Dota 2 Minor Recap: StarLadder i-League Invitational #3

Liquid reigns supreme again, but surprise performances mark exciting start to Dota 2 season.

The dust has settled in Kiev, and the first ever Dota 2 Minor champion is a familiar face, as TI7 winner Team Liquid hoisted yet another trophy at the StarLadder i-League Invitational #3. Having the best team in the world win the first event of the new season is not a particularly surprising results, as Team Liquid was a favorite to win this Minors from the moment it was announced as a directly invited team. However, the event did provide its fair share of intrigue and surprising performances both good and bad. In this post, I’ll recap where each of the participating team finished in the standings, how their performances matched up with my projected expectations, and where these teams go next this season.

Team Liquid 600px-Team_liquid_logo_2017

Place: 1st

Winnings: $135,000(total) and 150 Qualifying Points(per player)

So Team Liquid ended up winning the season’s first Minor. In other news: the sky is blue, water is wet, and SirActionSlacks is a fan of Omniknight. The TI champion’s victory in Kiev netted them $135,000 and places the team at the top of the leaderboard in the Dota 2 Pro Circuit. As much as this results may have been expected, it was certainly entertaining to see the TI champions in action again, and the squad let everyone know that it remains in top form heading into a new season.

Team Liquid’s group stage performance was about as flawless as you can get, with the team taking back to back 2-0 wins and breezing its way into the playoff bracket. The team’s opening series against Mineski proved interesting, as the SEA squad came out in game 1 with a greedy lineup built around a core trio of Medusa, Necrophos, and Broodmother. Liquid responded with a last pick Alchemist to go alongside a core Venomancer and an offlane Pugna pick for MinD_ContRoL. Despite Mineski finding its farm for the trio, it wasn’t enough to outpace the Alchemist pick, and Team Liquid’s teamfight potential and pushing power won out in the end. Game 2 went by in the blink of an eye by comparison, with Liquid drafting a lineup that fought early and often and forced out a surrender from Mineski in 21 minutes. The following series against SG e-sports went pretty much exactly as people expected it to. Game 1 saw Team Liquid last pick an Invoker for Miracle-, who proceeded to dominate the game en route to a fairly easy victory. Game 2 didn’t go much better for SG, as Liquid roaming duo of Chen and Earth Spirit constantly ganked a vulnerable SG lineup to the tune of 31 kills in 32 minutes.

The playoffs provided even more entertaining matches, as Team Liquid squared off against Team Secret in its semifinal series. Game 1 went Team Liquid’s way, as the combination of Broodmother and Nightstalker in the middle lane through Midone’s Queen of Pain off balance early. Liquid’s other core pick in Bloodseeker found a wealth of opportunities as well, as Secret’s supports proved particularly incapable of surviving for long. With its supports consistently killed and low in net worth, it fell to their cores to hold the line. The trio of Timbersaw, Nature’s Prophet, and Queen of Pain managed to hold Liquid off for a while, but eventually the net worth differential become too much, leading to a Liquid victory. Game 2 actually saw Team Secret in control for most of the match up until an ill-fated foray into the Roshan Pit around the 30 minute mark. Team Liquid ambushed Secret, took the Aegis and took control of the game for an impressive comeback victory that moved it into the grand finals.

The grand final matchup against Mineski was probably some of the best Dota we’ve seen yet so far this season. Mineski came out in game 1 with a trio of Mirana, Clockwerk, and Bane that managed to set up a multitude of Sacred Arrow combos. Combined with solid for on a mid Venomancer and a core Night Stalker for iceiceice that racked up 22K net worth, Mineski was able to take a game against the previously invincible Team Liquid. Fortunately for the TI champions, the squad was able to adjust after its first loss of the tournament and come back strong. Game 2 went Liquid’s way thanks to a pushing lineup which included Terrorblade, Nature’s Prophet, and Venomancer. Game 3 saw Liquid claim a comeback win behind a Miracle- Invoker and a MATUMBAMAN Lifestealer against a powerful teamfight lineup on the part of Mineski. The closeout game of the series saw Liquid take the fight to Mineski early to punish a last pick Alchemist. The Alchemist pick wasn’t enough to carry Mineski into a 5th game, and Team Liquid came away with a 1st place finish.

