As some of you may know, I’ve been following The International, Valve Software’s $10 million Dota 2 tournament, fairly closely this year. The final bracket will be played out at KeyArena in Seattle, Washington this coming weekend. There are 8 teams remaining in the tournament, and I’ve decided to take some time and put together a power ranking along with some justification for my picks.
#8 – Cloud9 HyperX
Cloud 9 is a relatively new organization to Dota 2, but they have a lot of scene veterans on their roster. Their ocean-spanning team went through various name changes – playing as Kaipi, RattleSnake.int, and Speed Gaming – before they were picked up by this North American organization. Since then, they’ve competed in many events, but haven’t won a major tournament since their win (as Speed Gaming) over DK at MLG Columbus in November 2013. They’ve already secured their largest prize pool to date by qualifying for the bracket, but they’re sure to be looking for more here. Unfortunately, they’ve got a monster bracket ahead of them. They’ll start in the lower bracket, where one loss means elimination, playing against Na’Vi EU, who stomped them in the group stages, and it only gets tougher from there. In addition, their games in the bubble bracket last week looked really shaky; they escaped LGD by a score of 2-1, only to be stopped cold by DK. It’s especially educational to look at the last game of the day, when DK forced a GG within 20 minutes – it’s a testament to how the team can suffer from tilt as well as an example of how C9′s drafting, while often unique, can sometimes make little to no sense whatsoever. They’ll need to make some serious adjustments to be successful this weekend, especially in these best-of-3′s where they’ve already looked vulnerable.
It’s not all bad news for C9, though. There are definitely some big positives for them – for starters, their players have very high individual skill. bone7 is one of the premier offlaners in the scene today, perhaps most notable for his unbelievably solid Batrider play, while SingSing routinely excels at heroes like Mirana (shoot arrow, hit arrow) and, in the group stages, Meepo (?!). EternalEnvy is, of course, a top-tier carry in the scene as well; I expect to see him performing well and finding farm regardless of how the games go.
#7 – LGD Gaming
Ah, the first of the five Chinese teams in the final bracket this year. Dota 2 has historically been dominated by Chinese teams; in 2011 and 2012, they looked untouchable. As foreign teams have come to China to compete and Chinese teams have started traveling abroad more, though, the rest of the world has caught up in the last couple of years, perhaps most notably at last year’s International, where two European teams finished on top of the bracket.
Of course, you wouldn’t have guessed that looking at the TI4 bracket, where no less than five of the eight competing teams hail from China. However, that’s not to say they’re going to sweep first through fifth place; LGD, in particular, has looked quite shaky so far this tournament. They haven’t really been putting up the kind of results that we’ve seen from the other Chinese teams in recent tournaments, and their group stage, where they lost to every other Final Bracket team except for C9, reflects that. They were able to scrape by into the bracket by beating Team Liquid in the bubble bracket, but they then promptly dropped a series to C9, making them the first team in the lower bracket this year.
LGD’s definitely a talented team, but they’ve really struggled in not just this tournament, but other recent Chinese tournaments. They’ve definitely had flashes of brilliance, including their win in the D2L Season 4 at the beginning of this year, but they really haven’t had that breakthrough moment yet. With the field at this year’s International as strong as it’s looking right now, they’ll probably have to keep waiting.
#6 – Natus Vincere EU
Na’Vi’s been a favorite in the Dota 2 scene since they captured the hearts of fans everywhere in June 2011, taking home the $1 million prize in the first iteration of The International over what was then a very dominant Chinese scene. Since then, they’ve been a team of offs and ons, sometimes demolishing their competition and making impressive tournament runs (they placed second at The International in both 2012 and 2013). While it seems like Na’Vi always seems to find their stride in the year’s premier tournaments, they’re going up against a very solid lineup of teams this year. In addition, they had a fairly weak group stage compared to other teams, finishing with a record of 8-7 in Group Stage 2 and then getting swept by Newbee in Group Stage 3. This loss means they will end up starting from the lower bracket, where one series loss will knock them out of the tournament.
