Although Valve’s criteria for inviting teams to international Dota events have always been secret, after the last few Majors and Internationals it was starting to seem like they would at least be predictable. The list has usually been made up of the top-placing teams from the last Major, plus a team or two that performed well at top international events in the intervening period.
This time around, Valve decided to shake things up — and not in a small way. Though there’s some debate over whether the changes are for better or worse, there’s no doubt Valve’s invites this year were unexpected, and they’ll have a big impact on what happens in Manila.
In no particular order, here are some of the biggest surprises from the list.
There are twelve invites
Based on how invites worked for past Majors, it was generally expected that there would be eight invited teams and eight qualified teams for The Manila Major — a nice balance between guaranteeing that the best teams earn a spot for their great play, and ensuring that up-and-coming or recently revitalized teams have multiple chances to secure a berth.
Valve threw that script out the window. There will be twelve invited teams this year, and only four chances to qualify. Predictions differed over who would earn the eight invites to Manila, but no one predicted that there would be so many.
However, a lot of the teams that were in the running for an invite, but weren’t guaranteed — like compLexity Gaming or Alliance — would likely have dominated the Main Qualifiers anyway. With fewer top-performing teams attending, and fewer spots up for grabs, we should see a far more competitive qualifying stage for this Major than we have in the past — even if the teams fans are rooting for the most won’t be playing as many games.
After the disaster Chinese teams had at Shanghai, it would have been lucky if the region received a single invite to Manila. Instead, China got three.
Wings Gaming and Vici Gaming Reborn both won important tournaments in April, so their inclusion makes sense. LGD’s is more puzzling. They finished outside the Top 8 at The Shanghai Major, and their highest placement since has been third place at the StarLadder i-League Invitational. Out of all the Manila invites, LGD’s is probably the most controversial.
Is there a team that would have been a better alternative? Looking at the region alone, Newbee has seen the most success at recent domestic events, and they finished at Shanghai in the same place as LGD, at 9th-12th. However, unlike LGD, they haven’t played at an international event since Shanghai.
Outside of China, there’s Team Empire, who’ve also had some promising recent results, most recently finishing 3rd-4th at ESL One Manila — essentially the same premier finish that LGD had at SL i-League a few weeks earlier. If the invite LGD received is based on their recent performance, it’s not clear why they were invited over Empire. LGD did play at Shanghai (while Empire did not), but their placement was so low that it should not have affected their invite. Perhaps it was because if Empire were invited, half of the invites would have gone to European teams. With LGD, a larger variety of teams from different regions is possible, even if it is only one invite.
If this were the former eight-invite system, there’s little doubt LGD would not have received an invite.
Alliance finished in the Top 8 at Shanghai, but they’ve played the fewest games of any of the invited teams in the time since. Post-Shanghai, Alliance has only played in the SL i-League Invitational, where they played three best-of-three matches before being eliminated by OG in the second round of the Loser’s Bracket. Even with only nine games played, they have a direct ticket to the biggest Dota tournament of the season.
Since all of the Top 8 finishers from Shanghai received invites, it’s likely Alliance’s invite is based entirely on their results there. Even if they hadn’t played a single game in the intervening time period, Alliance would probably have been included. But if anything, that raises questions about what impact strong performances in non-Major tournaments have on invites. How high does a team have to place to guarantee a spot at the next Valve event? Which tournaments affect invites? These are questions that we don’t have answers to, because we just don’t know Valve’s criteria.
Absent from both the Frankfurt and Shanghai Majors, Na`Vi will be competing in their first-ever Major. Much like LGD, Na`Vi wasn’t on anyone’s radar for an invite. Unlike LGD, however, the team has seen plenty of success in the past two months that justify their inclusion.
A string of top finishes — Top 4 at Dota Pit League Season 4, runners-up to VG.R at the SL i-League Invitational, and a qualification spot for ESL One Frankfurt after defeating Virtus.pro in the Loser’s Bracket Finals — have had fans chanting Na`Vi’s name. Multiple strong placements look better on a team’s resume than one recent top finish, so Na`Vi is definitely deserving, and seeing them on the list was certainly a welcome surprise.
Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.