A host of hungry challengers look to knock off 5 time Major Champion VP as the Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier begins.
The 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season is now in full swing, and with 1 Major and 1 Minor already in the book and a host of third party events on record as well, we are starting to see the regional hierarchies across the Dota 2 world solidify. However, a new set of Pro Circuit qualifiers has already begun, and those squads that established favorable positions within their home regions and on the international level must now defend those positions against a slew of hungry and ambitious challengers and rivals. The Open Qualifiers for all 6 regions have come to an end, and the time has now come for the Main Regional Qualifiers for The Chongqing Major to begin. Just as it was with the last group of regional qualifiers, the qualifiers for The Chongqing Major will see the 6 regions split into 2 groups, with the CIS region being included in the first group of qualifiers beginning on November 25. A good number of the squads in the field for this qualifier are teams that we’ve seen before, either on the Pro Circuit stage directly or in the previous round of Pro Circuit qualifiers, while a couple of teams are making their first appearance in these Pro Circuit qualifiers. With returning squads and new challengers alike in the field this time around, the time has come to get a brief rundown of the teams involved and how they stack up in terms of their strength heading into this Major Qualifier.
8 teams will be fighting in this CIS Qualifier, with 4 squads (Gambit Esports, Na’Vi, Virtus.pro, and Team Spirit) having received direct invites while the other 4 (Team Empire Hope, NoPangolier, Se7en eSports, and Winstrike Team) came up through the 2 Open Qualifiers. Of those 8 squads, 5 of them have participated in previous Pro Circuit qualifiers this season, while 3 of them (Virtus.pro, Gambit Esports, and Na’Vi) have already made appearances on the Pro Circuit stage. On the line for these 8 teams are 2 spots at The Chongqing Major in January, and a chance to either increase their Pro Circuit Point total or get themselves on the board with their first points of the season. 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 region’s 2 Major spots.
These squads are the elite of the group, comprised mostly of squads that attended one of the prior Pro Circuit events this season or have emerged as dominant forces within their home region and contenders on the international level. These are the teams that will likely be considered as favorites in this qualifier 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.
Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev
Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov
Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan
Alexei “Solo” Berezin
This one is going to be pretty quick, so let’s just get it out of the way as quickly as possible: when you win a Major Championship, you are all but automatically considered a favorite to qualify for the next one. Virtus.pro has proven itself time and time again to be a force of nature both on the international level and within its home region, and there is absolutely nothing to even suggest that the team’s dominance will end anytime soon. Should VP somehow fail to earn itself a place at The Chongqing Major, then it will undoubtedly have to be considered the single biggest shock of the Pro Circuit season so far. Expect to see VP once again take to the Pro Circuit stage though, as the team should have few issues working its way through this regional 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. Teams in this section are ones that may have attended one of the previous Minors but not a Major, or struggled on the Pro Circuit stage in general. These are the teams that could fairly easily claim 1 of the 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 end up as direct invitees to the upcoming Minor Qualifiers if it cannot secure a place at the Major.
Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
Idan MagicaL Vardanyan
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
Evgeniy “Chuvash” Makarov
Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev
Na’Vi took a rather large risk in overhauling its roster for the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season, but the move appears to have worked out for the squad so far. The team is coming off of a 2nd place finish at the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor that saw it come just a single match away from claiming the title of Minor Champion and advancing to The Kuala Lumpur Major. In addition to the team’s successful performance on the Pro Circuit stage, Na’Vi also holds a relatively solid record on the home front, with Na’Vi posting a 15-13 record against CIS squads so far this season (not including open qualifier matches). If there is one major concern for Na’Vi though heading into this qualifier, it would be the squad’s performance against the other teams in this particular field. Against the 7 other squads in the field for The Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier, Na’Vi’s overall record is a somewhat disappointing 4-10, which somewhat lowers the confidence levels for it heading into this event. Even so, the squad put together a strong enough run against its regional rivals to qualify for the last Minor, and it would not be quite as significant a jump for Na’Vi to do the same to claim a place at The Chongqing Major.
Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin
Andrey “Afoninje” Afonin
Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin
Rinat “KingR” Abdullin
Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod
As 1 of the 2 teams from the CIS region to have played at The Kuala Lumpur Major, Gambit Esports comes into this next round of Pro Circuit qualifiers as one of the leading teams in the region. The squad’s performance at The Kuala Lumpur was not very impressive, to put it politely, but the team’s play on the international level will take a back seat for this qualifier as the team looks to overcome a field of some of its strongest regional rivals. Against said regional rivals, Gambit has managed to put together an even 13-13 record (not including open qualifiers), and its 9-9 against the other teams in the field for this particular qualifier. That record doesn’t set Gambit Esports up as a favorite in the field, but it does at least demonstrate that the squad has been able to consistently compete against the best squads in the CIS region. In a region in which no one other than Virtus.pro has fully established itself as a trustworthy and reliable power, that may have to be enough for Gambit Esports as it looks to secure itself a place at its second Major of the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season.
