In one of the most surprising upset finales in esports, Dota 2 has a new champion at its 2016 International Championships, or TI6: Wings Gaming. Their prize: $9.1 million, from an over-all prize pool valued at more than $20 million, the biggest in esports history.
Chinese team Wings beat North American team DC three games to one. DC took the first game after breaking Wings’ map control, though Wings quickly fired back in game two, capitalizing on bad positioning and decision-making in game two by DC. Game three saw DC on their heels almost immediately, with a decisive Wings victory appearing an almost inevitability. In game four, Wings pushed past DC’s inspired Timbersaw play to secure their multimillion dollar bounty, winning the best of five.
As runner-up, DC will leave with $3.4 million.
The grand final was perhaps the greatest surprise in a tournament notable for its unpredictability and upsets.
As the group stages of TI6 began last week, casters and fans alike pegged European teams OG and Liquid as clear favorites. OG won both the Frankfurt and Manila tournaments, and Liquid earned second place at Shanghai and Manila. Other potential favorites included Ukrainian team Na’vi, who handily won the most recent major tournament prior to TI6, Starladder.
But prediction brackets were quickly set on fire as the main event began. Na’vi were eliminated in a best of one lower bracket match against Liquid after dismal group stage showings from both teams. And after being beaten in a stunning upset by Korean team MVP in the upper bracket in a 2-1 match, OG were eliminated in the lower bracket by upstart Filipino team TNC. It quickly became clear that all bets were off.
In six days of back and forth turmoil, however, few would have predicted Wings and DC would be the last teams standing.
Digital Chaos is a team less than a year old, founded just after the conclusion of 2015’s International. Founded by Shannon "Sunsfan" Scotten, the owner of Dota 2 community site DotaCinema and a well-known personality within the Dota 2 casting scene, DC struggled to make a name for itself in the competitive circuit. The team had difficulty finding a consistent lineup for the remainder of 2015.
Scotten and DC’s troubles would continue into this year. Less than five months ago, DC was a name without a team, as the roster drama of North American team Evil Geniuses and European squad Team Secret robbed DC of key players just prior to official cutoff times for both Valve’s officially sanctioned Manila Major tournament and the 2016 International. Secret’s poaching of two members of Evil Geniuses roster, as well as hiring away DC player Theban "1437" Seba as Secret’s coach. This left DC with just one remaining player, Ukrainian carry player Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok. At the time, a seemingly despondent Scotten indicated via his Twitter account that DC was "dead."
Scotten managed to find a new roster built around Fominok, consisting of carry Aliwi "w33" Omar, offlane David "Moo" Hull, and support players Rasmus "MiSeRy" Filipsen and Martin "Saksa" Sazdov. The new squad had difficulty finding their footing, placing poorly in major tournaments. DC was, however, considered to be an easy "in" for TI6 due to the perception of the North American region’s lack of talent in comparison to the rest of the world.
This was complicated in part by Evil Geniuses roster challenges, which disqualified them from a direct invite to TI6 which they’d otherwise qualify for. The TI5 champions were then forced to play through open North American qualifiers and then the North American regional finals. This made DC’s path to TI6 more difficult than it might otherwise be, though DC overcame regional rivals Complexity to earn a place at TI6’s group stage.
Meanwhile, Wings was founded in the aftermath of the near-constant post-International "shuffle" after 2014’s championship in Seattle as multiple Chinese teams retooled their lineups. Wings had their own roster challenges initially, though they have since found more stability than many of their peers. Differing from the norm of constant roster swaps, Wings core team has been the same for almost a year, consisting of carry player Chu "Shadow" Zeyu, mid Zhou "bLink" Yang, Zhang "Faith_bian" Ruida, and supports Li "IceIce" Peng and team captain Zhang "Innocence" Yiping.
However, this didn’t help Wings effort to make a name for themselves competitively. The team finished at the bottom of the 2015 Dota Asia Championships, their first large tournament, and failed to show much life in subsequent competitions until a first place finish at ESL One Manila in April of 2016. This accomplishment was mitigated by visa issues and scheduling that prevented many top name teams from attending, and even a surprising win at this summer’s Beyond The Summit LAN failed to convince many that Wings were capable of making the main stage of TI6. Wings’ entrance to TI6 was also attributed in part to an off year for Chinese teams, many of whom struggled despite strong performances from organizations like Newbee.
Wings looked shaky for the group stage of TI6, dropping a number of games to better-looking western and Southeast Asian teams. But Wings managed to make to the upper bracket on the main stage of TI6, where they delivered a convincing win over DC despite a loss attributable to a bizarre game two draft that seemed almost antagonizing towards the North American team. Wings next sent Korean fan-favorites MVP straight to the lower bracket, securing a spot in the upper bracket final against reigning TI champions Evil Geniuses, who they also quickly sent to the lower bracket in straight sets.
There, DC capitalized on an unsteady Evil Geniuses to knock the defending champions out of the tournament in a vicious 2-1 set that, ultimately, came down to a last minute "base-race." Evil Geniuses becomes the latest TI champion unable to secure a second International title, a feat no team has managed yet. The team is now tied with Na’Vi for most top three finishes at TI in the tournament’s history, and as observed by Dota 2 personality and Complexity coach Alan "Nahaz" Bester, have placed in the top three in six of the last seven $3 million tournaments. Their third place berth earns them a $2.1 million prize.
The 2016 International Dota 2 Championships prize pool began with a $1.5 million seed from Valve, with additional contributions raised through sales of the 2016 Dota 2 Battle Pass.