Team Liquid’s performance was marked by top quality showings from all of its players across the team’s matches. One of the reasons for Liquid’s success at TI7 was that it didn’t have one particular player that the team relied on to win, and we saw that again in this first Minor. The team more than lived up to expectations in Kiev, and it seems as though the squad hasn’t lost a step since winning TI in August. Up next on the schedule for Team Liquid is a trip to Germany for the season’s first Major: The ESL One Hamburg Major beginning on October 26.

 

Newbeee Newbee_logo

Place: 7th-8th

Winnings: $7,500

Newbee came into this first Minor of the season with high expectations. As the TI7 runner up, the Chinese squad was considered a favorite to win in Kiev, with many predicting a TI7 Grand Final rematch of Team Liquid vs. Newbee. In my team preview post for this Minor, I had Newbee as a near guarantee for a top 4 finish. That prediction did not prove to be true, which in and of itself would be surprising but perhaps not shocking. What was shocking though was just how poorly Newbee ended up performing at this event, coming in at the combined last place position.

The team’s opening matchup against compLexity Gaming seemed like a nice warmup for Newbee. CompLexity had been performing admirably in the North American region, but Newbee is(was?) considered one of the strongest teams in the world and there hadn’t been much evidence to imply that compLexity would suddenly upset a TI finalist. Well, evidence or not, compLexity came out firing and blindsided the Chinese squad, building strong fighting lineups around a carry Visage in both games. Newbee simply wasn’t prepared to counter those lineups, and the team looked out of sorts as it dropped its opening series 0-2. Things took a turn to the worse in Newbee’s second series, as Team Secret absolutely ran the Chinese squad over for another 0-2 loss in less than an hour of game time. With that second series loss, Newbee were eliminated from playoff contention without having won a single match at the Minor.

Newbee didn’t just fall short of expectations in Kiev, it took a nosedive off of a cliff into essentially the worst possible outcome imaginable in terms of performance. The team just looked off balance and perhaps rusty after a relatively uneventful offseason for the squad. The drafts from the Chinese team weren’t particularly strange in terms of the picks, they just always seemed to be ineffective against what the team’s opponents were going for. These situations left little margin  for error for the players, and the team suffered as a result. In particular, Faith and Kpii never quite seemed to get themselves into a comfortable position in the team’s 4 matches, with Kpii lacking his usual teamfight contributions and Faith often dying without being able to set up a worthwhile trade for his teammates. The results in Kiev are not what anyone was expecting, and Newbee will have to endure a flood of questions and doubts as it moves forward, but the squad should be able to bounce back as the season moves on. We all know just how talented this team is, and whatever the issue was in this first event of the season, you have to believe that Newbee can move on from it and get back into form. Newbee will have a short period in which to make that change though, as the Chinese squad will be participating in the ESL One Hamburg Major in just a little over a week’s time.

 

Team Secret Secret_logo

Place: 3rd-4th

Winnings: $30,000(total) and 30 Qualifying Points(per player)

Heading into this first Minor of the season, Team Secret has some high expectations based on its domination of the European region up to that point. I myself had placed the team as a good bet for a top 4 finish, and Team Secret lived up to that billing in Kiev. The team’s offseason additions seemed to shine at this event, with Ace in particular putting up steady performances that the team was able to rely on frequently. Team Secret was one of the teams that fans had seen the most from heading into the event, so predicting the European squad’s performance was somewhat simpler. Predictable or not, Team Secret’s strong results in Kiev put it in a favorable position to begin the season.

