Dota 2 Minor Recap: StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5

Green Wall stands tall in Kiev: OpTic Gaming defeat VGJ.Thunder for first Minor Championship of season. Vega Squadron, Fnatic claim Top 4 finishes.

The Pro Circuit schedule continues its march towards the end of the season, and Dota 2 fans today got the chance to see the conclusion of one of the final two Minors of the year as the action at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 came to a close in Kiev. After four days of Dota 2 action in the Ukrainian capital, the eight participants at the Minor have been reduced to just a single winner as a new Minor Champion was crowned. Each of the eight squads entered Kiev looking for a chance to turn its season around or bolster its record in preparation for the announcement of TI8 invites, but only half of those squads would come away with Qualifying Points when all was said and done at the Minor.

At the end of the action, it was North American squad OpTic Gaming that laid claim to the title of Minor Champion in Kiev. The team won both its first Minor Championship and its first Top 4 finish on the Pro Circuit with its performance, as the team put together a 9-3 overall record at the event. In addition to prize money totaling $135,000, the North American squad also landed itself a spot in the Pro Circuit standings with its victory in Kiev. The team’s 450 Qualifying Point total earned it the 14th place position in the Pro Circuit standings and helps the team keep hopes alive for a potential late-season push into the Top 8 with five events remaining in the schedule. The squad that lost in the Finals to OpTic Gaming was VGJ.Thunder, a team that claims its third 2nd place finish of 2018 with this showing in Kiev. The 2nd place finish also helps the Chinese squad bolster its status in the Pro Circuit standings, as the team moved from the 8th place position in to 7th by leap frogging over regional rival LGD Gaming. After VGJ.Thunder, a duo of squads managed to earn themselves Qualifying Points as well as Vega Squadron and Fnatic also claimed Top 4 finishes at the event. Vega Squadron earned its first Top 4 finish of the season on the Pro Circuit, and moved itself into a three way tie for 17th in the Pro Circuit standings with a Qualifying Point total of 90. As for Fnatic, its situation was complicated slightly by the fact that the team played wit its coach as a stand-in during the event. That move incurred a penalty to its Qualifying Point earnings that resulted in each player receiving only 22 of the usual 30 points for the team’s 3rd-4th place finish. Those points did bump up Fnatic’s total as a team to 950, but did not results in any movement for the Southeast Asian squad in the standings.

The the dust settling and the action now officially over in Kiev, the Dota 2 world has a moment to reflect on the status of the Pro Circuit scene. A new Minor Champion has been crowned and the standings are up to date, but before we look ahead to the final months of the season, let’s take some time to see how each of the participants at the Minor in Kiev managed to perform and what may come next for those eight squads.

VGJ.Thunder VGJ

Place: 2nd

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

VGJ.Thunder came into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor as the highest ranked team in the field of participants in Kiev. The Chinese squad stood as the 8th ranked team heading into the event, but the team was looking for a solid showing at the Minor to help solidify that position as the season entered its final months and the last Pro Circuit events were on the horizon. The difference of perhaps a few hundred Qualifying Points was staggering for VGJ.Thunder, as that sum meant the difference between a direct invite to Vancouver for TI8 and a highly dangerous run through the TI8 China Qualifier against a host of hungry regional competitors. With that in mind, the team came into the Minor very much aware of the benefits of a strong showing in Kiev.

VGJ.Thunder began its matches at the Minor with a series against CIS squad FlyToMoon in the Opening Matches of Group A. The team stumbled out of the gate in Game 1, as FlyToMoon’s lineup built up a sizable net worth lead in the early and mid-games stages. Behind strong efforts from Freeze on Outworld Devourer (6-4-7) and Sylar’s Tiny (6-4-13) VGJ.Thunder made a late but unsuccessful surge as the team fell behind 0-1 in the series. The Chinese squad had its revenge in Game 2 though, as the team drafted a strong team fight lineup that heavily punished FlyToMoon’s strategy. Behind a combined 26-3-21 stat line from its core trio, VGJ.Thunder claimed a quick victory in just under 24 minutes to even up the series and force a decisive Game 3. That third match in the series proved to be a rather one sided affair, as VGJ.Thunder dominated the game from the very start of play. Freeze once again led the way for the team with his Tiny (10-3-15) while the support duo of ddc on Lion (7-2-15) and Fade’s Nature’s Prophet (3-2-19) helped establish a pace that FlyToMoon was simply unable to match as the Chinese squad secured a 2-1 series victory.

That win moved VGJ.Thunder to the Winners’ Match of Group A, where the Chinese squad faced North American team OpTic Gaming for the stop spot in the group an a guaranteed Top 4 finish at the Minor. Game 1 saw VGJ.Thunder pick up a core duo of Invoker and Death Prophet as the team looked to control team fights. Unfortunately for VGJ.Thunder, that strategy did not produce the best results as its opponent brought heavy pressure and aggression to the table to establish and early net worth lead. Despite the team’s efforts, VGJ.Thunder was never able to turn the tide in its favor as OpTic Gaming handed the Chinese squad a loss in the opening match of the series. Game two of the series saw the team pick up a core trio of Death Prophet, Templar Assassin, and Sand King, and early on the Chinese squad looked to be in control of the match. However, VGJ.Thunder’s lineup couldn’t close out a win in quick order, and OpTic Gaming’s heroes slowly began to turn the momentum of the match in its favor as the North American squad began to take control of the game. VGJ.Thunder lacked the team fight power to slow down OpTic Gaming as the Chinese squad fell 0-2 in the series.

The loss to OpTic Gaming had VGJ.Thunder in danger of being eliminated from the Minor as the squad moved into the Decider Match of Group A for a Bo3 rematch against CIS squad FlyToMoon. The Chinese squad didn’t get off to a fantastic start in Game 1 of the series, as FlyToMoon established a net worth lead early and held that advantage for nearly the entirety of the match. However, VGJ.Thunder managed to draw out the match, and with the help of an incredible performance from Freeze’s Gyrocopter (17-3-15) that included a Divine Rapier pick up, the team won a series of fights to snatch a comeback victory and take a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 saw VGJ.Thunder take control of the match, as the Chines squad put together an impressive showing against its CIS opponent. The team’s core trio combined for a stat line of 25-11-44 as the Chinese squad dominated the match from start to finish to close out a strong 2-0 win over FlyToMoon and secure itself a spot in the Playoff Stage.

The team faced another CIS opponent in its Semifinal series, as VGJ.Thunder took on Vega Squadron for a spot in the Finals of the Minor. The Chinese squad looked to establish its control of the match early with a core trio of Lycan, Phantom Lancer, and Underlord. That trio combined for a stat line of 21-3-25 as the team pulled away to build up a net worth of nearly 20k in just under 27 minutes of play. With the team unable to stop or even slow the progress of VGJ.Thunder’s lineup, Vega Squadron conceded defeat to give the Chinese squad a 1-0 advantage in the series. Game 2 proved to be a longer affair, but one that was no less one sided for VGJ.Thunder. The team dominated the match with a strong team fighting lineup that left Vega Squadron scrambling to keep up with the Chinese squad. Behind incredible performance from Freeze on Juggernaut (19-1-12) and Sylar’s Death Prophet (12-5-13), VGJ.Thunder broke through the defense of Vega Squadron to close out the match and claim a 2-0 series victory.

