Who should be invited to the Boston Major?

Once again it’s that time of the season when we’re all speculating as to which teams will be invited to Valve’s upcoming Major. It’s unfortunate that such speculation has to occur in the first place, and a transparent system that indicated upfront what the criteria are for qualifying for a direct ‘invite’ would be vastly preferable to the status quo. As I’ve already written on this topic at length I’ll just leave some links here rather than rehashing all of my previous points. For the purposes of this article I’ll take it as a given that everyone agrees that the system for qualifying for top tier events needs to be fair, and that fairness can only be guaranteed by transparency.

There are of course some obvious obstacles facing Valve in forming such a system. Most prominent is the fact that once they establish a transparent system it will be difficult to diverge from it if a particular situation appears to call for it. And because the Dota 2 ecosystem is still in a formative stage, there’s a lot of messy shit that threatens to throw things off course from time to time. For example, the number of prestigious events between consecutive Majors is not consistent. Further, the roster lock system is still being fine-tuned which is important because the number of teams maintaining a stable roster directly affects and indeed should affect eligibility for qualification.

Despite this, given that Valve have opted not to develop a transparent system yet we are forced to analyse their decisions by attempting to reverse engineer their decisions. Fortunately, by my analysis, Valve have thus far made it very easy to do so. Though failing to provide transparency, they appear to have deliberately given the next best thing — consistency (except for that crazy 12 invite Manila Major extravaganza, lol).

History

So now I’m going to dump a bunch of pairs of screenshots from Liquipedia. See if you can figure out a pattern.

On the left we have TI5’s top 8 and on the right we have the Frankfurt Major’s 8 direct invites. Notice that 7/8 teams are identical. MVP Phoenix dropped out, having changed their roster and barely played since TI5 before the invites went out. Vega Squadron got their spot, having won ESL One, the biggest LAN that occurred during the period between TI5 and the Frankfurt invites.

On the left we have the Frankfurt Major’s top 8 and on the right we have the Shanghai Major’s direct invites. Again, notice that 7/8 teams are identical. This one was a tough one with LGD, Liquid and Alliance all making strong cases for the slot and Alliance ultimately getting it. I wrote more about it at the time here.

On the left we have the Shanghai Major top 8 and on the right we have the LOLWTF OK they invited 12 teams. Still, notice that ALL 8 of the teams on the left are also on the right. Seeing a pattern? It’s almost as if Valve care about which teams make the top 8 of their events.

On the left we have the top 8 of the Manila Major and on the right we have the 6 teams directly invited to TI6. Despite controversy over Na’ Vi getting the invite over Fnatic (shoutout to all the Na’Vi fans who flamed me on Twitter when I laughed at this) it’s still clear that all 6 on the right list appeared on the left list.

Ok, so getting to the point, if it’s not already obvious. Since the beginning of the Major system, Valve have had 4 events and at all 4 they invited at least 6/8 of the previous top 8. That’s a pretty weird coincidence…unless, it’s, you know, not one. More likely, they’re treating placing top 8 at their events as the most important factor weighing into getting invited to the next one. We can narrow this down even further. All 16 teams who placed top 4 were directly invited to the next one. 23/24 teams who placed top 6 were directly invited to the next one (poor, poor Fnatic, who showed what a horrible decision that was at TI6).

In other words, the top 4 from the last Major will be invited to the next one, barring some kind of dramatic or exceptional circumstance. The top 6 of the previous Major will also be invited in 99% of cases. So far we’ve had only one exception to that rule which proved very clearly to be an error. The top 8 of the previous Major have a strong presumption that they’re up for consideration, but slots 7–8 are always up for grabs.

Ignoring the bizarre 12 invite Manila case (because it really is pretty anomalous…Valve things etc) the teams who displaced previous top finishers so far have been Vega Squadron in Frankfurt, Alliance in Shanghai, and Na’ Vi in TI6. What do these teams all have in common? They won (or in Na’Vi’s case made the finals at) significant LANs between the previous Major and the time the invites went out.

From this we have two very clear criteria that Valve have implied very repeatedly for us:

  1. Top 4/6/8 at the previous Major.
  2. Make the finals of or win a significant LAN between the two Majors.

Looking forward

Now, lets look at the results of the last Major (yes, I know, some people recoil at calling TIs Majors — honestly who cares it makes no difference what we call it guys the subject here is ‘Valve events’ if you like)

So, if we go by the established pattern so far, top 4 should be a lock barring exceptional circumstances. Wings made no roster changes, DC made 1, and EG made 2. Historically making 2 or less roster changes has been considered to be indicative of roster stability. So they’re safe.

