StarLadder i-League Invitational returns to Pro Circuit stage as teams are set to clash in Shanghai.
After the whirlwind of top tier Dota that was the ESL One Genting Minor, the eyes of the Dota 2 world return to China as another Minor takes center stage on the Pro Circuit. The StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor is the next event on the schedule, providing fans the promise of even more exciting Dota from some of the best teams on the Pro Circuit. Organized jointly by StarLadder and ImbaTV, the event will be the second Pro Circuit Minor run by the two organizers this season, with Season 3 of the series having opened the Pro Circuit season as the first Minor back in October. Season 4 of the Invitational will bring eight Pro Circuit squads to Shanghai, China for the chance to lay claim to the title of Minor Champion. Set to begin on February 1st and run through the 4th, the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor offers prize pools of $300,000 USD as well as 300 Qualifying Points to be distributed according to the the outline below.
1st: $135,000 (Total) and 150 Qualifying Points (Per player)
2nd: $60,000 (Total) and 90 Qualifying Points (Per player)
3rd-4th: $30,000 (Per Team) and 30 Qualifying Points (Per player)
5th-6th: $15,000 (Per Team)
7th-8th: $7,500 (Per Team)
With eight teams in the field of participants at this Minor, the format of the event is going to follow along lines that may look familiar to Pro Circuit fans. The event will begin with a Group Stage in which the eight teams will be divided into two groups of four teams each. Within those groups, the teams will play a double-elimination GSL format with all matches being played as Bo3 series. The top two squads from each group will advance to the Playoff Stage for a single elimination bracket with a Bo5 Final. With the event format taking a more standard approach at this event, we can take a look at the eight teams that will be fighting in Shanghai for a shot at the Minor crown.
- Please note that the “projected finishes” for each team are my own predictions and do not constitute any official or necessarily objective ranking based upon specific statistics or data.
Qualification: Direct Invite
Pro Circuit Rank: 2nd (3060 Qualifying Points)
1. Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen
2. Amer “Miracle-“ Al-Barqawi
3. Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov
4. Maroun “GH” Merhej
5. Kuro Salehi “KuroKy” Takhasomi (Captain)
Projected Finish: Top 4
Team Liquid’s defense of its TI7 crown has been going incredibly well so far, as the European squad sits among the leaders on the Pro Circuit standings following an impressive start to its campaign. The team will be making its sixth Pro Circuit appearance this season, with each of its previous events having earned the team a Top 4 finish and Qualifying Points. Given the team’s status as a reigning TI Winner and its consistently dominant performance so far, the team comes into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor with a level of confidence fitting with its impressive achievements.
The last Pro Circuit appearance for Team Liquid cam just a few days ago, as the European squad was one of the participants at the ESL One Genting Minor. The squad put together a 9-4 record at the Minor that included series wins over PENTA Sports, Na’Vi, Newbee, and Evil Geniuses. Team Liquid advanced all the way to the Finals before falling to Newbee in a 2-3 series to earn a 2nd place finish at the event. Since the event only ended a few days ago, Team Liquid hasn’t played any other official matches. However, with Team Liquid we don’t really need to see much more to know just what to expect from the European squad. The team has yet to come away from a Pro Circuit event without any Qualifying Points, and it would take a pretty incredible lapse in play for Team Liquid to have that streak broken.
Coming into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor, it’s about as obvious as possible that the squad is one of the strongest teams on the Pro Circuit and should be a favorite to win the event. The team has yet to suffer any significant fall off in its level of play and had consistently competed with and defeated top level opposition. Given the team’s stellar list of achievements so far this season, Team Liquid has to be projected as a Top 4 team at the Minor. Any other result would come as a massive surprise within the Dota 2 scene, particularly given the group that it finds itself in. For Team Liquid to fall out of the Top 4, it would have to lose Bo3 series against Infamous as well as either LGD Gaming or compLexity Gaming. The unlikelihood of that scenario playing out has Team Liquid looking all but guaranteed another Top 4 finish in Shanghai.
