Pro Circuit Qualifier Preview – EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier

Regional and international titans clash with hopeful challengers as 3 slots in Moscow are up for grabs in the EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier

The 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season is entering its home stretch now with the conclusion of the MDL Disneyland Paris Major, and the final round of Pro Circuit qualifiers is upon us. Teams all around the Dota 2 world are beginning to feel the pressure as the final opportunities to earn places on the Pro Circuit stage are fast approaching, and nowhere is this pressure felt the most than in Europe. Throughout the season to this point, Europe has been considered one of, if not the most, crowded regions in the Dota 2 world in terms of the strength and quantity of its teams, and this EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier represents one of the final chances for those European squads to make their mark against their regional rivals. Set to begin on May 15, the qualifier will see 8 European squads compete for a place on the Pro Circuit stage, with 6 of them (Team Secret, Team Liquid, OG, NiP, Alliance, and The Final Tribe) having received direct invites while the final 2 (Aachen City Esports and Team Singularity) earned their places through the 2 open qualifiers. Of those 8 participating squads, 6 of them (Team Secret, Team Liquid, OG, NiP, Alliance, and The Final Tribe) hold positions in the Pro Circuit Rankings, while the other 2 (Aachen City Esports and Team Singularity) have previously attended a Pro Circuit qualifier but did not qualify for a LAN event.

The EPICENTER Major 2019 Europe Closed Qualifier will see the 8 participating teams compete for 3 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 GSL style bracket. All matches in the Playoffs will be played in Bo3, with the top 2 teams earning the final 2 slots 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

 

The Favorites

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.

Secret_logo Team Secret
Roster:

Michał “Nisha” Jankowski
Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng
Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg
Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat
Clement “Puppey” Ivanov

This one is about as easy as it gets, as Team Secret comes into this qualifier having already claimed 2 Major Championship titles this season. The team has long been the top squad in the European region, with none of its regional rivals coming close to providing any sort of consistent resistance to the powerhouse squad. That run of dominance doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon, and Team Secret has to be considered a heavy favorite to claim 1 of the 3 European slots at the EPICENTER Major. Unless the squad suffers some sort of cataclysmic setback, expect Team Secret to once again find success against its regional rivals in this qualifier.

600px-Team_liquid_logo_2017 Team Liquid
Roster:

Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen
Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi
Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov
Maroun “GH” Merhej
Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi

Team Liquid comes into this regional qualifier off of an absolutely incredible 2nd place performance at the MDL Disneyland Major. With the team appearing to be returning to the form that saw it win TI7, Team Liquid will stand as a formidable force against its regional rivals. The squad’s performance within the European region has been fairly consistent all season long, with Team Liquid earning Top 4 finishes in 4 of its 5 regional appearances so far. With the added factor of the squad’s recent breakthrough on the Pro Circuit stage though, it looks like the squad has potentially turned a corner and worked itself into a position where it should be considered one of the stronger squads in the field for this event. Unless we see an exceedingly unexpected setback from the squad in this qualifier, expect to see Team Liquid compete for 1 of the 3 European slots in Moscow.

 

The Contenders

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.

425px-OG_RB_Logo OG
Roster:

Anathan “ana” Pham
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen
Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein

The season to this point has been one of relatively inconsistency for OG, as the squad has struggling to find its footing. However, the return of ana to the team’s lineup along with its 5th-6th place finish at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major has the squad sitting in a fairly favorable position heading into this regional qualifier. Since the return of ana in March, the team has put together a 10-9 record within the European region, including an 8-9 record against regional rivals with positions in the Pro Circuit Rankings. Those numbers are not quite as impressive as they could be, but they at least point out the fact that OG has been able to compete with its stronger regional rivals in recent times. The team will certainly be a threat heading into this event, but it doesn’t quite have the strength to be considered on the same level as the top tier squads in its region. Against European squads in the Top 12 in the Pro Circuit Rankings, OG’s record since ana’s return its just 2-8. With that in mind, the squad can be considered a threat and a contender for a spot on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow, but the team will need to either avoid the heavy hitters in the field or find a way to push past them in order to reach that goal.

Ninjas In Pyjamas Ninjas in Pyjamas
Roster:
Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard
Adrian “Fata” Trinks
Neta “33” Shapira
Martin “Saksa” Sazdov
Peter “ppd” Dager

NiP comes into this qualifier in perhaps the strongest position that it has held all season long, with the team just coming off of a Minor Championship title and a 5th-6th place performance at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. Those impressive performances make NiP a dangerous squad in the field for this qualifier, and a team that will likely be favored in most of the match ups that it will face against its regional rivals. With that being said, the squad isn’t quite considered to be a favorite coming into this qualifier, due mostly to the fact that the team has struggled in match ups against its fellow Top 12 Ranked squads. Since the start of 2019, the team’s record against teams inside the Top 12 in the Pro Circuit Rankings is 20-31. Even with the team’s recent successes on the Pro Circuit stage, NiP will still need to either avoid the heavy hitters in this field (i.e. teams like Team Secret and Team Liquid), or bring one or more of those powerhouses down on its path to returning to the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow.

