The Bucharest Major will be the first tournament to implement a bo1 Swiss style bracket (as opposed to the bo3 Swiss format we saw in Kiev) in which half the team will be eliminated without receiving anything. No prize money. no DPC points. The bo1 format may level the playing field a little bit for the underdogs but will if that alone will be enough to see any major upsets occur in Bucharest remains to be seen.
NA / SA
There has been little debate in the past few years as to who sits atop the North American Dota scene. Ever since the halcyon of the SADBOYS/TI4 era, Evil Geniuses have been a cut above all the constantly shifting talent, having been outright excluded from the region’s qualifiers for years. Recently, Fear and the boys have had their crown called into question: cracks began to show earlier this season when EG was eliminated by Leviathan in the qualifiers for StarLadder/i-League 3, and in the events they have qualified for, they have yet to claim a title on LAN. The most recent roster move saw the departure of long time offlaner Universe and the signing of Misery in an attempt to recapture their dominance. Despite this, the team suffered another major blow in their loss to long time regional rivals compLexity Gaming in the regional qualifiers for Epicenter XL, after losing to them in two separate series during the playoff stage. Combined with an early exit to the eventual tournament champions Virtus Pro during ESL One Katowice, Evil Geniuses are heading into the Bucharest Major on the back foot. A LAN victory, however, could very well reverse their downward trend and reassert the previous dominance.
If there has been one organization that has been dedicated to the grind, it has been compLexity Gaming. Having lived in Evil Geniuses’ shadow ever since the team reformed around the Freedman brothers, coL has languished for years in the regional qualifier churn. However, with the re-acquisition of Chessie and Limmp following TI7, their strength has been steadily growing over the course of the year. Having outlived other major contenders within their scenes, like the original iteration of VGJ.Storm and the most recent version of Digital Chaos, they have risen to become a major rival of the other stand-out in NA, TI5 champion PPD’s Optic Gaming. Their performance on the LANs that they have qualified for has been improving as well: placing in the top four in both the StarLadder/i-League and Perfect World Minors late last year has made them the second most successful NA team by ways of Qualifying Points with 135. While still in EG’s shadow, their statement win over them to qualify for Epicenter has certainly put compLexity back into the conversation for regional dominance, and a solid showing at Bucharest would continue coL’s ongoing ascendance to relevancy.
Resting in the higher echelons of the North American hierarchy, alongside mainstays compLexity Gaming and Evil Geniuses is OpTic Gaming. Mixing old pros (Pajkatt), familiar standouts (ppd and zai), and new faces (CC&C and 33), OpTic could have made a name for itself on star power alone. After a tough Fall struggling for a qualifying spot against compLexity, Immortals, VGJ.Storm, and Digital Chaos, though, they have already qualified for three Valve Majors already this year, Bucharest included. While they had initially stumbled against Aui_2000’s scrappy stack Animal Planet and failed to qualify for GESC, defeating AP later on to qualify for ESL Katowice resulted only in an early exit at the hand of Team Liquid (though, only after eliminating compLexity to avoid a last place finish). Despite showing strength comparable to the best in their region, sans EG, OpTic has yet to produce any DPC Qualifying Points or any other meaningful LAN results. Finishing out in front of coL, EG, or any other of the big contenders at Bucharest would be a strong way to finish up OpTic’s European tour.
The South American qualifier circuit has been largely dominated by three teams this year: SG e-sports, Infamous, and your Bucharest Major qualifiers, paiN Gaming: A relatively stable team for the region, tallying only one roster swap since its inception as its previous branding, Midas Club Elite. Earlier this pro circuit season, the Brazilian squad has made appearances at the Captain’s Draft 4.0 finals in Washington DC, and Galaxy Battles II over in the Philippines, where their success has been limited. paiN came away from Captain’s Draft with a 0-4 record after facing stiff competition from Mineski, OG, and Evil Geniuses; though they skirted a last place finish by eliminating PG.Barracx at Galaxy Battles before falling at the hands of Team Spirit. A bitter January on LAN has fortunately led to several more regional qualifier victories, including spots at DreamLeague Season 9, Epicenter XL, and this very outing at Bucharest. For a region still hungry for their first Pro Circuit Points, paiN could make a big splash by upsetting the field at this Major.
China / SEA
After finally getting a win over their rivals Team Liquid at ESL One Genting, Newbee have seemed a little more mortal against other opponents. Still one of the strongest teams in the world, they were certainly missing the determination to win during the Katowice Major where they finished 7th/8th after losing to EG 2-0 in 20m and 17m games. Newbee’s loss to EG is nothing to ridicule them for though, and their 2-0 victories over Na`Vi and LGD give little indication that there is anything to worry about in the long term. Sccc and Moogy are still two of the best core players in the world, Kaka and Faith similarly in the support positions with Kpii filling the weaknesses of the team with his play on a wide variety of heroes, showcasing his prowess on initiators multiple times during the Katowice Major. So where does the problem lie for Newbee, if there is one at all?