Qualification: Direct Invite
Pro Circuit Rank: 4th (1635 Qualifying Points)
1. Xu “Moogy” Han
2. Song “Sccc” Chun
3. Damien “kpii” Chok
4. Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi
5. Zeng “Faith” Hongda (Captain)
Projected Finish: Top 4
Newbee come into this most recent event off the back of a victorious campaign at the ESL One Genting Minor just a few days ago. Despite holding the 4th place position in the Pro Circuit standings and being the highest ranked Chinese team this season, the team had to deal with many who doubted its ability to compete with the top Pro Circuit teams. The victory for Newbee at that last event should help bring those doubts to an end, as the team will look to take its newfound momentum into another Minor on home soil in Shanghai.
The last Pro Circuit appearance for Newbee was the previously mentioned ESL One Genting Minor just a few days ago. The team put together a record of 11-4 at the event, defeating LGD.Forever Young, TNC Pro Team, Vici Gaming, Team Secret, and Team Liquid to claim its first Minor Championship of 2018 and its second of the season overall. Given how recent the ESL One Genting Minor was, Newbee haven’t had an opportunity to play any other official matches prior to its appearance in Shanghai. The Chinese squad doesn’t have any other matches to look at in 2018 either, as the Minor was the first time the team had played this year. With that in mind, the team’s performance at the Minor is the only thing we have to look at for Newbee in terms of its recent play, and those results are highly encouraging. The team was able to find success against both its fellow Chinese teams and international opponents at the Minor, only losing games to TI7 Champion Team Liquid. The Chinese squad topped off its impressive campaign with a 3-2 victory over Team Liquid in a rematch of the TI7 Grand Finals. The team may not have any other matches to look at heading into the StarLadder i-League Invitaional Sesaon 4 Minor, but any team that wins a series against Team Liquid at this stage has to be considered a favorite to claim a Top 4 spot at a Pro Circuit event.
Newbee’s victory at the previous Pro Circuit event has it coming into this Minor with a level of confidence that few other teams can hope to match. Perhaps more importantly than that is the fact that the team’s recent performance is more than enough to justify that confidence, as the team looks to earn back to back Top 4 finishes at Pro Circuit events. Given how well Newbee managed to handle both regional and international opponents at the ESL One Genting Minor, it stands to reasons that the team will continue to play at that level at this upcoming event. With that in mind, Newbee enter the Minor as a projected Top 4 team based upon both its recent performance and its group. Newbee will be in Group B with Team Kinguin, Mineski, and Team Empire at this event. While those three squads are all talented and capable, I don’t see Newbee losing multiple series against any combination of those three teams. Should the team suffer a setback, multiple losses to underdog teams are possible, but aside from that unlikely scenario Newbee should be set up nicely for another Top 4 finish in 2018.
Qualification: China Qualifier Winner
Pro Circuit Rank: 12th (202.5 Qualifying Points)
1. Wang “Ame” Chunyu
2. Lu “Somnus丶M” a.k.a “Maybe” Yao
3. Yang “Chalice” Shenyi
4. Xu “fy” Linsen
5. Yap “xNova” Jian Wei
Projected Finish: Top 4
It’s been a tumultuous season so far for Chiense squad LGD Gaming, as its campaign has been plagued by poor play and roster issues. After opening up the season with an impressive 2nd place finish as the PGL Open Bucharest Minor, it appeared that the team was in a position to become a significant power on the Pro Circuit. However, the following months hit the Chinese squad particularly hard, with a series of poor performances finally leading to a roster change. With Yang “Chalice” Shenyi and Yap “xNova” Jian Wei added to the lineup, the team appears to be back on track, stringing together a series of impressive performances within its home region. The true test for this new roster is about to come though, as the new look LGD Gaming will get its first taste of international competition at the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor.
