Crunch time approaches in the CIS region as a host of Pro Circuit hopefuls look to spark a late-season surge in the EPICENTER Major 2019 CIS Closed Qualifier
The 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season is coming down to its home stretch now, as the final set of Pro Circuit qualifiers is set to begin and the field of teams for the final Major will soon be determined. The EPICENTER Major will be the final Major of this 2018-2019 campaign, and will also serve as the final opportunity for squads to make one more push to improve their position in the Pro Circuit Rankings before the end of the season. Set to being on May 15, the EPICENTER Major 2019 CIS Closed Qualifier will include a field of 8 teams, with 6 of them (Virtus.pro, Team Empire, Gambit Esports, Team Spirit, Na’Vi, and Winstrike Team) receiving direct invites while the final 2 squads (Black Hornets Gaming and FlyToMoon) earned their places through the 2 open qualifiers. Of those 8 squads, 5 of them (Virtus.pro, Team Empire, Gambit Esports, Team Spirit, and Na’Vi) currently hold positions in the Pro Circuit Rankings, while the other 3 (Winstrike Team, Black Hornets Gaming, and FlyToMoon) have previously participated in a Pro Circuit qualifier but did not qualify for an event.
The EPICENTER Major 2019 CIS Closed Qualifier will see the 8 participating teams compete for 2 spots at the event in Moscow. The qualifier will begin with a Group Stage that will feature all 8 teams playing in a Bo1 Round-Robin format. The 1st place team from the Group Stage will earn the first spot at the Major, while the bottom 3 teams will be eliminated from the qualifier. The squads that finish in the 2nd-5th place positions in the Group Stage will advance to the Playoffs, which will feature a double-elimination bracket. All matches in the Playoffs will be played in Bo3 except for the Grand Finals, which will feature a Bo5 format. The winner of the Grand Finals will claim the second slot at the Major. We will be using the same categories that we have used all season long to divide the participating squads in terms of their expectations in this event: Favorites, Contenders, Maybe Ifs, and Long Shots
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
VP has been the top dog within the CIS region all season long, with none of its fellow CIS squad coming even remotely close to challenging the team for that title. Coming into this event, VP’s run of dominance on the home front is not likely to suddenly end, as the team is an incredibly heavy favorite to claim a place on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. Even with the team’s play in Shanghai for TI9 secured, look for VP to bring its best into this qualifier as it looks to lock down a place at its fifth straight Major of the season and secure the opportunity to play on the Pro Circuit stage in front of a CIS crowd in Moscow. If the team comes into this qualifier at anything even close to its usual level of play, then expect for VP to claim one of the region’s slots at the Major.
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 they cannot secure a place at the Major.
Kiyalbek “dream`” Tayirov
Konstantin “kodos-” Kogai
Igor Andreevich “Maden” Modenov
Oleg “sayuw” Kalenbet
Rinat “KingR” Abdullin
Team Empire’s recent season debut on the Pro Circuit stage was not quite as impressive as the squad may have been hoping for, as the team ended up finishing at the bottom of the event standings in the 13th-16th place position. The good news for the squad coming into this qualifier is that its performance on the international level will not play much of a role compared to its results within the CIS region. On that front, Team Empire cuts a much more imposing figure, with the squad earning Top 4 finishes across its last 6 regional appearances. While the team is still far from the level of regional leader VP, its recent play within its home region has instilled a sense of confidence that the squad should be able to hold its own in just about any match up that it will face in this qualifier.
Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin
Andrey “Afoninje” Afonin
Vasily “AfterLife” Shishkin
Alexander “Immersion” Hmelevskoy
Artsiom “fng” Barshack
Gambit Esports comes into this qualifier off the back of 3 straight Minor appearances, but the team is looking to step up its game against its regional rivals and earn itself its first Major appearance since The Kuala Lumpur Major back in November. The team’s play within the CIS region has been pretty impressive in recent times, as the squad has earned Top 4 finishes across its last 4 regional appearances and in 9 of its 10 total appearances in the CIS and European regions since the start of 2019. Between those consistent performances at home and its successes on the international level, Gambit Esports is one of the more formidable squads in the field for this qualifier. At this stage in the season, it is clear that no team in the CIS region in on the same level as regional leader VP, so Gambit Esports can’t really be considered to be a favorite in the field for this event. However, the team’s solid performances in recent times still have it sitting in a position as one of the stronger teams in its region, and Gambit Esports should certainly have a strong chance of claiming 1 of the 2 CIS regions on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow.
Team Spirit (Formerly Old but Gold)
Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev
Sergey Alexandrovich “G” Bragin
Stanislav “633” Glushan
Fedor “velheor“ Rusikhin
Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod
Note: Team Spirit signed the roster of Old but Gold on May 15th.
