A duo of familiar squads and a slew of new faces and rosters will look to claim the 3 available Major spots as the fight for North America is set to begin
Following the conclusion of The Kuala Lumpur Major Qualifiers for China, CIS, and South America, our second group of regions are set to begin their own qualifiers as the field of teams for the season’s first Major is starting to take shape. The final region to get things started in that second group of qualifiers will be North America, where all but 1 of the teams in the field have either changed their roster or created an entirely new team this season. With every team in the field either sporting new lineups or being a new team or organization 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.
Just as in the previous group of regional qualifiers, the North America Qualifier will feature 8 teams, with 4 squads having received direct invites while the other 4 came up through the 2 Open Qualifiers. Of those 8 teams, 3 of them will be earning a place in The Kuala Lumpur Major this November, and will be early front runners for a position as a leading team in the North American region. 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 3 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.
Artour “Arteezy” Babaev
Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan
Gustav “s4” Magnusson
Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen
Tal “Fly” Aizik
As the only team in this field to have both attended TI8 and kept its roster fully intact through the offseason, Evil Geniuses are a rather clear choice to be a favorite to claim 1 of the 3 available spots at The Kuala Lumpur Major. The team struggled to stay consistent on the Pro Circuit last season, but it’s new roster put together an unbelievably impressive performance for a 3rd place finish at TI8 that was only overshadowed by OG’s even more improbable run to claim the Aegis of Champions. With every other team having made changes to its roster or being an entirely new squad altogether, it’s easy to make the call on EG reaching the top in this qualifier, as its one of the only squads for which we have a baseline level of expectations based on previous performances. With 3 slots available in this qualifier, it would take an absolutely epic meltdown for EG to miss out on a place in Kuala Lumpur
Yawar “YawaR” Hassan
Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok
Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora
Arif “MSS” Anwar
Avery “SVG” Silverman
The former VGJ.Storm roster got even more dangerous this season with the addition of UNiVeRsR to the lineup. The change from the Team VGJ organization to Forward Gaming does pretty much nothing to change the fact that this team has emerged as one of the most dominant forces within the North American region, and that position has the squad looking good coming into this qualifier. We’ve seen what this squad is capable of on the highest level in the Dota 2 world, as it closed out the previous season with a series of impressive showings on the Pro Circuit stage, and managed to finish in the top half of the standings at TI8 as well. Aside from fellow regional favorite Evil Geniuses, there don’t appear to be any squads in the field for this qualifier that one would expect to bring down Forward Gaming’s lineup. Of course, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win, and Forward Gaming will still have to fight its way through a field of teams all hungry for the chance to knock off a regional leader. Even so, expect Forward Gaming to put together the kind of strong showings that we saw last season and at TI8, as the squad looks to start its season off right by earning itself a place in Kuala Lumpur.
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.
Clinton “Fear” Loomis (Stand-in)
Linus “Limmp” Blomdin
Jingjun “Sneyking” Wu
Zakari “Zfreek” Freedman
Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao
Before we get into compLexity Gaming’s chances at earning a place at the major, we need to go over a small change to its lineup for this qualifier, as Skemberlu is unable to play with the team. In his place, North American veteran Fear will be serving as a stand-in, as the new compLexity Gaming roster looks to start its season on a high note with a strong performance in this qualifier. The team’s roster has an abundance of experience and talent on its side, and those factors have it sitting as one of the stronger squads in the field for this qualifier. However, compLexity Gaming is not without some concerns as the qualifier gets underway, and those concerns keep the squad from taking a place alongside EG and Forward Gaming as favorites in this qualifier. First and foremost are the changes to the team’s roster, as the squad has not played any official matches with its new lineup. The good news on that front is that the temporary addition of fear doesn’t have as much of a risk attached to it as it might in other circumstances, but the problem is that we can’t fully anticipate how well this roster will be able to play together. Also of concern is the transition of EternaLEnVy from the Carry role to the Support position, a role that he has not played regularly on the professional level. Considering the fact that half of the teams in the field for this qualifier have only been recently formed themselves, these concerns are only minor at best for compLexity Gaming, and the squad still stands as one of the stronger teams in the field as it looks to claim 1 of the 3 available spots at the Major.
David “Moo” Hull
Jonathan “Bryle” De Guia
Lee “Forev” Sang-don
Milan “MiLAN” Kozomara
Park “March” Tae-won
As the team’s name might suggest, March has completed his army service and is now back in the Dota 2 scene with a new team composed primarily of former Wind and Rain members. The fact that 3 of the team’s members are already familiar with each other serves as a significant advantage for this squad compared to some of the other teams in the field that have only recently come together. As for the team’s other 2 players, Moo and March have more than enough experience playing at the professional level and shouldn’t have too many issues acclimating themselves to this new squad. The team looked solid in its Open Qualifier run, and with all of its players having at least some experience playing on the international level, Marchoutofarmy should have a much easier time playing against regional leaders like Evil Geniuses and Forward Gaming in this qualifier. The good news for Marchoutofarmy is that the team doesn’t really need to beat those aforementioned regional leaders, as the 3 slots available in this qualifier provide an extra opportunity for the squad. All it needs to do is come out on top over the other 5 teams in the field to secure itself a place in Kuala Lumpur, and the squad’s talent and experience appear to give it more than a reasonable shot at making that happen in this qualifier.