The last time we saw LGD Gaming on the Pro Circuit stage was back in December at the DOTA Summit 8, before the team had undergone its roster changes. The team’s performance in Los Angeles was terrible, as its lost all of its Group Stage matches for an 0-6 record that earned it a spot in the shared last place position in 8th-9th. Since the roster change, the team has been looking like its old self again, participating in three regional qualifiers and placing no worse than 2nd in any of them. Included in that stretch of qualifier runs are two 1st place finishes that have earned the team spots at this upcoming Minor as well as the ESL One Katowice Major later in February. The squad’s recent performance within the Chinese region has been dominant, to put it simply. LGD Gaming has put together a 21-6 record since finalizing its roster, consistently defeating its regional rivals. However, the team has yet to play on the international level with its new roster, and the squad’s performance at this Minor will go a long way to show us whether LGD Gaming’s recent success is a flash in the pan or the start of a true resurgence for the team.
LGD Gaming come into the StarLadder i- League Invitational Season 4 Minor with the confidence of a squad that is playing at the top of its game within its region. Though the new roster is still untested on the international stage, the dominance that it has displayed against other Chinese teams is an encouraging sign for it as the team enters its fifth Pro Circuit event of the season. LGD Gaming come into this event projected to finish within the Top 4, due to a combination of its recent regional play and the group that it finds itself in. LGD Gaming is joined in Group A by Team Liquid, Infamous, and compLexity Gaming, which leaves an opening for the Chinese team to crack the Top 4. Team Liquid is virtually guaranteed to win that group, but the other top position in the groups is up for grabs among the remaining three teams. Infamous has been struggling all season long, and while compLexity Gaming could lay claim to that spot, the North American squad has been somewhat inconsistent on the international level this season. With that in mind, LGD Gaming just needs to put together a solid performance against those two struggling squads to claim the second spot in Group A and get itself back in to picture on the Pro Circuit with a Top 4 finish.
Region: Southeast Asia
Qualification: Southeast Asia Qualifier Winner
Pro Circuit Rank: T-6th (810 Qualifying Points)
1. Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung (Captain)
2. Kam “NaNa” a.k.a “Moon” Boon Seng
3. Daryl Koh “iceiceice” Pei Xiang
4. Anucha “Jabz” Jirawong
5. Michael “ninjaboogie” Ross Jr.
Projected Finish: Top 4
With the Southeast Asian region abuzz with roster changes and team news, Mineski stands as a bastion of consistency and stability so far this season. The team enjoys a position as the highest ranked SEA squad on the Pro Circuit, and is tied for 6th overall in the standings. Despite some recent challenges from rival squads, Mineski remains firmly at the top of the hierarchy in Southeast Asia, and it will look to keep things that way as the team enters its sixth Pro Circuit event of the season. Mineski comes into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor with a valuable opportunity to further cement its favorable position at home and gain ground on the other top Pro Circuit squads.
The last Pro Circuit appearance for Mineski came just a few days ago at the ESL One Genting Minor, where the team got a chance to play on home soil in the Southeast Asian region. Unfortunately for Mineski, the home crowd wasn’t enough to life it up, as the squad struggled a bit at the event. The team posted a 3-3 record overall in the Group Stage, defeating Chinese squad LGD.Forever Young but losing to CIS team Na’Vi and fellow SEA team TNC Pro Team to finish in the 9th-12th place position. Given the recentness of that event, Mineski have not had the opportunity to play any other official matches prior to its trip to Shanghai, though we can look at the team’s performance over the last month to get an idea of where it stands coming into this Minor. The team has continued to perform well at home in 2018, having participated in two regional qualifiers and placed within the Top 4 in both of them, including a 1st place finish to earn it a spot at this event. On the international level though, the results have been mixed, as we’ve seen Mineski find success on Pro Circuit stage in addition to its recent struggles. The SEA squad opened the new year with a Top 4 finish in Washington, DC at the Captains Draft 4.0 Minor with a 4-2 record. However, that solid performance is somewhat overshadowed by the team’s most recent Pro Circuit appearance, where the squad looked decidedly less confident. Its not clear yet whether the team will be able to shake off its recent poor performance, but it will have to if the team wants to claim another Top 4 finish at the Minor.
