The wires have been connected, the switches flicked on, and the lights set as the first Major of the Dota Pro Circuit is due to kick off in Hamburg. Two Minors already down, ESL One Hamburg is set to be a fiercely contested tournament as teams vie for qualifying points, the new component central to any player’s success this season. The Hamburg Major will dish out 1500 points, specifically a full 750 points to the winning players. That said, however, due to the unfortunate planning and scheduling of the event prior to the introduction of the Circuit, it will be an 8-team Major with a Bo3 Grand Finals, certainly falling well below the standards of previous Majors. Nonetheless, with 8 teams from across the world, they all seek to impress and garner the necessary points to their eventual qualification to The International 2018.
Continuing their cyan gallop across the plains, Team Liquid have not stopped their rampage at winning TI. Granted, a new patch has yet to come, but they demonstrated the lack of any curse as they steamrolled the first Minor of the season, dropping only one game in the entire tournament: during the Grand Finals. As the winners of TI, they have been invited to a series of events including this one and the next. Having obtained their 3rd consecutive victory at a Starladder event, the team are on a hot streak of 5 LAN wins in a row and will seek to add more to that.
Heading into Hamburg, the team’s strength no doubt remains their enormous effective hero pool. With first phase bans guaranteed against GH and MinD_ContRoL, or both, they are guaranteed similarly effective and strong heroes in the first phase. Having taken leave of their infamous Keeper of the Light drafts, they highly favour mobile roamers for GH, particularly Earthshaker and Earth Spirit, usually followed up by a Venomancer, if not banned, or a hero for MC or KuroKy. Moving forward in the draft, the team often takes Miracle-’s hero in the 4th or last pick, usually guaranteeing a more favourable lane matchup for him. That said, Team Liquid are extremely diverse in their strategies, bringing heroes such as Brood, Chen, and Pugna to the table, showing a particular affinity for high-tempo lineups that capitalise on early advantages.
That said, while being a highly individually skilled team, there remains a tendency to make questionable plays, supposedly making games more entertaining. There is hardly a lack of baffling overextensions, misplays and the like coming from this team. As a result, Team Liquid are especially exciting to watch as we observe the manner in which they turn their disadvantage on its head and make a sensational comeback.
With the balance of the current patch, the meta is diverse and highly favours this team, evident from their continued streak of LAN wins. That said, Team Liquid are sure to make a splash at ESL One Hamburg, the last tournament before the new patch is set to push out. With a Major and Minor win under their belt, they will no doubt be far in the lead as far as Qualifying Points go.
Coming in with a vendetta is Newbee, the runners-up at TI and victim of the first TI Grand Finals sweep. Following their incredible, albeit ultimately disappointing run at TI, they took a break and were invited to the Starladder Minor. However, the team achieved significantly lacklustre results as they were swiftly eliminated along with Vici Gaming, suggesting that the Chinese lull in between TIs was back to haunt them. This proved uncharacteristic for the team as they had always been the one Chinese team performing well between TIs and at Majors during the last season. Hence, they will seek to exact revenge on their nemeses in the West at ESL One Hamburg.
Draftwise, the team appears to suffer heavily when faced against arguably better drafters, namely Puppey and KuroKy, explaining some of their losses recently. Nonetheless, they are a team that highly favour picking up a solid support duo in the first phase, often pulling out kaka’s signature Earth Spirit, Sand King, or Nyx, amplifying the strength of their early game. Faith, on the other hand, being a more selfless player, takes on certain advantageous heroes such as Shadow Shaman, Visage and Ancient Apparition, primarily heroes that need levels rather than farm, allowing him to play a true position 5 and ensuring stronger lanes and roam potential. Following that they normally pick their offlane and safelane, wherein counter-initiators like Puck and Tide are kpii’s expertise while Moogy takes on relatively self-sufficient laning carries like Venomancer, Chaos Knight and Weaver. Lastly, they enjoy saving the last pick for their star player, Sccc, ensuring a favourable lane matchup and overall comfortable game for him.
