By Radu Muresan
August 13, 2019
The International 2019 brings together the strongest 18 teams in the world. These teams come from six different regions and in this article, I will try to provide an analysis of each of these regions and answer a very simple question: where will the winner of TI9 come from?
Every year, The International features some of the best teams in Dota 2. But this year’s edition is even more special, simply because the 2018-2019 competitive season had the most rigorous qualification procedures in the history of the game.
Every single Dota Pro Circuit event required every participant to qualify. Then, at the end of five Minors and five Majors, the top 12 teams were selected. In addition to those, one more team per region had the chance to qualify for The International 2019 by winning their Regional Qualifiers. This combination of trials upon trials, starting from the regional level and including even Open Qualifiers at every step of the way, has led to the selection of only the best of the best.
Many of the teams will sound familiar, simply because they’ve been around for many years. A third of the participants are former TI champions. Three others are former TI finalists. So in total, half of the 18 teams have already played in a TI Grand Final, even though not necessarily with their current rosters. Only three teams have come here for the first time: Royal Never Give Up, Keen Gaming and Ninjas in Pyjamas.
The complete list of participants to this year’s TI is the following:
Here are some remarkable things about this list:
Europe has no less than six representatives or a third of the total of 18 participants. That is impressive. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Europe so strong in Dota 2. For the regular season, they had the number one team in the world, Team Secret, two teams in the top five and five teams in the top 12.
Just imagine how tough will be for all these teams when the qualifiers for the third Dota Pro Circuit will start around mid Autumn. Most probably, we will see one or even two of these teams try to migrate to some other region. For example, South America and Southeast Asia are much less contested at this point.
Even North America is a mess right now, which is why I can totally imagine ppd, the current captain of NiP, make a serious attempt at escaping Europe for 2018-2019. It simply makes no sense for him to play in that region as a North American, when he could easily dominate his own region with a solid team. Apart from Evil Geniuses and the former Forward Gaming roster (currently playing for Newbee), there’s nobody in that region that could realistically challenge him. I mean J.Storm’s a mess, as the latest events clearly proved, so his permanent spot in the top three would be all but secured.
Despite only having two solid teams that can win The International 2019, China has five representatives in total. Three of them finished the Dota Pro Circuit in the top 12, another one qualified by winning the Chinese regional qualifiers, and a fifth was added in a surprise move: the North American organization Forward Gaming cited some financial troubles and had to let go of their Dota 2 team. Three days later, Newbee announced the acquisition and although their native team failed miserably this season, they now have a group of players to send to the greatest event of the year.
Given that The International 2019 takes place on Chinese soil, in Shanghai, it makes perfect sense for Newbee to do what they did and put their names on the participants list. After all, millions of Chinese fans will be watching. The irony of this situation is that usually, it’s the Chinese and South Korean players that are invading the other continents in several esports, simply because they are more dedicated than the rest of the world. Especially the Koreans. You see them for instance in The Overwatch League, playing under various banners that have nothing to do with their region. So, when a North American squad goes to play under a Chinese flag, it’s almost like an act of revenge for every esports intrusion by the Asians in the North American and European territories.
Both South and North America have only one team in the race at The International 2019. In South America’s case, Infamous stands little to no chance at all to survive the Group Stage.
On the other side, Evil Geniuses does have a real chance at getting an excellent result. Lately, we haven’t seen them do very well. In fact, quite the opposite is true: they finished 13th – 16th at EPICENTER Major, which was the last DPC Major of the season. Rumors say this was a tactical failure designed to convince the other top teams to ignore EG and focus their preparations on other opponents. But it may also be the case that Fly and his teammates did not adapt to the latest patch very well. Time will tell. In any case, over the last six weeks, they’ve been training hard for TI9 and the first two or three matches will let us know how strong they’ve become.
The CIS region has brought two teams: Virtus.pro and Natus Vincere. In Na’Vi’s case, their presence at The International 2019 comes as a shock. They did very poorly during the regular season and looked doomed to fail in the Group Stage of the CIS Regional Qualifiers for this tournament. But somehow, someway, they managed to win and will now get a chance to show us what they got. Probably not much, but I for one am looking forward to seeing them compete after two missed editions and three years of absence from the Dota 2 event that made them popular around the globe.
As for Virtus.pro, they won the regular season last year and finished 2nd this time, with one win, two Grand Finals, one third place and 7th – 8th place at the five DPC Majors. However, they are famous for collapsing under pressure at The International, so we will likely see them do well until the competition is down to the final six teams. After that point, anything could happen. In theory they should easily finish in the top four, but then again, The International is known to produce massive upsets and surprises.
The SEA region is represented by three teams: Fnatic, TNC Predator and Mineski. Among these teams, the only one with a real chance of doing well is TNC Predator. But this team is likely to do spectacularly well. Even though they only finished 9th in the Dota Pro Circuit, the fact that they now have one of the best coaches in the world is a massive boost. I’m talking of course about Heen, the former coach of Team Liquid and TI champion with that team, in 2017.
In 2019, TNC Predator won the title at World Electronic Sports Games and finished 4th at the EPICENTER Major, the last DPC Major of the season. Overall, we’ve seen them play better and better after bringing in a new captain (eyyou) and a new coach. The first move happened in February and the second one took place at the end of April. Both transfers produced immediate results. The rest of the squad looks solid. Veteran players such as Tims and Kuku will know exactly what needs to be done to ensure a victory for their team and the whole combination looks promising. If you’ve been wondering who the 2019 dark horse will be, I’d say it’s TNC Predator.
The other two teams, Mineski and Fnatic, have played rather poorly over the last several months. So, I don’t expect them to do very well at The International 2019.
Intuitively, I’d say the battle will take place once again between Europe and China. Both have a lot of strong teams in the race and apart from Virtus.pro and Evil Geniuses, combined they hold the first six DPC positions.
In China’s case, Vici Gaming is the primary representative. They won two Majors this season and were consistent in the other three, even though their placement wasn’t spectacular (7th – 8th each time). They have one of the strongest midlaner/carry players in the world, Paparazi, and have looked impressive in the second half of the season. Because of this, I expect them to get an excellent result at The International 2019.
Europe’s number one horse is Team Secret this year. Puppey and his squad won the regular season, played in three Major Grand Finals, claimed two of them and won another four important tournaments outside of the DPC along the way. It’s never been a better season for Secret to win the Aegis of Champions, but they’re known to start shaking when the going gets tough and the stakes are high.
In addition to Secret, Europe has at least one more team that’s capable of winning the tournament: Liquid. KuroKy and his teammates had a poor start in the Dota Pro Circuit but then they completely recovered and were present in the Grand Final of the last two Majors. Even after replacing their carry MATUMBAMAN with w33, their performance has remained solid.
Apart from Europe and China, CIS has a slightly smaller chance through Virtus.pro, North America comes in fourth with Evil Geniuses and Southeast Asia has a shot via TNC Predator.
Overall, I think that China is the most likely winner, because their teams will receive massive support from the crowd.