Mineski is coming off of a less than fantastic performance at the previous Minor, but the team’s talent and track record so far this season give hope that the squad will be able to put that bad event behind it. The team will have a bit of a challenge at the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4, as it has been placed into a group with Newbee, Team Kinguin, and Team Empire. Newbee is rightfully the favorite to win that group, but the other top spot is up for grabs. Given Mineski’s achievements this season, they should have the best chance to overcome the other squads and claim that position. With that in mind, Mineski come into the event projected to fall within the Top 4 and claim more Qualifying Points in Shanghai. The team’s struggles at the ESL One Genting Minor are concerning, but in the end I have more faith that the team will push past those issues than I do in one of the other teams in Group B putting together a stronger run. However, should Mineski fail to address the issues that dragged it down at the previous event, the door is wide open for a team to come in and snatch its Top 4 position away, so the SEA squad will have to play carefully and be at their best in Shanghai.
Qualification: Europe Qualifier Winner Qualifier
Pro Circuit Rank: T-15th (90 Qualifying Points)
1. Natan “Exotic_Deer” Michalewicz
2. Michał “Nisha” Jankowski
3. Paweł “Patos” Naruszewicz
4. Rafał “eL lisasH” Wójcik(Captain)
5. Jakub “kacor” Kocjan
Projected Finish: 5th-6th
All Polish squad Team Kinguin has been something of a pleasant surprise so far this season, as the team has risen up to become a contender within the European region. The StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor will be the third appearance for Team Kinguin on the Pro Circuit stage, with the European squad having already earned one Top 4 finish at the Dota Summit 8 back in December. The European region has been somewhat crowded so far this season, but the relatively consistent success that Team Kinguin has been able to earn has it feeling confident as it heads into another Pro Circuit event.
The most recent Pro Circuit appearance for Team Kinguin came in December at the Dota Summit 8, where the squad earned its first Qualifying Points of the season. The team earned the top spot in its group with a 4-2 record against North American squads Evil Geniuses and complexity Gaming that earned it a guaranteed spot in the Playoff bracket. Despite that initial success, Team Kinguin fell short against Virtus.pro in the Semifinals, finishing in the shared 3rd-4th place position at the event. Since then, then team has continued to perform well in the European region, competing in three Pro Circuit qualifiers in December and January. From those three qualifiers Team Kinguin has earned two Top 4 finishes, including the 1st place run that earned it a spot at this upcoming event. Those recent performances within its home region, along with its strong performance at its last Pro Circuit event, set Team Kinguin up for a solid run at this upcoming Minor.
Team Kinguin has been playing with a consistency that most squads would be envious of, but that consistency will be put to the test in Shanghai. Despite the team’s success at its last Pro Circuit appearance, the Polish squad doesn’t seem likely to crack the Top 4 at this event. Coming into the Minor, Team Kinguin is projected to fall within the 5th-6th place position, just short of the mark for a Top 4 spot. The largest reason for this prediction comes from the group that Team Kinguin finds itself in, not necessarily a lack of ability of the team’s part. In order for the European squad to make it into the Top 4 at the evnt, it will have to finish higher than both Mineski and Newbee, two squads within the Top 8 in the Pro Circuit standings. Team Kinguin has been looking strong so far this season, but beating out two top Pro Circuit teams falls a bit outside of the realm of expectation for the squad. Should one of those teams suffer a setback or Team Kinguin make a truly impressive run, achieving that Top 4 status could be a possibility, but the odds appear stacked against the team coming into this event.
Region: Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
Qualification: CIS Qualifier Winner
Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)
1. Alexander “Nix” Levin (Stand-in)
2. Rostislav “fn” Lozovoi
3. Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk
4. Maxim “yoky-“ Kim
5. Yaroslav “Miposhka” Naidenov (Captain)
Projected Finish: 7th-8th
Its been an interesting season for Team Empire so far, as the CIS squad has been fighting to remain relevant within the regional hierarchy. The team has been performing well within its home region, consistently finding itself near the top of the standings in regional qualifiers. However, with squads like Virtus.pro and Na’Vi holding tightly to their top positions within the region, Team Empire has found opportunities to compete on the Pro Circuit stage somewhat rare. The team will be making this appearance on the Pro Circuit stage without one of its usual roster members, as Alexander “Nix” Levin will be standing in for the squad in the place of Airat “Silent” Gaziev. The StarLadder i-League Invitaional Season 4 Minor will be the team’s second Pro Circuit event of the season, and the CIS squad is hoping that it can put together a solid performance and lay claim to its first Qualifying Points of the season.
