The question would soon be answered, as Valve shortly thereafter announced plans to run quarterly tournaments throughout the coming year. Three Majors in the Autumn, Winter, and Spring, and The International in the Summer. This meant that teams needed to rush to finalize new rosters and start preparing for the Frankfurt Major on November 16th 2015.
The regional qualifiers have ended, and eight extra teams have punched their ticket to Germany. Here is a preview of each of the 16 participating teams, with some musings on their strengths:
As the winners of TI5, it seemed only logical that the North American DOTA kings would be the first invite to the major. Combining strong drafting from their captain, Peter “PPD” Dager, with strong individual skill and brilliant teamplay, it seemed almost inarguable that Evil Geniuses were the best team in the world. Only a few days after their victory, however, Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling announced he was being dropped from the Evil Geniuses roster, and a few days after that, Artour “Arteezy” Babaev announced he would be coming on as carry, with Clinton “Fear” Loomis moving into the support role vacated by Aui.
Evil Geniuses have played in two professional tournaments since they won TI5 months ago including ESL One: New York and the MLG World Finals, where in New York they lost to Vega Squadron, who have been on the rise. Chalk it up to an underestimation of their opponent’s skill, growing pains vis-a-vis their roster changes, or just unpracticed. However at the MLG World Finals, they placed 2nd behind Team Secret. It’s difficult to make a judgement on whether or not EG will succeed in the upcoming major. The general consensus is that they will succeed, and their loss to Vega in New York was due to a lack of preparedness. The major could be a much different story for the team, and this squad seems poised to be potentially stronger than the one that won TI5.
The Cinderella story of TI5, CDEC Gaming came up from relative obscurity in the Chinese scene. Running the gauntlet and qualifying as the wildcard team of the region, they shocked the world as they climbed the winner’s bracket, not dropping a set until they faced the would-be champions, Evil Geniuses. It was an unprecedented performance from a wildcard team, and even though they lost 1-3, their surprise success was rewarded with a direct invite to the Major, as well as several million dollars.
Like their rivals EG, CDEC have only played in two tournaments since TI5—ESL One New York and the MLG World Finals. In New York, they found themselves taking a relatively easy set off of the nascent Archon squad from North America, before getting 0-2’d themselves by the new Team Secret. CDEC’s problem seemed to be an inability to evolve past 6.84c, with their captain, Fu “Q” Bin, drafting similar compositions to the ones that carried them through The International. While strong individual mechanics could carry them against Archon, the same may not hold true for the stiffer competition they will face at the Frankfurt Major. If they don’t adapt to the new patch, they may not find the same success they did before.
LGD was considered to be perhaps the strongest Chinese team going into TI5; not only had they, for years, been one of the premier teams of the region, they had, about 4 months prior to the events thereof, acquired Zhang “Xiao8” Ning, captain of the team that had won TI4, Newbee. He is often considered to be one of the greatest drafters and leaders to have ever played the game, earning him the moniker “Director8” and many millions of dollars in prize money. With him in the director’s chair, they tore through the competition until they ran afoul of CDEC and EG, the second and first place teams. Taking the third place spot, they still got a direct invite to the Autumn Major.
With Xiao8 stepping back from the team as a sub, they brought in Bai “rOtK” Fan, another legendary offlaner in the Chinese scene, as their new captain. While rOtK is certainly a titan of a player, the loss of Xiao8 is somewhat of a blow to the team. Yao “Yao” Zhengzheng has also moved to the sub role, with Liang “DDC” Faming returning to support his team. LGD made their debut appearance with their newly restructured team at the MLG World Finals last weekend, and although they lost to Virtus.Pro 0-2, they did manage to steal a game off EG.
Another premiere Chinese team, Vici Gaming was a team that constantly found itself the bridesmaid, rather than the bride. Over the past year and a half, they’ve been through three different carry players: Liu “Sylar” Jiajun, Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier, and Chen “Hao” Zhihao. While the rest of the roster has remained stable, they have yet to settle down with a more stable position one. With Hao on their squad, they managed to take fourth place at TI5, a disappointing result for such a strong group on paper. This secured them an invite still.
