The Layman's Guide to DOTA 2, The International Version

You've seen the hype, you've seen the energy, and you've decided that this weekend you're going to watch The International, that massive DOTA 2 tournament starting July 18th with the record-breaking $10 million prize pool. The only problem: you have no idea how to play DOTA 2. For some games this wouldn't be an issue, but DOTA 2 is not one of these games. Saying DOTA 2 is complicated is like saying an ocelot wouldn't make a very good chauffeur. It's a big understatement.

This guide's purpose is to give those unfamiliar with DOTA 2 enough understanding of the game to enjoy The International. 

This guide is also structured in order of knowledge, so if you’re not familiar with Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), you should probably start at the top. We'll hopefully answer the following questions: 

There's also a Twitch Stream Just for You

When you watch The International, I highly recommend watching the Newcomer's Stream. It features a cast of commentators who explain what's going on during games in terms DOTA 2 strangers can understand. They are also pretty funny, so they make some of the less exciting parts of the game more entertaining.

With that, let's jump in!


THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
If you're familiar with the basic concept of MOBAs, skip this.

Larger image of a creep.

Larger image of a creep.

What is a MOBA?: A MOBA is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and it’s like a mix of real-time strategy games like Starcraft, action RPGs like Diablo, and team sports like football. In a MOBA, players control a single character on a team. Two teams battle to destroy the other opposition's key structure, which is guarded by stationary towers and a regular stream of computer-controlled minions called creeps who march along set paths, called lanes.

To do this, players kill enemy creeps, towers, and opposing players, all of which provide experience and gold.

  • Experience allows players to level up their characters, granting them new abilities or upgrading existing ones.
  • Gold lets players buy items to upgrade their characters, making them more durable, do more damage, or gain entirely new abilities.

Gaining power through items and stronger abilities, and using that power before your opponent can is what MOBAs are essentially about.

What is DOTA 2?: In DOTA 2, two teams known as the Radiant and the Dire fight each other to destroy the opposing team’s Ancient.

Overview of the Radiant (bottom left) and the Dire (upper right) layouts. We'll go over each one of these symbols in this guide.

Overview of the Radiant (bottom left) and the Dire (upper right) layouts. We'll go over each one of these symbols in this guide.

DOTA 2’s battle arena consists of three lanes, each guarded by a series of three towers that Radiant and Dire creeps walk by on their way to the opposition’s side of the field. To reach the Ancient, players push down at least one of the lanes and destroy the three towers that stand guard there. Players have a variety of ways to make their heroes more powerful:

  • Killing enemy creeps in their lane provides experience and gold. Most players start off killing creeps in their lane which is usually called farming. Enemy heroes can also deny creeps, killing their own before you can finish them off. 
  • Killing opposing towers also rewards players with gold and helps them progress further into their lane.
  • A jungle lies between these lanes, filled with neutrally-aligned creeps that grant gold and experience similar to lane creeps. Character who rely primarily on killing neutral creeps for gold and experience are called junglers. 
  • Killing an enemy player grants a bounty of gold and experience. It also makes the enemy lose some of their gold and takes them out of the action while they wait to respawn, both of which stunts your enemy’s growth. Some teams will shuffle heroes into other lanes and launch surprise attacks onto enemy heroes to get kills, which is called ganking. 
Screenshots of DOTA 2's towers, usually considered a checkpoint of sorts for each lane. 

Screenshots of DOTA 2's towers, usually considered a checkpoint of sorts for each lane. 

Once they reach the end of a lane, players have the option of destroying the opposing team’s barracks for that lane. Destroying a barracks makes your team’s creeps stronger, so teams almost always opt to destroy barracks. After the barracks is two more towers, and then the Ancient itself. Destroy those towers, down the Ancient, and the game is won.

 


IMPORTANT FEATURES

Runes: These buffs spawn in the river every two minutes, placing a single rune at one of two locations. The randomized rune’s color dictates its powers.

  • Blue runes grant double damage on basic attacks for 45 seconds.
  • Red runes grant maximum movement speed for 30 seconds and make the hero immune to slowing effects.
  • Yellow runes create two illusions of the hero that collects the rune. These illusions are under the player's control.
  • Purple runes grant 45 seconds of invisibility.
  • Green runes quickly regenerate the health and mana of the hero that collects it.