The truth is there really isn’t one. Newbee is heading into Bucharest as a contender to win the whole thing. Are they on the top of the list to win? Probably not. But they are good enough to overcome teams like Liquid, VP, and Secret so it would be no surprise to see them in the finals. At the same time we have seen them struggle during some tournaments and drop out before making the top 4. Newbee’s inconsistency comes as quickly as it goes, sometimes only appearing for one series during a tournament and sometimes not at all. It feels more like Newbee goes into some events unprepared for some opponents and it ends up coming back to bite them. Hopefully they can avoid those problems in Bucharest.
Sylar is steadily making his return as one of the top carries in China. As more and more teams pick up DPC points and work towards a TI8 invite however, VGJ.Thunder still remain at 0 points. Their win at Galaxy Battles was unfortunately after the tournament had already been removed from the Circuit, and their run at ESL One Genting was cut short by a 2-1 defeat to Vici Gaming. Make no mistake, VGJ.Thunder enters the Major as a very competent team with a handful of experienced players and coached by rOtk. Most importantly Fade is seemingly unknown to many but his rotations as the 4 position support enables his team in the early game which is key for their success as they tend to win at least two out of the three lanes in most of their games. If one thing is going to slow VGJ.Thunder down it will be the amount of other heavyweight teams that will be in the competition. While Sylar and friends are more than capable of going toe to toe against anyone in China it remains to be seen if they can do it against the very best in the world.
Vici Gaming will be going into the Bucharest Major fresh off their loss in the finals of ESL One Katowice. Their performance at that event has pushed them ahead of Newbee in the DPC rankings in 4th place after defeating Team Liquid and Virtus Pro during the group stage and Team Liquid once again in the semi-finals. Their path to the finals was anything but easy and as such we expect for Vici Gaming to do quite well in Bucharest as well. The only wild card thrown into this tournament was the recent patch which added Dark Willow to captains mode and had changes made to multiple popular heroes. With the experience of Fenrir and LaNm as well as VG’s coach Mikasa it is unlikely that the new patch will hinder VG in any way. I believe we can expect another top 4 finish at their 2nd Major in a row, and maybe even a championship for Vici Gaming.
The final of the four Chinese teams in attendance, LFY recently picked up Ohaiyo to take the place of InFlame. Unfortunately their results inside of China, while good, have seen them miss out on multiple tournaments by finishing 3rd or 4th in the majority of their qualifier attempts. Although they qualified for ESL One Genting they also finished last in that event without winning a game. If these results are not indicative of LFY’s skill they will have to prove it in Bucharest as they currently sit 13th in the DPC ranking, largely thanks to Ohaiyo who only just joined the team. With Monet, Super, Ahfu, and Yao expectations have been high to see LFY succeed due to how skilled the roster is. Compared with how they have been performing it is hard to call the LFY squads accomplishments of placing 13th a success. With only half the season left LFY needs to start getting themselves into the top 4 of events should they want a direct invite to TI8.
Mineski sits in a precarious 7th spot on the TI invite list. Just behind them are EG and then OG and Fnatic stand in striking distance, one good placement away from outranking the top team in SEA. Mineski had a very hot start to the Dota 2 Professional Circuit as they won the PGL Open in Bucharest after coming 2nd at StarLadder. Mineski will no doubt be looking to repeat their previous performance in Bucharest with another win, this time all the more important as the tournament is a Major. Mushi and Iceiceice always bring in fans from around the world whenever they play with a mixture of both of their incredible legacy’s in SEA dota and entertaining play styles. Jabz 4 position support made him world famous on Faceless and he remains a cornerstone of Mineski’s success. While Mineski is in a dangerous position they are also in a place where one good Major could see them quickly rise in the ranks and give them some much needed breathing room.
TnC has been the unlucky recipient of four different 2nd place finishes in Qualifiers just in 2018 alone as Fnatic and Mineski have held a vice-like grip over the SEA qualifiers. TnC’s 2nd place finish at MDL where they lost to OG is also where they got their only DPC points for this season putting them 12th overall with a tough climb ahead of them and most likely TI qualifiers awaiting them as well. The good news for TnC is that even after losing their analyst Kipspul and former captain 1437 they have maintained their form and the talent of their cores takes much of the praise for that. Raven, Sam_H, Tims, and Kuku have been on the team for two years now and Armel has fit in quite well with his fellow teammates from the Philippines. They undoubtedly go into the tournament as underdogs but given how well they have performed in SEA against the other teams we may see TnC put up a much stronger fight than many will be expecting.
EU / CIS
With half of the Top 8 in DPC standings hailing from Europe there is some merit to the claim that the current strongest region is the old continent. Certainly there is no doubting the prowess of the top 3 heavy hitters of Virtus.Pro, Team Secret and Team Liquid, but what about the others lurking in the wings? As PGL Bucharest approaches, the European teams have the chance to solidify that claim just shortly after Katowice already gave us more arguments that they are on top.
