Northern Arena Fallout & Summit 6 Preview — Five Takes on the season’s biggest LAN.
The Summit 6 will cap off a rather quiet LAN season before the teams step foot in the snow-clad City of Champions. The Top 4 finishers from the Beat Invitational will head to sunny Los Angeles, where the BTS house will play host to eight teams of the world’s best teams. The five day extravaganza is set to be an amazing mock battle before the Eaglesong comes calling for all eight of them. Can Wings continue their undefeated LAN streak, or will one of the untested debutants rise to the occasion?
Northern Arena saw the drafters really embrace the ‘anything goes’ versatility afforded by the 6.88 patch, sometimes a bit too much to their own detriment (cough 0–4 Jakiro cough). 92 heroes were either picked or banned in the space of only 28 matches. It’s an amazing stat — especially since LANs often tend to devolve into their own internal metas where teams adopt a ‘winning’ strategy and grind games with it (see: TI5). While Warlock & Batrider topped the charts this weekend, Witch Doctor, Spirit Breaker and Treant Protector enjoyed a bittersweet resurgence. The Summit 6 with a robust double elimination BO3 bracket will only add to the Pick/Ban total.
6.88 made drafts must-see TV again. And who better to make sense of the ensuing madness than NA DotA’s greatest captain, PPD, who will be at the Summit this weekend. Let’s dive in.
1. Wings? Oh. Wings.
The defending champions are still the best team in the world and it’s not very close at this point. They were heavy favorites coming into TI and played an unparalleled brand of DotA; three months removed from that historic tourney, still no team (especially from the west) can really contend with it.
DotA’s a team game. A tired cliche, but with the recent UI changes (debuff bar, spawn boxes etc) post-TI, Valve’s developers have shifted the focus even more in that direction by potentially lowering the skill floor. The elite teams don’t stand much to gain from this — but in a small way this was a net positive in Wings’ book. It reduced the unavoidable occurrence of missed skill shots and overlapping crowd control abilities due to mental lapses. The team already relied heavily on out-executing their opponents by the way of superior movements, map control and team-fight execution; now the other teams can’t even count their lucky stars.
Wings have it all — they’re extremely versatile in the draft and inside the game as well. Their superstar offlaner faith_bian can play Invoker in the mid lane on a whim and proceed to dominate old chicken — one of the best mids China has to offer. Innocence and iceice are almost clairvoyant — they’re unfailingly in the right place at the right time. Their effective map movements (watch how they utilized the midlane towers), their scary fast pace, their uncanny discipline and their unusual patience can easily compensates for (rare) draft losses.
When they met Team NP in the upper bracket, Envy forced Innocence’s hand into playing a Spirit Breaker offlane and faith_bian got rightfully pummeled in the lane. But they were able to pull off good ganks after ganks and deny NP the success the draft had set up them for. That team made an offlane Spirit Breaker look amazing.
Wings aren’t absolutely invincible — they did drop a game to their scrim partners EHOME, ending the LAN with an 8–1 record. LaNm pulled out a Pudge pick in combination with a Pugna in Game 2. His Pudge wreaked havoc in teamfights, landing hook after hook on unsuspecting Wings heroes.
Wings dictate games. They force teams to adjust to their fast pace and take team fights on bad terms. LaNm’s pudge, paired up with eLeVeN’s Batrider initiated a boatload of chaos in that game and forced Wings to react defensively almost every time. Shadow’s Slark had to use shadow dance to survive or the OD had to blow his BKB when they got hooked — Wings had to refocus their plans on escaping rather than fighting head-on. For a team that thrives off of superior team-play and positioning, LaNm may have shown us a blemish in their armor — Wings don’t like being on their backfoot all the time and playing reactive DotA. Many teams give Wings too much (deserved) respect and won’t challenge them at their own game; but it maybe the only way to eek out wins against them.
Still, it was only one game, and given innocence’s record as a blacksmith that blemish is only temporary. Wings remain a level above everyone else — resting peacefully in their palace balcony, playfully snickering at the hungry hoard of teams gathered below. The Summit 6 crown is all but theirs.
2. Evil Geniuses’ unceremonious exit — Are they missing PPD?
EG has arguably the most mechanically skilled roster in the scene today. Each of their players are at least Top 5 in their respective roles, if not Top 3. They’re basically the Generation of Miracles of the DotA scene.
EG’s previous manager, Charlie Yang, lovingly described the current team as a “bunch of goons” — that they get along really well and are good friends outside of DotA. They have similar approaches on how to play the game, and have forged good chemistry in a short period of time. This wasn’t always the case for EG.
