermajor. As such, they were unable to defend their title.

Returning to the Grand Finals

It was clear to KuroKy that even though they could not successfully defend the Aegis at TI8 that his team was still among the best in the world of Dota 2 as a whole. Thus, they elected to stay together for another run in the Pro Circuit.

The start of the 2018-2019 season wasn’t particularly kind to them, though. They missed out on the Kuala Lumpur Major after failing to qualify, and had to settle for the second qualifier slot at the Chongqing Major. Upon arriving in Chongqing, they placed a mere eighth overall, casting doubts over their chemistry and teamwork early in the year. They redeemed themselves with first place at MDL Macau in February, though the event itself was just a Minor.

Just three weeks later, Liquid hit their lowest point in a long time at DreamLeague Season 11. They crashed and burned at the event, finishing their run in the bottom four spots. Fortunately, they were able to bag a ton of Pro Circuit points two months later, thanks to a silver medal finish at the Disneyland Paris Major. This allowed them to mathematically secure themselves a ticket to TI9 — but what transpired thereafter was something that shook the scene quite heavily.

Even after placing second in the final Major of the season and having the necessary points to qualify for TI9, KuroKy made the call to remove MATUMBAMAN from the roster — presumably as part of their eighth place finish at ESL One Hamburg 2019. He was replaced by Omar “w33-” Aliwi, the same player that helped Chaos eliminate Liquid from DreamLeague. This marked the first change in their roster in almost 900 days, with the last being GH’s arrival after BuLba’s decision to take a break from playing.

MATUMBAMAN found a new home in Chaos shortly after he was dropped from Liquid, making the move almost like a trade of sorts. KuroKy and his teammates meanwhile made good on the decision immediately, finishing second at the EPICENTER Major with just two days of practice with their new acquisition. By the season’s end, Liquid had 5,820 Pro Circuit points — enough to place them fifth in the overall standings below EG.

KuroKy TI9

Though they could not reclaim the trophy under the Team Liquid name, KuroKy and his squad did themselves proud at TI9. (Photo courtesy Valve)

Upon arriving in Shanghai for TI9, expectations surrounding Liquid were still relatively high, especially given their results in the last two Majors of the year. The start to their campaign was anything but smooth, though, as they could not find their rhythm in the group stage; they finished seventh in their group of nine teams total. They found themselves on the back foot as soon as the main event began — but they were no strangers to the lower bracket at The International.

In an even more impressive run compared to their streak of lower bracket wins at TI7, Liquid persevered in spite of the rough start, cruising to their second International Grand Final appearance and KuroKy’s third overall. They dropped just a single map on the way there, and given that their opponents were the previous year’s champions OG, were one of two teams that were guaranteed to be the first to win The International a second time.

 

The task proved far too difficult for them, as OG had simply deconstructed the game of Dota and reshaped it as they saw fit throughout the entire event. N0tail and his band were nigh untouchable, and Liquid only managed a single win in the best-of-five series. KuroKy in particular seemed to box his own team into a corner they could not escape from, as he kept sticking to the same heroes even though they clearly weren’t working as well as he’d hoped.

By the time he’d realized his errors, it was too late. OG clinched the title in the three games that came after Liquid’s first win, and claimed the Aegis of Champions once more. But in spite of the loss, KuroKy kept his head held high. In the final minutes of the TI9 edition of True Sight, he thanked his teammates for believing in him to the bitter end. Likewise, his compatriots reassured him that they gave it their all, and that they had no regrets placing their trust in him.

The Nigma Era

Though his second International Grand Final was another high point for KuroKy, he and the rest of his team decided it was time to strike out on their own. On September 13th, 2019, they parted ways with the organization after four fruitful years together. In turn, KuroKy announced the creation of Team Nigma, which he and his teammates founded the same way Puppey did with Team Secret all the way back in 2014.

Since Nigma’s inception, they have maintained their status as one of the best teams in Europe/CIS, winning the WePlay! Bukovel Minor in January 2020 and participating in several online tournaments as the world weathers the storm that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Their most recent results placed them second and third at Beyond EPIC and the BLAST Bounty Hunt respectively, proving that they are still a force to be reckoned with in these trying times.

The whole community at large still expects greatness from KuroKy’s team, and for good reason. After all, he is one of the most decorated leaders not just in Dota 2, but in esports as a whole. Under his tutelage and wisdom, they are sure to stay more than relevant in the harsh and unforgiving world of professional Dota.

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.