Table of Contents
Secret vs. OG
Virtus Pro vs. Spirit
Nigma vs. Chicken Fighters
Alliance vs. Vikin.gg
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After a two week marathon of a group stage the ESL One EU/CIS playoffs are finally upon us. The group stage was hard fought, and many teams looked hungry for a playoff berth. Unfortunately, hunger is rarely enough when you have to compete with the likes of Secret and Virtus.Pro. Even Major-regulars like Team Liquid and NiP failed to secure a place in the playoffs. Even in the playoffs, there’s a big disparity between those starting in the upper and lower brackets. The upper bracket teams could have a very quick path to the finals, but with the best the tournament has to offer in the way, it won’t be easy for anyone. The lower bracket will be a much longer journey, with little room for error, but some of those teams have finally hit their stride after a slow start.
Overall the metagame of the tournament has favored quick routs or battlecruiser standoffs. Early on in the group stage, the teams that brought more early teamfight tended to just dominate the game and push quickly to victory. We saw a lot of farm independent teamfighting heroes such as Mars, Tusk, and Grimstroke valued highly in the draft. Later on teams started to become more comfortable holding off into the late game, usually building around a single unstoppable carry like Wraith King or Troll Warlord.
The strength of the competition right now is such that every single fight, push, and timing feels like it could possibly be the moment that turns the game around or closes the door entirely. With such razor thin margins for victory, we should see some exciting playoff matches where every moment counts.
Secret vs. OG
Heading up the upper bracket is a highly anticipated matchup between two of the highest teams contending for TI this year. Team Secret has looked nearly unstoppable in group B, having dropped only two games in seven matches. They tended to take the lead early and never look back, closing the door quickly on their opponents and wrapping up most of their games in under 30 minutes. They had no trouble taking games late either, with Nisha and Matumbaman happily carrying them into the late game.
If any team seems to have it in them to take down Secret, OG are it. Their run hasn’t been perfect, and with two stand-ins they’ve looked shaky at times. But when OG really clicks they look like they’re not even playing the same game. They’ve overcome any and every hurdle throughout the group stage, pulling off amazing map movements and teamfights to get themselves over the finish line. Playing their usual trademark aggressive style, they’ve won most of their games by going for the throat early.
I expect this series to showcase excellent fast-paced dota from both sides. Both teams tend to want to take early fights, and the game might largely come down to who outmaneuvers who to take the first few engagements favorably. It may be to Secret’s advantage to take the game late, where they’ve looked more solid and consistent, and overall OG will need to avoid the missteps and coordination problems that cost them in the group stage to keep it competitive. Both of these teams have excellent veteran captains and a lot of experience playing each other, so we should see some deep strategic clashes in this match.
Virtus Pro vs. Team Spirit
On the other side of the upper bracket we have the premier team in the CIS region going up against a regional upstart. Their early hiccups caused some doubt, but Virtus Pro’s 14-3 map score in a 7 - 0 group stage is still incredibly impressive, and certainly cements their claim to be a TI contender. After a rough start to their DPC season, it seems this iteration of VP may finally approach the form of the previous squad. VP have played a relatively balanced style, switching seamlessly between aggressive strategies and slow greedier ones. The key to their success has been outstanding playmaking ability, particularly on No[o]ne and Resolut1on.
Team Spirit managed to fight their way out of a messy group and are poised for what could be a breakout result for them. Spirit have been the epitome of finding a way to win, with several close 2-1 victories, and even managing to take a game off Secret. They’ve largely catered their playstyle toward their recent pickup at position one, DrachYO. They’ve been drafting and laning around giving him space to farm, and he’s rewarded them with stellar contributions to mid and late game fights.
Given how consistently VP have been performing later in the group stage, this match is at risk of being a bit one sided if Team Spirit don’t have a little something up their sleeve. In a normal game, the individual skill matchups will heavily favor VP, and even though they’ve shown some flair of their own, Spirit would likely be outclassed. The key for Spirit is to secure a hero mismatch in the draft for their carry or midlaner and ride that uncountered hero to victory, much like they did with their Meepo draft against Secret. It should be interesting to see what Team Spirit can cook up to try to take down the top dog, or should I say bear.