In the post-TI roster upheaval, Vici again replaced their carry, dropping Hao in favor of Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei. One of the strongest and most versatile carry players in the region, combined with one of the best drafters in the game (Xu “fy” Linsen), should be a match made in heaven. However, in the few matches they’ve played since TI5 (against TongFu and EHome in the ESL One qualifiers) they’ve found only mixed success. Though still one of the strongest teams in the region, it seems unlikely still that they’ll be the ones to take this major, and may find themselves relegated to “bridesmaid” status yet again.
The most exciting development in the post-TI5 world, Vega Squadron has been on a rise that can only be described as meteoric. Qualifying as the European wildcard team, they nearly had a taste of success, but ultimately lost their chance to move onto the main event to CDEC Gaming. Since then, Vega has been on a massive upswing, taking sets off of far more experienced teams. They took first place at ESL One NY, beating out Evil Geniuses, Invictus Gaming, and Team Secret, earning themselves a spot in the Frankfurt Major by doing so.
They may not be the most unpredictable of teams, but Vega plays one of the tightest games of DOTA you’ll ever see. Their early game rotations are on point, their mid-game teamfights are crisp and beautiful, and they have, simply put, one of the best broodmother players in the world on their team, Andrey “Mag” Chipenko. Quite possibly amongst the best teams in the world right now, Vega can no longer hide behind their obscurity and Tier-2 status. It remains to be seen whether their strategies fall apart under close scrutiny from other teams.
Amidst the chaos of the reshuffle period, captain Clement “Puppey” Ivanov found himself alone. Having failed to perform even close to expectations at TI5, Team Secret shattered, and its various bits and pieces scattered to different teams. Left to rebuild from the ground up, Puppey hand-selected a new squad to fill the empty slots. Taking former Cloud 9 members Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao and Rasmus “MiSeRy” Filipsen, support player Johan “pieliedie” Åström, and pubstar Aliwi “w33” Omar, he found himself with another, distinctly different, all-star squad.
Invited on the coattails of their former success, Secret has a lot to prove with their new roster. The team is still very fresh, there could be a good amount of growing pains involved, and their midlaner, w33, is a pubstar, not someone used to playing in a professional setting or on a big stage. In the games played since their formation, they may have not always found success, but they proved that they could still play very much like a well-seasoned team, and were willing to do some completely off-the-wall experimental drafts to test the waters of 6.85. While they took 2nd place to Vega Squadron at ESL One New York, they found a 1st place finish at the MLG World Finals, beating out current International champions Evil Geniuses. They may still have some work to do in terms of consistency, but this Team Secret seems, in many ways, as strong as the last; certainly a scary prospect for their opponents in the major.
One of the most consistently strong squads in Europe, and the ones responsible for knocking Team Secret out of TI5, Virtus.Pro was a shoe-in for a direct invite to the Frankfurt major. Combining the intelligence of a drafter like Egor “JotM” Surkov, and the titanic, farm-hungry carry play of IIlya “Illidan” Pivcaev they have proven themselves consistently on the world stage. They’re strong and stable, but they’ve never quite reached the heights that other teams have, and while they likely won’t win the cup, they’ll do well for themselves, and certainly give us some tense, fun games before they do.
One of the oldest teams in Chinese DOTA, EHOME as a franchise had not been seen for about two years after their disbanding in 2012. Even when they reformed the franchise very early in 2015, there were massive amounts of problems and roster instability, and it seemed as though yet again, EHOME would not make it to a TI. rOtK stepped in, and with his help they managed to run the qualifier and place in the 5-6th spot alongside VP. With the departure of rOtK, DDC, and Yang “Zyf” Pu and the addition of Wang “old chicken” Zhiyong, Ren “eLeVeN” Yangwei, and Hu “KaKa” Liangzhi, the team in the major is not the same one we saw at TI5. They seem to be performing well in the matches they’ve played since TI5, as their captain, Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng, is a seasoned veteran. Time will tell if he can whip this relatively new team into a squad as strong as the legendary EHOME of years past.
Out on his own since Cloud 9’s post-TI disbandment, Johan “BigDaddy” Sundstein was, like his former captain Puppey, on the hunt for a new team. His squad would be built in much the same way, taking pieces from the former Complexity squad (Tal “Fly” Aizek and David “MoonMeander” Tan), support player Andreas “Cr1t-” Franck Nielsen, and a pubstar, Amer “Miracle-” Barqawi.
