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MarsTV Dota 2 League LAN Primer: A Pre-Major proving ground

by theScore Staff Jan 25 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of MarsTV

There may be plenty of leagues going on in the month of February, but the MarsTV Dota 2 League LAN Finals will be practice for many of the world’s best teams ahead of the Shanghai Major. With a fairly new patch to play on and few other chances for inter-region practice before Shanghai, this LAN will be a key opportunity to suss out the opposition and prepare or test strategies in a less stressful arena.

Now that the final team has qualified for the LAN, the groups have been revealed. As expected, each group has three invited teams and two qualified teams. The goal is to become one of the Top 2 in the group as that guarantees a berth in the upper bracket semifinal round. Teams placed in third and fourth will start in the lower bracket, while the fifth place team will be eliminated.

Group A Group B
Evil Geniuses Team Secret
Vici Gaming EHOME
OG LGD-Gaming
Newbee compLexity Gaming
Team Spirit Mineski

Considering the strength of the directly invited teams at this tournament, the qualified teams are unlikely to make very deep runs, but it will still be interesting to see how these teams that do very well within their own regions can stack up in a LAN situation. Since only two teams in total are knocked out of the group stage, two qualified teams are guaranteed to make it to the playoff round.

Here’s how each team looks heading into the MarsTV Dota 2 League LAN Finals.

Invited teams

EHOME

EHOME have been on a bit of a roll lately, but fans from anywhere outside of China should be forgiven for not being aware of it as the team’s latest successes have been in a couple of China only events that took place while many were still on holiday. These were both the Radiant and Dire Cup 2015 which took place from Dec. 25-27 and the Shanghai Dota 2 Open which ran on Jan. 1-3.

These wins serve to cement EHOME’s place as one of the best Chinese teams, though that doesn’t mean much when it comes to international competition. MarsTV may be a Chinese event, but only four of the 10 teams at LAN will be fighting on home soil.

Since EHOME’s current roster came together in the post TI5 roster shuffle, they have become one of China’s greatest hopes. The once dominant region seems to be going through some sort of character crisis thanks to a lack of Chinese wins in major international competitions. CDEC and EHOME have come close, but the sight of a Chinese team hoisting a trophy has become a rare one.

The trend of Chinese Dota's “old guard” falling out of favor while newer, younger players step up is embodied by EHOME, with a significant exception. LaNm has been around the Dota scene since EHOME was the team to beat back at the very first International, meaning the current EHOME squad are able to capitalize on their captain’s wealth of experience.

Even considering LaNm’s history in the Dota scene, he isn’t the only star on the squad. Cty isn’t quite new per say, but EHOME seems to be the team he was looking for. He is flourishing on the squad and getting the attention of the international community with his masterful mid play (especially his beastly Queen of Pain, which was a must-ban last patch).

KaKa, old chicken and old eleven are the rising stars of the team. They are relatively new to the pro scene and quickly became some of the most respected players in their relative positions. What remains to be seen is whether this team can hold their own in the 6.86 meta, considering they have played solely in Chinese competitions since the patch.

Evil Geniuses

The TI5 winners (and Arteezy) need little introduction, but here we are. Evil Geniuses have been directly invited to yet another major LAN and the great American Dota squad have decided to attend this one.

EG haven’t won every single tournament since TI5, but that isn’t to say they haven’t stayed on top. Top 3 finishes at every LAN they’ve attended since their unfortunate first round elimination at ESL One New York 2015 show that they’re staying on track, keeping their ultimate goal of becoming the first two time International winners in their sights.

The patch seems to be treating EG well, making picks like UNiVeRsE's Faceless Void or Fear's Enigma more viable. Fear has also been making good use of Earth Spirit, a recent addition to Captain’s Mode that is a devastating force in teamfights when played correctly. EG also frequently prioritize a “healing” support for ppd, grabbing Oracle, Abaddon, Witch Doctor or Dazzle to keep their cores fighting fit.

All signs point to EG continuing to play at an extremely high level and reaching the Grand Final of this LAN. The round robin group stage should give them no problems and while they do have a tendency to fall to the lower bracket that won’t be a danger as all rounds of the Lower bracket are best-of-three, a format in which EG thrive. The danger of a surprise best-of-one knockout upset is non-existent.

OG

OG have been on a bit of a lengthy break since The Summit 4. Their rampage through LANs following their victory at the Frankfurt Major understandably exhausted them. OG were in fact the team with the most competitive games on patch 6.85, ahead of Team Liquid by a whopping 36 games. Not only did they have the most games on the patch, they had the highest win rate (69%) of all teams with over 20 games on the patch.

The much needed rest has hopefully refreshed and renewed their drive to win. Their complete lack of games on the new patch theoretically gives them a major edge over teams that played in StarLadder or WCA. Assuming they’ve been busy studying, OG will have had lots of time to scrutinize the strategies and drafts emerging in the month since the patch’s release.

