StarLadder i-League Invitational Season Two Preview

Patch 7.06 has really made a mess of things for anyone trying to prepare for the upcoming StarLadder i-League Invitational Season Two LAN finals. My sympathies go to the casters, panelists, host, players, team analysts, and coaches who have had to scramble this week to understand the implications of the many changes that 7.06 has brought to Dota 2.

At stake for the players? A share of the 100K USD prize pool, with $45,000 going to the first place team, and the opportunity to impress Valve — the winners of this tournament may also earn themselves a direct invite to The International 7.

At stake for the talent? The ability to coherently narrate and interpret the games for viewers who might not fully understand all the implications of the patch changes.

Taking place in Shanghai, China in approximately seven hours — the first game starts at 12:00 AM EST on May 18th, 12:00 pm local time — , StarLadder is the first big tournament of the pre-International 7 invites season. It will be followed by four more tournaments leading up to the end of June when direct invites (if there will be any) should be issued. With a GSL-style group stage, and a single elimination bracket, there won’t be a lot of time for the eight teams to experiment and adjust to the new patch.

While I’d love to present tables of very specific hero pick win rates, and popular pairings, and average game lengths and so on, these stats have lost some relevance because of the new patch. What I am going to offer are quick descriptions of the teams, breakdowns of their recent performances, and a few details I found interesting (if not analytically significant) about how they’ve fared since the 7.00 patch.

Alliance
Direct invite; Players: Loda (Captain), Limpp, jonassomfan, Handsken, EGM
7.X games: 90 total, 52.2% win rate
Favored heroes: Clockwerk, Ogre Magi, Dazzle, Crystal Maiden, Luna

Two weeks ago, Alliance replaced mousesports as a direct invite team. Alliance is quite familiar to Dota 2 fans, with a history stretching back to 2013. This particular roster has been together since September of 2016, and a recent post to the team’s website has indicated they are currently re-evaluating the line-up.

Unfortunately, the team has failed to qualify for any other significant tournaments this season, and didn’t attend the Kiev Major, so a strong performance at StarLadder is especially critical for Alliance’s future. In their group, they’ve only faced TNC before (0–2). Their first series will be the second of the group stage, versus VGJ.

Faceless
Direct invite; Players: Black, Jabz, iceiceice (Captain), xy-, NutZ
7.X games: 118 total, 64.4% win rate
Favored heroes: Crystal Maiden, Legion Commander, Earth Spirit, Terrorblade, Invoker

Singapore-based Faceless has had a very strong showing in the SEA region since forming in September 2016. They’ve been less successful on international stages, placing 9–16th at the Boston Major, 7–8th at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017, and 5–8th in Kiev. Their Kiev results were received with mixed feelings as they matched up against TNC, a regional rival they’ve historically beaten.

Though TNC is attending StarLadder, they’re in the opposite group, so the benefit for Faceless in a match-up there will be delayed at best (not to mention how hungry TNC will be to beat them). And while Faceless would undoubtedly like a strong showing at StarLadder, they’ve also qualified for the Manila Masters.

Invictus Gaming
China Qualifier; Players: BurNIng, Op, XXs, BoBoKa, Q (Captain)
7.X games: 148 total, 72.3% win rate
Favored heroes: Lina, Juggernaut, Monkey King, Legion Commander, Crystal Maiden.

This Invictus Gaming roster came together mid-September 2016, and have really hit their stride post-patch-7.00. They took first place at the Dota 2 Asian Championships 2017 in April, beating favorites OG 3–0 in the finals, and then took 3rd-4th place at the Kiev Major. They’ve secured invites to four of the five tournaments taking place in the next two months — qualifying for StarLadder, the Manila Masters, ZOTAC Cup, and receiving a direct invite to EPICENTER 2017. They’ll have multiple opportunities to impress Valve — the most of any team at StarLadder — , but they surely want to make a strong statement in this first appearance.

Invictus Gaming have played nearly 50% more games on Dire as Radiant since 7.00 time, and tend to win in faster games, averaging 36:43 in wins versus 42:37 in losses. Their popular heroes are all at 70+% win rates, and often have 80–100% win rates in combination with each other. They’ve got the best win rate for games played since the 7.00 patch of all the teams, and have *also* played the most games. With so many games on record, will other teams have finally figured out how to consistently counter this team’s strengths?

Newbee
Direct invite; Players: Moogy (formerly uuu9, Sccc, Kpii, Kaka (Captain), and Faith 
7.X games: 96 total, 56.2% win rate
Favored heroes: Sand King, Crystal Maiden, Juggernaut, Rubick, Legion Commander

Newbee’s current roster came together mid-September 2016, and they’ve been pretty inconsistent since then. Consistently top performers at Dota2 Professional League, a Chinese league, Newbee’s taken the second and third spot at a half dozen other tournaments since September. Unfortunately, when it came to the Majors, Boston and Kiev, Newbee was knocked out in the first rounds of the unforgiving single elimination brackets.