Fnatic made 3 roster changes. However, their 3 new players are from TNC, who also top 8'd TI6. Further, TNC is the team in the top 8 most likely to lose ‘their’ slot precisely because they lost 3 players. So for me Fnatic are also a lock, but I would entertain the argument that changing 3 players might have them treading on thin ice.

5/6 from TI6 should also be locked if all else is equal. As stated above, the singular time this wasn’t the case was quite clearly the wrong call in hindsight. So that’s EHOME and MVP. Both teams only changed 2 players and thus should be fine in terms of roster stability. Both teams have also had reasonably good results since TI6. MVP even came 2nd at one of very few LAN events that have taken place.

To my mind, that leaves 2 slots. Remember, this is very likely how the process has looked every time so far for Valve. Top 4, yes, top 6, yes.

7–8 are the up-for-grabs slots. And TNC have a very strong case against them, having lost three of their players to Fnatic. Liquid have not competed in any LAN events since TI6, though this is through no fault of their own. Had they been invited to MDL, we might have seen them solidify their spot. This is one of the unfortunate factors related to limited events occurring between Majors. It means that those few events have considerable power in determining some of the invites. Although it is unfortunate, Liquid are not the first team to be in this position. And their online results and performances so far don’t do them any favours either.

I would hazard a guess that Valve want the direct invites to try represent all four key regions and this might play in Liquid’s favour, being the only European team to top 8 TI6. However, it might also merely mean they need to replace them with a more deserving European team.

So, based on previously implied criteria, which teams are possibilities for replacing TNC and Liquid? In other words, which teams have won or at least been finalists at LANs? Well, there’s Execration who came 1st at MPGL and then there’s Newbee who came 2nd at MDL (and at that Nanyang Cruise thing if you count it). Newbee also came 1st in an online event, which alone shouldn’t be sufficient but together with their 2nd at MDL should be enough to push them into TNC’s spot.

Back to Execration. This depends a lot on how much weight Valve put into MPGL as an event. Personally, I think that since SEA was the most represented region in TI6’s top 8, we have to treat a SEA LAN as being very high level. What counts against Execration is that the event was very early in the season, with teams just having formed, and not all teams being present. Notable absences were TNC (whose previous version top 8'd TI6) and Team Faceless who have subsequently proven to be more than likely frontrunners in SEA in terms of recent form.

Again, there’s a regional question. Just like Valve might not want to invite 0 European teams, they might not want to invite 3 SEA teams and thus guarantee 5 SEA teams in total at the event. It must be said though that such a concern would never be raised for Europe or China and with SEA having really proven itself in the previous season I should hope this would not play a key role in the decision.

The final consideration that I see as relevant is the possibility of a new criterion. Of course Valve having implied consistent criteria thus far doesn’t imply they are satisfied with their system. On the contrary, we know that Valve like to experiment and the Manila Major is evidence enough of that. And if they were to introduce a new criterion at this point, there’d be a strong case to be made for OG. A very, very, strong case. They won two of the previous season’s Majors. A new criterion might even consider winning one of the previous season’s Majors to be significant. Two? Lets just say if Valve do want to add a new criterion this will surely be it.

And given the lack of European teams worth inviting, OG seem pretty well positioned to take a spot.

Other teams that I’ve seen have popular appeal for invites (something which should never ever matter, and lets hope it doesn’t, given the addition of invite predictions in compendiums!) include Secret, Faceless, and Na’ Vi.

Na’ Vi is a complete joke suggestion at this point, coming last place at TI6 and achieving nothing (barely even playing a game) since. Faceless do look like the most on form SEA team at the moment but haven’t competed in any LANs and didn’t attend TI6. Secret placed poorly at TI6, changed three players (though, admittedly for players who placed highly at TI, much like Fnatic) and only achieved 4th at MDL. In their favour is the fact that they just won the FACEIT Invitational. But it was an online tournament, with a mostly bo1 format with zero other teams who are clear locks for invites (lol Europe). I’d say Na’ Vi and Faceless have no chance, and Secret have only a very small chance.

Conclusion

If we pay attention to the system Valve have failed to share, but have strongly implied, we can predict fairly accurately what the 8 invites should look like. I say ‘should’ and not ‘will’ because Valve love to experiment (read: yolo) and could do any number of things.

Anyway, how they should look is something like this.

  1. Wings
  2. DC
  3. EG
  4. Fnatic
  5. EHOME
  6. MVP
  7. Newbee
  8. OG/Execration (with an outside chance for Liquid and a tiny outside chance for Secret)

But hell, my gut feeling is they’ll invite both Secret and OG. Just, you know, because.

I understand why Valve have not yet developed an entirely transparent system. And I applaud what appears to be an attempt to at least maintain a kind of consistency as the next best thing. My only hope is that trend continues this week.

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