ESL One Hamburg is almost upon us and serves as a great preview for the upcoming major. Many of the teams competing at Kuala Lumpur Major have either accepted invitation, or fought through qualifiers to get valuable LAN experience at ESL’s tournament. If you haven’t been watching much of the online play or the smaller offline events lately, this piece should give you an idea of what to expect from a few of the teams.
Say what you want about Fly’s “betrayal”, the fact is that his decision resulted in two mediocre teams becoming world beaters. Question marks around EG are finally starting to fade as they repeatedly provide strong performances. This is a team to watch throughout the season and shines as a beacon of hope for the NA region (if you can really call this team North American).
The ill-fated Arteezy/Suma1L duo that probably should have split long ago, has found a platform to reach its potential at long last. Fly’s loose leadership style appears to have achieved what multiple captains in a row could not do. The team’s drafting is solid and they can compete at all stages of the game. If that wasn’t enough, Crit- has also found his lost star power for the first time since leaving OG. When considering all these factors, it’s easy to get trapped into thinking this is all off the back of Fly, but EG’s stability is highly influenced by the other player they acquired.
S4 has been integral to their rise. He acts as the backbone for the team and his play-style enables a much needed balance of farm for the three other stars on EG. His flexibility between creating and absorbing space as a position 3 is top-tier and his understanding of how to play the map and what he needs to do for his team to win is remarkable. It’s hard to believe that after playing for the TI3 Alliance, this guy still manages to come back and find his place among the very best in the world.
Conversely, S4’s place in the team is also a concern for EG. Their dependence on his skill and knowledge is abnormally high for a position 3 player. The reality is, no matter how good a player is, you can’t expect them to play at a top level forever — and when EG’s farm priority is constantly walking a fine line, it’s unclear how they’ll respond to drops in form or major changes in meta.
Of course, it’s not all on S4. Arteezy is playing at a high enough level for the team and Suma1L is enjoying a spike in form. Once again, we have the young prodigy playing at an incredible level. Unfortunately for Evil Geniuses, he won’t be playing at this tournament due to visa issues. Instead, CCnC will be playing for the boys in blue.
On paper, this actually looks like a better stylistic match up for Arteezy, as CCnC is a less farm-dependent player and is happy not to be the star of the team. Sadly, his talents just don’t compare to Suma1L’s raw skill and with very little time to practice, this will likely be a huge impact on the team’s chances.
Evil Geniuses is still a great team without Suma1L and have a shot at placing well. Reaching even the semi-finals seems ambitious given the circumstances though.
The post-TI8 roster shuffle found Secret making a relatively horizontal player change. They dropped two good players and gained two good players. Make no mistake though, the move has changed things up for this team. While Ace had a fairly specialized hero pool and a tendency to bounce between hard carry and more sacrificial role, Nisha competes a lot with MidOne for that primary farming position. His Morphling is also basically a auto-ban at this point, which gives them a bit more freedom in the first stages of the draft.
This has created a shift in the dynamics of their position 3 as well. Previously, Fata found a lot of success on more farm-dependent heroes. Now, with Zai having to play around MidOne and Nisha, the off-laner for Secret has to play much more of that space-creation role. Although yet to reach the level that he was known for in the 2015 Secret lineup, Zai is still fitting fairly well into the team. His unique approach to the role and creative plays open up opportunities both in drafting and in game for the team.
There are some issues with consistency around MidOne, but largely he and YapzOr are operating at a very high level and any doubts around skill in Team Secret can be dispelled. As a result, the shuffle seems to have refreshed and renewed a top 6 team that likely would’ve either maintained their position, or simply declined.
Moving on, Secret is a bit of a wild card in Hamburg. It’s clear that they have all of the pieces in place for an elite team, but they have problems with making it work together. For starters, their drafting is often pulled into question, especially after the recent loss to Na`Vi. Additionally, Zai’s importance as initiator and space-creator often forces him into uncomfortable positions. Often, he’s either too shut down to have the impact needed, or playing with confidence and creativity that his team just can’t or won’t be able to enable.
Most important is Secret’s dependence on MidOne and Nisha. They are both perfectly capable core players, but one shows some inconsistency and the other is fairly inexperienced at LAN events. If nerves, out drafting, or just off games pop up for these players, there’s not a whole lot of contingency for Secret.
If Secret can smooth out the dynamics between their players and learn to utilize a formula that brings out the most from their lineup, they have a legitimate shot at winning this LAN. With a fantastic captain, top-level core players, a star support, and an inimitable off-laner, the ingredients are all present. Whether it can all work together is yet to be proven.
Since forming, Aster have participated in several online tournaments and qualifiers. BuNIng’s hand-crafted roster has shown mixed results amidst a highly competitive Chinese scene. For their first international LAN event, Aster could very well be a dark horse.
BoBoKa and Xxs have stepped up their game in a major way, absolutely carrying Aster through the early to mid game. Their dominance in lanes and relatively farm-oriented approaches can make opponents look disarmed and confused. BoBoKa in particular has an uncanny sense of where to strike, finding unexpected pick-offs across the map.
The pressure that these players create is essential for their carry, Sylar. If given space to farm up, his skill in the mid-late game is both fantastic and reliable. His ever-present partner Fenrir can always be found on a defensive laning support, protecting the all-important safelaner. Putting so much stock in one core player is often a risky method in modern Dota, but Sylar is dependable and the whole team has a clear vision and unity around how to win with him.
On the flip side, when their early game dominators are shut down, it gets very difficult for Aster. Sylar’s potential only seems to be realized when he’s on a hard carry and has the space to get ahead. Dstones has also gradually settled into being a lackluster mid-laner. A big part of this is down to the team’s preference for other lanes. Dstones gets little support compared to many other mids and is often exploited as a vulnerability in the laning phase. He also just hasn’t been able to reach peak performance as regularly as his team needs. Going into Hamburg and Kuala Lumpur, it will be critical to find a way to elevate Dstones, or at least have him hit more of those spikes in play that he occasions.
Team Aster also has weaknesses in the draft. Sylar’s dependence on playing a scaling right-clicker seriously limits options for the team. Ban Terrorblade and Spectre and you’ve already taken a big chunk out of his comfort picks. The other angle that most Chinese teams have taken is chipping away at the top heroes for Xxs and BoBoKa, hampering Aster’s biggest odds at winning early.
It’s unlikely that this team will get a very high placing, but any unprepared opponents can easily be overwhelmed by Aster. Unless they can heighten their performance, getting “figured out” is a serious threat to their chances in Hamburg. If that also extends into Kuala Lumpur, this team faces a very questionable season, moving forward.
This article is authored by Wolfgang "Mythos" Conrad.
Feature image credit: ESL
Images credit: BeyondTheSummit, Mineski.net, Wykrhm