That win over Vega Squadron earned VGJ.Thunder a spot in the Finals of the Minor, where the Chinese squad once again faced off against OpTic Gaming. Game 1 saw the Chinese squad struggling through the mid and late-game stages, as OpTic Gaming’s lineup dictated the pace for most of the match. However, VGJ.Thunder still had fight left in it, and Sylar’s Terrorblade (18-4-5, 39.3k net worth) led the team to an incredible surge late that allowed it to seize the momentum and wipe out OpTic Gaming’s heroes to claim a comeback win to open the series. Unfortunately for VGJ.Thunder, the roles were reversed for Game 2 of the series, the Chinese squad built up a significant net worth advantage in the late game, but was unable to hold on to it despite strong performances from Freeze on Death Prophet (8-6-8) and Sylar’s Weaver (7-2-17). OpTic Gaming’s comeback win tied up the series 1-1 and turn the Bo5 Finals into a Bo3. VGJ.Thunder picked up cores of Death Prophet, Puck, and Abaddon in Game 3 of the series, but very early on it became apparent that there would be issues with that lineup. OpTic Gaming presented a tanky and aggressive lineup that VGJ.Thunder did not have the damage to punch through in the early stages of the game. By the time the Chinese squad has the potential to bring down those heroes, OpTic Gaming had built up its net worth advantage and were able to out scale VGJ.Thunder to retain its control over the game. The team was left outmaneuvered and out of options as OpTic Gaming marched into the VGJ.Thunder base to hand the Chinese squad its second loss of the series. With its back against the wall in Game 4, VGJ.Thunder went with a new look with cores of Sniper, Tiny, and Pugna supplemented by supports of Nature’s Prophet and Disruptor. In the early stages of the game, that lineup appeared to have an advantage as VGJ.Thunder nurtured a small net worth lead and had the potential to control the map with its strong pushing power. However, the squad’s team fight power was not quite as strong, which was made apparent when OpTic Gaming turned the tide of the match in the mid-game with a series of team fight wins that left VGJ.Thunder facing a significant net worth deficit. Down by over 10k net worth at the 30 minute mark and facing limited prospects of matching OpTic Gaming’s team fight strength, VGJ.Thunder conceded defeat to lose the series 1-3 and finish in 2nd place at the Minor.

VGJ.Thunder came into the Minor looking for a strong performance on the Pro Circuit stage to help it solidify its hold over a Top 8 position in the Pro Circuit standings. With the season nearing its conclusion, the Chinese squad knew that the added insurance of furthe Qualifying Point earnings had the potential to secure the team’s status as a direct invitee for TI8. Coming into the event, the team has expected to find that success on the Pro Circuit stage, with VGJ.Thunder projected somewhat confidently within the Top 4 range. The Chinese squad was able to meet those expectations with limited difficulties as VGJ.Thunder claimed a 2nd place finish at the Minor. The team looked solid in the Group Stage of the event, earning all four of its wins against a FlyToMoon squad making its Pro Circuit debut. In that regard, the team’s victory in its two series against the CIS squad come as no surprise. Even the team’s 2-0 win over Vega Squadron in the Semifinals of the Minor does not come as much of a shock, as the CIS squad was searching for its first Top 4 finish of the season and VGJ.Thunder stands as a team ranked among the Top 8 in the world. What was a bit surprising though was the team’s two series losses and 1-5 record against North American squad OpTic Gaming at this event. Many had been expecting a surge from OpTic Gaming for some time now, but to see a team like VGJ.Thunder struggle to overcome the team in both a Bo3 and Bo5 setting is a bit unexpected. The team’s Top 4 finish in Kiev helped improve its position in the Pro Circuit standings, but VGJ.Thunder still may not be safe just yet. With five events remaining in the Pro Circuit schedule, including four Majors, the standings could still see significant changes before the TI8 invites are decided upon. VGJ.Thunder does not have any further Pro Circuit appearances locked in at the moment, but that could change in the coming weeks. The team is just a week away from the regional qualifier for the GESC: Thailand Minor, as well as the Playoff Stage of the Dota 2 Professional League Season 5 in China (the Chinese qualifying event for the MDL Changsha Major). In addition, the team is just a few days away from the China Qualifier for the ESL Birmingham Major as well, giving VGJ.Thunder a plethora of opportunities to secure spots at some of the final Pro Circuit events of the season. If the team can beat out its regional rivals and put together solid showings in those events, then VGJ.Thunder has a better chance than most of securing itself a direct invite to Vancouver this summer.

 

Na’Vi 668px-Natus_Vincere

Place: 5th-6th

Winnings: $15,000

Na’Vi entered the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in a bit of a rough spot at this point in the season. The CIS squad’s recent performances on the Pro Circuit had been less than impressive, with Na’Vi sliding down the Pro Circuit standings and losing its position within the Top 8. With its chances of securing a direct invite to TI8 fading fast, the team was in considerable need of a strong showing at the Minor to turn around its recent struggles and reestablish itself as a contender on the international level. In a smaller field at a Pro Circuit Minor containing a number of less experienced teams and playing within its home region in Kiev, Na’Vi was presented with a valuable opportunity to put its strength on display.

The CIS squad opened up play at the Minor with a Bo3 series against Southeast Asian squad Fnatic in the Opening Matches of Group B. Game 1 proved to be an endurance test for Na’Vi, as the team battled with Fnatic in an opening match that lasted over 78 minutes of game time. Na’Vi held the net worth lead over most of those 78 minutes, as the CIS squad got quality showings out of Crystallize’s Lifestealer (12-4-16, 47.2k net worth) and Dendi’s Lina (9-9-7, 45.5k net worth) that helped it establish an advantageous pace. Fnatic’s lineup managed to extend the match significantly though with a combination of split pushing and high ground defenses, but the SEA squad could not build up enough momentum to fully stave off Na’Vi’s lineup as the CIS team claimed a win to open the series. After its success in the previous match, Na’Vi was looking to close out the series with another strong performance in Game 2. However, the CIS squad stumbled a bit as its lineup faced significant issues throughout the match. The team’s support duo put together an unfortunate stat line of 2-23-15, and its core trio was unable to keep pace with Fnatic’s heroes. Held to just 14 kills over a game that lasted nearly 45 minutes and facing a deficit of over 38k net worth, Na’Vi conceded defeat an surrendered its lead in the series. With the series down to one final match, Na’Vi opted for a stronger fighting lineup headlined by a core trio of Dragon Knight, Viper, and Leshrac. That lineup got off to a fantastic start, as the CIS squad built up a net worth lead of several thousand over the first few minutes of the match and carried it over nearly the entirety of the game. Na’Vi’s cores combined for a stat line of 20-16-28 with over 85k net worth, and it appeared that the CIS squad was in a strong position to close out the series. However, Fnatic had one final trick up its sleeve, as the Southeast Asian squad pulled off a series of team fight wins that wiped out Na’Vi’s lineup and allowed Fnatic to make a final headlong push down the middle lane to snatch the match and the series away from Na’Vi.

Na’Vi’s 1-2 loss to Fnatic in the Opening Matches of Group B dropped the CIS squad down to the Elimination Match where it faced South American squad SG e-sports with its Minor life on the line. The CIS squad stepped up in a huge way in the series, beginning with a dominant performance in Game 1 against SG e-sports. The team surrendered just two kills to its opponent, as Na’Vi swept past SG e-sports in just over 23 minutes to secure an incredibly one sided victory to open the series. Na’Vi took that momentum and rolled it directly into the next game in the series as the CIS squad repeated its dominant performance in Game 2. Crystallize’s Gyrocopter (12-0-10) and Dendi’s Puck (5-0-15) led the way for the team as Na’Vi out killed its opponent by a score of 28-7 and claimed another victory in just under 22 minutes to close out a massively one sided series and advance to the Decider Match of Group B.

That Decider Match gave Na’Vi a chance at redemption, as the CIS squad once again faced off against Fnatic with a spot in the Playoff Stage on the line. Game 1 saw Na’Vi opt for a mix of high damage farming heroes with an aggressive support duo of Tusk and Disruptor. That support duo did not create as much space as the squad may have liked, as Lil and LeBronDota faced significant struggles and were frequently picked off in the match. Without that space from its supports, Na’Vi’s cores quickly fell behind too, as Fnatic established a firm hold over the net worth lead and controlled the pace of the game over the final half of play. Despite buying time with valiant defensive efforts, Na’Vi eventually folded under the pressure of Fnatic’s repeated assaults as the CIS squad lost the opening match of the series. Na’Vi came back with a vengeance in Game 2 of the series, picking up an aggressive lineup meant to pressure Fnatic as early and often as possible. The plan worked perfectly, as Na’Vi established a blistering pace that limited Fnatic to just five kills in the match and put its cores significantly behind those of Na’Vi. After building up a net worth lead of over 23k in just under 25 minutes, the CIS squad finished off the match to even up the series 1-1 with yet another dominant performance. That win had Na’Vi just one more victory away from a spot in the Playoff Stage, and the CIS squad looked to establish a fast pace to Game 3 with a core trio of Phantom Assassin, Puck, and Slardar. That lineup struggled a bit early, as Na’Vi’s supports suffered several deaths in the opening stage of the match. The team’s lineup hit a power spike in the mid-games stage though, and Na’Vi rode that surge in damage to a team fight win and a modest net worth lead heading into the late-game stage against Fnatic. Despite that small advantage, Na’Vi was not prepared to face Fnatic’s late-game strength, as the SEA squad took fight after fight in its favor to wipe out Na’Vi’s lead and establish full control over the map and the match. Down by over 14k net worth and facing mega creeps, Na’Vi threw in the towel to lose the series 1-2 against Fnatic for a second time at the Minor. That second loss to the Southeast Asian squad ended Na’Vi’s run in Kiev with a finish in the shared 5th-6th place position overall.

