Ending January with a bang, the ESL series is taking the Dota 2 competitive scene to Malaysia for the most important minor of the season. Sixteen top teams will compete for a share of the $400,000 prize pool, as well as 400 all-important Pro Circuit points, vital for any outfit hoping to make it to TI8.
The formula for this tournament is slightly unusual. The 16 teams have been split into two groups of eight and will enter a double-elimination stage, with the opening matches played as best-of-one and all subsequent ones as best-of-three. Although the organisers have not explicitly stated so, it seems the group seedings have been based upon the teams’ Dota Pro Circuit rankings.
The defeated teams move down to the losers’ bracket and those who lose there are eliminated altogether. Only three teams will advance from each group of eight – the overall group winner, the runner-up and the winner of the losers’ bracket. The latter two will face each other in the quarter-finals of the single-elimination Playoffs, with the group winners getting a pass to the semi-finals. These clashes are also best-of-three, except for the Finals, which are best-of-five.
The Teams – Invitees
With eight teams invited and eight joining through qualifiers, this tournament contains a lot of talent.
TI7 winners Team Liquid are expected to deliver a characteristically strong performance, but after ending the year with a crushing defeat in the Finals of DreamLeague Season 8 to rivals Team Secret, who are also competing at Genting, it seems that they may be losing their grip. However, with star players like Miracle-, famed for his peerless mastery of Invoker, and with a record for the highest MMR in Dota 2 gameplay, they won’t be going down without a fight.
Team Secret followed up their DreamLeague victory with another success at Captains Draft 4.0 and appear to be the ones to beat. With no recent changes to their roster and having secured two 1st place positions in a row, they’ll be looking to make it three in Malaysia. Boasting a talented and capable team, including Fata, who is well-known for his performance on Puck and his use of Mekansm builds, this team is in pole position to win this event.
Newbee and Mineski are top-tier teams who also received an invitation to the tournament. Both are extremely strong, but their last few matches suggest they are slightly off-form. Newbee were defeated at DreamLeague Season 8 by Na’Vi as they slumped to a 5-6th place finish. Similarly, the SEA team Mineski were crushed by Team Secret at the Captains Draft earlier this month. Whilst each of these teams is extremely capable, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to bounce back against old foes here.
Evil Geniuses have a longer running problem – the US team haven’t had a tournament victory since May last year and scored disappointingly at the Captains Draft, being knocked out at the earliest stage by Team Secret.
After a 2nd place position at the Captains Draft, Vici Gaming are no doubt in with a chance of victory. Although they were defeated by Team Secret in the Finals, it was a close 2-3 affair. However, with a far poorer record against teams like LFY, this Chinese outfit have a battle ahead of them if they want to take home the trophy.
Meanwhile, European team Fnatic may be coming back into form after a rather poor 2017. They have a few impressive past victories to their name, such as their 4th place position at TI6, but after placing 2nd in DOTA Summit 8 in December, they’ve certainly proven that they have a chance.
The last team to be invited were Virtus.pro, one of the most dominant Russian teams on the scene. If Team Secret are the favourites, then Virtus.pro may just be the ones to challenge them after they demolished the European team 2-0 in the Finals of the last ESL tournament in Hamburg. If these two clash in the coming weeks, it could spell the end for Team Secret’s hopes.
The Teams – Qualifiers
From the qualifiers, we’ll be seeing VGJ.Thunder (China), PENTA Sports & Planet Dog (both Europe) and SG e-sports (South America). These teams are relatively low-level in the competitive scene, without many great victories to distinguish them. Planet Dog were created only last year, with just $500 in winnings to show for it, for example. This quartet appear unlikely to make it far into the tournament, but we’ll have to wait and see.
There are some real titans amongst the qualifiers though; LGD.FY from China, Na’Vi from the CIS, TNC Pro Team from SEA and compLexity Gaming from NA. Each of these teams have plenty to brag about – LGD.FY came third at TI7 and are often considered the strongest team in China while Na’Vi won the very first International, back in 2011, and came 2nd in TI2 and TI3 (albeit with a different team to that of today). Recently they finished 1st at the Adrenaline Cyber League and 2nd at Midas Mode, where they were only defeated by Team Liquid.
TNC Pro Team saw victory at the China Top towards the end of 2017 and will be hoping to build on that here. Meanwhile, although compLexity are perhaps the weakest team of these four having had less experience and fewer winnings, they’re not to be discounted altogether. Their most recent performance placed them 5th-8th in the Captains Draft but they did come up against a strong Vici Gaming side.
With 16 teams in attendance, this tournament has something for everybody. Whether rooting for your regional champions or backing your favourite team, it’s bound to be an impressive spectacle. With at least 50 matches scheduled and some of the world’s greatest Dota 2 teams participating, this one’s not to be missed.