The Chongqing Major is finally upon us. As one of only five Majors this year, and the first one in China, it has a rather unique position in the Dota Pro Circuit. It comes right off the heels of the Winter holiday, meaning this will be the only Major to take place after such a long break with no tournaments. More importantly, because the winner is essentially guaranteed a spot at TI, every team will be clamoring for that top spot. With the Monster family taking up five of the sixteen slots, we've got a great chance to bring home gold, maybe even silver and bronze too.
Liquid are back in the Majors, despite being there as only 4/5 of a squad due to Miracle-‘s family emergency. After missing out on the Kuala Lumpur Major and the DreamLeague Minor due to health issues, Liquid essentially took one of the longest breaks we've seen in the Western scene. Some thought that such an extended break might hurt Liquid's performance, after all we've seen many Chinese teams do the same and return much weaker. Thankfully, these critics were wrong. Since returning from their vacation Liquid have not dropped a serious, professional match. In the Chongqing Major Qualifier they walked through the group stage, stomping Vega Squadron and The Final Tribe. Next, in the playoffs, they outclassed Alliance to secure their qualification for the Major.
TL looked great coming out of the qualifiers, but how would they fare in an actual tournament, against tougher competition? Luckily, we wouldn't have to wait long to find out as the MegaFon Winter Clash was only a week later. A tournament consisting entirely of tier 1 teams, it was a bloodbath. Liquid dropped both Forward Gaming and PSG.LGD by 2-0 scorelines in the group stage. This already made for a solid performance, given the stacked nature of the tournament. It would get even better though as they went a combined 5-0 against Na’Vi in the playoffs to earn their trophy. This is the same Na’Vi, by the way, that knocked out both VP and PSG.LGD without dropping a game.
All that said, it is unfortunate that we will have to see them play in Chongqing without their star midlaner. While there is plenty of hype around former TI-champion from Wings, Shadow, securing Major points is extremely important for Liquid considering they missed the first Major entirely. Winning in China, or at bare minimum placing within the Top 4, is even more vital because of their zero DPC points. The caveat here is that Ninjas in Pyjamas showed us in Kuala Lumpur that playing with a former TI-Champion on short notice could be met with success, placing fourth with none other than Liquid`MinD_ControL and Team Liquid will have a similar opportunity with Shadow. With all of these factors in mind, Kuroky will push the rest of Liquid hard so expect Liquid to play like the TI-Champions they are despite being shorthanded. If their Fall break showed anything, their Winter break will only make them stronger coming into Chongqing.
Alliance, the team that rose from the ashes of a champion, have made it to their second Major. Qojqva and a group of untested Nords, coached by the legendary Loda, surprised many when they made it through the European Qualifiers for the Kuala Lumpur Major. But it wasn't just making it through the qualifiers that caught observers off guard. At the Major itself, they surprised fans once again by taking down Forward Gaming to secure a berth in the Upper Bracket. Sadly, their meteoric rise was cut short as they fell out of the tournament in their next two matches.
Alliance set out to prove their first Major performance was no fluke but many still doubted their ability to make it past OG, NiP, Team Liquid, and Team Secret in the Chongqing qualifier. Alliance went to work. They beat TI8 Champions OG, knocking them out of the qualifier, to make it through the group stage and ultimately they defeated The Final Tribe to secure their spot at the Chongqing Major. Now they're preparing for their second Major and we're waiting with baited breath to see how they'll do. This Alliance squad certainly has the potential to take down the best teams in the world, it's just a matter of bringing out the best in themselves.
When Alliance first announced the new roster they were still relatively new to Dota 2, but that was in the past, now Alliance has all the tools necessary to take on the upper echelon of the competitive scene. They also have Loda and Qojqva, two of the most experienced players in the world, to help shore up any weaknesses they may still have. This Alliance squad has made a meteoric rise that we rarely see in new teams, but the question remains if they will be able to keep it going and perform even better in Chongqing.
The boys in blue are back again. Evil Geniuses, the paragon of consistency in Dota 2, will once again contend for the crown in Chongqing. Outside of a few minor hiccups, they've been one of the most competitive teams in the world since all the way back in 2013. There has rarely been a time where Evil Geniuses weren't considered a threat to any team in the world, and now is no exception. The addition of S4 and Fly last year revitalized the team, bringing fresh ideas and two of the best players into the world to the squad. Really though, is there any team that wouldn't benefit from adding S4? Probably not.
