IntroChina is coming into Kiev with a bit of swagger back in its step. Having just had a triumph at the Dota 2 Asia Championship, the region has again swung back at the West. Now, with a deep roster of attending teams, all capable of making runs for the podium, China looks to have perhaps its strongest showing at a Major yet, poised to take the first one away from the West since the inception of the Major circuit.
The only roadblock the China’s success could be the evolving metagame. The style that led the region to such a dominant performance on home soil was hit after DAC ended, throwing a wrench into the efficient cogs of teams like iG and Newbee that seemingly had the previous patch figured out. Still, with momentum on its side, China will come into Kiev ready to win.
Team Random (ex-Wings)The former Wings roster, currently embroiled in a dramatic split from the organization, is the most enigmatic of all the Chinese teams attending. They leapt from the maelstrom that was the Chinese region in mid-2016, and continued to climb the ranks of teams until they reached their zenith as champions of The International. Since then, they’ve slowly declined until reaching their current state, a semi-competitive team in intraregional play, with a distinct lack of promising results in international competition. How far the mighty have fallen.
This roster is not new to the ups-and-downs of Dota - while on the rise, the team famously flatlined at the Manila Major, coming dead last in a tournament that should have been theirs for the taking. The potential for this team to bounce back always exists, if only the team’s drafting could again put its players in the right position to succeed. It’s no coincidence that the sharpest dive in the team’s results came after the Boston Major concluded and patch 7.00 was released; Zhang “Innocence” Yiping has struggled to adapt to the massive changes introduced by the patch.
The roster is at its best when it is allowed to play around the sidelane cores, with Chu “shadow” Zeyu and Zhang “Faith_bian” Ruida often in the starring role in the draft. Unfortunately, the recent metagame has featured midlane-centric playstyles, with teams that have strong 2/4 role synergy able to exploit less coordinated teams in the lane and proceed to abuse the strength of picks like Alchemist and Lina to close out the game. With marginal nerfs to both heroes in the most recent patch, perhaps Team Random can find a way to mitigate their weakness with their signature unconventional style.
Another factor that may play a role in deciding the fate of the team at Kiev is whether or not they run up against Evil Geniuses. It may seem absurd to single out one team as such an important matchup, but Team Random has lost the last four series against EG, all of which ended the team’s run at the tournament. This five month long streak dates all the way back to The Summit 6, showing that the North American team may hold a mental edge over the Chinese roster. With EG as a strong contender, Team Random may not have a choice but to slay their demons if they are to have a resurgence in Kiev.
Team VGJIf there is one word to describe the Team VGJ roster it is potential. On paper, the team has many of the necessary parts to a winning team, with the core of the 2014 Vici Gaming squad that took home silver at TI4, combined with one of the country’s best young carries in Sun “Agressif” Zheng from the 2015 CDEC team that also just fell short of an Aegis. The only untested player on the roster is in mid; Liu “Freeze” Chang joined the team late last year, and the team’s results have only gotten better.
The aforementioned core of drafter Bai “rOtK” Fan and support duo Xu “fy” Linsen & Lu “Fenrir” Chao is a solid foundation upon which to build a team. Fan has a checkered past as a captain, but criticism has always been focused on him as a player; his ability to draft is central to his value to the team, and so far he hasn’t let them down. The fy/Fenrir combination is one of the legendary duos in Dota, putting the younger cores of VGJ in position to win games.
If VGJ is to do well at Kiev, it will be off the back of their cores. Agressif has proven to some degree that he has what it takes to win at the highest level, but Freeze is a question mark by comparison. With so many known quantities, the fate of this team seems tied to how well the mid lane can stand up to the pressure of playing against the best in the world. With the 2 role being such a central one to modern Dota, it’s difficult to imagine VGJ making waves without Freeze having a breakout performance.
The one x-factor for the team is fy’s playmaking ability. While the game has changed significantly since his heyday, fy has a reputation as a player that can easily take over a game, even from the support position. While Rubick may no longer be a particularly desirable pick, options like Monkey King that have a high skill cap and strong impact throughout the game may put fy in position to make up for any deficiencies elsewhere in the lineup.
iG VitalityMaking a return to the Majors, the iG Vitality squad looks to redeem themselves from the catastrophe that was the Boston Major. Without two of their most important players, iG.V failed to make any impact the last time around. With their full roster in Kiev, the team is primed to show off the rising talent of the Chinese scene and right the wrongs that past visa issues created.
