Dota 2 Pro Circuit Minor Preview: StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor

Countdown to Kiev: The Ukrainian capital will host its third Pro Circuit Minor as 8 teams are set to do battle at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor

At this stage, we’re sitting about halfway through the 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season, but there is still quite a long way to go before we begin talking about Shanghai and TI9. With the second half of the season fast approaching, the situation at the top of the Pro Circuit Rankings has become fairly clear. Team Secret and Virtus.pro have already secured themselves enough Pro Circuit points to earn a place at TI9, and Evil Geniuses is just on the cusp of locking down its place in Shanghai as well. Outside of those 3 squads at the top though, there is a whole lot left to be decided, and the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor comes as a perfect opportunity for the participating teams to take their shot as moving up the Pro Circuit Rankings. The season’s third Minor will bring the Pro Circuit back to some fairly familiar ground, as the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor will be hosted at the Cybersport Arena in the Ukranian capital of Kiev. Running from the 7th through the 10th of March, the event is being organization jointly by StarLadder and ImbaTV (hence the name), and will be the second Pro Circuit event that the duo has organized together this season after The Chongqing Major back in January. 8 squads from across the 6 regions of the Dota 2 world will be participating in this Minor, with each of those teams looking for the chance to lay claim to the title of Minor Champion and earn themselves the final slot at the upcoming DreamLeague Season 11 Major in Stockholm. In addition to the title and the slot at the Major, the 8 participating squads will also be fighting for their share of the prize pools, with 500 Pro Circuit Points and $300,000 USD, set to distributed among the teams as follows.

1st: $125,000 & 120 DPC Points (Advances to DreamLeague Season 11 Major)

2nd: $70,000 & 100 DPC Points

3rd-4th: $30,000 (Per Team) & 80 DPC Points (Per Team)

5th-6th: $15,000 (Per Team) & 40 DPC Points (Per Team)

7th-8th: $7,500 (Per Team) & 20 DPC Points (Per Team)

The Minor will begin with the 8 participating teams being split up into 2 GSL style groups of 4 teams each. The GSL format means that the 4 teams in a group will be randomly assigned an opponent in the 2 Opening Matches. The winning teams from those Opening Matches will then play each other in the Winners’ Match to determine the top seed in the group, while the losing teams will play in the Losers’ Match to determine the bottom seed. From there, the loser of the Winners’ Match and the winner of the Losers’ Match will play each other in the Decider Match to determine the 2nd and 3rd seeds of the group. The Group Stage series will all be played in a Bo3 format, but will differ from the format of the previous 2 Minors in that the bottom 2 squads from each group will be eliminated from the event outright. After the Group Stage, the top 2 teams from each group will advance to a single elimination Playoff bracket, with all series up until the Finals being played in a Bo3 format, while the Finals themselves will feature a Bo5 format.

As previously mentioned, the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor will be a valuable opportunity for the participating teams to improve their position within the Pro Circuit Standings. Every squad that attends the event will be receiving some amount of Pro Circuit Points, but the chance to claim the largest share of those points and an opportunity to earn even more with a place at the subsequent Major will be driving every team in the field to push themselves to the very best of their abilities. Of the 8 teams in the field for this event, 6 of them (Vici Gaming, Gambit Esports, OG, Royal Never Give Up, BOOM ID, and Team Odd) already hold positions in the Pro Circuit rankings. The other 2 (Flying Penguins and Old But Gold) are making their debuts on the Pro Circuit stage and do not currently hold any Pro Circuit Points. Whether those squads end up rising or falling in the Pro Circuit Rankings in the aftermath of this event will depend upon their performance at the Minor itself, which leads us right into our overview of how each of the 8 teams in the field for the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor stack up heading into the season’s 5th Pro Circuit event.

Please note that the “projected finishes” for each team are my own predictions and do not constitute any official or necessarily objective ranking based upon specific statistics or data. Although the new Pro Circuit system will award Pro Circuit Points to all participating teams, the projections here will still include the “Top 4” section for the sake of simplicity and consistency with last season’s posts.

