The first major of 2017 is rolling in, with 16 teams going head to head to see who will take trophy in Ukraine. A crowd of the usual suspects has been invited, and a crop of newcomers and upstarts are looking to make some waves. As this is the last Valve sponsored tournament before the annual Dota celebration that is the International, every Dota fan will be watching to see who emerges as the frontrunner for that coveted Aegis of Champions.
Invictus Gaming recently swept OG in a convincing 3-0 fashion at the Dota 2 Asian Championships, proving that the one true Chinese Emperor has finally come back. Zhilei “Burning” Xu has changed up his carry style to suit the new meta, moving away from his old farming habits and becoming more active on the map. During the DAC grand finals he showed that he was willing to sacrifice farm and a safe lane to jump around and support his team early in teamfights, and even died several times because of it. But Burning is only as good as the team around him, and this iteration of IG works like a well oiled machine, running circles around their opponents and generally making the entire map their home. Bin “Q” Fu is flexing his drafting muscles once again, showing why CDEC took the world by storm at the International 5 and his teamwork with Jing “Xxs” Lin and Zhibiao “Boboka” Ye, ingame was near flawless. Attention should be given to Boboka whose heroes allowed IG to excel in the tournament. Of special note was his Riki, which devastated OG during the Grand Final, keeping them on their toes and creating the space needed for Peng “OP” Ou and Burning to hit their item timings.
Invictus Gaming’s sister squad, Invictus Gaming Vitality, is going to come into Kiev underneath the shadow of Invictus Gaming, which is a shame since IG.Vitality is one of the strongest teams in China and is fully capable of taking the Reaver trophy. The team stumbled out of the gate at DAC, finishing last in their group but recovered quickly and ran through the lower bracket before being stopped by Newbee. The fact that the managed to turn a disaster into a 4th place finish speaks to their mindset and discipline, and their success in domestic Chinese leagues shows that they usually have a stable performance. However, the team has a history of choking against foreign teams, which is something that they need to watch out for in Kiev.
The former TI4 champions recently took 3rd place at DAC and have a good shot at making it to the grandfinals of Kiev. As always though, they always seem to choke when it matters. For the Losers Finals at DAC against Invictus Gaming, Newbee blew a dominant early game lead in Game 1 and lost to a splendid comeback from IG, and looked lost in Game 2, tapping out with a 5-22 kill score in favor of IG and failing to take any of IG’s Tier 2 towers. Kiev will be their chance to break this curse, before the lead-up to this year’s International.
Vici Gaming J
Led by Bai “ROTK” Fan, this squad has seen better days. Once they were fighting for dominance of the Chinese scene alongside Newbee, IG.V, and IG, but now that honeymoon period seems to have cooled off. The team itself is very strong, bringing together top talent from the Chinese professional scene with the famed support duo of Linsen “Fy” Xu and Chao “Fenrir” Lu, and the ever entertaining Zheng “Agressif” Sun, and newcomer Chang “Freeze” Liu in the midlane. It’ll be up to ROTK, the team’s captain and drafter, to figure out what exactly they need to do to recapture that fire that they had just a month or a half ago.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just half a year ago it looked like Wings Gaming were unstoppable. The breakout team of the International, which once looked like the inheritors to DK’s legacy have stalled out. They no longer seem like the daring, ambitious innovators and have instead fallen mostly into disrepair, winning a miserable 2 games in their DAC group against Team Faceless and VG.J the only two teams that placed lower than them in the group. Then they lost in a quick 1-0 to Evil Geniuses in the lower bracket, ending their tournament run in disgrace. At this point expectations for Wings has to be low. Placing at a decent rank seems to be reasonable, but the hopes of Chinese fans are probably going to be placed elsewhere for Kiev.
Faceless are the embodiment of “big fish, small pond” a number of impressive victories and titles in the SEA region keep on failing to materialize as actual success overseas. They did better at DAC, finishing 7/8th overall after upsetting a slumping Team Liquid in the lower bracket, but this is not where the team wants to be. Unlike most teams coming out of SEA, Faceless is not the scrappy underdogs itching for their first real win. This team holds Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier, Daryl Koh “iceiceice” Pei Xiang, Wai Hong “xy-” Toh, and Jeng Yih “NutZ” Wong, accomplished players and veterans who are no strangers to high place victories. At this point, Faceless are looking like glorified gatekeepers for the SEA scene, rather than players that can stand toe to toe with the rest of the world.
TNC Pro Team
This Filipino squad features three members of the TI6 Cinderella squad with Marco Polo “Raven” Luis Fausto returning from his stint as Fnatic’s carry. Kiev is serving as a sort of international coming out for TNC, with the new roster’s first taste at a long form international tournament with a ton of competition. The squad already has two victories over IG.V and Secret underneath its belt because of Starladder i-League Season 3, but an early loss to Team Liquid makes it difficult to see just how well the team will perform at Kiev. However they still have some of the best cores in Southeast Asia in Raven and Sam_H and have an explosive playstyle that’s become the SEA signature. Hopefully that can carry them ahead of the pack at Kiev.
