MDL Chengdu Major
Nov 16 - 24, 2019
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As a new decade approaches and many pontificators will be taking stock of the evolution of esports over the past ten years, Dota 2 will see the inaugural Major of the 2019-2020 Dota Pro Circuit season herald the next chapter in its storied existence. Held in the city of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, China, Mars Media's followup to the Disneyland Paris Major will host a bevy of remixed rosters as each team begins their long journey to The International 2020. This is the first step, and for most the first true challenge they will face together, the first tempering of their newly minted aspirations.
Many elite-level rosters have decided to sit this first event out, to take a vacation, to cool their heels after the hotly contested Aegis was claimed yet again. Still, the field in Chengdu will not lack for talent or spectacle, with several regional favorites in attendance with notable, exciting changes to their team makeup that inspire in equal parts intrigue and apprehension. It is this dichotomy, the yin and yang of potential and failure that keeps Dota evergreen, and it is the lens by which it is most interesting to examine its competitors.
Invictus Gaming — Fighting PandaS — Fnatic — Gambit Esports — J.Storm
Team Liquid — Team Spirit — TNC Predator — Team Unknown — Vici Gaming
As the third qualifier from Southeast Asia, it is easy to dismiss Team Adroit as an also-ran, a shoe-in for last place and a conciliatory prize. In said qualifier, they lost to both TNC Predator and Fnatic rather handily. One might question their chances against stiffer international competition, especially seeing as this will be something of a debut for the team.
Yet, is this metric the only one by which they should be judged? Instead, consider the factors in their favor: the team is young and is playing under no pretense of required performance, and their leaders are a pair of players who have been journeymen in the scene for some time.
Can Jun “Bok” Kanehara and Marvin “Boombacs” Rushton lead the trio of youngsters to some upset victories and a surprise finish, or is Team Adroit who we think they are? Find out in Chengdu.
In the absence of OG, Secret, and ex-Liquid, Alliance looks to be a usurper to the throne of best in Europe. After an excellent qualifier performance, Alliance had several dominant wins over the field at Dreamleague en route to the gold, followed by another podium finish in Hamburg. The team sees Adrian “FATA” Trinks transitioning from his traditional core role into the 5 spot as captain of a team of journeymen with experience from regions across the globe.
Coming with FATA from the TI9 Ninjas in Pyjamas squad is Neta “33” Shapira, a player that has gained a reputation for being a standout offlane player as well as a captain’s dream with his hero pool of several draft winning Broodmothers. The 1/2 combo of Nikolay “Nikobaby” Nikolov and Linus “Limmp” Blomdin provide needed stability and experience, capably handling a wide range of heroes. Finally, Simon “Handsken” Haag plays a pivotal role on the team, with his picks often enabling the core strategy, such as the Magnus-plus-melee-core drafts that carried Alliance throughout their impressive run in Hamburg.
As a team of experienced professionals, can Alliance break through to the tier of elite teams that currently dominate the space, or will they simply be relegated to “the best of the rest” in Europe? A strong showing in Chengdu could make all the difference to their hopes.
As a new organization in a space that has been long-dominated by brands like LGD, Invictus Gaming, and Vici Gaming, Team Aster began its existence under the conspicuous eye of the often capricious Chinese Dota scene. The project of the legendary Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei, Aster’s personnel moves have been scrutinized, the team performance ridiculed, its failure to reach the main stage of The International 2019 lauded as a predictable disappointment.
Yet, there is optimism still. The retooled roster includes more talent now than it ever has, with Song “Sccc” Chun, Lin “Xxs” Jing, Ye “BoBoKa” Zhibiao, and Pan “Fade” Yi all regarded as among the best at their respective positions in China. The relative newbie Kee Chyuan “ChYuan” Ng is perhaps the team’s biggest question mark, but he is at least mechanically strong enough to keep up with the rest of the roster.
With such a star-studded cast, the results of Aster will once again be a hot topic post-Major, will Chengdu be a redemption arc or just another tragedy?
Coming off a surprise finish at ESL One Hamburg and a dominating run in the South American Major Qualifier, beastcoast is riding high coming into Chengdu. As a region, South America is perhaps the most criminally underrated in the Dota space, the talent on this team alone enough to give pause to any detractors. This is the same team that came in 7-8th at The International 2019 after only just missing the cut for upper bracket and winning two knockout series over keen Gaming and the North American Newbee squad that had shown so much promise in the group stage.
