Wuhan, China, is not just the home of this years Mars Dota 2 League but also one of the four great towers of China; The Yellow Crane Tower. While the history of the tower starts in 223 AD it has been ravaged by conflicts and has, thus, been rebuilt several times. Much like several of the teams in this tournament. iG has, for years, been a shadow of their former selves. Newbee took a TI win only to fall off the map. No one call tell OG's story without mentioning their collapse at TI6, and we all remember the EG debacle at the Manila Major last year. What all these teams have in common is that they have turned these hard times around.
And now here we are. Less than a month away from the first games of The International 2017 and a tournament where 6 out of 8 teams will go to Seattle after this. While this can be seen as a great dress rehearsal the teams have to ask themselves how much they're willing to give up for this win. In The Summit Virtus.Pro came out saying that they will play the tournament just for fun. Part of that was that they felt like they had a TI invite locked up, but part must have been that they didn't want to give anything away. They wanted to play their cards close to their chest. And if you're a team like OG, who everyone will be studying, you have to ask yourself: is it worth giving away a pocket-strat to secure yourself a series?
Even with this in mind the teams at the event has an innate quality to them. They might not need the pocket picks to make a deep run. So the answer we'll be given at MDL isn't what team is in the best shape right now, but what team has built their tower on the strongest foundation.
The arrival of patch 7.00 marked the start of Invictus Gaming's resurgence. Gone were the days where they bombed out of qualifiers and struggled to even make it to a LAN event. Thanks to Boboka's mastery of Monkey King the rest of the team suddenly got the space they needed. Giving that sort of space to a legendary player like Burning is a recipe for success for any team. it was like we were teleported 3-4 years back in time. To a time when iG's name was feared. But nothing lasts forever.
There is no other way to say it: iG has looked weak as of late. After their win at DAC and a 3-4th place finish in Kiev they have struggled to even get out of the regional qualifiers. And once they hit a LAN they have impressed very few people. So it's time for iG to step up once again. And the present is as good of a time as any.
Newbee's lead up to MDL has been a great one. They're coming off a string of great results, winning two tournaments and finishing 2nd in the third (where they defeated some highly ranked teams). As we all know these results were deemed good enough to give the team an invite to Seattle, and in all fairness they are probably THE team to beat in China right now.
There is a bit of a backstory to these wins by Newbee though. None of the wins came in LANs where you had many of the top teams on the scene. Don't get me wrong, winning a tournaments where you play against Team NP or TNC is no small feat but at the same time there was no EG, OG, or Liquid in any of those tournaments. This means that Newbee has gone a while without facing off with the crème de la crème. Here they have arguably the best teams in the west to spar with. Which can be more valuable than a first place finish in the event.
At this point it's almost funny to see "the cycle of OG" repeat itself time and time again. The team seems to be down on its luck, then comes back and wins a major, and goes back to their modus operandi. In a way it's impressive how the team can boost themselves when it really matter. And it sort of makes them impervious to criticism. No one can say that OG is a bad team, even if they crash out of the group stage in "normal" tournaments.
So what does this mean for OG at MDL? Well I, for one, don't expect the team to do poorly. They usually ramp up their intensity and practice regiment before a major tournament. They managed to snag 2nd in DAC, just before the Kiev major, and finished in the same spot at The Summit 6, just before the Boston major. And since this is their last tournament before TI a deep run is really to be expected by the green machine.
The boys in blue have, with few very exceptions, had a great 6 months. If you exclude their disappointing 5-6th place finish in DAC they have been the team to beat. Or they used to be up until about a month ago. The place if Moscow, the tournament Epicenter. EG vs. Liquid, an old rivalry that spans years as well as games. EG was the favorite coming into the series. They had looked close to invincible, only dropping one game so far in the tournament. The trophy was all but in their hands. And then something happened. Liquid seemed to be ready for everything EG threw at them. EG found themselves outmaneuvered and out-played. Liquid had found a chink in their armour.
In true EG fashion we haven't seen much of them since. The team does not play in a lot of tournaments and instead focus on the big ones. They don't really play qualifiers either. So coming into MDL EG is probably the team with the most questions surrounding them. Have they successfully repaired their armour? If so, I see nothing but greatness for EG in both MDL and TI7.
Welcome to the team that's hardest to get a hold of on the list. For a long time they've seemingly been a stable tier 2 team in China. They've had decent results in regional tournaments, such as finishing 5th in DPL, but have never really been a challenger. That has slowly started to change after the addition of DDC, but the real game changer was the addition of Ahfu and Inflame. With the new roster the team has soared above expectations and are definitely one of the most interesting teams to watch at the moment.
So what can we expect from LFY at MDL? Well if I was an analyst this would be the points where I throw my hands (and papers) up in the air. They're still a bit of an enigma. They mix great results, such as demolishing their group at Epicenter, with dropping games to teams like FTD. So for LFY I think that a stable performance is what they're looking for more than a top finish.
It's been a rough year for the main LGD squad so far. They've actually only attended two LANs so far after TI6, the recent Dota Summit 7 and the Boston Major where they were a replacement for a team who couldn't attend.. At the Summit 7 they showed that they're in form for the summer season. Winning series against Team NP and Virtus.Pro is nothing easily dismissed. Especially if you consider that this is the team that lost to EHOME.K just 2 months ago.
LGD is the true dark horse in this tournament. Everyone looks to one of the big four of this tournament (iG, EG, OG, Newbee) to take this tournament, and rightfully so. But if LGD's form keeps on improving as it has done lately, they could make a deep run here.
Fans of Vici Gaming has gone through hell these last 6 months. The team seems to be fundamentally flawed. In any other team additions such as Hao or ChuaN, two TI winners, would have been a great addition to the team. In VG it has changed closed to nothing. They even originally failed to qualify for MDL but managed to snag an invite after the European qualifier had to be canceled. Even when they show some sign of life, they seem to fall back into old habits right away. In the recent Galaxy Battles they finished 2nd in their group after beating Newbee, one of the favorites to win this tournament. Maybe they were on their way back to form? Well the bracket stage ended in disaster as they first fell 0-2 to Planet Odd, and then were promptly eliminated by Mouz in the lower bracket.
As they failed to qualify for TI7 this tournament might be the last for VG in its current form. Unless they pull off a huge upset and take it. So they are really fighting for their life, as a team, this week.
During April and most of May it seemed like Clutch Gamers would be the next big thing to come out of the SEA scene. They seemed to never struggle and always have an answer to anything their opposition could throw at them. Even after their somewhat disappointing results in The Manila Masters and Epicenter they seemed like perhaps the strongest team in their region. The TI7 qualifiers became a disappointment though. SEA had three qualifier spots and Clutch seemed like a lock. Yes there were other strong teams in the region. TNC, Fnatic, XCTN, Mineski, and Faceless are teams worthy of respect. But Clutch had beaten them all, usually several times, in the months leading up to the qualifier. Then disaster. They lost in two straight series, once vs Fnatic and once vs XCTN, and suddenly the dream of a TI was just that. A dream.
The most important thing for Clutch right now is probably getting their "groove" back. The team has had an amazing few months and has shown their capacity. Now they have to improve and become players on the international scene. That's why tournaments such like this is so important for them. They get challenged by a new meta when playing these teams. They don't know the players on the other side as well. Playing on the international scene will make them a better team and will increase their chances in their region over the next year.