The reigning major champions from ESL One Katowice come into this as the clear favorites and there is little to nothing that would suggest them slowing them anytime soon. While the CIS squad had faltered slightly after clinching the first major of the new season in Hamburg, they had still won The Summit 8 and were consistently a threat to any tournament they attended. Then in a move that had surprised quite a few, the roster made its first change since 2016 and traded Lil for Na`Vi’s RodjER. It seemed to be a high risk gamble, but it certainly paid off as VP took Katowice by storm, swapping aside long-standing nemesis EG along the way before sealing the deal with a 3-1 victory over VG in revenge for their earlier group stage loss. With yet another Major trophy in the bag a win in Bucharest is all that is needed for them to reach striking distance to OG’s fabled feat of 4 major championships.
Number two on the DPC rankings, Team Secret needs little introduction and heads into Bucharest as one of the favorites alongside the other European powerhouses. While their disappointing Top 6 finish in Katowice smears their strong record of the season so far, I would advise against reading too much into it. Fnatic’s win in the dramatic game 3 during Katowice seems much more like a fluke to me and then exiting in the Top 6 after running into Team Liquid is really nothing to be ashamed of. Furthermore we can be sure that yet another elimination at the hands of their rivals will have stoked the fire of competition even higher for Team Secret and they will be more than eager to make everyone in Bucharest forget about Poland with a strong reminder that they are not to be trifled with. Making it out of the Swiss-system group stage should not be a problem at all for them and once Secret are in the Bo3’s of the brackets there are only few teams who can take them head on.
The third head of the European Cerberus hounding the competition during this season’s run so far are the reigning TI-champions of Liquid. Since their triumph in Seattle Liquid have been steadily steaming ahead with multiple Minor championships with no signs of the dreaded TI-Winner’s curse. Or has it really been that way? While they have rampaged all over their opponents in the various minors they attended a Major championship continues to elude them. A Top 4 finish in Hamburg, a silver medal during Dreamhack and now another bronze in Katowice. Hardly the placements you are looking for as defending TI-champions as the season progresses. Then again most other teams would probably kill for that level of consistent deep runs into tournaments and it seems laughable to spread doom and gloom over being ranked third in the DPC so far. It must sting for Liquid that they still cannot clinch a major, but in the larger picture Liquid is far from being in a slump, it is far more telling of their peak during TI that them letting up just a bit on their dominance can be talked up to as a slump or a “first sign” of the TI-Winner’s curse catching up to them at last. The easiest solution to all that is obviously to take home Bucharest to take away the basis of these idle musings and Liquid has all the chances in the world to make it happen.
How strong is Na`Vi right now? Are they back or are they back to the dumpster? It seems like these two questions have followed this team for ages ever since their era of dominance ended with the roster splitting up. Over the course of the current season so far Na`Vi had established themselves as a solid tier 2 team. Making it out of qualifiers in the CIS region for the majority of the time (thanks to VP receiving invites) and sometimes even threatening deeper runs into tournaments. However since their recent roster moves Na`Vi has been a bit shaky. Their most recent result being a last place finish in Katowice, things have to be worrying for them. While some of it can be attributed to Newbee getting upset by Kinguin in a Bo1, ushering in Na`Vi’s quick defeat at the hands of the Chinese. Na`Vi’s play shown at the event was not much of a confidence builder. Obviously they are still a new roster trying to find their footing, but they will have to post stronger results in Bucharest as they recently also faltered in the DAC Qualifier, falling to Team Effect to keep their position even in their domestic region. Should Na`Vi fall early on again, we might be headed for another vicious cycle downwards as their fans are unfortunately too familiar with.
At the beginning of the season OG had looked splendid. Recruiting Resolution to the squad they had looked among the winners of the post-TI shuffle. But even with all the combined star power of their roster something was clearly missing as they failed again and again to make it out of the qualifiers. However since the turn of the new year OG have shown renewed signs of life as they swept all the recent qualifiers. With 5 successful qualifiers in the bag OG was justified to be confident going into ESL One Katowice. While a top 8 finish is not necessarily a thing to aim for, it was a decent showing for Fly’s squad as their losses were against Vici and Liquid. OG’s newfound strength is still not enough to propel them straight to the top but their win against Mineski confirms the steady upwards climb they have had since they finally found their stride. Now in Bucharest the next step awaits OG: making it out of the groups into the playoffs. A task that is certainly within their possibilities and if OG can continue their pace we might just see them live up to their legacy and make it all the way to the Major finals.
Vega Squadron are the odd one out of Europe’s representatives at Bucharest, they are neither a hallowed name trying hard to reach their former heights as Na`Vi or OG are, but they are also not part of the three-headed juggernaut of VP, Secret and Liquid. In stark contrast to the shark of their logo, they are very small fry at this tournament. Since Vega Squadron formed a new roster in the Post-TI aftermath out of mostly unknown players with the most recognizable name being CemaTheSlayer they had been struggling in the qualifiers of the CIS region. Always missing the cut against other household names of that region like Na`Vi, Empire or Effect, Vega Squadron have much to prove against the competition in Bucharest. Can they do better than Effect in Katowice or is the CIS region’s strength just not as deep as others? Realistically speaking Bucharest will be much more of a learning experience for them as I don’t expect them to make it far, but maybe they will surprise us all in the Swiss groups and show us that we should not judge a book by its cover.