4 legends. 4 challengers. The StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 begins at a crucial moment in Dota 2 history where formerly reigning champions, Team Liquid, found themselves dethroned by the determination of Newbee. Alongside Liquid and Newbee stand Mineski and LGD, who after emerging at the top of their respective regions in the qualifiers time after time in recent months look again to the horizon, eyeing for the coveted DPC points.
Beyond the awaited outcomes by most pundits lie the challengers, seeking fortune never tasted by them. South America is still yet to have impact on the international circuit and Infamous truthfully doesn’t look likely to do it at StarLadder. While they have been closer to the podium recently, compLexity Gaming still need to sharpen their blades to earn more DPC points in this tournament. Team Kinguin made headlines with their performance at The Summit 8 but have failed thus far to capitalize on their qualifier performances. Lastly, Team Empire stands with a roster that has stood the test of time in CIS. The question however is: can they cause an upset and shake the core of the present mainstream Dota 2 competitors?
Since the inception of compulsory SA qualifiers, the region blasted open with numerous teams vying for the coveted qualifiers. 2 teams emerged to be the top contenders. SG e-sports emerged victorious at the StarLadder i-League Invitational SA Qualifier against their main rivals Infamous. However, the former chose to withdraw and participate in another tournament leaving the spot for the minor open for the latter. By and large, the addition of South American teams within the international circuit has made little difference to the competition and brackets. The region has delivered only one upset match when SG e-sports took down Team Secret at the Kiev Major last year. Thereafter, their presence has been of little to no concern to most teams.
Infamous bear the same epigram on their team entering the tournament. Nevertheless, the competitive season for Infamous has comparatively been eventful. Alongside 4 qualifier wins for a Major/Minor, the team won the World Cyber Arena 2017 SA finals and came 7th-8th at 2 Minors and 1 Major. Their last international tournament, Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds, passed away with them having zero impact to the expected course of the tournament as they didn’t win a single game and were knocked out. Them being a force to contend for high positions or causing an upset also loom largely away from them and winning even a few games would mark as a highlight for the South American roster.
At The Summit 8, Team Kinguin, a relatively new roster in the international circuit, quickly made headlines with their uncanny performance in the group stages. Ousting American giants Evil Geniuses and compLexity Gaming in one fell swoop, they qualified with great vigor to the playoffs only to tumble down against a stronger Virtus.pro. The indications were clear regardless. The all-Polish roster were the major disruptors for the last Minor of 2017. The question at hand now is: can they manage to translate being an x-factor into DPC points this year? Post-Summit results are mixed.
Team Kinguin have undergone a meteoric rise from ESL One Genting 2018 Qualifier to the StarLadder Invitational Qualifier. Bear in mind however their disastrous outing and subsequent drop at The Bucharest Major Qualifier. The first two qualifiers saw them up against relatively underwhelming teams that after Kinguin’s performance at The Summit 8 would seem like easy hurdles to pass. A surprise defeat in the ESL One Genting 2018 Qualifier was made up for with their qualification at the StarLadder Invitational Qualifier at the back of a dominant performance. Hope was rejuvenated again for them to be David against the Goliaths of the EU region. However, their quick exit in the group stages at the The Bucharest Major Qualifier put them up for doubt and questioning.
For a team named ‘Empire’, neither can the team stake a claim to former glory with their name, nor do they boast of impressive results in the present. One remembers the exhilarating run at The International 7 where with Resolution at the helm, Team Empire reached 7th-8th place. Post-TI, the team won numerous CIS qualifiers whilst maintaining three players. Ghostik, fn, and Miposhka, not losing them within the dreaded CIS shuffles. Of late, their game play has faltered one too many times, leaving the region to be overwhelmed by Virtus Pro in direct invites and a resurgence of Natus Vincere in qualifiers.
We must take into account ROG Master 2017 where favorites OpTic Gaming were overthrown in a thrilling best of 5 at the grand finals by Team Empire. The pleasantries at the international stage however end here. In 2018, the team came 5th-8th during Captains Draft 4.0, couldn’t qualify for ESL One Katowice or The Bucharest Major and lastly participated in the MID.TV Challenge Cup where they were highly favoured to win the tournament but lost to Team Doggie in the semi-finals. That being said, the CIS roster enters StarLadder as a faltering unit that hasn’t found consistency in results since a very long time while not striking a chord with the meta either. Certainly, Team Empire doesn’t seem cut out for taking on current international giants such as Newbee and Team Liquid, and will need more time before they can truly have an impact at an international event.
For all the criticism and sheer hate attracted by melonzz, either for his captaincy or for his tweets, we must be honest and give credit where it is due for this season. A team whose existence was almost negligible last year in the NA scene now boasts of 13th place on the DPC leaderboards making them 2nd only to EG from the same region. Their total of ‘NA Qualifier wins’ is now at 7. Their road ahead however frequents the same dilemma of Mineski. The NA region saw an explosion of teams at the dawn of the new circuit points and it is indeed commendable of compLexity Gaming, who saw previous Swedes Chessie and Limmp return to the active roster, to win against the likes of OpTiC Gaming, Animal Plant, VG.J, and Immortals. The perennial question for teams that are doing great domestically however is: what about their performance at the international stage?
CompLexity scratches around the main teams in the league, but fails to inflict damage capable of translating into more DPC points. A 3rd-4th positioning at the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 3 with numerous qualifier wins brought many to think that compLexity might just finally bag the coveted 2nd position in NA for certain. However more work still remains for them to cement themselves as serious competition to the best teams in the world.