Jean Pierre “Chris Luck” Gonzales leads the pack with his flashy, knife-edged play in the mid lane. His are the draft winning last picks of the team, the Templar Assassin that goes unchecked, the Meepo or Broodmother who takes over the game. He is the engine of his team’s success, and he plays like he knows that. Hector Antonio “K1” Rodriguez is the benefactor of the space that Chris Luck creates with his play, often soaking up the resultant farm with ease on Radiance carries like Wraith King and Alchemist that come online to end the game.
Adrian “Wisper” Cespedes Dobles is a graduate of the Infamous farm system, making his big time debut with this roster as a standout Bolivian player. Elvis “Scofield” De la Cruz Pena and Steven “StingeR” Vargas bring the stability of experience to the roster, with the latter having played since he was a teenager, only just now coming into international success at 22. At the forefront of an emerging scene, this Peruvian Dota team will come to Chengdu with swagger, looking to ride the wave of their recent success.
The story of Wings Gaming at The International 2016 is one well known to the Dota community. In what has since been regarded as one of, if not the most dominant bracket performance at a TI by a champion, Wings dismantled the competition en route to the Aegis, showing a clearly superior metagame understanding and flourishing with a variety of drafts, losing only with their most unconventional ideas (read: Pudge).
Perhaps unfairly, that is the legacy with which EHOME’s current 3 and 5 have to play with. Saddled with the combined weight of former glory and their ignominious disbanding, Zhang “y’” Yiping and Zhang “Faith_bian” Ruida constantly strive to get out from under the shadow of their history. Playing under the EHOME brand for some time now, they have been joined by Malaysian carry Cheng “vtFaded” Jia Hao, upstart midlaner Tang “897” Zhirui, and former Team Serenity offlaner-made-support Zhao “XinQ” Zixing.
The team has been battling in China for top spot in LGD’s absence with the rest of the potential star teams. They have traded games with iG, Vici, and Aster across the qualifiers for the Major and Hamburg, as well as the recent Hainan Master Cup LAN. With Chengdu comes their first international test as a full squad, and the team is full of more questions than answers. Will they rise to the challenge or fall to the wayside as just another Chinese team with name recognition?
Once a TI-winning brand, the current EG roster is unrecognizable from the squad that made that fated run in 2015. With superstar Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan’s departure, not a single player remains from that team, and with him goes much of the confidence in their status as a roster. Combined with Gustav “s4” Magnusson’s leaving, the team has remade itself into something worthy of curiosity, if not tentative hope.
Stepping in to fill an almost immeasurable void, Abed “Abed” Yusop is EG’s new midlaner, and if there ever were a talent deserving of following up SumaiL, Abed may just be it. The Filipino is styled in the mold of players like Aliwi “w33” Omar, a high-MMR pubstar famous for his Invoker and Meepo play. His career in previous team Fnatic saw the team consistently outperform expectations, even if the team never broke through to true elite status. The other newcomer, Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev, has elected to give up his role as carry in an effort to join a squad with a higher ceiling than his previous Virtus Pro squad, a feat that may be nigh impossible. For him, and the rest of the Evil Geniuses squad, however, success during the regular season is not of the utmost importance. Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen, and Tal “Fly” Aizik each have only one thing left to prove.
The MDL Chengdu Major will mark the beginning of their journey - 15,000 DPC points up for grabs, each one EG earns from their performance here just that much closer to punching their ticket to Stockholm next year.
As the team that qualified from the Minor, it may be easy to discount iG as a contender at the Major. Their performance at Dota Summit 11 might persuade one otherwise, however, given that they beat the field after losing only two games out of the thirteen they played in Los Angeles, including a five-to-zero line against second-place team Chaos Esports Club.
Against the significantly upgraded competition in Chengdu, it would be quite the notable event to replicate that feat. Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi has his work cut out for him to make his younger, relatively inexperienced teammates into legitimate title contenders. With such a storied organization backing them, this team has high expectations to meet. It is worthy of note that they only played in the Minor because they failed to make the playoffs in the competitive Chinese Major Qualifier, the difference being a single series they lost to Vici Gaming 0-2 while tying or beating the rest of the group.