Na’Vi entered the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in somewhat desperate need of a solid showing on the Pro Circuit stage to put itself back on the right path and bring an end to its recent decline in the standings. The team’s presence and strength on the international level had been shaky and inconsistent of late, but there was still time remaining in the season for the CIS squad to make a run if it could find success on the Pro Circuit stage. Coming into the event itself, Na’Vi was expected to come close to a Top 4 finish but fall just short with a projected finish in the 5th-6th place range. While the team put together a solid effort in Kiev, it was unable to move beyond that prediction as the team missed out on a Top 4 finish at the Minor. With a 4-4 record in the Group Stage of the event, Na’Vi’s performance at the Minor was an encouraging sign from the CIS squad considering its recent struggles. The team’s victories against Fnatic and SG e-sports displayed both the team’s ability to play at an aggressive and fast paced tempo and its capacity to outlast its opponent in longer and more intense tests of endurance. However, the team’s four losses (all against Fnatic) once again showed a level of inconsistency that has had fans and analysts so concerned for the team over the last few months. The team, like many teams in the CIS region, has been living or dying by its aggressive strategies this season. However, Na’Vi has not quite shown an ability to adapt to strategies outside of that aggressive and fast paced blueprint since its roster change. The result is a team that presents a dangerous balance of talent and volatility, which becomes particularly concerning as the season comes to an end and invites to TI8 and the TI8 Qualifiers are decided. With such little time remaining in the schedule, Na’Vi is running out of opportunities to make its final attempt to reclaim a Top 8 position. However, the CIS squad will have at least one chance to make an appearance on the Pro Circuit stage before the season reaches its conclusion, as the team will once again play before a hometown crowd at the EPICENTER XL Major in Moscow at he end of the month. With the last few Pro Circuit events on the horizon, Na’Vi may be starring down its final opportunity to secure itself a spot in Vancouver this summer.

 

Team Kinguin 627px-Team_Kinguin

Place: 7th-8th

Winnings: $7,500

Team Kinguin came into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor with a bit of a chip on its shoulder following a rough stretch on the Pro Circuit. The team has found itself struggling of late as the Polish squad has repeatedly failed to replicate its success from earlier in the season. The team’s somewhat inconsistent performances over the last few months meant that Team Kinguin made its way to Kiev in some need for a solid showing at the Minor in order to stabilize itself heading into the final months of the schedule. While the team hadn’t been a major threat on the Pro Circuit leading up to this event, the European squad was hoping that it could recapture that magic that earned it its first Top 4 finish back in December. If Team Kinguin could manage that, then the Polish squad had a shot at closing out the rest of the season on a high note and building much needed momentum heading into the Regional Qualifiers for TI8.

Team Kinguin began its run at the Minor with a Bo3 series against North American squad OpTic Gaming in its first matches of the Group Stage. Game 1 did not go well for Team Kinguin, as its lineup faced early pressure from OpTic Gaming’s heroes. The team’s support duo was unable to create significant amounts of space for its cores, and Patos’s offlane Doom (3-4-5) was not as effective an offensive weapon as it had been hoping for as OpTic Gaming claimed a wire-to-wire victory to open the series. After the loss in the previous game, Team Kinguin opted for a tankier and more aggressive lineup headlined by a core duo of Lifestealer and Death Prophet. That combination got off to a somewhat slow start, as OpTic Gaming was active across the map from the early stages of the map thanks in part to a Bounty Hunter pick. Team Kinguin trailed for all but a few minutes in the mid and late-game stages as OpTic Gaming established control of the map. However, the North American squad couldn’t quite break through Team Kinguin’s high ground defense, and the Polish squad was able to stymie the push of its opponent and turn a fight in its favor behind Nisha’s Death Prophet (8-2-16) and Exotic_Deer’s Lifestealer (13-2-9). That fight caught OpTic Gaming’s lineup off guard and without sufficient buybacks, allowing Team Kinguin to make a game winning push to even up the series and force a third match. Team Kinguin’s Game 2 heroics may have bought it more time in the series, but Game 3 proved to be a significant struggle for the European squad. OpTic Gaming once again applied heavy pressure to Team Kinguin’s lineup that secured early kills on the team’s support duo and helped to severely limit its cores. Despite a solid effort from Exotic_Deer on Gyrocopter (6-4-1), Team Kinguing trailed for the entirety of the match and fell behind by over 21k net worth at the 35 minute mark before conceding defeat and losing the series 1-2.

That loss dropped the Polish squad down to the Elimination Match where it faced CIS challenger FlyToMoon to determine which team would get to keep its Top 4 hopes alive at the Minor. Team Kinguin went into Game 1 of the series with a draft built around a core duo of Lifestealer and Visage. While those core heroes got off to a decent start, the rest of Team Kinguin’s lineup was not so fortunate as the team’s support duo of Disruptor and Rubick were picked off with relative consistency early in the match. Despite those early losses, the team managed to keep things close thanks to its own aggression and farm for its core heroes. However, Team Kinguin had not been able to do much to contain FlyToMoon’s cores, and those heroes took control in the late-game stage to dominate team fights and wreak havoc on the Polish squad. Over the final 10 minutes of the match, FlyToMoon out killed Team Kinguin 19-5 to claim victory in the first match of the series. Game 2 proved to be a more contentious affair, as the two teams remained close over the early stages of the match, with neither side claiming a definitive advantage. The team fight power of Team Kinguin’s lineup helped it build up a net worth lead heading into the mid and late-game stages. However, a huge fight around the Roshan pit allowed FlyToMoon to wipe out Team Kinguin’s net worth lead and claim momentum for itself. Despite that setback, Team Kinguin showed an incredibly level of composure and patience as it waited for its chance to strike back with a team fight win of its own. With that team fight win, Team Kinguin rushed down the middle lane and won the match to tie up the series 1-1. Game 3 saw the team opt for a more team fight oriented lineup, but that strategy quickly proved ineffective against FlyToMoon’s aggressive play style. Exotic_Deer’s Lifestealer (5-3-10) and Nisha’s Death Prophet (6-6-13) allowed Team Kinguin to extend the match, but the Polish squad never managed to claim control of the game as FlyToMoon eventually broke through its defense to win the match and the series. The 1-2 loss brought Team Kinguin’s run at the Minor to an end with a finish in the shared 7th-8th place position.

Team Kinguin came into the Minor looking for an opportunity to show that it was capable of replicating the Pro Circuit success that it found earlier in the season. The team was far removed from any significant chances at earning a Top 8 spot in the Pro Circuit standings, but a solid showing in Kiev had the potential to help the team build up momentum heading into the Regional Qualifiers for TI8. Heading into the event itself, expectations were not particularly high for the Polish squad, as the team was projected to finish in the 7th-8th place position. Despite a solid effort from the team, the team wasn’t able to beat that predicted outcome when all was said and done in Kiev. At first glance, the team’s performance at the Minor does not look overly impressive as the squad lost both of its Group Stage series and finished at the bottom of the standings. However, the team was able to force both OpTic Gaming and FlyToMoon into three game series and showed flashes of the teamwork and talent that earned it its lone Top 4 finish back in December. That’s not much of a silver lining though, and outside of those few positive stretches the team looked relatively weak and inconsistent. The team’s performance in Kiev does not reflect well on the team’s chances to finish the season on a high note. The good news for the Polish squad is that it is likely still in line for an invite to the TI8 Europe Qualifier, though Team Kinguin could still use another solid showing on the Pro Circuit over the final few months to help solidify that status. The team will have at least one last chance to earn a spot at the Pro Circuit event, as Team Kinguin is set to participate in the upcoming Europe Qualifier for the GESC: Thailand Minor. While Team Kinguin’s run in Kiev was not a successful one, the Polish squad’s hopes of a trip to Vancouver for TI8 are still alive as the season comes closer to its conclusion.