Team Secret’s opening series actually proved to be its most surprising of the event, with the squad matching up against Na’Vi. After a stomp by Team Secret in game 1, it seemed that the team would be carrying over its run of dominance into the Minor. However, Na’Vi showed a resilience that Team Secret may not have been expecting, coming back with 2 hard fought victories, including an 85 minute long slug fest in game 3. Following this loss, it seemed like Team Secret’s path would be a lot harder, as the squad had to go up against TI runner up Newbee next. However, Newbee had looked very weak in its opening series against compLexity, and that poor performance turned out to not be a fluke, as Secret easily took out the Chinese squad in 2 short games. That win set up a rematch with Na’Vi with a spot in the playoff bracket on the line. This time Team Secret had Na’Vi’s number, as Secret won the series 2-0 behind two fantastic performances from both MidOne and YapzOr. With its revenge against Na’Vi secure, Team Secret moved in the semifinals where Team Liquid was waiting. Team Secret had been looking good to that point in the event, but the TI7 champions were on a whole other level in this one. Puppey and YapzOr were repeatedly ganged up on in a game 1 loss, and a Weaver pick for Ace in game 2 was heavily punished in game 2 to knock Team Secret out of the tournament.

Team Secret’s top 4 finish at the season’s first Minor falls in line with expectations based on how well the team had been playing to that point. Perhaps if Team Secret had gone up against Mineski or compLexity in the semifinals it might have managed a top 2 finish, but that’s the luck of the draw at work. Somebody had to go up against Team Liquid, and it was Secret that drew the short straw on this occasion. Moving forward, the team still has a strong hold over the European region, unless Liquid all of a sudden stops being directly invited to tournaments and is forced to start entering qualifiers. This high level of control over its home region means Team Secret will have many opportunities to get back onto the international stage at future Minors and Majors. One such opportunity is just days away, as Team Secret will make its way to Romania for the PGL Open Bucharest Minor.

 

Natus Vincere(Na’Vi) 668px-Natus_Vincere

Place: 5th-6th

Winnings: $15,000

Na’Vi was an interesting team to look at coming into the season’s first Minor. The team had opened the season with a string of victories in the qualifiers for the CIS region, including the one that got it to Kiev for this event. However, the team’s performance had dropped off slightly in the days and weeks following that initial burst of success. The rise of regional rivals and the entrance of teams like Virtus.pro and Team Empire into CIS qualifiers made things significantly more difficult for Na’Vi. Heading into this event, Na’Vi was sitting in the mid-range among the contestants, at least from my perspective. The team wasn’t a favorite to win, but it was also too good to be considered an underdog, falling into an expected range somewhere between 4th and 6th in terms of its final positioning. That prediction proved to be on the nose, but Na’Vi’s 5th-6th place finish doesn’t tell the whole story, as the squad put up a very solid and impressive performance in Kiev.

Na’Vi began its run at the Minor with a very impressive win against Team Secret. After getting destroyed in game 1, the team regrouped and managed to win 2 straight games to win the series 2-1. The series was capped off by an 85 minute long match in game 3 in which new addition to the squad Crystallize led the team on Phantom Lancer, racking up 950 Last Hits with a stat line of 12 kills, 3 deaths, and 15 assists for 48.4k net worth. After a gritty win like that against a team as strong as Team Secret, it looked like Na’Vi were set up for a run to the playoffs. A game 1 victory against compLexity Gaming lended credence to this prediction. However, Na’Vi soon had the come from behind narrative flipped against them. CompLexity Gaming recovered from its game 1 loss to win the next 2 and close out the series. Despite the team’s best efforts, including a desperation Huskar/Oracle combo in game 3, Na’Vi couldn’t get the better of compLexity, and had to face Team Secret again for the final playoff spot in Group B. This time Team Secret were prepared for Na’Vi, punishing the squad’s supports and leaving its attempts at aggression largely ineffective. An 0-2 loss eliminated Na’Vi from playoff contention, but the team’s 3-5 overall record is still respectable considering who they went up against.

