With the conclusion of the MegaFon Winter Clash, top tier competitive Dota is taking a break until next year. As the final chapter of the late 2018 season, it reinforced a turbulent narrative. Post-TI8 has seen the rise of both new and old teams, but almost none were able to maintain their heights beyond one event. Though competition is fierce, this has ultimately been an era of uncertainty.
TI8's end, a great unmaking
The International 2018 may have been the greatest tournament in Dota 2 history. Fantastic games, an interesting meta, inspiring storylines, and an epic final. This one had it all. The final in particular was a clash of two extreme and refined styles. PSG.LGD was on a rampage with their hard-hitting aggression and lane dominance. An approach that many other teams had adopted but failed to perfect to the same degree. On the other end of the spectrum was OG. Their 4 protect 1, stall into the late game style would strongly influence the following 7.19 meta.As usual, shortly after competitive Dota reached one of its greatest heights, a reset occurred. The top 4 teams decided to keep their lineups, while almost everyone else shifted, shuffled, and shaped new rosters. Some of the new lineups had hopeful fans across the world. PPD seemed to have a straight upgrade from Optic — a squad which he elevated beyond its potential throughout the year. Secret regained an old face and dipped into the younger talent pool. Fnatic formed yet another SEA super team. BurNIng even organised his own team of Chinese stars under the banner of “Team Aster”.With the myriad of fresh rosters and OG electing to take a break, it was clear that the upcoming season would bring change.
The new season blooms
Merely two weeks after the International, regional qualifiers for the Kuala Lumpur major began. For new teams, this was a high-stakes test. For everyone else, it left little reprieve from month-long boot camps, and the long days together at TI. In short, burnout became the biggest threat to top teams.While the likes of LGD, EG, and VP still appeared dominant in their regions, troubles arose among the old guard in Europe. OG avoided participation in favour of rest for the first couple of months, echoing the Alliance of 2013. Elsewhere, Liquid failed to qualify for the major, forcing them into hiatus.Between the qualifiers and other small online tournaments, a relatively expected hierarchy formed within each region.
Secret topped Europe with NiP a step down from them. Alliance being a distant third.
Likewise NA had EG as a clear winner, Forward as a tough competitor, and J.Storm far behind.
As expected, Fnatic was the strongest in SEA, with TNC biting at their heels. The rest of the region was much less clear.
PSG.LGD still looked like the kings of China. VG and Aster made it through the important qualifiers, but otherwise the region was highly competitive.
For CIS and SA, there was a definitive top team (VP and paiN, respectively) while the remainder of the regions lacked a strong competitor that could stand up to them
Very early into the season, the first notable LAN took place in Singapore. The PVP Esports Championship featured the newly formed Team Secret; Fnatic; and clear favourite, PSG.LGD. While not especially prestigious or a tournament that top teams would take very seriously, there were still early signs here of what was to come. LGD was surprisingly dispatched by Secret in a very one-sided best-of-three. The grand final ended up being a very close series with Puppey’s squad eventually coming out on top over Fnatic. A win that might raise a few eyebrows, but without the context of more big-name teams or a better format, it was difficult to use the PVP Esports Championship to influence how one ranks these teams.Fortunately, just a couple of weeks later, ESL One Hamburg became the first LAN to show what the late 2018 season really had to offer. 12 mostly great teams participated in the event with a group stage, double elimination, and reasonably large prize pool. Sadly, EG and Forward had to play with standins for their position 2 players, diminishing the results slightly. Nonetheless, it was every bit the tournament it should’ve been.China looked deceptively strong with Aster having a very dominant group stage and Vici Gaming taking second place in a grand final that went all the way. While perhaps a sigh of relief for the region, it would not last. Virtus Pro also looked quite strong, knocking Secret into the lower bracket and eventually taking a comfortable third place. The real story of the event however, was Secret winning their second LAN in a row. It was becoming clear that Nisha had what it takes to compete with the very best carries and this international team had a formula for success.
The Kuala Lumpur major and beyond
Shortly after ESL One, the DreamLeague minor began. Featuring the teams that fell short of qualifying for the major, it was still an entertaining event, even if it wouldn’t be at the level of ESL One. 1437’s Tigers finished in first place and filled in the final slot for the major.Less than a week after DreamLeague, the Kuala Lumpur Major began. There were many questions going into this event. Could Secret win another LAN and threaten to claim this timeline as their era? Would China come out as the number one region with PSG.LGD joining VG and Aster for the biggest LAN of the year outside of TI8? How strong were EG and Forward with their complete rosters? Could the likes of VP, LGD, and EG return to the form we saw from them earlier in the year?As it turns out, the major was a true spectacle, with plenty of surprises and epic games. From a hero meta perspective, it became the logical conclusion of the 7.19 we saw at TI. Terrorblade, Phantom Lancer, Morphling, and Arc Warden became centerpieces in many 4-protect-1 drafts. While the limited strategic pool became somewhat of a joke in the community, it echoed the style that won TI8 for OG, cementing n0tail and 7ckngmad as the players who understood how to win on that patch.For some, the major was a story of redemption. Ninjas in Pyjamas managed to claim 4th place, despite playing with a standin and finally started to look like worthy competitors. EG swept through the lower bracket into third place, with Arteezy looking his best in a long time.For some, the major was merely a disappointment. Forward finished in the bottom 8 with their complete roster. China walked away without a single team in the top 4. Lastly, paiN failed to live up to the hype from ESL One, finishing in 13th-16th.One team that met expectation was Secret. Making it to the grand final and taking Virtus Pro all the way to a game 5 left little doubt that Puppey had struck gold with post-TI roster moves. Still, coming so close to the win without achieving it was surely disappointing for the team. Virtus Pro’s drafting and play was worthy of winning the major, however. Their first win was a little cheesy, but game 4 and 5 showed complete mastery of the Terrorblade meta. The only question that remained was whether they could maintain the incredibly high form once 7.20 landed.We would have our answer three weeks later, when the final noteworthy LAN commenced. The MegaFon Winter Clash was a short, prestigious event held in Moscow. VP, Secret, LGD, and Liquid were among the six participants, making it an event worth watching. The results were far from expected. Perhaps it was teams needing a break, or maybe they hadn’t figured out the patch. Whatever the reason, Virtus Pro finished last; Secret finished 4th; and LGD fell third, dropping 2-0 to Na`Vi, who were then dismantled for the second time by Liquid. While Secret had the excuse of playing with a standin, it was a big disappointment to see VP drop so early after appearing so strong at the major.So now top-tier competitive Dota takes a rest until January. Regardless of all the controversy, the Chongqing Major will likely be one of the last big tournaments of the 7.20 meta and will help with illustrating the narrative around which teams are the kings of the 2019 season and which teams should consider whether to continue developing, or making a roster move.Follow me on Twitter for bite-sized opinion blasts and to be notified when I post future articles: MythosImages courtesy of Dota2 Twitter, Epicenter Twitter, ESL Twitter