With that in mind, this team has a playstyle centred around defending their towers and collapsing on overextending enemies, true to the old dictum of defensive and disciplined Chinese Dota. With that in mind, Sccc and Moogy are extremely formidable and flashy players, making aggressive movements when they see an opportunity and making sure to do so flamboyantly. That said, Moogy has been underperforming of late, potentially as a consequence of personal responsibility for the losses in the Grand Finals of TI. With a drive to prove himself again, Newbee might seek to play around him more so as to help him regain his confidence.
Hence, this vengeful Chinese giant will look to prove that they deserved their invite to the first Major of the season, and further prove that they have not slept on their diligence, showing that Chinese Dota will not be waved aside just yet.
Rising from the darkness, Secret have been getting better and better this last year since their horrendous streak stretching from the Manila Major onwards. This clandestine team has certainly crept up on the scene under the leadership of Puppey and developed to an extremely formidable association of players. Placing Top 12 at TI may seem like nothing much but this was the team that utterly destroyed eventual winners Team Liquid in the first game of their series. Following TI, the reshuffle lent to them the fresh versatility that Ace brings to the table, along with a wealth of skill and experience from FATA, though trying out the offlane. Thus far, the team have made a strong showing, making it to Top 4 at the Starladder Minor and qualifying to multiple Majors and Minors, proving that they are currently the 2nd best team in Europe.
That said, it is a crucial task to pick the mind of Puppey, long heralded as an ingenious drafter and a renowned captain in the world of professional Dota 2. The draft is usually opened with a comfort hero for YapzOr and an offlaner or Puppey’s signature heroes such as Chen and Bane, securing them strong early game map and lane control. They essentially draft around MidOne as the star player, utilising the style of sacking self-sufficient safelaners that MP had previously brought the team. With Ace’s vast hero pool, Secret tend to pick a dual-core style lineup wherein Ace is left alone in his lane playing less common heroes like Broodmother, Lone Druid, and Meepo. In tandem with that style, they play around flashy heroes such as Ember Spirit, Templar Assassin, or Queen of Pain, handled by MidOne. With that in mind, FATA is arguably the one who is sacked the most on Secret while given similarly self-sufficient offlaners, namely Puck, Furion, and Underlord. As far as drafting genius goes, Puppey has recently been noted to set up for enemy AA picks so as to pick Furion in response, meaning a strong offlane and a general avoidance of sacking any lanes.
Subsequently, the team focuses on winning the early game and snowballing what with the amazing talent that their two core players have. With that early advantage, the team seize objectives around the enemy jungle and choke them out, allowing enough farm on the map for all of their cores. In regards to that, YapzOr essentially plays as a 4th core, obtaining items in his role at a comparatively fast rate. At the same time, Puppey playing position 5 is often in sacrificial positions, tanking ganks across the map. Though whether by sheer ingenious or by mistake is unknown, but nevertheless providing safety for the rest of his team.
Having already secured a good number of Qualifying Points over the last two Minors, the team is looking to snowball that further with their new roster and consequently new style which is already proving quite formidable. Toward that end, ESL One Hamburg might just be the stepping stone they need.
It is said that bears hibernate during the winter. However, the Russian bears have hardly done so during the winter of the competitive scene in Dota 2. Having expressed a satisfaction at a Top 6 placement at TI, the team found themselves hungry for more. Inter-regionally a highly formidable team and undoubtedly the best team in CIS this last year, the team did not undergo any changes but maintained their hold on the region save for a single upset that prevented them from attending the PGL Minor. Their first Dota Pro Circuit tournament thus far, Virtus.Pro will seek to cement their own standing with a minimum Top 4 finish, securing 150 Qualifying Points and guaranteeing a spot in the current Top 8 teams with the most Qualifying Points.
Overall, with VP choosing to stick with the same roster post-TI, their style has hardly changed and they have not played many series since TI. The team continues with their confident, aggressive style focused on a flashy core in mid, a comfortably strong laning carry, a CC-focused playmaker offlane, a farm-heavy position 4 roamer, and a dirt poor sacrificial position 5. Every part key to their success, the team relies on power farming and snowballing on 3 heroes, not including the offlaner. This is usually done by completely sacrificing the position 5 while strengthening the mid and carry’s lanes and later transitioning into a snowball and cooperative spacemaking style during the mid game phase. Depending on how the snowballing goes and whether it is halted, the team will normally just steamroll their way to a dominant victory.
