Regardless of what analysts, writers or fans predict in advance of a major tournament, there will always be upsets and surprises that take the Dota 2 world by storm. And The Kiev Major is no different. Teams that were expected to perform well, like Newbee, faltered while others like TNC Pro Team and Team Secret emerged from the shadows to show that they have what it takes to contend with the best teams in the world.
But as any fan could tell you, the real challenge has yet to begin. Only four matches separate a team from becoming champions, enshrined in the annals of Dota 2 history.
Can TNC continue to surprise?
Before the Group Stage, I wrote that TNC Pro Team needed to step up their game at the Kiev Major to remain relevant beyond SEA. Following their group stage matches, it became abundantly clear that TNC will remain a force to be reckoned with long after Kiev concludes.
Out of all the teams competing in the group stage, TNC's performance is easily the most surprising. Having failed to produce noteworthy results in the multitude of tournaments they've competed in since their Top 8 finish at The International 2016, TNC's 3-1 group stage record is something that few could have predicted going into the tournament. And those wins weren't against weak teams either, as Evil Geniuses, Thunderbirds and Digital Chaos were all expected to perform well at the Major.
Though they ultimately lost one series to Virtus.pro, TNC's other three wins resulted in them securing the second highest seed for the playoffs. And it is fortunate that they did because their first round opponent is none other than Team Faceless, their ever present SEA rivals. Comparatively, Faceless have performed below expectations and their only win came against SG e-sports, South America's sole representative. As it stands, TNC have all the tools they need to send Faceless packing.
It's also worth noting that TNC have a relatively easy path to the Grand Finals in comparison to several other teams. Their quarterfinal opponent will either be Team Random or OG, who they've historically trounced albeit with a different roster back at TI6. From there, TNC have a good shot of facing either EG or Thunderbirds, both of whom they beat in the group stage. Considering that Random and Team Secret are the only real mysteries for TNC, they have a good chance at making a deep run at Kiev, which is not something I would have predicted in the days prior to the Major.
TNC have taken games off of three of the strongest teams at the Major and have all the skills and momentum they need to make it far.
TI6 Champions vs. The Boston Major Champions
The Dota 2 gods have blessed us this week, because we will witness a do-or-die match between the TI6 champions and The Boston Major champions in the first round of the playoffs.
So get your popcorn ready, because this is the kind of match that fans wait years to watch.
Team Random will play OG for the first time since they left Wings Gaming, and their last match, which was at Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, was a best-of-two series that OG handily won. If we only take both team's performances prior performances into account, it would be easy to predict OG to win and move on.
Yet over the course of the group stage, OG have looked less and less like the unstoppable force that rolled through Boston and more like a team that has to work hard to close out games. They strangely lost their first game to SG, arguably the weakest team at the Major in the first round, though they eventually recovered to win the series. But they were subsequently ravaged by Invictus Gaming in the second round in a decisive 2-0 loss, and only secured their second highest seed after two harrowing 2-1 wins over Random and Thunderbirds. And Random put up one hell of a fight in the third game, leading the game in net worth and kills for two thirds of the match.
Virtus.pro's wide open path to the top
Based on past tournaments, Virtus.pro have had horrid luck at Valve events.
Though VP have displayed plenty of potential ahead of the Majors they've competed in, they have been knocked out of each Major well before the finals. They were eliminated by OG in both The Frankfurt and Shanghai Majors and failed to advance beyond the Top 8 in both cases. Their worst loss at a Valve tournament was arguably at the Boston Major, where they were the favorites to claim the championship but unfortunately had to contend with EG in the quarterfinals as a result of seeding, resulting in their elimination.
That luck may change at Kiev. While it's entirely possible that VP could fall out of the bracket due to skill or a surprise upset, their route to the finals is much safer than it has been in the past.
VP's first opponent is iG Vitality, whom they coincidentally crushed at Boston and should crush again considering their last place seed. If they advance to the quarterfinals, VP's opponent will be either Digital Chaos or Team VGJ, both of whom have struggled in the group stage and don't pose as big of a threat, comparatively speaking, to other teams.
Of course, VP's biggest challenge on their side of the bracket will be Invictus Gaming, who have thoroughly dominated their opposition so far. They're a tough challenge for any team to crack, and they can just as easily steamroll VP and vice-versa. But taking the bracket all into account, and VP have the best shot they've had in years at winning their first Major.
Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.