The International 2017 (TI) is the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year. The prize pool alone (over $23,000,000 and counting) is enough to turn heads, endemic and non-endemic alike. That said, we're here for the stories, the upsets, and the tricks teams will pull out to win it all.
Timothy Lee, Justin Bansuing, Paolo Bago and Victoria Rose sat down to talk about what's going to happen at TI7.
Tim: The group stage will be interesting this year. There will be two groups with nine teams each and only the top four will make it to the upper bracket of the main event (only one team will be eliminated after the group stage). Overall, I like the balance in the groups. It's the first time I've seen a TI pool breakdown and went, "ok, this is fair for both sides."
Pao: I think the most interesting part of the new format is exactly how the new 18 team line-up will pan out. The groups look fairly balanced so it becomes a question of: who will exit first on each end?
Victoria: It's hard to say. With the 18 team format, they've legitimately put pressure on every single team to perform well at every stage. And that's not easy in Dota because teams and their off-stage teams -- analysts and coaches -- always keep an eye on each other's strategies and gameplay and learn and evolve.
Pao: I honestly love that. I enjoy it most when the format incentivizes games of consequence at every stage. While you could reasonably say that teams like HellRaisers and Infamous are massive underdogs, Kiev has taught us that even teams like Secret will take a first-round exit if it isn't prepared. I love that tension in a TI.
Victoria: Same. I think we're going to see a lot of teams perform unexpectedly well in this stage because of the stakes. In Kiev, it mattered less. You still needed to perform well so you could be matched against a team more at your level. But here, a bad performance doesn't mean the same thing. It means you're out. So a team like Secret, again like in Kiev, could destroy the group stages, but all its cards are on the table, and a team comes in and drops it down to lower bracket.
Justin: Though unlike previous majors, a team's performance in the group stages will definitely have a huge effect on its tournament run. Since Valve is running its traditional double-elimination format, teams who do well in the group stages will be placed in the upper bracket. This obviously means that those who dominate the groups stages will be at an advantage.
Tim: On the topic of the group stage, which teams look like the absolute favorite to make it out in the upper bracket? My favorites to dominate Group A are LGD-Gaming, Team Liquid, and Evil Geniuses. Team Liquid will enter TI with a lot of momentum. The team is riding victories from Epicenter 2017 and DreamLeague Season 7 and remains one of the most consistent teams for top placements in DOTA 2. LGD-Gaming is arguably the best Chinese team in the tournament. It's a team backed by one of the best support duos in the world and the uber-talented Lu "Maybe" Yao. Evil Geniuses is the tournament favorite. The North American juggernaut is the most complete lineup in the world with playmakers at every position and a deep hero pool that is second-to-none.
As for Group B, I like Virtus.pro, Newbee, and Invictus Gaming. Newbee's strength comes from its versatility. It can play with any type of hero draft and in-game strategy; the team does not need to specifically allocate funds to a particular position or player. That kind of flexibility does well in long group stages. Invictus Gaming is my gut play because I'm playing the 'Xu "BurNIng" Zhilei needs to win a TI' narrative card. The recent results for Invictus Gaming may not favor a long tournament run, but this is a team with a top player at every core position (position 1-3). My favorite in the group is Virtus.pro. This is a team with some of the highest individual mechanical skill from every position, with Ilya "Lil" Ilyuk and Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev as the brightest from the group, and team fighting ability in the world. Virtus.pro will make noise and it will come from its ability to coordinate precise and difficult team fighting combinations.
Victoria: For the most part, I do agree. Definitely, your take on Group A's top teams, I think based on its recent performances, are going to do well. But in Group B, I think OG will find its step. It's not that its been poor, in my opinion - I think its just hit the prize pool dilemma after winning four Majors straight. If the team plays well, teams learn how to see the strats, and that's not something it can afford if OG wants to win a Major. It has the talent, the captain's mind and team-wide hero pool to take the tournament if it plays it out well, and OG has probably prepared itself for the multi-step journey. But it'll be close with Invictus Gaming, I feel.
Tim: I can't, in good faith, believe in OG right now. The team lost some major steps since its days of relevancy. Maybe the team can turn it around on the biggest stage, but the current patch is not doing OG any favors. I'm surprised you agreed with my mostly Chinese tier list since the region fell on hard times over the past year. LGD-Gaming, Newbee, and Invictus Gaming, to me, look like tournament finalists.
Justin: I'd have to disagree with you with regards to OG. A few of its low placings could be attributed to coach Sébastien Debs not being with them. Many people were doubting it heading into the Kiev Major, and it won there. Of course, the level of competition at TI means that nothing is set in stone.
If I were to place my bets as to who would most likely make it out of the group stages though, I'd say Evil Geniuses, Virtus.pro and Team Liquid are all shoe-ins given its top-notch performances as of late. It's hard to see a playoff bracket without them, and frankly, it looks like Valve did seed the groups to make this outcome possible.
Pao: I'd also rate OG higher despite it stalling out in events since Kiev. There's a lot of factors coming into the event that could work in its favor. Visage is a really powerful pick right now that does two things. Firstly, it's already a strong pick in Fly's hands but on the other hand: Visage being in the metagame calls for more laning supports to counteract the early game power out of that pick -- an environment that allows JerAx to go crazy. I would place them to get into the Top 8 but then it would have to pull off something else to get deeper.
For my money, I have Liquid as a favorite to win the entire event. The team's biggest enemy is themselves at this point. It plays a very primal form of Dota 2; Kuro prefers securing one surefire objective taker for MATUMBAMAN then just making sure he gets powerpicks for Miracle and GH. As long as it doesn't deviate from the script and cut down on the exotic role swaps, it should be able to outperform virtually anyone. The extent of its pressure extends to the draft, locking up a lot of strategies and forcing other teams to react to them. That's a big advantage going into the most important tournament of the year.
Victoria: I definitely think Liquid has what it takes, but I'm keeping faith in Virtus.pro, too. When able to perform well, it's an absolute sight to see, and I feel like it's been working as hard as any other team to finally get that Valve event championship. Frankly, I'm not sure who would make it out of a match between the two right now. But that won't matter too much if they get separated in the main stage, given both squads probably have much bigger threats to its respective teams to overcome first.