 

OG 425px-OG_RB_Logo

Region: Europe

Qualification Method: Europe Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: 26th (24 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Igor “iLTW” Filatov (Stand-in)
2. Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen
3. Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs
4. Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka
5. Johan “N0tail” Sundstein
C. 
Titouan “Sockshka” Merloz

Projected Finish: Top 4

It’s been a rather unconventional title defense for the reigning TI Champion, as OG’s season to this point has not followed some of the more traditional paths of previous winners. In years past, TI winning squads have gravitated towards either a continuance of their dominance on the international level, or a rather steep decline that the squad has to slowly pull itself out of. OG has done neither of those things in this 2018-2019 Pro Circuit campaign, existing in a sort of strange middle ground in which the team continues to be a force within the European region, but has not quite returned to form as a consistent contender at the top of the international scene. The squad’s appearance at The Bucharest Minor in January looked to be the first indicator that the team was starting to get itself back into form, and this second straight Minor appearance in Kiev has the potential to push OG back into a position as a premier threat in the Dota 2 world. With long-term stand-in iLTW remaining with the team for another foray onto the Pro Circuit stage, OG will come into this event with a fair bit of confidence in itself as the team looks to definitively prove that it ready to return to a position as a leading team on the international level.

It hasn’t been all that long since the last time we saw OG on the Pro Circuit stage, as the team is less than 2 months removed from its run at The Bucharest Minor in January. The team’s first Pro Circuit event of the season was not overly impressive by its standards, with OG posting a 5-6 overall record to finish in the 5th-6th place position within an 8 team field. Since then, OG’s efforts have focused upon its play within its home region, with the team participating in 2 European qualifiers. The first of those qualifiers was the DreamLeague Season 11 Major Europe Qualifier, in which the team finished in the 5th-6th place position. That performance led the squad to its second qualifier performance, with OG claiming a 1st place finish in the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Europe Qualifier to earn its return to the Pro Circuit stage. Across those 2 qualifier runs, OG has put together a 13-7 record and displayed a fairly consistent level of strength against its regional rivals. Expanding the time frame across the entirety of long-term stand-in iLTW’s tenure with the squad, OG’s record shifts to 25-17, though that record includes a slightly less impressive 6-7 mark against teams outside of the European region. Heading into a Pro Circuit Minor, that 6-7 international record comes as something of a concern, but OG will have an opportunity to improve its standing outside of Europe prior to the start of play in Kiev. As of the writing of this preview, OG is currently active in ESL One Katowice 2019, an event that features 8 non-European squads in its 12 team field. With a solid performance in this event, OG would address its biggest concern heading into the Minor, and would also build up a fair bit of momentum and confidence for itself prior to the start of the Minor as well.

After a somewhat slow start to the season, OG comes into the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor as a squad that appears to be building up momentum for itself. Since the squad brought in iLTW as a long-term stand-in back in January, we’ve seen OG put together a handful of solid performances within the European region and even earn its first appearance on the Pro Circuit stage this season at The Bucharest Minor. The question for the squad at this stage in its campaign is two-fold: can the team return to the form that saw it claim the Aegis of Champions at TI8, and how quickly can it manage to do so? As of right now, it appears that the answer to those questions will lie with the squad’s ability to compete on the international level, with this Minor serving as a valuable test of where the defending TI Champion stands compared to other Pro Circuit squads. As previously mentioned, OG’s record outside of its home region has been solid this season, but not overly impressive compared to some of the other squads in Europe. However, the team’s ongoing run at ESL One Katowice appears to be bolstering the squad’s record on the international level to a small degree, and OG will hopefully be able to carry some form of momentum from that event over into this Minor. Heading into the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor, OG is projected to finish in the Top 4 range, and will be one of the leading candidates for the title of Minor Champion in Kiev. For all of the concerns regarding the team’s slow start and its so-so record on the international level, OG’s roster still has 4 of the 5 members that won TI8 on its side. Between their experience and the strong play of iLTW, there is no reason to believe that the squad won’t be able to take the next step in its return to prominence in the Dota 2 world with a strong performance on the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev.

 

Gambit Esports Gambit Esports

Region: CIS

Qualification Method: CIS Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: 16th (148 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin
2. Rostislavfn Lozovoi (Stand-in)
3. Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin
4. Alexander “Immersion” Hmelevskoy
5. Artsiom “fng” Barshack
C. Anatoly “boolk” Ivanov

Projected Finish: Top 4

Note: On March 2nd, Gambit Esports announced that fn would serve as a stand-in for the team in place of Ajoninje due to scheduling conflicts with WESG 2018. The subsequent preview does not take this change into account.

Ever since Virtus.pro completed its rise to power in the Dota 2 world, the CIS region has evolved into a rat race of squads looking to catch up to the regional juggernaut. Said race has led to a number of opportunities for squads to rise from relative obscurity to seize prominent positions in the regional hierarchy with combinations of young talent and veteran leadership. Last season saw Winstrike Team come onto the scene with a late surge on the Pro Circuit, while veteran squad Old But Gold has popped up to claim 1 of the 2 CIS slots at this upcoming Minor. The region’s other slot has gone to a team with a similar backstory, as Gambit Esports prepares for its second consecutive Minor appearance and its third Pro Circuit event of the season overall. Beginning the season as the relatively unheralded squad ferzee, Gambit Esports has shaped itself into one of the most powerful teams in the CIS region, but that position is far from secure heading into this event. Teams like Na’Vi, The Pango, Team Empire, and Old But Gold are pressing in with each passing day, and this appearance at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota2 Minor serves as a perfect opportunity for Gambit Esports to reinforce its position ahead of those challengers.

