It’s an approximate middle of the season now and the third major takes place in Stockholm. Dreamleague’s major presents an opportunity for several teams to step out of the top 8-12 area and into the top 6 which has largely settled itself down. Questions around the hierarchy among Secret, Virtus Pro, and Liquid will finally be answered, as we have all three in attendance. With such fierce competition, the Stockholm major might just provide the highest level of Dota since TI8.As usual, to help those who don’t follow the scene closely, this opinion piece ranks the participants into four tiers and provides some light analysis of why.
Teams in this tier have a serious shot at winning the whole event. The best of the best reside here.
Halfway to TI9, Team Secret already look like this season’s number one team. Even if they fell off a cliff from here in terms of results, there’d be a strong case. Recent wins at the Chonqing major and ESL One Katowice, they would be many people’s favourites going into the Stockholm major. Although Secret’s drafts can vary drastically, their primary strategy remains unchanged: make space for Nisha’s late game carry. There’s obviously more nuance to this — the details are well-known by pros and analysts. Understanding Secret as a team doesn’t seem enough though, as they overrun all opposition time and time again.
Finally Liquid will be showing up to a major in full form. Their failure to qualify at KL and forced standin situation at CQ have left fans wondering when they’d get to see the former TI champs show what they’re capable of on the big stage once again. MegaFon Winter Clash and MDL Macau have given snippets of Liquid’s potential, with complete domination at both events. Miracle-’s zero deaths across 5 out of 6 games against EG showed that he’s still more than able to reach impossible heights. Complementing that has been their secondary carry in Matumbaman. He’s found much comfort in drafts of late and his presence in the game reflects that. Aggressively taking control of lanes on Lone Druid, Viper, and Timbersaw, Matu’s niche picks in mid are a big part of Liquid’s return to the top.
Finishing third in MDL Macau at the hands of EG might fool one into thinking Virtus Pro are on a decline. Think back to before the Chonqing major. VP's participation at the MegaFon Winter Clash saw them drop out with little more than a whimper. Once they arrived at the major of course, they elevated themselves to top 2 at the event.Perhaps the secret to their longevity as a squad (one that maintains relevancy) is relaxation throughout most of the year. For this season at least, we only see their ridiculous skill ceiling at majors.
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 4.
The boys in blue have been reliable performers throughout the season. There’s no doubt that they’re one of the best teams in the world. Yet they can’t seem to penetrate the very top. There’s a hard truth to the third place meme. No amount of hard work or strategy realignment can put them in contention with the strongest opponents when it matters most. It’s an odd place for EG; when pitted against any team not in the above tier, they’re the favourite. They really are in a league of their own.Arteezy’s recent rise is a big positive for EG. If all the stars align with Suma1L, S4, and Cr1t- hitting their full potential, they have a legitimate shot at winning these events. This is such a crazy scenario to hope for though.
Despite playing with a standin and little time to practice, LGD still looked like the top dog of China in the qualifiers. Though there's been plenty of downtime with no matches since, it's not a significant enough reason to doubt this team hitting top 6. The mid position seems to be the easiest to plug and play. While Maybe was a big tempo-setter in the mid-game, they still have fy.The gatekeeper for this team right now is EG. When they clash, a great series is sure to ensue, but one that is currently tilted towards the NA squad. It should prove interesting to see whether LGD can move up or down from this spot.
Similar to EG and PSG.LGD, Fnatic have been stuck throughout the season. They're a great team, but the ceiling seems to be somewhere around top 6. One of the original concerns was MP's ability as a safelane player. His recent performances have alleviated those worries, thankfully.The situation has to be uncomfortable for Fnatic though. Having five of the most skilled players in SEA hasn't yet produced a world beater. A great captain that can utilise all of the pieces has been a likely weakness. Perhaps they can show a new level at the major.
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.
Inconsistency lands Na`Vi in the third tier. The second place finish at MegaFon is a startling result and gives hope for more standout performances. Realistically, it was more likely a flash in the pan for the CIS squad. Given that they’ve finished second at two international events this season, they could chalk all the losses up to difficulty around playing against domestic rivals. Now’s the time to show that they really are a team to be taken seriously. Big expectations are set for MagicaL who has the skill to go toe-to-toe with other top midlaners.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
Props to PPD who has found success with the complex elements of his team. There’s a great challenge with balancing Ace, Fata, and 33. All three feel most comfortable with high concentrations of farm and all three find strength on somewhat niche hero pools. For a while, it seemed like a task too great. Now there’s success — only it’s mixed. The swift win at Deamleague’s qualifier shines favourably, but early success in a new patch sours that slightly. Their 4th place finish at the Kuala Lumpur major also hints at what the team is capable of. A strong finish at Stockholm might just seal the deal for NiP as a team to stand alongside Fnatic and LGD. A poor finish might just raise question of roster moves.
