Ancients have fallen and reputations have started to build as Dota 2 teams across North America represent their schools online in a collegiate conquest towards the LAN finals. The allure of CSL’s $50,000 prize pool has enticed both new and returning collegiate combatants.
Every competitor will face challenges as a player, but only the best will overcome them as a team. I convinced the most prominent teams to sheath their keyboards and talk with me about what it takes to develop a championship CSL team.
Veterans of the main stage and winners of the 2018 Winter Invitational, Stony Brook University (2-0) has returned with an unchanged roster and boasts an untarnished record. SBU’s captain, Nikita “Shoe” Zagrebin, competes with some of the most talented players in North America. Zagrebin uses his experience playing with professionals to lead SBU to LAN each season:
"I have a lot of experience with drafting and [play] calling. I also generally understand how the game has to be played and what [the objectives are that] we need to take to achieve victory. That just comes from a lot of teams I have been on, plus I play a lot of games against pro teams."
Inside and outside of Dota, player development is a catalyst for success. SBU can consistently compete with the best teams because of their combined player and team development. In the hopes for more competition to crush this season, Zagrebin offered advice to aspiring players:
"Take it easy, don’t expect to be like the best team ever right away. There are always losses and wins. Work on good drafts with the team and [communicate], that’s what makes a huge difference when the teams' skills are close."
Every competitor will be required to develop with their team, and the most successful teams will demonstrate their growth on the main stage. SBU is competing with the same roster that attended LAN last season. SBU’s past and continued development is observable in their flawless score so far and their victory against Rutgers University (1-1) last week.
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s (1-0) Winner’s Bracket Grand Finals appearance was achieved with a predominantly new roster after failing to qualify for the Winter Invitational last season. Veteran and coach of UIC, Michael “Gocolts” Lederer, told me that UIC has what they need to leave the Grand Finals as champions this season:
"Confidence. Our attitude going into the season is that we know what it takes to get to that stage, and we know we have it… we've all got more experience and know what we're doing… Having been as close as we were to that pedestal only makes us hungrier to take that final step and achieve the ultimate goal."
Lederer joined UIC on the main stage, but not on the battlefield. As coach, he protects his Ancient by ensuring his team is developing and preparing outside of Dota. Lederer is ready for the unique challenges that UIC will face as they develop this season:
"Patience is essential. Trying to get five (usually) completely different people to come together as a cohesive unit has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. But when you see those glimpses of success manifest in-game, it feels even more satisfying than winning the game yourself… I love to see the growth of players over time. Just spending time together as a team… Listening to how the players have come together and communicated coming from being absolute strangers is so fulfilling for me."
A testament to teamwork, UIC cultivated greatness out of struggle and demonstrated the potential of team development. Last season, UIC entered the CSL unnoticed. This season, they enter as top contenders for the Grand Championship.
The Rochester Institute of Technology (1-0) is the most dominant team in the CSL. Back-to-back championships and their nearly flawless record across two seasons have earned RIT the attention of every team in the StarLeague. After major roster changes, three new faces have been illuminated by the RIT’s spotlight.
Offlaner Benjamin “Zanthous” Morgan admits that the team “will definitely have to improve throughout the season more than previous seasons to win.”
Like all teams, RIT will grow throughout the season, but RIT will experience unique circumstances because of their prestigious reputation:
"For the remaining members, it adds confidence. We realize that no matter how many high-ranking players a team has, they can still be outplayed by executing good strategies correctly. For the new guys, they may have completely different feelings and I am not sure how they feel. We haven’t had our first match yet so we think that once that happens we will have a better idea of everyone’s mindset."
Achieving success demands team development. Developing a team requires players to grow from the obstacles they face together. Morgan has faced obstacles with RIT in the past and is confident in his ability to handle them in the future:
"It is important to find someone on your team who you can trust to have the final say for strategy. Dota is a very complex game and there is no one correct way to play it…Working as a team that can get over disagreements smoothly will let you improve much faster since you can focus on your team play inside of the game more…When you hit obstacles you need someone you can trust to make a good decision in that situation."
The challenges of developing a new roster could be refreshing for RIT, considering no team has offered them a challenge in the last two seasons.
SBU’s unchanged roster has established a solid foundation for their championship run. UIC inteneds to maintain the disciplined development that earned them a spot on LAN last season. Regardless of roster, RIT earned their reputation by dismantling the development of the opposition every season.