 

FlyToMoon FlyToMoon

Place: 5th-6th

Winnings: $15,000

CIS squad FlyToMoon entered its Pro Circuit debut just a little over two months after the team’s formation around the roster lock deadline in February. While the team had not been in existence for very long, the CIS squad had already been hard at work making a name for itself within its home region. Considering the lack of consistent success from any team not named Virtus.pro in the CIS region, that feat wasn’t particularly difficult, but FlyToMoon was hoping to differentiate itself from its regional rivals with a successful debut on the Pro Circuit stage. Considering the experience of the team’s roster and the smaller and considerably weaker field of teams present in Kiev for this Minor, FlyToMoon was presented with an incredible opportunity to claim a place near the top of the CIS hierarchy with a solid showing at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5.

The CIS squad found itself sorted into Group A at the Minor, where it would begin its run with a match up against Chinese squad VGJ.Thunder in the Opening Matches of the Group Stage. FlyToMoon opted to pick up a core duo of Gyrocopter and Lina in Game 1 of the series, and early on the CIS squad was able to secure itself a lead over VGJ.Thunder. The Chinese squad was able to put together a surge in the late-games stage as the team secured itself an important team fight win to briefly seize a net worth advantage. However, Silent’s Gyrocopter (10-2-13) and Iceberg’s Lina (11-4-12) helped FlyToMoon reestablish control of the match and close out a win to open the series. Game 2 of the series saw FlyToMoon look to play aggressively with a highly mobile core trio of Lycan, Tiny, and Nature’s Prophet. Unfortunately, VGJ.Thunder was ready for that aggression with a strong team fight lineup that stymied any early attempts from the CIS squad to establish its desired pace. Out killed by a score of 8-30 and trailing by over 17k net worth, FlyToMoon conceded defeat in just under 34 minutes as VGJ.Thunder emphatically tied up the series with a strong showing to force a third match. Game 3 did not provide a solution to FlyToMoon’s issues from the previous game, as the CIS squad again struggled signficiantly against VGJ.Thunder. The team attempted to run a core trio of Wraith King, Zeus, and Abaddon, but that lineup quickly proved ineffective against VGJ.Thunder’s draft. The Chinese squad forced fights as early and as often as possible, and FlyToMoon’s lineup was ill prepared to take those fights as the team fell behind in terms of net worth and never managed to get itself back into a competitive position. Out killed by a score of 12-34, FlyToMoon fought on to the bitter end, but eventually fell to lose the series 1-2 and drop into the Elimination Match.

That Elimination Match pit FlyToMoon against Polish squad Team Kinguin in a Bo3 series to determine which squad would finish last in Group B and which would get the chance to play for a Playoff Spot in the next round. The two teams traded blows back and forth over the first half of the match, with neither squad managing to build up a significant net worth lead as the two teams remained neck and neck heading into the late-game stage. From that point forward though, the match went decisively in FlyToMoon’s favor as the CIS squad dominated the final half of play. Behind incredible performances from Silent on Faceless Void (17-0-12) and Iceberg on Outworld Devourer (11-4-10), FlyToMoon dominated late-game team fights to seize control of the match and claim a 1-0 lead in the series. Game 2 of the series proved to be an interesting match for FlyToMoon, as the team picked up cores of Lifestealer, Shadow Fiend, and Tiny as it attempted to pull of a 2-0 sweep of Team Kinguin. The two teams remained close over the early stages of the match, with neither side claiming a definitive advantage. Team Kinguin’s team fight power allowed it to build up a significant net worth lead heading into the mid and late-game stages, but FlyToMoon wouldn’t go down without a fight. Behind huge fight around the Roshan pit, FlyToMoon wiped out Team Kinguin’s net worth lead and claimed the momentum for itself. However, the CIS squad would make a bit of a mistake itself, as Team Kinguin showed an incredibly level of composure and patience as it waited for its chance to strike back with a team fight win of its own. With that win, Team Kinguin rushed down the middle lane and won the match to tie up the series 1-1. With the series on the line, FlyToMoon managed to recapture its considerable momentum from its win in Game 1. The CIS squad picked up a core duo of Terrorblade and Shadow Fiend in its attempt to close out the series, and that duo quickly proved effective against the lineup of Team Kinguin. FlyToMoon repeatedly picked off Team Kinguin’s supports, and managed to put enough pressure on its core heroes to allow Silent’s Terrorblade (13-0-11, 35.1k net worth) and Iceberg’s Shadow Fiend (14-3-17, 32.9k net worth) to built themselves up to a point where Team Kinguin could not hope to stop them. Behind those impressive performances, FlyToMoon pulled ahead by over 36k net worth and pushed through Team Kinguin’s final defenses to secure itself a 2-1 victory in the series.

That victory over Team Kinguin earned FlyToMoon one last chance to secure itself a spot in the Playoff Stage and a Top 4 finish at the Minor. Standing in the team’s path though was a familiar foe, as the CIS squad once again faced Chinese team VGJ.Thunder in the Decider Match of Group A. FlyToMoon was the team to seize momentum in Game 1 of the series, as the CIS squad built up a significant net worth lead and held it for most of the match .Behind huge performances from Silent’s Tiny (12-5-13) and Iceberg’s Shadow Fiend (16-6-13), FlyToMoon was in a position to close out the game and seize a lead in the series. However, VGJ.Thunder wasn’t going to to give up so easily, and the Chinese squad won multiple team fights that left FlyToMoon without buybacks. VGJ.Thunder seized its narrow window of opportunity and pushed straight down the middle lane to steal a win away from FlyToMoon and claim the opening match of the series. After that demoralizing comeback loss for FlyToMoon, the question was how the team would perform in Game 2 of the series. Unfortunately for the CIS squad, the answer to that question was “not particularly well”. The team’s support duo and its offlane Doom pick suffered early and failed to create much space for its core heroes in the match as VGJ.Thunder established an early net worth lead. Despite a solid effort from Iceberg’s Outworld Devourer (12-6-3), FlyToMoon simply didn’t have the strength to turn things around against VGJ.Thunder’s lineup as the CIS squad lost Game 2 and fell 0-2 in the series overall. That loss in the Decider Match of Group A left FlyToMoon just short of a Top 4 result in its Pro Circuit debut as the team ended its run in Kiev with a 5th-6th place finish.

FlyToMoon entered the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor in a rather unique position at this point in the season. Few teams are in a position to make its Pro Circuit debut so late in the Pro Circuit schedule, but FlyToMoon’s recent formation left the door open for the squad to make a push if it could secure a successful run in Kiev. Coming into the Minor, FlyToMoon was expected to serve as a moderate threat for a Top 4 finish, but was also projected to fall just short of that mark with a result in the 5th-6th place range. The CIS squad put together an impressive performance in Kiev, but it wasn’t enough to push past that predicted outcome as the team finished in the 5th-6th place position when all was said and done at the Minor. Despite the team falling short of a Top 4 position, FlyToMoon had an impressive showing at the Minor as it ended its time in Kiev with a 3-5 Group Stage record. Four of the team’s losses came against VGJ.Thunder, but considering the Chinese squad entered the event as the highest ranked team in the field of participants it wasn’t all that surprising that the CIS squad was unable to overcome that opponent. While the team’s losses to VGJ.Thunder derailed its attempts at earning a Top 4 spot in its Pro Circuit debut, the three wins that FlyToMoon accrued in the Group Stage (1 against VGJ.Thunder, 2 against Team Kinguin) showed off the aggressive play and adaptability that the team had been displaying in its regional performances. With the hierarchy in the CIS region still largely undecided beyond Virtus.pro, FlyToMoon’s performance in Kiev has the team sitting in a decent position to claim a role as one of the region’s leading teams over the final months of the season. It seems strange to be saying that of a team that only formed two months ago, but that does speak to the somewhat chaotic nature of the CIS region right now. That being said, FlyToMoon is still going to need to finish the season with one or more strong performances to secure that position among the region’s leading teams. The CIS squad will have that opportunity later this month when FlyToMoon will join 15 other Pro Circuit squads in Moscow for the EPICENTER XL Major. Should the team manage a solid showing at the Major and finish in or around the top half of the standings, then FlyToMoon seems all but locked in for an invite to the TI8 CIS Qualifier this summer.

