The first Major of the new season has come to a close and with it we have crowned our first Major Champions of the season. The tournament was full of exciting games and broken hearts and while some things stay the same, others never change. Virtus.Pro certainly haven’t changed and took home yet another Major to keep on their trophy shelf. While Secret certainly took them the distance, VP’s dominating performance proved unequivocally that they are the best team in the world. With their spot at TI nearly secured, they can rest easy for the remainder of the season, though we doubt that will actually be the case. This wasn’t the only important finish of the tournament though, in addition to our Grand Finalists of VP and Secret, we saw very strong performances from both EG and NiP, who secured 3rd and 4th place respectively (including a fantastic lower-bracket run from EG).
The group stage featured the classic GSL format to determine seeding into the main event of the tournament. While the format is solid, it does leave something to be desired when compared to the two-group round robin format, but we’ll get more into that later. While it was concerning that the seeding into the group stage was random (meaning we could easily have a Group of Death), the viewers and players were lucky to find out that the groups ended up fairly even. In this vein the groups went mostly as expected, with only a single upset truly rocking the boat.
Team Secret rode to an easy win in this group, going 4-0 by walking over J.Storm and Ninjas in Pyjamas. Meanwhile, NiP came in second after taking down PaiN Gaming in the deciding match of the series. This result became a topic of discussion afterwards, regarding the format and how it impacted NiP and PaiN specifically. In this case, the crux of the argument was this: Does NiP deserve to be in the upper bracket for beating a single team, PaiN? On the other hand, does PaiN deserve to fall to the lower bracket for being unable to beat a single team, NiP? This is arguably the primary failing of the GSL-style group stage, though at least in this case there seems to be a clear divide in the quality of the teams. If NiP deserves to be in the upper bracket, or if they just have PaiN’s number, is up to you. At the end of the day we saw that best in South America wasn’t enough to make it to the upper bracket, while J.Storm showed that they’re not quite ready to compete in the big leagues yet.
This group was good to Evil Geniuses as the boys in blue came out first in the group with a 4-1 game score. While they were taken to a game 3 by Team Aster, EG showed excellent form as they clearly came to win. Riding Arteezy’s Terrorblade and Arc Warden to victory, EG had figured out how to utilize Arteezy as a hard carry. This was a major improvement for the team because it severely reduced the burden on Sumail, an issue we’ve seen many times in EG’s past. The rest of the group played out as you’d expect if you were to simply rank the teams. Vici Gaming proved that they are a cut above the expected lower bracket teams by dispatching TNC and Team Aster. While TNC’s result was somewhat predictable, some had high hopes for Team Aster and were disappointed with their 1-2 group finish. Team Aster has high profile names involved with the team like Burning, Q, and Fenrir, but it may take some more time before they hit their stride.
Of all the groups at Kuala Lumpur, Group C had the most clear-cut differences between its teams. First we had the mainstay of Chinese Dota, the constant championship contender and TI-8 runner-up, PSG.LGD. Next in line is Fnatic, the giant of SEA. Fnatic may not have been in quite the same tier as PSG.LGD, VP, and Team Secret, but they were and are still an incredibly dangerous team to play against and easily a step above Tigers and Gambit. The games in this group were not the closest, with PSG.LGD and Fnatic handling their games in a relatively one-sided manner. While Tigers and Gambit made for a closer matchup, it ended up making no difference as they were both relegated to the lower bracket.
Finally! A group with an exciting upset! Similar to the other groups you could easily rank the teams by strength and expect them to finish in that order. One would probably have expected a result with VP in first, Forward Gaming in second, Alliance in third, and paiN X in fourth.This isn’t what happened though, as we got a major upset when Alliance took down Forward Gaming 2-1 in the final, deciding match of the group. While this Alliance squad has shown that they can hold their own against the best teams, it’s still surprising to see such a young, LAN-inexperienced squad take down a team full of veterans like Forward Gaming. While Alliance may have come out on top in the groups, Forward Gaming also has a strong performance against Virtus.Pro. Both Alliance and Forward Gaming managed to take the Russian powerhouse VP to a game 3. Last and unfortunately least, paiN X went out last, only taking a single game off of Alliance.
We’ve finally reached the playoffs, a full double elimination bracket beginning with lower bracket Bo1’s, a la The International. The first round of the lower bracket was tense as always. No player should feel confident going into one of these matches. That being said, it can also make for some of the most exciting games. Teams with no expectations on their shoulders can go all out, using the wildest, cheesiest strategies they have available. This is the time for the underdogs, the teams that no one believed in. And this was their day. Three of the four teams to place last in their group advanced, barring Gambit Esports as they were forced to face off with Forward Gaming, easily the strongest team in the Lower Bracket. This meant that Gambit, paiN, Tigers, and Aster were forced to exit the tournament on Day 1 of the main event while TNC, paiN X, J.Storm, and Forward Gaming moved on.
