Dota 2 Minor Team Preview: StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5

Pro Circuit returns to Ukrainian capital as eight teams look to spark late-season surges in Kiev.

With the season entering its final few months, the attention of the majority of Dota 2 fans will likely be centered around the four remaining Majors left on the schedule. However, between those Majors there are still two Minors left on the schedule, one of which is set to begin and still has the potential to impact the Pro Circuit standings. That event is the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5, the third event in the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational series (previously StarLadder i-League) to come to the Pro Circuit stage. Organized, as its name would imply, by StarLadder and ImbaTV, the Minor will bring the Pro Circuit back to Kiev for its second event to be hosted in the Ukrainian capital this season. Beginning on April 12 and running through the 15th, the Minor will see eight Pro Circuit squads fighting for much needed Qualifying Points in an effort to spark a late-season push up the Pro Circuit standings. At stake in Kiev will be prize pools of $300,000 USD as well as 300 Qualifying Points to be distributed according to the outline below.

1st: $135,000 (Total) & 150 Qualifying Points (Per Player)

2nd: $60,000 (Total) & 90 Qualifying Points (Per Player)

3rd-4th: $30,000 (Per Team) & 30 Qualifying Points (Per Player)

5th-6th: $15,000 (Per Team)

7th-8th: $7,500 (Per Team)

Now that the prize pool information has been covered, we can shift focus to the format of the Minor itself. As with most Pro Circuit events, the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor will begin with a Group Stage that will see the field of eight teams divided into two groups of four teams each. Within those groups, the teams will play in a double-elimination (GSL) format with Bo3 series, meaning the teams will begin with an Opening Match against a randomly drawn opponent from its group. From that point, the winners of the Opening Matches will then play in a Winners’ Match to determine the first place team in the group, while the losers will play in an Elimination Match to determine the last place team in the group. The winner of the Elimination Match and the loser of the Winners’ Match will then play in the Decider Match to determine the second and third place teams in the group. The first and second place teams from each group will then advance into the Playoff Stage. The Playoff Stage will feature the four advancing teams from the Group Stage playing in a single-elimination bracket. The Semifinals will each be played in a Bo3 format, with the Finals being played Bo5 to decide the Minor Champion.

With so many Majors left to play on the Pro Circuit schedule, events like this Minor may seem small or unimportant to many Dota 2 fans. However, these late season scenarios are exactly when events like this one can matter most to squads looking to secure their positions or spark a late-season run. The field of team’s in Kiev are a diverse group, but every participants shares one similarity in that they could all use any sum of Qualifying Points to add to their totals. The field of participants for the Minor includes one team ranked in the Top 8 (VGJ.Thunder), along with three other squads that are ranked but currently sit outside of the Top 8 (Na’Vi, Team Kinguin, Fnatic). Three of the squads in Kiev (Vega Squadron, OpTic Gaming, SG e-sports) have seen action on the Pro Circuit stage before but are still searching for their first Qualifying Points of the season, while one team (FlyToMoon) is making its Pro Circuit debut. All of these teams have different levels of experience or success so far this season, but every single one of them comes to Kiev looking to walk away with the title of Minor Champion when all is said and done. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at each of those squads that will be looking to find success at the Minor and see how each of them stack up heading into the event itself.

  • 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.

VGJ.Thunder VGJ

Region: China

Qualification: Direct Invite (Replacement Invite)

Pro Circuit Rank: 8th (1665 Qualifying Points)

Roster:
1. Liu “Sylar” Jiajun
2. Liu “Freeze” Chang
3. Zhou “Yang” Haiyang
4. Pan “Fade” Yi (Captain)
5. Leong “ddc” Fat-meng

Projected Finish: Top 4

Chinese squad VGJ.Thunder makes its way to Kiev for the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 under some slightly unexpected circumstances. The team was originally set to compete in the China Regional Qualifier for this Minor, but the withdrawal of direct invitee Newbee due to visa issues opened a window that VGJ.Thunder was able to fill. The team enters the Minor currently sitting at the bottom of the Top 8 in the Pro Circuit standings, with a cadre of challengers trailing behind the Chinese squad hoping for a chance to knock the team out and claim a Top 8 position for themselves. With the Pro Circuit schedule entering its tense home stretch and the team’s hold over its current ranking tenuous, VGJ.Thunder is in need of a solid showing in Kiev to help bolster its position and create a more stable buffer between itself and those would be usurpers. With the field of teams in Kiev containing multiple unranked or struggling squads, the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor offers VGJ.Thunder an opportunity that the Chinese squad can’t afford to waste.

