Top Takeaways from the MDL Chengdu/DOTA Summit 11 Qualifiers

With 1 set of Major/Minor Qualifiers in the books, some trends and storylines are beginning to form across the 6 regions of the Dota 2 world

With the first Pro Circuit Qualifier of the 2019-2020 season now officially in the books, we know the identities of the 23 teams that will be taking the Pro Circuit stage in November at the MDL Chengdu Major and the DOTA Summit 11 Minor. While some of the squads that participated in this first qualifier have made appearances in other regional events and qualifiers, this event served as the first official matches of the season for the vast majority of the participants. With that in mind, we now have a sample of matches with which we can attempt to draw some conclusions regarding the state of each of the 6 Dota 2 regions. This post will detail some of the major takeaways, trends, or potentially noteworthy developments from the seasons’ first round of Pro Circuit Qualifiers. While this post will draw mostly from the matches from the recent qualifier, it should be noted that some teams may have extra data taken into account from other appearances leading up to the start of the qualifier itself.

 

North America

North America is still extremely top-heavy

In a region that has traditionally been dominated by Evil Geniuses, this 2019-2020 season doesn’t appear to be offering us much of a change from that tradition so far. Even with the team’s significant roster changes, EG claimed a place on the Pro Circuit stage with relative ease. Behind them, came the usual suspects in the region, with J.Storm claiming a place and Fighting Pepegas coming in 3rd to lock down a spot as well. Last season featured a similar hierarchy at the top of the region, with EG, J.Storm, and whatever stack EternaLEnVy happened to be on at the time holding down spots in the Top 4 of the region.

The only change so far in the season is the absence of squads like Foward Gaming (disbanded) and Complexity Gaming (skipped the qualifier). However, with the recently formed Quincy Crew managing to claim the region’s lone spot at the Minor, it would appear that the same names will be at the top of the regional hierarchy this season, even if the teams/organizations have shifted. The Quincy Crew lineup features 3 of the former members of the Forward Gaming/Newbee roster from the 2018-2019 campaign, though there could be a new face added to the mix with the recent announcement of SumaiL’s departure from the team. Either way, the level of new blood at the top of the North American region appears incredibly low at the current moment, with the best teams largely being those that held favorable positions last season as well.

NA top 4
The usual suspects on top in NA (Quincy Crew won the Minor Qual.)

Perhaps the return of Complexity Gaming to the regional scene will help alleviate these concerns and through another competitor into that mix at the top of the regional hierarchy. If that doesn’t end up happening though, expect to see the same 3-4 squads at the top of the North American hierarchy throughout the rest of the season.

Where are the Tier 2 teams/organizations?

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with a region having a clear group of elite squads, but the real issue in North America is the clear separation between those elite teams and the rest of the region. Circling back to an earlier point, some of the lack of competition could stem from the absence of Complexity Gaming, but just 1 squad doesn’t seem likely to make enough of a difference to counteract this effect. Of the 10 teams that participated in this qualifier, 5 of them constituted what we would call “open qualifiers teams”, implying that the squads are formed for the expressed purpose of playing open qualifiers and are unlikely to continue forward together unless they find immediate success. That isn’t to say that these squads don’t have talented players on them, but without the resources and structure of an actual team or organization, many of them fail to live up to their potential and fall by the wayside.

To a certain extent, the creation of these “open qualifier teams” is an honored tradition in the Dota 2 world, and the entire purpose of having open qualifiers in the first place is to give those squads an opportunity to put their strength on display. However, when around half of the teams in the field fall under that category, the Tier 2 scene of a region is effectively dormant, and it appears that this is the exact scenario we are looking at in North America. Perhaps a new organization decides to take the plunge and put together a squad, or maybe one or more of the so-called “open qualifier teams” opts to remain together for a deeper run into the season. For now though, the divide between the elite teams and everyone else appears massive in the North American region, which could prove to be an issue moving forward through the season.

 

South America

beastcoast (formerly Team Anvorgesa) is still the clear regional leader

A team that comes into the new season off the back of a region’s best ever performance at TI is essentially guaranteed to be a candidate for regional leader, and beastcoast certainly didn’t disappoint in this first qualifier. The team absolutely dominated its regional rivals, losing just a single game en route to claiming a place on the Pro Circuit stage at the MDL Chengdu Major. With its TI9 roster still fully intact, this development hardly comes as a surprise, and while there are a couple of other squads in the region that looked strong in this qualifier, none of them seemed quite ready to challenge beastcoast for that coveted position at the top of the regional hierarchy. The region certainly looks like it could be more competitive in this 2019-2020 season, but it is clear at this stage that beastcoast is the strongest team that South America has to offer, and that status appears to be relatively safe for the time being.

beastcoast

beastcoast 2
beastcoast (formerly Team Anvorgesa) went 12-1 in the Major Qual.