In the upper bracket we saw mostly one-sided matchups with three teams clearly outclassing their opponents. Team Secret, PSG.LGD, and Virtus.Pro all made quick work of the opposition with 2-0 scorelines. This would send Vici Gaming, Fnatic, and the upper bracket surprise Alliance down to the lower bracket. Now for the real meat of the first round of the upper bracket. Ninjas in Pyjamas against Evil Geniuses. Fortune favored us viewers, to let these two teams to meet so early in the tournament. The rivalry between whatever team PPD is on and Sumail’s EG will last for the foreseeable future. With a less than amicable parting between PPD and Sumail, the two talked smack most of last season. While that EG squad certainly commanded more respect than Optic, things have changed. PPD’s new team would stand a far better chance against EG than his old team did, and he would prove it. NiP were able to take down EG in a nail-biting three game series. This victory would also set up yet another important match for PPD, as it put him up against his tormentor of the past season in the next round, Virtus.Pro.
Sadly the next round would not prove as fruitful for NiP. Virtus.Pro quickly knocked them down in two games, showing PPD that while he had taken down his rival, Evil Geniuses, he’s still got work to do before he can compete with Virtus.Pro. One might have hoped that NiP could have taken down VP if they had slumped or relaxed during their post-TI break, but VP showed that they’ve returned to their non-TI form and are ready to go all the way. On the other side of the bracket, Team Secret matched up against PSG.LGD. This was expected to be a hotly contested series, between the freshly dominant Secret and the number one Chinese team PSG.LGD. Reality is often disappointing. Team Secret manhandled PSG.LGD, using the recently popularized Arc Warden in both games for the easy 2-0. This sets up our Winner’s Final of Team Secret against Virtus.Pro.
Back in the lower bracket we would begin to see a great run through the lower bracket by Evil Geniuses. They would begin by taking down their North American competitors Forward Gaming in a 2-1 series. EG would be happy with this result as Forward Gaming was the strongest team in the lower bracket besides themselves, and Forward gave them a run for their money. After this EG would hit their stride and take down Fnatic and PSG.LGD 2-0, relying heavily on Arc Warden and Terrorblade. On the other side of the lower bracket, TNC would make a similar run to EG. Unfortunately though for the Filipino squad, their run was stopped short when they hit the brick wall that is Ninjas in Pyjamas. Thankfully though, this would set us up for another matchup between EG and NiP in the lower bracket semifinals. This one would not fare so well for NiP, though. They were able to defeat the Arteezy Terrorblade in game 1, but were unable to keep it up for games 2 and 3. NiP believed that they could simply ban out the Arc Warden and then beat the Terrorblade, but perhaps NiP didn’t give it the respect that it deserved.
Moving on to the final days of the event we saw a heated match between Team Secret and Virtus.Pro in the upper bracket finals. The first two games were incredibly one-sided, both clocking in at sub-30 minutes. Both of these games felt like heavy out-drafts for the winning side, while game three proved to be much more competitive. Throughout the series Team Secret utilized the Arc Warden while Virtus.Pro went for greater variety with their strategies. Eventually though, Nisha’s Arc Warden would beat out Ramzes’ Terrorblade and put Secret through into the Grand Finals. This would prove good for Virtus.Pro, though as the loss provided them with extra motivation going into the lower bracket finals.
In the lower bracket finals, Virtus.Pro would easily take down the Evil Geniuses. Solo and his crew easily outclasses EG, overcoming the Arteezy Terrorblade in game 1 and then banning out both the Arc Warden and Terrorblade in game 2. Virtus.Pro came extremely prepared for this carry Terrorblade, bringing the weight of an incredibly strong dual-lane down upon the EG safelane. They drafted a powerful lane combo of Centaur and Necrophos, one that would be incredibly scary to play against with any carry, let alone a Terrorblade. 9pasha and Rodjer proceeded to run over the safelane, with EG unable to deal with both the tanky aspect of both heroes, as well as the incredible output of magical damage they had. VP clearly had EG’s number and would be excited for their rematch with Team Secret in the Grand Finals.
The finals would prove to be incredibly exciting, with Virtus.Pro taking home the trophy after an amazing 5 game series. While some of the games came down to very small mechanical plays, the draft also played a huge role. Black^ claimed he was incredibly impressed with how Secret performed as he considered each game to be an outdraft by Virtus.Pro. Despite the prominence of Arc Warden earlier in the tournament, it was Terrorblade that proved to be the real champion of this event, being picked by VP in the final three games of the tournament. We also saw some incredible performances by Yapzor, especially on his Earthshaker. He certainly kept Secret in some games longer than they should have made it with incredible 4 and 5 man Echo Slams. In the end though, Virtus.Pro would hold the trophy above their heads and continue their dominance in the Majors. Finally breaking through and overcoming OG’s record of 5 Major Championships, Virtus.Pro has once again proven why they were the winningest team of the past two years. Because they are the best team in the world.