With The International fast approaching, the world's very finest Dota 2 teams are going to duke it out to see who's the very best. The winning team will take with them the Aegis of the Immortal, the Stanley Cup of professional Dota 2.
The International is the single biggest tournament in Dota 2, and it marks the end of the competitive season. Numerous Major and Minor tournaments lead to this very moment, but none shine as bright as the main event. Every professional Dota 2 player's dream is a chance at competing on the big stage. We've seen a lot of those dreams get crushed in both the Open and Main Qualifiers.
While the first ever edition of TI was held in Cologne, Germany, TI's 2 through 7 were held in Seattle. This year's tournament has been relocated to Vancouver, Canada. Seattle's KeyArena will be replaced with the Vancouver's Rogers Arena.
Another huge change to the TI format was the addition of the DPC Ranking System. Previously, the direct invitees were chosen based on Valve's assessment which managed to spark a lot of controversy. The DPC Ranking System was split across two types of tournaments, Majors and Minors.
The top four teams in each tournament were given a certain number of DPC points based on their placement. Three players with the highest number of points were chosen from their respective teams and their points were added up for a final total of the team's qualifying points. Any team that made a roster change beyond the prescribed transfer window were ineligible for a direct invite.
With the 2017/18 competitive season coming to a close, we noticed a slight shift in power across the Dota 2 scene. Many teams underperformed or simply did not live up to expectations. Keep in mind, there are no weak teams at The International, and depending on the day any team can beat any other.
You could definitely say that the mighty have fallen when it comes to OG. Just a year ago, OG were considered the top dogs, and the team to beat coming into The International 2017. Although they ended the tournament in a lacklustre 7 - 8th place, nobody could have guessed that it was just a sign of things to come.
OG are notorious for underperforming at TI, and heading into the 2017/18 season they picked up Ukranian superstar Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok as their mid-laner. The team failed to land a top-four finish in any Major tournament post TI-7, and were left squabbling for points in the Minors.
Their most notable achievement in the past year was a victory at MDL Macau, but for a team with four Major victories in the past it was far from enough. After losing Resolut1on in March, the team was dealt a critical blow as longtime captain and one of the team's founders Tal "Fly" Aizik, along with offlaner Gustav "s4" Magnusson left the team to join Evil Geniuses. The duo were replaced by returnee Anathan "ana" Pham, who played with the squad at Tl 2017, and Finnish pubstar Topias "Topson" Taavitsainen.
After fighting through the Open Qualifiers, the team earned their spot in Vancouver by steamrolling their competition during the European Main Qualifiers. As it stands, OG are in the most difficult situation out of any attending team, and expectations are at an all-time low. With the squad playing together for only two months, they are definitely one of the biggest underdogs at the event.
Brazil finally has a team at The International. Despite coming from the arguably weakest region, Pain Gaming have definitely left their mark on the Dota scene during this year. The addition of Romanian mid-laner Aliwi "w33" Omar turned out the best possible move the Brazilians could make. After a slow and erratic early season their first major breakthrough came at the World Electronic Sports Games 2017, where they finished 3rd whilst playing without w33haa.
Their brightest moment of the year was a 3rd place finish at the ESL One Birmingham Major where they managed to beat the likes of Team Liquid and Mineski. Their style of play can only be described as organised chaos. With the unpredictability of the Round Robin Group Stage format, Pain Gaming can definitely be considered a landmine for any team attending The International.
The Filipino team are often crowd favourites no matter the event. Regardless, TNC's year can only be described as consistently inconsistent. They started the season off with a bang, winning China Top 2017 and finishing as the runners-up at MDL Macau. Shortly after, they failed to qualify for ESL One Katowice 2018 and the Starladder i-League Invitational Season 4. After losing their Canadian captain Theeban "1437" Sheeva in late January, TNC suffered a huge drop in form, and only partially recovered at the Dota 2 Asia Championship 2018 where they took 4th place.
In the SEA scene, their battles with Fnatic were a sight to behold with teams looking evenly matched. That being said, gone are the days where TNC were considered just another SEA team or even a rags to riches story. They have shown time and again that on a good day, they can be a force to be reckoned with. If they somehow manage to recuperate and bring their A-game to Vancouver, we can expect a high placing finish.
On the other hand, there is an equal chance that they will bomb out of the tournament.
A massive question surrounding Team Serenity is who are they in the first place? Team Serenity came out of the blue during the Chinese Open Qualifiers besting the likes of CDEC Gaming. While it is uncommon that a largely unknown team makes it through the Open Qualifiers, Team Serenity really showed their teeth during China's Main Qualifiers. After besting the likes of former TI champions Invictus Gaming and LGD.Forever Young who were 3rd at last year's TI, Serenity shocked the Dota 2 world by once again beating the same teams and winning the Chinese Qualifiers.
Their only player with international LAN experience is Jin "zhizhizhi" Zhiyi who played with Keen Gaming at ESL One Hamburg 2017. The rest of the squad have limited LAN time behind their belts.