The squad formerly known as Old but Gold burst onto the scene with its appearance on the Pro Circuit stage at the StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor, and in the time since that event the squad has continued to improve its position within the CIS hierarchy. Though the team wasn’t able to claim a place at either of the previous 2 Pro Circuit events, its record within its home region has been fairly encouraging coming into this qualifiers. The team has earned 5 Top 4 finishes across its last 6 regional appearances, and has won 10 of its last 15 match ups in Bo3 series against fellow CIS squads. Between the team’s relatively strong results within its home region in recent times, and the extensive experience of the players on its roster, Team Spirit represents one of the more formidable squads in the field for this event, and should be a squad that can potentially push for 1 of the CIS region’s 2 spots at the EPICENTER Major.
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.
Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
Idan “MagicaL” Vardanyan
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov
Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev
In the wake of its disastrous 13th-16th place performance at the DreamLeague Season 11 Major, Na’Vi found itself in need of a strong stretch of play in order to stabilize itself both within its home region and on the international level. Over the course of the last month or so, the squad has managed to accomplish that, with Na’Vi earning 2 Top 4 finishes in its last 3 regional appearances while also putting together an improved showing away from its home region with a 3rd place finish at ESL One Mumbai 2019. Those performances came as encouraging signs for the squad, but the team’s recent addition of Zayac to the lineup introduces a certain degree of uncertainty for it heading into this regional qualifier. Considering Zayac’s relatively solid play as a member of NoPangolier/The Pango, his move to the roster of Na’Vi shouldn’t be a development that sets the team back in any significant capacity. However, the rise of some of its regional rivals in recent times does introduce a series of new challenges, and it is not entirely clear whether Na’Vi is truly ready to overcome those challenges. As of this moment, Na’Vi will likely only be considered as a minor force in the field for this qualifier, with the team needing someone in the lineup to step up with some impressive performances for the team to have a real shot at contending to a place on the Pro Circuit stage.
Airat “Silent” Gaziev
Zaur “Cooman” Shakhmurzaev
Alexey “nongrata” Vasilyev
Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk
Alexander “Nofear” Churochkin
Note: Winstrike Team replaced iLTW with Cooman on May 15th.
Winstrike Team comes into this qualifier as a squad just over a month removed from a significant change to its roster, as the organization added iLTW, Lil, and Nofear to its lineup. Since that change, the squad has only participated in a single event, earning itself a 2nd place finish at the Adrenaline Cyber League 2019 Closed Qualifier. That event saw the squad put together an 8-4 record against its regional rivals, including a 3-2 record against 2 of the other squads in this qualifier (Team Empire and Team Spirit). Of course, a single event performance isn’t exactly a large sample size, but a lot of the hope for this iteration of Winstrike Team comes from the level of experience that it has on the roster. Players like Silent and Lil have built up respectable reputations in their careers, and we saw some impressive performances from Midlaner iLTW this season in his time as a stand-in for OG. Those factors may help to instill a small level of hope for this team coming into the qualifier, but it is clear that Winstrike Team is going to need someone on its roster to produce a top level performance and carry this squad to victory if it wants to be a serious contender for a spot on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow.
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.
Black Hornets Gaming
Nikita “Palantimos“ Grinkevich
Yaroslav “Pikachu” Vasilenko
Yevgeny “chshrct“ Kostroma
Danil “Bignum” Shehovtsov
Vladislav “BLACKARXANGEL“ Ivaschenko
After having its roster dropped by the Pavaga Gaming organization, the squad formerly known as Uvajenie managed to attract a bit of attention with its Top 4 finish in the previous Minor qualifier. In the time since that appearance, Black Hornets Gaming has struggled to find its footing within the CIS region, but this Major qualifier could very well be its opportunity to turn things around late in the Pro Circuit season. Considering the fact that 5 of its previous 6 event appearances have come in open qualifiers, the odds don’t appear to favor the squad at the moment. The team has not been all that impressive in recent times, and those inconsistent performances have come against opposition that absolutely pales in comparison to what it will have to face in this Pro Circuit qualifier. Hope springs eternal in the Dota 2 world though, and there is a small chance that Black Hornets Gaming manages to defy the odds and fight its way to a place on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. However, such a scenario would require what can only be described as a miraculous performance from the squad in this event, as the expectations for the team will be exceptionally low coming into the qualifier.
Egor “.Ark” Zhabotinskii
Serhii “Shisui” Koren
Alexander “Flow” Sazonov
Andrey “ALWAYSWANNAFLY” Bondarenko
The past month or so has been something of a roller coaster experience for FlyToMoon, as the squad reformed near the end of March only to spent the majority of April dealing with changes to its roster. Coming into this Major qualifier, just 2 of the members of that reformed roster remain as the team will look to earn itself a place on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. Despite its successful open qualifier run, the odds look fairly bleak for FlyToMoon, especially considering the fact that the squad need two chances to put together that victorious open qualifier campaign. Aside from those 2 open qualifiers, this iteration of the team’s roster has not other official matches on record, which makes it incredibly difficult to have any faith that it can contend with the leading teams within the CIS region. With that in mind, the expectations for FlyToMoon will be set as low as possible coming into this qualifier, with only a godlike performance from one of its members or some sort of actual divine intervention pushing this squad into contention for 1 of the 2 CIS slots in Moscow.