South America is far more competitive this season than last

After just 1 qualifier, this particular take is somewhat premature, but the point of this exercise is to point out takeaways from just this qualifier, which will obviously lead to some bold, and potentially incorrect, statements. That being said, the South American regional qualifier did look more competitive than many of those that we saw in the 2018-2019 season, which saw teams like Chaos Esports Club (before its shift to Europe) and paiN Gaming dominate the region with only scattered resistance. Of course, there was still a clear leader in this event in the form of beastcoast, with the squad simply smashing its past every other team that it was put up against. However, outside of that squad we saw quite a few other teams put together some encouraging performances that hint at a potentially more crowded regional scene.

While it was regional powerhouse paiN Gaming that managed to lock down the lone South American slot at the upcoming Minor, it should be noted that the team’s path to success was not nearly as smooth as it had been last season. First and foremost is the fact that paiN Gaming will be attending the Minor rather than the Major, due to a fantastic run from Peruvian squad Team Unknown. Even once paiN Gaming was dropped into the Minor Playoffs, it still met with some stiff resistance from its competition, particularly from fellow Brazilian squad NoPing e-sports. NoPing e-sports posted a 4-4 record against paiN Gaming in the Minor Playoff, and took the squad to a full 5 game series in the Grand Finals before finally falling to the more experienced paiN Gaming roster. Between the solid play of teams like Team Unknown and NoPing e-sports, along with rising powers like Incubus Gaming and FURIA Esports, the South American region stands to be a far more competitive region that what we saw last season.

 

Europe

Liquid and Alliance looking strong to open season

Coming into this first qualifier of the season, the field appeared to be lead by the duo of Team Liquid and Alliance, with the former having signed the previous lineup of the latter, while the latter picked up the stack formed by regional veteran Fata. The 2 teams put together a combined 13-3 record in the Group Stage of the qualifier, claiming the top spots in their respective groups before sweeping past each of their first opponents in their first Playoff series. In fact, the only thing that seemed to slow down either squad was playing against the other, as Alliance took down Team Liquid 2-1 to claim the first European spot at the Major. After taking down NiP 2-0 in the Lower Bracket Finals, Team Liquid managed to lock down its own spot in Chengdu while setting both itself and Alliance up as potential contenders within their home region.

Europe is once again looking like the most crowded/competitive region

The European qualifier was certainly an entertaining event to begin the season, and while there were clear standouts like Team Liquid and Alliance, it should be noted that most of the other teams in the field put together respectable showing sin their own right. While squads like Hippomaniacs, Wind and Rain, GODSENT, and six eight three were somewhat underwhelming, we did see strong showings from teams like NiP, Team Singularity, Ad Finem, and Ascomanni. Of course, a respectable showing doesn’t always mean that a team has a chance at reaching the Pro Circuit stage, and most of the aforementioned teams fell short of the mark to earn one of those coveted spots. However, the fact remain that none of those teams ever appeared to be an “easy out” for their regional rivals, with every squad provided at least some level of resistance and threat to their fellow participants.

It could be said that this effect is being exaggerated just a bit, and that would be a somewhat fair point. At the end of the day, there will always be teams that finish at the bottom of the event standings and come across as weaker than their opponents. However, this European qualifier looked like one of the closer events compared to some of the other regions, which is remarkable when one considers just how many of the region’s leading teams were not present. Team Secret, OG, and the former Team Liquid roster all skipped this first qualifier, and it feels safe to say that all 3 squads would have been heavy favorite to claim places at the Major had they participated in this event. For the region’s first Pro Circuit Qualifier of the season to feature this level of competitive balance with 3 of its strongest squads out of action speaks to the incredible level of talent that Europe boasts this season. The only thing more interesting than seeing these teams battle it out in this first qualifier will be watching how they adjust to the return of those powerhouse squads further in the season.