Na’Vi’s performance in Kiev may not have netted the team and points on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit, but it was still a very encouraging results for the CIS squad. Following a string of rocky performances in CIS regional qualifiers, there were some questions about how the team would stack up against top international opponents. Taking a series against European power house Team Secret, as well as taking a game off of emerging contender compLexity Gaming are impressive achievements. The team’s new additions didn’t show any issues playing with a new team in a LAN setting, and the hopes for this squad moving forward are high. Up next for Na’Vi is a tough test in Bucharest, as the team is set to participate in the PGL organized Minor starting on the 19th.

 

compLexity Gaming 727px-Col_big_logo

Place: 3rd-4th

Winnings: $30,000(total) and 30 Qualifying Points(per player)

CompLexity Gaming put together what was most likely the most surprising performance of the Minor, fighting its way to a top 4 finish in Kiev. Coming into the tournament, the team had been looking relatively strong in a crowded North American region, but the expectations were still somewhat modest for the squad. I had placed compLexity as an underdog, stating that it would take a truly inspired performance or a pretty significant breakdown from a rival to fuel a top 4 run for the team. Well, compLexity managed to make both of those scenarios a reality and played a level of Dota that overwhelmed its opponents and had doubters like me eating their words.

CompLexity’s run at the Minor looked be set up for a rough start, as the North American squad drew TI7 runner up Newbee in its opening series. While Newbee itself looked very off balance and performed poorly at this Minor, that shouldn’t take anythign away from compLexity’s impressive performance in this series. CompLexity simply outplayed Newbee at every turn, relying on strong teamfighting lineups and back to back carry Visage games from Chessie to secure an upset victory. After the series against Newbee, there were still some doubts as to how far compLexity could go. Newbee had looked rusty and lost in its series, so perhaps compLexity had simply gotten lucky and surprised an unprepared Chinese squad. CompLexity’s next series showed that luck had nothing to do with its prior performance as it brought down CIS squad Na’Vi. After a tough game 1 loss, compLexity came storming back into the series behind 2 clutch performances from Moo on Beastmaster and a core Winter Wyvern pick to win the series and secure a spot in the playoff bracket. The playoff semifinals saw compLexity’s run at the Minor come to an end against Mineski, though the North American squad put up quite a fight before going down. After a huge game from Limmp on Pugna helped force a game 3, compLexity didn’t quite have enough to finish the comeback in this series. The game 3 draft was heavily punished, with Limmp’s mid Silencer betting repeatedly ganked and the roaming duo of Sand King and Chen failing to have a significant enough impact to turn the tide of the match.

Coming into the tournament, compLexity did not seem to register to most as a team that could wind up in the top 4 in Kiev. Of course, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility that any of the teams in the field could make a surprise run into the top 4, but it was certainly astonishing to see compLexity be the team to do it. The North American squad looked far stronger than it had in any of the qualifiers it had played in its home region, and these wins against top level opponents has surely put compLexity on the map as a team to watch out for as the season goes on. CompLexity has a bit of down time now before it wades back into the fray, as the next event on the schedule for the North American team is the Perfect World Masters Minor a little over a month away.

 

SG e-sports SG_e-sportslogo

Place: 5th-6th

Winnings: $15,000

SG e-sports didn’t have the highest of expectations heading into this Minor. The team’s roster was almost entirely changed from the previous season, and its new player had little, if any, experience in a LAN environment. With those considerations, SG were considered an underdog most likely destined for a last place finish. I was one of those that lacked faith in SG e-sports, not because of a lack of talent but because of its lack of international experience. The Brazilian squad proved those doubters wrong though, finishing in the 5th-6th position to avoid the dreaded last place finish. While they still fell well short of the mark to earn Qualifying Points, the fact that they managed to snag a series win and put up respectable fights against the teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the Minor(Liquid and Mineski) shows that this team has the talent and potential to make waves in the future.