They’ve found pretty substantial success in the European region since their creation, qualifying for the Nanyang Championships, the MLG World Finals, and, now, the Frankfurt Major. They face similar problems to Secret, in that they’re still a very new team and their star player is not used to playing in a professional setting. At the MLG World Finals, they got the chance to test their mettle against Evil Geniuses, taking a set 2-1 against the reigning champions. While they ultimately took 3rd place, whereas EG took 2nd place, they proved they could stand toe-to-toe with the worlds finest.
“The boys are b[A]ck,” as commenters are fond of saying. Four out of the five members of the Alliance squad that took home the Aegis of Champions two years ago have returned with support player Johan “Mynuts” Andersson to reclaim their former glory. Taking some qualifier games back from the brink in glorious fashion, the major will be the first test of their skills on the world stage. It’s been a bit touch-and-go, as it has been with Alliance of late, but they’re a team of well-seasoned veterans, hungry for a chance at their former glory.
Following their poor performance at TI5, Cloud 9 disbanded, and all its players went to pursue their own teams. This left management to rebuild the roster, building a new team in North America. Under captain Theeban “1437” Siva, this new roster has found a good amount of success, solidifying themselves as the second best team in NA (behind Evil Geniuses, of course). This past weekend, at the MLG World finals, they got a chance to prove themselves against teams from around the world. While they ultimately got last place in their group, they held their own against MVP Phoenix and CDEC Gaming, even taking a game off of the latter. With practice, C9 could shock us this upcoming major.
Unknown, if you’ll forgive the horrible pun, was an almost entirely unknown quantity coming into the qualifiers. An obscure team from Peru, they made the run all the way from the open qualifiers to become the second seed for the region, beating out comparative favorites Digital Chaos and Elite Wolves. This gives them the distinction of being the first South American team to ever qualify for a Valve event. Without many prior games to go off of, and with very unfamiliar faces making up their roster, it’s hard to make a value judgement on how they’ll do. It seems likely they won’t go very far; even though they qualified, they still lost to C9 0-2, and their prospects against much better teams are even lower.
Like Alliance, a group of former TI champions are back at it again. Reclaiming their winning position one, Hao, as well as adding offlaner Meng “Xiao2le” Lei and Li “chisbug” Chen, the floundering Newbee has found some stable ground. In the year since they won TI4 Newbee had been through a good many roster changes, but were completely unable to replicate the success they had found. This new roster was very successful in the qualifiers, and while they may not be as strong as they were with xiao8 as their captain, they may finally be able to take games against tough opponents.
Invictus gaming has been around for a long time, but have, of late, been in something of a slump. They’re still a strong team in a strong region, but they only managed to earn the second seed of their region, dropping 0-2 to Newbee before beating their sister squad, Newbee Young. They’ve not experienced much in the way of roster changes, losing BurNIng and Zeng “Faith” Hongda and signing in their place Wang “Rabbit” Zhang and Su “super” Peng. However, the core of their team, Luo “Ferrari_430” Feichi, Luo “Luo” Yinqi, and Wong “Chuan” Hock Chuan, has remained consistent yet still unable to find much in the way of success. They’ll need to train hard if they hope to do well in Frankfurt.
Southeast Asia is not a region particularly famous for the quality of its DOTA teams. A legendary franchise in the Philippine eSports scene, Mineski was a team that not many people knew what to make of going in. The heavy favorites to take the first and second seeds for their region were Fnatic and MVP Phoenix. Mineski showed up well though, edging MVP Phoenix out in the group stages and taking the first qualifier spot away from Fnatic. It’s still hard to adequately judge their strength versus titans like Evil Geniuses and Secret, but they have a good shot at taking a surprise game or two.
Often looked at as the kings of Southeast Asia, Fnatic was essentially guaranteed to make it out of the qualifiers. They didn’t do quite as well as they had hoped, securing the second seed as opposed to the first. However, they’re a seasoned team with real world-stage experience; Their captain, Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung, has been around for years, and they participated in both TI5 and ESL One New York. It is unlikely that they’ll win the major, but not so unlikely that they’ll win a few games.
With a month left until the Major itself, things do have the potential to change. Several teams haven’t played enough games to get an accurate bead on their strength, and many more haven’t played games outside of their region. There are several tournaments and qualifiers between now and then, including the MLG World Finals which was held last weekend. The smart money was on Evil Geniuses to take it all, but there were more than a few teams out there with potential to shock us, including Team Secret.