The inaugural season of ESL’s ANZ Championship will take place at The Dome in Sydney from 16 June, with four of the best teams in Australia and New Zealand battling it out for a share of a $10,000 AUD prize pool.
Competing in the tournament are the well-renowned Natural 9 and AEF Season 4 champions Athletico Esports (previously Water), along with Pink and Fox Gaming.
The Road to the Finals
Winners of Open Cup #1, Natural 9 are not in as good form as they have been heading into previous tournaments, largely due to their 3rd-4th place finish in the AEF League Season 4. However, this proved no issue in the qualifiers as they swept past every team in their way, finishing top of the pack with Seventh Heaven coming 2nd. In the Online Finals, they were matched up against Fox Gaming and secured their spot at LAN in two decisive games.
Pink had a more difficult road to qualifying, having to go up against Athletico in Open Cup #3. However, against the odds they managed to take them down before beating FFY in the subsequent match to claim their spot in the Online Finals. Here they faced Sugoi Squad, one of the more inconsistent teams, yet they still lost the opening game. However, they did bounce back with two very quick finishes to secure their trip to Sydney.
Athletico Esports, having been knocked out of Open Cup #3, needed to qualify through the final Open Cup round. This they did by finishing 2nd. Their match in the Online Finals was against Seventh Heaven and after a gruelling three-game series, Athletico were finally able to take down their opponents to secure their spot in the LAN finals.
Originally Ge Le He Fan were the fourth finalists to be joining the teams in Sydney but they pulled out after being unable to make it to the event. Fox Gaming, who won Open Cup #4 but lost to Natural 9 in the Online Finals, replace them.
The Final Four
The semi-final matches see Natural 9 face Pink while Athletico Esports battle Fox Gaming.
Given that the qualifiers took place over March and April, it is perhaps better to look at each team’s performances in the more recent AEF Dota 2 League Season 5 to assess their chances.
With this in mind, Pink look like the weakest team of the four as even though they are top of Division 2, they were unable to qualify for Division 1 against Seventh Heaven in the Qualifying Match just before Season 5 began. However, putting this into perspective, Seventh Heaven are currently top of Division 1 and have won every series so far, including against Pink’s fellow finalists Natural 9 and Athletico Esports. This means Pink’s narrow 2-1 defeat does not look so bad in context. On the other hand, of course, Pink are the only side in the second tier of AEF competition. Natural 9, meanwhile, are currently 3rd in Division 1.
The Athletico Esports versus Fox Gaming match is much harder to call as while Athletico have been performing very well recently – and currently sit 2nd in Division 1 of AEF League Season 5 – Fox Gaming have only retained two of the members with whom they qualified (Inpu and Jesus) and have no recent tournament performances available to assess. However, given the skill level of their previous roster, unless their three new players are a significant upgrade, it will be difficult for them to beat Athletico. Despite this, if they quickly adapt to the new roster and come out with a strong and unique playstyle, there’s always the chance of them taking the series.
Most of the teams seem very close in skill level, and there is always the possibility of upsets, giving us the potential for some exciting matches in Sydney. Will Natural 9 regain their title as the best Australian team? Will Athletico get 1st place in another Australian LAN? Or will one of the two dark horses sweep in and claim the crown?