Three-time Major champions Gaimin Gladiators are looking like their dominant selves once again as they qualified for The International (TI) 2023's Main Event after scoring back-to-back sweeps over South America's Evil Geniuses (EG) and Eastern Europe's 9Pandas in the lower bracket of the Road to The International Playoffs on Sunday (22 October).
Gaimin Gladiators were widely considered as one of the biggest favourites to claim the Aegis of Champions this year after their undefeated romp through the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit season.
However, the three-time Major champions had a shaky start to their TI 2023 campaign in the Road to The International Group Stage.
In the first phase of the Group Stage, Gaimin Gladiators were swept by Chinese powerhouse LGD Gaming and were forced to a 1-1 draw by North America's Nouns Esports. Even so, the three-time Major champions qualified for the Group Stage's second phase as the second seed of Group C with a 5-3 record.
Gaimin Gladiators were then defeated by Southeast Asia's Talon Esports in the second phase, forcing them to a lower bracket start in the Road to The International Playoffs. This loss stung even more for Gaimin Gladiators when considering Talon previously dealt them their first tournament loss of the season in July's Riyadh Masters 2023.
The odds were stacked against Gaimin Gladiators heading into the Playoffs, as no team has ever won TI after starting in the lower bracket. With that said, the three-time Major champions are off to a good start if they wish to defy history and claim the Aegis of Champions.
Gaimin Gladiators' opening match of the Playoffs pit them against a struggling EG squad in the first round of the lower bracket.
Game one saw the three-time Major champions get off to a flying start behind Anton "dyrachyo" Shkredov's Weaver and Marcus "Ace" Hoelgaard's Bristleback. Meanwhile, EG were forced to play keep-away to buy time for Crhistian "Pakazs" Savina's carry Dark Willow.
But while Gaimin Gladiators dominated the map and topped the net worth charts, their attempts to break into EG's base were repelled Jean "Chris Luck" Salazar's mid Earthshaker and Adrián "Wisper" Dobles' Dawnbreaker. With EG successfully stalling into the late game, Pakazs' Dark Willow started to dish out overwhelming damage and made any game-ending pushes for Gaimin Gladiators much more difficult.
But despite EG's best efforts to defend, Gaimin Gladiators finally broke through after a 69-minute slugfest to take their first win of the series.
Dyrachyo paced Gaimin Gladiators' 35-32 kill lead with 13 kills and six assists against nine deaths while Ace added 10 kills and 13 assists on six deaths.
Game two saw the three-time Major champions look to finish off EG with a hyper-sustain lineup anchored by Quinn "Quinn" Callahan's mid Necrophos and Ace's offlane Dazzle. Meanwhile, dyrachyo on Faceless Void provided the damage.
With all the healing from Gaimin Gladiators' lineup, Pakazs' Phantom Assassin did not have enough damage to win the fights for EG — even with big teamfight ultimates from Chris Luck's mid Magnus and Wisper's Tidehunter.
Despite EG's best efforts to mount a comeback, the three-time Major champions cruised to the 2-0 series sweep after 42 minutes of action.
Quinn notably stuffed the stat sheet in the closeout game over EG with 17 kills and 11 assists on two deaths out of Gaimin Gladiator's 33-13 kill lead.
Gaimin Gladiators could not rest on their laurels after their victory over EG as they still had to face 9Pandas at the end of the day. The three-time Major champions didn't seem fatigued from their previous match at all, as they stomped their Eastern European opponents in one of the most one-sided series of the tournament.
Game one was the fastest game of TI 2023 so far as Gaimin Gladiators punished a greedy 9Pandas draft and got their first win of the series in just 19 minutes of action.
Gaimin Gladiators' support duo of Erik "tOfu" Engel on a support Muerta and Melchior "Seleri" Hillenkamp on Chen were the difference-makers in this game, shutting down 9Pandas all across the map to give their core players free reign to wreak havoc.
Dyrachyo on Chaos Knight put up six kills and five assist on two deaths to pace his team's 20-5 kill lead in game one. Quinn on Kunkka also had a clean four kills and seven assists while Seleri notched a spotless three-kill, 10-assist line.
9Pandas put up a better fight in game two, but they only managed to draw things out to 32 minutes before ultimately conceding the 2-0 series sweep.
Gaimin Gladiators once again punished a greedy draft from their opponents with a high-tempo tri-core of Terrorblade for dyrachyo, Primal Beast for Quinn, and Bristleback for Ace. Meanwhile, tOfu on Muerta once again and Seleri on Phoenix brought damage and crowd control from the backlines.
While 9Pandas were able to score some early kills on Ace, they could not stop Gaimin Gladiators from stomping the rest of the lanes and starting their snowball. Despite the Eastern European squad's best efforts to stay in the series, they could only slow down an inevitable Gaimin Gladiators victory.
Quinn paced his team's 29-14 kill lead with a clean five kills and 21 assists while Ace had a game-high eight kills and nine assists despite six deaths.
With their victories over EG and 9Pandas, Gaimin Gladiators have guaranteed themselves a spot at TI 2023's Main Event and at least a Top 8 finish as well as US$76,000 in winnings. The three-time Major champions will next face North America's Nouns Esports in the third round of the lower bracket.
Even after their rough start to TI 2023, Gaimin Gladiators' hopes of completing the 'perfect' season with three Major wins and a TI championship are still alive.
Meanwhile, EG exit the tournament in 13th-16th place with US$46,000 in consolation while 9Pandas bow out in 9th-12th place with US$61,000 for their efforts.
The Road to The International Playoffs will take place from 20 to 22 October in the Seattle Convention Center's Summit. It will feature the 16 teams that made it out of the Group Stage fighting to be among the eight teams making it to The International Main Event.
The International Main Event will be hosted in the Climate Pledge Arena from 27 to 29 October, where this year's Dota 2 world champion will be crowned in the Grand Finals on 29 October.
For everything you need to know about TI 2023, check here.