Draftwise, Solo remains committed to opening with strategy-ambiguous heroes for himself, normally the likes of AA, Lich, and Disruptor, all supports that can provide something significant to the team be it a preemptive counter pick, strong laning, or crowd control, respectively. Following that is usually their position 4 focused on aggressive roaming, suiting Lil’s personality both ingame and out wherein there might be heavy single target focus with Night Stalker and Spiritbreaker or CC and high farm potential with Earthshaker, Earth Spirit, and Enchantress. Moving on in the draft, they tend to decide based on enemy picks and bans as to whether they want to play in a dual-core style or 4 protect 1 style, picking carry heroes like Weaver and Venomancer or flashy mids such as Queen of Pain and Lina. Along with the above in the 2nd phase, VP pick their CC offlaner, with Magnus, Dark Seer, and Batrider being particular favourites for 9pasha. Lastly, based on the decision in the 2nd phase, they favour last picking for No[o]ne to ensure he snowballs from a favourable lane matchup or a potentially game changing hero for RAMZES666, namely Void.
Bearing all that in mind, Virtus.Pro remain a fearsome team with a firm grip over the CIS region, virtually guaranteeing qualification to many future Minors and Majors. Having been denied a Major victory earlier at Kiev, they will likely take this as another opportunity for a Major win securing a wealth of Qualifying Points for an ever-hungry team.
Against many odds, this young Chinese team have prevailed, qualifying to ESL One Hamburg over other better-known teams such as iG.Vitality and LGD. While they avoided a number of the better teams with the bracket structure, they managed a victory over LGD in an extremely close, nail-biting Best of 5 Series to qualify, proving that they deserve to attend Hamburg as players. Having played together as a team since January under the banner of EHOME.Keen, they are familiar with each other and might pull another “Friendship Prevails” cinderella story much like OG, Liquid, and Ad Finem (now mousesports) had.
Keeping in mind that the team are fairly new to this top tier of inter-regional competitive Dota, it will be an important task to introduce them accordingly. Without further ado, zhizhizhi is arguably the star player of the team, playing the safelane and the highest MMR player of the team. He has come under much fire from the Chinese community as the worst 9k in China, seemingly almost undeserving of it in their eyes. However, this qualification with Keen Gaming seems to be proving them wrong. Moving on, we have the mid role taken up by 荧(aka Ying), a relatively new face in the scene, only getting his competitive break with EHOME.K back in January but proving fairly formidable as he gave Maybe a run for his money in Game 5 of the Qualifier Finals. Sporting mobile signature heroes such as Storm, QoP, and Ember, he is very much an Sccc-esque player, one who relies on snowballing on flashy, dominant heroes.
Meanwhile, dark plays the offlane role for this team, and, same as Ying, got his big break back in January under EHOME.K but little else is known about him. Much in suit with the meta, he plays fairly survivable offlaners that can transition into powerful 3rd cores, Furion, Puck, and Void being particular standouts. Following him is 佞臣 (aka NC) who plays the 4 role for the team, essentially the roaming/farming support. Unlike some of his compatriots, however, he has been in the scene for awhile, stretching back to the days of Speed Gaming.cn and playing on a number of EHOME youth teams, allowing him to lend a sort of competitive experience to his team that they otherwise lack. His style seems to consist of tanky roamers that can provide a bit of crowd control, with Clockwerk and Night Stalker being his go-to heroes. Lastly is Rong on the 5 role, who, much like his co-support is a fairly experienced player who previously played for DK, iG, and Newbee.Y. His style is very similar to that of Faith from Newbee, favouring heroes like Lich, AA, and Dazzle and being the main sacrifice of the team in terms of net worth. However, unlike many other 5 players, he appears to have a much lower death average, attesting to good positioning which is especially necessary for the latter two heroes.