Its been just a handful of days since the last time fans saw VGJ.Thunder playing on the Pro Circuit stage, as the Chinese squad just recently concluded a run at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major. The team did not put together the most inspiring of performances in Shanghai, as the squad struggled through a 2-5 Group Stage run and was eliminated by Team Liquid in the Breakout Round to finish in the bottom half of the standings in the 9th-12th place position. Since the Major ended just a few days ago, VGJ.Thunder has not yet had an opportunity to play in any other official matches. However, by looking back on the team’s performance across 2018 as a whole we can get a better picture of where the team stands heading into what will be its fifth Pro Circuit appearance of the year. Since the beginning of the year, VGJ.Thunder has been able to establish itself as one of the strongest and most consistent teams in terms of its performance within the Chinese region. The squad has participated in six Pro Circuit qualifiers so far, earning Top 4 finishes in all of them including two 1st place runs. VGJ.Thunder has proven itself capable of defeating its regional rivals with a comfortable frequency, but on the international level the team has not been nearly so consistent. The team began the year with a fantastic 1st place run at the non-Pro Circuit Galaxy Battles II event that saw it defeat Evil Geniuses 3-0 in the Grand Final. The team followed up that success with a somewhat disappointing finish in the 7th-8th place position at the ESL One Genting Minor, but bounced back in March with back to back 2nd place finishes at The Bucharest Major and the GESC: Indonesia Minor. Those Top 4 finishes had the team looking strong heading into its most recent performance at the previously mentioned DAC 2018 Major, but the Chinese squad appeared to run into issues again playing on home soil in Shanghai. The result for the team has been an up and down series of performances over the last few months and a situation where one can’t fully be sure which version of the team will show up at an event. That kind of inconsistency is always concerning for a team on the Pro Circuit, but VGJ.Thunder will have to hope that its talent and experience will be enough for it to put together a positive showing in Kiev.

VGJ.Thunder got a small benefit being bumped up from a Regional Qualifier invitee to a direct invite to the Minor, and the Chinese squad needs to take advantage of that with a solid run in Kiev. The team’s current position as the 8th ranked team on the Pro Circuit is far from safe or stable, and any amount of Qualifying Points would go a long way towards helping the team feel more secure over the final months of the season. Entering the Minor, the Chinese squad is expected to finish in the top half of the field in Kiev with a projection in the Top 4 range. The team has been inconsistent in 2018, but we’ve seen what the roster is capable of when it’s playing at its best. At an event in which the team is one of the more accomplished squads in a smaller field, VGJ.Thunder comes across as a slightly safer bet than some of the other participants. The team will start its run at the event with a bit of a challenge against FlyToMoon in its first match up of the Group Stage. While the CIS squad has quite a few veteran players, the team’s lack of Pro Circuit experience has VGJ.Thunder likely sitting as a slight favorite to take that opening series. Should the Chinese squad win that series, then it would need to win just one more series against either OpTic Gaming or Team Kinguin in order to secure a Top 4 finish. If FlyToMoon gets the better of VGJ.Thunder, then the road to a Top 4 spot gets a bit more complicated, as the Chinese squad would have to win back to back Bo3 series to advance out of the Group Stage. In either scenario, the team’s talent and Pro Circuit experience will make them one of the tougher teams to beat in the field at the Minor, and the other squads in Group A will have to be at their best to knock off VGJ.Thunder. With that in mind, the expectations for the team are considerably high coming into the event as VGJ.Thunder look to shake off its consistency issues and turn in a strong performance in Kiev.

 

Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) 668px-Natus_Vincere

Region: CIS

Qualification: Direct Invite

Pro Circuit Rank: 10th (1199 Qualifying Points)

Roster: 
1. Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
2.
Danil “Dendi” Ishutin
3.
Victor “GeneRaL” Nigrini
4.
IlyaLilIlyuk (Captain)
5.
Nikola “LeBronDota” Popović

Projected Finish: 5th-6th

Its been a tumultuous time of late for Na’Vi, as the CIS squad had run into its fair share of problems and setbacks following changes to its lineup at the roster lock deadline back in February. Even with those issues hounding the team, Na’Vi prepares for an opportunity to play in front of a home crowd in Kiev at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor. Despite the team making its fifth appearance on the Pro Circuit in 2018, Na’Vi’s position in the Pro Circuit standings has been trending downwards over the past few months. The squad’s free fall down the rankings saw it lose its Top 8 status, and the gap between Na’Vi and the 8th ranked squad (VGJ.Thunder) is currently so large that even a 1st place finish at this Minor won’t be enough to fully make up the difference. That being said, every Pro Circuit event means that there’s less and less time remaining in the season for a team like Na’Vi to make a run. If the CIS squad wants to make its way back into the Top 8, it’s going to have to start finding success on the Pro Circuit stage, beginning with this appearance in Kiev.

