A full year has passed and we return again to China, to arguably one of the biggest tournaments in Dota 2 history: The Dota 2 Asia Championships, this time a Major.
Last year’s edition featured, among many things, the return of the B-God: Xu "BurNIng" Zhilei, The Fall of EG and Team Liquid, and Invictus Gaming’s first major international LAN victory since ESL One Frankfurt 2014. The tournament also showcased some of the most impressive Opening and Closing ceremonies of Dota 2 LANs ever seen. Sitting as one of the premier majors right in the middle of this season along with the Bucharest Major, it is highly likely that the winner will almost guarantee an invite to The International 8.
For years, South American Dota had been looking for their big break. With the introduction of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit, it seemed as though the scene had come into their own. However, as the current season is coming to a close, the region has thus far failed to amass any points in the DPC (paiN Gaming’s 4th Place finish at GESC didn’t count).
paiN Gaming is the best of the lot, while they have yet to showcase their potential at DPC events, there run at WESG turned a lot of heads. Perhaps paiN Gaming can find their way to push on to the next level with that experience.
With the end of the DPC season on the horizon and TI8 just around the corner, bottoming out in DAC 2018 could return paiN Gaming back to their days in Tier 3. Their high placing at WESG 2017: Grand Finals has raised their expectations amongst the rabid SA Dota fans; failing to prove their worthiness at Shanghai would relegate their performance in WESG as merely a fluke, falling between the cracks of an experimental single elimination bracket. Reclaiming their spotlight will be the hardest challenge the Brazilians have faced since entering the upper echelons of Dota 2, but if they can rustle up an SG Esports at the Kiev Major-esque performance, then there is hope yet for a spot for paiN at DAC 2018.
When they first started out with this roster, Optic Gaming struggled to find their footing. Misery left the team to join Team Secret; their absence forced MVP Phoenix to not only find new team members, but also change positions inside the team. Zai took up the 4 position role while newcomers 33 moved to the offlane. Problems immediately arose, as the team who was arguably one of the more talented teams in NA was struggling to make it past the qualifiers for events. Optic Gaming did make it to the finals of two events, but they were 2-0’d by Team Liquid in ESL One: Katowice and 2-0’d by Virtus.Pro at the Bucharest Major.
But things have definitely improved for the Optic Gaming squad. Pajkatt has turned it up and is playing like a beast in the Carry position while Zai and 33 have quietly become the best 3-4 Duo in NA. With the team’s rapid gain of form, Optic may be able to put on a strong performance in Shanghai.
Despite their roster changes, Optic’s preferred playstyle has remained constant. They still try to focus on Pajkatt’s safelane to ensure he has a strong early game. This, in turn, creates space for MVP’s Midlane, as Pajkatt pressures the opposing team and forces them to spend time trying to slow him down. Optic is known for their slow-paced, Farm-oriented Dota, with a dose of well-executed teamfights in the early game that seems to pull enemies into a pace they are unused to. However, this can backfire quite easily as Optic oftentimes find themselves down on map control and gold when the skirmishes don’t go their way. While this is a very risky approach to playing the game, Optic’s confidence in themselves and their playstyle has undeniably led to some amazing tournament performances.
The other, original ‘OG’ has been put in somewhat of an onerous position thanks to a recent roster swap that saw Roman ‘Resolut1on’Fominok leave the team which in-turn disqualified them from a chance at a TI8 invite since it happened after the roster lock.
OG has kept going back to two very reliable strategies over the last couple of months: Illusion heroes, and dual lanes. N0tail’s tendency to go for illusion based cores like Naga Siren is known to anybody who watches competitive; it has thwarted countless high ground pushes, and he almost always seems to be in the position to turn the tides in a losing fight. While he didn’t get priority farm when Resolut1on was playing on OG, he has been burdened with the 1-position responsibility. S4 is the playmaker in chief for the European squad and therefore receives a lot more farm priority than his other cores. OG’s attention to the offlane has its drawbacks, however, as 7Mad has found himself sacrificed more than once to ensure n0tail and s4 have good starts. In return, they buy him the space he needs to farm and catch up, and gank his lane to get him gold from hero kills and towers as they take control over the map. The dual-lane set-up works well in the qualifiers but not against Tier 1 teams they face in LAN events. Teams are well prepared for exactly those kinds of strategies. While it is hard to call OG one dimensional, as they have the ability to run their cores in different lanes à la Evil Geniuses, they so far have rarely taken advantage of it.
We can’t talk about OG being at the DAC 2018 without also talking about how they got there. While they were one of the favorites going into the European qualifier, no one expected them to flawlessly knock down everyone standing in their way as they went 8-0. Their run included some hiccups, but OG has shown poise and proven that they know how to come back from losing positions. We expect OG to perform better than they did at Dreamleague: Season 9, now that they have had time to practice with their new lineup; but if they aren’t careful, a similar result might be waiting for them in Shanghai.
Effect have been slowly climbing up the ranks of CIS teams over the last year. Cooman, Afterlife, and KingR have been steadily improving for quite some time. They started off as your typical regional contender, sometimes getting through qualifiers for online tournaments, but usually not making it through the group stage or dropping out in the first round against tougher competition. Lately, though, the team has managed to string together a series of wins in multiple qualifiers. During ESL One: Katowice, the team suffered defeat at the hands of OF and finished dead last.
However, their recent form carried them into the DAC qualifiers with the wind at their back and confident. They went up against Team Spirit in the first round and were beaten down to the lower bracket. The confidence Effect showed in both their drafting and their play which saw them go all the way and win the entire qualifier.
