Professional Dota history is filled with memorable matches, but in summer 2013, one in particular was left etched in the minds of the Dota 2 community. The International 3, the biggest Dota 2 event of its time was then won by the full Swedish roster of Alliance, hailed as Dota 2’s new crown champions. The classic Na’vi-Alliance grand final converted the Dota community for times to come. It was the culmination of a journey that had spanned the most part of their life but after the apex, both an unexpected downfall and the premise of a new rise followed suit.
Alliance once earned its legendary status and now looks like it may be on its way to regain it, and this return is well worth examining. To get a better understanding of how they turned things around, let us start by looking at how they sunk in the first place.
After TI3, the 6.79 patch arrived was then renowned for its direct nerf at Alliance’s play style. The champions had been marked: they were the team to beat. From TI3 until the first Summit, Dota 2 featured its own El Clasico with The Na’vi-Alliance matchup at the grand finals of most prestigious tournaments. It was an exciting time for teams and fans, but it was Na’Vi who took the better share of the trophies while Alliance slowly started to fade out of the picture. In the meantime, EG and China ascended and with this new power shift, Alliance was no more the main concern of professional teams.
This was an era that saw cheers and chants mounting on every forum, every chat of every stream: “Alliance are back, Alliance are back.” Fans hyped all matches, as optimistic as ever that Alliance could win it back over, but the struggle was real and there seemed no way around it. The community blamed everyone and everything, from Loda who was called greedy and unable to carry, to Bulldog for lacking a diverse hero pool. Alliance is not your typical eSport team, you either loved them or hated them, but you could not do at all without acknowledging them.
With their Dream League and ESL Frankfurt performances rose new hope. At ESL, Alliance took on Cloud9 on their first match, pulling out an old yet elevated strategy with Wisp, Nature Prophet and a strength carry. The second game of the series demonstrated a classic Alliance tactic, with Bulldog’s innovative take on Nature Prophet going blink dagger and maelstrom to ultimate rat and split push, which opened them the doors to a series win. All you could hear was “Alliance are back,” but success was short-lived and Alliance got beaten the next day.
At TI4, the reigning champions entered the competition in a state of doubt. With the added pressure of performing a poor start in group stages, Alliance tried to go back to basics but this was too late. Showing off their new strategy at ESL ended up costing them heavily as they got first ban NP an Wisp at almost every game. Honors were crushed and names shattered. Eliminated in group stages, Alliance stepped into hell.
Alliance reacts to their loss to EG and their elimination from The International. A well fought game.
— DOTA 2 (@DOTA2) July 12, 2014
Loda, AdmiralBulldog and Akke tried to reform what was left of Alliance but their Captain S4 and so-called chosen one EGM had had enough with the past year’s bitter ending. Both players left the team to pursue their ambitions somewhere else, whilst the community was left divided over whether Alliance could ever get back in form. With the addition of Misery and Chessie, a Dota veteran and a newcomer, Alliance slowly started showing some signs of recovery and performed well in the WCA but with an unfortunate back injury to Chessie, the team was taken back to square one. In fact, that injury was the moment when things truly began to collapse as Alliance were forced to use stand-in until Chessie’s medical state got cleared. Despite an early exit at another ESL, this time in NYC, Alliance had an amazing three-game series versus Evil Geniuses. Loda played like a true captain and tried to carry Alliance to victory but, unable to do it by himself, [A] fell short once again.
For everyones info… We havent kicked anyone. @AdmiralBulldog is having a break, waiting for an update about Chessie. Hedoesntwantstandin
— Jonathan Berg (@LodaBerg) November 15, 2014
At Dream League, Alliance played with three stand-ins as things got worse day after day. It just wasn’t happening, the magic was gone and the kind of performances that made up the team’s DNA, what the fans loved about their play and their dominant presence, had dissolved. All thought their glory and career had come to an end, but things were about to get even worse. On the occasion of another roster change, Alliance tried to fill their drafter and shot caller role with a French man, 7uckingMad in addition to welcoming Pajkatt and Niqua among them. Fans hoped that after a year of humiliation, the team would turn a corner and try to qualify for DAC. Although their performance had improved, they fell short once more at the hands of an old foe, Na’vi. Post DAC was a disaster on another level that led to Loda giving up on his team and career in a tweet.
Nothing to say… I give up. — Jonathan Berg (@LodaBerg) February 9, 2015
It was not the drafts that had stung the veteran, it was the poverty of Alliance’s performance. For a while, they believed the players, patches and unfortunate injuries were to blame but eventually, the recognition that their style and lack of adaptability to new meta — as they failed to adapt to not just one meta, but four different patches without updating their approach — were the issue, dawned on them. By the time even some of the team’s hardcore fans were ready to give up on them, slowly and steadily, Alliance regained momentum by showing signs of improvements such as greater coordination and synergy. Yet the team still was unable to pull off a top three placement. Replacing Niqua with Bulldog just after Starladder came as a huge surprise as Niqua played fairly well during his time in the offlane. Bulldog left the team to concentrate on his streaming when his team needed him the most; his focus, drive and hard work were unquestionable but his energy appeared to be misdirected. This sudden replacement was considered by many as a bold move, which is probably the cause of their exclusion from a direct invite to TI5. As qualifiers began, Alliance were favourites but a mediocre performance and the inability to get a clean 2-0 win over their opponents put them in a very fragile place. They needed to win the series versus Power Rangers but the unimaginable happened when Alliance tasted its own medicine and completely lost their way with a surprise level 1 Roshan strategy. Elimination from TI5 qualifiers was a nail on the coffin for fans and the roster.
Post TI5 brought an old friend back to its family as S4 returned to Alliance after a fairly successful year with Team Secret. Having failed to meet expectations at TI5, S4 turned back to Alliance who needed him as much he needed them. This time they were all motivated and the pressure was off as expectations were at their lowest. A full Swedish roster, back again, whose goal was to rekindle Alliance’s magic. Things did not start as well as fans hoped for and they did not qualify for any LAN event but adjusted, practised and prepared for the first Major, the big testing point for Alliance and their fans.
This time they learnt from their mistakes and started strong by managing to bypass the group stage but were slayed by their own countrymen NIP in a surprise 0-2 series. There were not many chances left but by going back to their roots and bringing back the infamous Alliance rat strategy, Alliance ultimately overcame the odds and took Team Liquid down the Alliance way. The final series was another matchup with NIP and this time Alliance did not drop the ball, but did not win comfortably either, as they fought their way against mega creeps and won the game with an over 40k networth deficit. The moment fans had been waiting for for two years arrived and with it, the right time to say: “Alliance Are Back,” the end of their journey through hell.
Dota and its community perhaps need Alliance more than any other professional Dota 2 team. Regardless of how you feel about them, they are an indelible part of Dota 2 whose presence in top tournaments brings unparalleled levels of excitement. Everyone of their players is related to iconic moments of Dota 2 history, from S4 and his million dollar coil to Admiral Bulldog’s Furion plays. There are not so many brands in Dota 2 whose fans are as loyal as Alliance’s and after such a hellacious journey, even those who do not support this influential Dota 2 team will welcome seeing Alliance recover to give their fans another moment of glory? Without being an Alliance fanboy, Dota 2 followers can only rejoice at their come back, so Long Live Alliance.