ESL One Hamburg wrapped up its Group Stage play Saturday with four teams emerging from the rubble: Team Secret, Team Liquid, Virtus.pro and Newbee. All four of these lineups won on the first day to set up their eventual playoff qualification. As a result of Newbee and Team Liquid's qualification, Evil Geniuses, Keen Gaming and SG e-sports were eliminated from the tournament.
Keen Gaming entered the tournament through the China qualifier and was largely an unknown entity. It only had the reputation of playing a signature slow and grinding Dota 2 style indicative of the region it represented. In addition, the teams that Keen Gaming defeated to qualify for the major were top-tier Chinese lineups: Invictus Gaming, Invictus Gaming Vitality and LGD Gaming.
Keen Gaming did well due, in part, to the standout performances from Zhai "荧" Jingkai (his name means neon) and Jin "zhizhizhi" Zhiyi in victory or defeat. But Keen Gaming's most impressive takeaway was its vision control and ability to truly slow the pace down through the draft and its laning phase by drafting Batrider, Winter Wyvern, and Nature's Prophet, specifically.
Newbee shuts down Evil Geniuses
The lone North American team looked great from the start, but Evil Geniuses' balanced attack of Artour "Arteezy" Babaev, Syed "SumaiL" Hassan and Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora ran out of gas toward the end of the group stage. The team's ideas in the drafts were crisp with great hero versatility, and EG fought well when the team grouped with SumaiL playing comfort and signature heroes such as Queen of Pain and Ember Spirit, but the execution failed in the ultra-late game. Newbee played a punishingly defensive pace to drag every game into a high ground defense which, for the Chinese squad, worked to its benefit.
Even in Evil Geniuses' lone victory, there were multiple instances of apparent communication breakdown, including Arteezy jumping in to his death with little backup, overextension from split pushes and coordination of ultimates. When Evil Geniuses moved together with its usual tight rotations, it looked like its series to lose, but when the team tried to force the siege onto the Newbee base, it was a disaster.
Newbee's Song "Sccc" Chun played like the star player he is. He was incredible on the Templar Assassin (18-3-13), Queen of Pain (22-2-18) and even on the Dragon Knight in a loss (7-5-6) and completely encompassed the 'hard carry' role for the team. Overall, Newbee's early game and lane rotations were lacking, but its defense and chase were exceptional.
Team Liquid rolls on
Keen Gaming showed great glimpses of potential with the stellar play of 荧 and its ability to truly keep up with its opposition with creative drafts, but Team Liquid was another beast altogether.
The first game was the Chinese team's best chance to upset Team Liquid. Keen Gaming parlayed an aggressive laning phase behind Spirit Breaker and Nature's Prophet ganks into an even middle game. Keen Gaming continued to take advantage of its lineup's ganking nature and split Team Liquid's teamfight, but as the match time went long, so did its shot at victory.
Eventually the itemization of Team Liquid and the damage output of both Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen (a game-leading 80,530) and Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barqawi (53,799) outlasted the play of 荧's Queen of Pain (20-9-11) and zhizhizhi's Bloodseeker (14-6-17).
After the marathon first game, it was an academic Team Liquid close-out -- immediate punishment for mistakes, a strangling lane phase and transitioning to a ball-of-death push until the end.