It’s been a little under a month since the last time fans got the chance to see Na’Vi play on the Pro Circuit stage, as the team’s last appearance at a Pro Circuit event came at the GESC: Indonesia Minor in March. That event in Jakarta produced the first and only success on the Pro Circuit for Na’Vi in 2018, as the CIS squad managed to fight its way to a finish in the combined 3rd-4th place position. Following that Top 4 finish, the team has returned to its home region to compete in further Pro Circuit qualifiers, with mixed levels of success. The past month has seen Na’Vi participate in two regional qualifiers, earning a 3rd place finish at the GESC: Thailand CIS Qualifier, but a 7th-8th place finish at the MDL Changsha CIS Qualifier. Those two showings within its home region have encapsulated Na’Vi’s performance across all of 2018 within the CIS region, as the team has performed reasonably well in qualifiers but has fallen short of the success expected of a team of Na’Vi’s standing. The team has seen action in four Pro Circuit qualifiers so far this year and earned Top 4 finishes in three of them. However, those three Top 4 finishes have included only a single 1st place run that earned the team its spot at the previously mentioned GESC: Indonesia Minor. While that Pro Circuit appearance resulted in a successful outcome for Na’Vi, its performance on the international level in 2018 has been less than impressive. The team began the year with a finish in the 7th-8th place position at the ESL One Genting Minor, and followed up that result with a series of forgettable appearances at the ESL One Katowice Major (finished 13th-16th) and The Bucharest major (finished 9th-11th). While the team’s relatively strong results within the CIS region are encouraging, Na’Vi’s lack of consistent success on the Pro Circuit stage is a significant concern heading into this Minor.

Na’Vi comes into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in need of a strong showing to get itself back on track and end its slide down the Pro Circuit standings. The team’s performance on the international level has not been particularly inspired in 2018, but the team’s Top 4 finish at its most recent Pro Circuit appearance has to have the CIS squad feeling optimistic as it makes its way to Kiev. That optimism doesn’t quite carry over in terms of the team’s expectations at the Minor, with Na’Vi being projected to finish in the 5th-6th place position. The team will have a tough path to success at the Minor, as its first opponent in Group B will be a Fnatic squad that has seen something of a surge on the international level of late. With the Southeast Asian squad’s recent improvements combined with Na’Vi’s declining level of play, the CIS squad is a bit of an underdog in that opening series. If the team is unable to pull off the upset in that match up, then the team’s path gets even more difficult. Na’Vi would need to overcome either Vega Squadron or SG e-sports to stay alive in the Group Stage, and would then need to win another Bo3 series after that in order to secure a Top 4 finish. No matter the scenario, Na’Vi is going to have to win two Bo3 series in order to advance out of the Group Stage, a feat that is fully possible for the team but a bit unlikely given its recent struggles. After the teams stronger showing in Jakarta at the GESC: Indonesia Minor, its possible that Na’Vi have begun to turn the page and get itself back on track.However, until the team can show that definitively with more consistent play on the international level, the expectations for the CIS squad will continue to be more modest in nature over the final months of the season.

 

Team Kinguin 627px-Team_Kinguin

Region: Europe

Qualification: Europe Qualifier Winner

Pro Circuit Rank: T-16th (90 Qualifying Points)

Roster:
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: 7th-8th

Polish squad Team Kinguin enters the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking to turn around what has been a bit of a rough stretch in 2018. The team has been unable to replicate its previous Pro Circuit success over the past few months, with the squad’s performance both at home and on the international level showing a bit on inconsistency that has the team in need of a strong and stabilizing run in Kiev. At this stage in the season, Team Kinguin doesn’t exactly come across as a significant contender for a Top 8 position given that its currently tied for 16th in the Pro Circuit standings. However, we’ve seen other teams on the Pro Circuit launch themselves up the standings this season, and the solid showing at the Minor could always be the catalyst for a late season run for the Polish squad. Even if the team can’t make a push up the standings, a strong performance in Kiev would be a highly encouraging sign for the team anyway heading into the final months of the season and the TI8 Regional Qualifiers.

Team Kinguin has had a small hiatus from the Pro Circuit stage, with the Polish squad’s last appearance at an event having occurred nearly two months ago at the ESL One Katowice Major. The chance to play on home soil in the Polish capital unfortunately didn’t help the team’s performance much, as Team Kinguin failed to advance out of the Group Stage and finished its run in the 9th-12th place position at the Major. Since then, the team has returned to its home region, where it has been putting together a solid stretch of qualifier runs over the last month. Team Kinguin has participated in three Pro Circuit qualifiers and has finished in the Top 4 in all of them, including winning the Europe Qualifier that earned it a spot at this Minor. The team’s performance within the European region has been steadily increasing after a rather rough start to 2018. After falling out of the Top 4 in three of its first four qualifier runs, the team has now secured a finish of 4th or better in six straight qualifier appearances. That kind of consistent performance within its home region has Team Kinguin in a position that looks a bit similar to the one the team was in just prior to its lone Pro Circuit success at the DOTA Summit 8 back in December. While the team has not been able to put its strength on display on the international level since that Top 4 finish in Los Angeles, Team Kinguin is hoping that its improved level of play and consistency in Europe over the last month will help the team position itself for another impressive Minor run in Kiev.

