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Neutral’s Opinion: Storylines to look out for in the Road to TI7 Part 1

Neutrals Opinion copy

The NBA has its Playoffs. WWE has Wrestlemania. Dota2 has The International. The biggest competitive contest in the world of esports is coming in just a few months. But it’s hard to root for teams now that roster shuffles happen so often and organizations form and disband as quick as a wink. Regardless, there are teams that have compelling narratives that we could look forward to and watch and support. Here are the teams that you should be following today, with their various storylines and motivations on their quest for the TI gold.


 

SG e-sports

A very young squad that emerged out of nowhere from the South American qualifiers, this Brazilian team of resilient Dota2 players have been the underdogs from the start until the finish of their Kiev Major run. Having played together in three different teams starting from their run as paiN Gaming from June 2016, into becoming Kingao+4 after the organization decided to let go of their Dota2 team. After winning second in the WESG 2016 Americas Finals, the team was finally signed by SG e-sports in November 13, 2016.

But even then the Brazilians aren’t really the favorites, so to speak, among the South American teams. The Peruvian teams Not Today, Team DileCom and Infamous are usually regarded as the better South American teams thanks to their great showing in WESG last year. That being said, SG e-sports would seem to have a very large chip on their shoulder. But succeeding in earning a spot in the Kiev Major and their subsequent upset win versus Team Secret and strong series against Evil Geniuses goes to show that they can compete on the international stage against the teams that are considered to be top-tier.

However, SG e-sports relatively successful run in the Kiev Major is again plagued by the following Americas Qualifiers of succeeding LAN events. Without their separate qualifiers for the South American region, SG-esports failed to take a spot in either EPICENTER or the Summit 7, falling twice against the likes of Thunderbirds and Team NP. Does this go to show that the South Americans really can’t get ahead their competition, even in just the Americas region? Will SG e-sports be able to make a great run from here on out to be able to qualify for TI7? Only time will tell.

Wings Gaming

Okay, you might be saying, hold up, Neutral, but isn’t Wings Gaming no more? Well, hear me out first. True, the former TI6 champions hadn’t been making a great show during their championship reign. Their organization dropped them before Kiev, forcing them to play under the name Team Random. But the bad news didn’t stop there for Wings. After leaving the Kiev Major early with a disappointing 9th-16th place finish, the majority of the former Wings squad announced their retirement from professional Dota2. Thus, this will mark the first time in the history of competitive Dota that the reigning champions won’t be defending their title in the next International. Furthermore, everyone from the former squad have been permanently banned by the Association of Chinese Esports (ACE) for prematurely leaving Wings Gaming before their contracts expired after having major financial disputes, barring the players from ever joining any ACE competitions or being picked up by any other Chinese organizations under ACE. The question now is whether or not the players will ever be competing again. If they will, then they would be playing outside the comforts of their home country. It’s worthy to note that the ban won’t be affecting other tournaments outside the reaches of ACE, meaning a potential comeback for the International is still possible for Team Random if they ever decide to do so. But with Faith_bian and y ` joining old chicken in EHOME, this doesn’t seem to be probable.

OG

Have you watched the latest True Sight? You go watch it here if you haven’t yet and come back here after you’ve done so. From these footage, you can see how close the OG squad is to each other, accentuating each other’s strengths and encouraging each other when they’re not doing well. We see both Johan “n0tail” Sundstein and Tal “Fly” Azik lead OG to their fourth Major championship, the most multiple-time championship for any Valve event, and OG is the only team to have ever done so. n0tail and Fly’s charisma helps their team bring them together and defeat any kind of adversary they have. Gustav “s4” Magnusson’s veteran experience helped them overtake VP from a 2-1 disadvantage to winning the Mystic Staff just a month ago.

OG has a way to bring out the best out of their teams, from the encouragement and support shown by one of the best support groups that any Dota2 team has in the form of their manager Evany Chang and Sebastien “7ckingmad” Debs. They do so much more than just play well in-game to build up their relationships with each other. I mean, have you seen how much fun they have in their bootcamps? Anathan “ana” Pham and Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka are really good players, and they just continue to grow under the green banner. As a testament to OG’s strength of bringing the best out of their players would be Andreas Franck “Cr1t-“ Nielsen, who earned his first premier championship during his tenure in OG, and had continued on to become the captain of Evil Geniuses to impressive results, even beating OG 3-2 in the Dota Pit League Season 5 at the onset of 2017.

But the biggest bane of OG is The Aegis, failing to capture it last year after falling to Filipino heroes TnC Pro Team in one of the biggest upsets in Dota2 history. Even then, OG will be going in as one of the favorites with the highest odds to leave The International with the Aegis. Would this year be OG’s year? Will they finally win The International?

Virtus.Pro

VP’s image is weird. They perform really well in tournaments and have defeated big names in premier competitions, but yet people still see them as underdogs. The latest True Sight episode (again if you still haven’t watched it, please do so here) have painted them in a bad light after being portrayed as a team that’s easy to tilt. But the team really is just as closely-knitted as any other team there is, especially in the very turbulent CIS region where every team can’t seem to last together so long. Virtus.Pro is arguably the most stable team in terms of performance and roster in the CIS region, who has consistently performed really well in premier tournaments and have not had a single sign of disbanding.