Gambit Esports has not been away from the Pro Circuit stage for a particularly long amount of time, as the CIS squad last appeared at The Bucharest Minor back in January and earned itself a 2nd place finish at the event. In the time since that 2nd place run, Gambit Esports has been on an absolute tear, putting up a series of impressive performances both within its home region and in Europe. Across the team’s last 4 event appearances (1 open qualifier, 2 closed qualifiers, 1 tournament), the team has strung together 4 straight Top 4 finishes, including 3 1st place performances. In that time frame, Gambit Esports has posted a 21-13 overall record (not including open qualifier matches), with that recent record including a 16-9 mark against other teams within the CIS region. Given the team’s recent successes within the CIS and European regions, as well as its previous experience on the Pro Circuit this season, Gambit Esports appears to be in a favorable position heading into the season’s third Minor. However, the team still has a few more tests in front of it before it is set to take the stage in Kiev for its second Minor appearance. As of the writing of this preview, Gambit Esports is participating in ESL One Katowice 2019, where it will be tested against a field of international opposition as the only CIS squad in the 12 team field. Also on the horizon for the team is the Europe qualifier for ESL One Mumbai 2019, which will see the squad face off against a mix of CIS and European opponents. Between those 2 ongoing or upcoming appearances, Gambit Esports could enter the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota2 Minor as a team riding a high of success, or a squad looking to recover from a setback against its regional rivals and neighbors.

Gambit Esports enters the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor as one of the leading teams within the CIS region, and the squad will be looking to cement that strong regional position and improve its standing on the international level as well as it prepares for its second straight Minor appearance. The team has strung together an impressive series of performances in recent times, putting up victories against both its regional rivals and international opposition. In fact, the last time Gambit Esports finished any lower than 3rd place in an event was all the way back at The Kuala Lumpur Major in November, with the squad stringing together 10 straight Top 4 finishes heading into this Minor. Between the squad’s impressive play within its home region, and its 2nd place finish in its previous Pro Circuit appearance at The Bucharest Minor, Gambit Esports enters this event as one of the most formidable squads in the 8 team field. The addition of Immersion and fng back in December has only served to re-energize this squad, and Gambit Esports now finds itself in a favorable position heading into this event. The CIS squad is fairly confidently projected to finish in the Top 4 in Kiev, and as of right now it appears to be one of the front runners to claim the title of Minor Champion and earn that final slot at the subsequent DreamLeague Season 11 Major. Given the team’s strong and consistent play over the last few months, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reasons to believe that Gambit Esports will suffer any sort of sudden or unexpected setbacks on the Pro Circuit stage as it prepares for its third Pro Circuit event appearance, and the first inside of its home region.

 

Old But Gold Old But Gold

Region: CIS

Qualification Method: CIS Qualifier 2nd Place

Pro Circuit Rank: None (0 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev
2. Sergey Alexandrovich “G” Bragin
3.
Stanislav “633” Glushan
4.
Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod
5.
Fedor “velheor Rusikhin

Projected Finish: 7th-8th

Old But Gold comes into this Minor as one of the most recent additions to the Pro Circuit scene, as the squad formed less than 2 months ago in the run up to the season’s third round of Pro Circuit qualifiers. Comprised mostly of veteran CIS players, the roster of Old But Gold is set to bring nearly 30 years of combined professional experience to the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev. While the team hasn’t been together for all that long, the hope is that its extensive experience and skill will be enough to propel Old But Gold to a successful run in its debut performance on the Pro Circuit stage. If the squad can manage to put together an impressive run at an event within its home region, then Old But Gold has an opportunity to establish itself as a potential leader with a spot near the top of the CIS hierarchy.