However, not only does Na’Vi have a history of making deep runs in the top tournaments despite earlier results, we’ve seen them in situations just like this one before. In 2012, they barely scraped into the main event bracket, finishing at the bottom of qualifying teams for their group. Despite the shaky group stage, they would go on to take second in the tournament. Their raw stats this year would seem to put them near the bottom of the list for taking the tournament, but the intangibles, as well as past performance on the big stage, give them a boost here.
I had a really hard time with this pick, to be honest. Newbee’s been one of the big powerhouses of Chinese Dota 2 along with IG and DK in the recent months. Their all-star lineup, including former member of LGD and Newbee captain xiao8, 3 former players from TongFu’s 4th place team at The International 2013 (they were the highest-placing Chinese team last year), and former IG carry Hao, has been solid, most notably going undefeated in the Chinese MarsTV Dota 2 League, where they stomped every other Chinese team handily. Keep in mind, too, that those results are less than a month old.
On the other hand, Newbee has looked really inconsistent at The International 4. In Group Stage 2, they dropped games to really strange opponents (Fnatic, Titan, and Empire among them), and looked shaky in some of their wins. They did pick up a win against IG and LGD, but lost to the rest of the teams who qualified for the main event. However, during the bubble bracket, they looked absolutely invincible – they made Na’Vi look silly, and took a very convincing 2-1 series win from IG to qualify for the winners’ bracket. Even so, they’ve got a long road ahead of them; their first opponent is top-ranked Vici Gaming, and that will be a challenge, especially since Vici will be scrimming with DK to prepare for the main event. I wanted to rank Newbee higher, especially after seeing their performance earlier this week, but I just can’t after some more careful analysis.
#4 – Invictus Gaming
Oh, iG. As we get closer to the top of the list, I find myself having to write more and more about Chinese teams – and with good reason. They’ve shown themselves to be Dota 2 powerhouses both in and out of China in recent months. Invictus Gaming is no exception to this rule, having wrecked their way through ESL One less than a month ago, defeating Evil Geniuses in the finals there. They also won WPC 2014, a mostly-Chinese tournament, demolishing DK 4-1 in the finals.
This is also a good moment for me to talk a little bit about the shift in the Chinese metagame over the course of the last year. When most Dota 2 fans think “Chinese Dota”, they think a farm-heavy, lategame-oriented lineup that can overcome early disadvantages to be unstoppable in long games. To be fair to those fans, this does have some basis in fact – that style of low-risk Dota was how iG won The International 2012. However, interestingly, that perception has become increasingly inaccurate as time goes on, and iG is certainly part of that metagame shift. ChuaN has been an absolute terror in some games as a roaming Mirana, and iG hasn’t been afraid to draft push strats either (although if you want to talk about Chinese push strats, look no further than Newbee, who have had some of the fastest games on record at this International). Couple this aggressive play with Ferrari_430, one of the best (if not THE best) solo mid players in the world, and iG has found themselves in a prime spot to compete for the championship this year.
That’s not all, though. If you look back, Invictus Gaming has been a championship organization for years. In 2012, they took home the Aegis of the Immortal at The International 2, and since then they’ve had a remarkably stable roster with only one player change. They have quite a history of domination that can’t be denied, and that might just serve them well here.
So, given all of this praise, why don’t I rank them higher? To find the answer, we have to look to the bracket. After their (perhaps surprising) 2-1 loss to Newbee in the bubble bracket, they’ve found themselves in the lower bracket heading into KeyArena and will be facing off against LGD. While I don’t expect that to be much of a challenge for them given past results (they’re 13-4 against LGD in 2014), it’s the road they have to travel that worries me. While any given upper bracket team only has to play two best-of-3 series to make the grand finals, iG has to play four, and if they lose once they will be eliminated. With this year’s field as stacked as it is, iG has a lot to overcome if they want to take home the championship.
#3 – DK
The top three were perhaps the most difficult picks for me. All three teams remaining have really performed well in the group stage, which made it really tough to take a guess where they might end up. I ended up putting DK in rank 3, though.