 

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.

Alliance Alliance
Roster:

Michael “miCKe” Vu
Max “qojqva” Bröcker
Samuel “Boxi” Svahn
Aydin “iNSaNiA” Sarkohi
Tommy “Taiga” Le

For the first time in nearly three months, Alliance will enter an event with the entirety of its normal roster active, as miCKe has return to the lineup. With qojqva set to undergo a routine surgery in the near future though, the team’s reunion will not last long, which means that Alliance will need to make the most of this narrow window with a strong showing against its regional rivals in this qualifier. The squad’s play in recent times has been fairly impressive, as it has earned 4 Top 4 finishes in its last 5 total appearances since the start of miCKe’s recovery. Of course, those Top 4 finishes did come with Madara acting as a stand-in for the squad, but the hope is that miCKe will be able to fit right back into the team’s game plan and help the squad continue that string of success. Considering the strength of some of the heavy hitters in this field though, any degree of uncertainty has to be considered a weakness. Until we see that miCKe is playing at 100% in this qualifier, the expectations for Alliance will have to be slightly lower than usual, though the squad is still likely to have a significant impact in this event.

 

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.

The Final Tribe The Final Tribe
Roster:
Pontus “Frost” Frost
Rasmus “Chessie” Blomdin
Andreas “Xibbe” Ragnemalm
Simon “Handsken” Haag
Adrian “Era” Kryeziu

2019 has not been a particularly impressive period for The Final Tribe so far, as the squad has struggled to generate any real sense of momentum for itself within the European region. Since the start of the year, the squad has earned 4 Top 4 finishes across 10 total appearances, with 2 of those Top 4 finishes coming in open qualifiers. That level of play is not going to be nearly enough for The Final Tribe to contend in this regional qualifier, and it is clear that the squad will have to step things up to a significant degree if it wants to have any shot at competing with the heavy hitters in this field. Considering the experience on the team’s roster, such a surge is at least a possibility for The Final Tribe, but seeing such a scenario actually play out for the Swedish squad in this event doesn’t appear to be all that likely at the moment.

Singularity esports Team Singularity
Roster:
Steve “Excalibur” Ye
Jure Pingvincek Plešej
Maxim “Shachlo” Abramovskikh
Jerry “EGM” Lundkvist
Yaroslav “Miposhka” Naidenov

The squad formerly known as The ReaL DeaL had managed to take some impressive steps forward under the Team Singularity organization. Since the team’s signing in February, it has managed to put together 8 Top 4 finishes across 11 total appearances. However, the team still has some significant improvements to make if it wants to be a real contender in this field that includes some of the elite teams of the European region. Of the team’s aforementioned 8 Top 4 finishes, 5 of them have come in open qualifiers against a caliber of opponents that simply cannot be compared to the squads that it will have to contend with in this Pro Circuit qualifier. At this stage in the season, Team Singularity has shown some impressive improvement as a team, but it will need to take another, massive step forward in this event to have a shot at earning a place on the Pro Circuit stage. As of right now, such a big development from this team doesn’t appear to be particularly likely, which puts the expectations fairly low for it heading into this qualifier.

Aachen City Esports Aachen City Esports
Roster:
Alik “V-Tune” Vorobey
Dmitry “DM” Dorokhin
Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov
Sergey “Ecnart” Slobodyanyk
Nikola “LeBronDota” Popović

The last time we saw this squad, it was competing in the CIS region, but Aachen City Esports opted to a transfer to the European region as it takes its last shots at earning a place on the Pro Circuit stage. The team’s recent performances have not been all that impressive, with Aachen City Esports putting together a 9th-10th place finish in the joinDOTA League Season 15 Europe and a 5th-6th place performance in the Cobx Masters 2019 Phase II before making its successful run in the open qualifiers for this event. Though the team’s roster does have a fair bit of skill and experience under its belt, nothing in its recent results suggests that it will be capable of contending with some of the leading teams within the European region. The odds of success for Aachen City Esports are exceptionally poor coming into this event, and while there is always hope for an underdog run from any team, this squad will need an absolutely miraculous series of events to unfold for it to even have a chance at reaching the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow.

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