As we approach the later stages of the 2018-2019 Dota 2 pro circuit, some teams have already proven their potential to win an aegis. On the other side, many are scrambling to either find form or shuffle players in a desperate attempt to make it to The International, let alone win it. Although time is running out, there’s still hope for some of these squads to receive an invite. The EPICENTER major stands as the final DPC event before TI. Winning it guarantees an invite and while the likes of squads such as Secret, VP, and EG are all well-known threats, there are still a number of wild cards.After inconsistent results and another round of roster moves, there’s an air of uncertainty around that top 8. If you’re looking for a refresher or an opportunity to compare your predictions, this opinion piece attempts to rank the participating teams into four tiers, as well as provide some light analysis.
Teams in this tier have a serious shot at winning the whole event. The best of the best reside here.
It’s no secret that these guys are the number one team by most people’s estimations. They are the only team to have two major trophies so far and come off the back of winning the MDL Disneyland major and ESL One Birmingham. It’s difficult to find fault when they’re so damn dominant. MidOne and Zai are among the most flexible core players in the world, giving Nisha more opportunity to carry than any other position 1 player. Make no mistake though, he is worthy of such affordance. Right now, he might just be the best late game carry player in the world and almost never falls short at any other stage of the game.Adding to the talent pool is of course YapzOr and Puppey. The former also finds himself among the very best at his role and the latter is nothing less than legendary. Truly Secret will be the team to beat at both EPICENTER and TI9.
The CIS super squad failed to meet expections at the previous major, falling 2-0 to a tenacious PSG.LGD. Finishing at 7/8th is respectable, but represents a gradual downward trend for VP since their win at Kuala Lumpur. Another disappointment here would surely knock them down a peg leading into TI — and likely leave Secret as the undisputed number one team.It’s certainly not all bad for VP. Calling 7th place “a disappointment” speaks of the expectations set by their previous results. They finished top 2 at all three of the first majors this season and continue to present a terrifying challenge for any opponent. If anything, it may be their motivation that can be called a weakness. When the pressure’s on and the players are engaged, VP seem to elevate like no other team. That magic is never present outside of DPC events — perhaps after so long, it’s now beginning to fade even in majors. Hopefully they find their form in time for TI.
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.
Seemingly ever-present at the lower bracket finals of a major, EG are the ultimate gatekeepers to the top echelon of teams. A bittersweet place that can eat away at the soul, we’ve not seen the boys in blue win a LAN event since The Summit of July 2018. Somehow they can knock down any team riding momentum in the lower bracket, but never become the best team by the end of an event.Some areas to improve leading into EPICENTER include: S4 not playing at full form, Arteezy’s relatively narrow hero pool, and resource management among their greedy players. Mostly, flaws like these just feel like nitpicks, as this is honestly a monster team. The problems that run deepest likely can’t be fixed at this point, so focusing on surface-level issues seems reasonable.
Similar to EG, LGD have always lurked around the corner from greatness. While wearing the mantle of “most consistently strong team from China” this season, they sadly haven’t peaked in the way VG managed to a couple of times so far. While they are remembered as utterly dominant aggressors at TI8, LGD have transitioned into being more of a late game team. Often relying on a Maybe Medusa coupled with Ame on another right-click core. This was most evident in their exit series against Liquid at MDL Disneyland. In all three games, they were largely trampled over and had to fall back onto stalling tactics, big team fights, and clutch decision making.Ame and fy have consistently been shining stars for LGD, but mixed success has come from their position 2 and 3 players. Adding to that has been outdrafts, countered picks, and underwhelming lanes. There’s still potential for this team to reach the top, but it must be harnessed soon.
VG’s potential seems to be the topic of constant praise, as well as criticism. Any expert will tell you that the Paparazi/Ori duo borders on terrifying at times. The question really is whether or not either of them will be playing at the level they’re capable of. Every member of this team has had great tournaments by now. More recently, Fade has shown that he has talent comparable to the great position 4s of the world.It would be wonderful if the Vici of the Stockholm major showed up at this event, but it’s impossible to know what shape they’ll be in. For now they sit in the second tier thanks to their potential, but there’s a reasonable argument that they should be brought one tier down.
The debut of a reunited OG at MDL Disneyland was a mixed bag. Did Ana prove to be an improvement over iLTW? Probably. Was it the OG of TI8? No. On the one hand, they’re competitive with teams like Virtus Pro and Liquid. Their losses however, look anything but graceful. The overconfident nature of this squad is a great asset when the overall talent is so high. It also proves to be their biggest downfall when playing from behind. When Secret, VP, or LGD are down 5-10k gold in the mid-late game, they’ll seize every opportunity, while affording very little mistakes to the enemy. OG on the other hand will constantly dive and take fights no matter how far ahead or behind they are. Against the best teams, this just feeds a growing advantage.If OG can keep their confidence and play a more calculated approach (remember the ultimate turtling team of TI8?), then they’ll be a real threat. For now, they’re more like VG, on the verge of dropping down into that third tier.
