On the very eve of the first major of the 2017 "Dota 2" season, the group stage has finally been set in stone. The 16 teams attending the $3 million Boston Major will be split into four miniaturized brackets to play several best-of-three's to determine seeding in the main bracket.
Lovingly dubbed the "GSL format" after its most well-known proponent, this bracket system can be confusing if you're unfamiliar with it. It's best to look at it as a number of small double-elimination tournaments with four teams each: One will emerge the victor (first seed) with a 2-0, another team will go 0-2 and two teams will have to break their 1-1 tie in a final game to determine the final rankings.
The first seeds get their pick of whom to face first in the round-of-16, so winning out in the group stage is a potent advantage in this single-elimination major. Who is poised to clinch the top seed, and who will struggle to determine their berth in the tournament?
Group A: Wings Gaming vs. Warriors Gaming Unity, Digital Chaos vs. LGD.Forever Young
The International 6 champion Wings Gaming gets a fairly easy matchup against the SEA qualifier WG Unity. While the scrappy Unity squad is an unknown quantity in the international scene and one that has a proven ability to upset the giants of its region, it's hard to find any justification for expecting Unity to pull a similar upset on a still-formidable Wings lineup.
Digital Chaos and LGD.FY's match will be more of a contest: Even though Digital Chaos came in second at TI6, the North American squad has since fallen on tough times. Its only full tournament appearance since, at The Summit 6, ended in a 2-0 loss to Wings. LGD.FY has had similar issues, struggling to regularly beat other teams in the Chinese region since qualifying for Boston. This match could go either way, but given the quality and quantity of games played pre-Boston, LGD.FY are coming in looking a little more prepared than DC.
Group B: Newbee vs. MVP Phoenix, Virtus.Pro vs. Team NP
All signs point to group B being the most interesting group coming into Boston, with some very close matchups and tense situations for diehard fans of these squads. Despite Wings overshadowing Newbee in the Chinese region, the TI4-winning organization still has a promising lineup for Boston. The team boasts an 81 percent win rate in the last month, with its mid laner Song "Sccc" Chun putting up a 5.67 KDA in that time. Comparatively, MVP Phoenix have had some struggles after subbing Lee "Forev" Sang-don back onto the squad, losing 2-1 in the ESL One Genting qualifiers to Team EVOS. Never count out the MVP LAN X-factor, but recent performances put Newbee ahead in this match.
That contest will be an undercard to the second matchup in Group B though, as Summit 6 champ Virtus.Pro will play its first series of the major against home-crowd favorite Team NP. The former put on quite a showing at The Summit, dropping only two games in the tournament and besting Wings and OG for the top spot. Team NP, on the other hand, never got a chance to face the CIS team in the bracket, and its particular brand of abnormal playcalling and Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling's insane carry potential could be what's need to halt the momentum VP has coming into Massachusetts. The team has a fair amount of fans among the North American crowd too, so look for the crowds to give Jacky "EternaLEnVy" Mao their energy in hopes of an upset over the dominant Russians of Virtus.Pro.
Group C: Evil Geniuses vs. Complexity, Faceless vs. LGD Gaming
A North American face-off will start group C, where Evil Geniuses will take on Complexity Gaming. In the time since TI6, the series has leaned EG's way, taking both prior match-ups 2-1 and 2-0. Complexity has a new tool in Jaron "monkeys-forever" Clinton, however, and the team will likely look to that one game at Dota Pit, alongside EG's other recent losses, to pick apart the team for weaknesses to exploit. Evil Geniuses is the favorite, but when two teams have faced off as often as these two have, anything is possible.
Faceless and LGD Gaming are the more complicated match-up. LGD, who took Execration's spot in the major after visa issues prevented the team's attendance, have had some inconsistencies over the last couple of months. Beating teams like CDEC and Vici, LGD still struggles to put up impressive numbers and look like the LGD of old. Faceless, meanwhile, is a dark horse for the tournament, with Daryl "iceiceice" Koh Pei Xiang leading the team on and Dominik "Black^" Reitmeier performing impressively in the carry role. The team did fall short at The Summit 6 though, losing two best-of-three's in a row to Digital Chaos and Evil Geniuses. Both teams will be searching for some redemption at Boston, so expect a good contest between these two.
Group D: OG vs. IG Vitality, EHOME vs. Ad Finem
The start of group D sees a matchup of OG against Invictus Gaming's Vitality squad, with some extra power on the side of IGV. Due to visa issues, legendary Anti-Mage player Xu "BurNIng" Zhilei will step in for the squad, though whether the team will draft his favorite carry for him or leave him to fill in Su "super" Peng's shoes at the four-role remains to be seen. OG has been on a hot streak, however, coming off a fairly strong showing at The Summit 6 and looking more and more confident since the offseason. OG is a favorite here, unless Vitality decides to throw a curveball with the substitution of Xu.
Last on the list of round-one group series comes a strong one: EHOME vs. Ad Finem. Hailing from two different regions, EHOME can put even top-tier teams on upset watch, having taken series off EG, LGD, Vici and CDEC. The team is also a little inconsistent and struggles against lineups like Newbee and Wings, which could leave room for the Greek squad of Ad Finem to take the series. The five players of Ad Finem hail from a region not particularly known for "Dota 2," and have stuck it through several failed qualifier runs for Valve events; now they're in a major, and carry Omar "Madara" Dabasas looks to lead his team on its first-ever run at a Valve tournament. Given qualifier results, where AF upset teams like Liquid and Secret to clinch a berth, it's not out of the question to see Ad Finem going places. These two will likely put on a strong series to close out the first round of group D matches.