This Major will be an opportunity for them to create something resembling lasting success. Beating the odds here and placing well would do much to put them in the conversation as frontrunners in the Chinese scene amongst a pack of teams all vying for extremely limited opportunities to play in international competitions and ultimately make their way to Stockholm.
The mostly-Canadian roster of Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao’s new hope, Fighting PandaS come to Chengdu as the benefactor of a debatably weak regional qualifier, though one they handled rather easily. Captained by former TI-winner and longtime friend of the controversial EE, Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling, the team is an amalgam of players from a variety of pedigrees. In a region that has been said to lack elite talent, this roster looks to prove that NA is not a region in decline, but they have a lot of work to do in that regard.
Against many of the same teams in Hamburg, Fighting PandaS failed to even make it out of the group stage. 0-2 losses to Alliance, beastcoast, and Vici Gaming bode poorly for the team’s chances to defy expectations in Chengdu. With another flop, it is easy to see the team disbanding completely, the only factor in their favor that it will remain easy to qualify for future tournaments from their region.
It would be a disappointment for the team’s veterans, Jingjun “Sneyking” Wu and David “MoonMeander” Tan, both players that have seen past success and perhaps deserve a bit more after some unfortunate roster decisions that left them on the outside looking in. The team’s young gun, Jonathan Bryle “bryle” Santos De Guia, has yet to attend a TI, though he has been to a couple Majors in his J.Storm past.
As with every team of Jacky Mao’s, their ceiling is perhaps higher than it may appear, and after a long time out of the spotlight, perhaps the Dota scene could use a bit of his team’s influence at the top to start off the new season.
A stalwart in the Southeast Asian Dota scene, Fnatic returns to the Majors with a young star carry, Nuengnara “23savage” Teeramahanon, and a new midlaner from rival Mineski, Kam “Moon” Boon Seng. The core of Daryl “iceiceice” Koh Pei Xiang, Djardel “DJ” Mampusti, and Anucha “Jabz” Jirawong remained after their admittedly disappointing showing at The International 2019. No strangers to success, this team now looks to right the ship and prove that they can still contend despite the loss of their star player Abed.
Fnatic’s handling of the qualifier is the only basis by which to judge the team’s current form, and by that metric they are likely to be the best in their region. This collection of Southeast Asian talent may have a positive outlook if they can gel in Chengdu and emerge as an early frontrunner in the DPC.
Once upon a time, this Gambit roster may not have warranted a second glance. As a qualifier from the tumultuous CIS region, this team could have been just a placeholder competitor alongside the region’s true hope in Virtus Pro. Instead, however, Gambit Esports took home the silver medal at ESL One Hamburg and completely changed the conversation around their status as a team.
Longtime CIS captain Artsiom “fng” Barshak leads this squad into Chengdu as a potential successor to the mantle of the best team in the region, if not a prospective contender in the wider landscape of the DPC. They beat some of the same teams they will face here at Hamburg, losing only to TNC Predator, a team on the rise itself.
There have been plenty of promising teams of the past that have faded, however, and Dota is an unforgiving game. Gambit can’t come in overconfident, lest they become just another one-and-done.
Clinton “Fear” Loomis is a player that needs no introduction. It should be a bigger deal that a player with his status is part of a team again, but the sad truth is that during his tenure on J.Storm, the team has not exactly set the world on fire, failing even to qualify for The International 2019. This current iteration has floated around third best in the North American region, not convincingly better than Fighting PandaS but certainly not far behind them.
If J.Storm is a project in developing talent, Fear has a chance to make German Leon “Nine” Kirilin and Peruvian Joel Mori “MoOz” Ozambela into internationally-relevant players. Alongside his fellow North Americans in David “Moo” Hull of Digital Chaos fame and journeyman Braxton “Brax” Paulson, Loomis could build on his legacy, but all signs point in the wrong direction for this team as they face stiff competition in Chengdu.
Stepping in to fill the gap left by the former roster’s departure to form a new organization, the side that attended The International 2019 under the Alliance banner will trade their “A” logos in for the decidedly more stylish digs of the Liquid brand in Chengdu. Setting aside any questions of meeting the success of the Kuro-led roster of years past, Team Liquid face a serious crisis in China.
