If you haven’t watched any Chinese Dota since the Shanghai Major, you could be forgiven for still thinking the region is on the decline. In fact, China has been very busy picking up the pieces, forming better teams and getting back in the habit of killing dreams.
China looked pretty good ahead of Shanghai as well, and we all know how that ended. It might be useful to take a look back at the state of the Chinese professional scene in the leadup to Shanghai, and compare it to where they are today in the leadup to Manila — if for no other reason than to put to rest fears that lightning could strike twice.
No one really saw China’s Shanghai collapse coming. Most analysts (including those of us at theScore esports) predicted EHOME would place very highly at the Major. Having the event on home turf in front of local crowds seemed like a good way to inspire Chinese teams to perform well. A few observers acknowledged the Chinese New Year factor, which, falling so close to the event, was thought to have an impact on how prepared Chinese players were, as it had at the Dota 2 Asia Championships in early 2015. But even to those who speculated the timing might be a problem, the utter absence of even a single Chinese team in The Shanghai Major Top 8 was still a big surprise.
For the most part, our observations of Chinese teams ahead of Shanghai came from a handful of regional tournaments in the immediate leadup to the event. There was the Radiant and Dire Cup, The Shanghai Open (both of which were less than a week long) and the MarsTV qualifiers. On the international stage, there was the WCA 2015 LAN, where LGD placed second, and The Summit 4, where Vici Gaming placed third. But overall, it was not the densest schedule for Chinese Dota, which is part of why the narrative about China taking a holiday took hold.
Ahead of Manila, however, that justification won't hold any water. The most important thing to happen to the region post-Shanghai was a regular, weekly competition to keep teams in top form: H-Cup, a new series organized by ImbaTV that serves as both a standalone league and a qualifier for StarLadder i-League tournaments. If lack of preparation was a major factor in China's downfall at Shanghai, H-Cup has been the solution (plus it gives observers a much more concrete idea of which teams are rising to the top).
Vici Gaming Reborn — formerly VG's secondary roster, though since being rebranded from Vici Gaming Potential they have rapidly surpassed VG's primary team — did very well in H-Cup. They finished the first four weeks in first place, earning them a spot at the SL i-League Invitational, which they went on to win with a 3-1 finals over Na`Vi. (Though there's no way to know for sure, this was likely a big part of Valve's decision to invite VG.R to Manila.)
With VG.R out of the way in Weeks 5 and 6, Newbee rose to the top of H-Cup, and are currently in the lead with one week left to determine who qualifies for SL i-League Season 2. Though not invited to Manila, Newbee earned themselves a spot after a dominating run through the Chinese main qualifier, where they didn't drop a single game — not even to EHOME's celebrated post-shuffle roster, featuring iceiceice and fenrir.
Lately, a second regular league has sprung up to keep Chinese teams on their game. The Dota 2 Professional League features a lengthy 22 team best-of-two round-robin. Naysayers initially believed that LGD-Gaming were the odd team out on The Manila Major direct invite list, since they didn't finish in the Shanghai Top 8 and they haven't won a major international event since. But they’ve been absolutely wiping the floor in DPL, and are currently sitting at the top of the standings with 11 wins and 4 ties.
Not every once-great Chinese team has recovered since Shanghai. Vici Gaming have a roster that can only be described as “all-star,” having added BurNIng, rOtK, Cty and Sylar in the shuffle, but they've failed to make any kind of dent in the scene. EHOME aren’t doing as poorly as VG, but they too have yet to qualify for an international LAN. There is still a lot of potential in these two teams, and it will be worth watching to see if either can contend for a spot at TI6, but there is a lot more work for them to do.
It's doubtful that Newbee, LGD or VG.R are losing sleep over the teams that haven't been able to bounce back after Shanghai. Just the opposite — having succeeded in rising once again into the upper ranks of Dota 2, while their regional rivals languished, has likely given them an added boost of confidence. And even if China's collapse at Shanghai didn't leave these teams with something to prove at Manila, we won't have to worry they've fallen out of practice, since DPL and H-Cup kept them plenty busy right up until a few days before they left to the Philippines.
Any number of factors can influence a team’s ability to play on a given day, and anyone can cause an upset at a premier tournament — as we've seen so often in Dota — but if a Chinese team doesn't do well at The Manila Major it certainly won't be for a lack of practice. When it comes down to preparation, Chinese teams are leagues ahead.
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.