October has arrived, and with it a month full of LAN finals for the world’s finest Dota teams to come together and compete for their ultimate goal. This year, however, there is far more than money at stake at these big name competitions: a system of Major and Minor classifications now dictate, in a transparent and discreet way, which teams will be directly invited to the big showdown at the next International.
The first of these tournaments, StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 3, is now upon us, with the first batch of the soon to be sought after Qualifying Points up for grabs. Though only a Minor in terms of prize money and Point distributions, what’s more important is the chance to strike out and make a deep run against the world’s best teams. Present are going to be all kinds of story lines and levels of prestige: both TI7 finalists, cold teams heating up, hot teams cooling off, dominant squads and underdogs, redemption stories and legacies to defend. This coming weekend in Kiev, the pecking order of the global scene will become that much clearer, and the competition that much fiercer for tournaments to come.
After a long absence, the newest International champions have returned to public eye. Unlike Newbee, the other finalist at TI7 with a handful of DPL games under their belt, we have yet to see Team Liquid perform as a team since the conclusion of The International. Sure, GH and Mind_Control have been participating in FaceIt Pro League’s European in house league, but outside of that and a couple of streams from Matumbaman, the horse boys have stolen away to some well needed vacation and private scrims.
This is the double edged sword of winning an International. In the past, the TI finalists were always among the invited and got a free pass to skip their home region’s qualifying stages. Now, as direct invites to tournament playoffs have dwindled to only two or three spot alongside a single qualifier spot per region, avoiding the the cutthroat regional qualifiers for Minors and Majors is a huge weight off the invitee’s shoulders.
Rest is good, but rust is bad. With a captain as experienced as Kuroky, who has experience the hard grind of constant league play as well as the luxury of the lulls of direct invites, Liquid has a wealth of knowledge to address their debut back into the Major Circuit. The faces behind the screens will be the same as they were two months ago: their superstar mid player Miracle-, faithful carry Matumbaman, dynamic support GH, and rock-steady offlaner Mind_Control have all chosen to stand by their captain Kuroky to defend their Aegis of Champions. They will be presented the opportunity to show the world that they haven’t missed a step since TI7, so the question stands: will they dominate like they did at TI as they disposed of three straight Chinese teams en route to their trophy? Or will this be a rude awakening to their late summer hibernation?
Usually, making it to the finals of an International is a bold enough claim to make, no matter the outcome. The result of winning that upper bracket final has entailed a free invite to whatever LAN a finalist team chooses to attend for, at the very least, the rest of the calendar year. Newbee’s situation this Starladder is unique, however. Yes, they have received the same treatment as in years past, bypassing the regional qualifier for this event and others going forward. However, despite punching their way through the upper bracket in their path to the TI7 finals, Team Liquid’s clean 3-0 sweep had the team visibly shaken, as shown in the most recent True Sight.
There is a bit more weight following around the Chinese team at this LAN. The need to reassert the air of dominance Newbee had about them going into The International that followed them all the way until their crushing grand finals loss is a bit more pressing than runner-ups past. Unlike the other finalist and Starladder direct invite, Team Liquid, there is less of a total mystery surrounding the team going into the tournament. Their performance in the China-only DPL Regular Season has shown promise, putting up strong-to-middling performances against their regional adversaries and securing a berth into the playoff stage and avoiding relegation.
Fans of the TI7 squad hoping to see the team back in fighting form can rejoice in their decision to hold off on any roster changes. Supported by scene veterans Faith and Kaka and the Aussie ringer kpii in the offlane, the breakout stars Moogy and Sccc have at they need to prove that Newbee as team can overcome their bad day in Seattle and snatch up their first Qualifying Points of the year.
Bow down and show reverence for the return of Europe’s reigning emperors. After a season of living in the shadow of its own pre-TI5 legacy, Team Secret has come screaming back into stride by taking the European qualifier circuit by storm. Gone is the speculation of the performance Secret’s latest roster shuffle in a volatile European scene, replaced by an absurd 23-2 map score, spanning over an undefeated 11 serieses.