EU field
A formidable field of teams in Europe, even without some of the region’s strongest squads participating

 

CIS

VP is not back to its previous form

Despite making some big changes to its roster in the offseason, VP still managed to find its way to the Pro Circuit stage to begin this 2019-2020 campaign, with the squad locking down a spot at the DOTA Summit 11 Minor. However, if one had said last season that VP would begin this new campaign qualifying for the Minor rather than the Major, many would be disinclined to believe it. While the squad put together what was overall an impressive and respectable showing with its new roster, it is clear that VP is nowhere near the dominant form that it showed throughout the past 2 seasons. For the most part, this wasn’t exactly a shocking development, as anytime an organization that has won 5 Major Championship titles breaks up its roster, there is due to be some adjustments and some degree of decline in terms of its level of play. That being said, there were some obvious positives for VP coming away from this first qualifier run that will have the team and its fans feeling somewhat optimistic moving forward. The addition of another veteran presence in Resolut1on will almost assuredly make the team’s rebuild a bit more manageable, and the squad’s more inexperienced additions in epileptick1d and Save- played fairly well in their first official matches with the organization. In time, perhaps VP can develop this roster back into a powerhouse of the CIS region, but for the time being, it is clear that the squad is not quite back to that dominant form that we saw in seasons past.

vp roster
VP’s updated roster for the season’s first qualifier

VP’s rebuild opens the way for a more competitive region

For years now, VP has stood as the absolute pinnacle of the CIS region, with the squad dominating all of its regional rivals while laying claim to a record 5 Major Championship titles. The squad has not entirely disbanded, but it is clear that its current roster rebuild is going to have an impact on its ability to retain its position at the top of the regional hierarchy. With the region’s long time leader now working its way back into top form, there appears to be a wealth of opportunities for other teams in the region to step up and carve out places for themselves near the top. Prior to the start of the season, it appeared that Na’Vi would be the team in the best positions to pull this off, but the squad’s own struggles in this first Pro Circuit Qualifier have left the path to success wide open.

We have already seen the likes of Gambit Esports and Positive Guys take advantage of these opportunities surging into the void left by VP and Na’Vi’s issues to claim the region’s 2 slots at the Major. Even squads like Old but Gold, HellRaisers, and the recently formed jfshfh178 have put up stronger fights than we might have been anticipating before the season began. While VP certainly hasn’t fallen off the map within the CIS region, the team clearly needs time to recover its former strength, which gives us a situation in which the CIS region actually looks fairly even in terms of strength as opposed to the “VP vs. everyone else” narrative that has emerged over the past 2 years.

What happened to Na’Vi?

When it was announced that VP would be undergoing some major roster changes, the most obvious beneficiary of that situation appeared to be Na’Vi, as the squad had pushed its way to a position near the top of the regional hierarchy last season. With the veteran 9pasha added to an already exciting lineup, it looked as though the team had finally earned its chance to take down its biggest regional rival and claim a place atop the CIS hierarchy. That did not happen, as Na’Vi turned in a dreadful showing in the first qualifier of the Pro Circuit season with a 2-6 record against its regional rivals. The poor showing came as something of a surprise for Na’Vi, as the squad had just finished a 1st place run in WePlay! Reshuffle Madness 2019 in which it had claimed series wins over regional rivals HellRaisers and Positive Guys. Unfortunately, any momentum from that event appeared to abandon Na’Vi in this qualifier, resulting in a disappointing showing from the team.

navi record

navi matches
With VP going through a rebuild, Na’Vi squandered its first chance of the season to shine in the CIS region

With the team missing out on a spot on the Pro Circuit stage at the season’s first Minor and Major, some may be panicking a bit with regards to Na’Vi’s position moving forward. At this stage, that panic seems a bit unwarranted, as Na’Vi still appear to have the talent and experience needed to remain competitive in this new CIS scene. It is clear that the rest of the region is beginning to catch up though, with Na’Vi’s path to success not nearly as open as many may have assumed prior to the start of the season. If the squad continues to struggle to this degree in the months ahead, then the time will have come to panic, but for now we will ahve to have faith that the squad will be able to turn things around in the near future.

 

Southeast Asia

TNC Predator and Fnatic are still elite

Despite both teams making some changes to their rosters in the offseason period, the duo of TNC Predator and Fnatic remain at the top of the regional hierarchy in Southeast Asia with some impressive performances in this first qualifier of the season. The teams dominated the Group Stage of the event, posting a combined 14-2 record to finish at the top of their respective groups, before winning their lone Playoff series to lock down spots at the season’s first Major. Throughout their runs, neither squad looked to be particularly slowed down by the resistance placed before it, with the two teams pushing past their regional rivals with relative ease. Unfortunately, the format of the qualifier and the respective places of both teams did not give us the opportunity to see Fnatic and TNC Predator face off against each other, but it appears clear at this early stage of the season that both teams are among the best in their home region. While squads like Geek Fam and Team Adroit certainly appear to be building up momentum for themselves within the region, Fnatic and TNC Predator will likely have an extended period at the top of the regional hierarchy before either of the aforementioned challengers reach a position to truly threaten them.

Who is Team Adroit?