With the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor serving as the team’s first LAN appearance of the 2018-2019 season, Old But Gold doesn’t have any experience as a team on the Pro Circuit stage so far. However, that doesn’t mean that the team has been inactive in recent times, with the squad participating in 4 events across the European and CIS regions since its formation in January. Of those 4 total appearances, the first 3 came in CIS exclusive qualifiers, with Old But Gold turning in Top 4 finishes across each of them. The last and most recent of those event appearance came in the mixed CIS and European WePlay! Dota 2 Valentine Madness at the beginning of February, with Old But Gold putting together a slightly less impressive 9th-12th place finish. Since the team’s formation, Old But Gold holds a 12-15 overall record (not including open qualifier matches), which does not come across as the most confidence inducing performance for a squad that has only recently come together. Even more concerning is the fact that the team has only played2 matches against teams outside of the CIS region, with matches being losses to The ReaL DeaL  and The Final Tribe in the aforementioned WePlay! Dota 2 Valentine Madness. With Old But Gold not scheduled to play any other official matches prior to the start of the Minor, the CIS squad will come into the event with more than a few questions to answer in its debut on the Pro Circuit stage.

Old But Gold has burst its way onto the Dota 2 scene with all of the hallmarks of a feel-good narrative. A band of experienced, but relatively overlooked or underappreciated veteran players coming together to take their shot at returning to prominence in the Dota 2 world is quite a story line heading into this Minor. All the team needs to do now is find success on the Pro Circuit stage, and their underdog story will be complete, with the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor providing the opportunity for the CIS squad to do just that. Of course, being successful on the international level is not quite as easy as simply writing it down that way, and Old But Gold will be in for a significant challenge as it prepares for its debut on the Pro Circuit stage. Something that has been somewhat overlooked in the hype and excitement around this squad is just how recently is has come together, with the team having only officially been announced near the end of January. While the squad had been able to put together a respectable record in its home region within that time frame, it is woefully lacking in terms of experience on the international level. The team’s only 2 matches outside of the CIS region were losses to a pair of European squads that would probably be placed somewhere within the Tier 2 or even Tier 3 scene in the region. Old But Gold is slated to take on some much more formidable squads in this Minor, and without proof of this roster’s ability to contend with opponents on the international level, the prospects for success aren’t fantastic for the squad. A lot of attention has been paid to the collective experience of the players on Old But Gold, and that veteran status is an advantage for the team that cannot simply be overlooked or discarded. However, previous experience on its own can only go so far in terms of a team’s expected performance on the Pro Circuit stage, and the lack of official matches outside of the CIS region is a rather glaring obstacle on Old But Gold’s path to success in Kiev. With that in mind, Old But Gold is projected to finish its Minor run at the bottom of the event standings in the 7th-8th place position. It is completely possible that the veteran presences on this roster will be enough to lead Old But Gold to a strong performance at the Minor, but until we see for sure that this team can compete against squads on the international level, the expectations will remain on the lower end of the spectrum heading into this event.

 

Flying Penguins 

No Team Logo

Region: North America

Qualification Method: North America Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: None (0 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao
2. Eric “Ryoya” Dong
3. Jingjun “Sneyking” Wu
4. Francis “FrancisLee” Lee
5. Rodrigo Lelis “Liposa” Santos

Projected Finish: 5th-6th

Founded by a pair of veteran players in EternaLEnVy and Sneyking, Flying Penguins represents the duo’s fourth team of the season so far, and its third within the North American region. Though the team only formed near the end of January, Flying Penguins is set to enter this Minor with a roster change already under its belt, as the squad traded out its young Midlaner Gunnar in exchange for the more experienced Ryoya. With a roster of skilled and relatively experienced players, the hope for EternaLEnVy and Sneyking has to be that this lineup will prove to be more stable than those that the duo had been a part of previously in this season. Given the squad’s recent formation and its somewhat small sample size in terms of official matches, that experience for Flying Penguins provides the lion’s share of the the hype around this team as it prepares to make its debut on the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev.

With this StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor serving as the team’s first LAN event of the 2018-2019 campaign, Flying Penguins will make its way to Kiev with no prior experience on the Pro Circuit, at least not as a lineup. Since its formation, the squad has been limited exclusively to performances within the North American region, with the team participating in 5 total events in the lead up to this Minor. The first 3 of the those events were open qualifiers, with the team managing to string together Top 4 finishes across all of them. The most recent of the team’s performances within the North American region were a pair of Pro Circuit qualifiers, with the team finishing in the 5th-6th place position in the DreamLeague Season 11 North America Qualifier before bouncing back with a 1st place run in the subsequent Minor qualifier. Across all 5 of those appearances within the North American region, Flying Penguins holds a 17-10 overall record, although the caliber of some of the opponents it faced in the open qualifiers mitigates the impact of that record to a certain degree. However, the team will have one more chance to add on to its recent results on the home front before its takes the stage in Kiev, as Flying Penguins will be participating in the ESL One Mumbai 2019 North America Qualifier at the end of February. While that event could serve to improve the team’s record within the North American region, it will do nothing to lessen the concerns stemming from the fact that this Flying Penguins squad will be coming into the Minor without any official matches played on the international level. Combine the team’s relatively recent formation with its lack of experience outside of its home region, and Flying Penguins will arrive in Kiev with quite a few concerns to address in its debut performance on the Pro Circuit stage.