Nigma vs. Chicken Fighters
From a first glance at Group A it seems like Nigma should have been able to comfortably secure a playoff berth and likely make their way into the upper bracket. Expectations didn’t hold up and after going 1 - 2 in their first two matches there was some concern as to whether the veteran squad would make the playoffs at all. Nigma’s playmakers in particular had a rocky start to the group stage, but they managed to get it together and advance, albeit in the lower bracket. Late in the group stage Nigma leaned on comfort picks such as GH’s Io and w33’s TA. This and a slightly more late game focused approach that lets them leverage their excellent teamfight were key to picking up their late wins. This team is no stranger to lower bracket runs, and if they can consistently execute they still have a great shot to take the title. After all, upper bracket is for bitches.
For Chicken Fighters on the other hand, making the playoffs at all seems like a major victory. An unsponsored stack formed late in 2019, they made it into the tournament by winning a closed qualifier. From there they enjoyed quiet success in the group stage, slowly rising into playoff contention and taking out established squads like NiP and TL. They’ve played largely bog-standard dota for this patch and have won their games with superior execution in the mid and late game.
If Nigma has well and truly ironed out the kinks in their play from early in the group stage then they should be heavy favorites here. Their squad has already shown the ability to succeed under pressure, and their ability to execute later in the game is simply superior. For Chicken Fighters to succeed, they need to get an advantage early and end the game before Nigma’s all-star playmakers come online. Nigma has looked quite vulnerable in games where their opponents manage to disrupt lanes early, so expect Chicken Fighters to try to secure some dominant lane matchups and convert those into a quick win. If Nigma can demonstrate the consistency and excellence that’s made them a DPC powerhouse, they’ll win comfortably.
Alliance vs. Vikin.gg
Much like their counterparts on the other side of the lower bracket, Alliance struggled early in the group stage to find their rhythm as a team. In their case a roster shuffle shortly before the beginning of the tournament came with some growing pains in the form of early losses and shaky victories. However with s4 at the helm the team has really managed to gel later in the group stage, and they look a lot more like a championship caliber team. Alliance have mostly played a late game oriented style with s4 and Limmp bridging the midgame until Nikobaby can take over and carry the game.
Vikin.gg are a recently formed squad that have up until this point failed to find any real success on a major stage. In a group with a lot of heavyweights they managed to pull off an upset of OG and secured a record just good enough to rise above the chaff and into the playoff bracket. Most of their success has come from playing around a timing that utilizes a flash farming hero like Lycan or Alchemist in the hands of their talented carry Shad. However, as impressive as their wins have been, their losses have looked equally rough, including a 13 minute dismantling at the hands of VP. Without a huge history together it remains to be seen whether they can perform under the stress of an elimination bracket.
This match will come down to a battle of carries, and to that end securing good counters to opposing comfort picks at position one will be key for both teams. If Vikin.gg can hit a powerful timing in the midgame they may well secure the game before Alliance’s strategy really has a chance to come together. On the other hand if Alliance can survive to the late game, their veteran experience and superior execution will likely be sufficient to carry the game for them.
With the uncertainty in the tournament scene right now, this may be the biggest stage some of these teams get to compete on for a while. While still an online tournament, ESL is a big brand name and this is the time of year when jockeying for slots at TI starts to really heat up. For the tier two teams looking to see if their lineup has DPC potential, the deadline of qualifiers is bearing down on them to fish or cut bait. For the established powerhouses, this is a valuable opportunity to test their mettle and their strategies against top caliber competition, and one that they might not get a lot of in the coming months. Whether it’s continued dominance, a return to form, or a breakout result, all of the teams left in the playoffs have something to prove here, and I look forward to seeing how their stories play out.