Secret Shops: While players can buy most of their items in the base, some key items can only be purchased at the two Secret Shops. Since the Secret Shops are located away from the Radiant and Dire bases, making a trip there can be risky.

Roshan: The giant, winged monster Roshan is an important objective to secure. Roshan is tough, requiring the bulk of a team to take down, but slaying him gives every member of your team 200 gold and drops the Aegis of the Immortal. The Aegis works like a 1-Up, returning a hero from death shortly after they fall, and can swing the tide of games. Since Roshan drops the Aegis on the ground when he falls, a sneaky enemy hero can steal it if they are quick enough. Roshan respawns 8 to 11 minutes after he's killed.

 


Buybacks:
While normally death in DOTA 2 would result in sitting out of battle for a period of time, players can pay a hefty sum of gold to instantly revive their character. Buybacks are often used during all-out teamfights, where a hero will die, buyback, then rejoin the fight.


The Courier: Couriers are small creatures that serve each team. Players can use them to deliver items to their heroes outside of their base, upgrading their characters with new items without leaving the battlefield. If a courier falls in the line of duty all of the items it was carrying will be unavailable until the courier respawns 3 minutes later.

BASIC STRATEGY

This section covers the way DOTA 2 is typically played.

Team Composition

Games of DOTA 2 can be lost before the actual playing even starts -- a team must first choose a good lineup of heroes. Different heroes do different things well; some are good at initiating fights, some buff and heal their allies, and some just deal tons of damage.

There are generally two kinds of heroes: carries and supports.

  • Carries are weak early, but with a lot of gold and experience they become incredibly strong and “carry” the team to victory. They can become so powerful and so hard to kill that they can wipe out an entire enemy team alone.
  • Supports are the opposite; they have a lot of natural power, but that power usually tapers off as the game drags on. Early in the game their job is to protect the carries and give them enough space and safety to farm. Later they use their abilities to help carries win fights. Supports can have high damage spells, protective abilities, or disables like slows, stuns, and silences (sometimes known as crowd control).

Usually a team wants a couple carries with three supports backing them up, though this can change depending on a team’s strategy.

Draft Mode

In professional games of DOTA 2, teams take turns drafting heroes. This involves both picking heroes for their own team and banning heroes from being used in the match. Teams pick their heroes around a strategy, like pushing towers quickly or ganking enemy carries, while also banning heroes from play that can counter that strategy. Some heroes are banned in almost every game just because they can be a pain to play against.

The Lanes

Similar to League of Legends, the DOTA 2 map has three lanes, the top lane, middle lane, and bottom lane. The top and bottom lanes are known by different names because of how they function early in the game, with each bottom and top lane considered "safe" or "hard." 

The safe lane is named so because it is easy for that team's heroes to retreat to their tower for protection and offers access to the jungle creeps for additional farming. It is the lane where the carry farms with either one or two supports for protection.

Conversely, heroes in the hard lane can be ganked easily by enemy heroes, making it more dangerous. The hard lane is usually occupied by a hero that can farm safely from a distance, escape from ganks, and withstand punishment.

The middle lane is symmetrical and fairly safe for both sides to farm. Usually each team only sends a single hero to the mid lane, one that is self-sufficient and benefits from early experience or gold. Some mid-lane heroes specialize in farming and getting strong, while others are good at roaming either top or bottom to help with ganking.

Rat Dota:
Rat Dota refers to a style of playing that involves pushing down lanes while avoiding team fights. It is generally considered frustrating to play against and boring to watch, so it is reviled by many DOTA 2 players, but it is an undeniably effective strategy.

KEY ITEMS

In most RPGs the items you get give you things like more health, speed, or damage. They give your character raw strength. DOTA 2 has items like this too, but the more important items give heroes whole new abilities. These are the items you'll most commonly see during The International and what they do.

Consumables

Consumable items are lost upon use. Some are also stocked in limited quantities.