The last time we saw Team Empire on the Pro Circuit stage also happened to be the first time, as the squad made its Pro Circuit debut at the Captains Draft 4.0 Minor at the beginning of January. The team’s debut did not go very well for it, as the CIS squad lost both of its Group Stage matches against Team Secret and Vici Gaming. Those losses forced the team into a match up with OG in the Playoff Stage, though Team Empire would find no success there either as it lost the series 0-2. That 0-4 record at the Minor put Team Empire in the bottom half of the standings in the collective 5th-8th place position. Since then, the team has returned to the CIS region and found some decent results, though not nearly as strong as what we saw from the squad in 2017. Team Empire has competed in two regional qualifiers so far this year, but only made it into the Top 4 in one of them. Outside of the Pro Circuit, the team also earned a bit more international experience at the MID.TV Challenge Cup, a third party tournament for both the Europe and CIS regions. Team Empire placed 3rd overall in this event, winning all of its Group Stage matches and defeating Planet Dog 2-0 before falling to Team Doggie in the Semifinals. Those recent results aren’t necessarily bad for Team Empire, but it does raise some concerns for the team heading into the event.
Team Empire may have started the season looking stable within the CIS region, but that consistency hasn’t translated into success on the Pro Circuit yet. Coming into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor, it doesn’t seem likely that the team finds its breakthrough moment just yet. The team’s debut on the Pro Circuit stage wasn’t particularly encouraging, and its recent play in its home region does not instill an incredibly high level of confidence either. Adding onto these issues is the fact that the team will be playing with a stand-in at this event, adding a level of uncertainty that won’t do its any favors within its group. Heading into the Minor, Team Empire has a projection as a 7th-8th place team, as there just doesn’t seem to be enough to suggest that the team will be able to push for a Top 4 spot at the event. The group that Team Empire finds itself in won’t do it any favors either, as the CIS squad will have to beat out both Mineski and Newbee to advance to the Playoff Stage. In the face of those formidable opponents, Team Empire will need a monumental effort to achieve success in Shanghai.
Region: North America
Qualification: North America Qualifier Winner
Pro Circuit Rank: T-13th (135 Qualifying Points)
1. Rasmus “Chessie” Blomdin
2. Linus “Limmp” Blomdin
3. David “Moo” Hull
4. Zakari “Zfreek” Freedman
5. Kyle “melonzz” Freedman
Projected Finish: 5th-6th
The 2018 segment of the season has been an interesting period for compLexity Gaming, as the North American squad has been taking every opportunity to strengthen its position within its home region. Despite its improved standing at home, compLexity Gaming will come into its sixth Pro Circuit event near the bottom of the standings. The North American squad will be hoping to turn its recent struggles on the international stage around at this event, and potentially take a huge step forward in the rankings in the process.
CompLexity Gaming last played on the Pro Circuit just a few days ago at the ESL One Genting Minor, where the North American team put together a less than spectacular performance. The team went 2-3 at the event, defeating European squad Planet Dog but falling short against Fnatic and VGJ.Thunder to finish in the 9th-12 place position at the Minor. Since the Minor only ended a few days ago, we haven’t seen any more recent matches from compLexity Gaming prior to its participation in the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4. However, we can look back across the last month to get a better perspective on how the team has performed so far in 2018. So far in the new year, compLexity Gaming has participated in three regional qualifiers, managing to place within the Top 4 in all of them while winning two(StarLadder i-League & ESL One Katowice). These results speak to the aforementioned success within the North American region, but the team has been struggling to carry that regional performance over onto the international stage. So far in 2018, compLexity Gaming has seen action at two Pro Circuit events, but has failed to finish within the top half of the standings in both instances. The team’s recent struggles outside of North America make for a rather pressing concern for the squad as it prepares for another appearance on the Pro Circuit stage.
