In most esports and traditional sports, fans are always on the search for the familiar “returning champions,” allowing these fans to find a safe pick for the duration of the event. Unfortunately for Dota 2 fans, there’s only one problem: not a single team has seen a repeat victory at the biggest event of the year, and only one has returned to a Finals.
This odd phenomenon, known to the community as the “TI Curse,” is one that many fans hope is broken each year. But this year, there are only three of the six prior champions, and last year’s was disbanded mid-season.
The curse goes back to the first iteration of The International, in which Natus Vincere found fan loyalty through their legendary victory. As described in Valve’s Free To Play documentary, featuring fan favorite Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, the team took on one of China’s biggest organizations, EHOME, to take the first-ever championship and the first million-dollar top prize in esports.
Na’vi failed to win once again in two exciting TI Grand Finals to follow, against Invictus Gaming in 2012 and Alliance in 2013. Unfortunately, none of these aforementioned teams could find their stride for future events. All of these teams’ original squads eventually fell out of relevance, and while the banner remains, the lineups have been shaken up.
After Newbee’s win in 2014, the first without any returning champion in the finals, players were seen playing RPGs instead of practicing Dota 2, foreshadowing the continuation of this curse. They’ve re-emerged as one of the, if not the, strongest squad in China before this year’s event, but with a much different roster than 2014.
TI5’s champions, the American icon Evil Geniuses, didn’t reclaim the Aegis of Champions for TI6. Interestingly enough, they chose to kick Aui_2000 immediately after their victory, and Aui_2000 continued on to Digital Chaos. (He was later kicked again before TI6 and went on to coach Team Secret.) This year, they return as a strong contender, but the competition is strong.
The case for the most recent winners could be the most tragic yet, as Wings Gaming, an up-and-coming Chinese team, went against all odds to be accepted by the Chinese esports community. They won TI6 and became fan favorites; however, a series of financial misfortunes out of the players’ control led to the team being scorned by the Association for Chinese Esports and, eventually, split up in May.
With the departure of Wings, this will be the first TI event without returning champions in some shape or form. Last year, Evil Geniuses came close to this, as they swapped its roster too much for Valve to invite them. The American team had to work their way up the Open Qualifiers to attend the main event.
So while some have theorized in the past that the TI Curse is that of money alone, the fallout of Wings Gaming’s financial situation proves that it’s not that these rosters aren’t trying. The forces of competitive Dota 2 are strong and mysterious, and the working world of esports is rough. Yet, fans keep faith for their past favorites, while new teams’ followers apprehensively anticipate what may come with the Aegis of Champions.
[NOTE: Corrected Aui_2000’s progression of teams.]