PPD’s EG had some internal problems — as a captain he had his own ideas about how to play the game and how to prepare & practice, and it seems that they weren’t the most agreeable ones. The differences played a big part in Artour’s flip flop between Secret and EG over the past two years — each time taking a different player with him. Artour has been (wrongly) labelled as a team hopper, but the fact that two of his teammates felt the same way adds merit to the presence of a rift between the captain and his players.
Nevertheless, PPD always delivered when it mattered. To borrow Capitalist’s description of him, he was EG’s lighting rod — instilling discipline and structure into his team while being the sole voice inside the game that carried EG to the highest glory there is. His style of reactive drafting and spectacular shot-calling netted his team countless LAN victories and high placings. So when his retirement came out of left field, people couldn’t believe that one of the greatest captains was leaving the game at its peak.
Cr1t has taken on the mantle of leading North America’s most prolific squad in PPD’s place and he has a different approach to the team structure. The new EG functions more like a democracy with each player contributing to the draft and overall strategy used, which is a sharp departure from five months ago. Players probably feel more valued and take active roles in the development of the team in such a system. And while their dominance at MDL was a testament to the new approach, the early exit at Northern Arena may point towards too many cooks in the kitchen.
In both games vs EHOME, Evil Geniuses built up sizable advantages only to lose control of the game later on. Game 1 saw Suma1l make an unwarranted aggressive blink into EHOME’s jungle, and getting caught in trees. EG lost four heroes in an effort to save Suma1l which ultimately gave EHOME a way back into the game — making up a 12k gold deficit in 5 mins. Game 2 felt like an all-in draft with the Viper pick by EG; if they didn't hit their timing they had no way back into game. EHOME made up a deficit again in Game 2. The lack of flexibility in an EG draft isn’t the norm, especially given the tools Cr1t has at his disposal.
This isn’t to discredit EHOME’s performance; they recognized their minute window(s) to get back into the games and executed well on it. Both games were hard fought and the losses weren’t ‘bad’ in the grand scheme of things, but with EG, we’ve are used to higher expectations. The underwhelming BO1 loss to Team NP later in the same day didn’t help their case much either.
Is it time to panic yet? Definitely not, and it would be foolish to count them out as a contender at the Summit 6 and also at Boston. Maybe the team just had a bad day and their performance is not a cause for concern — after all, the format of Northern Arena didn’t quite favor the Lower Bracket kings.
How the team bounces back from their losses at Northern Arena will the true measure of whether the team’s new democratic style can stand up to PPD’s methods. For better or for worse, PPD’s legacy as a captain will always be a source of comparison for Cr1t’s EG.
3. The Untested Unknown — How does Team Faceless stack up?
Team Faceless, since their formation this fall, have embarked on a imposing streak of 42 wins – 7 losses. The team hasn’t faced international competition yet and will be making their LAN debut at the Summit 6. While they could embark on a fairytale run ala Team NP this past weekend, they could just as well end up being knocked out in two straight series like FDL.
Team Faceless is IceIceIce’s brainchild — fourth of such current player owned organizations besides OG, Secret and NP. With the focus purely on producing results since there are no player salaries, the Black-Ice reunion squad has been dominating the SEA scene. Faceless qualified for Dotapit S5, The Summit 6 and The Boston Major by dropping a mere four out of 31 total games across the 3 competitions.
“If we don’t win, we don’t eat.” — Black^
Faceless also boast a wide hero pool, having played 60 different heroes this past season. Their core players seem to be able to play any hero thrown at them by Jabz — the team picked Phantom Lancer (!) in a deciding game 3 and won in 27 mins with it. While their strongest heroes do remain the familiar picks of Warlock, Ogre Magi and Timbersaw, don’t be surprised if Faceless tries to cheese one of the big dogs at the Summit.
It’s hard to really quantify their success on the international scale since they haven’t played outside their region. However, their records against other historically successful SEA teams (who’ve played internationally) can give a glimpse into their potential.
Fnatic in its current iteration is an amalgamation of fourth place and sixth place squads from TI6 and while they haven’t looked good recently, Faceless haven’t shown them any mercy either. They are 3–0 against the new Fnatic, and the wins came without breaking a sweat. Against the MP & Forev-less MVP.Phoenix, Faceless are 5–1, defeating them twice to qualify for the Dotapit Finals. There really hasn’t been much competition domestically.