With a direct invite to the Manila Masters, Newbee’s got a second chance to win big this season. Given their streak over the last eight months, forecasting a top three performance for them seems quite possible, except that they’ve actually failed to qualify for EPICENTER and the Summit. Maybe the 7.06 patch will give them an opportunity to reassert themselves as a dominant Chinese team?

Team Liquid
Direct invite; Players: Matumbaman, Miracle-, MinD_ContRol, GH, KuroKy (Captain)
7.X games: 77 total, 70.1% win rate
Favored heroes: Crystal Maiden, Dark Seer, Tusk, Monkey King, Invoker

Team Liquid underwent a roster change in January, when GH joined the team, making them one of the newest rosters competing in StarLadder. They won StarLadder i-League Starseries Season 3, and placed 5-8th at the Kiev Major. Additionally, they’ve been directly invited to EPICENTER, but will not attend any of the other three tournaments in the pre-TI7 invite season.

Liquid has had a large difference in average duration of wins and losses since patch 7.0–35:17 for wins versus 48:50 for losses. Their win rate for that time is the second highest of all the teams, only slightly lower than Invictus Gaming’s, but they have half the number of games on record. Will that help or hurt them at StarLadder?

Team VGJ
Direct invite; Players: Agressif, Freeze, rOtK (Captain), fy, Fenrir
7.X games: 98 total, 54.1% win rate
Favored heroes: Lifestealer, Warlock, Ember Spirit, Lina, Legion Commander

Team VGJ’s current roster came together in September 2016, and they’ve flown somewhat under the radar. Though they’ve had strong performances, placing second in the Dota 2 ACE provisional in November 2016, and 2nd in StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3 in February 2017, they’ve had mixed success otherwise, placing 5–8th at the Kiev Major. They were directly invited to both this tournament and to the Summit 7 in June, but placed third in China qualifiers for the Manila Masters and for EPICENTER.

Team VGJ is one of only two teams who have a longer average duration for wins than for losses, at 40:58 versus 36:51 — the other team is Vega Squadron. They’ve struggled with Crystal Maiden, an otherwise popular hero in the recent meta, but with the recent patch…who knows? They’ve only played against four of the other seven teams, and don’t have favourable records against each of those teams. Still, this team’s quite capable of performing well, and it should be interesting to see how they fare in the group stage.

TNC Pro Team
Direct invite; Players: Raven, Kuku, Sam_H, Tims, 1437 (Captain)
7.X games: 116 total, 62.1% win rate
Favored heroes: Crystal Maiden, Lina, Monkey King, Axe, Spectre

TNC Pro Team come to StarLadder debuting a new roster, with 1437 (also known as Rose, formerly of North American team NP) in the five position and captaining the SEA squad. They took first at the World Electronic Sports Games 2016 tournament in January 2017, earning themselves a spot at the Kiev Major where they performed quite well in the group stage, but fell to Faceless in the first round of the play-offs. TNC hasn’t qualified for any of the other tournaments in the pre-TI invite season, so they need to make the most of this opportunity.

TNC has played the largest ratio of Radiant to Dire games since patch 7.00 of any of the teams in attendance — 76 games on Radiant compared to 40 on Dire, almost 2:1. They’ve only played Faceless and Team Liquid in their last 100 games, going 3-8 and 0–2 respectively, but after their group stage performance at Kiev, it wouldn’t be surprising if they do very well in Shanghai. They’ll kick off the group stage with the first series of the tournament, playing against Invictus Gaming.

Vega Squadron
EU Qualifer; Players: ALOHADANCE, G, AfterLife, Silent, CemaTheSlayeR (Captain)
7.X games: 94 total, 53.2% win rate
Favored heroes: Crystal Maiden, Lina, Monkey King, Axe, Spectre

Vega Squadron has made, arguably, the most significant roster changes in the last couple of months of all the teams, swapping out three players in April 2017. The new squad qualified for StarLadder, but missed the mark for other tournaments. Obviously, they’d love to perform very well here.

Vega’s average duration for wins compared to losses is 41:00 versus 37:28, making them, along with Team VGJ, in the minority for teams at StarLadder; the general trend is for wins to be shorter. The team only has experience against the other European teams in the tournament (Alliance 3–2, Liquid 2–2), and they have a good opportunity here to put in a strong international performance.

Takeaways

StarLadder comes just days after a significant patch. It’s the first in a series of five tournaments that could determine the direct invites for The International 7. Three of the eight teams are (so far) only going to be attending StarLadder, and so winning the tournament is especially significant for them. Looking at flat win rate and games played, Invictus Gaming has the most impressive record, but that’s no guarantee of future success.

The next four days of Dota should be very entertaining for fans, as the pros figure out what works, and what does not, in 7.06, and as the talent try to explain why that is to us! Plus, that 45K USD seems like a pretty solid prize for being the fastest to adapt. StarLadder promises to be a sweet start to the pre-TI season!

*Credit to datdota.com for stats-related information.

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