There are few constants in Dota 2, a game that has played host to significant changes to its core concepts and to its ever-evolving population of professional players, but there is one that has held true for nearly a decade - there has never been a repeat champion at The International, but that might finally change. The International is the biggest annual tournament in the Dota 2 scene, and has produced epic finals matches that have made instant millionaires out of the victorious team for years now.
As the years progress and The International enters its ninth iteration, there are naturally increased odds that fans might finally see a repeat winner, something that would instantly turn one of the world's greatest talents into a legend of their craft. At the beginning of the tournament, there were several players in contention to repeat, including multiple roster members on Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid, and OG - not to mention Team Secret's captain, Puppey, coming into the event as part of a team that was arguably the 2018-2019 season's most dominant squad. With so many talented teams vying for the championship, though, even teams with the pedigrees of the ones mentioned earlier could still find themselves eliminated shockingly early, like many former TI champions have been before them. Winning the Aegis is one thing, but getting back to hoist it a second time is apparently much more difficult.
This year, though, fans in Shanghai may get to witness history live as the first repeat International champion is crowned. With only five teams left, a whopping three squads still have a chance to make at least one player a two-time International winner. A scintillating lower bracket performance from Team Liquid that began in the terrifying Bo1 elimination rounds has now seen the team go 7-0 since their rocky group stage, most recently eliminating an in-form Evil Geniuses squad with relative ease. Liquid have 4 former champions, all from the team's TI7 winning 2017 squad.
Team Secret, unlike Liquid, have been playing incredible Dota 2 consistently all year, and continued with a strong group stage that made them look like one of the teams to beat. A surprise loss to Evil Geniuses immediately brought the team back down to earth (and into the loser's bracket), but since then, Secret has put together a scrappy run to find themselves in a match with a scary-looking Vici Gaming squad. Secret only has one former champion in Puppey, but that doesn't make them any less intimidating.
Finally, OG represents what appears to be the best chance anyone has of producing a repeat International winner. The team won last year's TI8 with an incredible underdog run throughout the tournament, and despite middling results in the year that has passed since, the squad entered TI9 with exactly the same roster. The result has been nothing short of magical once more, as OG topped their group and overran Newbee in the winner's bracket before taking down Evil Geniuses to make the winner's final. Guaranteed at least a third place finish but hungry for more, OG has been playing Dota 2 on a level the team apparently reserves only for Internationals, and they've looked unbeatable at times - and even their moments of weakness seem to be bailed out by the fact their roster is filled with playmakers who can turn games around on their own. Naturally, if OG manage to do the unthinkable and win TI9, they'll also become the first-ever back-to-back champions, and the first ever team to win twice, too.
For a tournament series with over $30 million in prizes - outstripping the Fortnite World Cup's gaudy record-setting figures already - the story most fans are concerned with has nothing to do with money. Dota 2 is remarkable for the game's ability to produce superstars who have staying power, and even with those constant presences, there has never been a two-time winner of the game's most iconic tournament. Now, with only two days left to play, there's never been a better chance to have that long streak finally come to an end. Will someone finally do it, or will PSG.LGD, a monster team that has yet to drop a game in the upper bracket, or the rock-solid Vici Gaming, have something to say about it? Without exaggeration, it seems fair to say that nearly the entire Dota 2 community will be watching to find out.