Overall, Faceless play like a team who hasn’t been together for just three months. They’ve shown a high level of versatility, efficiency and coordination in their games that often takes 6–12 months to develop — the decision to live in a team house seems to be paying early dividends.
Look out for Jabz at the Summit especially — the 17 year old has shown flashes of brilliance in the mid role while also drafting & shot calling for a team of veterans. Daryl maybe the heart and soul of the team, but Jabz is arguably the driving force behind their recent success.
IceIceIce intends to spend at least a year on supporting & growing his team out of pocket, but if the team’s upward trajectory continues he won’t dipping into his savings anytime soon.
Digital Chaos, International 6 runner-ups, are also a big question mark coming into this tournament — they’ve only played Elimination Mode and have no official matches on record in the fall season. According to Sunsfan (their owner) they didn’t quite start practicing/scrimming until the start of November; all while other teams were busy playing qualifiers and attending LANs. While Moon is a definite upgrade over Moo in terms of hero pool and playmaking, it remains to be seen if the Misery-led squad can build on their TI6 dominance or if Digital Chaos will need to start from scratch once again.
4. Team NP have arrived — and in style.
You know that feeling when you place an order on Amazon with an estimated shipping time of 3–5 days but the package somehow shows up the next day on your doorstep? That’s how Team NP’s debut felt like. Their LAN success was rushed but definitely not underserved.
After beating Ad Finem 2–1 in the first round, Team NP had an early meeting with the world champions Wings and they were properly spanked at it. It was a classic trope for an anime protagonist — you meet the big bad boss early and get humbled, only to claw your way to meet him in the finals again. The DotA gods aren’t cliched writers on a budget thankfully, and Team NP fell short in the finals versus Wings once more. The second meeting was much closer than the first one — Team NP held significant leads in both games, but ultimately weren’t able to close it out against Wings.
What makes Team NP’s debut more impressive than just a second place finish is the strength of their schedule. As in, the teams they faced on their way to the finals. They took down Ad Finem (the first European team to qualify to the Major, arguably top 4 in their region) in the first round and made short work of Alliance in the second round of loser’s bracket.
Next up were their domestic rivals Evil Geniuses in the third round. Team NP hadn’t scored a series win against them till now, losing twice in dotapit and once in Elimination Mode. However, they nipped the budding narrative of “ kryptonite EG” in clean fashion, winning the BO1 on back of a solid draft and crisp execution.
The lower bracket finals saw them defeat EHOME 2–1 in a hard fought series. EHOME were the only team to take a game off of Wings in the entire tourney and they trounced EG 2–0 in the second round as well. While EHOME do tend to vacillate a bit from match-to-match, this series really cemented NP’s status as an international contender.
The finals vs Wings Gaming showed that there is still work to be done — the team has continuing issues with forcing their advantage and closing out games. Their late game has been mediocre compared to their exceptional early game, and their susceptibility to making game changing mistakes late in the fourth quarter.
EternalEnvy’s time as captain in C9 is proof that his teams can execute well in the late game. While that was a different patch and different style of DotA, with Aui & MSS stepping up even more at the LAN, the team has it in them to unlock the next level. They’re here to stay — and they’re already banging loudly on gates of the elite club.
Team NP will have a lot of eyes on them going into the Major, and teams will better equipped to deal with them. It will be interesting to see if the team can repeat their Northern Arena performance at the Summit, for their opponents will be treating them with more gravity.
The DotA gods may not be writers on a budget, but they sure love to see re-matches of the underdogs vs the overwhelming favorites and please their viewers. Wings and Team NP will go head-to-head for the third time (in just five days) when they square up in the first round. Winning the series is all but a foregone conclusion, but can they claw out a win versus the defending champions?
5. Predictions Corner: Liquipedia Edition.
Some quick takes and a full bracket to round out the predictions.
- Faceless won’t keep up with the competition at the Summit 6 and exit the tournament early.
- All-China final with EHOME losing out to Wings in a hard fought five game series.
- Ana doesn’t take the next step unfortunately and OG suffer a second round exit because of it.
- EG continues to struggle against the eastern teams, especially EHOME.
- Team NP regress towards the norm after overperforming a bit at Northern Arena.
The Summit 6 action begins in less than 24 hours. Catch the action live at twitch.tv/beyondthesummit alongside some of the smartest people in PPD, Fogged, Merlini and a host of other pros joining the couch.
The tournament is stacked beyond doubt — all of the eight teams present will be contending for Top 8 spots at the major. The matched to decided Top 4 might very well be a trailer for how the playoff bracket plays out at Boston.