2 spots are on the line for the first Major of the Pro Circuit season as new faces and new names face off against last season’s regional leaders in the CIS Qualifier.
The offseason is officially coming to an end in the Dota 2 world, and fans the world over once more prepare for the high stakes action of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit. After the conclusion of the Open Qualifiers for all 6 regions, the main regional qualifiers for the Kuala Lumpur Major are set to begin tomorrow. 3 of the 6 regions will get things started on the 15th and 16th, with the CIS region being in that first group alongside China and South America. With many teams sporting new lineups and a couple of completely new organizations altogether, the time has come to provide a brief breakdown of the teams and where they stand in terms of their relative strength in this first qualifier of the 2018-2019 season.
8 teams will be fighting in this CIS Qualifier, with 4 squads having received direct invites while the other 4 came up through the 2 Open Qualifiers. On the line for these 8 teams are 2 spots at the Kuala Lumpur Major in November, and a chance to begin the season near the top of the standings with the first Qualifying Points of their respective Pro Circuit campaigns. Of course, every team that plays in this qualifier has a chance of making it to the Major, no matter how small that chance may be. This post is not going to be about counting any particular team out before play has even begun. However, I will instead be dividing the 8 teams into groups, depending on their projected strength and expectations, as well as their potential ability to claim 1 of the 2 Major spots.
These squads are the elite of the group, comprised mostly of squads that were contenders or leaders in the region last season or at TI8 and kept their rosters entirely or largely intact through the offseason shuffle. These are the teams that will likely be considered as favorite regardless of the match up that they face, and if a team in this section does not earn itself a place at the Major, then it will come as a bit more of a shock and a disappointment compared to the other squads in the field.
Rostislav “fn” Lozovoi (Stand-in)
Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev
Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan
Alexei “Solo” Berezin
VP’s pretty much a no brainer here, as the squad absolutely dominated the CIS region last season and kept its roster intact through the offseason period. For this qualifier, the team will have a slightly different look though, as Offlaner Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov is not with the team as the recently married player is on his honeymoon. In his place, the team has shifted RAMZES666 into the Offlane role, while fn will stand-in for the squad in this qualifier. Even with the temporary roster change, this VP team has to be considered the strongest in the field, having won 4 Major Championships last season and finished in the 5th-6th place position at TI8. We’ve seen this current VP roster play with a stand-in before as well, as its former coach Ivan “Artstyle” Antonov spent nearly a month as a stand-in for Solo during December of 2017. Expect VP to pick up right where it left off last season and quickly reestablish itself as the leading squad in the CIS region.
Bogdan “Iceberg” Vasilenko
Alexey “nongrata” Vasilyev
Some might be a bit surprised to see Winstrike Team listed as one of the favorites in this field considering the squad’s struggles at TI8, where it put together a 9th-12th place finish overall. True, the CIS squad did not look its best on the TI stage in Vancouver, but the entire body of work for this lineup between its time as both Winstrike Team and FlyToMoon is a fair bit more encouraging. Though the squad formed in the latter half of the season, it quickly became one of the more dominant forces within the CIS region, and found success on the international level both with its 3rd place finish at the EPICENTER XL Major and its appearance at TI8. Coming into this season, the team has kept its entire roster intact, which is a lot more than can be said for the majority of the squads in the region. Having a stable and consistent roster is not always a recipe for success, but we’ve seen more than a handful of squads make significant leaps forward in terms of their level of play and confidence by staying committed to its lineup. With most of the other teams in this qualifier having put together their final rosters within the past 2 weeks, I’d be willing to take the chance that Winstrike Team’s talent combined with its roster consistency fuels it to success in this qualifier.
The squads in this section are the ones that fall just a small step below the favorites in terms of their skill, level of success, or perceived strength of their lineup. These are the teams that could fairly easily claim 1 of the 2 spots up for grabs in this tournament, but aren’t necessarily expected to win out over the entire field. These teams will likely be right at the cusp of success in this qualifier, and are the ones that seem most probable to be the squad that ends up 1 match or 1 series short of a spot in Kuala Lumpur.