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Town Portal Scroll: These scrolls (sometimes called TPs) allow heroes to teleport to a friendly structure, such as a tower. They can only be used once per minute and take several seconds to cast. A teleport can be interrupted by an enemy stun, which is why players use them in secure areas.

Observer Wards: These stationary, invisible spies provide vision in a large area when placed on the ground by a player. Teams can walk through warded areas with no idea that the enemy team can see them, although certain spots are known for being commonly warded. If an enemy spots a ward with stealth detection, though, they can easily kill one, so hiding these five-minute long scouts in odd locations is key. They are bought two at a time, but there is a limited stock of them that refreshes every five minutes.

Sentry Wards: The blue cousin to the yellow Observer Ward, Sentry Wards reveal stealthed heroes and wards in a radius. Sentry Wards are commonly used to check if there are any prying Observer Wards around so they can be destroyed. When put down in lanes against stealth heroes, Sentries allow you to get the drop on them before they can get the drop on you. 

Smoke of Deceit: Smoke is an unusual item, but incredibly valuable. When used, Smoke will stealth a hero and nearby allies for about thirty seconds, but if they get near an enemy hero the Smoke will wear off. While this might sound useless, it allows teams to hide from Observer Wards so they can move around the map undetected, making it an invaluable tool for sneaking Roshan and setting up ganks.

Dust of Appearance: Using this item spreads dust around a hero for a short time. Any invisible heroes who enter the area are coated with dust and revealed to the enemy team until it wears off. Teams commonly use dust to prevent heroes from using stealth to escape.

Common Equipment

Bottle: The Bottle contains three charges that restore health and mana to the hero who carries it. Once these three charges are used, they can be refilled by going back to the base or by picking up a rune. Bottles can also store runes for a few minutes, letting a hero pick one up and save it for later.

Blink Dagger: Allows heroes to instantly teleport a short distance. If a hero takes damage, they cannot blink for three seconds. Blink Dagger is an incredibly important item for many heroes, and a lot of supports will pick one up as their only core item for the escape and fight initiation power that it offers.

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Black King Bar: BKB, as it's often called, makes its user immune to magic for a short time. This not only prevents damage from spells, but also from most disables. While initially granting 10 seconds of magic immunity, repeated uses of the BKB cause this duration to decrease until it only lasts four seconds. To partially compensate, the recharge speed gradually decreases from 80 seconds to 50 seconds.

Shadow Blade: Allows a hero to turn invisible for about 15 seconds. Shadow Blade is picked up by heroes who want to sneak up on enemies to quickly kill them, or by heroes who want a stealthy escape mechanism. It is countered by Sentry Wards, Dust of Appearance, and the Gem of True Sight.

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Force Staff: Force Staff propels its user in whatever direction they were facing. Force Staff can be used to get a little burst of movement to escape from fights, or to force enemies into unfavorable positions. Blink Dagger is usually better as its movement is instantaneous and its range is longer, but Force Staff has two advantages: 1) it can be used on other heroes, not just the player who carries it, and 2) it allows players to escape while taking damage.

 

Gem of True Sight: Allows whoever carries it to see invisible heroes in the area around them. It unfortunately drops upon death, so the enemy team can steal it for their own use.


Aghanim's Scepter: While Aghanim's doesn't actually give heroes new abilities, it upgrades many ultimate abilities into a more powerful version with more damage, recharge speed, or additional effects.

 

Scythe of Vyse: Lets the user turn an enemy into a pig for three seconds, preventing any action.


COMMON HEROES

Listing DOTA 2’s entire cast of 107 heroes would be impractical, so this is a collection of some of the most commonly picked heroes so far at The International, along with a description of what they do. Generally, heroes have three normal abilities that they can obtain and upgrade in any order, along with one ultimate ability that they gain at level six. Ultimates are powerful, but once used they take a longer time to recharge.

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Razor

Role: Carry
Visual Description: A blue, electricky ghost…thing. He has a cool helmet, though.
Why he’s strong: Razor’s Static Link lets him steal an enemy's attack damage for a short period, buffing him and crippling an opponent at the same time. This lets him build defensive items without sacrificing strong attacks. To keep up with enemies he has the passive Unstable Current, which increases his speed and shocks enemies that hit him with spells. His Plasma Field sends out a ring of electricity, damaging enemies in an area and killing groups of creeps quickly.

