With the 18 teams having been drawn into two groups of nine, here is our verdict on Group A of The International 9 ahead of the tournament beginning on Thursday.
There are three teams that stand out in this group, with the following most likely to proceed to the Upper Bracket of the Knockout Stage.
Team Secret (2.140 to win Group A) have been the team to beat this season – they finished top of the DPC Rankings and were one of only two teams to win two out of the five Majors. A core strength of theirs is the massive hero pools for Puppey, zai and MidOne. Puppey is one of the best drafters in the game with a unique vision and unorthodox picks, and he often brings success to the team with his experimental yet synergetic drafts. The veteran also has a unique eye for talent spotting as Nisha is surely one of the discoveries of the season. The team have been leagues ahead of the opposition this season and so they are rightful favourites to win TI9.
Team Liquid (3.290) had a slow start to the campaign and at one point it looked like they would disband. However, only MATUMBAMAN was replaced by w33 and the team somehow stuck together. Liquid’s strongest finish this season was 2nd in both MDL Disneyland Paris Major and the EPICENTER Major. They have recently made some changes, with Miracle- switching to be a safe lane player rather than mid because of his ability to carry the game. This has given him farming priority over the mid player. The new addition, w33, is someone who takes more risks by adding versatility and flashier plays. He is a great team player, who does not mind playing the sacrificial role which is a great fit for Team Liquid’s Miracle- top priority. MinD_ContRoL is another key player for Liquid and he is one of the few offlaners who can carry the game on his own. Indeed, when he has a good game, the team almost always wins.
PSG.LGD (4.560) are one of the few rosters to remain unchanged this season. Last year’s TI finalists have largely been in the shadow of Vici Gaming this season as China’s best team, but with expectations eased, they may be under less pressure to do well at The International. While PSG.LGD have not wowed anyone this year, they have had a fairly consistent season, ranking between 4th and 6th in all of the Majors.
The rest of the bunch
It is not uncommon at The International for the favourites to succumb to outsiders, so while the aforementioned trio are certainly expected to go deep into the tournament, the other teams in Group A should not to be underestimated.
TNC Predator (11.090) have been on the rise for the last couple of years, ever since their breakthrough at TI6 where they eliminated super-favourites OG. They have gone a long way since then and have established themselves as one of the top SEA Dota 2 teams. TNC usually adopt an aggressive style of play with the idea of snowballing into the mid game, dictating the pace at all times and never letting go when they are at an advantage. However, this yearning can sometimes lead to unnecessary aggression and overextensions in team fights. The team have also suffered ill-discipline, which is why Heen, the coach who guided Team Liquid to TI7 champions, joined the team in April. As far as the players are concerned, Armel is the one to keep an eye on.
It is strange to see a Newbee side without a single Chinese player, but when Forward Gaming had to cease operations due to a lack of funds three weeks ago, their quintet of players found themselves at Newbee. The former Forward Gaming had had something of an average season, but a very impressive qualifying cycle saw them secure a spot at TI9. The team went unbeaten in the entire tournament up to the final, where they lost only one game to J.Storm. There are two key differences since last season – pieliedie, a defensive support who doesn’t mind playing sacrificial roles, joined as the new captain while CCnC joined as the mid player and he has the ability to make a difference with heroes such as Templar Assassin.
Mineski (61.830) were overshadowed this season by the more established and star-laden squads of TNC and Fnatic. The team did not make the first two Majors and ended up in the 9-12th spot in the next two. Their initial poor performances lead to some roster changes and the impact of new captain ninjaboogie, who is very experienced and a great strategist, has been instant. Ahjit’s departure was followed by the arrival of Nikobaby, who will make his debut on the TI stage. His late game carry plays with Juggernaut and Ember Spirit were decisive for the team in qualifying for the event.
Keen Gaming (38.190) qualified as the 12th best team in the DPC and are the third Chinese team to compete in the tournament. Apart from dark, the rest of the squad was formed at the beginning of the new season. The team’s season highlight was their 5-6th finish in the Dream League Season 11 Major. Keen Gaming do not suffer from a lack of talent or experience (indeed Kaka is a TI7 finalist), but they do struggle with consistency. They are also tactically one-dimensional, as they often depend on their ability to win the lanes and snowball, with either old chicken or eLeVeN making or breaking the game. Keen Gaming will have a lot to prove if they want to be put next to other Chinese teams such as Vici Gaming and PSG.LGD.
Chaos Esports Club (34.460) emerged from the old paiN Gaming roster this January. The current line-up began to shape up in May with w33, tavo and Kingrd leaving for various reasons and KheZu, MiLAN and vtFαded arriving. The biggest name in the team, however, is the former carry of Team Liquid and TI7 champion, MATUMBAMAN. The team made the strategically astute decision to play in the European Qualifiers with so many of the top EU teams having already qualified through the DPC rankings. The captain, MISERY, has a commanding presence in and out of the game, while new signing MATUMBAMAN is a top-class player who can potentially elevate Chaos to the next level. The team usually wins when they get their draft and execute their strategy, while they tend to struggle with improvising.
Finally, the Alliance (34.610) brand finally returns and this team is very different to the one that was crowned champions of TI3. Defined by their very good chemistry and significant trust between the players, the team does not have any exceptional stars and are defined by their excellent rotations. Former TI3 champion Loda is their coach. They have been building steadily over the last two years and their recent win at the Dota Summit 10 suggests they are aiming for something bigger. Momentum could be on their side.