OG’s signature heroes have not been drastically affected by the new patch. N0tail won’t be able to make any crazy plays with four double damage Meepos thanks to the one small nerf to his signature hero, but otherwise teams should be just as scared of the micro master’s not so secret weapon. Support standbys like Bane and Io are just as strong these days while Miracle- and N0tail have been known to pick Invoker and Lone Druid respectively, both potent 6.86 picks.

A top two spot in the group stage is easily within OG’s reach. Knowing the hard work that this team put into the last season, it’s hard to imagine that (besides a few streams for the fans) they haven’t been practicing hard, getting ready for another season of kicking butt on their road to TI6.

LGD Gaming

LGD Gaming have hovered on the edge of greatness for some time now, capable of taking the top spot at a LAN (as they showed with their second place WCA 2015 finish) but more often ending up somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Ever since LGD veterans xiao8 and Yao were moved to a substitute role, replaced by DDC and rOtK, LGD seem to be trying to find their feet. This is not to say that the changes were unnecessary, the “old-timers” in the team had been living the competitive gaming lifestyle for years and as Yao put it in a statement on his weibo, “I realized I really did need to relax and get some rest.”

Their first couple of tournaments together as a team saw them struggle against opponents they should have known well, but with few major Chinese only tournaments in the early fall, they may not have been ready for what CDEC and EHOME had to bring to the table. Their drafting style at the Frankfurt Major seemed behind the times and unimaginative. They relied heavily on Tusk, Winter Wyvern and Gyrocopter while their opponents adapted and beat them.

It could be argued that LGD had a free pass through the group stage at WCA 2015, facing just Leviathan and Team YP. They had no fourth opponent since Newbee were unable to attend due to last minute travel issues. They easily won their match against YP and when they faced LVT, the match was shortened to a best-of-one, which LGD won. All that said, their playoff run was not a cake walk. They faced both Team Empire and Team Liquid, strong opponents that an unprepared team could easily fall prey to. They made it to the Grand Final to face Alliance, where they put up a great fight, making the Best-of-five reach the the fifth and final deciding game.

After this marked improvement at LAN events, LGD could be ready to reclaim their place in our hearts as China's No. 1 team.

Team Secret

When Team Secret made drastic post-TI5 roster changes, things were looking up for Puppey’s revitalized squad. They had a very strong start to the fall with a second place finish at ESL One New York and a first place finish at the MLG World Finals just weeks later. Their dominance continued with a win at the Nanyang Dota 2 Championships, but OG finally stopped them at the Frankfurt Major, beating Secret 3-1 in the Grand Final.

Since that loss, Team Secret haven’t been participating in a whole lot of tournaments, but when they have competed, they have struggled. Their only appearances have been at the WCA 2015 and SL i-League LANs. At WCA, they didn’t even make it past the group stage meaning they did worse than supposedly “lower tier” teams like TnC Gaming or Leviathan. They showed some promise at StarLadder but didn’t get a chance to prove their strength when Alliance knocked them out of the tournament very early on.

Team Secret are still a team that gets direct invites to most LAN events, but that might not last much longer if they continue to fall behind. Their performance at MarsTV could be indicative of how they’ll fare at the Shanghai Major and performance at the Major seems to directly correlate to who gets invited to the next event. If Team Secret want a ticket to the Manila Major (and they’ve already turned down ESL One Manila), they’re going to need to put together some results, starting with MDL.

People love to say that Alliance are doing well these days because their heroes are back in vogue. If that theory has even a shred of truth to it, Team Secret should be sitting pretty. After all, they have Puppey on their team and Puppey is second only to Akke in Chen games played, with a 68 percent win rate that doesn’t meet, but at least rivals Akke’s 74 percent. This is not to mention EternalEnvy’s affinity for Terrorblade, or w33’s fondness for Invoker. If all goes well in China, Team Secret fans might stop jumping onto the Alliance bandwagon.

Vici Gaming

This is the team that quietly continues to be amazing. When it comes to facing their fellow Chinese teams, EHOME seem to have their number but in international competition Vici Gaming always place highly. Not including a 5/6th at the Frankfurt Major, Vici have placed in the top 3/4 at The Summit 4, Nanyang, Radiant and Dire Cup, ESL One New York, and the Shanghai Dota 2 Open. That’s consistency.

Since the changes to LGD, Vici Gaming are the last Chinese team to hold onto veteran players on a non-sub basis. Support duo fy and Fenrir have been working together on the squad since 2012 while Super joined a year later and iceiceice a year after that in 2014. These days that’s a pretty solid roster and the fact that they’re still putting up results speaks to how well they work together.

The odd man out in this situation is the carry player. Vici Gaming have been through several star carries over the years — ZSMJ, Sylar, Black^, Hao and now the B-God himself, BurNIng. Since moving to Vici Gaming, BurNIng has evolved his style of play (farm for days) to become much more active early on, a needed shift as the metagame now revolves heavily around winning lanes early, leading to mid-game aggression.