Despite their loss to IG, OG is still the favorites going into Kiev. Outside of the Grand Finals, they only dropped two games at DAC, and have stomped through several competitions with the ease and strength of frequent champions. As always, OG’s strength relies largely on their team chemistry. The players are confident in each others’ abilities and work to support each other, which leads to stable performance and the ability the triumph over most of their opponents regardless of any individual flaws in execution or drafting. IG’s victory over OG however, shows that Notail and company might want to relook their drafts and hero pool. Q seems to have them figured out, and prepared counters for OG’s illusion heavy gameplay, or in the case of Naga Siren, banned it altogether in the first phase. Look to OG as the team to beat, but don’t be surprised if IG have laid out the blueprint to finally topple OG’s aura of strength.
Liquid have a problem. DAC was an unmitigated disaster for the team. A disappointing group stage ended in a first round knockout by Team Faceless, a team that many thought would be fodder for Team Liquid as they made their way through the bracket. Part of the loss can be attributed to Liquid’s drafting. In return for Lifestealer, Naga Siren, and Magnus, Liquid gave Faceless room to pick almost all of their favorite picks, except for Abaddon which Iceiceice looked very comfortable on regardless. This familiarity prevailed over the statistically stronger lineup of Liquid. Going into Kiev, Liquid should just look at this as a new opportunity. Shake off DAC as a fluke, and look forward to laying everyone’s doubts to rest at Kiev.
The former Digital Chaos has now spun off to create their own new organization and have brought in extra coaching help from Jacky “EternalEnvy” Mao to give them that extra edge to win. Honestly it’s difficult to say much about Thunderbirds. The squad hasn’t played very many official matches in recent months, and their last official appears to have been February 25th in a loss to VG.J. Before that they failed to qualify for DAC, losing to Team NP in the finals of the American qualifier. This isn’t the first time that the team has been a virtual unknown underdog going into an event though, and the move to Europe, where most of the members are more comfortable, should be a good morale boost going into Kiev.
The former Ad Finem squad has now signed with Mousesports just in time for the Kiev Major. Hopefully, this will go better than Mousesports’ other Dota ventures and not cause the team to fail spectacularly and break up soon after the International. Mousesports came to international fame during the Boston Major when their miraculous run through the entire lower bracket was stopped only by the Major Kings, OG. Quickly becoming fan favorites, they’ll be looking to recreate that magic at Kiev, with all of the heart and screaming excitement they’ve come to be known for.
Team Secret has been in a deep slump ever since failing to make it to the Boston Major and the EternalEnvy scandal. Regardless Kiev will be their chance to try and regain the spotlight, even if it is as the villains this time. They’re coming into this major hot, dismantling the European qualifier without dropping a single game to their opponents. Whatever Secret has done to prepare for the Kiev qualifiers, they should continue it because it might just be enough to move them out of their funk.
This major is the first time that a Valve sponsored tournament has created a CIS only qualifier, and Virtus Pro has emerged as the representative for the region. With two Ukrainian players, Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko and Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk, they’ll be coming into Kiev as the hometown favorites. They didn’t quite have as strong a run as Team Secret, dropping 2 games to Natus Vincere and Team Empire, but they’re still not a team to scoff at. CIS has fallen from favor as Western European Dota has gotten stronger with OG and Team Liquid, but Virtus Pro will have a chance to upset that narrative.
The premier North American team comes into Kiev with something to prove. They have been a top team ever since TI4, peaking with their TI5 win over CDEC, but with the departure of long time captain PPD and the addition of new captain Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen the Geniuses have been struggling to get their legs back. The team is a regular recipient of tournament invites, so they tend to be removed from the rest of the general scene and it might be harming their play. They recently went out 5/6th at DAC which is respectable, but below expectations and their disappointing group stage run where they placed 6th out of 7th is also worrying, pointing to an EG that is struggling to adapt like they usually do.
This team is the former Team Onyx, not the old Digital Chaos roster that now runs under the name Thunderbirds. Continuing the theme of the previous Digital Chaos, these five mercenaries, rejects, and wanderers were the longshot for the North American qualifier spot. Between the anime fueled, friendship forged Team NP, and the experienced Complexity Squadron, DC was the dark horse. Dropping down after a disappointing loss to Complexity, they had to settle in for a grueling finals day. Playing 3 matches in total with 2 of them going to a third game, they made the long road through the lower bracket, toppling Team NP in the consolation final and earning a rematch against CoL. Some arrogance or forgetfulness from Kyle “melonzz” Freedman in the 3rd draft allowed Doo-young “DuBu” Kim to grab Abed Azel “Abed” Yusop’s signature Meepo and Kanishka “Bulba” Sosale’s favorite Abbadon, and DC made swift work of the American veterans to place first. If teams aren’t careful Digital Chaos can can wreak havoc with their pocket picks, but it’s difficult to see them taking it all the way to first place.
South America, if we’re being honest, is largely inscrutable to international audiences. At best, people know the ill-fated Smash and the fervor of the Peruvian Dota fan base, and at worst, they only know it as a place of frequent roster swaps, match fixing, and bad mannered gameplay. The Brazilian squad SG e-sports was not the favorite coming into the qualifier, and many expected Peruvian squad Not Today to dominate the bracket. But SG e-sports prevailed with a drafting strategy that seemed to emphasize Rubick and Luna as the core of their lineup, giving them strong pushing power, alongside heroes that gave initiation and vision for the teamfights and highground sieges. Kiev will be this squad’s international debut, and they remain a large wild card going in.