This is probably a question that many asked themselves when they saw the list of 3 squads that will be representing Southeast Asia at the season’s first Major. To be fair to those people, Team Adroit is a team and an organization that not many are likely to be overly familiar with, especially considering the fact that the organization itself only came into existence around 5 months ago. The team put together some decent performance over the final month or two of the previous Pro Circuit season, and attracted a fair bit of attention with a 3rd place run in the TI9 Southeast Asia Qualifier.

Even after that performance though, the events of TI9 itself and the subsequent rush of roster changes in the Southeast Asian region led to very little attention being paid to Team Adroit, as the squad kept the entirety of its roster intact coming into the 2019-2020 season. The squad turned in a pair of strong showings in the Philippines in September, but entered this qualifier having not played many official matches against the stronger teams within its home region. Any doubts regarding the team’s ability to contend with its regional rivals though was quickly done away with, as the squad posted a 6-2 Group Stage record before falling in a hard fought 1-2 series against TNC Predator in the Playoffs. After coming close to taking down a regional powerhouse, Team Adroit bounced right back with a 2-0 win over Cignal Ultra to lock down a place at the Major.

team adroit
Get used to seeing these names in SEA this season

While it is true that a strong showing in a singular qualifier is not a guarantee of success throughout the rest of the season, Team Adroit has certainly presented a strong first impression to begin the 2019-2020 season. With Mineski still without a roster, and teams like BOOM Esports and Geek Fam still building up to their full strength, Team Adroit looks like the best candidate to challenge the likes of Fnatic and TNC Predator for a place among the region’s elite teams at this early stage of the season.

 

China

Vici Gaming remains an elite squad in China

Vici Gaming came into this season as 1 of the 2 clear leaders in the Chinese region, standing alongside PSG.LGD as the best teams in the region. With PSG.LGD not participating in this qualifier, Vici Gaming had an opportunity to reaffirm its place at the top of the regional hierarchy with a strong performance against its regional rivals. The squad certainly manged to put together that kind of showing with a 8-3 overall record that secured the team a place at the season’s first Major. While the team’s performance wasn’t necessarily as dominant as what we saw from some of the other regional leaders, Vici Gaming’s qualifier run was right in line with what we saw from the squad last season.

The strength of Vici Gaming for most of the previous Pro Circuit season wasn’t necessarily the ability to simply overpower and break down its opponents through sheer strength alone. Instead, the squad excelled in playing a consistent style of play that heavily punished its opponents for making mistakes, as the Chinese powerhouses’s overall level of strength rarely wavered. That was the kind of performance that we saw from the team in this qualifier, as Vici Gaming remained steady and consistent across the vast majority of its matches. That isn’t to say that its opponents played poorly, but with Vici Gaming rarely fluctuating in terms of its own strength, beating them required a degree of consistency that the other squads in the field simply could not maintain indefinitely.

The Chinese regional hierarchy appears ready for a reset this season

Last season, we got a fairly good idea of just where each of the teams/organization stood within the Chinese region, though that clear hierarchy probably stemmed from the fact that we had an entire season’s worth of matches to look at. Just 1 qualifier into the 2019-2020 season though, it would appear that the previous hierarchy is due for a potential change, with previously powerful teams stumbling out of the gate while less prominent organizations and teams appear ready to rise. Before we get into the specifics of this though, it should be noted that a lot of this early change could be due to PSG.LGD’s absence from this qualifier, and that everything could be subject to change once the regional leader returns.

At the end of last season, teams like Royal Never Give Up and Keen Gaming appeared to be sitting in favorable positions within the Chinese scene, while teams like EHOME, Team Aster, Newbee, and CDEC Gaming appeared to be building up strength while remaining a step or two below their more prominent rivals. Through this first Pro Circuit Qualifier, we have seen most of those more prominent squads fade a bit, while the up-and-coming squads of last season appear to have taken a big step forward. EHOME and Team Aster emerged from the offseason with updated rosters, and both squads managed to earn themselves places at the Major. Meanwhile, the trio of Newbee, CDEC Gaming, and Invictus Gaming all finished at least 3rd in the Minor Qualifier, with iG claiming a place at the event itself. With these squads putting together impressive performances in this qualifier, the old guard struggled a bit to begin the season, with both Keen Gaming and RNG failing to earn places on the Pro Circuit stage at all.

This early in the season, it is hard to make any definitive conclusions as to how a particular region will play out over the rest of the campaign. However, it is rare to see the regional hierarchy see such a big series of changes over the course of a single offseason, and not all of the changes from team’s in this first qualifier can be written off as flukes or one-time performances. If even one of these early trends from these Chinese squads carries on moving forward, then there is potential for the Chinese hierarchy to be shaken up in a significant way over the course of the 2019-2020 season.

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