The International 2017Main Qualifiers
The Salt Mines
More cosmopolitan than ever.
The region of the eternal experience.
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Once again The International is upon us. This year 18 teams will compete to seize the Aegis for themselves and be hailed as the greatest team on the planet. We begin by looking at three regions; North America, South America, and Southeast Asia. All three regions used to be viewed as a step below the larger and more powerful European and Chinese scenes and for good reason. Lately however we have seen team after team rise from these three areas and become serious contenders in international Dota 2. With the stakes set so high the teams that make it out of these qualifiers might have their lives changed forever.
Who would have thought that the most interesting qualifier after China would be North America? Although it took more foreigners than one would have expected, the eternal fight for second place of the salt throne will have teams that could have also been playing in the European qualifiers just as easily. In fact, for the sake of the American talent, perhaps it would have been better that way.
The most striking case is NP, the team led by Jacky Mao, which before the addition of FATA and Pieliedie, was going through a tough time. Although the decision to kick SVG and 1437 can be debated, the results are undeniable: by forming an almost-C9 squad, the team went from being eliminated in the first round of the DAC 2017 to a respective third, second and fourth place in Manila Masters, ZOTAC Cup Masters, and The Summit.
The contrast is set by Planet Odd, the former Digital Chaos roster. Even though the team led by Misery does not particularly seem to be having a bad time, we cannot say that this squad is at the level that took got them second place at TI6, despite their decent win rate. Perhaps the introduction of path 7.00 did not accommodate this team that is led by one of Dota's most veteran players. One that is, yet again, in danger of missing his first International, an accomplishment very few Dota players can claim.
Usually this would be all in all for North America, but with Complexity Gaming and the new Digital Chaos having a lot of stakes in play, the qualifiers of this region have gained a new flavor. These two are the most American squads between the favourites and both teams showcase the best of American classics: Bulba, Demon, and imported talent from SEA. How many Meepo bans due to Abed will we watch? Can Mason go back to a TI? Will this be the last ride of the Freedman brothers with Complexity? Can Team Freedom, Team Red or Wheel Whreck While Whistling be more than a wild card in this qualifier? Definitely a qualifier that is worth watching ... again, who would have thought?
Perhaps it was the success of Demon that inspired this phenomenon, but for this qualifier we have many players from other regions: Sexybamboe, 1437, Mag, Ark, Jeyo, and Black. This not counting the players of Australia, South Korea and any other that may emerge from the open qualifiers.
While examining the teams, we can realize that the rivalry between Faceless and TNC has not changed much; both still are the flagships of the region and although the competition has raised its level, it is difficult to think that one if not both of them will not travel to Seattle.
Being very active in the recent months, Mineski, Happy Feet, Fnatic, GeekFam and Clutch are the main contenders for a third place, perhaps more than that if they can topple the giants. Many of these teams have faced each other in several smaller tournaments and in the qualifiers to The Summit, MarsTV and Epicenter. Within them, Clutch Gamers, one of the few teams with a roster with no 'foreign' players in this region, has been pulling the most outstanding performances. The team, led by flysolo, managed to qualify to the Mars Dota 2 League and The Summit, overtaking Faceless and TNC in the process. But by not being able to obtain visas for the trip to the United States, they had to stay out of a competition that could have changed their fate, or at least, give them some good experience.
Even with Clutch beating Faceless and TnC in qualifiers, their performances on LAN have been less than stellar, with them losing in the head to head matchup with Faceless during the Manila Masters 2-0 resulting in elimination from the tournament in last place. TnC had a similar experience where they faced Faceless during the Kiev Major and were also knocked out in last place, despite a stronger than expected performance in the group stage. Faceless had previously never taken a Bo3 off a non-SEA team in international competition, but have recently been able to step up their game with a victory over OG during the Manila Masters. A role swap that put Black mid and moved Jabz to 4 position support while Xy has gone to carry seems to have worked well for them in the short term. Whether it will be enough to outclass TnC and the other teams in the qualifier remains to be seen.
We will have to wait until the end of the qualifiers to know if importing foreign talent was a fruitful decision or not. Perhaps the answer is not in the raw talent, but more in the guidance and leading abilities that bringing in fresh minds can give to a team.
After a defeat in one of the few international LANs in which a South American team participated, a classic phrase you will find in their social media is that "it gave them experience". People have been waiting for that experience to become more than just mere participation in a major LAN. True, it is more complicated for a South American team to qualify to an international LAN because of the ping issues, but the reality is that in the crucial moments it has not been the ping but, ironically, the lack of experience, that is the deciding factor for these teams.
Unknown managed to make the first big breakthrough onto the international scene even before South American qualifiers were formed for Valve events, but SG Esports was the one that shook the competitive scene by eliminating the top seed at the Kiev Major. SG’s story seemed to be similar to Ad Finem’s one and although the development did not resemble that of the current Mousesports, the sequel to both of their triumphant stories have striking resemblances. The sequel may be never as good as the original, and both teams are not currently having the best of times.
SG Esports has been on a rather unpromising streak with a win rate of about 36% since their last match in Kiev. Something that can be said in favor of SG is that they have been facing tougher opponents in a more consistent basis than most of the SA teams. This is yet another opportunity for that experience to be, for once, the deciding factor in the qualifiers of a top tier event.
On the other side of the continent, Peru still seems to be the most competitive country - if we ignore the one-time fact that it was a 'non-Peruvian' team that participated in the Kiev Major. Two Peruvian teams were invited to the qualifiers, Elite Wolves and Infamous. On the one hand, Elite Wolves is on a relatively good streak, winning 13 of their last 22 matches. The issue for Masoku and company lies not in the quantity but in the quality of their rivals. Even taking this into consideration, their highest position in a tournament is a third place finish in the Prodota Cup, a tournament that barely offers any competitive experience to a team that aims to battle for first place against SG esports and Infamous.
Speaking of Infamous, lately we've been hearing a lot of Benjaz, Kingteka and the rest of this squad. Earlier this year, the team participated in the WESG, which TNC ended up winning. At that time, this team had Stinger and Kotaro (now on Elite Wolves) and placed fourth after losing to Alliance. They also made an appearance in the Beat Invitational Season 8 and there they managed to get into the podium. Their last performance at Galaxy Battles was their last chance to 'gather experience' before the qualifiers, but it didn’t really turn out that well for them.
Although both teams have had quite acceptable performances at least with respect to their win rates, it is again the experience factor that separates these two rosters. Infamous comes from playing against opponents that are rarely accessible for them, while Elite Wolves has been competing at a level more similar to what they will face in the qualifiers. One should wonder then, if it is more beneficial for teams like these to try to gather as much top tier experience as they can, or to focus on decrypting their opponents in the qualifiers to gain an edge specifically against them.
If the qualifiers were a RPG game, Infamous and SG would easily be the favourites over Elite Wolves and the rest of the Open Qualifier teams with their superior items and levels. Will the experience serve SG esports and Infamous? Or perhaps will an unknown South American stack will be the first team in the region to participate in an International?