Ultimate: His Eye of the Storm ultimate creates a lightning storm over his head that zaps enemies. The storm keeps zapping even when he's stunned, making him a good counter to teams that rely on crowd control.

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Skywrath Mage

Role: Support
Visual Description: A man with big, feathery wings and a staff gripped in his talons. He’s like if you crossed an eagle with a wizard.
Why he’s strong: Skywrath’s Arcane Bolt deals high amounts of damage and has a low recharge time, letting him force enemies out of lane easily. His Ancient Seal is a powerful silence and makes enemies take additional damage from spells, and his Concussive Shot slows the closest enemy hero.
Ultimate: Mystic Flare, which rains lasers down in a small area over two seconds. When paired with a stun to keep a target locked into one place, this ultimate can put out a lot of hurt.

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Mirana

Role: Carry/Support
Visual Description: A woman with long brown hair, riding a tiger. Her most distinguishing feature is that she’s a woman in this game.
Why she’s strong: Mirana is an incredibly versatile hero, able to carry, support, push, or do whatever else her team needs. Her Sacred Arrow travels a long distance in a straight line, and if it hits an enemy, does damage and stuns them depending on how far it traveled (longer travel means a longer stun). Starstorm calls down meteors to strike enemies around Mirana, letting her push lanes effectively. Her Leap makes her tiger jump forward a long distance and is useful for getting into and out of fights.
Ultimate: Mirana’s ultimate is Moonlight Shadow, which turns Mirana and all of her allies invisible for 15 seconds. Moonlight Shadow is useful for getting the jump on the enemy team or escaping a fight gone bad.

Doom

Role: Carry
Visual Description: A large, winged demon with a fiery sword and two massive horns. Basically, Satan.
Why he’s strong: Doom’s Devour ability lets him eat neutral creeps and gain their powers, allowing him to grow strong in the jungle and freeing up farming space in his team’s lane. Combined with his Scorched Earth spell, which gives Doom a damage-dealing aura of fire that also heals him and increases his speed, Doom can farm quickly and become a durable, hard-hitting threat early in the game. When he starts ganking, he can use LVL? Death to deal a bit of extra damage.
Ultimate: Doom’s ultimate ability is so powerful, he’s named after it. Doom silences an enemy and makes them take constant, ongoing damage for 15 seconds. It can effectively shut an enemy hero out of a fight.

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Shadow Shaman

Role: Support
Visual Description: A skinny, orange shaman with two spirit sticks. Great fashion sense, great smile.
Why he’s strong: Shadow Shaman is good at two things: disabling enemy heroes and pushing lanes. His Shackles traps opponents in a glowing orange net, keeping them helpless while his allies beat on them. Similarly, his Hex turns an enemy into a harmless animal for a few seconds. When on the offensive, Shadow Shaman has Ether Shock which does damage to multiple enemies in a cone in front of him.
Ultimate: This combines with Ether Shock to make Shadow Shaman good at pushing. His ultimate, Mass Serpent Ward, summons a field of magical snake sentries who spit fiery bolts at nearby enemies. Shadow Shaman players will use their Mass Serpent Ward next to a tower to secure a quick tower kill.

Brewmaster

Role: Carry
Visual Description:  Sometimes called Brew, he's some kind of drunk, panda-cat hybrid. Whatever he is, girls think he’s cute.
Why he’s strong: Brewmaster is a flexible character who can be useful in a variety of ways, as a straight carry, tank, or disabler. Brew’s passive ability, Drunken Brawler, gives him both a chance to dodge attacks and a chance to critically strike for double damage. To make him more annoying, he can use Drunken Haze to throw beer at his enemies to slow them and make them miss attacks. His Thunder Clap deals damage around him, slowing enemy movement speed and attack speed.
Ultimate: Primal Split, one of the more unique abilities in DOTA 2, transforms Brew into Earth, Fire, and Storm, three elementals each with different abilities, for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Fire is fast and deals high amounts of damage.
  • Storm is a spell caster who can turn invisible, trap people in a cyclone, and dispel buffs and debuffs.
  • Earth is tanky, immune to magic, and has a stun ability. At the end of the duration, the elementals reform into Brewmaster wherever Earth was standing.