Any time a team with EternaLEnVy on the roster makes it to a big international event, the Dota 2 world seems to pay just a little bit more attention to the action. For better or for worse, the veteran player tends to put his squad in the spotlight, and things will be no different for Flying Penguins as it prepares to take the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev. The team managed to get itself off to a respectable start within its home region, but the true test for this relatively new squad will be its performance on the international level against a formidable field of opponents at this Minor. Though the team’s players are no strangers to playing against opponents outside of their home regions, Flying Penguins as a squad has not been able to step outside of North America prior to the start of this Minor, which represents a cause for some concern heading into the event itself. Without any official matches on the international level, we are essentially left to look at the a combination of the past experience of the team’s individual players, and Flying Penguin’s regional results in order to predict its potential at this Minor. A factor making that process even more difficult is the addition of Ryoya to the lineup, which makes all but the most recent of the team’s appearances slightly less reliable due to them having been played with a different lineup. With such little information to work with, the expectations for Flying Penguins will be on the lower side heading into this event, with the North American projected to finish in the 5th-6th place position in Kiev. Given the team’s lack of play on the international level, some might be wondering why the team would not be projected in a lower position alongside squads like Old But Gold and Team Odd, both of whom are also lacking in terms of proven results outside of their home regions. The fact of the matter is that Flying Penguins is ahead of those 2 squads by the absolute slimmest of margins, and that margin exists due to the fact that every member of the team’s roster has seen action on the Pro Circuit stage this season. That little bit of previous experience on the Pro Circuit stage within a relatively recent time frame gives Flying Penguins a small edge that it can hopefully leverage into a solid showing in Kiev.

 

Demolition Boys (Formerly Team Odd)Demolition Boys

Region: South America

Qualification Method: South American Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: 31st (12.8 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Alonso “Kotarō Hayama” León
2. Jeremy “Jeimari” Ruiz Aguinaga
3. Jose Andree “Sword” Nicosia
4. Elvis “Scofield” De la Cruz Peña
5. Christian “Accel” Cruz

Projected Finish: 7th-8th

Note: On March 3rd, the roster of Team Odd announced that it was leaving the organization due to an alleged breach of contract. The team will play as Demolition Boys at this event, and all references to Team Odd in the subsequent preview refer to the team now playing under the Demolition Boys name.

Team Odd comes into this Minor as a relatively new name within the Dota 2 world, as the organization entered the scene at the beginning of February with the signing of its first lineup. While the organization is new to the scene, its roster is not, as Team Odd picked up the entirety of the Peruvian squad formerly known as Playmakers Esports. The players are just a little under 2 months removed from their last appearance on the Pro Circuit stage at The Bucharest Minor, though that event did not end up going particularly well for the team overall. However, Team Odd will come into this event hoping that the shift to a new organization will be enough to change the squad’s fortunes on the international level as it looks to find success in the organization’s first ever appearance on the Pro Circuit stage in Kiev.

Team Odd may be making its first Pro Circuit appearance at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor, but its players were last seen on the Pro Circuit stage around 2 months ago at The Bucharest Minor, where the squad put together an underwhelming 0-6 record as Playmakers Esports to finish at the bottom of the event standings. Since the end of that event, the team has focused its efforts solely on its play within its home region of South America, to somewhat mixed results. The team’s first regional competition came at the beginning of February in the DreamLeague Season 11 Major South America Qualifier, though said event ended with a 7th-8th place finish for the team. That poor performance against its regional rivals forced to go through the open qualifier for the subsequent Minor, though Team Odd would successfully run through both the open and closed qualifiers with back to back 1st place finishes to earn itself a place in Kiev. In the time since the end of The Bucharest Minor, Team Odd/Playmakers Esports has put together a 15-5 record within the South American region, although that record does include the team’s results from its open qualifier run. Those recent results against its regional rivals is certainly an encouraging development for Team Odd, but the team will still come into the Minor with some serious concerns regarding its performance outside of its home region. The Bucharest Minor was the team’s only international experience with its current roster, and the fact that the team failed to win a single match at that event means that Team Odd is not an early favorite for success as it takes the Pro Circuit stage again in Kiev.