Reception to VP is polarizing. Much to the CIS crowd, they are huge favorites and are seen as one of the best teams in terms of gameplay and coordination. But to the Asian and American audience, VP is seen as a cocky team that still has much to prove. But much to VP’s credit, they don’t take the results that they have in tournaments blind them from their goal. According to their coach, the legendary ArtStyle, the team puts bad games behind them and do not waste their time thinking too much about that. Any sort of arguments is easily resolved and everyone puts together the effort to improve for the next match. It says a lot when even ArtStyle speaks of the team so highly that there’s nothing left to teach the team in terms of playing Dota, as they are all pretty talented already in the first place. He even claims that VP has a very wide hero pool, being able to play any hero in the arsenal.

Their 2nd place finish in Kiev made the home crowd really proud of them, and has shown just what this team is capable of. Winning Mr. Cat Invitational Europe just cements their place on the top of the top of Europe right now, and there’s no questioning it. The only thing matters now for this team is winning the International. But seeing how close these guys have been with each other, on how the morale is high and the players and management have been really happy about working with each other, it’s very likely that Virtus.Pro is here to stay regardless of what happens at TI.

Evil Geniuses

Regardless of who plays under the EG banner, they deliver. One of the most decorated teams in the history of Dota, EG has consistently played well year in and year out. With the new leadership under Cr1t-, EG continues to add more and more tournaments up their résumé, and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon. You’d expect EG to be a part of the many premier level tournaments usually as direct invites, and you expect them to deliver. With that being said, the pressure is also high for the team to continue performing really well. Imagine all the fans they’d be losing when they lose their costly immortals in betting sites if EG doesn’t win.

But it’s still up in the air whether or not this iteration of Evil Geniuses has what it takes to replicate the success of their TI5 Championship Squad. From that team, only Sumail “Suma1L” Hassan and Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora remain, with Clinton “Fear” Loomis moving to the coaching position and Peter “ppd Dager taking on a managerial role. The return of former EG superstars Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg and Artour “Arteezy” Babaev begs the question of whether or not EG is a better team with them around. Now, with new-comer Cr1t-‘s leadership taking the team to greater heights, the only obstacle left remaining is TI. Would the three new members of EG be able to get their own taste of gold? We’ll know in a couple of months. But as much as talent is concerned, Fear has this to say: “I think this version of EG has so much talent, it makes you scared they don’t have the stability that most teams do, so I try my best to help them stay solid and play as a team… Honestly, Andreas is a much more suitable captain than I thought when he first joined, and I only expect this team, full of fresh talent and arguably the best at every position, to succeed beyond every expectation with Andreas leading them.”

TnC Pro Team vs. Team Faceless

Ever since beating OG at TI6 and winning WESG 2016, TnC Pro Team shot high up in the Power Rankings and have often been considered as one of the best teams, if not the best, of the SEA region. Marc Poco “Raven” Fausto’s record-setting Spectre during the group stages of the Kiev Major have earned the respect of the world. Timothy “Tims” Randrup’s Earth Spirit is still respectfully banned by every opponent they face (and if they didn’t, they faced the consequences). Their current run at Starladder i_League Invitational under the leadership of Theeban “1437” Siva has been impressive, sweeping the likes of Invictus Gaming and Alliance in the group stages to go straight to the playoffs’ semifinals, and decisively defeated Newbee in the semifinals. They played five games against Team Liquid in the finals, getting so close to victory, but forcing the best plays out of Kuroky’s team nonetheless.

But the bane of TnC so far is they have kept on losing to SEA rivals Team Faceless regardless of their strong performance against other international teams. It would seem like Faceless has TnC’s number, especially when Faceless put an early end on TnC’s run in Kiev. However, with the coaching and drafting of 1437, would Carlo “kuku” Palad’s mechanically gifted team be able to finally beat Team Faceless on their next match-up?

Clutch Gamers vs. TnC Pro Team

You can’t ignore the recent meteoric rise of Clutch Gamers, with their world tour of LAN tournaments beginning on the Manila Masters, going to The Summit and then EPICENTER. In a scene where people have been busy debating on who between TnC Pro Team and Team Faceless are the true kings of the SEA region, Clutch suddenly emerged in the scene and beat both teams in the biggest LAN tournament qualifiers in the Road to TI7. They are now seen as the potential usurpers to TnC’s throne as the Philippines’ representative to international scene, and they have beaten Team Faceless to prove that they should be considered as one of the best in the Southeast Asian region.

In the case that none of the three SEA powerhouses receive a direct invite to the International, then everything will be on the line at the SEA Qualifiers. Only one of the three teams would then be able to compete in The International. But the rivalry is stronger between Clutch Gamers and TnC Pro Team, as both are fighting for the privilege of representing our country to the international stage.

Between Clutch and TnC, who will emerge as the champions of the Filipino people?

Author: Neutral

Neutral has been playing video games since he was a little kid. He started being competitive when he and his brother would bet favors for each other depending on who wins at the PS2 game Naruto Shippuuden. Recently he has been playing Dota2 and Animal Crossing on his revived 3DS. It is his dream to be part of the formation of the eSports version of UAAP through UP Gaming Guild’s Impetus 2017.



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