Holding the knowledge of this team’s roster and their preferred heroes, we can expect fairly snowball-focused drafts that rely on early-mid game power spikes. That said, they go into ESL One Hamburg holding high hopes for China what with their close victory over LGD and may well take their first big step into international renown.
EternaLEnVy’s decision to move to SEA was highly controversial and with it Fnatic too, became controversial. Long lauded in SEA as a highly entertaining yet skilled player, EE had found himself liking the region very much after his experiences while on Team Secret and on NP, motivating his move to the region. With the departure of key players QO, Febby, and AhJit, the void was filled by EE and European players Xcalibur and pieliedie. Having undergone these changes while keeping Ohaiyo and Dj, the team have sought to be the best in the region in true anime style, facing several obstacles along the way. That said, they are simply attending as a replacement for HappyFeet who had failed to secure visas in time.
Nonetheless, Fnatic is no pushover as they have remained a top contender in SEA along with Mineski, HappyFeet, and TnC. Having been through a number of back and forth series with Mineski across the various regional qualifiers, they have proven themselves a capable team albeit lacking some chemistry thus far.
Naturally, with EE at the helm, this team is an entertaining one as baffling play after baffling play comes out but there might be some doubt as to how well the team have meshed together over the last 2 months since the brand’s disastrous run at TI7. Bearing that in mind, EE has clearly displayed his wacky creativity with his drafts, even bringing a dubious albeit classic matchup from the past wherein he picked Batrider mid to “counter” Puck due to Puck’s abysmal turn rate.With two talented Io players, the team have not held back on drafting the hero, resulting in many first phase respect bans as well as several first phase picks. In regards to that, Fnatic favour first picking a crowd control-based roamer in the event that they cannot get Io, often resorting to Nyx Assassin. They then follow up with a team favourite Batrider or a position 5 hero like Bane or AA, depending on the draft that EE desires. EE thereafter picks his hero, often a strong laner with high farm potential, resulting in Monkey King, Alchemist, and Terrorblade being clear favourites. Lastly, the team pick relatively orthodox heroes in the mid lane as a last pick, namely Ember, OD and Lina as preferred by Xcalibur.
A special thing to note as regards the draft, however, is the fact that the team highly favour the Io + Tiny combo when they get the Io and that they play around Relocate a lot, picking 3 other heroes that can catch out lonely heroes resulting in pickoffs across the map whenever Relocate is up. Simultaneously, Xcalibur’s experience as a pubstar in Europe has led to other teams, the dominant Mineski in particular, first phase banning Visage against Fnatic, allowing EE more manoeuvrability in the draft.
WIth little to lose and much to prove, Fnatic are definitely hoping to show that they have what it takes with their rather less than cohesive team. When opportunities like this are presented, they must be fully utilised and Fnatic just might find themselves earning some Qualifying Points if and when it all works out.
North America, the region of salt and grief and consequently one of much malice. Evil Geniuses have long been the Kings of the Region but have recently found themselves in fierce competition with fellow NA teams. Alas, the patch has hardly been kind to them, evident in their lacklustre performances since the Manila Masters where they found themselves swept by Liquid at Epicenter, falling at the hands of OG at MDL and ultimately having an utterly disappointing run at the Main Event of TI7. Fast forward a couple of months and zai has taken leave of the team, seeking new pastures and consequently heralding the return of Old Man Fear Dota.
With the return of Fear to competitive play, EG have shifted Cr1t back into the position 4 role wherein he can show off his incredible roaming skills that he had had back on OG while Fear fills the 5 role. Having had many fans blame Cr1t for his drafting at TI7, the team stood by him and have accepted the feedback, opting to let Fear draft so as to lend his wealth of experience to such an intricate part of Dota. Having said that, however, the team have not had excellent results, failing to qualify to Starladder at the hands of Leviathan and losing out to Mineski and LGD at the recently concluded PGL Minor where they secured some 90 Qualifying Points to kick off their season.
