The Electronic Sports League heads back to Katowice this week with the action getting under way on Tuesday and the final on Sunday.
In a format which is now common for the ESL, the event will feature 12 of the best teams around – eight invitees and four qualifiers. Last year’s champions Virtus.pro are not among them, however.
While this year ESL One Katowice is not part of the Dota Pro Circuit, it does offer a lucrative prize pool of US$300,000.
The 12 teams will be divided into two groups of six. Each group will contest a round-robin format with each encounter played in two games.
The bottom two teams in each group will be directly eliminated from the tournament, while the top two will advance to the upper bracket of the play-offs. The 3rd and 4th-placed teams from each group will start the main event in the lower bracket.
Each game in the main event will be played in a best-of-three format with the exception of the grand final which will be a best-of-five affair.
This group features three invited teams – Team Secret, OG and Forward Gaming – and three who made it through the qualifiers, namely Gambit Esports, For The Dream and Mineski.
Team Secret are the clear favourites in this section – indeed they are odds-on to win the entire tournament at 1.515.
Led by Puppey, Secret recently won the Chongqing Major, outclassing Virtus.pro in the grand final, and without a doubt they will arrive at this tournament as the strongest Dota 2 team in the world.
OG, 14.580 in the outright market, and Gambit Esports (13.220) are quite likely to be involved in the fight for 2nd spot.
TI8 champions OG are yet to show the level of play they displayed at the biggest Dota 2 event last summer and losing ana in November certainly hasn’t helped them. New Russian carry iLTW is still adapting, but OG still have the core of players that won TI8.
Gambit are one of the discoveries of the new Dota 2 season. Coming from the CIS region, the team began to produce some impressive displays after veteran fng was brought in to take over the captaincy, while position 4 prospect Immersion also arrived. The team recently won two editions of WePlay! Dota 2 Madness against opposition such as OG and Ninjas and Pyjamas.
Forward Gaming may find it challenging to fight for the top spots in the group, but a place in the lower bracket is definitely achievable. They are 16.920 to emerge victorious.
The team rose towards the end of the DPC last season and the group stages of TI8, but the arrival of highly-regarded off-laner UNiVeRsE hasn’t yet led to a significant success for the team.
FG will have to improve on their performance from the Major in Chongqing when they finished in the bottom four.
Mineski (34.150) had a recent change of captaincy with pieliedie arriving in November. The team played at ESL One Hamburg, where they were eliminated in the group stage, but are in a good form, as shown in the DreamLeague Season 11 Major qualifier when they just lost to Fnatic in the final.
For The Dream, rank outsiders for the title at 45.110, will find it difficult to avoid the bottom two places. The Chinese team actually finished 2nd best in the qualifiers, losing narrowly to EHOME, but with the latter dropping out, For the Dream are a worthy substitute. Coming from the Chinese region, this will be one of few opportunities for the team to experience international Dota.
The second group features five invited teams – Ninjas in Pyjamas, Fnatic, Chaos Esports Club, Alliance and Team Aster – as well as complexity Gaming who qualified from the North American region.
In contrast to Group A, there does not seem to be an obvious favourite with several teams set to fight for the top spots. Fnatic and Ninjas in Pyjamas are teams whose performances this season make them likely to be involved in the scrap. The odds have NiP as 2nd favourites for the tournament at 7.010 with Fnatic a tad longer at 7.950.
SEA team Fnatic surpassed expectations at the Chongqing Major and while 5-6th spot may not seem glamorous, Fnatic overcame teams such as Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid in a dominating manner to reach it.
Ninjas in Pyjamas have established themselves as one of the stronger European teams and are in a good form, as evidenced by their success in the DreamLeague Season 11 Major qualifying cycle. NiP finished in the top two to qualify with Team Secret among their victims in the group stage.
Team Aster, Alliance and Chaos Esports Club all seem capable of progressing to the main event, even if not as group winners.
Chaos Esports Club (19.910) are the strongest team from South America with former TI6 finalists w33 and MISERY in their squad. The Brazilian team qualify for international events rather easily but are struggling to match the level of the top Dota 2 teams on the international stage.
Alliance (23.200) are also becoming regulars in big events and the next step for them is to try to climb the ladder a bit further since they find themselves more often than not in the bottom rankings. The team have been together since last June, with four of their players having been alongside each other for more than two years.
Team Aster(27.860) emerged as one of the high-potential Chinese teams after the new season’s shuffle, but despite a string of impressive plays, they heavily disappointed in the Chongqing Major with three losses from three matches and not a single game won.
compLexitycame through the North America qualifier where they saw off J.Storm to earn a spot at the event but going any further will be difficult – they are out at 45.110 for the title. The team are not regular participants at international level which is no surprise given both EG and Forward Gaming are from their region.
compLexity finished 7-8th at the last ESL One event in October, which was their last international appearance, but the team changed quite a bit in November with the addition of Meracle, Deth and Adam.
Although there are clear favourites in the shape of Team Secret, who currently seem to be a level above the rest, the fact that Katowice will not offer any DPC points should be a warning sign to potential backers.
Knowing Puppey’s tendency to experiment, Secret might try different strategies and thus offer chances to teams who are trying hard to prove themselves and make the most of the opportunity.
On that front, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Fnatic lead the pack.