Most esports fans, for one reason or another, tend to love debating which region is the strongest and which is the weakest. Now that we’re halfway through the year, with the teams attending the International 2016 decided, it’s a good opportunity to analyze each region’s improvement or downfall since the year began. Which regions are rising and which are declining?
(Editor’s note: The regions aren’t ranked in any particular order, though I think we can all agree Europe is No. 1, right? Carry on.)
Western Europe is the strongest region in Dota right now. OG and Team Secret combined to win all three of this year’s majors, and Team Liquid came in second at two majors. The European portion of the International 2016 qualifiers is one of the strongest and most competitive regions, hands down. There are so many top-tier players in Europe that they started competing in North America, where there aren’t enough. Considering all that, it’s hard to come up with a convincing reason why the International isn’t going to be won by a European team. Time will tell with that claim. The one other thing I love about professional Dota in Europe is not only that their top teams are incredibly strong, but also the depth of talent. Teams like Ad Finem, Alliance, and Escape Gaming (formerly No Diggity) are not on the same level as OG and Team Liquid, but there is little question that they’re fearsome opponents.
North America: Falling
North America is more mixed a region than any other. Evil Geniuses are making a comeback after kicking Sam “BuLba” Sosale and Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling, and welcoming back Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora and Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg. The negative aspects of this region have only been exaggerated since last year, though. Roster instability is worse than ever. Even though the roster lock rules are inherently flawed and need to be completely reworked other regions do a better job of following them, if only slightly. In a region with more roster depth, this might not be a problem, but in North America the number of consistently good teams is so low that when those teams start to fall apart, the entire scene does too. There were so few teams still eligible to invite that when it came to inviting teams to the regional qualifiers for North America, Valve was totally stumped. This led to Vultur Gaming and Drinking Boys being invited to the regional qualifiers, where they combined for one win. Vultur and Drinking Boys are not at fault here. The number of strong teams in North America is so low now that once a few make roster changes, the overall quality of the qualifiers is severely affected. For all the talk of how roster changes are necessary if things aren’t working, it’s not encouraging to see some of these teams fail to even make it out of open qualifiers. For that reason, North America as a whole – even though Evil Geniuses, Digital Chaos, and compLexity are all very strong – is actually worse off than it was last year. There’s something to be said when two of the top teams in the region are made up almost entirely of European imports.
Chinese teams improved substantially since their poor showing at the Shanghai Major, where not a single Chinese team managed to break out of the bottom eight on home turf. Since then, Vici Gaming Reborn won the StarLadder/i-League Invitational, Wings Gaming won ESL One Manila, and Newbee placed second at Epicenter and third at the Manila Major. Things are generally looking up for Chinese teams, and though my love of European Dota is strong, it’s entirely possible that a Chinese team can win the International based on well teams in the region generally prepare for the biggest tournament of the year. At the very least, the Chinese representatives at the International won’t pull another Shanghai Major.
Why did I separate Korea from Southeast Asia? MVP Phoenix is the Korean professional scene, but this year has been great for MVP and I felt that they deserve a sub-header all to themselves. Nexon stopped supporting Dota 2 in Korea last November, but MVP continues to play at an extremely high level internationally and have earned the respect of Dota fans everywhere. MVP won both the Dota Pit Season 4 LAN and the WePlay Season 3 LAN this year, and placed top six at the Shanghai and Manila Majors. The Koreans have come a long way since being repeatedly dominated by Zephyr two years ago.
Na’vi is the only team representing this struggling region at the International. It’s hard to put into words how disappointing 2016 has been for CIS teams. The last time a CIS team won a LAN event was when Team Empire won the Game Show Global eSports Cup in December 2015. Before that, Vega Squadron won ESL One New York in October 2015. Something is wrong here. All the issues I covered back in April are still a problem. It’s hard to argue that most of the teams in the region shouldn’t make roster changes, as much as I dislike trying to fix problems by ignoring them. Maybe next year will be better?
Southeast Asia: Rising
Southeast Asian teams play messy, with leads skyrocketing one way and suddenly plummeting the other. I love it. Games between SEA teams are always entertaining to watch, and as the overall level of play continues to slowly rise, we’ll hopefully see more and more of this insane all-in play style. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these teams will perform well internationally. Mineski won two games out of their total seven at the Manila Major and placed in the bottom four at the event. Despite the fact that Fnatic seems to be the only team from the region that can hold its own against international competition, I’m very excited to see TNC, Fnatic and Execration play at the International and prove themselves.
South America: Falling
If you follow Dota 2 at all, you saw this one coming. South American Dota has almost completely imploded since four of Elite Wolves’ players and one former Team Infamous member were banned from competing in Valve events for life. The players – SmAsH, VanN, iwo, mstco and Ztok – were the best in the region. With those players unable to compete this year, no South American teams managed to qualify for the regional qualifiers… except for Vultur Gaming (Argentina), which was invited due to a lack of teams available. Unless Valve decides to reverse the decision – not likely – South American Dota is dead for the foreseeable future. The only bright side is that at least Southeast Asia recovered from the Arrow Gaming scandal and subsequent bans, so there’s no reason this region can’t do the same eventually. But it won’t happen anytime soon.
Photos by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com.