Team Kinguin comes into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking for a chance to prove that it is still capable of competing on the Pro Circuit stage. The team’s rough stretch to begin 2018 had it looking a bit like a one-hit wonder on the international level as it was unable to replicate its lone Top 4 finish. Heading into the final months of the season, the team doesn’t have the best of chances at chasing a Top 8 spot in the standings, but another strong showing at a Minor will at least give it some momentum and perhaps a small advantage over its regional rivals heading into the TI8 Regional Qualifiers. Unfortunately for the Polish squad, the odds appear to be against them in Kiev, with Team Kinguin projected to finish in the combined last place position of 7th-8th at the Minor. The team’s path to a Top 4 finish will be somewhat difficult in Kiev, with the team opening its Group Stage run with a Bo3 series against an OpTic Gaming squad that showed an alarming level of improvement and confidence in its most recent Pro Circuit showing at the DAC 2018 Major. Team Kinguin likely comes into that series as the underdog, and if it can’t overcome the North American team then it would be put into a scenario in which it will have to defeat either VGJ.Thunder or FlyToMoon in order to stay alive in the Group Stage. While the team’s recent improvements within its home region have been encouraging, those results may not be enough to have the team significantly favored over any of its potential opponents in Group A. The combination of the team’s struggles on the international level and the strength of the other teams in its group results in a mostly pessimistic outlook for Team Kinguin at the Minor. However, we’ve seen the team beat the odds once before, and the Polish squad’s talent and teamwork keeps hope alive that the Team Kinguin can beat out its weaker projected finish in Kiev

 

FlyToMoon FlyToMoon

Region: CIS

Qualification: CIS Qualifier Winner

Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)

Roster:
1. Airat “Silent” Gaziev
2. Bogdan “Iceberg” Vasilenko
3. Alexey “nongrata”‘ Vasilev
4. Alexander “NoFear” Churochkin
5. Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko (Captain)

Projected Finish: 5th-6th

CIS squad FlyToMoon is a team that many Dota 2 fans may not be particularly familiar with, as the team has only existed for a little over two months now. Formed at the roster lock deadline by a group of CIS veterans and young talent, the team has wasted no time establishing itself as a potential contender within its home region. The team has quickly worked itself in the conversation with squads like Team Empire and Vega Squadron, and with the continued struggles of Na’Vi both at home and on the Pro Circuit stage, a window of opportunity has opened for FlyToMoon to push into a position of strength in the CIS region. All the team would need is a strong showing in Kiev to potentially spark a run and solidify a place near the top of the CIS hierarchy. While the members of FlyToMoon’s roster have limited Pro Circuit exposure, it does have a level of talent and Dota 2 experience that makes the team a potential threat in its Pro Circuit debut.

Seeing as how FlyToMoon is set to makes its first Pro Circuit appearance in Kiev, there isn’t much to look at for the team in terms of its international experience. The team’s only experience together outside of the CIS region came in the Madness Qualifier for the EPICENTER XL Major. That qualifier was open to teams across all regions, and gave FlyToMoon an opportunity to lock in a spot at its first Major of the season after a 1st place run that saw the team defeat fellow StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor attendee Team Kinguin. While that qualifier win was the team’s only significant experience on the international level, FlyToMoon has been looking just as impressive in its performances within the CIS region. Since the team’s formation in February, FlyToMoon has participated in three CIS qualifiers and managed to earn Top 4 finishes in all of them. One of those Top 4 finishes was a 1st place finish that earned the CIS squad its spot in this Minor for its Pro Circuit debut. Admittedly, it’s a rather small sample size to look at when evaluating how a team is going to perform in its first Pro Circuit event of the season. However, considering the fact that the team has only existed in this form for a bit over two months, FlyToMoon’s immediate success and consistency is something that cannot be overstated as it makes its way to Kiev. The team’s regional success has it riding a high of confidence and momentum heading into the Minor, but the action in Kiev will be the true test of whether FlyToMoon is ready to be a significant presence on the Pro Circuit.

