The Irresistible Force of Team Secret
Team Secret has won another online tournament for the eighth time in a row. What are they doing to create such success?
It happened again. Team Secret has won another online tournament for the eighth time in a row. They don't just win — the “3-0 Grand Finals” meme has become a nightmare for Virtus.pro Prodigy — they leave no chance for anyone over the course of the tournament. It has now been three months since their last defeat: Team Liquid managed to overcome them on June 26th.
All reasons are very closely related, take one of them away and everything will break down and stop working. Let’s try to figure out how it works.
Preparations, self-control, balance
First of all, Team Secret are inventors. The current meta with picking carries in the early stages of picks/bans originated exactly from TS back in the distant years: Puppey periodically decided to pick pos1 and pos2, afterward closing down the opponent's heroes with situational supports. It worked, but it was rare. Then, the legendary pos4 Sniper, pos5 Weaver, pos3 Silencer, and so on. A huge pool of heroes, the ability to dynamically switch lanes, and exceptional playing skills from all the five players make the team almost invincible. Almost.
Heroes who haven't been picked among pro teams since 7.23:
Team Secret benefits from the fact that they practically do not change their roster. They got MATUMBAMAN because he fits great and revealed his potential. Clever play decisions, commitment to achieving goals, and knowing when to back down make them an unstoppable force. They do not allow themselves to make mistakes, while at the same time forcing the enemy to make mistakes.
The mentality of pubs and low-level teams is about giving farm to one or two characters, while the supports have to adapt and “have fun.” But a clever money distribution on pos4&5 in order to make a huge impact in the early timings has a huge and very underestimated value for core’s farming in the mid-game. Of course, support farming is different, but the general manner of their play is admirable.
Let’s take a look at Team Secret’s supports. First, YapzOr. He dies very rarely, and all because he joins the teamfights progressively: Yap tries to stay out of fights until a certain moment, shows up, makes a certain amount of damage/control, moves away, and then comes back again. He rarely uses all his abilities at once, waiting for the perfect moment.
Yapzor's statistics relative to other pos4s:
The second support is Puppey. His Enchantress, for example, is a hero who wins at the beginning of the game, and with a little extra money, you can really hurt your opponents, create space, and at the same time strangle the enemy, freeing up your team's core. From here, we go to the next point.
Puppey’s supporting genius
There are only a few people comparable to Puppey in Dota. He's been on stage since 2007, and his trophy room is full (including one Aegis). Clement is self-improving, expanding his pool, and is not afraid to experiment. But he is also the captain, the drafter, and the tactician. Megamind. His map activity is unique.
He often pulls half-waves and sacrifices his early game so much that his carry is essentially the second most experienced hero on the team. This is where the power of the draft starts to play: due to his pick, he can catch up with the team in exp later, when his carry goes into the jungle. He does not die in the lane so that the exp does not go to the opponent. He farms in the enemy jungle at the laning stage, and he fights for the runes.
Sometimes it happens the other way around (it all depends on the chosen hero). Puppey steals some farm from the carry but ends up getting a fast pos5 Medallion. This is of great importance in the early stages, way better than if gold just deposits in the carry’s bank account, waiting to be spent on an expensive item. The ability to fight better early on pays off in gold for kills and places to farm.
Jenkins has made a video about Puppey’s cool pos5 tricks, definitely worth watching:
Brilliant, but with a caveat: Secret's cores are farming/laning at an incredibly high level. Thus, against stronger teams, they get ahead thanks to clever moves and rotations from Puppey, and against weaker teams, they leave the lane and give the farm to supports.
Learned from OpenAI
Team Secret's Best Trick: They value a more even distribution of networth.
OpenAI tore all opponents without a chance by very simple tactics: the computer did not divide the team into positions, evenly distributed the farm, always played as a five-side team, and snowballed. In Dota 2, farming gold is essential, and OpenAI’s heroes reach their early peaks quickly by different paths: one hero can farm in the jungle, and the other cannot, so why skip at least one creep running between lane and jungle to super-maximize one hero when you can give it to a teammate? As a result, you will have more gold if one person is on the lane, and the other completely farm the jungle, refreshes it in a minute, and then farm again than if one person just cleared the lane and 50% of the jungle. This increases team impact rather than personal impact.