A last place finish at the previous major was a huge disappointment for the SEA all stars. While isolated results need to be taken with a grain of salt, the majors have a pretty good tournament format and function as the most important events of the year. Their rise to prominence around the Chongqing and Dreamhack majors showed a lot of promise, but may have been this team’s peak. At the time, it felt like most or all players were operating at near career-high form. This was enough to offset the lack of strong leadership and strategic concerns, but when they have off days or mediocre events, it seems to crumble for Fnatic.In any case, this is a stacked lineup still capable of going deep. Coupling that with a fairly weak group, Fnatic should have a better run this time around.
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.
Contrasting against the “stick together” mentality that Liquid had maintained for so long, Matumbaman and the team mutually decided to part ways (at least according to PR). While they’ve had a pretty hot and cold season, this squad secured the tier 2 spot when they managed second place at MDL Disneyland. Sadly with a roster move so close to the major, it’s an automatic demotion, particularly when the player affected was such an influence on Liquid’s style.Expect a new identity for Kuro’s boys at EPICENTER. Matu played a unique role from the midlane, favouring push heroes and a sacrificial style, while ignoring traditional midlane heroes entirely. W33’s role and midlane hero pool has much more crossover with Miracle-. How Liquid tries to balance the players should prove interesting.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
With a first place finish at StarLadder, NiP have found themselves at another major. While never coming into contention for the title of number one team, this roster often proves itself at least to be in the top 8. Unsurprisingly, the biggest difficulty has been balancing out the three core players who each have unique playstyles and hero pools. There have been times where it all comes together and looks great, but quite honestly, they looked messy at the minor.33 needs to find his stride in the current meta. In addition, there are concerns around Fata’s performance. His role in NiP just doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit.
Alliance’s season has been underwhelming. Occasionally they’ll upset very good teams, but mostly it’s been failed qualifiers and mediocre LAN performances. When playing against the very best, they often get steamrolled. When playing against tier 2 teams, one of Alliances biggest issues is throwing away strong leads. In a late game situation, few mistakes are afforded and sloppy plays are punished. The confidence and mechanical skill that wins the early game is often Alliance’s downfall, later on.The minor looked decent enough for this team. Taiga played at a high level, while both Qojqva and miCKe seemed above average. Boxi stands out more than any other player though. At times, he was dominant in lane and made fantastic, decisive plays. Elsewhere he’d make virtually game-losing mistakes
Making it in as the second CIS team, Gambit are one of the most inconsistent teams at the event. On a good day, they can put up a fight against anyone in this list. On a bad day, they’ll fall flat against relatively even competition. Early in the season, they found a lot of success with left-of-centre drafts. Daxak’s Visage comes to mind as a dominant pick, at least until Secret stomped it out of them at ESL One Katowice. Nowadays, Gambit plays a little more standard. Ultimately, it’s somewhat of a wild card team. Not a team you’d pick to make top 4, but also one that you shouldn’t bet against, regardless of the opponent.
Generally a strong runner-up to Fnatic’s dominant placing in SEA, TNC have been a pretty consistent team. Not at the level that would come into contention for winning a major, but one certainly capable of making top 8. Unfortunately, they’ve ended up in a particularly tough group, so the possibility of starting from the lower bracket is very real. Assuming they land themselves there, the first round bo1 feels like a dice roll. Anything beyond that will also be tough, but there’s some hope for a lower bracket run.
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.
Royal Never Give Up
It’s been a dice roll lately when picking a third Chinese team to compete at a LAN. Keen Gaming seemingly lost their spark, Sirius is still finding their feet, EHOME completely reset their roster, and Aster can barely keep a roster together. The other notable teams are Newbee, Royal Never Give Up, Serenity, and Royal. All four have struggled endlessly to find decent form. RNG rarely find themselves placing highly, even in qualifiers. The acquisition of LaNm seems to have helped a little, but EPICENTER serves more as desperately needed experience going into TI, than a chance to stand among the best.
It’s hard to assess this team. A mixed European roster that has been playing together in South America for a fairly short amount of time. Even if they were the top seed of their region, it wouldn’t say much about their potential in a major. Given how difficult it is for them even just to practice (apparently most SA teams won’t scrim with Infamous), coupled with the lack of superstar talent, there just isn’t reason to place this team in a higher tier.
We’ve yet to see much from Forward since they reset their roster. In terms of individual talent, the player moves didn’t feel like an upgrade. Any change was welcome though, as the old lineup did not live up to its potential at all. A solid performance at the major qualifiers gave some hope for the new squad. Following that was their first LAN event at ESL One Birmingham, in which they had a weak enough group stage to be eliminated. Like a couple of the other teams in this tier, EPICENTER should serve as a calibration for how good this team is. For now, expectations aren’t high.
Clearly the number one pure Brazilian squad at this point, it’s unlikely we’ll see much from paiN at an international event like this. The aggressive and chaotic nature of their go-to playstyle makes them a threat to any team in that bo1 lower bracket series. If the region continues to receive major slots and cross-pollinates effectively with other regions, it seems inevitable that the top Brazilian names will eventually put up a real fight at majors. For now, that dream is still a long way off.Follow me on Twitter for bite-sized opinion blasts and to be notified when I post future articles: MythosYou can head over to our Dota 2 hub for more contentImages courtesy of ESL, Liquipedia, Starladder, DreamHack, MarsMedia, paiN Gaming, Infamous, OGA DotaPit, Alliance