Team Odd comes into the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor with a significant opportunity to change its fortunes in this 2018-2019 Pro Circuit campaign. So far this season, the squad has been unable to work its way out of its position near the bottom of the Pro Circuit Rankings, while regional rivals like Chaos Esports Club, Thunder Predator, and Infamous all appear to be on the rise in South America. A strong showing on the Pro Circuit stage would come as a massive boon to Team Odd in its quest to keep pace with its most prominent regional rivals, but the Peruvian squad’s chances of putting together that kind of performance in Kiev appear to be fairly low right now. The team’s last appearance on the international level at The Bucharest Minor (as Playmakers Esports) proved to be an absolute disaster, with Team Odd needing to win just a single match in Kiev to guarantee a better overall record than its abysmal 0-6 showing at that previous event. Given the level of experience and skill on this Team Odd roster in the wake of its post-Minor roster changes, we can at least be fairly confident in predicting that the squad will avoid putting up another 0 win performance this time around. The bar won’t be raised much higher than that for Team Odd though, at least not before the start of play in Kiev. Coming into the Minor, Team Odd is projected to finish at the bottom of the event standings, with a predicted result in the 7th-8th place position overall. It could be that the switch to a new organization and the recent changes to its roster are enough to lift Team Odd to success in Kiev. However, it would seem prudent to temper expectations until we can see for sure that this iteration of the squad is capable of performing any better on the international level than its last lineup

 

Royal Never Give Up Royal Never Give Up

Region: China

Qualification Method: China Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: 25th (34.56 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Du “Monet” Peng
2. Gao “Setsu” Zhenxiong
3. Su “Flyby” Lei
4. Tue “ah fu” Soon Chuan
5. Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng
C. Tong “Mikasa” Junjie (Coach)

Projected Finish: Top 4

Over 4 months after making its Pro Circuit debut at the 2018-2019 season’s first event at the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor, Chinese squad Royal Never Give Up is making its return to the Pro Circuit stage with the organization’s second Minor appearance of the season. The team will do so with some changes to its roster though, as Flyby has been officially added to the lineup after a 2 month period as an unofficial call up from the organization’s youth squad. Flyby is not the only recent addition to the roster though, as Royal Never Give Up also announced the addition of veteran player LaNm just a few days after its successful qualifier run. With its updated lineup, Royal Never Give Up will head into its second Minor appearance of the season hoping to put together a strong showing on the international level and claim a stronger position for itself within the Chinese regional hierarchy.

Royal Never Give Up’s last appearance on the Pro Circuit stage came all the way back in November at the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor in Stockholm. The team managed to earn itself a 3rd place finish at that event, but the rest of 2018 saw the squad put together a string of inconsistent results as it returned to its home region. The team made 6 appearances in regional qualifiers and competitions before the end of the year, with just 2 of those appearances resulting in Top 4 finishes. Fortunately for Royal Never Give Up, the 2019 section of the season has been far kinder to it, with the squad netting 4 straight Top 4 finishes within its home region. Across those 4 appearances since the start of the year, Royal Never Give Up has put together a 25-8 overall record within its home region (15-7 in non-open qualifier matches), and the squad now appears to be on the right track towards a resurgence in the Chinese hierarchy. The squad will have another opportuntiy to display its strength at home before it heads to Kiev though, as Royal Never Give Up is also scheduled to participate in the ESL One Mumbai China Qualifier at the end of February. A team needs more than just regional success to stand above its rivals though, and solid play on the international level is a key factor that distinguishes leading squads like PSG.LGD, Vici Gaming, and EHOME from its regional rivals. Unfortunately, international experience has been at a premium for Royal Never Give Up this season, as the team had not played a single official match outside of China since its last Pro Circuit appearance in November. With the squad currently active at MDL Macau 2019, Royal Never Give Up will finally be dipping its toes back into the international scene again, with its results from that event likely to set the tone for it as the Chinese team prepares to take the Pro Circuit stage once again.

Royal Never Give Up will be making its second appearance on the Pro Circuit stage in this 2018-2019 season at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor, but the Chinese squad has undergone quite a few changes since the last time it attended a Pro Circuit event. Just 2 members of the roster that attended the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor in November are still in the lineup for this current iteration of Royal Never Give Up, though that might not come as much of a detriment to the squad’s chances for success. The team’s play within the Chinese region has seen a marked improvement since the start of 2019, and Royal Never Give Up seem to once again be on the cusp of pushing itself into a position as a potential contender in the vein of EHOME and Keen Gaming. In order to really put itself on the level of those rivals though, Royal Never Give Up is going to need to put together another strong showing on the international level as a follow up to the 3rd place run that it made in its previous Pro Circuit appearance. While the team’s play at home has been fairly impressive over the past couple of months, Royal Never Give Up does appear to have one rather significant weak point in terms of its recent play. That weak point is a lack of experience on the international level, as the team has played only a handful of official matches outside of China since its last Minor appearance back in November. The good news for the team is that all of those matches will have come from the currently ongoing MDL Macau 2019, which means that Royal Never Give Up’s international experience will be about as recent as it possibly could be heading into this Minor. Combine that recent international exposure with the team’s solid play at home and the skill and experience of its new roster, and Royal Never Give Up presents a formidable front for its opponents in Kiev. With that in mind, the team is projected to finish in the Top 4 range at the Minor, though that prediction is somewhat risky heading into the event. If the team’s new roster stumbles on the Pro Circuit stage, or if one of the more recently put together squads like Flying Penguins or Old But Gold manage to put together a surprise run, then things could go poorly for Royal Never Give Up. Barring those kinds of surprise developments though, the Chinese squad appears to be in a favorable position heading into its second Pro Circuit appearance of the season.

