Dota 2 Major Team Preview: ESL One Hamburg

Pro Circuit standings bound for shakeup as top teams clash in Hamburg at season’s first Major.

Dota 2 fans have been treated to some quality matches so far this season, but the stakes are about to be raised as the first Major is set to begin on the 26th. Hamburg will play host to the biggest event of the season so far, as 8 teams will be competing to be crowned the first Major champion of the season. The team that claims the title in Hamburg will earn itself enough Qualifying Points to automatically take the top spot on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit. However, the winner at ESL One Hamburg will not be the only squad coming away from the event with something to show for it. We can take a look at how the prize money and Qualifying Points will be distributed, to give some context to what these teams will be playing for in Hamburg.

1st: $500,000 & 750 Qualifying Points

2nd: $200,000 & 450 Qualifying Points

3rd/4th: $90,000 & 150 Qualifying Points

5th/6th: $40,000

7th/8th: $20,000

So there’s what’s up for grabs in Hamburg at the Major, but who are the teams that will be playing for those prizes? 8 teams will be participating in this event, divided into 2 groups of 4 teams, with the top 2 teams from each group advancing to the playoff stage. 3 of the 8 teams in Hamburg will be making their first LAN appearance of the season(Virtus.Pro, Keen Gaming, and Fnatic), and 3 teams will also come into this event having already earned Qualifying Points so far this season(Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and Team Secret). So the field is filled with teams of various experience and standings, and we’re going to take a look at where each of them stands coming into this first Major. Before we do that though, let’s take a look at which teams have been placed in the two groups for the group stage.

Group A: 600px-EG Evil Geniuses, Fnaticlogo Fnatic, Newbee_logo Newbee, and Secret_logo Team Secret

Group B: Keen_Gaming_logo Keen Gaming, 600px-Team_liquid_logo_2017 Team Liquid, SG_e-sportslogo SG e-sports, and               600px-Virtus Virtus.Pro

Team Liquid 600px-Team_liquid_logo_2017

Region: Europe

Qualification: Direct Invite

Qualifying Points Rank: 2nd(450 points)

Roster: 1. Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen   2. Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barqawi   3. Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov   4. Maroun “GH” Merhej   5. Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi(Captain)

The reigning TI7 champion Team Liquid still stands at the top of the Dota 2 world, although they do not hold the top position on the Pro Circuit heading into this first Major of the season. 2nd place on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit is still a strong position this early into the season, but Team Liquid didn’t claim the Aegis of Champions by being happy with 2nd best. The European squad will be looking to make a statement in Hamburg and reclaim its top spot with a stand out performance at the Major.

Team Liquid doesn’t have the longest list of recent results compared to other participants at the Major, but when you’re the defending champions of The International, you don’t have to be in much of a rush to participate in every tournament under the Sun. Team Liquid has appeared in just one competition so far this year; the StarLadder i-League Minor in Kiev. Liquid looked to still be in championship form at the season’s first Minor, dropping just a single game in the finals against Mineski for a 9-1 record and a 1st place finish.

Between Team Liquid’s TI7 performance and its victory at the season’s first Minor, the team has to be considered one of the favorites to win in Hamburg. Even with the field at the Major stacked with several strong teams, it would come as a significant surprise to see Team Liquid finish anywhere outside of the top 4. With that said though, we’ve seen high profile teams struggle at LAN events before, and it’s possible that Team Liquid could stumble in Hamburg. Those chances are slim though, and Team Liquid will be looking to prove that it remains one of the strongest teams in the world.

Newbee Newbee_logo

Region: China

Qualification: Direct Invite

Qualifying Points Rank: T-8th(0 Points)

Roster: 1. Xu “Moogy” Han   2. Song “Sccc” Chun   3. Damien “kpii” Chok   4. Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi   5. Zeng “Faith” Hongda(Captain)

The TI7 runner up came into the new season with high hopes and expectations for itself. So far this season, the Chinese team’s results haven’t quite lived up to those lofty ambitions. The team isn’t on the board for the Dota 2 Pro Circuit just yet, as the the squad hasn’t managed to secure any Qualifying Points this season. While the season is still relatively young, the team’s lackluster performance to this point is something of a concern, and the Chinese squad will be looking to right the ship with a strong performance in Hamburg.

Newbee began its season with the Chinese Qualifier for the DreamLeague Season 8 Major, sweeping through Vici Gaming, LGD.Forever Young, and LGD Gaming for a 6-1 record and a spot as the Chinese representative at the Major. Newbee’s season took a downward turn as  the team participated in the first Minor of the season at the StarLadder i-League Invitational. The team failed to win a single game at the Minor, losing both of its group stage series and finishing in last place in Kiev. Newbee’s surprisingly poor performance at the Minor raises some serious concerns regarding this team going forward.