FlyToMoon’s rise within the CIS region has been meteoric to say the least, as the squad has gone from being newly formed in February to a potential leader in the CIS region in April. The team’s journey may not have been long, but it has certainly been eventful, and the CIS squad has a chance to make its Pro Circuit debut a successful one with a strong showing in Kiev. The team’s impressive performances over the last two months have the team sitting in a position to threaten for a Top 4 finish in its first Pro Circuit event, but FlyToMoon enters the event projected to miss that mark with a finish in the 5th-6th place position. The team will have a few obstacles standing in its path to success in Kiev, the first of which being the team’s lack of experience on the Pro Circuit. Every team reacts to its first appearance on the Pro Circuit stage in different ways, but for FlyToMoon, the hope is that its veteran leadership and Dota 2 experience will keep the team from losing its head and allow the CIS squad to focus on the task at hand. The next obstacle in the team’s way is its actual opposition, as FlyToMoon has been placed in Group A alongside OpTic Gaming, VGJ.Thunder, and Team Kinguin. The squad is set to open the Group Stage with a Bo3 series against VGJ.Thunder, the highest ranked squad in the entire field of teams in Kiev. Should the CIS squad manage to defeat its Chinese opponent, then the team would stand a considerably higher chance of hitting the Top 4 mark, as it would then need to defeat the winner of the OpTic Gaming vs. Team Kinguin match up to advance out of the Group Stage. However, FlyToMoon will come into that series against VGJ.Thunder as something of an underdog, and if it loses that opening series then it will face a more difficult path to success. The team would need to overcome either OpTic Gamign or Team Kinguin in the Elimination Match before having to take another Bo3 series in the Decider Match to claim a spot in the Playoff Stage. Given the skill level and experience of FlyToMoon’s roster, that scenario is not out of the realm of possibility at the Minor. On the other hand, expecting the team to win two straight series against those squads is a risky prospect as well considering the fact that we’ve seen so little of this team on the international level. In that respect, the team’s projection just short of the Top 4 mark seems appropriate, but don’t be surprised if FlyToMoon proves impatient and pushes for a stronger finish in its Pro Circuit debut.

 

OpTic Gaming OpTic_Gaming

Region: North America

Qualification: North America Qualifier Winner

Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)

Roster:
1. 
Per Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille
2. 
Quinn “CC&C” Callahan
3.
Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg
4.
Neta “33” Shapira
5. 
Peter “ppd” Dager (Captain)

Projected Finish: Top 4

OpTic Gaming enters the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in an interesting position both within its home region and on the Pro Circuit as a whole. The team is still searching to get on the board in the Pro Circuit standings with its first Qualifying Points of the season, but the North American squad may not actually need them when all is said and done. The team has spent the better part of the season as one of the leading teams in its home region, and given the fact that compLexity Gaming’s roster changes made that squad ineligible for invites to the TI8 Regional Qualifiers, OpTic Gaming is all but guaranteed a spot. That fact may give OpTic Gaming a solid back up plan, but the team hasn’t quite given up on chasing a Top 8 spot just yet. While the team hasn’t managed to earn any Qualifying Points yet, the amount of events left in the season schedule still leaves an opportunity available for the team if it can spark a late-season run of Pro Circuit success. The team has the chance to start that run in Kiev at this Minor, where OpTic Gaming actually comes into the event as one of the favored teams in the field of participants.

The North American squad has only been away from the Pro Circuit stage for a few days now, as OpTic Gaming is coming off of an incredibly recent performance at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 Major. The team put together a solid showing in the Group Stage of the Major, posting a 6-5 record overall between the original Group A matches and the subsequent tiebreaker matches that had it sitting as the 3rd seed of Group A. The team defeated Invictus Gaming in the Breakout Round to advance in to main bracket, but lost to both Mineski and TNC Pro Team to end its run at the Major in the 7th-8th place position. That showing in Shanghai was indicative of how the team has performed on the Pro Circuit stage in general in 2018, with the squad coming close to success but failing to overcome one or two final obstacles to fall short of its goal. The team similarly came up short at the ESL One Katowice with a 9th-12th place finish, and came just one series away from a Top 4 finish at The Bucharest Major where it ended up in the 5th-8th place position. Overall, OpTic Gaming has played well enough to put it in positions to threaten for a Top 4 spot, but just can’t build up enough momentum to lock down those opportunities. On the regional level though, the team has had no such difficulties, as OpTic Gaming continues to be one of the leading squads within the North American region. The team has participated in 10 regional qualifiers so far in 2018, and aside from a disqualification in January (ESL One Katowice) OpTic Gaming has earned Top 4 finishes in every one of those qualifier runs. Those qualifier performances have earned the team four appearances on the Pro Circuit stage, with this showing at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor being the most recent of them. While the squad’s recent performances on the Pro Circuit stage haven’t yielded success, OpTic Gaming is hoping that its continued consistency at home and potentially increased confidence on the international level can combine to create something special in Kiev.

