The last Major before The International will be EPICENTER 2019. It will be the last opportunity for the top teams to battle-test their form and see where they rank in the world. For the smaller teams, it will be their last chance to qualify for TI without going through the regional qualifiers.
Team Secret continue to be the best team in the world. Their victory at ESL One Birmingham was just yet another in the resume they are building for the best five man lineup of all-time. In 2019, Secret have won two of the four Majors (The Chongqing Major and MDL Major). They got second at Kuala Lumpur and fourth at DreamLeague Season 11. Outside of that, they have three good LAN wins: ESL Hamburg, ESL Katowice, and ESL Birmingham. Birmingham was the most impressive of the three as it had almost all of the top teams except for Virtus.Pro. Secret are the favorites going into EPICENTER and could win three out of the five majors before heading to TI9.
Liquid have been the longest running five-man lineup in Dota 2 history. Together they have created a legacy that puts them as one of the greatest sides to have ever competed in the game. But all good things must come to an end: the team has slowly been getting diminishing results and were living off of their raw intangibles. They got second at MDL Major off of those, but outside of that, Liquid have been dismal. They lost to Gambit at ESL One Birmingham and dropped out in 13-16th at DreamLeague 11.
After trying to revitalize the lineup, Liquid have finally bitten the bullet and made a change to the roster. They have removed Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen from the roster. He was the only real choice considering that Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi and Maroun “GH” Merhej are the superstars of the team. Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov is still one of the top performing off-laners and Kuro “KuroKY” Takhasomi is one of the best captains in the world. We will get to see how Liquid’s new player will change the outlook of the squad.
Among the various top teams in the world, Virtus.Pro is one of the hardest to evaluate. Once the 2018-2019 DPC started, they went right back to business as they dominated the Dota 2 scene. They won the first Major at Kuala Lumpur, they finished second at Chongqing. This got them qualified for TI9 at the beginning of 2019. While they’ve had some good results since then (2nd at DreamLeague, 3rd at MDL Macau), it’s been fairly clear that Virtus.Pro have been cruising along in terms of effort. It makes sense from their perspective as they’ve already achieved everything there is to do in Dota outside of winning The International. With TI being their goal, they need to manage burnout, and as the white whale approaches on the horizon, I fully expect this team to come back to form.
PSG.LGD is in a strange spot in Dota 2. In terms of raw firepower, they can match any squad in the world. There is no 4 player better than Xu “fy” Linsen. Outside of fy, the others are top class in their respective roles. Even with all of that talent though, PSG.LGD are consistently a step behind. They don’t win titles like Virtus.Pro or Secret. They don’t have the top 3 level consistency of EG. They can’t pull out a heater where they make a deep run in a Major like Liquid did at MDL or VG did at DreamLeague 11. Small things are holding this team back, whether that’s bad individual plays at the wrong time, an outdraft, vision, or team play. This PSG.LGD lineup lacks the killer instinct that the team had back when they made their run up towards TI8. For PSG.LGD, they don’t need to win EPICENTER, but they need to take scalps of teams like Virtus.Pro, EG, or Secret to prove to themselves that they can still beat the best teams in the world.
Where PSG.LGD have a problem beating the top teams, EG have a problem winning titles. They’ve shown that they can hang with the best teams in the world, but they have yet to close out a tournament. In Majors, teams like Virtus.Pro, Team Secret, and Liquid have all eliminated EG. ESL Birmingham was the closest they got to a title, but they were stopped in a five-game series by Secret. EG have the players, they have the leader, and they have the experience, but they are still searching for a big title in the DPC 2018-2019.
Both Fnatic and Vici Gaming are searching for consistency, though in different ways. In the case of Fnatic, they had an average run at the beginning of 2018, hit a good spike in early 2019 where they got top four at Katowice and 3rd at DreamLeague 11. After that, they bombed out of the MDL Major. As a squad, they are still searching for the right formula that will make them meta-independent. That will likely be the key to finding their consistency. Vici has a different problem: they know exactly how they want to play their game, but they lack the consistency to execute at the highest levels. A lot of this comes down to the fact that all five players lack that veteran quality that makes them unflappable under pressure. Therefore it comes down to how much the VG players can mature and how strong Bai “rOtK” Fan’s drafts are to get them into a comfort zone.
One of the biggest storylines at EPICENTER will be who gets the final four invite slots to The International. This is a fight for survival for all of the teams on the bubble as only one team can get out of the regional qualifiers this year. OG is either the 3rd or 4th best team from the EU region, but if they fail to secure their spot at this Major, they will have to face off against [A]lliance. While I’d still favor OG, [A]lliance could knock them out in a qualifier stage. The same thing could be said for TNC: if they don’t get their points here, Mineski could eliminate them in their regional qualifier. Even teams that aren’t at the event, they need things to go their way. Keen and EHOME, for instance, are likely praying that all of the smaller teams bomb out of this event as that could get them into The International without having to go through the Chinese qualifiers. In this Major, the pressure will be higher than ever for these teams on the bubble as this is their second-to-last chance to getting into this year's TI.