 

Vici Gaming VICI_Gaming

Region: China

Qualification Method: China Qualifier 2nd Place

Pro Circuit Rank: T-7th (900 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Zhang Paparazi灬Chengjun
2.
Zeng  “Ori”Jiaoyang
3.
Zhou “Yang”Haiyang
4. Pan “Fade” Yi
5.
DingDyCong
C. Bai “rOtK” Fan

Projected Finish: Top 4

Throughout the season to this point, Vici Gaming has been held up as a leading squad in the Chinese region, and one of the stronger squads on the Pro Circuit in general. The team has consistently found success against its regional rivals in China, and has put together a trio of solid showings on the international level as well. However, the first cracks in the team’s armor are beginning to appear, with the rumored issue for Vici Gaming being roster related rather than having anything to do with its recent results. With the team’s lineup potentially looking at changes, Vici Gaming’s performance at this event could play a rather significant role in its immediate future. A strong showing on the Pro Circuit stage is not guaranteed to keep the team’s current roster together, nor would a weak performance necessarily consign the squad to a shift in its lineup. However, the former would go a long way towards reminding the Dota 2 world of the strength of this version of Vici Gaming, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the team’s chances of retaining its current lineup moving forward.

Vici Gaming’s last appearance on the Pro Circuit stage came near the end of January at The Chongqing Major, where the team secured itself a place in the top half of the event standings with a 7th-8th place finish and a 7-7 overall record. Since then, the team has participated in just 2 events, with both of them being Pro Circuit qualifiers within its home region. The first of  those qualifiers was the DreamLeague Season 11 China Qualifier, in which Vici Gaming put together a somewhat surprising 5th-6th place finish to miss out on attending its third straight Major. A little over a week later, the squad was able to bounce back from that underwhelming performance with a 2nd place showing in the Minor qualifier that earned the team its place in Kiev for this event. Across those 2 qualifier runs, Vici Gaming put together a 9-9 record against its fellow Chinese squads, which is still a solid showing from the team despite falling somewhat below what we’ve come to expect from it. The good news for Vici Gaming is that it has an opportunity to both improve its record against its regional rivals and potentially find success against international opposition before the Minor begins in March. As of the writing of this preview, Vici Gaming is currently active in MDL Macau 2019, and event that features 4 other Chinese squads in the field in addition to a trio of squads from outside of the Chinese region. While Vici Gaming is playing in that event with a slightly modified lineup, a strong showing on the international level will almost certainly have the squad entering the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor as a stronger and more confident contender among the field of participants.

Vici Gaming comes into this Minor as one of the leading teams in China as well as a highly ranked squad on the Pro Circuit too. The team has been incredibly consistent so far this season, putting up respectable results against every opponent that has been placed in its path. Coming into this event, it would seem that the team’s biggest concern is the potential changes that may be forthcoming in terms of the squad’s roster. The rumor mill has already gone to work in the wake of the team’s roster shifting in both the Minor qualifier and MDL Macau 2019, and for all we know the future of this iteration of the lineup could hinge on Vici Gaming’s performance in Kiev. That is certainly a significant extra layer of pressure to throw onto a team as it prepares to take the Pro Circuit stage, and for many squads in the Dota 2 world that added pressure would be too much to handle. Vici Gaming doesn’t appear to be one of those squads though, as the Chinese team has held its nerve and its composure in nearly every single scenario that it has found itself in since the beginning of the season. The team’s play in this 2018-2019 campaign has been consistent to the point of being almost uncanny, and it seems unlikely that the squad suffers a sudden setback on the Pro Circuit stage even with the recent speculation regarding its roster. With that in mind, the team is projected to finish in the top half of the standings in Kiev, with a Top 4 position appearing to be the most likely outcome for Vici Gaming in its first Minor appearance of the season. Even if the team’s roster rumor and potential changes end up having a negative effect on the team’s coordination or its morale, its predicted finish doesn’t change much. At this stage in the season, even a somewhat dysfunctional Vici Gaming roster appears to have the skill, experience, and proven success on the international level to power its way through this field of opponents. We’ll have to hope that it doesn’t end up coming to that though, as the squad makes its way to Kiev for its third Pro Circuit event appearance of the 2018-2019 campaign.