 

OpTic Gaming OpTic_Gaming

Place: 1st

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

OpTic Gaming entered the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor as one of the leading squads in the North American region. As one of the last teams in the region still eligible for an invite directly to the TI8 Regional Qualifier, the squad was fairly secure in terms of its position heading into the final months of the season. However, the team came to Kiev looking for an opportunity to secure its first Top 4 finish on the Pro Circuit with a solid showing on the international level. Considering the eight team field at the Minor and the fact that many of the participants were also lacking in terms of Pro Circuit success, the North American squad had perhaps its best shot at claiming a Top 4 finish this season in Kiev.

OpTic Gaming found itself placed in Group A for the Group Stage of the event, and the North American squad faced Team Kinguin in its first series of the Minor. Game 1 saw OpTic Gaming pick up a core trio of Terrorblade, Razor, and Underlord to present a front with both tankiness and significant damage. That trio proved effective from the very beginning of the match, as OpTic Gaming applied early pressure to its opponent’s lineup and built up a sizable net worth advantage. With its core heroes combining for a stat line of 25-4-36, the North American squad pushed its advantage over the 20k threshold at the 32 minute mark to force Team Kinguin to concede defeat in a massively one sided opening match. Game 2 saw OpTic Gaming again try to combine tanky heroes with early fighting power with a core trio of Troll Warlord, Viper, and Dragon Knight. It appeared that the North American squad was on its way to another one sided victory, as its lineup out scaled Team Kinguin’s heroes throughout the mid and late-games stages and survived a duo of brief surges from the Polish squad. Up by over 10k net worth at the 45 minute mark, OpTic Gaming was looking for its opportunity to finish the match. However, Team Kinguin managed to turn around a crucial series of team fights in the late-game to catch OpTic Gaming without sufficient buybacks. Despite a strong showing from Pajkatt’s Troll Warlord (10-4-13), OpTic Gaming didn’t have the numbers to hold off Team Kinguin’s final push as the Polish squad completed the comeback win to tie up the series. With the series on the line, OpTic Gaming came into Game 3 with an intention to play a fast and aggressive style against Team Kinguin. That strategy paid off almost immediately, as the North American squad’s aggression put Team Kinguin on the back foot early. The space and kills afforded to OpTic Gaming’s core heroes allowed it to quickly build up a significant net worth lead that Team Kinguin was never able to chip away at. CCnC’s Lina (12-1-7) helped the team close out the win as OpTic Gaming swept aside Team Kinguin’s final defense to complete a 2-1 series win over the Polish squad.

OpTic Gaming’s initial win against Team Kinguin put it in the Winners’ Match of Group A where it faced Chinese squad VGJ.Thunder for the top overall spot in the group and a guaranteed Top 4 finish at the Minor. Game 1 saw the North American squad put together an interesting draft with a core trio of Sand King, Razor, and Broodmother. The unorthodox lineup proved successful for the team, as OpTic Gaming largely shut down VGJ.Thunder’s mid Death Prophet and exerted a high amount of pressure on the team’s supports. With 33’s Broodmother (12-3-10) helping to push the pace of the match, OpTic Gaming was able to force VGJ.Thunder into a highly unfavorable series of defensive maneuvers that wee mostly unsuccessful as the North American squad claimed a win in just under 22 minutes of play. With the team one win away from a spot in the Playoff Stage, OpTiC Gaming picked up a team fight oriented lineup for Game 2, with a core trio of Luna, Puck, and Beastmaster being supplemented by supports of Rubick and Ancient Apparition. The lineup ran into some difficulties in the first half of the game, as VGJ.Thunder had a team fight lineup of its own that had the upper hand in early engagements. However, as the game progressed the balance of power shifted definitively into OpTic Gaming’s favor as the North American squad executed ganks and team fights with an impressive level of success in the mid-games stage. OpTic Gaming out killed its opponent by a score of 11-2 over the final 10 minutes of the match to secure a 2-0 win over the Chinese squad and punch its ticket to the Playoff Stage.

OpTic Gaming faced off against Southeast Asian squad Fnatic in its Semifinal series in the Playoff Stage of the Minor. Game 1 saw the North American squad pick up a core trio of Morphling, Dragon Knight, and Puck against the SEA squad, but the team’s lineup faced significant struggles early in the match. Fnatic played aggressively from the start of the match, and OpTic Gaming found itself out killed by a score of 5-16 over the first 25 minutes of the match. Things didn’t get much better from there, as Fnatic continued to build up its net worth lead as OpTic Gaming was slowly forced further and further back towards its own base. However, the OpTic Gaming lineup had a significant amount of team fight power and potential for high ground defenses that had Fnatic hesitant to commit to a push into its opponent’s base. That hesitation bought OpTic Gaming much needed time, and Pajkatt’s Morphling (10-5-5, 30.4k net worth) grew stronger and stronger as the game continued own. Despite an impressive effort from Pajkatt, the North American squad eventually found itself unable to continue holding back Fnatic’s lineup as the Southeast Asian squad finally secured its victory and a 1-0 series lead after nearly 70 minutes of game time. After the endurance test that was Game 1, OpTic Gaming looked to speed things up a bit in Game 2 as it picked up a core trio of Phantom Lancer, Death Prophet, and Razor. That combination proved effective from the start of the match, as OpTic Gaming heavily pressured the lineup of Fnatic and secured itself a sizable net worth lead. Behind a huge performance from Pajkatt on Phantom Lancer (11-0-4), OpTic Gaming was able to shut down Fnatic’s core heroes and push the SEA squad further and further back into its own base. With limited farming opportunities and a lack of sufficient team fight power, Fnatic was forced to concede defeat as OpTic Gaming evened up the series 1-1. OpTic Gaming opted to employ the same strategy again in Game 3 of the series, with the team pickin up cores of Gyrocopter, Lina, and Beastmaster in its effort to close out the series. Once again, the North American squad managed to establish its desired pace early, as Fnatic’s lineup couldn’t build up any momentum. OpTic Gaming out killed its opponent by a score of 7-1 over the final 10 minutes of the game to secure itself a 2-1 victory that earned it a place in the Finals of the Minor.

The North American squad faced a familiar foe in the Finals, as OpTic Gaming played VGJ.Thunder in a Bo5 series to determine which team would walk away from Kiev with the title of Minor Champion. Game 1 saw OpTic Gaming pick up a core trio of Venomancer, Shadow Fiend, and Underlord to present a dangerous level of team fight damage. After a small setback to open the match, the North American squad appeared to establish control of the match as the team built up a net worth lead in the mid and late-game stages. Despite the team’s core trio combining for a stat line of 24-16-47, OpTic Gaming couldn’t deliver a knock out punch to VGJ.Thunder. Unfortunately, that opened the door for the Chinese squad to mount a comeback effort led by its Terrorblade pick that massively shifted the momentum of the match into VGJ.Thunder’s hands. OpTic Gaming’s final attempt to reclaim control resulted in failure as VGJ.Thunder closed out a win to open the series. Game 2 saw the roles almost perfectly reversed for the two squads, as OpTic Gaming was the team to hold a small lead early before VGJ.Thunder took control in the mid and late-game stages. However, much like its opponent had done in the previous match, OpTic Gaming pulled off a late-game comeback of its own led by a fantastic performance from 33 on Visage (13-4-6). That late-game surge allowed OpTic Gaming to march into VGJ.Thunder’s base and secure a win to even up the series at 1-1. Game 3 saw the North American squad look for early damage as it picked up cores of Troll Warlord, Dragon Knight, and Broodmother. The aggressive draft and play style paid off significantly for OpTic Gaming, as VGJ.Thunder’s lineup was forced into a more defensive strategy from the very beginning of the match. OpTic Gaming managed to control the map and establish its dominance in team fights, giving the squad a net worth advantage and the ability to out scale its opponent heading into the mid-game stage. Behind an impressive display from Pajkatt on Troll Warlod (10-2-5), OpTic Gaming broke through the defenses of VGJ.Thunder to claim a win and a 2-1 series lead in 28 minutes of game time. In Game 4, OpTic Gamign again looked for a strong fighting lineup, putting together cores of Phantom Lancer, Razor, and Sand King with a support duo of Jakiro and Tusk. Early in the match, that lineup encountered some difficulties, as the powerful pushing lineup of VGJ.Thunder afforded the Chinese team an advantage in terms of map control and net worth. However, the North American squad weathered that storm of early pushes from VGJ.Thunder and managed to survive to the mid-game stage where its team fight power began to show itself. The team dominated the fights from that point forward, and out killed VGJ.Thunder by a score of 16-6 over the final 10 minutes of play to secure the win and claim the team’s first Minor Championships with a 3-1 series victory.