All that said, we return to the earlier idea that the patch has not been kind to EG. Indeed, their star player SumaiL has expressed his discontent with the patch as it does not feature any of his signature heroes, resulting in him having had a most lacklustre effect since June. Simultaneously, the nerfs to the safelane and buffs to more aggressive, farm-oriented offlaners have left both Arteezy and UNiVeRsE at severe disadvantages as their signature heroes do not fall within the spectrum that the meta has set. Similarly, Cr1t is disadvantaged in the shift to more farm-oriented roamers as he had always relied on sensational playmaking during his time on OG instead of greedy supports that turn into a 4th core. Consequently, EG have recently found themselves experimenting with the way they draft as to whether it will be around SumaiL or around Arteezy wherein PGL was seemingly more focused on Arteezy. This conclusion is brought about by the way the team has favoured a pick order of support duo > offlane > mid > safelane, allowing Arteezy to stand out more. That said, we can expect more dual core lineups played in a pseudo-4 protect 1 style, often going for farm heavy heroes such as Anti-Mage and Lone Druid for Arteezy.
Last but not least in this list is SG e-sports who have qualified from South America. The Dota Pro Circuit introduced rules requiring that South America have qualifiers to every Major and Minor, encouraging growth in the region that may allow the world to see even greater talent yet. Having already proven themselves quite formidable at Kiev albeit with an almost entirely different roster, the Brazilian team have again proven themselves relatively formidable recently at Starladder where they beat Vici Gaming, arguably one of the top Chinese teams at the moment, in a most convincing manner.
That said, the team have yet to earn Qualifying Points as they found themselves eliminated at Starladder after facing both finalists and losing 0-2. Simultaneously, they have been finding themselves often vying and ultimately coming out ahead in their fierce competition with Infamous in the region.
Of course, it is important to understand the source of the team’s success and that can only be the players. Kicking off the roster is their position 5 player and captain Bardo, a veteran of the SA scene who has played for the likes of paiN and Midas Club, he brings his experience and long-honed skills to the table, ostensibly preferring teamfight-contributing heroes like Jakiro, Disruptor, and AA. Working with him is long time ex-teammate Thiolicor as the roamer, very much a meta-consistent player who enjoys the likes of Earthshaker and and Spiritbreaker. At the same time, he appears to have an affinity for jungling, occasionally taking up Doom and Enigma. Moving up the roster, we find Liposa, a talented playmaker who was also an ex-teammate of the support duo back in Midas Club. He highly favours playmaking heroes, as suggested, and occasionally takes up the Doom and Enigma himself while often taking initiators such as Batrider and Tidehunter otherwise.
Next we have 4dr, the only remaining player from the roster that eliminated Team Secret at Kiev and a well-known pubstar both in NA and SA. He has proven to be extremely talented with the respect extended to him in the Faceit Pro League and his high solo MMR as he plays the mid role for the team, giving exceptional displays of his prowess on Ember and Lina and particular. Lastly, we have Costabile who plays safelane carry for the team. Along with the rest of the team except 4dr, he was also in Midas Club, showing that there is a strong chemistry already present within the team. He plays a wide variety of heroes with a particular focus on a more farm and late game-oriented style, often opting for Arc Warden, Phantom Lancer, and Lone Druid.
All said and done, it is clear that this team enjoys playing in a kind of 4 protect 1 style where they constantly fight and engage, making lots of space for Costabile to snowball his farm. This comes as no surprise seeing as SG’s incredible international displays have proven to be based on their great ability at taking fights, weaving in and out of them expertly, much to the style of South America.
Holding high hopes for their region, this team will seek to upset again at the first Major of the season, and subsequently prove that SA is no pushover.
Having gone through all the teams’ playstyles, draft styles, and favoured heroes, ESL One Hamburg is set to be a fiercely contested tournament not only because of the Qualifying Points but also because of how unique each of these teams are in their approach to the game. With that said, we can expect Team Liquid, Team Secret, and Virtus.Pro to go in as hot favourites seeking the last slivers of the glory that 7.06 might yet provide. There is hardly any doubt at this point as to how exciting the tournament might be despite being an 8-team Major.