Team Serenity appeared on the international scene in a Wings Gaming-esque fashion, taking the scene by storm. Heading into TI, they are quite frankly the biggest mystery in the history of the competition, and are considered one of the biggest dark horses attending the tournament.
VGJ.Storm are a North American squad with a mix of veterans and young blood. Their team is packed full of talent spearheaded by Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok. The current line-up is the second iteration the organisation has had this year.
Before even attending their first LAN, they replaced their mid-laner Enzo "Timado" Gianoli with Resolut1on. The team's first major breakthrough came at their very first LAN tournament, winning the GESC: Thailand Dota 2 Minor. Only a week later, they finished as the runners-up at the MDL Changha Major.
Under the guidance of their experienced captain Avery "SVG" Silverman, the team are a big threat at TI, and despite the relative inexperience of some of their members, they do stand a chance at doing fairly well in Vancouver.
Winstrike is a new face in the CIS region. The organisation signed the CIS squad of FlyToMoon during the Main CIS Qualifiers.
The FlyToMoon stack was a relative newcomer on the CIS block. The team was formed in February earlier this year with some of the most well-known and established players in the CIS scene. The combined team has limited LAN experience, but their showing at Epicenter Major was one to behold. FlyToMoon fought through the Lower Brackets, even knocking out Virtus Pro before falling to Team Liquid in the Lower Bracket Finals, taking home third place.
With such a small number of showings to go by, along with the relatively weak state of the CIS scene, Winstrike should be considered one of the underdogs heading to Vancouver. Overall, CIS teams tend to be as consistent as a coin toss with their TI performance.
Invictus Gaming had a horrendous season to say the least. The once titans of the Chinese scene have been reduced to shadows of their former selves. They managed to bomb out of almost every Chinese qualifier this year, except for the one that counts. Their only LAN victory was at the World Cyber Arena 2017 with the competition being as weak as ever.
Apart from that, a weak 9-12th place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championship 2018, and an atrocious 9-10th place finish at the MDL Changsha Major have marked the past season as their worst. The former TI champions are lucky to even qualify.
Roster changes plagued the team over the whole season for both their carry and mid-laner, twice. After losing their carry, the Chinese legend Xu "BurNIng" Zhilei to inactivity, Invictus Gaming picked up Yang "END/GazEoD" Pu. Shortly after, the team traded mid-laner Ou "Op" Peng to LGD.Forever Young for Xie "Super" Junhao. As none of the changes helped IG pick up their pace, Sun "Agressif" Zheng and Sun "Srf" Runfa were picked up shortly after, with Super returning to LGD.FY, Op going inactive and END registering with Sun Gaming.
When the trade chaos ended, Invictus Gaming were stuck with a broken roster, trapped in the Chinese scene's limbo. Invictus Gaming's chances at a decent TI result look slimmer than ever, and it's going to take a true miracle for them to get back on their feet.
Fnatic has had a rollercoaster of roster changes during this season. After the latest squad iteration was announced, with the lovable but controversial Jackie "EternaLEnVy" Mao as the face of the organisation, everybody knew it would be quite a ride.
The team had a rough season start, with a 3rd place finish at The Major League and a 7-8th finish at ESL One Hamburg. Just two months after the season started, mid-laner Steve "Excalibur" Ye was replaced by SEA pubstar Abed "Abed" Azel Yusop.
As the team was slowly picking up the pace, the infamous Pizza Party controversy sparked when offlaner Khoo "Ohaiyo" Chong Xin was replaced by former Evil Geniuses player Saahil "UniVeRsE" Arora, only a day after winning the ESL One Katowice Qualifiers.
As with TNC Predator, Fnatic's form this year has largely been inconsistent. Their crowning achievements for the season were a 4th place at the ESL One Katowice Major, a 2nd place at DreamLeague Season 9, and a 4th place finish at the ESL One Birmingham Major. Fnatic seem a middle of the pack team, and while not considered one of the favourites, a bit of luck could mean all the difference at this year's TI.
Optic Gaming were definitely an odd choice to put down as a dark horse. The team has grown exponentially under the guidance of legendary captain and TI 2015 winner Peter "ppd" Dager.
They had a tough early season, only winning one out of six North American Qualifiers. Shortly after qualifying to ROG Masters, the team lost their Danish support player Rasmus "MiSeRy" Filipsen to Evil Geniuses. MiSeRy was replaced by Israeli offlaner Neta "33/The Coon" Shapira, who took the offlane position from Ludwig "zai" Wahlberg with the latter taking over MiSeRy's old position.
Despite losing one of their best and most experienced players, their first LAN was a huge success as they finished in second place at the ROG Masters 2017 in Kuala Lumpur. The team's struggles continued into 2018 with rather underwhelming finishes at ESL One Katowice, The Bucharest Major and the Dota 2 Asia Championship 2018.
Their highlight of the year was a stunning 2nd place at the ESL One Birmingham Major, besting the likes of Mineski and Fnatic before falling to Virtus Pro in the Grand Finals. Optic Gaming are one of the stronger Western squads heading into the tournament, and with ppd's leadership are a real threat to every team in Vancouver.