The fourth major of the 2018-2019 season is just around the corner. After a surprising win by Vici Gaming at Stockholm, the gates are open for teams other than Secret and Virtus Pro to take home a trophy. Strong competition is on the rise as several squads are now knocking on the door of that top tier. The Paris major is a perfect opportunity to prove themselves.
If you aren’t familiar with the pro scene, or just want a refresher on the status quo, this piece ranks all participating teams into four tiers. While no one can truly predict the results of a major, the light analysis this provides should help with expectations.
Teams in this tier have a serious shot at winning the whole event. The best of the best reside here.
Falling short at the Stockholm major, there’s no doubt that Secret were disappointed with their fourth place after two major grand finals in a row. Such a finish is excusable when considering they lost to Virtus Pro. Adding to that is the possibility that they are intentionally less committed to preserve energy and form for TI9. Still, this is a team that knows it can win and likely will seek victory at the Paris Major.
Expect some wacky picks and reinventions of the meta as Puppey drafts his team whatever heroes make most sense to play around Nisha’s late game carries.
Thus far, Virtus Pro have managed to reach the grand finals of all 3 majors. When DPC points are on the line, they routinely prove to be world class. Anything less than top 3 would be a disappointment for CIS super squad. Don’t be surprised if they drop into the lower bracket early, but fully expect them to grind all the way to the finals from there.
A lot of the conversation around VP these days is Pasha on the offlane. In some sense, he is the backbone of the team — able to hold the whole team up when doing well, but also a key target to take them down. Vici Gaming demonstrated this when they ruined his offlane repeatedly in the Stockholm major finals.
While not currently at the level of the Prospective Champions, the second tier is still filled with very tough competition. These are the teams that you can expect to finish in the top 6.
A solid performer throughout the season, LGD has sat on the Chinese throne for most of the year. With Maybe’s return to the roster, their sights should be set on top 6 minimum. There’s no question that this team has what it takes to be number one, but we’ve not seen that form since TI8. The star power of Ame, fy, and Maybe are still evident, yet they aren’t combining to outdo the likes of Secret, Virtus Pro, or Evil Geniuses. Being consistently around top 5 isn’t enough for a team that knows it can win an International. For now, the Paris major serves as an opportunity for development.
Although a surprise for some, VG earned their win at the Stockholm major. Grinding through the minor and using that momentum to win where it mattered most. This squad has been notoriously hot and cold, with their carry duo being the primary talking point. Ori in particular is known for inconsistency. To the relief of fans, their previous major performance saw him along with Fade playing at career-high form.
It is for those reasons that you can’t buy into the hype too much. Expectations are now higher than ever and if Vici want to remove the label of “inconsistent”, they have to deliver in back to back majors. Bottoming out at Paris would be shameful, but not entirely surprising.
“Close but not quite” is an apt label for EG. Arteezy has been a rock-solid carry capable of taking his team into late game situations against virtually any opponent. His teammates have largely followed suit, with Suma1L maintaining good form and Cr1t- partnering up as another star in the 4 role. Balancing farm among these players has always been a concern. While they seem to have that balance relatively well-understood, the result is unfortunately just not enough to take home trophies.
If this era was not dominated by Secret and Virtus Pro (and Liquid outside of majors), EG would likely be known as the number one team. At this point, a change might be needed if they want to grow, but it would be a very risky decision when they’re so close to the top.
Fnatic’s season has been akin to that of LGD and EG. Together, they’ve formed a trio of consistent greatness, yet greatness that falls short of the top echelon. Initially, MP looked awkwardly outclassed by his teammates. At Chongqing, he transcended to a level beyond any point in his career. As such, it’s hard to point to a single weakness when this has become the most stacked SEA roster in history. Perhaps it’s the lack of a strong leader, perhaps it’s issues at the strategic level, or perhaps it’s the difficulty associated with unifying such star players. Whatever the case, it’s not been enough to carry them all the way.
Going in their favour is the trend of their placements at the majors. Each time, they’ve dropped out one or two round further into the lower bracket. Of the three teams mentioned above, Fnatic is the only one that appears to be gradually improving. Whether they can surpass EG’s ceiling is yet to be seen.
Like some sort of reverse Virtus Pro, Team Liquid have struggled unendingly at DPC events and stomped at other tournaments. Barely squeezing into the top 8 at Chongqing and finishing in last place at Stockholm, question marks are abound with this team. However, they took clear wins at MDL Macau and MegaFon. What we’ve seen this season is a Liquid capable of competing with the very best and a failure to find that form when it matters most.
Their performance at Stockholm can be excused to some extent — they were in a group with Secret and Keen. Then had a best-of-one against Chaos, a team who has found some notoriety in upsets.
Matumbaman was a big factor for this team in previous months, but his hero pool has been somewhat dampened by nerfs and meta shifts. Watching how they pick and lane around him should prove interesting.
Winning ESL One Mumbai really cemented Keen Gaming as a household name. Initially finding success with mid game domination and push strats, they’ve branched out into late game lineups more recently. Going into the Stockholm major, Keen managed to turn a few heads with their swift ascent domestically. At the event, it became clear that they were a powerhouse. Since then, they’ve continued to play at a high level.