 

BOOM ID Boom ID

Region: Southeast Asia

Qualification Method: Southeast Asia Qualifier 1st Place

Pro Circuit Rank: 28th (20 Pro Circuit Points)

Roster:
1. Randy “Dreamocel” Sapoetra
2. Rafli “Mikoto” Fathur
3. Saieful “Fbz” Ilham
4. Tri “Jhocam” Kuncoro
5. Alfi “Khezcute” Nelphyana

Projected Finish: 5th-6th

BOOM ID has emerged as something of a rising star so far this season, as the squad has risen from a position as a big fish in a small pond within the Indonesian scene to being a potential leading squad across the whole of the Southeast Asian region. The team’s advancement in this 2018-2019 Pro Circuit campaign has been impressive so far, but BOOM ID has aspirations of pushing itself even further up the ranks of the Dota 2 world and establish itself as a contender on the international level as well. The squad took its first step towards that goal with its appearance at The Bucharest Minor in January, but a somewhat poor showing at that event served as a small setback for the team as its Pro Circuit debut proved unsuccessful. BOOM ID remains undeterred by that slight stumble though, and this second straight Minor appearance at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor gives the Indonesian squad a second chance to prove its worth and display its strength on the international level, with the eyes of the Dota 2 world watching.

As previously mentioned, BOOM ID’s most recent appearance on the Pro Circuit stage was the team’s debut at The Bucharest Minor back in January. Unfortunately, that event did not go well for the squad, with BOOM ID posting a 3-6 record en route to a 7th-8th place finish in an 8 team field. Since that event, BOOM ID has not had any other excursions on the international level, a fact that some may view with some apprehension heading into the Minor. While the squad has not been able to make a return to the international level prior to the start of this event, it has continued to put together strong performances on the home front. In the time since the end of the last Minor, BOOM ID has earned itself 4 straight Top 4 finishes in regional qualifiers and competitions, including 2 1st place performances in the Asia Pacific Predator League 2019 Indonesia Qualifier and the qualifier for this Minor. Across those 4 event appearances, BOOM ID has put together a 32-13 record against its regional rivals, a mark that should have the team feeling fairly confident about its standing within the Southeast Asian region. By the time BOOM ID makes its way to Kiev, that record against its fellow Southeast Asian teams could look even more impressive, as the team is still currently active in the ESL Indonesia Championship Season 1 Group Stage. Even with the team’s strong play within its home region, the lack of recent results on the international level will leave BOOM ID with a fairly significant concern that it will need to quickly address as it takes the Pro Circuit stage for the second time this season.

BOOM ID comes into this Minor looking for an opportunity to break out of the Southeast Asian region and make its mark on the international level. The squad’s performance within its home region has been impressive so far this season, but the Pro Circuit stage will be the true barometer of just how far this team can go in its current state. Unfortunately for BOOM ID, we’ve already seen the Indonesian squad on the Pro Circuit stage once before at The Bucharest Minor, where the team put together a meager 3-6 record and a 7th-8th place finish. The problem for BOOM ID heading into this event is pretty much the same one that the squad was presented with prior to that previous Minor appearance. All but 10 of BOOM ID’s total matches in this 2018-2019 campaign have come within the Southeast Asian region, and a fair bit of those Southeast Asian matches have come specifically in Indonesian events and qualifiers. That lack of experience on the international level makes it incredibly hard to have confidence in BOOM ID’s ability to find success against teams on the Pro Circuit stage. However, there is something of a silver lining for BOOM ID heading into this StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor. All season long, we’ve seen BOOM ID improve and adapt, transforming itself from a strong squad in Indonesia into an up and coming team in the wider Southeast Asian region, and now into a contender to be a leading team in said region. Considering the squad’s rapid growth over the past year or so, there’s no reason to believe that BOOM ID can’t take the same approach to its play on the international level as well. With that in mind, the squad is projected to finish a bit higher up in the standings at this event compared to its previous Pro Circuit appearance, with BOOM ID predicted to land in the 5th-6th place range in Kiev. Anything higher than that would require an unreasonably dramatic increase in the team’s level of play, but we can at least be fairly confident that BOOM ID will not take any steps backwards as it prepares for its second Minor appearance of the season.

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