Tidehunter

Role: Support
Visual Description: Tide is a hulking sea monster with skin that makes him look like a watermelon. A very scary watermelon.
Why he’s strong: Tidehunter is a big bully of a support, durable and loaded with disable spells. His Gush spits water at an enemy, making them move slower and lose defense, and his Anchor Smash lowers enemy attack damage in an area, so his opponents can’t fight back. Tide’s Kraken Shell passive reduces damage he takes and occasionally cleanses him of negative magical effects.
Ultimate: Ravage causes tentacles to radiate from Tidehunter and knock enemies into the air. Tidehunter almost always buys a Blink Dagger, allowing him to teleport into the middle of the enemy team and Ravage for maximum effect.

Enigma

Role: Support
Visual Description: Dark purple energy formed into the shape of a man, except he couldn’t get the legs right.
Why it’s strong: Enigma can use his Demonic Conversion ability to split a creep into three minions under his control, which allows him to farm in the jungle effectively. His Malefice curses an enemy for six seconds to be periodically stunned. Enigma’s Midnight Pulse creates an area of dark energy that damages enemy heroes when they stand in it, making Enigma effective in narrow spaces.
Ultimate:  Black Hole summons a vortex that sucks nearby enemy heroes in for four seconds. While trapped in Black Hole, enemy heroes are completely helpless, making it ideal for initiating or disrupting fights. Like Tidehunter, Enigma almost always buys a Blink Dagger for a blink and Black Hole combo that can surprise groups of enemies with a heavy disable.

Faceless Void

Role: Carry
Visual Description: A purple hammerhead shark, but with a man’s body and no eyes.
Why he’s strong: Faceless Void is the most popular hard carry of The International. He can farm safely thanks to his Time Walk ability, which lets him dash away from fights and his Backtrack passive that gives him a chance to dodge any attack thrown at him, including spells. For offense, his Time Lock passive makes his attacks occasionally do additional damage and stun.
Ultimate: Chronosphere engulfs an area in a big purple dome that freezes time for anyone inside, except Faceless himself. This gives him free reign to bash enemies to his heart’s content (well, for the five seconds it lasts.) But Chronosphere freezes every unit it hits including his own allies, it's possible to really screw over your own team with a bad Chronosphere.

Nature's Prophet

Role: Carry
Visual Description: A man with a large green beard, antlers, and a cape made of leaves. You can tell from his face that he thinks he’s better than you.
Why he’s strong: Nature's Prophet is considered the king of Rat Dota. He quickly becomes a tower-pushing nightmare with his Teleportation ability that allows him to quickly travel to any point on the map. His Nature's Call lets him summon tree-like minions to fight for him, and his Sprout summons a ring of trees that can trap enemy players or shield friendlies. A proper Prophet player is a nightmare to face, teleporting around the map and destroying towers with an army of tree men before melting away into the jungle.
Ultimate: Prophet's ultimate, Wrath of Nature, sends out a burst of energy which bounces between enemies around the map, hitting up to 16 targets. As it bounces it gains more damage. Prophet can use Wrath of Nature to push lanes he isn't even currently in.

THE TEAMS

Finally, now that you know the game, it's time to learn the competitors. There are eight teams competing in the main event, all with unique strengths, weaknesses and histories.

Natus Vincere (Na'Vi)

If you ask someone to name one professional DOTA 2 team, they will probably respond with Na'Vi. Known for their flashy plays and a history of high performance, European Na'Vi won the first International tournament in 2011 and have placed in the finals every year since then. Na'Vi came in second at last year's International, losing to Swedish team Alliance's Rat Dota play. That loss stung many Na'Vi fans, but for Na'Vi every year is another shot at reclaiming the glory of being world champions.