CompLexity Gaming may be looking stronger within the North American region, but regional success may not be enough to earn a similar result against international opposition. The team has missed the mark for a Top 4 finish at its last three Pro Circuit events, which makes it somewhat hard to have a high level of confidence that it will achieve a sudden reversal of that trend in Shanghai. Taking its recent international play as well as the team’s regional success into account, compLexity Gamign come into the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor as a projected 5th-6th place team. The team’s recent struggles are not so severe compared to some of the other teams in the field, and its previous Pro Circuit success affords it a small advantage over some of its weaker opponents. However, it still seems unlikely that the North American squad makes it into the Top 4 at this event unless it has figured out some way to turn around its recent issues. The make up of the groups for this event do provide a small glimmer of hope for compLexity though. Group A does feature Team Liquid in it, but aside from the TI7 Champion, there is no clear leader to claim that second Playoff spot. Should compLexity Gaming manage to get past Infamous and the recently updated LGD Gaming squad, it could find its way into a Top 4 position. We’ll see if the team has what it takes to break through its recent slump and find success on the Pro Circuit stage again.
Region: South American
Qualification: South America Qualifier 3rd-4th place. Replace Match Winner
Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)
1. Alonso “Kotarō Hayama” León
2. Mariano “Papita” Caneda (Captain)
3. Steven “StingeR” Vargas
4. Elvis “Scofield” De la Cruz Peña
5. Christian “Accel” Cruz
Projected Finish: 7th-8th
South American squad Infamous took a rather interesting path to reach the StarLadder i-League Inviational Season 4 Minor, as the team didn’t actually win the original regional qualifier for the event. The team originally finished in the combined 3rd-4th place position in the South America Qualifier, but 1st and 2nd place teams SG e-sports and paiN Gaming withdrew from the event and left the South American slot vacant. In order to determine which team would represent the region at the Minor, Infamous faced Sacred in a decider series that it won to reach its fourth Pro Circuit event of the season. The South American squad may not have made its way to this event in the traditional fashion, but the team will be looking to make the most of this opportunity as it searches for its first Qualifying Points of the season.
The last Pro Circuit appearance for Infamous came nearly two months ago at the MDL Macau Minor early in December. The South American squad did not play particularly well at the event as it struggled pretty significantly in the Group Stage. Its 3-5 overall record at the event kept it out of the Playoff Stage as it fell well short of the mark for a Top 4 spot in the 7th place position. Since then, the team has put together an impressive run within its home region, placing within the Top 4 in five straight regional qualifiers. From those qualifiers, Infamous has managed to qualify for three Pro Circuit events with two wins in the qualifiers for the ESL One Katowice Major and GESC: Indonesia Minor along with the Decider Match win that earned it a place at this upcoming Minor. Infamous may be building up momentum with its string of performances at home, but on the international level the squad still appears to be struggling. The team made an appearance at the Galaxy Battles II event earlier in January, with the squad running into series difficulties taking on teams outside of South America. The team lost its opening series against VGJ.Thunder as well as its elimination match against TNC Pro Team to finish in the combined 7th-8th place position at the event. The team’s continued lack of success against international opposition is a major concern for this team heading into this event, and it doesn’t necessarily appear that Infamous is ready to move past this issue just yet.
The international struggles for Infamous are a significant weakness for a team that has been looking like a much improved squad within the South American region. Unfortunately, the jump from regional success to international success seems to be one that Infamous isn’t ready to make just yet. The team’s poor history of performances on the Pro Circuit makes it incredibly difficult to have any serious confidence in its ability to compete at this event. Because of this, the South American team enters the StarLadder i-League Invitational Season 4 Minor as a projected 7th-8th place team. This event in Shanghai could always be the decisive moment where Infamous turns things around and finally breaks through with success on the Pro Circuit level, but those hopes represent a best case scenario rather than an expected result. Either way, Infamous will try one more time to prove itself on the international stage.