The roster shuffle is over, the dust has settled and the landscape of competitive Dota 2 for the 2017 season is slowly shaping up. Though no majors have been set in stone, several LANs have been popping up for squads to start getting some matches under their belt before the first major on the road to TI7.
MarsTV Dota 2 League is the first international LAN of the season, with four invited foreign teams and four Chinese squads traveling to Xiamen, China to compete from Sept. 28 through Oct. 2. Though a prize pool is a nice start, the real goal of MDL will be for team to gauge both others' prowess and their own. Through a group stage and double-elimination bracket, there will be plenty of matches, but which teams are looking the strongest headed into the tournament?
Group A: Veterans and Newbees
Newbee, Team Secret, LGD.Forever Young, MVP Phoenix
The top-billed Chinese squad here, Newbee might have struck some fear into the hearts of anyone just a few months ago. The fall roster shuffle was not kind to Newbee, however. Losing three members of its 2016 roster, only Damien "kpii" Chok and Hu "Kaka" Liangzhi remain. The newcomers are two former TongFu players and Newbee Young's mid player Song "Sccc" Chun, who have had fair regional results but little international experience. Having gone 8-8 since forming the new Newbee, this roster hasn't done much to inspire confidence coming into MDL.
Challenging for the top spot in this group will be Team Secret, which spent the offseason recruiting some of the best talent Southeast Asia had to offer. Pyo "MP" No-a and Lee "Forev" Sang-don step onto the team off a stellar run at TI6 with MVP Phoenix, and Yeik "MidOne" Nai Zheng takes over the mid lane after putting up a 4.24 overall KDA in Seattle. There's no question this Team SEA-cret has the talent and skill, but a few questions linger. There's just as much pressure to perform when the team puts together as impressive of a roster as last year's version of all-star Secret, and tensions from TI6 (and even before then) could still be running high. Communication could also play a huge factor, with players from Korea, Malaysia, Estonia and Sweden.
Looking for a strike back against their former teammates will be the remaining members of MVP Phoenix: Kim "QO" Seon-yeob, Kim "Febby" Yong-min and Kim "DuBu" Doo-young. Yong-min's switch from support to core will be one to watch, but eyes will also be on the promoted MVP Hot6 members Kim "Velo" Tae-sung and Lee "Reisen" Jun-yeong. This squad has already put up strong results against some SEA teams, though Yong-min has shined in his new role more than Tae-sung or Jun-yeong have in their matches. MVP Phoenix could still bring upsets to the group, but new blood means a little less confidence in its aggressive playstyle.
LGD.Forever Young takes the final spot in group A, and though it's a perceived underdog right now, this team is more intimidating than the name suggests. A few lesser-known names hide Xie "Super" Junhao, who played for Vici Gaming during TI4 and 5, and veteran captain Zhang "xiao8" Ning, one of the few players who has competed in every International. The team has posted a 17-8 record in China since the end of TI6. There are no international results to go off, but those might not be necessary -- a combination of early experience against Chinese squads and some veteran knowledge, guided by The Director himself, could make LGD.FY a dark horse in MDL.
Group B: Meet in the middle lane
Evil Geniuses, OG, Vici Gaming, iG Vitality
All eyes are on Evil Geniuses in this group, where Artour "Arteezy" Babaev will debut in blue for the third time and Andreas "Cr1t-" Nielsen takes over in the captain's chair. Though Babaev can be thought of as a new player, he's played a total of 453 games under the EG banner, holding a 66.67 percent win-rate. Nielsen will likely be the biggest X-factor, but a look at his record might inspire confidence. He tends to rack up wins in the first games with new teams, going 17-3 in his first 20 games on Monkey Business. Keep an eye on overall team cohesion and movements to see whether Nielsen can adjust to leading this American squad.
European squad OG will also be coping with new changes, with Gustav "s4" Magnusson taking up the offlane role and former Liquid support Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka in the four-role. Vainikka's record speaks for itself as one of the best players in Dota 2 in his role, but Magnusson is largely untested in the offlane, and that could be a weak point teams look to exploit. The other pressure point will be Anathan "ana" Pham, the surprise pickup in the mid lane. A former sub for Invictus Gaming, Pham held a 2.67 KDA across nine games with IG; not a promising record, but when he's on, he delivers results like the 3-0 at NEA 2016 three months ago. Look for Pham to live up to OG's playmaking legacy in the mid lane and provide momentum for this fresh squad in the group stage.
Vici Gaming is, for the most part, Vici Reborn reformed. Four former Vici Gaming Reborn members assembled on the Vici proper roster is intimidating for many of these new rosters, who might not have the history and cohesion a cut-and-paste powerhouse team like Reborn might. There is one Achilles' heel, though, in the mid lane -- Zheng "ghost" Jie, who is relatively unknown outside regional Chinese tournaments. Despite a 14-1 record in matchups since TI6, Jie will be matching up with some heavy talent in the mid lane in this group, and teams could easily look to take advantage.
Rounding out group B is the second Chinese squad, Invictus Gaming Vitality. A sister squad to iG proper, there are few stars to look for here. A look at the overall record suggests some potential in IGV, as the team has put up wins against Newbee and tied LGD.FY in recent matches. Though the group stage is a little tenuous for this smaller squad, it could easily look to start knocking out other Chinese teams in the main bracket. IGV is a massive question mark against international teams, with barely any experience competing outside of China to speak of, but considering its recent record, this isn't the team to sleep on in group B either. Zhang "Yuno" Chengjun will be the key player for this team, as he's put up several impressive performances in recent matches as the team's hard carry.