Pro Circuit Qualifier Preview – EPICENTER Major 2019 North America Closed Qualifier

Battle for 2nd in NA: A host of regional powers look to cement their places behind Evil Geniuses in the NA hierarchy with strong showings in the EPICENTER Major 2019 North America Closed Qualifier

With the MDL Disneyland Paris Major now done and dusted and the final round of Pro Circuit qualifiers upon us, the time has finally come to determine the final pecking order within the North American region, at least with regards to this 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season. Throughout the campaign to this point, it has been clear the EG is the top dog in NA, but no other squad has been able to definitively claim a position above its other regional rivals. With the EPICENTER Major 2019 North America Qualifier representing one of the final opportunities to reach the Pro Circuit stage, the region’s teams are running out of time to prove their strength. Beginning on May 15, the qualifier itself will feature a field of 8 teams, with 6 (Evil Geniuses, Complexity Gaming, beastcoast, Forward Gaming, J.Storm, and Team Xolotl) directly invited squads alongside 2 teams (Young Drug Gaming and Black Sheep) from the open qualifiers. 5 of the 8 participants (Evil Geniuses, Complexity Gaming, beastcoast, Forward Gaming, and J.Storm) have previously attended a Pro Circuit event this season, while another 2 (Team Xolotl and Black Sheep) have participated in prior Pro Circuit qualifiers but have yet to qualify for a LAN event this season. As for the final squad in the field (Young Drug Gaming), this event will mark the team’s first Pro Circuit qualifier appearance of the 2018-2019 season.

The EPICENTER Major 2019 North America 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

 

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.

Evil Geniuses Evil Geniuses
Roster:
Artour “Arteezy” Babaev
Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan
Gustav “s4” Magnusson
Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen
Tal “Fly” Aizik

As the only North American squad to currently hold a position inside the Top 12 in the Pro Circuit Rankings, EG is clearly the strongest team in the North American region, and as such stands as an obvious favorite to claim 1 of the 2 North American slots on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. The team’s play on the international level has been impressive so far this season, and its results on the home front have mirrored that success as EG has earned Top 4 finishes across all 4 of its regional appearances this season. Based upon the team’s consistent success both within the North American region and on the international level, it would take an shockingly sudden setback from the squad for it to miss out on earning its fifth Major appearance of the season in this qualifier.

 

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.

Forward Gaming Forward Gaming
Roster:
Yawar “YawaR” Hassan
Quinn “CC&C” Callahan
Jingjun “Sneyking” Wu
Arif “MSS” Anwar
Johan “pieliedie” Åström

Forward Gaming comes into this event off the back of a relatively underwhelming performance at the OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019, in which the North American squad finished in the 5th-6th place position. That showing on the international level was not quite as strong as the team may have been hoping for, but the focus for the squad coming into this event will be on its play within its home region. On that front, Forward Gaming has been far more impressive, as the squad has earned Top 4 finishes in its last 5 regional appearances. Of course, all of those appearance came before the team’s most recent roster change, as kitrak was replaced by pieliedie who takes over the Support and Captain roles for the squad. The addition of a veteran leader in pieliedie though is likely only going to make Forward Gaming even more formidable coming into this event though, Between the skill and experience of its relatively new lineup and the team’s impressive string of recent results in the North American region, expect Forward Gaming to have a significant impact in this qualifier and contend for 1 of the 2 North American slots in Moscow.

J Storm Small J.Storm
Roster:
RomanResolut1on Fominok
Jonathan “Bryle” De Guia
David “Moo” Hull
Clinton “Fear” Loomis
Park “March” Tae-won

J.Storm made some headlines recently when the organization announced that it had added Resolut1on to its roster, and that Moo would be returning to the Offlane position as part of that process. The team’s play in recent times has already been looking fairly strong, as J.Storm had earned 4 Top 4 finishes across its last 5 total event appearances, including a 1st place performance at WSOE 6: Dota 2. The addition of a new player and the shift of one of its current members to a new position may be cause for some small concerns for J.Storm heading into this qualifier. However, Resolut1on’s skill and experience combined with Moo’s prior history as an Offlaner will largely negate those concerns, and their combined talent will certainly give J.Storm an edge over most of its regional rivals as the squad figures to be a serious contender for a place on the Pro Circuit stage at the Major.

compLexity Gaming new Complexity Gaming
Roster:
Galvin “Meracle” Kang Jian Wen
Linus “Limmp” Blomdin
Otávio “Tavo” Gabriel
Zakari “Zfreek” Freedman
Adam Erwann Shah “Adam” bin Akhtar Hussein

Note: On May 14, Complexity Gaming announced that tavo would be playing with the team as a trial player for the Major qualifiers.