This is clearly not the same Team Secret that floundered its way through the TI7 season. Rather than undergo a hard reset like the shuffles following TI5 and TI6, the only positions that needed filling were for their carry and offlane positions. Stepping into the offlane to replace Khezu, following a long tradition of recruiting old Cloud9 players, is FATA- in a pivot from his usual role as a mid player. MP’s replacement in the carry position is a bit more unexpected, but has more than proven himself in the field of play. Ace, a long time member of the ever-present but never prominent Danish stack, has taken up the daunting task of ushering in a renaissance for a team coming off of a year of controversy and lukewarm results as their carry player. As recent history has shown, it is a role he has taken to quite well.
The rest of Team Secret from their run at the most recent International has remained. Team founder and captain Puppey has finally gotten his groove back, joined in his support duties by former SingSing stream regular and rising star Yapzor. Holding down the mid role is the only remnant of Secret’s experimental SEA roster, the Malaysian wunderkind MidOne. In retaining most of their TI7 roster and bringing in the right talent, it appears that this iteration of Secret maybe have found a winning recipe worthy of its dominant 2014-2015 lineup. With Europe firmly under their control, even with several standins for FATA- during qualifiers, Starladder will be the first real test of whether this new Secret team can transform their success into coveted Qualifying Points.
There exists a special kind of energy that manifests on occasion when a team changes its roster. This “honeymoon period” elevates an otherwise questionable team to the next level performance wise and has been the sort of lightning in a bottle that motivates rosters to mix it up. When the iconic CIS team Natus Vincere revealed their latest lineup following the conclusion of The International this year, the reception was lukewarm.
Gone was the western European talent they had brought in to rejuvenate the team, and in Pajkatt and Biver’s stead was Rodjer and Crystallize, respectively. The former had just come off a miracle run at TI7, upsetting the North American juggernauts Evil Geniuses, but had an otherwise middling career of a few tier 2 online-only tournament wins. Crystallize was an even bigger question mark, entering as a virtually unknown carry player from a struggling Double Dimension squad. The rest of Na`Vi, the steadfast offlaner General, brilliant captain and support player Sonneiko, and the golden boy himself Dendi, had at that point become the butt end of jokes throughout the scene, synonymous with wasted and washed up talent. The signing that fans pined for, the free agent Resolut1on who went on to sign with OG, never happened, and the team was written off as another dead-on-arrival iteration of a once great club.
And then the team started to play.
For that magical month of September, Na`Vi seemed to have become the premiere team in the CIS region. Despite dropping a set to Team Spirit, whom they would later defeat to qualify for Starladder, their warpath through the Starladder and PGL qualifiers was unrelenting. As soon as their success came, however, their momentum was brought to an abrupt halt at the hands of Virtus.Pro during the ESL Hamburg qualifier. Since then, Na`Vi has struggled to recreate the magic that now brings them to Kiev, after additionally failing to qualify for the Perfect World MAsters and Dota Pit. A good showing on home turf, however, could be just what Na`Vi needs to stoke their furnace for another round.
Until this past month, Vici Gaming’s flagship team has been at a loss for a solid roster. Having failed to qualify for an International since TI5 (though, sister team VG.Reborn qualified for TI6) or any Valve event since the Shanghai Major, it was time to shake things up and roll the dice on a whole new lineup for the coming Pro Circuit. The only remainder from the old Vici squad is Ori, their mid laner and a general newcomer, with just over a year under his belt in the upper echelons of the Chinese Dota scene. On carry, the star of Invictus Gaming.Vitality’s lineup, Paparazzi, brings his high MMR talents to the VG fold. As for the rest of the team, many of these names will look familiar, particularly to EHOME fans: Eleven fresh off his top 4 finish at TI7 with LGD now offlanes with VG, and on the support roles are the legendary LaNm and Fenrir, who now comes home to the team that kickstarted his long career over the course of nearly three and a half years of service.
Although Vici Gaming got off to a slow start this season, losing their chance at qualifying for the season’s first big money Major as well as PGL, they have been on fire ever since. With appearances coming up at Dota Pit, the Perfect World Masters, and now Starladder, it has become clear that at long last, VG has reclaimed their spot among the Chinese elites. A top four finish here would certainly bolster the team’s resolve going forward, between some good money and those precious Qualifying Points.