DK’s been a formidable foe especially in the last month or so, taking three big Chinese tournament wins over Newbee in the finals. They didn’t look unbeatable in those tournaments, but they did look extraordinarily solid. They haven’t just dominated in China, though; in April, they came to Russia and won StarLadder Season 9. They then followed up by taking second to EG in the hard-fought finals of The Summit. Needless to say, they will definitely be a team to watch at KeyArena.
That said, though, they haven’t had the best tournament so far at TI4. In the group stages, they did place quite highly, but they had a very shaky Day 1. They were able to pull it together and claim a top seed for the bubble brackets, and they did end up looking absolutely unstoppable in their 2-0 win over Cloud 9, but that first day still has me wondering.
Speaking of that win over Cloud 9, I wanted to talk about that a little bit. By winning that series, DK did guarantee themselves a spot in the upper bracket, yes. However, once they won the first game, Cloud 9 picked what may have been the clowniest draft yet this tournament. It makes me wonder how those games would have gone had C9 stuck with something a little more normal. I don’t mean to take away from Game 1, because that game showed just how scary DK can be in the lategame. Burning is perhaps the single best farmer in all of Dota 2, and his tactical mastery of the game is truly amazing.
Even with their rough Day 1, I might still have ranked them #1, if it weren’t for two really key points. First, VG didn’t just beat DK in the group stages – they stomped. The final score of that game was 10-1, and the GG came out within 20 minutes. To go past this tournament, though, DK also lost The Summit finals 3-2 to EG. It was a great series, very close, but they did lose, and that has to speak for something.
#2 – Evil Geniuses
Going into the final bracket at KeyArena, Evil Geniuses has to be feeling a lot of pressure. They’re the last North American team left in the tournament (unless you count the two Canadians on C9), which means that most of the fans at KeyArena will likely be cheering them on. That’s a lot of hope to put on one team – will the boys in blue be able to buckle down and carry the load?
Honestly, my best guess right now is yes, they certainly will. EG’s solid play and high level of individual skill (including Arteezy’s brilliant mid play and ppd’s unparalleled support on characters like Bane and Wraith King) have really shown through in this tournament so far, and they wound up with a direct seed into the upper bracket. EG has looked near-unstoppable so far, and I don’t see them slowing down. One thing that may hurt them a little bit is the practice with other teams before the main event; I really think DK has a stronger lategame than almost any other Chinese team left in the tournament, so EG needs to be cognizant of that and adjust from practice to the bracket when it comes time to do so.
One thing that really stands out for me is the emphasis that they put on Arteezy. Both North American teams did this to a certain extent: they turned their mid player into a 1 position carry, and using their hard carry as a supplemental carry. It’s worked well for them, too; Arteezy’s had some great games, and mason’s looked amazing, especially in his games as Faceless Void and Brewmaster so far this tournament.
In addition to their results so far at The International, EG’s been playing standout Dota at other tournaments as well. They beat both DK and VG at The Summit, and have also had other good Western results including a win at the D2L Western Challenge and a second-place finish at ESL One Frankfurt. Evil Geniuses is definitely one of the favorites to take home the championship this year.
#1 – Vici Gaming
Vici Gaming, like EG, has looked nearly flawless so far this tournament. This actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I had pegged DK, iG, and Newbee as the current Chinese powerhouses. Despite that, they stomped through the group stage, posting results like a 20 minute, 10-1 beatdown of DK on their way to the best record across all 16 teams. Their aggressive strategies and great team coordination throughout the entire group stage put them at the top of my list.
However, these results don’t necessarily mean the rest of the tournament will be sunshine and rainbows. VG has posted a lackluster 20-24 combined record against the rest of the upper bracket teams since the beginning of the year. This has been reflected in their recent tournament results – their last major tournament victory was back in December 2013, and since then they’ve been placing 3rd or lower. They’re going to have to maintain their focus and keep playing as well as they did in the group stages to close this one out.
There’s a really strong field at The International this year. Any of these eight teams definitely have a shot at taking home the close-to-$5 million first prize, but only one will actually pull it off. Regardless of who wins, though, we’ll be seeing a lot of great Dota 2 at KeyArena this weekend.