Why Team Liquid is ESPN's team of the year

Team Liquid celebrates winning The International 7 in the first 3-0 sweep in the Dota 2 tournament history. Liquid came from the losers' bracket to win their share of $10.8 million. Provided by Valve

Things change quickly in DOTA 2, but one thing remains the same. The International -- the world championship that takes place in July -- remains the most important and prestigious event of the year.

It isn't just the glitz of the multimillion-dollar prize pool. For DOTA 2 teams, every other LAN is merely an audition for the biggest performance on the biggest stage. The International features 16 teams that each have a fleeting glimpse of what it means to be the best. Every year at the KeyArena in Seattle, every team is driven to rise above their station -- every team is driven to defeat their longtime rivals daring enough to stake their claim as best in the world. And in 2017, Team Liquid claimed that mantle in historic fashion. Not only were they the best at The International, they were also the most dominant champions after sweeping their finals opponents 3-0.

Team Liquid's 2017 run is a lesson in actualization. Here was a team with all the talent and pedigree of a champion but whose early struggles had them fighting their own demons. Once Liquid conquered the fear that turned their fluid play into languid actions, they were a team that could not be stopped by even the most polished teams. Where other teams in DOTA 2 simply operated on their expected mean, Liquid came together and quelled the storm to claim their real potential. The International Champions.

But to understand their growth, one must first examine their history and the changes leading up to their world championship win.

Liquid's campaign for the Aegis of Champions didn't start off smoothly. At the conclusion of The International 2016, Liquid lost Adrian "Fata" Trinks and Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka. The team would pick up a potent ace-in-the-hole in Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barqawi in the mid lane, but the team's first few tournaments did not match well with their individual talents. The team failed to qualify for the Boston Major and in the resulting days lost Sam "BuLba" Sosale.

Liquid were lost. They eventually found Maroun "GH" Merhej, a young support player with a competitive greenthumb to replace BuLba. However, Liquid would soon face another setback as they were eliminated in the first round of playoffs in the Dota Asian Championships in 2017 after losing to upstart Southeast Asian squad Team Faceless. Their Major run at Kiev improved slightly, but a 5th-8th finish at the final Major of the season did not sit well with the team.

With time running out, Team Liquid went into overdrive. Of the three events left for the team in the lead-up to August 2017, Team Liquid won all of them: StarLadder i-League Invitational #2 in May, EPICENTER in June and finally the DreamLeague Season 7 LAN in July. With three LANs under their belt, Liquid were one of six teams invited for The International 2017.

At TI, Team Liquid had a blistering start, topping Group A and only dropping games to Evil Geniuses, LGD and TNC Pro Team. Brimming with confidence, Liquid entered the playoffs as a heavy favorite but suffered a sudden shock to their system. In the opening salvo of the main event, Liquid fell to the lower bracket after a surprise attack by Invictus Gaming caught them off guard in Games 2 and 3.

This was Liquid's wake-up call. Once again, the team found themselves on a roll as they did in November 2016, but they were in the lower bracket again and in danger of another middling end after a promising start.

There in the lower bracket, Liquid faced Secret and immediately lost their first game. It was there that Liquid realized what they needed to do in order to break the cycle of promising runs and disappointing ends. Staring at the edge of elimination, Liquid refocused and fought back the fear that kept their plays sluggish and embraced their namesake.

Fluidity, that quality of play that had Liquid winning events on the backs of flexible draft strategies, fast and precision teamfighting and individual playmaking from Miracle- and GH allowed them to trounce Secret in Game 2 and Game 3.

From there, Liquid defeated Empire and Virtus.Pro with renewed vigor. They had finally taken their true form.

Their last set of obstacles lay in the three remaining teams: LGD, LGD Forever Young (LFY) and Newbee. The three Chinese powerhouse teams were scourges of the tournament, defeating any Western hope that lay before them. But Liquid could no longer be stopped. Like a tidal wave, Liquid washed out LGD, and though LFY took them to a three-game set, Liquid found themselves overflowing with confidence as they faced Newbee in the finals and dispatched them in three quick games.

2017 marks the end of a seven-year odyssey for team captain Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi. The DOTA 1 veteran himself said it best: "I sat at home, trying to figure out what's next. Eventually, I turned my obsession toward another goal: winning the next International."

2017 was the story of Team Liquid conforming to the form of their vessel -- the form of a champion. We look forward to seeing what they can do in 2018 as a fully realized championship team waiting to make history once again.