Natus Vincere. Virtus.pro. These are the names that immediately come to mind when you think of CIS Dota. These two brands have been around for a long time in the Dota scene and have both had their fair shares of ups and downs. With both teams recently claiming first-place prizes in European/CIS tournaments, they both look to be in great shape heading into the DPC season later this month.
However, these rosters look dramatically different than they have from recent years. Whether you’re new to the professional scene or a long-time Dota fan, it’s important to understand the legacy of these two brands and the weight riding on the current rosters.
The early years
Na’Vi was one of the earliest Dota titans. The original roster, made up most notably of Danil “Dendi” Ishutin and Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, were the first team to win The International. Dendi was even featured in a Valve-made documentary titled “Free to Play,” which highlighted his journey to victory. Na’Vi continued to appear at The International. They fell just short of defending their title at TI2 against Invictus Gaming in the grand finals, though one of the greatest Dota team fights took place during game one.
The squad acquired Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi and found themselves in a similar situation at TI3. Na’Vi failed to reclaim their title as they fell 2:3 to Alliance in perhaps one of the most intense series in Dota history. An extremely dominant team during this time period, Na’Vi was a fearsome competitor.
Change and decline
Though Na’Vi had immense success initially, all great things must come to an end at some point. The team placed a respectable top eight at TI4 but did not match their previous placements. Puppey and KuroKy left to form their own team, Team Secret, and Na’Vi fell into a long, winless drought. Many roster changes occurred during this time, but Dendi always remained at the core. The team finished last at TI5 and did not win a tournament until July 2016 when they defeated Puppey’s Team Secret in StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2. This was Na’Vi’s first win in 20 months. The joke “Na’Vi is back” was born, where any time Na’Vi did something remotely well, fans spam this phrase over and over. The victory earned Na'Vi an invite to TI6, which they exited in last place. They failed to make it to TI7 and TI8. On September 1, 2018, Dendi, the last remaining member of the TI1-winning roster, was released from the roster.
Heading into the DPC season, fans may be able to say confidently that Na’Vi is back.
Though they entered the Dota 2 scene in 2012, Virtus.pro wasn’t able to accomplish much aside from a top-six finish at TI5. However, in the fall of 2016, VP announced a new squad consisting of Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev, Vladimir "None" Minenko, Pavel "9pasha" Khvastunov, Ilya "Lil" Ilyukl, and Alexey "Solo" Berezin. The squad gained notoriety after placing second at the Kyiv Major in a close five-game series against OG (check out Valve’s True Sight if you haven’t). Another remarkable feat by this squad took place at DOTA Summit 7. Responding to critics who suggested they had limited hero pools, the team won DOTA Summit 7 while picking 81 unique heroes, making it all the way to the grand finals before drafting the same hero twice.
VP at full power
In February of 2018, Na’Vi and VP swapped their position 4 players; RodjER joined VP, and Lil joined Na’Vi. With the new addition of RodjER, VP was unstoppable for a long time. This is the roster that people remember when they hear the name Virtus.pro.
It seemed that in almost every tournament, VP made their way into the grand finals. They were victorious at ESL One Katowice and Birmingham, the Bucharest Major, DOTA Summit 8, and the Kuala Lumpur Major. They had grand final appearances at the China Supermajor, Chongqing Major, and Dreamleague Season 11. This squad was the heart of the CIS region.
The TI curse
Despite these remarkable achievements, VP never quite had success at TI. At TI7 and TI8, the team netted top-six finishes, never meeting their expectations. No matter how well they performed during the season, they always fell short at TI. The roster continued to play together through TI9, where they unexpectedly exited in 9th-12th after losing to Royal Never Give Up. RAMZES666, 9pasha, and RodjER departed the team following this loss, and the legacy of the roster had come to an end. After some dramatic roster changes, the 2020 DPC season proved to be difficult for VP. They were unable to qualify for the first major of the season and finished last at the second. In 2020’s many online tournaments, VP had many mediocre placements and couldn’t stand with the rest of the EU/CIS teams. It seemed that the brand’s fire was extinguished.
Formed in April of 2020, VP.Prodigy was a secondary roster featuring several up and coming CIS players. The roster surprised everyone with their placements, gaining two second- and one third-place finish in the EU/CIS online tournaments, all of which they lost to Team Secret, who won seven tournaments in a row.
Seeing the potential in these young players, VP promoted the youth squad and released the main squad. This decision brought immediate success to the organization. This new VP dominantly won their first tournament at EPIC League. They placed first in the group stage and took out Team Secret, Vikin.gg, and OG in the playoffs.
Captained by position four player Vitalie "Save-" Melnic, the team features explosive carry player Egor "Nightfall" Grigorenko, previously known as epileptick1d, ex-Gambit mid and lane dominator Danil "gpk" Skutin, possibly the best offlaner in CIS Dmitry "DM" Dorokhin, and previous Na’Vi support Illias "Kingslayer" Ganeev, formerly known as illias, who the other four players were so confident in that they covered half of Kingslayer’s transfer cost. Though this isn’t the VP that the world fell in love with for years, this squad is definitely a serious contender for titles.
What does the future hold for these CIS giants?
Though rosters change time and time again, it’s important to recognize the legacy of Virtus.pro and Natus Vincere. The renewal of these once strong CIS giants in the 2021 DPC season will spark energy into fans who can proudly fly their team’s colors, whether it's been a short time for Virtus.pro fans or many years for Na’Vi fans. CIS Dota has some strong competitors this year, and viewers should absolutely tune into these matches.