SG e-sports began its run with a series against Vici Gaming, another squad projected to finish in the lower half of the standings. SG was able to take game 1 of the series behind a last pick Arc Warden that Vici Gaming simply couldn’t counter. Costabile’s Arc Warden racked up 15 kills with just 1 death, dealing over 36k damage and carrying SG e-sports to a win. Game 2 was even more one sided, as Vici Gaming’s exceedingly mana dependent lineup was countered by a last pick Phantom Lancer and a slew of heroes with lock down spells and items. After that win, things got a bit rough for the South American squad though, as it came up against Team Liquid and Mineski in its final 2 series of the tournament. Both series were 0-2 losses and SG-esports didn’t really have a great chance to win any of the games across them, but the team managed to hold its own against two of the better teams in the world, which is encouraging if nothing else. Overall, SG e-sports series win against Vici Gaming allowed the team to finish outside of the bottom 2, which for a team with essentially no experience outside of its home region, has to be considered a positive result.

SG e-sports had the lowest expectations possible for a team heading into the season’s first Minor. A new roster and a lack of international experience made it hard to project this team as anything other than a last place squad, but SG e-sports showed skill and promise in Kiev. The team played respectably against two of the better teams in the world, and snagged a win against a Vici Gaming squad that had looked strong to start the season. SG e-sports performance in Kiev could be a stepping stone for further success moving forward, and the Brazilian squad will have another opportunity to showcase its skill very soon. The South American squad heads to Germany to represent its region at the season’s first Major in Hamburg beginning October 26.

 

Vici Gaming VICI_Gaming

Place: 7th-8th

Winnings: $7,500

Vici Gaming had been on a tear in the Chinese region coming into this event, and the team’s string of strong performances had hopes high that the Chinese squad would be able to shine in Kiev. While the team hadn’t been considered a favorite to win the tournament, many people(myself included) saw Vici Gaming as a team that could make a run for a top 4 spot if it could secure a key win or a favorable matchup. Unfortunately, that did not come to pass, and the performance of Vici Gaming at the season’s first Minor fell significantly short of those expectations. Vici Gaming lost both of its series in Group A, joining fellow Chinese squad Newbee as the only teams to leave Kiev without having won a single game.

As previously mentioned, Vici Gaming’s first series against SG e-sports was a bit of a disaster. The team was blindsided by a last pick Arc Warden in game 1 that it simply didn’t have the lineup to handle. ELeVeN struggled on his offlane Monkey King and LaNm’s Nyx Assassin was not able to have the impact that the team needed to keep SG in check. Game 2 saw the two struggle again, as the Doom(eLeVeN) and Nyx Assassin(LaNm) were ineffective against SG’s Phantom Lancer pick. Vici Gaming’s next series proved to be just as hard a struggle, as the squad found itself facing Mineski in an elimination match. Game 1 saw the Chinese team draft a team fighting lineup, but the squad was out farmed and out fought by a stronger Mineski lineup led by Venomancer and Tinker. With the team fight lineup having failed them, Vici Gaming turned to a roaming team composition in game 2, picking up a core Mirana along with a support duo of Nyx Assassin and Tusk. While that mobile trio was able to find some kills, it couldn’t find the right ones. Mushi’s Anti Mage didn’t die a single time, and all of Mineski’s cores managed to find significant levels of farm compared to their opponents. Worse yet was the fact that Vici Gaming’s heavy roaming trio left its remaining cores vulnerable, as Paparazi was frequently harrassed and eLeVeN’s offlane Pugna was left to fend for himself, resulting in 15 deaths between the two players. Mineski was able to take control of the game, and Vici Gaming found itself eliminated from the Minor without a single win to its name.