OpTic Gaming comes into the Minor looking for its first success on the Pro Circuit stage following a series of disappointments and near misses in previous attempts. The squad’s position within the North American hierarchy is largely secure, but the team isn’t ready to give up on replicating that regional success on the international level. OpTic Gaming looks to have a solid chance of finding that first successful run in Kiev, as the team enters the Minor with a projected finish in the Top 4 range. However, that predicted outcome is far from secure for the team, as OpTic Gaming going to have to battle its way through a group of squads all hungry for Qualifying Points of their own at this event. The North American squad has been sorted into Group A at the Minor, where it will be joined by Chinese squad VGJ.Thunder, Polish challenger Team Kinguin, and debuting CIS squad FlyToMoon. As the top ranked team in the field at the Minor, VGJ.Thunder is considered one of the favorites to advance out of the group, leaving the second Playoff Stage slot of Group A open. As the team with the most Pro Circuit experience, OpTic Gaming would be the most obvious choice to claim that second spot, but that isn’t set in stone just yet. OpTic Gaming will open its Group Stage run with a match against a Team Kinguin squad that finds itself in somewhat dire need of a strong showing to shore up its standing within the European region. OpTic Gaming will likely be considered a slight favorite in that series, but the Polish squad will still present a formidable challenge for the North American team. If the team can win that opening series, then it will still face a tough opponent in the form of either VGJ.Thunder or FlyToMoon in order to secure a spot in the Playoff Stage. Should the team lose either of its first two series, then the margin for error will grow even smaller as it will have to fight through either the Elimination Match, the Decider Match, or both to reach the Top 4 in Kiev. No matter the scenario, OpTic Gaming is going to have to bring its best if it wants to finish in the top half of the Group A standings. The team’s experience and recent performances on the Pro Circuit stage have it predicted to finish in the Top 4 in Kiev, but that position is precarious at best and OpTic Gaming could easily find itself on the outside looking in at the Minor if it the North American squad loses focus.

 

SG e-sports SG_e-sportslogo

Region: South America

Qualification: South America Qualifier Winner

Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)

Roster: 
1. Guilherme “Costabile” Costábile
2.
Adriano “4dr” Machado
3.
Rodrigo “Liposa” Santos
4.
Thiago “Thiolicor” Cordeiro
5.
Emilano “c4t” Ito (Coach) (Stand-in)

Projected Finish: 7th-8th

SG e-sports comes into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor as one of the leading teams within in the South American region. However, that success in its home region has yet to translate into significant results on the Pro Circuit stage, as SG e-sports has struggled to win on the international stage. Success on the Pro Circuit has been an elusive achievement for South American teams all season long, with Infamous’s lone Top 4 finish at the GESC: Indonesia Minor being the region’s only source of Qualifying Points so far. Even in the face of those continued struggles outside of its home region, SG e-sports still sits in a rather favorable position within the South American hierarchy. Of the four South American teams to make Pro Circuit appearances so far this season, two of them (paiN Gaming, Infamous) are ineligible for direct invites to TI8 and the TI8 Regional Qualifiers and one of them (Sacred) simply no longer exists. That leaves SG e-sports as the only team with Pro Circuit experience that is still able to be directly invited to the TI8 regional qualifier. With that in mind, the team may not necessarily need to crack the Top 4 at a Pro Circuit event to have a chance to attend TI8, but the Brazilian squad will still be looking for any chance it can get to prove itself capable of finding success on the international level. If the team wants to find that success in Kiev, its going to have to do so with a slightly altered look to its lineup. Team Captain and Support player Lucas “Bardo” Barbosa will not be attending the Minor, with the team’s coach Emilano “c4t” Ito serving as a stand-in for the team.

SG e-sports will be making its sixth appearance at a Pro Circuit event in Kiev, and the team’s second of 2018. The team’s most recent foray onto the Pro Circuit stage did not go particularly well for the Brazilian squad, as SG e-sports competed at the ESL One Genting Minor back in January. The team posted a 1-3 record in the Group Stage, losing to both Virtus.pro and Vici Gaming to finish in the combined last place position of 13th-16th at the event. Since then, the team hasn’t been able to accrue any more Pro Circuit experience, but it has had the chance to perform on the international level again at third party events. The WESG 2017 event in Haikou, China saw the team put together a solid performance to finish in the 5th-8th place position out of a field of 30 participants. It’s not exactly a landmark achievement for the team, but any further experience outside of the South American region is something that SG e-sports could use to its advantage over the last few months of the season. While the Brazilian squad’s results on the international level aren’t particularly impressive, the team’s recent results at home paint a much more positive picture for it in 2018. Since the start of the year, SG e-sports has participated in nine Pro Circuit qualifiers and finished within the Top 4 in all of them. Those nine Top 4 finishes include two 1st place runs that qualified the team both for this upcoming StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational and for the GESC: Thailand Minor next month. At this point in the season, the team’s performance on the international stage has been far from ideal, but its consistent production at home has SG e-sports in a favorable position heading towards the TI8 Regional Qualifiers. The team will have to overcome a litany of regional rivals in the South America Qualifier in order to earn a spot in Vancouver, but the team’s strong string of results in regional qualifiers have hopes high that SG e-sports can continue to be a leading team in South America. With that being said, the team will still be looking to make a mark in Kiev with a solid showing at the Minor.

