IT'S NOW or never for Dota 2 teams around the world as their final chance to secure a slot at the International 2022 is about to begin.
The Arlington Major, which will be held in Texas, is now the last hope for TI hopefuls. Though this will be a do-or-die affair for most teams, it’s also become known for its unprecedented raft of stand-ins as major players and teams around the world were affected by visa issues.
China's Xtreme Gaming was forced to withdraw from the tournament, while the most renowned teams like two-time TI champs OG, Royal Never Give Up (RNG), and Fnatic were affected, forcing them to look for substitute players.
The Southeast Asian representatives, Fnatic, suffered the most casualties. Three key players — Marc “Raven” Fausto, Armel “Armel” Tabios, and Jaunuel “Jaunuel” Arcilla — were denied their visa applications.
Meanwhile, Anucha “Jabz” Jirawong, Djardel “DJ” Mampusti, and head coach Lee “SunBhie” Jeong-jae were exempted from the application process as they already had multiple entry and past tournament visas.
Sorting out their visa issues in Brunei
In an interview with Fnatic’s Team Director, Paolo Bago, it was revealed that the appointment schedule in the Philippines was already a massive headache.
“We started the whole process in April 2022 and back then we already found out that there were no appointment slots in the Philippines. The next appointment slot for the US Visa from the Philippines was at that time, December 2023. By now, it might be further pushed back," he told Spin.ph.
While they tried to contact travel agencies to fix the issue, the team realized that there was another alternative: Apply for a US visa outside the Philippines.
In a show of sportsmanship, Southeast Asian rival BOOM Esports pitched in to help with their visa problems. The two had already been talking during the ESL One Stockholm last May.
“We went to Sweden [and] we already talked to the rest of the SEA teams, particularly with BOOM. We were trying to find out where we can get visa appointments,” said the Fnatic team director. “We were sharing information with each other. We had found that the US embassy in the region that had appointments slots in the earliest possible time was Brunei.”
But it wasn’t easy as the team had to consider another important factor: the DPC season.
"The earliest possible time that we could get to Brunei was still in the middle of DPC. We still had league matches so we also had to make sure that we had accommodations, a proper play area, so we can both practice in the upcoming matches.”
Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed something off during their July 14 match against T1. Bago explained: “If you watch the T1 match, you could tell that there’s not a lot of people in the bootcamp with Jabz and DJ and you could tell that the background that Armel, Jau(nuel), and Raven was different from the ones DJ and Jabz had. so that’s why we had to go there."
So how did the Brunei application go?
“Once we got there, despite having the proper documentation and support from [tournament organizers] PGL, [Dota 2 developers]Valve, and the City of Arlington, we were denied, sadly," said Bago.
He immediately contacted PGL to tell them, "Hey, we were denied in Brunei. How’s everyone doing, where’s everyone applying?”
Off to Indonesia
They had one last chance to secure their visas, only this time, in Indonesia. BOOM Esports already booked a group appointment, but they needed 10 people to fill the slots. This led to an alliance between BOOM, Fnatic, and Talon Esports to get those visas stamped.
“Shortly after we flew back from Brunei, we were already on our way to Indonesia. We got into Indonesia, we coordinated with BOOM. Talon Esports also sent Q (Worawit Mekchai), because he was also denied in his visa application in Malaysia," recalled Bago.
“We didn’t plan to go to Indonesia but we had to move fast and thankfully we had the support from Fnatic HQ, and my manager and I worked day and night to make that happen." he said.
The three teams converged in Indonesia. But just like in Brunei, luck was not in Fnatic’s favor.
“Despite having identical documentations, and we made sure we had the proper documentation, sadly our players together with Q from Talon were denied, while the BOOM players were approved."
Of this turn of events, Bago could only say, "Very unfortunate."
PGL and TSM save the day
With back-to-back denials, Fnatic was desperate. Would they still be able to compete in the crucial Major, especially knowing that they need only a few points to claim their coveted TI slot?
“When we found out that we’ve been denied, we immediately contacted PGL and Valve, saying, ‘We have been denied again, we believe that we’ve exhausted every avenue in order to get our players there despite our best efforts,'” he said.
“So we asked if it is possible to play the event still, because we only needed a few points to qualify for TI and this is the last Major of the season. So we asked Valve and they approved the use of three stand-ins because the rule is just only two. They waived the point penalties for forcing stand-ins."
PGL’s response and willingness to bend the rulebook, at least for this instance, was definitely a glimmer of hope for the org. They immediately contacted TSM to see if they could loan players. Having already secured their TI slot, the North American team wouldn't join the Arlington Major. Would they be able to loan players?
TSM willingly agreed, and allowed Fnatic to snap up DooYoung “Dubu” Kim, Jonathan “Bryle” De Guia, and Enzo “Timado” Gianoli.
“We’re very thankful that the TSM players DuBu, Bryle, and Timado, agreed almost instantly. We’ve been familiar with them for a long time and they have my confidence to help us get there with the best of their abilities,” said Bago.
With the three of them temporarily filling out their ranks, the SEA-based squad now has a real shot for a Singapore ticket.
“Honestly at this point we’re grateful that we have the chance to earn our points. The players have all been working for this ever since November of last year and they truly just love competing. My heart especially goes out to my boys, particularly to the three players who got denied their visas,” said Bago.
“They’re cool with the fact that we might play the tournament without them. In fact, they were still involved in giving out their opinion on which tandems we should get. My thanks will always go out to the players for their grit and perseverance.”
So, with everything they've endured, what is Paolo Bago expecting from the Arlington Major?
"My full faith and trust will go to the boys representing the black and orange and our captain Jabz has been steering the ship for us and we had a good season for us, thanks to his leadership, the guidance of our coach (Sunbhie), and that DJ can turn his performance.”
We are now on Quento! Download the app to enjoy more articles and videos from SPIN.ph and other Summit Media websites.