Now that the Kiev Major has passed with OG standing triumphant, all eyes are fixed on The International 7. The International functions like the Tower of Babylon: everything players and teams do is in some way connected with their hopes of winning this tournament. It boasts the biggest prize pool of any esports tournament as well as the greatest prestige in the Dota 2 scene. It is the event every player dreams of winning, the one where career aspirations and unbearable stress meet. TIs are also the cause of desperate roster shuffles. A single won series can compensate for an entire year’s toil, and the pre-TI period has become infamous for a chaotic stew of trades, signings, and rejections. Valve tried to corral the madness by setting specific roster drop and lock dates. Under those rules, the post-Kiev period is extremely important as it’s the final opportunity for teams to change their squads before TI. Luckily for some teams, they get one last chance to test their current rosters at LAN. At StarLadder Shanghai, eight organizations will flex their muscles and see whether their teams are prepared for the big show. They are Vici Gaming.J, Newbee, Liquid, TNC, Faceless, Alliance, iG and Vega Squadron.
Two of them ought to have no plans for player changes. After winning The Dota 2 Asian Championship and reaching the semis of Kiev, Invictus Gaming has reestablished itself as one of the best teams in the world. There’s no obvious upgrade to any of their positions, and rebuilding team synergy after a trade might take too long. Meanwhile, Vega Squadron already did an overhaul back in April. Management can’t feasibly ascertain whether any current problems are endemic or growing pains, and the team has performed well enough online to suggest this combination of players has potential.
The rest are all up in the air. VG.J had a surprisingly good result at Kiev Major by reaching the quarterfinals and narrowly losing to Virtus.pro. Its problem is consistency on an individual and team level. You never know what you will get out of VG.J, so there shouldn’t be any confidence in this lineup headed toward TI. The only noticeable pattern is this team does well against Western teams but poorly against Chinese teams.
Newbee is also likely to join the feeding frenzy. I still consider this a fairly strong team with consistent results. Newbee has performed very well against its compatriots, finishing second place at China Top, second at ESL Genting and third at DAC. Yet success has been absent at both Majors, where Newbee has spectacularly bombed out. When looking at all the losses, they all have a common thread: the inability to perform in pressure situations. For most established teams, nerves become a sticking point in the late stages of a tournament, but at the Majors it happens at the beginning of the group stages. After a team collapses under stress too many times, it loses all confidence in the ability to persevere. Because of that, I think Newbee needs to swap at least one player, though winning at Shanghai might be enough to bring back the necessary swagger as the current roster stands.
Liquid is in a strange place. There are no clear problems within the team that would warrant a change, but it’s hard to be confident TL will make a deep run at TI. Liquid won DreamLeague Season 6 and StarLadder Season 3, bombed out of DAC and reached the quarterfinals of Kiev. None of the players is playing particularly poor, either. The problem, though, is too much overlap in the supports players’ pools. If they can fix that, they should be fine. Either way, a good result here is critical for the continuation of this lineup.
Two weeks ago, I would have never placed TNC as a team liable to shuffle its roster. With Faceless’ continued impotence against any non-SEA team, TNC looked like the region’s only hope for international success. But since Kiev, TNC lost to Clutch Gamers in the Manila qualifiers and EPICENTER. In addition to that they failed to qualify for the Summit. With Faceless not changing, TNC has slipped down the ranks among Southeast Asian teams. I’m not sure if the rise of Clutch Gamers was the impetus, but whatever the case, TNC has bit the bullet and added Theeban “1437” Siva as a new support and captain to give the team a better strategic edge. This will be the first the new lineup’s first LAN.
Whether or not Faceless throws out some bathwater depends on what they are willing to settle for. I can say with certainty this team has no chance to get deep at TI7. I can also predict they will get an invite if they stick together, as they have the best net results of any SEA team. But here’s the interesting question: Will one of the players risk ruining the chances of the others for a chance at glory? If there was anyone who I think should get out, it is Daryl Koh “iceiceice” Pei Xiang. He is still one of the best off laners in the world and would stoke the interest of several prominent Chinese teams as a free agent.
The final team is Alliance, which took the place of mousesports. Alliance is playing its first LAN in 2017 (I don’t count WESG), so I don’t know what to expect or how desperate this team might be with its current roster. Based on historical precedent, Alliance usually doesn’t change players unless it can get one of the old gang back. As none of the old gang seems poised to join, I don’t foresee a change.
As we enter the roster shuffle, Starladder Shanghai comes at an essential time for these teams. This will be the last chance to figure out whether they are truly ready for TI, or if they need to take drastic action.