SG e-sports enters the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking to earn its first significant success on the Pro Circuit stage. The team has established itself as one of the leading squads in the South American region, but it has as of yet been unable to achieve much on the international level.  Coming into the Minor, the team’s chances to finding that success in Kiev seem somewhat low, with SG e-sports projected to finish in the 7th-8th place range. The Brazilian squad is going to have a tough challenge in front of it at the Minor, as it has been placed in Group A alongside Fnatic, Vega Squadron, and Na’Vi. Despite the team’s relative consistency within its home region, the chances of SG e-sports finishing above two of those squads and claiming a spot in the Playoff Stage seem small. The team will open its Group Stage run against a Vega Squadron team that was not anticipating playing at this event prior to LGD Gaming’s withdrawal. Should SG e-sports lose that series, then it will have to win a Bo3 against either Na’Vi or Fnatic to stay alive in the Group Stage. Of course, the possibility always exists for SG e-sports to pull off victory in that initial series against the CIS squad, but even that scenario still would require the team to win another Bo3 against Na’Vi or Fnatic to reach the Top 4. One underdog win is possible, if unlikely, but two seems to take that final step outside of the realm of realistic expectations. Anything is possible on the Pro Circuit stage, but for SG e-sports it seems most prudent to keep the expectations as low as possible regardless of the hopes or potential for the South American squad.

 

Vega Squadron 579px-Vega_Squadron_2016

Region: CIS

Qualification: CIS Qualifier Runner Up (Replacement Team)

Pro Circuit Rank: Not Ranked (0 Qualifying Points)

Roster:
1.
Nikita “Palantimos” Grinkevich
2.
Dmitry “UnderShock” Bolshakov
3.
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
4.
Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov 
5.
Semion “CemaTheSlayer” Krivulya (Captain)

Projected Finish: Top 4

You might be somewhat confused as to why another CIS squad is in this spot as opposed to the winner of the China Qualifier. Vega Squadron was not originally included among the list of participants for the Minor, having come in 2nd place in the CIS Qualifier. However, Chinese squad LGD Gaming withdrew from the event leaving an opening that Vega Squadron was able to fill on short notice and without any potential travel or visa issues. The opportunity comes as a well timed boon for Vega Squadron, as Virtus.pro’s direct invite status for TI8 and Na’Vi’s considerable struggles of late leaves a significant void in the CIS region that teams are rushing to fill over the final months of the season. The team will be making just its second Pro Circuit appearance of 2018 and its third of the season overall, but the CIS squad will be looking to both put itself on the board in the Pro Circuit standings and secure itself a stronger position for an invite to the TI8 Regional Qualifiers with a strong showing in Kiev.

It’s been a bit over a month since the last time Vega Squadron got the chance to play on the Pro Circuit stage, as the team participated in The Bucharest Major back at the beginning of March. The event did not go well for Vega Squadron, as the CIS squad struggling significantly with an 0-3 run through the Group Stage that saw it finish in the last place position of 15th-16th. That event in Bucharest was the team’s only appearance outside of its home region in 2018, as well as the current roster’s only international experience together. While the team’s experience on the international level has been limited, Vega Squadron has fared much better within the CIS region. The squad has participated in nine Pro Circuit qualifiers so far this year, and has managed to earn Top 4 finishes in all but one of them. Of those eight Top 4 finishes, three of them have been 1st place runs and four of them have earned the team spots at Pro Circuit events. That level of consistency within its home region is cause for optimism for Vega Squadron heading in to this event and into the final months of the season. The most significant question for Vega Squadron over this period will be whether the team can replicate its success within the CIS region on the Pro Circuit stage. It’s a transition that more than a few squads have failed to make, but Vega Squadron will have its shot to add its name to the ranks of the Pro Circuit standings if it can find success in Kiev.

Vega Squadron enters the Minor looking for its first successful run on the Pro Circuit stage after a couple of failed attempts previously. The team’s track record on the international level is short and not particularly impressive, but the team’s consistent success within its home region has it feeling confident as it makes its way to Kiev. Despite the team’s struggles at previous Pro Circuit events, the CIS squad has a strong shot at finding that coveted first Pro Circuit success, with Vega Squadron projected to finish in the Top 4 range at the Minor. If ever the team was going to make that breakthrough and earn itself a Top 4 finish at a Pro Circuit event, this would appear to be the time. Vega Squadron has been sorted into Group B at the Minor, a group that includes Southeast Asian squad Fnatic in addition to two significantly struggling teams in fellow CIS squad Na’Vi and South American challenger SG e-sports. The team opens its Group Stage schedule with a Bo3 series against SG e-sports, a series in which Vega Squadron will more than likely be considered a favorite to win. Should the CIS squad win that match up, then it sits just one more Bo3 victory away from securing a spot in the Top 4 at the Minor. If the team advances to the Winners’ Match it will likely face Fnatic in a series which will probably favor the SEA squad. That would leave Vega Squadron in a position in which it would either need to pull of an underdog win or drop to the Decider Match to play SG e-sports a second time or face Na’Vi in an all-CIS grudge match. If that path doesn’t seem particularly “doom and gloom”-y for Vega Squadron, it’s because it isn’t. Every match up that the CIS squad may find itself in during the Group Stage is one that the team is very much capable of winning. While Fnatic is likely to give the team the most trouble, the Southeast Asian squad has not been without flaws of its own that Vega Squadron could potentially exploit. And given how much both Na’Vi and SG e-sports have struggled on the international level, Vega Squadron will likely be favored to win a match up against either of those teams. All in all, Vega Squadron have a very realistic chance to secure a Top 4 spot in Kiev, and so long as the team continues to play with the consistency that we’ve seen from it in the CIS region, the squad has a chance to finally earn its first Top 4 finish on the Pro Circuit stage.