While it may seem that the famous spoilers from the Kiev Major have emerged once again to disrupt another LAN, a quick look under the hood will tell otherwise. Yes, the organization is the same and still sports their midlaner 4dr, however the other four members of this roster (FuckinEh, Liposa, Bardo, and Thiolicor filling out the carry, offlane, and support positions, respectively) are from the now-defunct Midas Club Elite, another all-Brazilian team. Where Midas Club had struggled and come up short earlier on in 2017, however, this new configuration with 4dr at midlane has become a major force in the South American scene.
Their appearance at Starladder this coming week is only the start of the LAN conquests for the hopeful SG e-sports. In addition, they have qualified for the Perfect World Masters and Dota PIt Minor tournaments, as well as the first Major of the year at ESL Hamburg. Having edged out regional rivals Infamous and outliving the scene’s other serious yet freshly disbanded threat, Digital Chaos.SA, it is clear that SG has become the accomplished team that Midas Club Elite spent last year trying to become. Sure, early failings to qualify for PGL Bucharest and DreamLeague Season 8’s LAN finals, even when given a second chance replacement match against Infamous for DC.SA’s spot at PGL, were no doubt disheartening. Do not make the fatal mistake Team Secret made at Kiev, however, for underestimating SG leaves any team wide open to have their tournament lives cut short.
Of all six regions in professional Dota right now, none seem more tumultuous than the North American scene. Historically derided as being unstable, unskilled, and largely a joke compared to the more well-formed regions of Europe and China, this season any and all qualifiers are wide open for a slew of teams to take a spot. compLexity Gaming is among this upper crust of viable NA contenders, having secured their spot at this LAN as well as the Perfect World Masters later on this year. Joined by Optic Gaming, Evil Geniuses, and Immortals in representing North America on LAN this year, with strong contenders like VG.J Storm and Digital Chaos nipping at their heels, it suffices to say that times are tough for those wanting to punch through the competition right now.
Long time fans of the compLexity organization should find the current lineup to be very, very familiar. The only difference between their roster now and the one that qualified for TI6 is the addition of their TI6 finalist offlaner Moo and the absence of Swedish support Handsken. Otherwise, the team remains the same. Charter members of the compLexity organization, brothers Zfreek and the player formerly know as melonzz (now under the reverse nom de plume, Kyle), join their old Heroes of Newerth buddies Chessie and Limmp to give this year’s Pro Circuit another shot. With fraternal synergy powering their supports and a wealth of experience and pedigree on their core position players, compLexity Gaming is not a team to overlook. Their invite has been earned through an incredibly competitive gauntlet, and that amount of momentum can lead to a hot start for this season.
SEA qualifiers have always been a contentious game of King of the Hill. In recent years, the crown has transferred between Mushi and his stacks’ long reigns, new faces like RAVE and Warrior Gaming.Unity, and most recently the supergroup that fell just short of qualifying for TI7, Team Faceless. Now that the dust has settled, a new all-star team under the Mineski banner, weaving in rich backstory, a strong pedigree, and most importantly now: results. Having qualified for the first two events they participated in, Starladder now serves to the proving grounds in which the new lineup must perform.
For those who haven’t been following the roster wire, the new Mineski squad is captained by Mushi, the Malaysian legend who has been steering the ship since March of last year following his departure from Fnatic. When his mid year roster shift, featuring some ringers out of CIS and familiar Filipino talent, failed to qualify for The International, the only new face that stuck around was ninjaboogie. Following the radical reconstruction of WG.U and the dissolution of Team Faceless in the post-TI shuffle, NaNa joined ranks as part of the next generation of Malaysian Dota greats, along with Mushi’s old Team DK teammate iceiceice and his Faceless companion Jabz to round out the roster.
Despite a recent stumble in the ESL Hamburg qualifier, Mineski’s momentum this qualifier season cannot be ignored, dispatching regional rivals Execration, Clutch Gamers, and TnC. Will this all-star lineup be able to ride their wave and secure their share of this year’s first offering of Qualifying Points?