OpTic Gaming entered the Minor on the hunt for its first Pro Circuit success of the season. The North American squad had the talent and experience to compete on the international level, and the team’s recent showing on the Pro Circuit stage had shown the level of play that many had been expecting of the team. Heading into the Minor in Kiev, the team was expected to finally reach that accomplishment, with the North American squad projected to finish in the Top 4 range. OpTic Gaming managed to meet those expectations, putting together one of its more impressive performances of the season to claim a 1st place finish in Kiev. The team displayed a level of confidence that we’ve been seeing more and more of from the North American squad of late, and also showed a remarkable amount of flexibility in terms of its drafting and hero choices both in the Group Stage and in its Playoff series. The team put together a 9-3 overall record at the Minor that saw it win four straight series against teams currently ranked in the Pro Circuit standings, including two series wins over a Top 8 ranked squad in VGJ.Thunder. The team’s success finally has OpTic Gaming on the board in the Pro Circuit standings, but the North American squad may not have an opportunity to build on that performance before the season is over. As of right now, the team is not scheduled to attend any more Pro Circuit events, and there are only two remaining events with regional qualifiers that the team can participate in (ESL One Birmingham & China Dota 2 Super Major). Realistically, it seems unlikely that OpTic Gaming doesn’t get an invite to one or both of those regional qualifiers, but before the event organizers announce the list of participating teams we can’t know for sure. Uncertainty is almost never a friend of teams on the Pro Circuit, but even if the team doesn’t get the chance to play again on the Pro Circuit stage, OpTic Gaming’s performance in Kiev has secured it at least an invite to the TI8 North America Qualifier this summer.

 

SG e-sports SG_e-sportslogo

Place: 7th-8th

Winnings: $7,500

SG e-sports entered the Minor as one of the best squads in the South American region, but the Brazilian team had faced a number of struggles on the Pro Circuit to this point. In addition to the team’s inability to put together successful runs at Pro Circuit events, the team came into Kiev with another issue in regards to its roster. The team’s use of its coach as a stand-in for the event added another difficulty for the South American squad to overcome. While the team’s status as one of the few South American teams still eligible for invites to the TI8 Regional Qualifiers had it sitting in a strong position, SG e-sports was still looking for a solid showing in Kiev in order to build some momentum over the final months of the season.

The Brazilian squad began its run in the Group Stage of the Minor with a Bo3 series against CIS squad Vega Squadron in the Opening Matches of Group B. The team picked up a core duo of Monkey King and Lina in Game 1 of the series, but early on the Brazilian squad was facing some significant difficulties. Vega Squadron’s early aggression had SG e-sports on the back foot, as the CIS squad held the net worth lead for the first 35 minutes of the match. However, the South American squad was able to turn the tide with a key team fight victory that allowed the team to seize control of the match in the late-game. Behind strong performances from 4dr on Lina (10-5-11, 31.4k net worth) and Costabile’s Monkey King (4-3-20, 28.7k net worth), SG e-sports dominated the final stages of the game to secure an opening victory in the series. Game 2 again saw SG e-sports trailing for most of the early and mid-game stages, as the team’s lineup was heavily harassed by Vega Squadron. This time though, the Brazilian squad couldn’t turn things around with a team fight win, as the team was out killed by a score of 5-19 to fall into a 1-1 series tie. With its back against the wall in Game 3, SG e-sports opted for a tanky draft that centered around a core trio of Dragon Knight, Timbersaw, and Underlord. The South American squad found itself lagging behind from the very start of the match, as that core trio had issues keeping pace with Vega Squadron’s heroes. With 4dr’s Timbersaw (10-3-9) and Costabile’s Dragon Knight (7-6-14) leading the way, SG e-sports was able to make a small surge that gained it a brief net worth advantage in the late-game stage. However, that surge was quickly put down by Vega Squadron as the CIS squad reestablished its control of the match and closed out the series.

The team’s loss to Vega Squadron dropped SG e-sports into the Elimination Match of Group B, where the team faced another CIS squad in the form of Na’Vi. Coming off of its final loss to Vega Squadron in its previous series, the Brazilian squad was looking for a bounce back performance in Game 1. Unfortunately, SG e-sports would find no such success as Na’Vi dominated the opening match of the series. The South American team was held to just two kills in total as Na’Vi steamrolled it in just over 23 minutes of play. Game 2 gave SG e-sports a potential opportunity to turn things around and recapture momentum in the series if it could recover from its tough Game 1 loss. That scenario didn’t come to pass though, as Na’Vi once again exerted an incredible level of control over nearly every facet of the match in Game 2. Out killed by a score of 7-28 and facing a deficit of over 18k net worth in under 22 minutes, SG e-sports was out played for the second match in a row as the team lost both the game and the series. For SG e-sports, the 0-2 loss against Na’Vi brought the team’s time at the Minor to an end as the Brazilian team ended its run in Kiev in the 7th-8th place position.

SG e-sports came into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking for an opportunity to finally get itself on the board in the Pro Circuit standings. Failing that, the team was still in a position where a solid showing in Kiev could provide it with a much needed level of momentum heading into the TI8 Regional Qualifier. Coming into the Minor, the chances of SG e-sports finding that first Pro Circuit success were relatively small. The team was projected to finish in the combined last place position of 7th-8th, a prediction that the team was unable to out perform with its run in Kiev. The team’s performance at the Minor left a lot to be desired, as SG e-sports struggled to find success with a 1-4 record in the Group Stage of the event. The team’s opening series against Vega Squadron provided the sole bright spot for SG e-sports, as the Brazilian squad claimed its first and only win of the Minor. The final two matches of that series saw the team look a bit out of sorts and overwhelmed as it lost its momentum against Vega Squadron and continued to struggle in its next match up against Na’Vi. The team’s dismantling at the hands of two CIS squads doesn’t paint the most encouraging of pictures of SG e-sports moving forward through the final months of the Pro Circuit schedule. The team’s problems may begin hitting a little closer to home as well for SG e-sports, as the South American region is preparing itself for the chaos of the Open and Regional Qualifiers for TI8. While SG e-sports is still eligible for and will likely receive a direct invite to the TI8 South America Qualifier, the teams that it may encounter are beginning to look more formidable. Within that climate, the Brazilian squad still stands to benefit significantly from a strong showing on the Pro Circuit stage. SG e-sports will have at least one more chance to put together an impressive showing at a Pro Circuit event, as the team will participate in the season’s final Minor at GESC: Thailand. The team’s poor showing in Kiev comes as a small setback for the Brazilian squad, but SG e-sports still has a chance to finish its season on the Pro Circuit with a relative degree of strength and head into the TI8 Regional Qualifiers with momentum and confidence.