Alik “V-Tune” Vorobey
Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk
Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk
Semion “CemaTheSlayer” Krivulya
CIS veteran Lil has put together quite the squad for this new Pro Circuit season, bringing together a number of big names and experienced professionals to form one of the more formidable lineups in the region. However, the team’s impressive roster doesn’t come without a few concerns as well, and those concerns could be the deciding factor for the squad in its quest to claim 1 of the 2 spots at the Major for the CIS region. First and foremost is a small issue that will be affecting just about every squad in the field at this qualifier, that issue being a lack of extensive time as a roster and the potential for a lack of cohesion and chemistry on the team. That concern is fairly minor for Odium considering that 4 of its 5 players are veterans of the regional scene, but against squads like VP and Winstrike Team that have kept their roster consistent for months, the disparity may become more pronounced. The second concern for Odium would be its 5th player, as V-Tune will essentially be making his debut on the Pro Circuit and at the professional level as a whole. Aside from a few regional tournaments and high-level matchmaking, the team’s Carry does not have an abundance of experience in official matches. No one can be fully sure how long it will take him to adjust to the professional level, but even a period of a couple of games could be enough to keep Odium out of the Major if it isn’t careful.
Igor “iLTW” Filatov
Alexander “Nix” Levin
Stanislav “633” Glushan
Alexander “Immersion” Hlemevksoy
Mihail “Misha” Agatov
So here’s the thing, unless you had been paying particularly close attention to the CIS region last year, you more than likely aren’t overly familiar with Espada heading into this new Pro Circuit season. While the squad may not have had the same pull as organizations like Na’Vi, Vega Squadron, and Team Empire, it was able to rather quietly put together an impressive end to its Pro Circuit season. After being signed by the organization in May, Espada won the Taurora Invitaional #1, and fought its way through the Open Qualifiers to earn a place at the TI8 CIS Qualifier. The team made it all the way to the finals of that qualifier, falling 1-3 against Winstrike Team to just barely miss out on a place in Vancouver. 1 month later, the team put together another respectable performance with a 4th place finish in the BTS Summer Cup. Much has changed in the CIS region since those performances, but the Espada roster had not. The squad that came 1 series away from a TI berth and put together back to back Top 4 finishes in combined EU/CIS tournaments has remained consistent throughout the offseason period. Regression is always a possibility in the aftermath of the post-TI shuffle, but if Espada has managed to keep itself sharp and focused through the offseason, then its roster stands a solid chance of picking up where it left off last season as a solid contender in the CIS region.
The “Maybe, ifs..”
This section is where we start to get into some particularly interesting scenarios, as we take a look at some of the squads like somewhat lower expectations for this qualifier. These squads are more than capable of putting on a good show and taking 1 of the 2 spots for the CIS region at the Major, but they more than likely will need a little bit of help to get there. Whether its a favorable group, a particularly beneficial match up, or the opportunity to avoid playing one of the stronger teams, these squads are the ones that might just need a little outside help to claim a place in Kuala Lumpur.
Elements Pro Gaming
Uroš “Swiftending” Galić
Duško “BoraNija” Boranijaševic
Damir “Mitch” Škaričić
Dino “dnz” Šavuk
Nikola “LeBronDota” Popović
Elements Pro Gaming presents a somewhat interesting case when looking at the field for this CIS Qualifier, mostly because the team wasn’t really considered to be a part of the CIS region last season. The team competed in the TI8 Europe Qualifier with this exact roster last season, but have apparently reclassified as a CIS team for its 2018-2019 campaign. The good news for the team is the fact that it has maintained a stable roster through the offseason, which gives Elements Pro Gaming a sense of consistency and stability that some of its fellow competitors in this qualifier may be lacking at the moment. The team’s been on an impressive streak in the last month or so as well, qualifying for and placing 2nd in the Rivalry.gg Rumble, finishing 2nd in the X-Bet.co Rampage Series #2, and winning the Sunday ES.BET Invitational #3 before fighting its way through the Open Qualifier to reach this closed qualifier stage. Its recent record of success is certainly an encouraging factor for the team heading into this first Pro Circuit qualifier, but the caliber of team that Elements Pro Gaming will be facing here is one that its previous experience in relatively minor regional tournaments may not have fully prepared it for. Elements Pro Gaming will assuredly be a tough challenge for every team in the field in this qualifier, but in order to claim 1 of the 2 spots at the Major, it may need a stroke of luck with a team like VP, Winstrike Team, or Odium being knocked out early.
