At last year’s edition of The International, the Dota world was shaken up by an event of arguably cataclysmic proportions. TNC Pro Team, a band of Filipino hopefuls led by tenured American captain Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho, were up against overwhelming favourites OG in the second round of the lower bracket.
TNC took the first game for themselves after playing for almost an hour — something which was already surprising to begin with. OG looked to tie the series up in the second game, and for a while, it looked like they’d finally figured TNC out. The Filipinos were staring down the barrel of an almost 20,000 gold deficit at a few points in game 2.
But somehow, whether through sheer brilliance or the will to win, they clawed their way back from such a significant disadvantage. One swift and decisive strike within OG’s base sealed the deal, thanks mostly to Sam “Sam_H” Hidalgo’s Faceless Void. TNC’s winning moment in game 2 was captured for all the world to see and hear, with veteran shoutcaster Toby “Tobiwan” Dawson’s voice in the background.
Right as the Dire ancient crumbled to the ground, TNC’s players hugged it out while jumping in the booth. They had every right to be so elated; after all, they had just taken down the “final boss” of Dota as one of the underdog teams in the field.
Those few moments of bliss for TNC painted the picture of the little team that could. Although they did not end up being the true Cinderella story of the tournament, their victory nonetheless became an iconic moment in all of esports. Prior to TI6, they weren’t seen as a top 8 threat at all, but against the odds, they broke through the toughest challenge they’d ever faced.
But in reality, they were a legitimate threat. Perhaps not a championship contender, but a legitimate threat nonetheless. The Philippines has long been known as a breeding ground for incredible Dota 2 players, with the Filipino members of TNC being four great examples. From Carlo “Kuku” Palad to Timothy “Tims” Randrup, all of them have the talent and skill to do well in the big leagues.
And yet, up until that point, Philippine teams were still pegged as bottom-tier squads simply hoping to get the best result possible before being eliminated by ones far better than them. The secret ingredient to turning this notion around? Most analysts and experts will point to DeMoN’s leadership and veteran experience as the key to TNC’s inspirational TI6 run — and they’d all be correct. Like a master swordsmith forging his finest work, DeMoN took the immense raw talent of his teammates and refined it into a razor sharpness through his shotcalling and decision-making.
Without him, TNC likely wouldn’t have even made it past the second round of the lower bracket — much less in the manner that they did. OG would have moved on, perhaps making it to the grand finals of another Valve event. But thanks to Captain Jimmy, the dream turned to reality for TNC.
Fast forward a year later. DeMoN is no longer part of the team, but TNC have once again qualified for The International. In his place stands Theeban “1437” Siva, a fellow North American player who now serves as the captain for TNC. Brought onto the squad a mere two and half months ago, his impact has been noticeable and immediate. Not even two weeks after signing with TNC, he led them to the semifinals of the StarLadder i-League Invitational, and third place at Galaxy Battles.
Thereafter, his captaincy allowed them to secure the top spot at the TI7 Southeast Asian regional qualifiers. Thus, it becomes clear that the missing piece of the puzzle for TNC has always been the “fearless leader”. Before 1437 joined them, Kuku would call plays and draft for his team, all while playing the mechanically demanding position of midlaner. By taking over as shotcaller, 1437 takes this kind of pressure off of Kuku, allowing him and the rest of the lineup to play their best without having to worry about the finer details.
This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with TNC’s signature playstyle: the patented “caveman Dota” of the SEA region. Popularized by teams such as MVP Phoenix (at least when they were still around), this playstyle involves throwing caution to the wind by simply running at the opponents whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s frenetic, intimidating, and most importantly, works well for TNC in particular. 1437’s captaincy enables this playstyle the same way he takes on the burden that Kuku once had on his shoulders.
And so, the pieces are now in place for TNC. By all accounts, they look ready and able to surprise the Dota world yet again in Seattle. This current roster might actually even be better than the one they ran with at TI6, considering how much they’ve grown and matured since then. Combining their skill, experience, and leadership gives them a realistic shot at breaking top 6 or even making it to top 4.
It’s the same sort of situation for them this year. By leaning on their captain, they take on a whole new form, one far more frightening than what it would look like otherwise. They’ve already proven themselves completely capable of taking down superior teams, a fact that the squads invited directly to TI7 will definitely take note of. No longer will they ignore TNC and think of them as small fry. OG will have certainly learned from their mistakes, and the same goes for other teams.
It will be a tough road ahead for the Filipinos, but of all the teams at TI7, they are perhaps most acquainted with adversity. All in all, though, they have exactly what it takes to overcome the odds. The rest of the field must respect their talent, or be brought to their knees by the wrath of the Phoenix.
The International 7 is LIVE on Ginx Esports TV from August 7. Find out more here.