Optimistically speaking, the team could easily get itself back on track and put together a solid performance at the Major to lay any doubts to rest. However, the team could just as likely continue to suffer from its bout of poor play and fail to produce positive results in Hamburg. That level of uncertainty makes it hard to set the team’s expectations very high for this event. The team as it stands right now falls somewhere within the 5th-6th range at this Major, though the team is one win or upset away from shifting towards either end of the standings.We’ll see what kind of performance we see from Newbee as the Major gets underway in Hamburg.

Team Secret Secret_logo

Region: Europe

Qualification: Europe Qualifier Winner

Qualifying Points Rank: T-4th(90 Points)

Roster: 1. Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard   2. Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng   3. Adrian “Fata” Trinks   4. Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat   5. Clement “Puppey” Ivanov(Captain)

After an offseason of roster moves and uncertainty gave way to optimism and excitement, as Team Secret hit the ground running to begin the season. The team has dominated European regional qualifiers so far, and those qualifier wins have afforded the team the chance to play in both of the season’s first 2 Minors. Because of these performances, Team Secret is included among the ranks of teams to have already earned Qualifying Points a position in the Pro Circuit standings. This event will mark the 3rd straight for Team Secret, as it now stands as the only team to have attended every Pro Circuit event so far this season.

As previously mentioned, Team Secret began its season with a dominant run through multiple European qualifiers. The team won 3 separate qualifiers, losing only 2 games in the process with a 23-2 overall record. Team Secret’s first LAN appearance of the season also brought about a positive result for the European squad, as the team posted a 5-4 total record that brought it just short of the grand finals. The team’s 3rd-4th finish earned the Secret its first Qualifying Points of the season, and just one week later the team had another chance to earn points at the season’s second Minor. Unfortunately, Team Secret couldn’t replicate its initial performance, putting together a 3-4 record that failed to push it out of the group stage. The 5th-6th place finish at this second Minor was a small setback and a bit of a disappointment for a team that had been playing so well previously. However, this performance shouldn’t be setting off any alarms for Team Secret fans just yet. The team has still been looking solid and consistent so far this season, and to be honest it would be somewhat unreasonable to expect Team Secret to maintain that same pace that it started with in the European qualifiers.

Team Secret has started off the season in impressive fashion, despite the one setback at the most recent Minor. With the team’s recent successes still fresh in the mind, Team Secret comes into this first Major as one of the stronger teams in the field. Team Secret’s consistent play, combined with its placement in a somewhat favorable group, puts the European squad in a strong position for a top 4 finish in Hamburg. Of course, everything comes down to the execution in the end, and it’s certainly possible that Team Secret stumbles or a rival team manages an impressive upset. While those outcomes are possible, it would come as quite a surprise to see Team Secret falter at the Major. We’ll see if Team Secret can hold steady and put together another solid performance at a LAN event.

Virtus.Pro 600px-Virtus

Region: Commonwealth of Independent States(CIS)

Qualification: CIS Qualifier Winner

Qualifying Points Rank: T-8th(0 points)

Roster: 1. Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev   2. Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko   3. Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov   4. Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk   5. Alexei “Solo” Berezin(Captain)

After an impressive 5th-6th finish at TI7, Virtus.Pro went through a rather quiet offseason, keeping its roster intact throughout the roster shuffle period. VP returns to a CIS region that looks significantly stronger than it did in the previous season, but the squad still stand as one of the top teams in both the region and the world. Virtus.Pro will be making its first appearance at a Pro Circuit event this season, and the team should be eager to show the Dota 2 world that the squad remains as strong as ever.

Virtus.Pro’s season has seen strong results so far, but it didn’t begin with the most auspicious of starts. The team’s first qualifier for the PGL Open Bucharest saw the team breeze through the group stage with a 4-0 record, but the squad lost to Team Empire in the semifinals to fall short of qualifying for the event. VP quickly recovered from this setback, marching through 2 more qualifiers with a combined 14-1 record to win spots at both this ESL One Hamburg Major and the DotaPit Minor. Since then, Virtus.Pro has only participated in one other event; The Manila Invitational. The CIS squad finished in the 3rd-4th position in a field of 4 teams, but the Invitational itself was not a Pro Circuit tournament, and was more of a show match than an official event. With that in mind, Virtus.Pro look to be in fantastic shape heading into the season’s first Major.

VP enter this Major with all the signs of a team playing at top form. After a slight setback in its first qualifier, the CIS squad has regained its usual strength and control in a region that looks to be on the rise. VP may run into some trouble considering the group that it has been been placed in, as the team will have to contend with Team Liquid in Group B. Despite the tough challenge of facing the reigning TI champion, Virtus.Pro should still expect to find itself in the top 4 at this event, as its other Group B opponents are all teams that VP should be capable of defeating if the squad is playing at its best. ESL One Hamburg will be the first we see of Virtus.Pro on the big stage, and we’ll see if the team can make a spectacular entrance or if it will fall short at the Major.