Oliver “oliver” Lepko
Leon “Nine” Kirilin
Mikki Mørch “HesteJoe-Rotten” Junget
Malthe “Biver” Winther
Artsiom “fng” Barshak
Team Spirit is back for another season of competition on the Pro Circuit, but the squad does so with a significant change to its look and its roster with 3 new players. The support duo of Biver and fng remain for the squad, but the other half of the roster is made up of a trio of European transfers. While the team’s new lineup has its fair share of experience on the professional level, there are 2 concerns for it heading into this qualifier. The first one of obviously the squad’s relatively recent formation, as the team’s full roster was only announced around a week ago and the level of consistency and chemistry among the players is not entirely clear. The second concern plays upon the first to an extent, as this Team Spirit lineup has not seen an abundance of action together heading into the closed qualifier. Aside from its Open Qualifier run, the team’s only experience together has come through whatever scrimmages it has played in recent days. The team did play with both oliver and HesteJoe-Rotten as stand-ins in the Rivalry.gg Rumble back in August, but did not have this current iteration of the roster in its entirety for the event. That being said, the team certainly has the talent and experience to find success and punch its ticket to Kuala Lumpur, but it will be at a small disadvantage in a group that feature VP, Na’Vi, and Espada. The team will either need a surprising Group Stage finish to put in in the Upper Bracker of the Playoffs, or a scenario in which one of the heavy hitters in the field is removed from its path.
Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
Idan MagicaL Vardanyan
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
Evgeniy “Chuvash” Makarov
Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev
It feels good to see that Na’Vi logo back on a list like this, even if it is just for the regional qualifiers and not quite at the Major itself just yet. The legendary organization has been through some tough times in recent years, but it is now looking to the future with a new squad built around Crystallize. The team went with a younger look for this season, combining up and coming talents like Crystallize, MagicaL, and Chuvash with more experienced players in Chuvash and SoNNeikO. Hopefully, the results will be a squad that is capable of living up to its sizable legacy and return to prominence within the CIS region. A return to the greatness that is once enjoyed would be the ideal scenario for Na’Vi in this qualifier, but the reality of its situation is slightly lacking that grandeur. This roster is still fairly new, and is relatively untested outside of scrimmages and its Open Qualifier run. What we’ve seen so far has been encouraging, but there is really no way of knowing if this new Na’Vi squad is ready to take that next step forward aside from simply seeing them in action in this qualifier. SoNNeikO has earned a reputation as one of the better captains and drafters in the region, but there is only so much that he will be able to do to set up his teammates for success before they will simply have to prove that they can execute on the big stage. In the face of more experienced rosters in the field for this qualifier, the pressure on the team’s younger players will be significant, and it would be perfectly reasonable to expect those young talents to need a little extra time to adjust. Unfortunately, the strength of the team’s group (VP, Espada, Team Spirit) won’t give it much leeway to make those adjustments, and Na’Vi seems most likely to be headed for the Lower Bracket of the Playoffs. From there, the squad will need either one of the more impressive and inspired series of performances that we’ve seen in this fledgling season, or for one of the powerhouse squads in the field to be knocked out of Na’Vi’s way entirely.
The Long Shots
In this final section, we find the squads that have very little in terms of expectations for this qualifier. These are the underdogs, the Cinderella stories, and the teams that would frankly send shock waves through the regional scene should they manage to claim a spot at the Major. These are the squads that many have probably already counted out of the fight for a place in Kuala Lumpur, but we’ve seen underdog stories and unbelievable runs before, and these teams will be hoping to add their names to the list of squads that have shocked the Dota 2 world.
Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin
Andrey “Afoninje” Afonin
Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin
Rinat “KingR” Abdullin
Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod
Among the 8 teams that will be participating in this qualifier, ferzee is the only one that is not representing an organization. The team epitomizes the spirit of the Open Qualifiers, as its lineup is made up of regional free agents hoping for a chance to prove that they are capable of playing at the highest level and potentially attracting attention from an organization or team. While the squad has managed to earn itself a place in the closed qualifier, its prospects for claiming a spot in Kuala Lumpur are about as low as possible. Like many of the teams in the field, ferzee’s roster has spent relatively little time together as a unit, and has limited experience playing together. Within the environment of the Open Qualifiers, many squads are capable of getting by relying on the individual skill of its players, but that style likely won’t carry over into the main regional qualifiers. At this stage, the difference in terms of experience and team chemistry takes on an added level of importance, and it doesn’t seem like ferzee has had the time to establish that level of cohesion in its roster. In order for this team to make it past the likes of VP, Winstrike Team, Odium, and Espada, it is likely going to need a series of near flawless performances. The possibility for success is always there for any team, ferzee included, but I wouldn’t be putting any money on the squad in this qualifier, unless you are ready to be parted with it.