Aybek “Naive-” Tokaev
Aleksandr “Ceyler” Popov
Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk
Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov
Semion “CemaTheSlayer” Krivulya
NoPangolier was something of a late addition to the field within the CIS region, as the squad was not officially formed until the start of October and thereby missed competing in the first round of Pro Circuit qualifiers. With the disbanding of both Odium and Vega Squadron (before its signing of Team Lithium), a trio of talented free agents in Ghostik, Zayac, and CemaTheSlayer joined forces to create a new squad, adding the young duo of Naive- and Ceyler to complete its roster. The team has quickly managed to make a name for itself within its home region, finishing 2nd in the Maincast Autumn Brawl in October and holding a 8-4 overall record against CIS squads in non-open qualifier events. Of those 4 losses, 3 of them have come at the hands of regional powerhouse Virtus.pro, while its 8 wins include victories over fellow Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier participants Gambit Esports, Na’Vi, and Team Spirit. Admittedly, what we’ve seen from the squad so far has been a relatively small sample size in terms of total number of matches, but the play from NoPangolier has been impressive so far. With some experienced players at the helm and a lot of talent on the roster, this squad has a chance at being a realistic threat to take a spot at the Major if squads like VP, Na’Vi, and Gambit Esports end up underestimating it 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 with somewhat lower expectations for this qualifier. These squads are more than capable of putting on a good show and potentially taking a spot at the Major, but they more than likely will need a little bit of help to get there. The squads in this section are most likely ones that attended prior Pro Circuit qualifiers, but did not earn places at an event, and represent the upper echelon of the Tier 2 scene in their region. 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 on the Pro Circuit stage.
Oliver “oliver” Lepko
Leon “Nine” Kirilin
Mikki Mørch “HesteJoe-Rotten” Junget
Malthe “Biver” Winther
Artsiom “fng” Barshak
Team Spirit is a squad that sits in a rather interesting place right now within the CIS regional hierarchy. This upcoming Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier will be the team’s third Pro Circuit Qualifier of the season already, and the team has been one of the most active squads in both the CIS and European regions. Those early season efforts have been fairly successful for the team as well, as Team Spirit has racked up 12 Top 4 finishes in both CIS events and mixed CIS/Europe competitions (including open qualifiers). With those strong performances behind it, one would think that Team Spirit would enter this qualifiers as a potential contender for a spot at The Chongqing Major, but there is one minor issue for the quad heading into this qualifier. That issue is a combined 8-10 record against the other teams in the field, as Team Spirit has struggled to consistently come out ahead against the likes of Virtus.pro, Gambit Esports, Na’Vi, and even NoPangolier. Until the squad shows that it can find success against those opponents with some degree of consistency, Team Spirit will sit near the lower end of the expected standings for this qualifier. The team still has the talent and experience to overcome its regional rivals here, but for now it seems prudent to keep the expectations moderate for the squad.
Airat “Silent” Gaziev
Bogdan “Iceberg” Vasilenko
Alexey “nongrata” Vasilyev
Daniyal “yamich” Lazebny (Stand-in)
Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko
In the course of just 3 short months, Winstrike Team has gone from being a leader in the CIS region and a TI8 participant, into being something of a question mark within the regional hierarchy. While the team’s play has been relatively consistent to this point in the season, its performances have left it short of claiming the kind of success that regional rivals like Na’Vi and Gambit Esports have enjoyed. The benching of Support and Captain Nofear at the beginning of the October has created a roster vacancy that the organization has yet to fill on a permanent basis, with yamich serving as a stand-in for the squad in this qualifier. Even so, the squad has still managed to hold its own within its home region, with Winstrike Team’s worst finish of the season so far being a pair of 5th-8th place runs in the Maincast Autumn Brawl and MegaFon Champions League Season 1. Even with the team playing with a stand-in at this qualifier, the possibility for Winstrike Team to find success at claim a place at The Chongqing Major is still very much alive. The squad will have to return to its pre-TI8 form, and yamich will have to prove himself as a capable stand-in, but we’ve seen this roster, or at least the majority of it, find success in the CIS region before.
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 this event. These are the squads that many have probably already counted out of the fight for a place on the Pro Circuit stage, 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.
Team Empire Hope
Kiyalbek “dream'” Tayirov
Konstantin “Kodos” Kogai
Rodion “MYSmoon” Fomkin
Oleg “sayuw” Kalenbet
Vladislav “BLACKARXANGEL” Ivashenko
The Team Empire organization has undergone some rather drastic changes in recent times, as the team split up its previous roster in order to form 2 new squads: Team Empire Faith and Team Empire Hope. The latter of those squads was intended to serve as a secondary team, with less experienced players on the roster for the purpose of developing talent. However, the secondary squad has refused to take a back seat to the main Team Empire roster, and Team Empire Hope now finds itself in a position to compete for a spot at The Chongqing Major and a position as a contender within the CIS region. Given the relative inexperience of the team’s players though, it appears unlikely that the squad will be able to actually pull off a successful run in this qualifier. Of course, one of the benefits of having lesser known players on a roster is that opponents may not be fully prepared to face them, and that degree of unpredictability could work in Team Empire Hope’s favor. However, the element of surprise can only take a team so far, and the squad’s performance in its first few weeks of existence has not done enough to indicate that it can come out on top against its regional rivals in its first Pro Circuit qualifier run.
Dastan “D4574N-SG” Orazaly
Nayrman “Hannah” Zhakitzhanov
Ruslan “Doom1k” Abdussalamov
Danial “XSvamp1re” Alibaev
Yernar “Mantis” Urazbayev
Se7en eSports comes into The Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier as a team that is relatively unknown within both the regional scene and the greater Dota 2 world. The Kazakhstani squad has been sitting in the periphery of the CIS region in terms of its strength and prominence, with its players’ experience largely limited to stints with Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams. With this appearance in a Pro Circuit qualifier, the team has a valuable opportunity to establish itself as a potential contender within the CIS region and potentially earn itself a place on the Pro Circuit stage. Unfortunately for the team, the odds of that scenario playing out don’t appear to be particularly high, as the limited experience and lack of proven results against its regional rivals severely reduce the confidence level for Se7en eSports. On the other hand, we’ve already seen one Cinderella story play out within the CIS region this season, as ferzee managed to put together an unexpected run to reach The Kuala Lumpur Major and sign with Gambit Esports. The players on that team were significantly better known and more experienced though, and it is highly unlikely that Se7en eSports can replicate that team’s success in this qualifier.