The Kiev Major, set to begin on April 24, will bring the best Dota 2 teams together to compete in the first Valve event of 2017. But there is more than a $3 million prize pool on the line, as teams seek to prove that they can overcome their legacies, as well as try and make the most of their second shot at Major glory. Furthermore, the shadow of TI7 looms ever closer, and Kiev will be the best shot for many of the teams competing to secure a coveted invite to the greatest tournament in Dota 2.
For those looking forward to the upsets and excitement that will surely develop in the Ukraine, here are four storylines to pay attention to at The Kiev Major.
Old Digital Chaos vs. New Digital Chaos
Welcome to Dota 2, where teams switch up their rosters 10 days before a $3 million dollar tournament.
In a move that shocked the Dota 2 world, Digital Chaos announced that their former roster would be leaving the organization and compete at the Kiev Major as Thunderbirds. At the same time, DC signed Team Onyx, an unsigned roster that formed in January who had also qualified for the Major, to replace their former roster.
As sudden as the change may be, both the old and new DC squads are in strong positions heading into the Major. Onyx were arguably the most promising team in the world as a result of their hard-fought victories over Team NP and compLexity Gaming in the North American qualifier for the Kiev Major. With the combined talents of BuLba and DeMoN, two of the most intelligent players playing Dota 2 today, leading the team, they are poised to further DC's reputation at Kiev.
On the other hand, Thunderbirds are still a top tier team that have plenty of experience at Valve events and are not going to fall apart simply because they don't have a major organization backing them. Remember, this team placed second at TI6 after a grueling run through the lower bracket where they were on the verge of elimination multiple times, and reached the Top 4 at the Boston Major in a single elimination bracket. You might debate their relative strength compared to other teams, but you can't deny that Thunderbirds have seen repeated success at Valve events.
While a match between these two teams would be amazing to watch, there is more that these teams are playing for than just prize money. If DC goes further than Thunderbirds, the organization will retain a spot amongst the best Dota teams and their reputation will remain intact. But Thunderbirds are looking to show that they don't need DC in order to win, and will certainly seek to prove that they can make it on their own.
The format of the group stage and the playoffs makes it highly unlikely these teams will play against each other. Yet, you should keep an eye on these two teams, as their respective runs will be one of the most interesting storylines at Kiev.
More than the money: OG, Evil Geniuses and Newbee look ahead to TI
OG, Evil Geniuses and Newbee are arguably the three best teams heading into the Kiev Major. As it stands, these three teams have more than enough momentum to carry them through to a TI7 invite. Yet, unlike other teams, they're not just fighting to win it all — they're fighting to not lose.
There's a difference between fighting to win and fighting to not lose. Those fighting to win will often stop at nothing to attain victory, using whatever unorthodox strategies and tactics they can to do so. Those fighting to not lose will frequently play it safe, relying on proven and well-tested strategies to carry them forward.
You can see this in Ad Finem's run at The Boston Major, as they resorted to extremely aggressive tactics to take them to the Grand Finals, catching the likes of Newbee and DC off guard. Presumably because of that performance, Ad Finem were invited to Kiev when they otherwise would may have sat it out. Performing well at Kiev can hand a team an invite to TI7, while performing poorly can ruin months of success with a single match.
What this means is that while none of these three teams have to win the Major to remain a top tier squad, they also have to advance far enough to meet expectations. Though no teams will be eliminated in the upcoming group stage, their record will ultimately determine whether they go up against a team like SG e-sports or against a giant such as Thunderbirds. This is made worse by the single elimination format of the playoffs, which previously caused TI6 champions Wings Gaming to fall to EG in the first round of the Boston Major.
Though there may be other tournaments for these teams to try and earn an invite to TI7, the Kiev Major represents the best shot for them to retain their status at the top of Dota 2. Expectations are high for OG, EG and Newbee at Kiev, and their decisions will greatly impact both their reputations in the coming months, and their shot at earning a coveted invite to TI7.
mousesports' second shot at glory
One of the most exciting storylines that unfolded at the Boston Major was the steady climb of Greek team Ad Finem to the Grand Finals. Their improbable run to the Grand Finals, coupled with their charisma, garnered them a legion of fans at the tournament. Though they would ultimately fall to OG 3-1 in the end, their performance and amazing comeback in Game 3 was enough to immortalize them in Dota 2 history.
But the following months have not been kind to the Greeks.
Far from continuing to build off of their performance at Boston, Ad Finem failed to qualify for any major tournament in the winter season. Their strongest performance was a disappointing fourth place at the StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3 European Qualifier, with worse results following in the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017 European Qualifier and Elimination Mode 3.0. Though they would receive an invite to Kiev, Ad Finem were a disappointment to many.
However, shortly after the invites for the Kiev Major were announced, Ad Finem announced that their Dota roster decided to not renew their contracts and would leave the organization. After remaining in limbo for just over a month, the roster was picked up by mousesports, who returned to Dota 2 for the first time since 2015.
In many ways, the Kiev Major will be the second chance for the mouz roster to prove that they have what it takes to compete at the top of Dota 2. A strong performance in Kiev will provide a strong counterargument to those who dismissed them as a one hit roster, and would return them to relevance as The International 2017 looms ahead. In addition, good results will undoubtedly please the organization, who took a risk in picking up a team who only have one good result to their name.
For the players on mouz, it will be their second shot at glory at the Kiev Major. By next week, we'll find out if they have successfully capitalized on it.
Boom or Bust — SEA fights for relevance
Southeast Asia will be represented by two teams at the Kiev Major — Team Faceless and TNC Pro Team. Both teams qualified for the tournament, with no SEA teams receiving an invite to the Major. Judging by the performance of the region at tournaments over the past few months, this is not a surprise.
Faceless and TNC are currently the two most prominent teams in competitive Dota, and they have not performed well since Boston. Faceless, who have continually qualified for tournaments only to fall out of them early, have not been able to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with for other teams outside of their region. They're a talented team, but their continual lack of strong results gives cause for concern.
TNC has had better results, winning World Electronic Sports Games 2016 and placing 3rd/4th at SL i-League Season 3. But their competition was noticeably lacking at WESG, with few strong teams standing in their way, and they were crushed by Liquid in the semifinals at SL i-League.
When the Kiev Major begins, both Faceless and TNC will be fighting to not only remain relevant amongst their opponents, but to survive the tournament intact. A poor showing in the group stage will almost certainly doom them to facing a high caliber team like EG when the playoffs begin. And once the tournament concludes, they will have to contend with a reforged Fnatic, who have spent the past several months rebuilding their roster in anticipation for post Kiev-Major tournaments.
They've got the best of the best against them, and it will take a lot of hard work and more inspired play to escape Kiev intact.
Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.