Valve took a big step June 19 when the developers of Dota 2 announced that there would be six teams invited directly to the sixth International in the game’s history. After experimenting with 12 invitations for the Manila Major, it seems the pendulum has swung in favor of fewer invitations and more qualifiers. Whether the results of this experiment will be satisfactory remains to be seen. General sentiment seems to be that Valve’s invitations went to teams that deserved it, although some felt that Fnatic was unnecessarily slighted for a poor performance at ESL One Frankfurt.
Now that we know six of the teams that will do battle for possession of the coveted Aegis of Champions, let’s take a look at their road to The International 2016 and each one’s chances of winning.
OG: Moment of silence for the champions
Every time I think OG can’t surprise me anymore, it happens again. I thought that the run of death through the lower bracket to upset Secret and win it all at the Frankfurt Major was going to be the highlight for this team, but its victory at the Manila Major was even more impressive. OG lost only five games out of 18 played for a 72.2 percent win rate and was undefeated in the upper bracket until it met — and eventually dispatched of — Newbee. After winning its second major in a row, OG ended the month with another win at ESL One Frankfurt. It marked a third LAN win in a row in less than a month.
The best way to describe this team is scary. Tal “Fly” Aizik brings the brains to the team with his strategies, and his teammates bring the raw skill and cooperation to make each draft work perfectly. When I look at OG I see a unit working together to achieve goals one step at a time, something teams like Secret or Evil Geniuses sorely lacked in Manila. Maybe Fly was right when he attributed the team’s victory to their friendship and sticking together through hard times. A win in Seattle this August would prove that the team’s commitment to sticking together is a goal worth trying to reach, not to mention a place in Dota history as one of the greatest teams of all time. OG showed a strong understanding of the game on the new patch in Frankfurt following the Manila Major, and it will certainly be developing new strategies and experimenting with unique picks. Chances of an International victory are high.
Liquid: Second ain’t the best
Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi is a perfectionist, perhaps to a fault. The team that KuroKy built from his desire to be the best is impressive, even though the championship title continues to elude him. Obviously KuroKy’s career – and the current iteration of Liquid – includes many tournament wins, but never the ones that mattered the most. Second place at two Majors means that KuroKy will want to end this season of Dota 2 with the biggest victory of all: The International.
I wouldn’t dream of using the word “choke” when describing Liquid recently, but it seems more that Liquid can’t peak when it really needs to. Liquid showed how well it could perform at Epicenter. We know Liquid can pull off wins in clutch situations. It just doesn’t seem to come together when it counts. Not to mention that Team Secret and OG were performing on a totally different level when they defeated Liquid to win the Shanghai and Manila Majors, respectively. Liquid has the skill, teamwork and coaching staff to enable success at the upcoming International – it just depends on whether they can hit their stride at the right time. Chances of a top-three finish at the International are high, and Liquid has a real chance to break its second place curse.
Newbee: A dynasty reborn
Chen “Hao” Zhihao, Zhang “Mu” Pan, and Wong “ChuaN” Hock Chuan all want their second International victories. These players remember the roar of the crowd, the rush of adrenaline as their victory draws closer, and finally lifting the Aegis high in celebration. History would suggest that the International pendulum is due for a swing in the direction of a Chinese team this year, and Newbee is the current regional favorite to bring the Aegis home. A third place finish in Manila is also an encouraging sign for the team after a bottom eight finish at the Shanghai Major, bottom four at the Frankfurt Major, and bottom four at The International 2015. This recent upturn has Newbee ranked as the top team in China – for now. With a new patch upon us, it is open season for any of the other Chinese teams to step up and claim the throne for themselves. Newbee fans have little to fear. ChuaN’s indomitable work ethic will likely carry the team’s high level of performance through August, and it would require a herculean effort to sway him from his course.
I genuinely believe that either Liquid, OG or Newbee could all conceivably win the International at their current level. The real question is: which team can go beyond their current strong performance and become truly great? After witnessing Newbee’s rapid rise after the finalization of their roster in late March, I think this team still has even more to show. This team will be satisfied with nothing but first place. It would be safe to bet that Newbee will at least achieve top three based on their current level of performance.
LGD: All according to script
LGD showed signs of being a good team before the Manila Major, but casual viewers and analysts underrated the team heading into the event. After a solid fourth place finish in Manila and third place at StarLadder, LGD looks to be back on the radar. Zhang “xiao8” Ning has returned from his customary post-International retirement to lead a team once again. With the exception of the International 2013, when LGD was eliminated early by Team Liquid, xiao8 rarely disappoints when it comes to the International. Xiao8 is a man who knows what it takes to win championships, and captaining this talented group of players who have yet to win an International might prove to be his biggest challenge yet. It could also be his greatest triumph.
In Manila, LGD looked like a team with a very clear idea of what its win conditions were and what steps had to be taken to achieve them. Whenever a team member initiated, it seemed like the rest of the team immediately followed the lead without hesitation. That level of communication and trust is necessary for any team that wants a chance at winning the International, but I don’t know if LGD’s players compare favorably enough in terms of individual skill to OG, Liquid, or Newbee. Their skill ceiling just might not be high enough to surpass their competition, but if anyone can prove that wrong it’s Director 8. I’d say that at least a fourth to sixth place finish would be well within LGD’s ability, but any higher than that might be abnormal based on current form. It all really depends on how well they understand the new patch and what strategies xiao8 can cook up. Without that strategy to back them up they might fall just short of their lofty aspirations.
MVP: One for Korea
There is no possible outcome more exciting to me than a Korean victory at the International this year. Watching MVP mature into a legitimately strong team over the last year has been incredible. Fourth place at the 11th season of StarLadder in January 2015. Seventh-eighth place at the International 2015. Fourth at the Shanghai Major. Its first two international tournament wins at Dota Pit and WePlay this year, and finally a fifth-sixth place finish at the Manila Major. The sky’s the limit for MVP, which continued to dedicate its lives to the game even after Nexon gave up on Dota 2 in November 2015 and shut down their servers. A victory for the Koreans at this year’s International – just under three years after the first Korean Dota 2 tournament started in September 2013 – would be massive.
MVP’s victories at Dota Pit and WePlay were not exactly against the best teams at the time, but they were victories all the same. At those two tournaments, MVP combined for 16 wins and only three losses – a shockingly high win rate of 84.2 percent. When everything works for MVP, it works. Just look at its win against Team Liquid in the first round of the upper bracket at the Manila Major. MVP clawed its way back into the second game because it knew the limits of their heroes perfectly and executed team fights flawlessly, even when winning seemed impossible. With that said, I’m not sure MVP’s peak is greater than that of OG, Liquid, or Newbee. I don’t know if top three is attainable for this team considering the competition, but fourth to sixth– alongside or even ahead of LGD — is entirely possible based on their strong performance that continues to improve with each LAN event they attend.
Natus Vincere: Odd ones out
Of all the teams invited to the International 2016, Na’Vi is clearly the weakest. It would require a gargantuan effort and just a little bit of luck for the only CIS team invited to the event to place higher than seventh-eighth place, but it’s impossible not to cheer for Danil “Dendi” Ishutin and his up-and-coming teammates. Na’Vi is the lovable underdog in this story, with fans who will cheer their loudest for their team – win or lose. Even if Na’Vi doesn’t win this International – which seems likely – its games will be a treat to watch. If Na’Vi does win, the roof of the KeyArena stadium might just be blown clean off. It would be Na’Vi’s first LAN win in 21 months since it won the Dota 2 Champions League in November 2014.
Cover photo: Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com