Despite being known as “old” chicken and eLeVeN, these veterans are keeping up, even exceeding much of the mechanically-skilled youth. Presumably their captain dark and coach Fyms have figured out how best to utilise each member of the team, since there’s little to fault in the roster. The Paris major might see Keen elevate to the top tier.
Unlikely to make it far, but still relatively dangerous. This tier is called “upsetters” for a reason. Favourable matchups and inspired performances can result in unexpected victories against otherwise stronger teams.
Reuniting with their star carry Ana, OG managed to make it through a major qualifier for the first time this season. The style they had gradually developed with iLTW was completely abandoned. The OG of TI8 had returned — just not yet at full strength. Paris will provide an opportunity to prove that their incredible run was not a flash in the pan. Failing that, at very least, it will be great experience after their reset.
Expectations have to be measured. Everyone knows their potential, but there’s not much evidence to suggest they can go all the way at this point.
Mineski’s growth over the last few months have seen them gradually become a threat on the international circuit. Their run at ESL One Mumbai showed high potential, yet the finals had them lacking. Losing a best-of-five in a convincing 0-3 sweep against Keen does not bode well for this team making it deep at the major. In addition, they’ll be playing without Febby, whom played well enough to earn an MVP award. Perhaps they’ll have even more success with Bimbo, but it would be a tall order.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
It’s been a bumpy road for NiP, but they’ve found their way into another major. Looking at their players in isolation could convince you that this lineup should have no trouble making it to majors and going far in the playoffs. In reality, PPD has had a tough job aligning all the pieces into a cohesive unit. Each of the core players want plenty of farm and strive on unique hero pools. Couple that with some inconsistency of play and you have a team that looks fantastic one month and mediocre the next.
A huge positive for NiP is the fact that they just won a minor. That momentum carried VG to a win at Stockholm. Competition is even more fierce at Paris though, so it’s difficult to give too much credence to hype.
Not every team can reach top 8 and it would be above expectation to see any of these squads making the third round of the lower bracket.
Formerly Butterfly Effec, the Brazilian squad was acquired by paiN after making the major. Finishing ahead of Chaos in the SA qualifier is a big achievement and demands a little more notoriety than previous representatives of the region. Still, paiN have neither the experience, nor the pedigree to be taken as seriously as most other competitors here. Their best bet is to do what Brazilian teams seem to do best: play recklessly aggressive. Such strategies can often outdo stronger teams in the zero mistakes situation of a lower bracket.
It’s been a rocky year for Complexity. Dipping into the SEA talent pool, they’ve had limited success with a few of the big names that didn’t make it onto the Fnatics and Mineskis of the world. While they earned their place at the major, there’s still much to prove before they’re considered a top 10 team. Add the fact that they switched out their offlaner (Deth for monkeys-forever) after qualifying and it’s difficult to see this squad making it far in the playoffs. Still, Meracle and Limmp make for a reasonably strong core duo and the support cast is very experienced. Like other teams in this tier, CoL have the major as a chance to develop their squad for future events.
Chaos has had a few flashes of respectable form, with mediocrity filling the large gaps between. It’s never certain whether the star midlaner w33 will show up, or if he’ll be having another off day. The right blend of experience and talent are present, but it never seems to ignite for longer than a single series. While this team is unlikely to make it through the second round of lower bracket, they pose a serious threat in the best-of-one elimination match.
The second CIS qualifier spot has been earned by a different team each major so far. It’s inarguable that Virtus Pro takes the throne of that region, but below them is a realm of uncertainty. Gambit, Na`Vi, Pango, and Old but Gold have all shown moments of dominance, but Empire enters as the new kid on the block. As a complete roster, Empire hasn’t played much on the pro circuit. They had a solid run in the qualifiers, but there isn’t a strong indication that they’ll perform above the previous 2nd placers from their region. More interesting than their participation at this event will be whether they can maintain any stability in the aftermath.
The results of this squad’s efforts should capture the hearts of any NA fan. Their unexpected major qualification along with mixed results at ESL One Mumbai gave some hope for a new rival to EG, while Forward and J.Storm struggle endlessly. Sadly, EternaLEnVy’s decisions as a leader have left the team wrapped in controversy. Kicking midlaner Gunnar, along with support Newsham after qualifying for the Paris major has naturally upset numerous fans. In a way, EnVy’s ruthless obsession with chasing victory is admirable. No one will be a pro Dota player forever and so making these hard calls is if nothing else, pragmatic.
The issue of course comes when they’d already qualified for a major and no replacements have been announced. Also considering they’d only been a full unit for a month when the kicks occurred gives reason to think they could’ve waited longer. TEAM TEAM were already unfavoured to go far in this tournament, but with a roster move this close to the event, it’s unreasonable to place them in any other tier.
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Images courtesy of ESL, Liquipedia, Starladder, DreamHack, MarsMedia, paiN Gaming, compLexity Gaming, Team Empire