The only time Vici Gaming have played competitive matches on patch 6.86 has been during the Radiant and Dire Cup and the Shanghai Dota 2 Open, but we can already see that they are adjusting to the changes. Over the course of just a few games, Vici Gaming have made use of “new meta” heroes like Nature’s Prophet, Faceless Void, Spectre, Terrorblade, Oracle, Earth Spirit and even Pudge. It will be exciting to see what kinds of strategies they have prepared for the MarsTV Dota 2 League.

Qualified teams

compLexity Gaming

The hardest working team in North America are playing their second LAN of 2016. The first was SL i-League, where they didn’t get past the group stage. compLexity seem undeterred by their LAN results, instead focusing on growing and improving as a team since their rather recent roster changes. With the old HoN squad back together, they are ready to put in the work needed to make their TI6 dream a reality.

The dream is going to take a heck of a lot of work, but at the pace that compLexity are qualifying for LANs, they’re certainly going to have plenty of chances to practice and improve. Their first step has already been achieved with a qualification to the Shanghai Major, so MarsTV may be a good indicator of how a larger Chinese tournament could go for them, or at least give them some good information to help them step up their game before the Major.

So far in 6.86 compLexity have been playing plenty of Death Prophet, Enchantress and Lone Druid. Swindlezz has favored Bristleback since his move to the offlane and coL have been known to pair Keeper of the Light with it for never ending Quill Spray spam to easily win the lane.

Unfortunately for the guys, compLexity are recovering from something of a plague spreading through their team house, which has likely impacted their ability to prepare for the tournament.

Hopefully by the time they get to China they will be feeling much better, ready to take on the world. If the eSports plague can’t stop s4, surely it can’t stop coL.

Mineski

Much like coL, Mineski is a team that stands out in their home region. Their level of play may not be enough to earn them direct invites to major LANs, but they are more than capable of qualifying on their own.

This Filipino squad has seen a resurgence to the top of Southeast Asian competition since the addition of ryOyr in the post-TI5 shuffle (despite not actually attending TI). They qualified for both the Frankfurt Major and The Summit 4 in late 2015, giving them much needed international LAN experience. Since then, they’ve been playing in the Dota Pit League, We Play League Season 3 but unfortunately fell short in the Shanghai Major SEA qualifier.

One of Mineski’s recent achievements was their performance in the Frankfurt Major group stage, where they defeated Alliance 2-0 with a Dazzle/Huskar combination in both games. They also defeated EHOME 2-0, this time using 10 different heroes over the course of the two games and even won a game against CDEC.

That performance could be indicative of how Mineski do at MarsTV, but considering the relative newness of 6.86, they may not have adjusted to the patch as well as they had in Frankfurt. However Mineski have already shown that they are adjusting their drafts and shouldn’t be underestimated, or assumed to be an easy win for anyone.

Newbee

The final Chinese team to qualify for MarsTV in the last minute qualifier is none other than Newbee. At this point we’ve been somewhat conditioned to believe that Newbee are in a permanent state of struggles, unable to make things work after their TI4 championship.

Very recently however, Newbee have made some roster changes and seem to be picking up the pieces, putting together some results and pushing their way back into the top tier of Chinese teams. Following Newbee’s mostly disastrous 2015, ChuaN joined the roster, jumping ship from his longtime home in iG. Meanwhile, le was picked up from Newbee’s youth squad, Newbee Young. In addition to the fairly recent transfers of Hao and Xiao2lei (from Vici Gaming and Energy Pacemaker respectively) in September, only Mu remains from the old roster.

The latest changes might be finally paying off. At the Shanghai Dota 2 Open, Newbee reached the Grand Finals after beating Vici Gaming to get there. In the Shanghai Major qualifier and the MarsTV qualifier they’ve been routinely beating teams that previously might have been much more of a struggle, like TongFu, CDEC Youth and Wings Gaming. While they haven’t yet reached the place where analysts assume they’re the much stronger team in any matchup, they’re on the road to it. MarsTV will be a great indicator of just how far they’ve come.

Team Spirit

The team formerly known as the CIS Rejects has found a new home with Team Spirit, a relatively new organization. The players have been together since the post TI5 shuffle, taking the name “rejects” after losing their spots on various other CIS squads.

Since their formation, Team Spirit have played in several smaller leagues, winning a few online tournaments such as the PGL Dota 2 Pro-AM and the ProDotA Cup Europe. They have failed to qualify for most larger LANs but making it to the MarsTV Dota 2 League LAN was the precursor to another big moment for the team — qualification for the Shanghai Major.

Team Spirit are not without talented players. ALWAYSWANNAFLY and Goblak are both well known for their earlier careers in the CIS scene. ALWAYSWANNAFLY spent a long time on the Team Empire roster while Goblak has been a part of many well known CIS organizations over the years such as Na`Vi, Virtus.pro and RoX.

It’s going to be tough for them to face up to stronger teams that they are not practiced against however. It’s a bit of a coin flip as to whether they will advance to the playoff round.

Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore eSports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.

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