Effect has a fairly unique playstyle, even inside for CIS. While their opponents were focused on drafting heavy team fight control and having a very strong and balanced team composition, Effect prioritized Nature’s Prophet and Ancient Apparition, creating a global menace.
Effect is also not afraid of picking Mirana, or other unorthodox heroes to try to throw teams off balance and capitalize in-game. The range of heroes Effect is willing to pick will be a great boon to them as they head to Shanghai, where catching somebody off guard in the group stage might give them a much more favorable matchup in the playoff bracket. DAC 2018 will be Effect’s last international tournament for a while. The stakes will be high; we only hope that they can stay calm and show the world what they are capable of.
If there is one word to describe the LGD Gaming roster it is potential. On paper, the team has many of the necessary parts to a winning team, with the core of last year’s squad that was so impressive at TI7, combined with one of the country’s best young offlaners in Yang “Chalice” Shenyi from the Team Max that impressed at the WESG 2017: China Finals and the ROG Masters 2017.
The aforementioned core of carry Wang “Ame” Chunyu and Midlane beast Lu “Maybe” Yao is a solid foundation upon which to build a team. Fy’s ability to draft is central to his value to the team, and so far he hasn’t let them down. The fy/xNova combination is one of the best upcoming supporting duos in Dota, putting the younger cores of LGD in position to win games.
If LGD is to do well at Kiev, it will be off the back of their cores. Maybe has proven to some degree that he has what it takes to win at the highest level, but Ame is a question mark by comparison. With so many known quantities, the fate of this team seems tied to how well the safe lane can stand up to the pressure of playing against the best in the world. With the 1 role being such a central one to modern Dota, it’s difficult to imagine LGD making waves without Ame having a breakout performance.
The one xX-factorfor the team is fy’s playmaking ability. While the game has changed significantly since his heyday, fy has a reputation as a player that can easily take over a game, even from the support position. While Rubick may no longer be a particularly desirable pick, options like Monkey King that have a high skill cap and strong impact throughout the game may put fy in position to make up for any deficiencies elsewhere in the lineup.
Making a return to the Majors, the iG squad looks to redeem themselves from the catastrophe that has been the post TI7 season. Losing their star carry Burning in a bid to get the much younger Aggressif has been quite a huge failure on IG’s part.
The team’s dynamic is well-suited for success in the current climate. The mid-support synergy between XXS and BoBoKa is the most notable thing about the roster, and with the importance of the 2v2 mid lane matchup being so high, iG can reasonably compete with “better” teams in the early game. In particular, there has been a resurgence of Earth Spirit picks to assist mid, and BoBoKa is one of the better players on the hero.
The Achilles heel of the team is its drafting. Q has seemingly lost his Midas touch, and is often outmaneuvered in the pick/ban phase, leading to mismatches in lanes that his teammates are unable to overcome, despite their skill. Unless iG discover a highly flexible template upon which to draft, the team may be held back by its inferior strategy. They will still likely win games, especially in a long tournament such as this, but it would be through sheer force of will rather than outsmarting their opponents.
If iG are to become better as a team, DAC 2018 is their most important test yet as a roster. Should they manage to do well here, they may have just enough time to regroup and make a push for the TI8 invite. It’s a pivotal tournament; failure here would almost certainly see the team broken up in the ensuing season, but a high placing may mean more time for the team to develop together, setting them up for the ultimate goal at The International.
VGJ.Thunder are the challengers to the throne. As a team that’s consistently been one of the the top 2 in China for most of the past year, VGJ.Thunder haven’t brought home a big win like a Major that would solidify their legacy as a team. They undoubtedly have the skill, certainly have the drafting and strategy, but the team always seems to fall short of the grand prize, often losing to the eventual champions deep in the tournament.
DAC is Newbee’s chance to change all of that. They did beat EG in the Galaxy Battles II en route to winning it. Admittedly, this was a non-DPC tournament, but that tournament really showcased how good VGJ.Thunder actually is.
Repeating praise for the team’s core players ad nauseum seems rather stale, so instead of discussing Sylar and Kamma, it is perhaps more pertinent to analyze Fade’s drafting. At GESC and The Bucharest Major, VGJ.Thunder found the most success playing with some combination of Tusk, Disruptor, and Omniknight, if not all three. While they were undoubtedly en vogue picks of the tournament, VGJ.Thunder largely failed to find any success without them.
For all of the focus placed on the mid lane, the importance of strong heroes like Dragon Knight, it appears as if one of the best predictors of VGJ’s success is how the first phase of drafting goes, and whether or not Fade is able to secure a small subset of heroes. Hopefully, the team is able to find a more diverse set of successful strategies come DAC, or they may not live up to their collective reputations.
Undoubtedly the underdogs of the tournament, the dark horse from China is Keen Gaming. Having crashed out early on home ground at the Wesg 2017, the team seeks redemption. They seek to prove that they are a better team on the international stage this weekend.
The team itself is somewhat lesser known, outside of Old Chicken who was EHOME’s mid player for the past couple of years. Carrying with him is MS who has proven to be extremely formidable, going toe-to-toe with players of Aggressif and CTY’s calibre and capable of snowballing out of control during the mid game. The support duo consists of veteran Rong and seemingly newcomer ??, exercising confidence in their movements throughout the game. Together they dictate the team’s tempo and overall game plan. Last is the offlaner dark who was formerly part of EHOME.Keen. All in all the team remains rather enigmatic which may prove to be an advantage against the other teams at DAC but it goes without saying that their individual ability is emanated every game they play.
Adopting the traditional Chinese style of taking it slowly, and farming for the late-game, they made it to the DAC 2018 after only dropping a single game. Yet at the same time, they have shown they can be aggressive if push comes to a shove.