Complexity Gaming comes into this qualifier having just recently put together a 9th-12th place performance at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. While that showing wasn’t particularly bad for the team, it wasn’t overly impressive either, but the good news for the team is that its struggles on the international level will not be nearly as important as its record within the North American region as it prepares for the final Major qualifier of the 2018-2019 season. On the home front, Complexity Gaming’s performance has been markedly better, with the team finishing no lower than 2 across all 6 of its regional appearances since the start of 2019. With half of those Top 4 finishes coming in open qualifiers, things are not quite as positive for Complexity Gaming as they might appear at first glance, but the squad’s 16-10 record against ranked North American squads since the start of 2019 is certainly an encouraging factor for the team. While the team may not be considered a favorite with the likes of EG in the field, Complexity Gaming represents a real threat among the teams in this qualifier, and should be looked at as a legitimate threat to claim 1 of the 2 North American spots at the 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.

Beastcoast Beastcoast
Roster:

Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao
Eric “Ryoya” Dong
Braxton “Brax” Paulson
Timothy “tmt” Ong
Michael “ixmike88”  Ghannam

Beastcoast enters this qualifier off the back of a very underwhelming 13th-16th place performance at the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. The good news for the squad is that its odds coming into this event will be based more upon its record at home than its struggles on the international level. On the home front, the team has looked signficantly better, with Top 4 finishes across 9 of its 10 regional appearances since the start of 2019. Unfortunately, not all of those results are fully relevant to this squad, as many of those appearances came from a period in which the team had a significantly different roster from the one it brings into this qualifier. In fact, the team in its current form has not played any official matches within the North American region, with its only matches against a North American team in general coming in the form of a loss to Complexity Gaming at the Major. Considering the fact that the majority of the team’s roster has been consistent over the last month or so, it stands to reason that the squad’s strength is comparable to the results that it posted during that time frame. However, the uncertainty stemming from its recent roster additions will serve to slightly lower the expectations for beastcoast coming into this 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.

Team Xolotl Team Xolotl
Roster:
Jesús Ángel “Ifrit” Valencia Bonales
Jose Esau “Esk” Perez Coronel
Alejandro Skinfill “Jano” Moreno
Eduardo “Raykill” Núñez
Héctor Adrián “hector” Garza Cárdenas

Mexican squad Team Xolotl is one that we’ve seen a handful of times so far this season, but the squad has never quite managed to find success against its regional rivals. The team does have 9 Top 4 finishes across 15 regional appearances since the start of 2019, but considering the fact that nearly half (4) of those have come in open qualifiers, the team’s achievements are not quite as impressive as they may appear at first glance. The team certainly looks to be taking steps in the right direction this season, but it seems clear that those steps have not been enough for the squad to rise to a level where it can consistently compete with the stronger teams within its regional hierarchy. Of course, there is always a chance that this final event provides some sort of breakthrough opportunity for the squad to take advantage of. However, at this point in the season it is clear that the team would need to put together an exceptionally strong and unexpected push to have a real chance at earning itself a place at the Major.

No Team Logo Young Drug Gaming
Roster:
“Midoli”
“kangkaiu”
Zheng “PatSoul” Yukai
“Rico”
Yixuan “xuan” Guo

Young Drug Gaming comes into this qualifier as a team that very few people have likely ever heard of as it looks to earn itself a place on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. To be brutally honest though, the team’s chances of finding success in this qualifier and beating out its regional rivals are incredibly low. While the team does have a couple of potentially familiar names on the roster in the form of former Void Boys players PaySoul and xuan, the rest of the roster comes into this qualifier relatively unheralded. That degree of obscurity could potentially play out as an advantage for the squad, as its opponents are unlikely to know much about the players or their tendencies in-game. Even if that advantage actually exists though, it would only feasibly get the team so far in this qualifier. At a certain point, the squad would have to show that it can contend with and defeat the most prominent teams in the North American region, and nothing from the squad’s successful open qualifier run suggests that Young Drug gaming is capable of doing so. Perhaps this team does have some sort of miracle run up its sleeves, but it doesn’t seem prudent to expect such from this squad as it prepares for its first Pro Circuit qualifier appearance of the season.

No Team Logo Black Sheep
Roster:
“YamSun”
SamuelSammyboy Anderson
“Oceania”
“dyun”
Daniel “Bloody Nine” Foster

Black Sheep comes into this qualifier as a team that some may be familiar with within the North American region, as the squad has popped up many times across regional events and usually with a different lineup each time. The team has operated as a sort of Dota 2 half-way house for NA players, sporadically bringing in new members to earn a degree of professional experience without necessarily being tied down to a static roster. Now though, the squad is hoping for the chance to take a step forward with its current roster, as Black Sheep prepares for another Pro Circuit qualifier appearance led by the duo of Sammyboy and Bloody Nine. Aside from its runs through the 2 open qualifiers for this event though, this current Black Sheep lineup has somewhat limited experience playing together. Combine that concern with the fact that the team’s players also have limited experience playing against the top squads in its region, and the situation does not look particularly encouraging for Black Sheep coming into this qualifier. In this instance, the scenario around Black Sheep will likely be centered on high hopes and low expectations, as the squad appears unlikely to have a significant impact on the final standings of this event.

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