It’s strange to think that every year tens of thousands of people from around the world descend upon a relatively small Polish town (11th biggest in Poland, 158th in Europe, and around 750th in the world) for a week or two (this year three!) of esports madness. It’s actually more a festival of gaming: multiple titles, exhibitions and interesting side events - all with super packed and hybed crowds. It’s probably this final reason that people refer to Katowice as one of the “esports capitals” of the world, alongside places such as Seattle (The Internationals 2-7), Stockholm (Dreamhacks), Cologne (who else has a cathedral of Counter-Strike?) and Seoul (undeniably the kingdom of Starcraft).
My focus (as always) is on Dota 2, kicking off tomorrow with the group-stage of ESL One Katowice. Whilst not part of the DPC circuit several top teams are in attendance and perhaps the only surprise absentee is Virtus Pro (they don’t want another Mercedes-Benz?).
The format is similar to the previous event, 12 teams participating split into two groups of 6. Each group plays bo2 round-robin, with the top 4 teams advancing to playoffs (top 2 in winner’s bracket, 3rd-4th into loser’s bracket) and the bottom 2 teams eliminated.
There’s been some discussion (as there basically always is) about which group is better, and consensus seems to suggest Group A is the stronger of the two. I feel this is probably correct - but there are a huge number of unknowns in teams from that group also. Perhaps the biggest unknown is For The Dream, a Chinese qualifier runner-up called in last-second to replace EHOME (who had visa issues). That said, Mineski have also made a change with Ahjit in for JT just over 3 weeks ago, and iLTW has only 35 games for OG (11 of those on LAN).
Group B has clear favourites in NiP and Fnatic - but a very close chasing pelaton in which any two teams could realistically win. Aster have spent the last weeks playing with MuShi as a stand-in due to Chinese New Year celebrations, so this probably counts against them slightly.
For playoffs I think it’ll be a similar situation - with both group’s top 2 teams likely making it into the final four and it being chaotic from there out. Team Secret are certainly the overall favourites to win and the team that stands the most chance of preventing them from doing so is themselves. My feeling is that Fnatic will have an impressive run, and if the overall MVP isn’t someone from Secret it’ll likely be Abed or Iceiceice.