The odds are stacked against us, it's no secret. This conversation has been happening for years now, so you might think that it's a stale topic, but this year could finally be the year where an SEA team brings home the Aegis of Champions.
It's that time of the year again, the leadup to The International 8 has begun, and with it the faint whispers of "I think Mineski might actually have a shot this year" are beginning to emerge from the shadows of the SEA Dota 2 community.
On three occasions, SEA teams have advanced to the Top 4, but the promises of Orange Esports (TI 3), Team Zenith (TI 1) and Fnatic (TI 6) have crumbled as the prospect of a place in the final once loomed large.
Each time, the devastation of failure has been tempered by the suggestion that the region’s talent was developing and that their performances in future tournaments would witness a genuine improvement. There had been optimism that the three aforementioned teams would kick on and build on their relative success.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case, and none of the other teams from the region have matched their magnificent efforts; the relentless impact of new talent emerging in other regions, a disarray of teams on account of numerous reshuffles has slowed down the momentum
But Mineski’s recent Dota 2 Asia Championship 2018 triumph, the encouraging recent form of TNC Predator and the promise to be found in Fnatic suggests that there is reason for optimism.
Unfortunately, this is the end of our journey at the DAC majors. GGWP TNC! pic.twitter.com/V6wZmAx67I— Team Liquid (@TeamLiquid) April 6, 2018
When this season of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit kicked off Team Secret, Team Liquid, and Virtus.Pro were seemingly unbeatable. These three teams(with a few cameos from Newbee) were either winning/taking 2nd place in every other tournament. They looked destined to win the ultimate prize in the Dota 2 pro scene.
But, renewed hope has been given to the rest of the players on the field. Recent failings of Team Liquid, Team Secret and Newbee have given confidence and belief to the second tier of teams, and the margins between the big guns and ‘all of the rest’ are becoming smaller.
Mineski has bridged the massive gap that was opening up between the top 3 in SEA and the rest of the world with a stellar showing in the Dota 2 Asia Championships. The fact that TNC Predator, LGD Gaming and themselves beat the former top 3 has proved that the days of traditional heavyweights dominating the competition is finally coming to an end.
SEA sides have historically been hesitant to trust coaches with TNC Pro Team being the only exception to the norm (Murielle "Kipspul" Huisman was the coach of the TI6 roster). But that ideology is slowly changing.
Following Stephen Tang "71" Wenyi’s monumental recent success with Mineski, the manner that he proved himself adept not only at man management but also tactical decisions and player development, the case for recruiting talented coaches is sotrong. Some can argue that SEA has the best coaches of the lot, 71 is arguably the greatest manager in the history of Dota 2. Him stepping into the Mineski roster gives them a massive edge over the other teams. The same can be said for Adam ‘343’ Shah (Fnatic’s coach), who can be considered as one of the most decorated coaches in the scene with only Xboct and Artstyle surpassing him.
SEA boasts some of the world's most mechanically skilled players such as Abed, DJ, and Armel. These youngsters have consistently performed in the Dota 2 Pro Circuit for their teams against some of the best players in the world. But almost always, when TI rolls out, the best teams will find a way to out-execute and out-draft these players. However this time around, we have these coaches who can play a massive part in enabling SEA sides to get the most out of their undoubtedly talented squads by helping them eliminate flaws in their gameplay and take over the theoretical aspects of the game such as drafting, warding, etc.
Following a bright start to the season, SEA teams started to lose momentum. After some unexpected results at the ESL One: Katowice Major and ESL One: Genting Minor earlier, most fans may have started to think that this is once again not going to be SEA’s season and that the Aegis of Champions will once again be heading further North (to China) or to the West. However, with the benefit of hindsight, those outcomes eventually transformed Mineski’s fortunes for the better.
Image Courtesy: Liquipedia
If the past TIs have taught us anything, it is the fact that being the favorites going into the tournament puts a massive target on your back. Every single team in attendance will scrutinize, study and break down your playstyle, hero pool, warding spots, etc in their preparations for The International.
In fact, the only teams to go into The International as the favorites and emerge victorious are The Alliance at TI3, and arguably Team Liquid at TI7.
|The International||Winner (Tournament wins in that year, before TI)||Favourites (Tournament wins in that year, before TI)|
|1. The International 2011||Na’Vi (n/ a)||EHOME (n/a)|
|2. The International 2012||Invictus Gaming (0)||Na’vi (6)|
|3. The International 2013||The Alliance (11)||Alliance (11), Na’vi (7)|
|4. The International 2014||Newbee (1)||Team DK (7), Team IG (6), Evil Geniuses (5)|
|5. The International 2015||Evil Geniuses (2)||Team Secret (4 in a row), LGD Gaming (4),|
|6. The International 2016||Wings Gaming (2)||OG (3), Newbee (3)|
|7. The International 2017||Team Liquid (3)||Newbee (3), Virtus Pro (3), Team Liquid (3)|
So statistically, flying under the radar, in the shadows of much bigger teams while also being good enough to grab one or two tournament wins seems to offer the best possible shot at the International if one wants to win it.
Mineski and, to some extent, TNC Predator are just in that sort of a position heading into the final stretch of the International 8. Both teams have proven that they have what it takes to beat the best teams. If they can manage to keep up this form and peak right when The International 8 comes around, well we might walk away with the Aegis.
Image Courtesy: Liquipedia
All 3 major SEA powerhouses: Mineski, Fnatic, and TNC Predator had/have to go through an insanely competitive SEA regional qualifiers just to get to a tournament. Almost no other region has this level of competition in the qualifiers.
The Chinese qualifiers might have some better teams, but the fact remains that they usually have 2 or more slots at minimum per DPC event. The European qualifiers are quite easy in comparison, thanks to Team Liquid, and Team Secret being directly invited to most events. The same goes for CIS and NA where Virtus Pro, and Evil Geniuses are invited to every other event. And I don’t think we need to elaborate on the SA qualifiers.
The sheer number of games that a professional team has to play to hope to gather some DPC points ensures that SEA teams get ample amounts of practice against a variety of playstyles. This should pay dividends at the end of the season when The International rolls up, and teams will be expected to go through a gauntlet of matches.
All of this makes it sound like the arguments are all in favor of the South East Asian region, but realistically SEA isn't the favorite to win The International 8. Virtus.Pro, Team Liquid or Team Secret will be the teams expected to win. Nevertheless, I believe that anything can happen in competitive gaming, but as this article demonstrated, things are slightly lining up for the SEA region.
In previous iterations of The International, there usually was only one team from the SEA region who could realistically have a shot at a Top 3 placing. However, this year there seem to be more challengers. SEA Dota has a history of making the top 4 and is looking likely to go one step further this year. It won't be an easy run, but we finally have a realistic chance of outperforming the Western and Chinese teams.
After all, The International ‘8’ is an 'even' edition… and should go to an Eastern team.