Johan “N0tail” Sundstein lifting the Aegis, Dota 2's biggest trophy, after overcoming a series of relentless matches few thought they could win.
Screenshot: Kotaku (Twitch)

Tournament underdogs OG won this year’s Dota 2 International after a tense five game series against higher ranked rivals LGD. Victory must have felt especially sweet for the team’s skipper, Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, the only player who has been on the team since its original formation three years ago.

OG has had diehard fans ever since it rose from the ashes of Monkey Business in late October of 2015. The roster was overflowing with high-profile talent at the time, including Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi, Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen, and Tal “Fly” Aizik. Despite some early, flashy success with first-place finishes at the 2015 Frankfurt Major and 2016 Manila Major, the team always choked when it came to the mainstage at The International, Valve’s annual multi-million dollar prize pool event. Most of the team’s talented players slowly broke away as a result, with players going on to find success elsewhere. Former OG player Miracle, one of the game’s greats, managed to finally win at last year’s International as part of Team Liquid.

For N0tail, however, the road has been long, difficult and far from certain. OG was ranked 14th in Pro Circuit points coming into the event, and few expected this to be the year that the team finally broke its curse and N0tail’s enduring commitment would get rewarded. After barely managing to squeak through the group stage, OG made a convincing run through the upper bracket that culminated in a grand finals rematch against LGD.

The series started out with OG and LGD trading games one and two. LGD came back to win again in the third match, and in a harrowing game four that lasted just over an hour, OG grazed the possibility of defeat several times. In the end, the mixed squad of youth and experience pulled through thanks to Anathan “ana” Pham, a former substitute for Invictus Gaming that OG signed just prior to open qualifiers for the event. His lone Phantom Lancer was too much for the whole of LGD, and by minute 66, he had locked up the competition and ushered OG onto a fifth and final game. In that last match, they managed to mount another shocking comeback from a double-digit kill deficit thanks to sheer boldness and outplaying their opponents in brief but key moments.

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“Just fucking go man, don’t be afraid,” N0tail told a fumbling Ana as he tried to open a champagne bottle after the game. The simple but inspiring call of the captain sounded like the same sentiment that must have propelled OG through every fight in the tournament.

TI8 was full of surprises, up and through the very last match, helping it live up to, and in some ways even surpass its $25,532,177 billing. While N0tail had been chasing this victory for years, one of the team’s most recent signings, Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen, had been playing professionally for barely a year. The International was the first stage he’d ever played a LAN on, showing that whatever problems ail professional Dota 2 structurally, the game’s competitive scene is anything but static.

The final day of the tournament is available to re-watch in full here.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Anathan “ana” Pham was previously on LGD.