Keen Gaming Keen_Gaming_logo

Region: China

Qualification: China Qualifier Winner

Qualifying Points Rank: T-8th(0 Points)

Roster: 1. Jin “zhizhizhi” Zhiyi   2. Zhai “荧”(Ying) Jingkai   3. Song “dark” Runxi   4. Jiang “佞臣”(Ningchen) An   5. Chen “Rong” Jingwu

So you’ve probably never heard of Keen Gaming prior to the team’s qualification for this Major, and in all honesty that wouldn’t really be your fault. Formed at the back end of the offseason from the former roster of EHOME.Keen, the team in its current form hasn’t been around very long. Playing in a Chinese region full of star players and big name organizations, Keen Gaming has had difficulties garnering attention for itself. That being said, the team has flashed quite a bit of skill and potential so far this season, and there’s always the chance for an underdog team to impress on the big stage.

Keen Gaming’s season actually began in the open qualifiers, as the team had to play its way into the regional qualifier for this first Major. Once there though, the team made the most of its opportunity, fighting through the qualifier and winning a 3-2 series against LGD Gaming in the finals to earn the team’s first spot at a LAN event. This victory might have been the breakthrough moment for Keen Gaming, but the squad has run into some difficulties since then, failing to qualify for another event. The team fell short in both of the open qualifiers for the Chinese Qualifiers of the Perfect World Masters, and also missed the mark in the open qualifier for the DreamLeague Major. Keen Gaming’s Cinderella run through the qualifiers for this first Major was impressive to say the least, but the squad’s inability to replicate this success casts some doubts over the team’s potential to compete at the Major.

Keen Gaming enters the Major as a relative unknown to all but the most dedicated followers of the Chinese scene. This chance to perform on the big stage could be a huge step forward for Keen Gaming, but there will be no shortages of challenges facing the Chinese upstarts. The team’s placement in Group B doesn’t do the squad any favors, as it will have to get through either Team Liquid or Virtus.Pro in order to have a chance to advance out of the group stage. With the team’s limited success to this point and its tough group, Keen Gaming fall to the lower end of the spectrum in terms of expectations in Hamburg. A finish in the 7th-8th position seems like the safe bet for Keen Gaming, but all it would take is a single upset performance to push this team into a higher position. We’ll see if Keen Gaming can keep the underdog narrative alive in the team’s first LAN appearance on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit.

Fnatic Fnaticlogo

Region: Southeast Asia(SEA)

Qualification: Southeast Asia Qualifier 3rd-4th Place; Replacement Team Selection

Qualifying Points Rank: T-8th(0 Points)

Roster: 1. Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao(Captain)   2. Steve “Xcalibur” Ye   3. Khoo “Ohaiyo” Chong Xin   4. Djardel “DJ” Mampusti   5. Johan “pieliedie” Åström

If you haven’t been following Fnatic through the offseason and start of this new season, then you would probably have some difficulties recognizing the squad. In the offseason, the SEA squad made significant changes to its roster, picking up 3 players from outside of the SEA region. The moves created quite a lot of buzz around this Fnatic lineup, but the hype has given way to disappointment, as the squad has gotten off to a very poor start to the season. The team may have caught a break in making its way to this Major, but Fnatic will still have to perform against top tier competition if its wants a chance at earning Qualifying Points in Hamburg.

Fnatic’s season has not gone well, and that’s just about the nicest way that I can phrase that bit of information. The team has come out flat so far this season, participating in 5 Pro Circuit qualifiers and failing to win any of them. The best that the team has managed in those qualifiers was a close 2nd place finish in the SEA Qualifier for the DotaPit Minor, but unfortunately for Fnatic 2nd place still wasn’t enough to qualify for the event. You might be wondering how a team that didn’t win a qualifier is attending this event in the SEA Qualifier Winner’s slot, and that comes down to a bit of serendipitous luck for Fnatic. The original winner of the qualifier, Happy Feet, was unable to secure visas to travel to Hamburg, and so Fnatic was selected to replace it at the Major. The unfortunate circumstance for Happy Feet result in a valuable opportunity for Fnatic, which now has a small window that it has to take advantage of.

Fnatic has looked weak so far this season, under-performing just as the rest of the Southeast Asian region seems to be improving. The team’s lack of success in regional qualifiers, particularly in the one for this very event, makes it extremely difficult to have any confidence that the squad will put together a solid performance in Hamburg. With the team’s inconsistent performances looming large, expecting anything higher than a 7th-8th place finish seems incredibly optimistic. However, Fnatic’s lineup is filled with veteran players who are no strangers to the big stage, and this opportunity to play at the Major may be just what the team needs to break out of its slump and put together a run in Hamburg.