 

Vega Squadron 579px-Vega_Squadron_2016

Place: 3rd-4th

Winnings: $30,000 (Total) & 30 Qualifying Points (Per Player)

Vega Squadron was the beneficiary of some good fortune heading into this event, as the team was selected to replace LGD Gaming after the Chinese squad withdrew from the event. The opportunity came at a great time for the CIS squad, as Vega Squadron entered the Minor in the midst of a string of successes in Pro Circuit qualifiers. With the situation in the CIS region a bit muddled at this point in the season, Vega Squadron had an chance to spark a run on the Pro Circuit that had the potential to set the team up as a leading squad in the regional hierarchy. With the smaller field of teams of a Minor and many of its fellow competitors lacking success on the Pro Circuit stage, Vega Squadron had a solid chance of claiming its first Top 4 finish of the season if it could put together a stable and consistent performance in Kiev.

The CIS squad was placed into Group B at the Minor, where it faced South American team SG e-sports in the Opening Matches of the Group Stage. Game 1 saw Vega Squadron come out aggressively early, as the team built up a net worth lead and made space for its core duo of Lone Druid and Leshrac. The CIS squad held that lead throughout most of the match, but SG e-sports wasn’t willing to concede defeat just yet. Despite a solid showing from UnderShock on Leshrac (9-6-7), Vega Squadron could not hold back the late-game power of its opponent’s lineup as SG e-sports seized control of the match and claimed a win in the opening match of the series. Vega Squadron responded to that initial loss with another aggressive strategy in Game 2 of the series. Once again the CIS squad built up a lead in the early and mid-game stages of the match, but this time was ready for the comeback attempt from SG e-sports. Vega Squadron manged to maintain control of the match through the late-game and steadily wear down the base defense of SG e-sports to claim a win and tie up the series 1-1. Once it had established its momentum in Game 2, there was little that could be down to slow down Vega Squadron heading into Game 3 of the series. The team put its aggressive strategy into play one more time, picking up cores of Troll Warlord and Tiny alongside a trio of roaming heroes in Rubick, Night Stalker, and Chen. That lineup was successful in establishing the pace that Vega Squadron wanted, as the cores of SG e-sports were significantly harassed and pressured throughout the match. Vega Squadron built up its net worth lead and held it for all but a few minutes in the match as the CIS squad dominated the pace of the game. Despite valiant efforts to defend its base, SG e-sports was eventually defeated as Vega Squadron claimed a 2-1 series win to move just one series away from a Top 4 finish.

The team’s victory over SG e-sports moved Vega Squadron into the Winners’ Match where it faced Southeast Asian squad Fnatic in a Bo3 series to determine which squad would finish at the top of the Group B standings. Vega Squadron went with an interesting draft in Game 1 of the series, picking up a core Terrorblade alongside a mid Jakiro and an offlane Nature’s Prophet. The unorthodox lineup proved successful early on, as Vega Squadron built up a modest lead heading into the mid-game stage. Fnatic seized the net worth lead and the momentum of the match in the mid and late-game stages though, as its lineup began to out scale the cores of Vega Squadron. However, the CIS squad came back with an impressive team fight win in the late-game that allowed the team to retake the lead and push into Fnatic’s base to claim a win in Game 1. Game 2 saw Vega Squadron rely on the core Jakiro a second time, with Lifestealer and Underlord being thrown into the mix as well. That trio faced some difficulties early on in the game, as Fnatic’s lineup applied a heavy amount of pressure and racked up 10 kills in the first 12 minutes of play. The SEA squad held that lead over the first 34 minutes of the game, but Vega Squadron’s cores continued to farm and began to close that gap in the late-game stage. Behind massive showing from Palantimos’s Lifestealer (8-4-14, 27.4k net worth) and UnderShock’s Jakiro (5-3-15, 36.1k net worth), Vega Squadron claimed the net worth lead and held it with a series of team fight wins that sapped away Fnatic’s strength. Even with those team fight losses, Fnatic managed to draw out the match significantly, as the game timer ran past the 63 minute mark before Vega Squadron was finally able to break through the defenses of Fnatic to close out a hard fought 2-0 series victory.

The team’s run through the Group Stage had already secured it a Top 4 finish in Kiev, but Vega Squadron had the chance to claim a spot in the Finals of the Minor is it could get past Chinese squad VGJ.Thunder in the Semifinals of the Playoff Stage. The CIS squad looked for mobility and damage in its Game 1 draft, picking up a core trio of Gyrocopter, Puck, and Nature’s Prophet alongside supports of Dark Willow and Treant Protector. The lineup and strategy proved largely ineffective against VGJ.Thunder, as the Chinese squad exploited Vega Squadron’s attempts at aggression and built up a sizable net worth lead early. The failed aggression left the team’s cores with few opportunities to scale at the right pace, and VGJ.Thunder took advantage of the weakness of Vega Squadron’s lineup to secure a quick win in just under 27 minutes of game time. Game 2 saw Vega Squadron opt for a more team fight oriented lineup with cores of Terrorblade, Viper, and Underlord supported by a duo of Nyx Assassin and Ancient Apparition. Unfortunately for the CIS squad, VGJ.Thunder decided to push for an aggressive style of its own in the match, as the Chinese squad forced early engagements and secured repeated pick offs that left Vega Squadron on the defensive. VGJ.Thunder quickly established control of the map and the pace of the match, as it out killed Vega Squadron by a score of 38-18 in the game. Despite a solid effort from Palantimos on Terrorblade (7-4-3), Vega Squadron couldn’t hold back VGJ.Thunder’s lineup as the CIS squad lost Game 2 and fell 0-2 in the series to finish in the shared 3rd-4th place position at the Minor.

Vega Squadron entered the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor looking to earn its first Top 4 finish of the season. With the regional hierarchy largely undecided at this point in the season, a strong showing from the CIS squad had the potential to transform Vega Squadron from a challenger to a leader within its home region. Coming into the event, the CIS squad was expected to earn that first Pro Circuit success with a projected finish in the Top 4. The team managed to live up to those expectations and seize its opportunity with a finish in the 3rd-4th place position when the matches were done in Kiev, and Vega Squadron looked relatively strong in those matches. The CIS squad managed to claim the top spot in Group B at the Minor with a 4-1 Group Stage record. While the team’s 2-1 win over SG e-sports was not a particularly impressive feat, its 2-0 sweep over Fnatic in the Winner’s Match is a significant accomplishment for the CIS squad. Like many of its fellow CIS squads, Vega Squadron often relies on early aggression to win matches. However, its victories over Fnatic showed an adaptability, composure, and endurance in longer matches that the team needs if it wants to be a contender on the international level. While the team couldn’t carry that over into its series against VGJ.Thunder in the Playoff Stage, the flashes that we saw at this event shows a facet of Vega Squadron’s play style that will serve it well over the final months of the season. The team’s Top 4 finish in Kiev got the team on the board in the Pro Circuit standings, but Vega Squadron will have a few more opportunities to build on that initial success and set itself up as a leading team in the CIS region and a potential threat on the international level. The team is set to make two appearances on the Pro Circuit stage next month, as Vega Squadron will participate in both the GESC: Thailand Minor and the MDL Changsha Major. If the team can replicate its success at this Minor in those future Pro Circuit events, then Vega Squadron has a chance to end the season as one of the CIS region’s stronger squads heading into the TI8 Regional Qualifiers.

 

Fnatic Fnaticlogo

Place: 3rd-4th

Winnings: $30,000 (Total) & 30 Qualifying Points (Per Player)

Southeast Asian squad Fnatic came into the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 Minor as a team on the rise within its home region. With regional rivals like Mineski and TNC Pro Team also claiming recent successes on the Pro Circuit stage, Fnatic was looking for another solid showing on the international level to keep pace with those squads and attempt to improve its position in the Pro Circuit standings. Though the was coming off of a recent success at its last Pro Circuit appearance, Fnatic had an added difficulty to deal with in Kiev as the team was playing with its coach as a stand-in for the duration of the Minor. Even with that extra issue to deal with, the Southeast Asian squad had a solid chance to put together another strong showing on the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev.