Vici Gaming’s performance in Kiev was highly disappointing to say the least. The team wasn’t exactly a guarantee for a top 4 spot heading in, but the squad had shown enough potential in the Chinese qualifiers to suggest that it could make a run under the right circumstances. Apparently the right circumstance weren’t there, as the team seemed to struggle to a frightening degree in its matches. It seemed like Vici Gaming’s drafting strategy may have tipped the team’s hand a little too much, as we saw just about all of its drafts countered by the team’s opponents. Aside from that, the execution was just lacking across the board, particularly from LaNm and eLeVeN, who couldn’t seem to ever get comfortable in the team’s matches. Vici Gaming is still a talented squad, but it’s going to have to regroup and identify whatever issues are plaguing it quickly if the team wants to put this poor performance behind it. The Chinese squad will have plenty of time to make adjustments, as the team isn’t scheduled to see action for a little of over 2 weeks until the DotaPit Minor kicks off in November.

 

Mineski 600px-Mineski-dota_logo

Place: 2nd

Winnings: $60,000(total) and 90 Qualifying Points(per player)

When Mineski picked up 3 skilled, veteran SEA players in the offseason, just about everyone assumed that his team would improve significantly. However, the run that this team has gone on to open the season far surpasses those projections. After dominating the SEA region in the season’s first slew of qualifiers, Mineski came into the Minor as a team ready to compete. I had projected Mineski as a team that could easily make a top 4 spot if it were playing at peak form, and the SEA squad more than lived up to that projection. The team’s 2nd place finish in Kiev not only solidifies its position within its own region, but also sets up Mineski as one of the strongest teams in the world to begin the season.

Mineski’s run through the Minor got off to a rocky start, as the team had the misfortune of facing TI7 champion Team Liquid in its opening series. Mineski’s greedy game 1 draft was matched by a last pick Alchemist from Liquid, and its game 2 draft was bowled over by constant skirmishes and engagements from a strong teamfight lineup. Mineski caught a bit of a lucky break in its next series though, going up against a Vici Gaming squad that was struggling significantly. Mineski rode a trio of Venomancer, Clockwerk, and Visage to back to back wins and a relatively easy 2-0 victory against the Chinese team, setting up an elimination series against SG e-sports. That series didn’t prove to be much of a challenge for Mineski either, as two solid performance from ninjaboogie on Lich helped the team secure lane dominance and route SG e-sports in two lopsided victories. Those two series victories earned Mineski a spot in the playoff semifinals, where it faced off against compLexity Gaming for a spot in the grand final and a chance to win the whole tournament. Game 1 went well for Mineski, with a mid Viper and offlane Timbersaw controlling and limiting the impact of compLexity’s cores. Game 2 went to compLexity, as Mineski’s lineup struggled against a core duo of Pugna and Bloodseeker. Game 3 sealed the series win for Mineski with a highly aggressive lineup that punished compLexity and dominated teamfights. With that win over compLexity, Mineski had secured a top 2 finish, and now had the chance to play against Team Liquid in the grand final. Unfortunately, Liquid are TI champions for a reason, and Mineski fell short in this last best of 5 series. While the team ended up losing, it did manage to take a win against Team Liquid, handing the squad its first loss in a match so far this season. On top of that, Mineski was in a position to win even more than the single game it took in the series, particularly in game 3 where Mineski led for almost the entirety of the game before a bad engagement at the Roshan Pit turned the match in Liquid’s favor. The fact that Mineski managed to win a game against Liquid, as well as put itself into positions where it could have won more, goes a long way to show the potential that this team has to compete and win at the highest level.

Mineski had one of the more surprising performances at the Minor, at least in terms of the positive performances. The team had looked much improved to start the season, but there were questions of whether the squad could turn its regional success into wins at the international level. Those concerns were blown out of the water with this performance in Kiev, and Mineski is establishing itself as won of the strongest teams on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit. What makes this performance even more beneficial for the SEA squad is the fact that it is still in control of the SEA region, which means that it will have no shortage of opportunities to return to the international stage as the representative of its region. One such opportunity is right on the horizon, as Mineski will be participating in the PGL Open Bucharest Minor in just a few days time beginning on October 19.

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