This looked to be the fastest developing team in the world for a while. Xiao8’s leadership and strategic influence must have been a big factor, as the team gradually moved away from the Faith_Bian show and became a complete roster to fear. ASD and eGo had hit strides on a nuanced carry pairing dynamic — and it was beautiful to watch. This of course all started falling down at MDL Macau, where Faith_Bian suffered an arm injury that has forced him into an extended break. Soon after, eGo parted ways with the team. These combined factors have set back a lot of work and now EHOME are shaky. It’s a damn shame to see a promising team hit hard, but the spot for second-best team in China has opened up once again.
With the downfall of EHOME, another Chinese team is on the rise. Keen Gaming has a very strong understanding of fighting and pushing that has them sitting in a comfortable domestic position. Kaka, old chicken, and eLeVeN all look really good, which is a little unusual, given that they’re all veterans at this point. Inspired form is hard to come by, especially for players that have hung around the tier 1-2 level for years. Perhaps it comes down to gelling together. Regardless of where it’s come from, if the whole team can take the same level they’ve been playing at in China, to an international event, it’s a team well-worth watching.
Winning the minor in convincing fashion has Vici coming to the major with some serious momentum. The clutch team fights and skirmishes they displayed early in the season had finally returned. Ori was a real threat as well, but he desperately needs to keep it up at the major. The hot and cold nature of VG’s carry duo has them bottom out too frequently. Perhaps most interesting was Fade’s dominance on the 4 role. After being made inactive for a single series before having to return to the team, you’d expect his motivation and play to be at an all-time low. Instead it seems to have lit a fire in him to prove his worth. ROtk will force you to play your best one way or another, it seems...
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.
While it’s a little sad as a spectator, the wild aggression that March brought to this team has been dialed back completely and the change has mostly been positive. It’s likely that Fear’s wealth of experience comes in handy here, but the roster move has yet to prove itself. While this is one of North America’s best teams, there’s a mile-wide gap between them and EG. Another flop at this major should have them looking at potential player shuffles. There’s likely no shortage of decent talent in the region hungry for more success, so that’s a plus.
Since ESL One Hamburg, Chaos has yet to impress at events. One of the win conditions for this team has always been w33 playing to the level he best demonstrated at the Shanghai major long ago. Sadly, he's been pretty watered down. Free from any expectation at this point, Misery's squad has the positive of little to no pressure on their shoulders and plenty of room to experiment.
Two spots reserved for South America is great for the experience and growth of the region. It’s unlikely to yield any results for the time being, though. Infamous’ hard fought second place in the SA qualifier doesn’t bode well for their chances when the first place finisher struggles against any top 10 team. The acquisition of Mason is likely to help with bringing some new ideas to the team, but it’s unlikely to propel their carry potential. A good strategy for decent South American teams to follow in these environments is to play aggressive, create chaos, and pick unconventional heroes that they excel at. Playing long games favours stronger teams. Playing in a disruptive and unfamiliar manner may force better teams out of their comfort zone, leading to mistakes.
Considering what this team should be capable of, it’s been a disaster. The initial glimmers of hope we saw when they first competed in qualifiers are now long gone. In his previous NA teams, Resolut1on’s incredible carry power always gave some hope for a win, even if the rest of the team couldn’t get it together. That luxury isn’t afforded to the current incarnation, with uninspired form coming from the safelaner of late. As Jack (manager of the team) suggested in a tweet, serious changes are warranted if this team wants any hope at TI.
Mineski was totally dismissible at the beginning of the season. While that hasn’t exactly turned around, they are showing promising signs of improvement. Making it to the playoffs and knocking out Chaos at ESL One Katowice gives hope that with time, they’ll join Fnatic as the only international threats from SEA. It’s still too early put stock into their potential, as they’ve yet to knock down a top 10 team. The acquisition of Ahjit, a focus on greedier heroes for Kpii, and very solid performances Pieliedie are all green lights — let’s see if it starts to translate at the major.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, Starladder, Liquipedia, JStorm, Dota2 Twitter, EHOME, Dreamhack