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.
Guilherme Silva “Costabile” Costábile
Eric “Ryoya” Dong
Braxton “Brax” Paulson
Jason “Newsham” Newsham
Michael “ixmike88” Ghannam
The formation of TEAM TEAM wasn’t met with the largest amount of fanfare or attention, but the squad did manage to get itself directly invited to this qualifier, and has a fair bit of experience among its players. That experience along with the proven talent of its roster has TEAM TEAM looking like a potential threat in this qualifier, but there are still a few factors that keep the squad’s expectations on the lower side among this field of teams. The most obvious one is the fact that this team hasn’t played any official matches together, as its direct invite status meant that it didn’t play in either of the Open Qualifiers in the North American region. The other significant concern has to do with the previously mentioned experience of some of the team’s players, as Newsham has essentially never played outside of regional qualifiers and tournaments, while Brax has been out of the competitive scene (at least as an active player) for nearly a year now. That being said, limited or dated experience is better than none at all, and both Brax and Newsham have been playing Dota for long enough where there really shouldn’t be too many issues getting back into the swing of things at the top level in the region. However, for TEAM TEAM to come out on top in this qualifier and earn itself a place in Kuala Lumpur, someone is going to need to step up in a huge way for this squad. More than likely, that someone will need to be either Costabile or Ryoya at the Carry and Mid positions, respectively. If 1 of those players can provide a consistent presence in-game and on the scoreboard, then TEAM TEAM has a shot at claiming 1 of the 3 spots in this qualifier. If not, then it’s not clear if this squad has enough in it to avoid an early exit from the first qualifier of the Pro Circuit season.
Bill “Boris” Oliver
Danny “iAnnihilate” Cote
Jaron “monkeys-forever” Clinton
Daniel “Bloody Nine” Foster
There isn’t going to be a whole lot of buzz around Black Sheep in this qualifier, as the team’s lineup doesn’t exactly have the same level of star power as some of the bigger squads in the field. However, that doesn’t mean that this team should be overlooked, as it has put together a number of regional veterans in its attempt to carve out a place for itself in the regional hierarchy. Most of this roster has languished in the lower tiers of the North American Dota scene, but in this environment that extensive regional experience may actually be more of an advantage than a point of derision. Aside from squads like Evil Geniuses and Forward Gaming, most of the teams in the field for this qualifier are made up of the same groups of lower tier players that Black Sheep if probably familiar with. While that isn’t exactly a trump card for Black Sheep, it’s an advantage that some of its rivals in this qualifier may not be able to match, and even the smallest advantage could make the difference with 3 slots at the Major available in this region. Even with that factor potentially on its side, Black Sheep will need massive contributions from its roster in this qualifier, particularly from its core trio of Boris, iAnnihilate, and monkeys-forever. Those 3 will need to lead this team from the front with some strong performances and impressive stat lines if the squad wants to truly have a shot at competing with the best squads in the region in this qualifier.
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.
Skr Skr is a team that enters this qualifier essentially as an completely unknown entity, as none of its members have seen significant action in the region up to this point. The team was able to make a successful run through the Open Qualifiers, but didn’t run into too many squads that we would consider to be above the tier 2 or tier 3 scene in the region. With that in mind, it would appear that Skr Skr’s chances of taking down the more established squads in the North American region and claiming a spot at The Kuala Lumpur Major are unbelievably slim. We did see an underdog squad qualify for the Major already in the form of ferzee in the CIS region, but that situation was remarkably different from the one Skr Skr finds itself in. That ferzee lineup was made up of free agents in the region that still had some experience playing at the professional level, while this squad appears to have pretty much no experience outside of small tournaments and Open Qualifiers. That being said, nothing is impossible in Dota 2, and Skr Skr could shock the world with an incredible Cinderella run in this qualifier. However, such a run from this squad is about the least likely thing we could see in this qualifier, and I wouldn’t really full comfortable putting any sort of expectations of success on a completely unproven squad in this scenario.
Jesús “Ifrit” Valencia
Omar Fernando “pika2” Velarde Leyva
If you have heard of Team Xolotl, then you are already far further into the North American Dota 2 scene then I could ever really hope to be. This squad basically came out of nowhere to earn a place in this qualifier, and aside from Ifrit and Pika2, its roster has little to no significant experience within the region. That doesn’t exactly paint a very optimistic picture for Team Xolotl heading into this qualifier, and that picture gets even worse considering the fact that the North American Open Qualifiers appeared to be a bit less competitive than in recent years. The good new for the team is that its Open Qualifier run at least gives us some confidence in the team’s ability to play well together, but the jump from Open Qualifier teams to some of the strongest squads in the North American region is a transition that might be a bit too much for this team. If Team Xolotl wants to have any chance at success in this qualifier, then it is going to have to lean heavily on Ifrit and pika2 across just about all of its games. The 2 players are the most experience on the roster, and they will need to put together masterful performances to put their squad in a position to win. For Ifrit at the Carry position, he just may need to take over a few games himself and lead his team from the front, while pika2’s role in the Support position will be to set up Midlaner Esk and Offlaner Jano with as many easy opportunities to succeed as humanly possible. If they can do that, than there may be hope for Team Xolotl to snag a place at the Major, but it will need absolutely astounding performances in this qualifier, and perhaps a bit of luck as well, to make that happen.