The 2017-2018 Dota 2 season has officially begun. The qualifiers for the PGL Open Bucharest and StarLadder i-League are already underway and fans are already getting a feel for some of the new groups that have formed in the weeks since TI7.
But while it’s fun to soak in all the wild, unpredictable action of the new season, it’s worth zooming out, and taking a look at the entirety of each region.
North America was hit hard during the post-TI7 roster shuffle. Very, very hard.
Staple teams Planet Odd (formerly Digital Chaos) and Cloud9 (formerly Team NP) both disbanded. The result? A massive void near the top of the region.
The top spot remains the sole property of Evil Geniuses, of course. While EG Flopped at TI7 with a 12th-place finish, they remain an elite squad at the international level and only made one change as a result, replacing Zai with a returning Fear. Past EG, however, are a number of historically regional-level teams looking to make it onto the bigger stages.
Some of these teams are familiar to fans. Complexity Gaming reunited most of its 2016 squad, bringing back Chessie and Limmp, while moving its returning players to their more traditional roles. Three members of the Team Freedom squad that nearly shocked the world in the TI7 North American Qualifiers have come together under the new VGJ.Storm banner. Finally, Digital Chaos seems to be sticking around, but has some gaps to fill in its roster the coming weeks.
The X-factors in this are the new groups; The Dire and Team Phoenix.
The Dire, helmed by former EG captain ppd, brings together some of the hottest free agents in the game, including former teammate Zai and former Planet Odd captain MiSeRy. While it’s difficult to feel strongly positive a new team, the sheer talent makes them one to watch going forward.
Finally, despite being entirely made up as South Koreans, Team Phoenix seems to be committed to playing in the North American region, competing in multiple NA qualifiers instead of returning to Southeast Asia. The group had strong success in 2016 under the MVP.Phoenix banner and it will be interesting to see if they can emulate that in 2017.
While North America is crowded in the middle, Europe is crowded at the top with established teams keeping their rosters largely intact.
Team Liquid is taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to its roster, and will look to stretch its successful 2017 into 2018. Rival EU staple OG, despite a relatively weak showing at TI7, is doing the same, with the only transaction being adding Resolut1on to replace a MIA Ana.
It isn’t just the region’s elites that are sticking by their 2016 lineups. Hellraisers, who made a surprising run through the TI7 EU qualifiers, made just one change, replacing Swiftending with veteran SexyBamboe. Mousesports, meanwhile, will return with the all-Greek team that took second place at the Boston Major in 2016.
Of course, not everything is staying as-is. Three interesting new teams in Team Tuho, the new No Diggity and the yet-to-be-named stack started by former Planet Odd members Saksa and w33haa came together and fill out the region nicely. And of course, Secret went through some restructuring with the departures of MP and KheZu.
Odds are that this season is similar to the last one, with Liquid and OG holding onto their spots as the best teams in Europe while letting everyone else battle over third place (with Secret winning more often than not). That said, it’s easy to wonder if the curse of TI winners will hold true. And if it does? Things could get interesting.
No region is more top-heavy than CIS.
Virtus Pro is an elite-level, world-class team that can be looked at as potential favorites for almost any tournament they participate in. Everyone else? Not so much.
Though Team Empire made a strong run at TI7, the loss of Rodjer to NaVi and departure of its substitute carry player at the tournament, Resolut1on, hurts their standing heading into a new season. Past that, however, are a slew of second-tier teams that will be looking to find higher levels of success with new rosters.
Team Spirit, M19 and Vega Squadron (who placed Top-4 at the TI7 CIS Qualifier) will look to break through to the next level with slightly changed rosters. Gambit Esports, for better or worse, is sticking with the five players that couldn’t get them over the hump. NaVi continues to be “Team Dendi” and once again tweaked its lineup around the ever-popular mid player.
Will any of them be able to get established at the international level? Maybe, but even if they do, it’s hard to imagine them catching up to Virtus Pro.
While North America and CIS have one team set to dominate the season, Southeast Asia is wide open, with a slew of interesting squads vying for dominance at each level.
The team on the strongest footing is TnC Gaming. Despite a so-so showing at TI7, the squad led by Canadian veteran 1437 remains intact and full of long-term upside. Given more time to gel, they could establish themselves as the best team in the region.
That’s no guarantee, however. Fnatic and Mineski both added veteran players to their teams to guide their upstart squads and, at least on paper, they have the pure talent to compete with some of the world’s best. Additionally, a number of veteran SEA players (including kYxY and Net from the 2013 Orange Esports team) came together to form New Beginning.
Past that is the usual roundup of promising groups that are yet to break out onto the world stage, including Execration, Warriors Gaming.Unity and Clutch Gamers. While it’s impossible to say that this is “the year” for any single one of them, they have each been good enough for long enough that they warrant being looked at as a serious contender.
And of course, it is possible that South Korea’s Team Phoenix may plan on returning to their home country. If they do, a strong case could be made that SEA is the best region outside of China.
The running theme of TI7, despite the grand finals, is that China is easily the best Dota 2 region, with a slew of elite-level teams capable of defeating anyone else in the world.
For the most part, upper bracket heavyweights Newbee, LGD-Gaming and LGD.Forever Young remained intact, with the only transaction between those three being LGD-Gaming “trading” eLeVeN to Vici Gaming for fy. Given their dominance at TI7 and the established success of each of those teams, expect them to appear in the top-four of plenty of tournaments over the coming months. Invictus Gaming, who took a strong sixth-place finish at TI7, was similarly content with its roster, with its only move being the addition of GazEoD to replace a vacationing Burning.
Past that, high-level teams that fell short of making it to TI7 went through varying degrees of restructuring. Some, like iG.Vitality, swapped a couple players. Others, like Vici Gaming, basically hit the reset button and built new teams from scratch. For all the teams above, however, the sheer amount of skill and experience will make them hard outs for anyone they come across.
Believe it or not, this is something of an abridged discussion. There are a number of unlisted teams like Keen Gaming, Eclipse and FTD that could reasonably score top-four spots in Major or Minor tournaments.
And with an even-numbered International coming up? It’s likely going to be a big year for China.
And finally, South America…
Growing pains were something of an inevitability in the region. Valve’s mandate forcing official Major/Minor tournament organizers to include at least one South American team in events guaranteed a massive influx of capital into the region, which would in turn cause an equally massive restructuring by both players and teams alike.
This has inadvertently highlighted the complete lack of depth on the continent, and the pitfalls of Valve’s entire approach to esports.
The last few months have seen many of the staple teams from the region gutted through poaching by rivals. The new Digital Chaos.SA organization pulled players from both Infamous and SG E-Sports. SG-Esports took almost the entire roster of Midas Club Elite. Infamous left Elite Wolves in shambles. And outside those three? There are no legitimately established organizations.
It’s anyone’s guess what happens from here. These distinctly subpar organizations could be left to their own devices, offering up a bottom-half finisher for each Major/Minor tournament. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be shocking to see European or North American organizations find a foothold player from Peru or Brazil, set up an overseas headquarters and likely dominate the qualifiers for any tournament they feel like.
The doors are open for other teams to walk through here and if groups like the w33haa/Saksa stack (which also includes former Infamous mid player Timado) do so, it could raise the level of competition continent-wide. If not? Expect a lot of last-place finishes to pop up for these teams on Liquipedia.
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