School’s Out: Zai is Back

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Zai is Educated and Back to Dota In Time For TI

Start the roster swap rumor mill! Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg has finished high school. While Zai has not explicitly confirmed a returned to professional Dota, a return to a starting position on a top tier team seems inevitable given his talent and ongoing involvement in the professional scene. Neither Zai himself nor any particular team have indicated where he might end up, but fans are already calling for their favorite teams to kick players to make room for the teenage Swedish phenom.

It has been nine months since Zai played his last official game, getting knocked out of The International 5 with Team Secret by Virtus Pro for a 7-8th place finish. Despite Team Secret falling short of their “super team” TI championship expectations, Zai played outstandingly throughout The International, looking like a consistent bright spot in the team’s difficult tournament. When he announced his intentions to take a break from the game to finish his schooling, many fans were concerned that Zai’s seemingly limitless prospects would fade, or that his skills would atrophy.

Nine months later, those worries don’t seem so daunting: Zai’s position on one top Western team or another seems all but announced. We haven’t seen him play competitively since his departure, but Zai has kept up with streaming throughout the school year, and has appeared confident in his play. His previous success in transitioning from a 4 position support to a world-class offlaner in a matter of months indicates an ability to learn and adapt to new play styles, which may well help him avoid some of the expected shock upon returning to pro play. The biggest question now is where will he end up?

The most likely and obvious answer is EG. Technically, Zai already plays for EG right now; he has been listed as a substitute player for the North American team since his resignation from Secret in August of last year. This is not merely a formality: as the roster lock for The International 6 has already passed, any team invited to compete at TI would have to give up their spot and try their hand in the Open Qualifier bracket if they were to change their roster. As a substitute, EG could elect to start Zai in favor of a current player without running afoul of Valve’s tournament seeding.