Evil Geniuses 600px-EG

Region: North America

Qualification: North America Qualifier Winner

Qualifying Points Rank: T-4th(90 Points)

Roster: 1. Artour “Arteezy” Babaev   2. Sumail “Suma1L” Hassan   3. Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora   4. Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen   5. Clinton “Fear” Loomis(Captain)

Evil Geniuses’ season is off to a good start so far, with the team being one of seven to have earned Qualifying Points on the Dota 2 Pro Circuit. The team’s recalling of formerly retired player Fear and shifting of the Captain’s role from Cr1t- to Fear has paid off well for the North American sqaud, as it now stands as one of the leading teams in the world. The team’s participation at the Major now gives the North American team a chance to take a massive step forward, as a top 4 finish in Hamburg would allow EG to distance itself from the rest of the pack in the Pro Circuit standings.

EG’s season actually got off to a bit of a rough start, as the team had a small stumble in the NA Qualifier for the StarLadder i-League Minor. Losses to compLexity gaming and Team Leviathan left EG off of the list of participants at the season’s first event, but the squad has recovered quite well since that initial setback. EG won the qualifier for this Major with brutal efficiency, posting a 7-0 record to sweep its way through the competition. EG followed up that performance about a month later with an appearance at the PGL Open Bucharest, though the team didn’t have quite as easy a path at the Minor. Despite some struggles in the group stage, EG managed to fight its way into the playoff bracket, before losing 0-2 to LGD Gaming. The loss to LGD actually dropped EG to a negative overall record at the Minor(4-5), but the team’s performance was enough to earn it a top 4 finish and some Qualifying Points for its trouble. The ESL One Hamburg Major provides the perfect opportunity for Evil Geniuses to built on that top 4 performance and firmly establish itself at the top of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit.

Evil Geniuses have put together a solid start to the season, and the team stands in a favorable position as it enters the Major. EG may not be appearing in qualifiers as prolifically as other team in the North American region, but the squad has chosen its battles wisely and made the most of its opportunities so far. Considering the team’s run through the North American Qualifier and its recent performance at the PGL Open Bucharest, EG looks like a good bet for a top 4 finish at the Major. While it’s possible for struggling squad Newbee or Fnatic to come up with a surprising win in EG’s group, such an outcome seems far less likely than Evil Geniuses maintaining its current level of play.

SG e-sports SG_e-sportslogo

Region: South America

Qualification: South America Qualifier Winner

Qualifying Points Rank: T-8th(0 Points)

Roster: 1. Guilherme “Costabile” Costábile   2. Adriano “4dr” Machado   3. Rodrigo “Liposa” Santos   4. Thiago “Thiolicor” Cordeiro   5. Lucas “Bardo” Bardosa(Captain)

SG e-sports is one of the teams at the tip of the spear of the South American region’s push into the Dota 2 world. The Brazilian squad has been impressive in its regional qualifiers, although it has had some difficulties outside of its home region so far. However, it should be expected that a South American team would have some problems finding success at an international level, as the region has largely been left out of the professional scene for the last few years. With the new competitive system in place this season, the South American region has a chance to compete at the highest level, though its teams will likely need some time to adjust and gain the experience necessary to consistently compete.

SG e-sports began its season with a rough showing at the qualifier for the PGL Open Bucharest, losing to Digital Chaos.SA for a 3rd-4th place finish. Since that initial loss, SG e-sports has been dominant in South America, winning 4 of the next 5 qualifiers to establish itself as one of the strongest teams in the region. While the team has looked strong in its regional qualifiers, it hasn’t found the same level of success at the international level just yet. SG e-sports  was among the participants at the StarLadder i-League Minor to begin the season, but the Brazilian squad didn’t put together the most impressive of runs. The team ended its group stage matches with a 2-4 record, which earned SG e-sports a 5th-6th place finish. While that result fell short of earning the team any Qualifying Points, it serves as a positive performance for a team with little to no international experience that was expected to finish at the bottom of the standings.

SG e-sports is a team with high levels of skill and potential but limited experience. As the season progresses and the Brazilian squad continues to play in Pro Circuit events, that latter statement will fade away and the Dota 2 world will see a team even more dangerous than it currently is. The squad’s dominance in the South American region and its modest performance at the season’s first Minor gives some hope that SG e-sports may be ready for another shot on the big stage. SG e-sports is unlikely to make its way into the top 4, as its placement in Group B will pit the team against powerhouses Team Liquid and Virtus.Pro. However, the team seems very much capable of competing with Keen Gaming, the final squad in Group B. With that in mind, SG e-sports can be projected to fall within the 5th-6th range at the Major, with the possibility still alive for an upset win should its opponents underestimate the South American squad.

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