This Aussie Teenager Just Won A $51 Million Esports Tournament

Dota 2 International 2019 Ana

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On Sunday, Melbourne teenager Anathan “ana” Pham won several million dollars at a Dota 2 tournament, becoming one of the highest-earning esports players in the world and making history in the process.

Every year, The International invites the top Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for glory, honour and enough cash to buy a house in Sydney. This year the competition was held at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, with over a million fans watching on video game streaming site Twitch alone.

2019’s title was won by OG, who took home USD$15,615,897 of the tournament’s USD$34,320,653 prize pool after 10 days of fierce competition.

Around $51 million in Australian dollars, this was the biggest prize pool in esports history, and a significant portion of OG’s share went to 19-year-old Anathan “ana” Pham from Melbourne.

In Dota 2, two teams of five try to destroy the main structure in their opponent’s base while defending their own. It’s a deceptively complex game that features a roster of over 100 different characters and items, each with unique abilities that can be combined in countless different ways.

Success demands not only split-second reflexes but equally fast analysis and strategising, as well as a deep understanding of the game.

Pham and the rest of OG demonstrated their ability throughout The International, baffling even professional Dota 2 analysts by choosing to play as floaty ball of light Io. This character doesn’t typically deal a lot of damage, which Pham’s role is expected to do, and is generally relegated to support rather than the frontlines.

However, Pham’s choice of items and skills unexpectedly turned Io into a powerhouse. Working with teammates Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen (21), Sébastien “Ceb” Debs (27), Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka (27) and captain Johan “N0tail” Sundstein (25), Pham’s Io beat enemies into submission, dashing about the map like a toddler with a knife and causing about as much fear.

It was an unexpected, innovative and fresh strategy that nobody had ever seen before, and which opponents had difficulty countering. Pham’s Io was so strong that some even tried to emulate it, copying his build.

Even so, none could stand against OG in the end. Pham smashed his glowing balls in Team Liquid’s face during The International’s grand final on Sunday, helping OG win the best of five with a score of 3-1.

The team will now take home over $23 million in Australian dollars, while I will stare at my bank statements and sigh.

OG are the first team to ever win The International twice. Not only that, they won them back to back, with OG’s International run last year arguably esports’ biggest underdog story ever.

Less than three weeks before 2018’s European Open Qualifier, captain, founding member and Sundstein’s close longtime friend Tal “Fly” Aizik abruptly left OG to join their rivals Evil Geniuses. Gustav “s4” Magnusson also left with him, cutting OG down to three players — one of them being their coach Debs, who had been acting as a stand-in.

There were practically no top players who were free agents that close to The International, so OG had to look further afield to fill out their roster.

The team thus brought in Taavitsainen, a relative unknown who had only begun playing Dota 2 competitively in 2017, and OG alumni Pham, who had taken such a long break from competitive gaming that he was considered practically retired.

Cobbled together at the last minute, nobody expected the ragtag team to qualify for The International, much less win the entire USD$25,532,177 tournament. It was the stuff inspirational Disney movies are made of, though many doubted OG would be able to recreate the magic this year.

Yet recreate it they did, even doing it with the exact same lineup as last year.

Considered a beacon of light in the Dota 2 community, OG won thousands of fans with their unconventional playstyle, boundless optimism, strong friendships and commitment to just having fun. In the wake of 2018’s fairy tale win, many other teams also started to emulate OG, emphasising camaraderie and positivity during this year’s competition.

OG were certainly deserving champions. But the beneficial impact of their wins on the whole Dota 2 scene is just the cherry on top of a lovely, big, feel-good cake.