This new squad secured third place at TI8 and then another third place at the Kuala Lumpur Major behind Fall powerhouses Team Secret and Virtus.Pro. Don't expect Evil Geniuses to get lazy though. While Cr1t, Fly, and S4 have won several Valve Majors, Suma1l and Arteezy are still looking for their first Major victories. These two will provide the fire needed to push Evil Geniuses to perform to the best of their abilities. After all, do you think they were happy with their 3rd place finish in Kuala Lumpur? While it might not feel as bad as a top-8 finish, it says something in and of itself that they aren't going to be happy with anything less than first place.
Over the years, Evil Geniuses have built up an astronomical number of top 3 finishes compared to other teams. They are the only team with four top-3 finishes at The International, with too many podium finishes to count from other tournaments. This team has the drive. They have the world-class players. They have the experience. They have everything it will take to win the Chongqing Major. The only thing left is to go out and do it on the new patch.
They've been the best team in China for most of the year. They looked completely unstoppable at TI after they dominated Liquid in the Upper Bracket. It wasn't until they ran into OG's meta-breaking strategies that they were held back. Since then, things have been a bit rocky for Ame & crew. And by a bit rocky we mean they've had some top-4 and top-6 finishes instead of first place finishes. There is a silver lining to these lower finishes though, even at their worst they've only lost to other top teams like Evil Geniuses, Team Secret, or (more recently) the newly invigorated Na’Vi.
They certainly still have the talent needed to bring home a Championship, but they have yet to string something together. Ame and Somnus are still two of the best cores around, while Fy and xNova are the de-facto best support duo in China. So what kind of PSG.LGD do we expect to see in Chongqing? This is a team that prefers perfection over innovation. They are much better at executing known strategies to an immaculate level than trying to push themselves into the vanguard of strategy.
The former is much more reliable and leads to better performances over time, while the latter is often better for reaching higher peaks (OG at TI8) or after new patches have dropped. This winter break will prove to be vital for PSG.LGD as they prepare for the Chongqing Major. With enough time to refine their strategies and decide on their preferred playstyle for the patch, we should see PSG.LGD back to championship form. There's one last, vital factor here — this is a Chinese Major. This means Chongqing will easily be the most important major for PSG.LGD. Playing in front of the home crowd, PSG.LGD will be more motivated than ever. Don't expect them to bring anything but their best, so underestimate them at your own risk, because their best is always good enough.
Fnatic, the perennial powerhouse of the SEA region have once again taken first in their Major qualifiers. Since reforming the roster after TI8, Fnatic have had a good run in their two tournaments so far. Scoring 2nd place at the PVP Esports Championship, and their 7th/8th place finish at the Kuala Lumpur Major. The real story is that they easily made it through the group stage in Kuala Lumpur before falling to Virtus.Pro and Evil Geniuses (the eventual first and third place finishers) in the playoffs.
This leaves Fnatic in an interesting position. They are able to crush tier 2 teams, but haven't been able to solve the problem of taking on championship contenders. If not for hitting teams like VP and EG so early in Kuala Lumpur, Fnatic likely would have been able to make a deeper run. So what will it take for Fnatic to step their game up to match with the best of the best? It will likely rely heavily on two things: their fan-favorite playmakers, DJ and iceiceice, and their captain Jabz. It's easy to have complete confidence in DJ and iceiceice because they are great players, but they will need to be at the top of their game if Fnatic wants to realize it's dreams of a podium finish.
This kind of playmaking is core to Fnatic winning the early and mid game, something that is as important now as it’s ever been. Meanwhile Jabz has been dealing with transitioning from his preferred position 4 and, even more importantly, taking on the role of captain. If Jabz is able to figure out the intricacies of high-level captaining, Fnatic will certainly become a force to be reckoned with. Jabz's progression is what will end up making this tournament so important to Fnatic. Every Major that they attend will help Jabz improve faster (it's important to remember that at this point he's only captained two tournaments so far). Look forward to watching Fnatic in Chongqing, we may see a breakout performance from Jabz and his squad.