The team’s dynamic is well-suited for success in the current climate. The mid-support synergy between Xu “Sakata” Zichen and Gao “dogf1ghts” Tianpeng is the most notable thing about the roster, and with the importance of the 2v2 mid lane matchup being so high, iG.V can reasonably compete with “better” teams in the early game. In particular, there has been a resurgence of Earth Spirit picks to assist mid, and dogf1ghts is one of the better players on the hero.
The Achilles heel of the team is its drafting. Captain Su “super” Peng does a passable job, but is often outmaneuvered in the pick/ban phase, leading to mismatches in lanes that his teammates are unable to overcome, despite their skill. Unless iG.V discover a highly flexible template upon which to draft, the team may be held back by its inferior strategy. They will still likely win games, especially in a Swiss format that gives them the chance to bounce back, but it would be through sheer force of will rather than outsmarting their opponents.
If iG.V are to become better as a team, Kiev is their most important test yet as a roster. Should they manage to do well here, they may yet attain elite status. It’s a pivotal tournament; failure here would almost certainly see the team broken up in the ensuing roster shuffle window, but a high placing may mean more time for the team to develop together, setting them up for the ultimate goal at The International.
NewbeeNewbee are the challengers to the throne. As a team that’s consistently been one of the the top 2 in China for most of the past year, Newbee haven’t brought home a big win like a Major that would solidify their legacy as a team. They undoubtedly have the skill, certainly have the drafting and strategy, but the team always seems to fall short of the grand prize, often losing to the eventual champions deep in the tournament.
Kiev is Newbee’s chance to change all of that. They just beat iG in the D2PL en route to winning it. Admittedly, this was an online tournament, but the matches between the two teams have always been close. Thus far, iG has held the edge, but Newbee need only the hint of a chance to overtake the current champions.
Repeating praise for the team’s core players ad nauseum seems rather stale, so instead of discussing Song “Sccc” Chun, it is perhaps more pertinent to analyze Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi’s drafting. At DAC, Newbee found the most success playing with some combination of Abaddon, Monkey King, and Crystal Maiden, if not all three. While they were undoubtedly en vogue picks of the tournament, Newbee largely failed to find any success without them.
For all of the focus placed on the mid lane, the importance of strong heroes like Alchemist, it appears as if one of the best predictors of Newbee’s success is how the first phase of drafting goes, and whether or not Kaka is able to secure a small subset of heroes. Hopefully, the team is able to find a more diverse set of successful strategies come Kiev, or they may not live up to their collective reputations.
Invictus GamingComing off of their win at DAC, the main iG squad are starting from pole position at Kiev. Their hyper-efficient, abusive strategies propelled them past OG in Shanghai, and they are odds-on to meet again in Ukraine as favorites to win the Major. The question is, will iG make good on the promise of their hot streak and come into the tournament guns blazing, or will the spotlight placed on them after such an extended period of dominance take its toll on their edge over the competition?
Part of the answer lies in how much the patch changed the landscape of Dota. The characteristically greedy style of iG has done well in a metagame that doesn’t really allow for teams to punish such play. With the nerfs to Shrines, Towers, and Hand of Midas, though, the opportunity is there for teams to try faster push strategies against the Spectre drafts iG employed at DAC.
Teams might also look to test Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei’s hero pool by targeting the aforementioned Spectre, along with his favored Lifestealer. It might be a risky proposition to try to ban out such an experienced player, but it’s certainly possible that putting BurNIng off of these picks could disrupt iG’s gameplan, and give a challenging team the opening they need to win the chess match against captain Fu “Q” Bin.
All of this is assuming that Invictus Gaming haven’t already formulated new strategies for the Major and the new patch. If the team hasn’t become complacent in its success, they could easily stay ahead of the pack at Kiev and continue their pattern of winning nearly every tournament they enter. With the pedigree of its players, iG is certainly capable of staying on top of the Dota scene.