Old faces and new challengers take the stage as 5 returning squads and 3 newcomers make up the field for the DreamLeague Season 11 Major CIS Qualifier.
As the half-way mark of the 2018-2019 season approaches, a new set of Pro Circuit qualifiers is set to get underway. With the Open Qualifiers for the DreamLeague Season 11 Major now officially concluded, the time has come to shift into the Closed Qualifier phase. Squads from across the 6 Dota 2 regions have worked their way into the field for said qualifiers, either through direct invites or the open qualifiers, and stand ready to take their shot at earning a place on the Pro Circuit stage in Stockholm. At this point in the season, we have a fairly solid grasp on where most teams sit in their respective regional hierarchies, but a strong showing in these qualifiers always has the potential to lead to change in that established order and raise or lower a teams standing among its regional rivals. Like the previous sets of Pro Circuit qualifiers, the qualifiers for the DreamLeague Season 11 Major will be split into 2 groups, with 1 group running from the 1st through the 3rd of February, while the other runs from the 4th through the 6th. The CIS region has been included in that first group of regions, with the teams in the field set to kick off their month with a fight for a place at the Major in Stockholm. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the teams that will be looking to earn their place on the Pro Circuit stage and represent the CIS region on the international level.
The CIS qualifier will feature a field of 8 teams, with 4 squads (The Pango, Virtus.pro, Gambit Esports, and Pavaga Gaming) having been directly invited to the event, while the other 4 (Na’Vi, Old But Gold, Winstrike Team, and Pavaga Junior) came up through the region’s 2 open qualifiers. Of those 8 teams, 5 of them (The Pango, Virtus.pro, Gambit Esports, Na’Vi, and Winstrike Team) have previously attended a Pro Circuit qualifier this season, while 4 of them (The Pango, Virtus.pro, Gambit Esports, and Na’Vi) have made an appearance at a Major or Minor in this 2018-2019 campaign. Up for grabs in this regional qualifier are 2 spots at the DreamLeague Season 11 Major in March, and the chance to improve their standing within the CIS region and make a run up the Pro Circuit Rankings as well. While every team in the field for this qualifier has a shot at earning 1 of the those slots in Stockholm, some squads enter this event with stronger resumes than their regional rivals. With that in mind, we will take a look at how each of the 8 Major hopefuls stacks up heading into this qualifier, with the four categories of Favorites, Contenders, Maybe Ifs, and Long Shots returning from the previous qualifier previews.
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
The section for Virtus.pro is going to be a relatively short one in this preview, as by this point we all should be familiar with this squad. After winning the Kuala Lumpur Major and coming in 2nd place at The Chongqing Major, VP continues to stand at the top of the Pro Circuit Rankings as 1 of, if not the, best team in the Dota 2 world. In fact, the squad has already earned itself enough Pro Circuit Points to be guaranteed a direct invite to TI9, which means that the results of this qualifier and the rest of the Pro Circuit events this season may not need to matter for the CIS juggernaut. However, don’t expect VP to slow down just because it has already locked in its place in Shanghai for TI9. Last season, the team ended up in a similar position, having earned its direct invite status fairly early in the season schedule. Even with that being the case, the squad continued to compete on the Pro Circuit level, as it continued to challenge itself against the Dota 2 world’s best in preparation for its TI run. We can likely expect a similar mindset from the team this season, as VP will look to earn its third straight Major appearance of the 2018-2019 campaign 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. 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 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 end up as direct invitees to the upcoming Minor Qualifiers if it cannot secure a place at the Major.
Aybek “Naive-” Tokaev
Aleksandr “Ceyler” Popov
Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk
Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov
Semion “CemaTheSlayer” Krivulya
The Pango has exploded onto the scene within the last few months, taking advantage of a relatively chaotic Tier 2 scene in the CIS region to earn itself a place on the Pro Circuit stage at The Chongqing Major. Unfortunately, the squad’s performance at that event was not quite as impressive as many may had been hoping for, as The Pango finished in the 13th-16th place position with a 3-5 overall record. While the team’s first foray on the Pro Circuit stage did not go quite according to plan, The Pango’s play within its home region has been significantly stronger heading into this qualifier. Since its formation in October, The Pango has put together a 34-22 record against its fellow CIS squads, which puts it in a relatively favorable position heading into another round of Pro Circuit Qualifiers. The squad’s stumbles on the international level keep it from being a favorite in the field for this regional qualifier, but so long as the team avoids any big setbacks or mistakes, it should be one of the stronger candidates to claim a spot on the Pro Circuit stage as the team looks to make back to back Major appearances this sesaon.
Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin
Andrey “Afoninje” Afonin
Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin
Alexander “Immersion” Hmelevskoy
Artsiom “fng” Barshack
Gambit Esports made some waves within the CIS region when it announced the newest additions to its roster, with the younger talent of Immersion and the veteran experience of fng potentially serving as the catalysts to revitalize the squad. The roster change has had a near immediate effect on the squad’s performance, as Gambit Esports has put together a 19-10 overall record since making that change to its lineup. With that momentum on its side, Gambit Esports will enter this qualifier as one of the stronger squads in the field, but it still seems to be that step short of being a true favorite along the lines of Virtus.pro To be fair, no other squad in the region has been able to consistently find enough success to come even close to the same level as VP, but Gambit Esports at least appears to be closer than anyone else as it looks to earn itself a place in Stockholm.
Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
Idan MagicaL Vardanyan
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
Evgeniy “Chuvash” Makarov
Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev
When news came out at the start of the season that Na’Vi was committing itself to a roster rebuild, it wasn’t fully clear what to expect from the team’s new roster. However, Na’Vi’s performance to this point in the season has been fairly consistent, with the squad managing to earn itself 5 Top 4 finishes in 8 non-open qualifier appearances. The team’s success has been relatively evenly spread between its home region and the international level, which is something that very few of the squad’s regional rivals can claim. The question for the squad coming into this qualifier is whether it can replicate that success again and come out on top against some of its strongest regional rivals. Aside from VP at the top of the regional hierarchy, no CIS team has been able to definitively lay claim to a position as a leader just yet. Every time a squad has risen up and put together a strong stretch of play, another team has knocked them off with a streak of its own. If Na’Vi wants the chance to make a return trip to the Pro Circuit stage, then it is going to have to show that it is the squad with the hot hand 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.
Nikita “Palantimos“ Grinkevich
Yevgeny “chshrct“ Kostroma
Alexei “j4“ Lipai
Pavaga Gaming is a relatively recent addition to the CIS scene, as the organization signed its current roster in November of 2018 after picking up the majority of the old FCDB Esports lineup. In the months since its inception, Pavaga Gaming has put together a somewhat inconsistent stretch of results, with the squad earning 2 Top 4 finishes across 6 total appearances. To the team’s credit though, those 2 Top 4 finishes were a pair of 1st place runs in the MegaFon Champions League Season 1 and the LOOT.BET Winter Masters. Those victories have showcased the potential of this squad to find success, but its weaker finishes across the rest of its appearances raise serious questions as to how the squad will play in this regional qualifier. Consistency is the name of the game for Pavaga Gaming, and we will have to wait and see if the squad can keep its focus and composure in the face of its regional rivals as it looks to secure its debut on the Pro Circuit stage.
Old But Gold
Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev
Sergey Alexandrovich “G” Bragin
Stanislav “633” Glushan
Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod
Fedor “velheor“ Rusikhin
Old But Gold is a squad that you have probably not heard of in the CIS region this season, largely because the squad did not exist until very recently. With all of the members’ former teams either benching them or disbanding entirely, the opportunity arose for a group of regional veterans to band together for a shot at earning a place on the Pro Circuit stage. It’s a story that has played out before in the Dota 2 world, and is essentially the exact series of events that recently led to the formation of NoPangolier (now The Pango). Considering the fact that The Pango earned itself a place at the recent Chongqing Major, their story is a strong one to emulate for Old But Gold as it enters its first Pro Circuit qualifier of the season. While the team has almost nothing to speak of in terms of recent results, the sheer level of experience on its roster and the skill of its players makes Old But Gold a formidable opponent in the field and a legitimate threat in this regional 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 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.
Airat “Silent” Gaziev
Bogdan “Iceberg“ Vasilenko
Alexey “nongrata“ Vasilyev
Mikhail “Misha“ Agatov
Daniyal “yamich” Lazebny
Note: On January 30, Winstrike Team officially added yamich to its lineup, ending his status as a stand-in.
Winstrike Team represents one of the more odd stories in the CIS region over the past year, and perhaps not for the best of reasons. The team exploded onto the scene near the end of the last Pro Circuit season, even earning itself a place at TI8 in the process. However, the start of the 2018-2019 campaign has seen the squad essentially fall off the radar in the CIS region. Between a couple of roster changes and some wildly inconsistent play, Winstrike Team’s experience this season has largely been limited to regional events and open qualifier runs as it has struggled to build momentum for itself. However, the team’s most recent attempts to get itself back on track appear to be bearing fruit, as the squad finished 2nd in The Bucharest Minor CIS Qualifier, and has fought its way back through the open qualifiers to reach this event as well. With an altered lineup and the first bits of momentum beginning to build for the squad, Winstrike Team represents something of a dark horse candidate in the field for this qualifier. However, until we see for certain that this squad will not devolve back into weak and inconsistent play, the expectations for Winstrike Team will be set as low as possible heading into this event.
Alexander “Pio65” Zalivako
Egor “Ergon” Koz
Vladislav “Kazl” Kozlovsky
Sergey “HappyDyurara” Horonzh
Maxim “Tsyman” Tsymanovich
Just a few months ago, the Pavaga Gaming organization was taking its first steps into the Dota 2 world, as it signed its 2 rosters back in November of 2018. And now, the organization has managed to put both squads into a Pro Circuit qualifier, as Pavaga Junior will join the organization’s main squad in the field for this event. While the main Pavaga Gaming roster features some regional veterans and known players, the lineup for Pavaga Junior is made up of somewhat lesser known players. The team has not been in the spotlight much this season, with its experience limited almost exclusively to smaller regional events and open qualifier runs. The good news for the team is that is has done fairly well for itself in those smaller competitions, with the team posting a total record of 33-15 across ticketed matches this season (including open qualifiers). Against some of the strongest teams in the CIS region, the team’s experience and record may not count for quite as much, but there is at least potential in this Pavaga Junior squad as it enters its first Pro Circuit qualifier. However, it is going to take an absolutely miraculous effort from this team to have a shot at claiming a place in Stockholm, and the more likely scenario for Pavaga Junior is that is takes this qualifier run as a learning experience more than anything else.