Brilliant, but with a caveat: all Secret players are comfortable playing both farming and space-making/supporting. It often happens that Zai's networth is on average lower than any other top-tier pos3s, the same is for Nisha, who sometimes lags behind in numbers. While Puppey sometimes farms even more than YapzOr.
Since 7.23, there is no match for Team Secret.
They focus on gaining levels on the sideline cores, and it's not uncommon for supports to reach level 1 or 2 in the 4th or 5th minute. This allows cores to impact early, and supports can farm alone.
All this works because of the level of undeniably high Secret players’ skill and chemistry.
It is really difficult for Secret’s rivals to counter a hero in the draft because each of the characters picked can be underestimated, and while they think about one pick, other heroes will make their impact. This will not work with Secret’s signature heroes, because by banning Chen and Rubick for supports, you leave Morph to Nisha and Silencer to Zai. For example, against EG, you just close Rtz, and you're halfway done. Do this with Matu and Nisha, and then Zai, Yap, or Puppey will get signatures. Each Team Secret player has several of them, and you can't get all out. These players are unattainable on their favorites.
Everyone must forget the words CARRY / SUPPORT / GANKER, this is all rubbish. If you want to be useful, to win the game, you must play on all heroes, instead of crying like a baby when you have to play carry.
Brilliant, but with a caveat: they can and sometimes choose the most standard combo of heroes, with the usual gold distribution. And they win. The secret of their success is much wider than just farming, but it is certainly an important part.
Undoubtedly, Matu and Nisha are some of the best carries in the world, and the highlights of their best actions will last for several dozens of hours on YouTube. But speaking about Team Secret, you can't focus only on them, because it's all about the team.
Heen and analytics
In terms of preparations, it's worth mentioning that Secret likes to push lanes and split-push, especially in rare games when they are lagging behind. This is done almost always by a balanced pick of heroes, and that very alternating gold distribution allows Secret to divide the map into farming supports and cores. All this is a result of behind-the-scenes hard work that Heen does.
As a very experienced coach and an excellent analyst, Heen has won several biggest tournaments with Liquid, including TI, then led TNC to the top.
All Secret players who were ever asked about the coach’s role answered that there was no visible and definite result. However, these same people unanimously claimed that Heen and Puppey work together on drafts and tactics.
Of course, he motivated himself and now there is no getting away from it.
My only purpose in 2020 is to make sure the Finnish president knows who Lasse Urpalainen is.— Heen (@Heen1337) November 5, 2019
Interestingly, before joining TS, Heen himself said that "there are no invincible teams." Did he set himself up a challenge?
Team Secret is a well-functioning clockwork.
One can talk about specific games and tactics (like 4-1 with alternately farming Nisha or Matu; 5-0 with fast pressure and lane pushing; successful and unsuccessful experiments, etc.), but the main part of Team Secret's success still lies in a whole list of factors. They are pretty standard for any team in Dota, with the difference that TS raises every point to an absolute.
- Studying each patch thoroughly, looking for strong heroes and mechanics, identifying any possible weaknesses.
- Practice makes perfect; this is the only way good players become the best.
- Preparing for each opponent, working out possible picks and combos, having game-changing signatures.
- During the match, strategical flexibility and players' versatility.
But the little things Team Secret is working on allows them to become great. Each factor is closely related to each other: without a coach and an experienced general, they could not understand how the game works, draw conclusions about the importance of gold and experience; only the phenomenal playing skill of all the five team members and total mutual understanding allows them to correctly share farm and experience, redistribute roles right during the draft and depending on the circumstances on a particular map. Cut out at least one point and the impregnable fortress will collapse.
Team Secret's success story is also in the constant exploration of numbers, possibilities, and looking at the game from different angles. Players evolve along with the game, taking grains of valuable experience into the future. They fear no names, they don't care about their rival. During the OMEGA League, YapzOr did not know who they were playing against in the next playoff bracket match, because he didn’t need it — he was focused on grinding his own skill, dedicated to improving the team.
The above are the reasons why Team Secret can be considered the strongest and almost invincible team. Perhaps the fact that they now play like this is a consequence of a long and progressive work on the roster to participate in The International. It would be very interesting to see how they would have coped with the pressure (after all, they did not succeed in their last time at TI, to put it mildly), but we will not know this until at least the summer of 2021.