The introduction of the Winter Invitational in the Spring added value to victory in the Fall. The addition of a lower bracket to the playoffs has fostered comradery and competition among the competitors. The dark horse domination of University of Illinois at Chicago has earned them a spot on LAN to compete for the grand championship in Atlantic City.
The current champion Rochester Institute of Technology was confirmed mortal when State University of New York - Stony Brook struck them down in the grand finals of the Winter Invitational. On their way to reuniting in the upper bracket finals, SBU and RIT defeated every team they faced without losing a game.
Winning their Spring group, UIC earned a spot in the playoffs but seemingly not the attention of other competing schools. UIC intercepted SBU and did not waver in their victory, booting SBU to the lower bracket and maintaining their momentum to the upper bracket finals.
UIC, RIT and SBU have been invited to LAN. UIC earned their spot on LAN as underdogs, but no team enters the LAN as an underdog. UIC will not benefit from being underestimated, especially if SBU has a chance to battle them for vengeance.
Prior to their match against SBU, we contacted UIC to hear their thoughts about the playoffs, facing SBU and what it would mean to them to compete live for a chance at the championship.
Michael “Gocolts12” Lederer is the coordinator, coach, active community member and “babysitter” of the LAN finalist team. Like most teams, he hoped to do well, but was not sure UIC had what it takes to make it to LAN:
[G]oing into the season, we had aspirations to be a top team, but didn’t really know what it would take to get there. As the playoffs began, it took us a few games to really come into our own and we developed some real, founded confidence. Once we beat the University of Toronto, who are a superb team, it really cemented into our minds that we could stand up there with the best.
Lederer does not see UIC’s third-place standing in their Fall group as a weakness, instead, he believes that “being the underdog really motivates [the team].” The motivation of the UIC underdogs fueled their growth as a team. UIC’s Devin “Deboi” Distefano, the “team vagrant,” told us about the importance of growing and working as a team:
The thing you don’t realize when starting out is that becoming a winning team involves growing. We have been committed to growing as a team throughout the season by sharing our thoughts about the game and scrimming constantly. So far, this dedication has produced good results, and I believe it will continue to.
We asked Distefano if he thinks UIC will be able to maintain their success until they are the Grand Champions, and his bolstered confidence became rightfully apparent:
Yeah of course. We are all are feeling comfortable about our draft, play, and communication. With 5 players and a coach that is taking this seriously and enjoying dota, we absolutely can become grand champions.
Prior to their victory against SBU, UIC planned to treat every match as though their opposition “were the best team in the league.” Lederer and the team assumed that “either Michigan or SBU would be the gatekeepers to the LAN, so from that point, [they] tried to develop habits in [their] preparation every week that would prepare [them] for an incredible team.” UIC followed through and defeated every opponent they faced without losing a game.
RIT and SBU played on LAN last year. This will be UIC’s first appearance on LAN, and therefore will be the first time the players face the challenges of playing live. Lederer has confirmed that playing on LAN will not change a thing about how the team will perform. The players are “going to be [themselves]. That means [they are] going to be silly, but when push comes to shove, [they will] buckle down and get serious to take home the gold.”
UIC has proven their worth against SBU, but has not officially played RIT, yet. Michael “Pk” Pekala, the team captain joined Lederer on RIT:
Pkala: RIT is definitely a top contender to take the championship this year…[W]e'll make sure to deliver our best performance that doesn't often come out in our practices. We'll be ready.
lederer: We respect RIT a lot, and we think it would be a great match if we’re fortunate enough to play them in the winners final.