Much like the last stretch of the race, Mineski seem like the runner at the front almost ready to clasp with victory. They have totaled their ‘SEA Qualifier win’ score at 9, but have translated that into a victory at a Major/Minor only once.. Nevertheless, the team stands at a tall 6th position in the DPC points leaderboard and has managed to stay resilient throughout the entire season as a force to be reckoned with. Coming out of the quagmire that is SEA is already a hero’s path to begin with. The conclusion to this story needs to now become victory, but in light of recent performance, StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 doesn’t seem like the place to find it.
2018 started for Mineski with the Captains Draft 4.0. The team topped the group stages with two 40-minute wins against Team Empire and Team Secret. The latter team however completed their revenge in the semi-finals when they whitewashed the best of 3. After winning the qualifier for the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4, they participated in the qualifiers for GESC: Indonesia. They lost their upper and lower bracket games in succession against Execration and Fnatic and faltered in surprising fashion. Their momentum was further dealt a major blow with their results at ESL One Genting 2018. The tournament started off with a loss at the hands of SEA counterparts TNC Pro Team. They quickly recomposed themselves to take a 2:0 series against LGD.fy, but lost to Natus Vincere and crashed out. Having laid this out, Mineski do not seem to be in sound shape and with the competition now higher than ever among the tier 1 teams, certainly a top 3 finish will be very difficult to attain.
2018 commenced in pleasantries for the once-behemoths of the China region. Their lost glamour seemed to return in full fury at three qualifiers. Fy and co. began their qualifier for The Bucharest Major with a 2:0 against iG.Vitality, then a 2:1 against VG.J, and finally a 2:0 against EHOME. They however fell short to a resurgent VG.J in the finals. The next qualifier for ESL One Katowice 2018 ended much better for them. They conceded only two games in the entire run, and ended the tournament with a 3:0 against brothers LGD.FY with every game ending with 33 minutes on the clock. This form prolonged into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Qualifier, where the seemingly unbeatable roster defeated KG.Luminous, LGD.FY, and Vici Gaming and firmly established their grip over the Chinese qualifiers.
Post-2018, LGD has won 21 of their 27 games, essentially dropping only one series in three qualifiers. Ame and Maybe have been stellar with their performance, scoring a KDA of 6.19 and 5.04 respectively. The former has chosen Lycan, Phantom Lancer, and Tiny as his weapon of choice while the latter, the protege of the roster, has Puck, Shadow Fiend and Outworld Devourer forming the core of his picks. Finally, fy completes the roster. Alongside being exceedingly versatile in his picks, sporting an assist average of 15.22 provides only but a glimpse inside the mind of their daring captain. If the numero uno position is to go to LGD it certainly will have to be at the behest of this trio’s exceptionalism.
Newbee’s last game, the much fabled 5th match in the finals of ESL One Genting 2018 was against their rivals from across multiple borders, Team Liquid. The match ended with Newbee claiming another DPC tournament victory. The stats bearing on the last game are worth notice. Sccc’s Outworld Devourer ended the game with a KDA of 12-2-13 and moogy’s Ursa with 18-2-7. These scores are precisely what serve as a constellation of the strategy applied by the team. Being very core-centric and giving the best for their star player Sccc has brought strikingly positive results and the same can be felt within the casting of his games when the word ‘Newbee’ get substituted for Sccc. If there is to be christened one of the many characteristics of the team, it is Sccc’s indomitable spirit. Few match the exhilarating pace at which the young player has founded a legacy for himself in this competitive season.
Their ranking on the DPC leaderboards of 4th alongside 2 tournament wins speaks for itself. Their run at ESL One Genting 2018 gives key insight into the path that StarLadder will most likely take. They did not lose a single game to any team other than Team Liquid in Malaysia, and the teams that were whitewashed are LGD.fy, TNC Pro Team, Vici Gaming, and Team Secret. Their first face off against Team Liquid saw them losing 2:1 only to have their rematch in the finals see them win 3:2. We have our modern El Classico teams and one just might have their bets on the entire show culminating only to have these two teams pitted against each other once again.
The one that is uncursed. It is indeed a monumental feat in one’s lifetime to win The International, but what may exceed that is the ability to maintain that level of play. While it is certainly too early to qualify them as the best in history when compared to the likes of Na’Vi in their era there is no doubt that the men in blue have been the most successful team in the last year. However, this year saw the ever-growing creeping shadow of their competition coming up behind them. Newbee even finally overtook the TI winners at ESL One Genting 2018, where revenge was exacted by Sccc and company. Does this finally signal the end of a long reign?
StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 serves as the battleground that a lot of the teams must prove themselves on. Team Liquid go into the tournament with an impressive resume. They’ve never placed below the 3rd in any event since the Kiev Major. Miracle- boasted a KDA ratio of 8.60 at ESL One Genting 2018 while Matumbaman fell a bit shorter with a KDA ratio of 5.19. There has been a growing tide in shifting the importance of Miracle- in the game over the Matumbaman and the payoff has resulted majorly in poor mid-game impact by the Finnish in numerous instances. What will change in strategy for them? Will this tournament continue to be a breeze till the tail-end of it? And most importantly, now that Newbee exacted their revenge over The International, can Team Liquid exact their revenge for the defeat they tasted during ESL One Genting?