Fnatic found itself playing in Group B at the Minor, and began its run through the Group Stage with a Bo3 series against CIS squad Na’Vi. Fnatic went with a core trio of Terrorblade, Kunkka, and Omniknight in Game 1 of the series. That lineup proved somewhat effective over the early stages of the game, as Fnatic held a smal net worth advantage over the first 25 minutes of play. However the match from that point on was largely controlled by Na’Vi. With solid performances from EternaLEnVy’s Terrorblade (7-5-25, 42.2k net worth) and DJ’s Dark Willow (16-9-10, 17,3k net worth) Fnatic was able to extend the match past the 78 minute mark, but the SEA squad didn’t quite have enough to win that opening match. After losing a match that went over an hour to open the series, Fnatic was looking for a more aggressive strategy in Game 2, picking up another Terrorblade but adding both a Storm Spirit and a Doom to its lineup. Those picks worked out perfectly, as Fnatic dominated the game with impressive showings from both Abed on Storm Spirit (16-2-11) and UNiVeRsE on Doom (10-0-16) that secured the team a win to tie up the series. Game 3 did not look good for Fnatic, as the Southeast Asian team was trailing in terms of net worth for nearly the entirety of the match. However, the team’s lineup enjoyed a surge in the late-game stage, with EternaLEnVy’s Medusa (15-7-12, 33.5k net worth) leading the team to a series of team fight wins that wiped out Na’Vi and allowed Fnatic to snatch a comeback win to claim the series 2-1.

That initial victory put Fnatic in the Winners’ Match of Group B, where the Southeast Asian squad faced another CIS team in the form of Vega Squadron. Game 1 of the series saw the SEA squad trail in the early stages of the game, though Abed’s Broodmother (11-4-3) and EternaLEnVy’s Death Prophet (7-4-8) spearheaded a push that saw the team claim the net worth lead in the mid-game. That surge had Fnatic sitting in a decent position to win the match, but Vega Squadron struck back with a couple of solid team fights that stole away Fnatic’s momentum and allowed the CIS squad to secure a victory to open the series. Game 2 saw Fnatic look to combine team fight power and damage with a core trio of Death Prophet, Lina, and Faceless Void. The Southeast Asian team got off to a fast start with that lineup, as the team built up a sizable net worth lead over the first half of the match. The squad’s team fight power had given it an advantage in the match, but Fnatic found difficulties breaking the high ground defense of Vega Squadron, allowing the CIS squad to slowly chip away at its net worth deficit. As the game continued, Vega Squadron began to shift the balance of power in its favor as its lineup became more and more capable of controlling team fights. The results of that shift was a significant net worth advantage for the CIS squad and a role reversal for the team’s as Fantic was quickly the team on the defensive. After 63 minutes, the SEA squad found itself unable to hold back Vega Squadron’s assault as the CIS team secured another victory to hand Fnatic an 0-2 loss in the series.

Fnatic’s loss to Vega Squadron moved it into the Decider Match of Group B, where the Southeast Asian teamed faced a rematch of its previous series against Na’Vi with a spot in the Playoff Stage on the line. Fnatic was unwilling to repeat its mistake from that prior series in Game 1, as the team was set to rely on a core trio of Razor, Outworld Devourer, and Facelss Void. That trio proved successful against Na’Vi, as the three heroes combined for a stat line of 28-11-54 as Fnatic lead for nearly the entirety of the match and gave Na’Vi almost no chance to work its way back into the game to lock down a Game 1 victory. Fnatic came out strong and confident in Game 1 of the series, but those qualities disappeared for the team in Game 2 as Na’Vi struck back. The SEA squad managed to pull together just five kills in the match as Na’Vi’s aggressive strategy had it scrambling to keep its lineup safe. After falling behind by over 23k net worth at the 24 minute mark, Fnatic conceded defeat as the series was tied up 1-1 behind Na’Vi’s dominant showing in Game 2. With a Playoff Spot on the line, Fnatic changed things up in Game 3 with cores of Lone Druid, Visage, and Beastmaster. Early on the lineup was showing signs of success, but the Southeast Asian squad fell behind in the mid-game thanks to Na’Vi’s aggression and heavy burst damage heroes. However, the power of that lineup waned a bit in the late-game stage just as Fnatic’s team fight power was on the rise. The Southeast Asian team took multiple team fights in a row, seizing control of the momentum as Na’Vi was increasingly pushed back further into its own base. With Fnatic claiming both a net worth lead of over 14k and mega creeps, Na’Vi threw in the towel to give the SEA squad a 2-1 series victory and secure the team a spot in the Playoff Stage.

The Semifinals of the Minor saw Fnatic face off against North American squad OpTic Gaming with the winner advancing to the Finals of the Minor. Game 1 drew out a core trio of Terrorblade, Templar Assassin, and Pangolier from Fnatic as it looked to start the series strong. That lineup was successful in starting strong, as the Southeast Asian team built up an early lead and held it for the entirety of the match. The team’s core trio combined for a stat line of 25-12-41, though the strong high ground defense of OpTic Gaming stalled Fnatic’s final push. After building up its strength in the late-game stage, Fnatic eventually had the power it needed to break through OpTic Gaming’s defense and secure itself a Game 1 victory after nearly 70 minutes of play. Unfortunately for Fnatic, the Southeast Asian squad was not able to transfer any of that momentum into Game 2 of the series. The damage and team fight power of OpTic Gaming’s lineup proved difficult for Fnatic to tackle as the North American squad lead the game in terms of net worth for all but a minute or two. Despite a solid effort from Abed on Shadow Fiend (5-1-6), Fnatic couldn’t put together a sustained push to reclaim momentum as OpTic Gaming tied up the series 1-1 behind an impressive performance. Game 3 proved to be a bit of a repeat of the previous match, with OpTic Gaming establishing control of the match early and never surrendering that lead. Fnatic could only put together nine kills in the game as its lineup struggled to find sufficient farm and establish any sort of advantage in team fights. The result was a 1-2 series loss that brought Fnatic’s run in Kiev to an end, though the Southeast Asian team had secured itself another Top 4 finish at the Minor.

Fnatic entered the Minor looking for the chance to maintain its momentum on the international level and shake off some lingering issues of inconsistency in the season’s final months. The team had managed to put together a few successful runs at the Pro Circuit events of late, but the team needed more if it wanted a chance to make a late season push for a Top 8 spot in the standings. Heading into this Minor, the SEA squad was expected to find at least one more success on the Pro Circuit stage, with Fnatic projected to finish within the Top 4 range in Kiev. Despite facing some issues with CIS teams in the Group Stage, the team managed to live up to that predicted outcome as it finished in the combined 3rd-4th place position and claimed its third Top 4 finish of 2018. The team’s Group Stage run saw it lose four matches to CIS squads, as Fnatic faced Na’Vi twice as well as Vega Squadron in its Group B series. While the losses to Na’Vi in its two series against the team are not particularly surprising, the 0-2 loss to Vega Squadron came as something of a shock. Fnatic may not be one of the elite Top 8 squads on the Pro Circuit, but its run to this point in the season had it significantly favored in a match up with a Vega Squadron lineup that came into the Minor still searching for its first Qualifying Points of the season. Perhaps playing with its coach as a stand-in put the team at a disadvantage, but either way the CIS squad managed to significantly out play Fnatic in that series. Even with those losses, Fnatic’s four wins allowed it to advance to the Playoff Stage, but even there things looked a bit shaky for the Southeast Asian squad. Fnatic seemed largely incapable of winning games without needed to go fairly deep into the late-game stage. Of its five wins at the Minor, the team’s shortest match took just under 35 minutes, and its average game time across all 11 of its matches was over 48 minutes. Granted, a team being able to perform in late-game scenarios is a valuable asset, but no one wants a team to necessarily be reliant upon those scenarios to win games. With the team potentially returning to its usual lineup, the Southeast Asian team will have a few opportunities over the final months of the season to earn itself position at Pro Circuit events and keep its recent string of success alive. Fnatic is set to participate in the Southeast Asia Qualifiers for both the GESC: Thailand Minor and the MDL Changsha Major in the coming days. Should the team win those qualifiers, then its odds at securing a Top 8 spot in the Pro Circuit standing are still strong. However, failure to qualify for those events will likely force the Southeast Asian squad to shift its focus towards the TI8 Regional Qualifier as the season comes to a close.

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