The team was on something of a rise before TI9, coming in 5th-6th at EPICENTER’s Major and winning Dota Summit 10, only to fail spectacularly after a now-infamous mislick in the draft stage of their first-round loser’s match at TI. Since then, the team has struggled to perform well, only just qualifying for this Major. They need a serious reversal of fortunes to remain relevant in the wider landscape, as the field will only become tougher as more of the teams taking a break return next year to claim what’s theirs.
When this roster formed, they took on the possibly ironic but definitely cheeky moniker of Positive Guys. Now having been signed by Team Spirit, this conglomerate of CIS talent looks to make a splash in the international scene in the absence of the bigger names in the region. Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk at offlane is perhaps the best-known player of the bunch, having been a part of the Empire squad that knocked out Evil Geniuses at The International 2017.
The team’s captain, Mihail “Misha” Agatov, was a standin for Na`Vi at a couple of events in 2019. Carry Igor “iLTW” Filatov was likewise a standin for OG for an extended stint while Ana was on break during the previous season. Team Spirit’s midlaner, Egor “Ergon” Kozlov, is a new player, coming from Pavaga Junior. Finally, the team’s 4 position is filled by former Gambit player Alexander “Immersion” Hmelevskoy.
Team Spirit qualified for MDL Chengdu under the Positive Guys name in a field that included every relevant team in CIS, including the new Na`Vi and Virtus Pro squads, as well as the Old but Gold squad that sports some of the scenes most decorated veterans. Given this, Team Spirit certainly earned their spot, but they have much left to prove as a team to be taken seriously in the DPC moving forward.
If Fnatic are vying for international acclaim out of the SEA region, TNC Predator are one step ahead of them. The Filipino trio of Kim “Gabbi” Villafuerte, Armel “Armel” Paul Tabios, and Timothy “Tims” Randrup put this team at the forefront last season with admirable performances at EPICENTER and TI9. With the additions of Damien “kpii” Chok and Park “March” Tae-won, the team has won ESL One Hamburg.
The recent victory bolstering confidence, this team of undoubtedly talented players can make a statement in Chengdu. With their often exciting playstyle and the likelihood of a deep run, the Major will be much improved by TNC’s presence. One has to consider them among the favorites to take home the prize, something not often said about a team from this region in international competition.
What is better than naming your team after an enigmatic Pokemon? Leaning in and using a logo to reinforce the association. That is perhaps the most recognizable thing about Team Unkown, a Peruvian squad with historied players that have yet to truly capture the attention of the wider audience of Dota. All the way back at the start of the Major system at Frankfurt in 2015, Juan “Atun” Ochoa and Alexis “Greedy” Ventura played under this organization, managing a single bo1 victory over the Hao/Mu-era Newbee squad to avoid last place.
Atun also played with Sergio “Prada” Toribio under the Thunder Predator tag at The Chongqing Major last season where they once again outplayed their opponents in the bo1, this time knocking out CIS squad The Pango. The other two players have played in various South American rosters for a few years apiece, neither achieving must outside of the region.
In Chengdu, this team could become another beastcoast-like entity, a sibling Peruvian roster capable of taking games and series off of traditionally “better” teams. There has never been a better time to hail from the SA region, and there will likely not be another Major with as weak a field as this one to prey on.
A couple of years ago, when the 1/2 of Zhang “Eurus” Chengjun and Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang were making their debut on the main Vici Gaming squad, the promise of the new talent was lauded by many as insurance of the future of the Chinese scene, a proof of concept of the farm teams and infrastructure working as intended. Now, as this Vici Gaming squad enters Chengdu under a patina of grey, one must question just how much that promise has paid off.
The supporting cast has changed in the intervening years, the current 3/4/5 filled by Zhou “Yang” Haiyang, Xiong “Pyw” Jiahan, and Ding “Dy” Cong, but the same issues seem to plague the team. Their frustratingly inconsistent performances make them difficult to evaluate as a team. They are certainly good, but they show flashes of brilliance as at the EPICENTER Major they won late last season, and their deep run to 5th-6th at TI9. For a team with such a talented core duo, it is disheartening to see them just outside elite status time and time again.
Chengdu may yet be the beginning of this team’s best season yet, or it could be yet another catalyst for change within the roster. Only one thing is certain, expectations are high, and they must be met for this team to continue on as is.
Graphics: MDL / LiquidDota
Graphics: MDL / LiquidDota