Where twelve teams entered, six remain to compete in the playoffs of the SL i-League StarSeries Dota 2 Finals: Minsk. The fast paced best-of-one matches allowed for some stunning upsets, as teams who weren't expected to make it to the playoffs now find themselves in serious contention for the Grand Finals.
Here's what happened over the past two days.
Group A - New Patch, Old Teams
Continuing their resurgence, LGD-Gaming handily defeated most of their competitors in Group A through a combination of carry Liu "Sylar" Jiajun's spectacular use of Morphling and Terrorblade as well as excellent control of the map. LGD's rotations are on point, setting up ganks and shutting down opponents throughout the early game.
Take their match against Team Spirit for example. When Spirit went for a relatively early Roshan, LGD turned what could have been a trade into a resounding victory with a three man Vacuum, closing out the match just shy of 21 minutes. This is the LGD that dominated China, and the team that looks to make a big mark in the playoffs.
For a team who were almost kicked out of the tournament due to flight delays, Alliance brought their A-game to Minsk, managing three wins and two losses, enough to advance them to the playoffs. What's more surprising is that two of those victories came against LGD and Evil Geniuses, arguably the two heavyweights of the group.
But Alliance have been playing their own game with picks like Lone Druid and Chaos Knight, and it seems to be working. They'll play against European rivals Team Secret in the first round of the playoffs, so it remains to be seen whether that playstyle will carry them forward.
You might that EG underperformed in the group stage, with losses to Alliance and LGD. I would argue otherwise, as the American juggernauts have been experimenting with the new patch, trying out new strategies throughout the patch. Trying to play like Alliance against Alliance, however, isn't a strategy I would recommend trying again. Still, they're more than capable of deconstructing any of the remaining teams at Minsk.
Group B - Down to the Wire
Compared to Group A, Group B was extremely competitive, with no team outside of Team Liquid making a mark. So much so that it wasn't until the last two matches that the second and third place teams were decided.
Liquid had already taken first place and compLexity Gaming had to settle at the bottom, but every other team finished with a record of two wins and two losses. And each of those four teams had to play in the final two matches. Exciting would be an understatement.
Team Secret ended up making short work of Wings Gaming, who frankly appeared to collapse the moment Secret began to gank in the early game. This is a welcome change, as Secret suffered earlier on in the group stage when they played defensively against heroes like Death Prophet and Oracle. Against Wings, it appears that Secret learned that the best way to win in 6.86 is to be as aggressive as you can in the early game.
The same can't be said for Vega Squadron, who took their time to secure the final spot to the playoffs. And I mean took their time — two of Vega's victories came past the 70 minute mark.
If it wasn't for a miracle though, Vega would be going home instead of moving on. In their last match against Virtus.pro, VP led throughout the entire game, breaking down all of Vega's towers and all but one barrack while Vega only took five towers the entire game. But in the last moment VP threw the game when most of the team died in Vega's base, allowing Vega to rush VP's base for the win.
Moving on from the group stage, the format will change from best-of-ones to a best-of-three series in each of the three remaining rounds. If any of these teams were holding back strategies or draft picks, now would be the time to pull them out. $300,000 is on the line, and luck can't carry them now.
Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.