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Team DK

 An all-star team of Asian DOTA 2 veterans, Chinese team DK is the favorite to take this year’s International. While lately they favor longer games, slowly grinding their opponents to dust, the members of DK are so feared because they are just as capable of rushing the other team down for a quick win. They play whatever suits their situation, not limited to a single playstyle. Team captain and safe lane carry Xu "BurNing" Zhilei, mid laner Yee Fung "Mushi" Chai, and offlaner (hard lane player) Daryl "iceiceice" Koh Pei Xiang are among the best in the world at their respective roles, and with solid supports Zhicheng "LaNm" Zhang and Zeng Rong "X!!" Lei backing them up, DK are a force to be reckoned with.

Evil Geniuses (EG)

 North American team Evil Geniuses gets a lot of love in America. Teams from NA do not fair as well as the European and Chinese teams competitively, so EG is seen as North America’s best hope to prove its worth. While they lost perennial player Clinton "Fear" Loomis this year, they entered the season with a reinvigorated lineup that relied on multiple carry threats to win games. EG’s star player is their mid-laner, Canadian Artour "Arteezy" Babaev, a farming machine who expertly plays a large variety of heroes. Though EG tries to protect Arteezy to give him a strong late game, they can also fall back on their safe lane carry Mason "Mason" Venne and their offlaner Sahil "Universe" Arora to pick up the slack.

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ViCi Gaming

Chinese team ViCi succeded as the dark horse of the playoffs. While many predicted that they would barely qualify for the main event, if they qualified at all, they wound up performing better than every other team. This marks the second time all eyes have been on ViCi, the first being when they dominated the Chinese DOTA 2 scene in late 2013. Their reign was short-lived, once other teams learned their tactics and a patch to the game made their strategies less effective. But in 2014, they have arrived more aggressive than ever, with an early pushing strategy that seals up matches in 20 minutes while other teams take their games to the 50 minute mark and beyond.

 

NewBee

 A new team born from the lineup of TongFu, which placed fourth in The International 2013, NewBee is made of respected players from the Chinese scene and captained by Zhang "xiao8" Ning, a talented strategist and offlaner. They rely on the tried and true strategy of "win the lane, win the game," with carry Chen "Hao" Zhihao and mid-laner Zhang "Mu" Pan using early victories to build momentum into taking objectives. NewBee always seem to be spoiling for a brawl, ganking or initiating teamfights with the goal of getting Hao strong enough to run away with the game.

 

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Cloud9

They may wear calming blue and white uniforms, but serene is not a word that describes Cloud9. From their mobile, gold-hungry ganking lineups, to their experimental picks, to their player personalities like the wild mid-laner WehSing "SingSing" Yuen and the Cindarella story of carry Jacky "EternaLEnVy" Mao, Cloud9 has earned both fans and haters for being an ostentatious team. Cloud9 is a solid team, but without any first-place wins in the tournaments leading up to The International, there are doubts that they can do well enough against seven other world-class teams to prove themselves champions.

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Invictus Gaming (iG)

DK is the Chinese juggernaut everyone fears, but it would be foolish to count out Invictus Gaming, better known as iG. Though not the world-devouring terror they were in 2012, this year's iG boasts a strong lineup that involves support players Wong Hock "ChuaN" Chuan and Zeng "Faith" Hongda bullying opponents so the team’s three core players can shine. Especially feared is mid-laner Luo "Ferrari_430" Feichi, known for going on rampages of killing hero after hero without dying himself. If iG can pull some new tricks, their steady play has a shot of earning them the championship.

LGD Gaming

While it certainly takes a strong team to even make it to the main event of The International, hopes are not high for LGD performing well. The oldest Chinese DOTA 2 team, they have recently been playing second fiddle to teams like DK and iG as their good players like Sylar, xiao8, and Faith move to other organizations. This year started rough for the team when Valve announced that LGD would not be invited to the 2014 International, forcing them to claw their way through regional qualifiers to earn their slot in the playoffs. The fact that they made it not only through regionals, but through the playoffs testifies to their spirit and shows they have been underestimated this season. But while LGD's carry Wang "Rabbit" Zhang and offlaner Yao "Yao" Zhengzheng may be underrated, many doubt this team can snag the title from China’s better teams.