 

Fnatic Fnaticlogo

Region: Southeast Asia

Qualification: Southeast Asia Qualifier Winner

Pro Circuit Rank: 11th (884 Qualifying Points)

Roster: 
1. Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao (Captain)
2.
Abed “Abed” Yusop
3.
Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora
4.
Djardel “DJ” Mampusti 
5.
 Adam “Adam” a.k.a. “343” Shah (Stand-in)

Projected Finish: Top 4

While Southeast Asian squads Mineski and TNC Pro Team may have stolen the spotlight with their impressive performances at the DAC 2018 Major, Fnatic enters the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor as another SEA squad enjoying a surge on the international level. The team has earned Top 4 finishes at two of its last three Pro Circuit appearances, and while the team still sits a bit removed from the Top 8 squads in the standings Fnatic could still make a push to improve its position over the final months of the season. Such a push could begin in Kiev should the Southeast Asian squad manage to put together a solid performance at the Minor. However, Fnatic will be playing without one of its usual members of the lineup at this event as Johan “pieliedie” Åström has been temporarily transferred to a substitute position on the roster. In his place, the team will play with its coach, Adam “Adam” a.k.a. “343” Shah, at the support position for the duration of the Minor. While the change is not likely to drastically alter the team’s strategy at the event, it is one that the team will have to adjust to as it looks for another Top 4 finish in Kiev.

Fnatic’s last appearance on the Pro Circuit came a little over two weeks ago in Stockholm, as the team represented the Southeast Asian region at the DreamLeague Season 9 Minor. That Minor saw the SEA squad turn in one of its more impressive performance of the season, as the team took down OG, Team Empire, Newbee, and Team Liquid on its way to a 2nd place finish after losing the Grand Final 0-3 to Team Secret. The solid result in Stockholm has been part of a surprising, if somewhat inconsistent, surge for Fnatic on the Pro Circuit stage. The team certainly didn’t start 2018 particularly well, as Fnatic finished in the bottom half of the standings at the ESL One Genting Minor with a 9th-12th place finish back in January. In February, the team put together a fantastic showing at the ESL One Katowice Major to claim a 4th place finish, but stumbled a few weeks later with a dismal 5th-6th finish at the GESC: Indonesia Minor. All of this has lead to the team’s most recent international outing at the previously mentioned DreamLeague Season 9 Minor, and by this point we really have no idea what to expect from Fnatic over the final months of the season. The team’s inconsistency on the Pro Circuit is cause for some confusion, especially considering how well the team has performed at home in 2018. Since the start of the year, Fnatic has played in eight regional qualifiers and has finished within the Top 4 in every single one of them. Among those Top 4 finishes are four 1st place runs, including the one that qualified Fnatic for this Minor in Kiev. Overall, the team has been a force within the Southeast Asian region, and we’ve seen how well the team performs on the international level when it’s at its best. Consistency has been the killer for Fnatic over the past few months, and the question for the Southeast Asian squad will be which version of the team shows up in Kiev.

Fnatic enters the StarLader ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking to both maintain its momentum on the international level and overcome a string of inconsistent results on the Pro Circuit. The team has seen its fair share of success at Pro Circuit events over the past few months, but has also failed to convert a few opportunities to further push itself up the Pro Circuit standings. Coming into the Minor in Kiev, the team is sitting in a favorable position, with Fnatic projected to finish within Top 4 range at the event. The use of its coach at the event instead of pieliedie will force the squad into an adjustment period, but hopefully the team can adapt to that change quickly and efficiently. The team’s placement within Group B for the Group Stage of the Minor serves to improve the team’s odds of success as well. The group contains two struggling teams in the form of Na’Vi and SG e-sports, as well as a Vega Squadron team that wasn’t expected to attend the event prior to LGD Gaming’s late withdrawal from the field. That lineup of potential opponent has Fnatic looking like the favorite to claim the top spot in Group B, and the Southeast Asian squad will begin its Group Stage run with a favorable match up against Na’Vi in its opening series. Should Fnatic win that initial series, then it would sit in a position where it would need to defeat iether Vega Squadron or SG e-sports to secure a Top 4 finish at the Minor. Considering the significant struggles that both of those squads have faced, the odds are looking good for Fnatic heading into Kiev. While the specter of inconsistency still has the potential to haunt Fnatic at the Minor, if the team plays up to the level that we know it is capable of, then there appears to be little that can stand in the way of the Southeast Asian squad claiming another Top 4 finish in Kiev.

 

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