The International 2017 has begun in Seattle, and the field is arguably as close talent-wise than any previous premier Dota 2 event. While the previous piece looked at favorites Liquid, LGD.Forever Young, and Evil Geniuses, here are four more teams that are legitimate threats to take home the Aegis of the Immortal.
LGD Gaming (12-4 group phase, No. 2 in Group A)
Lu "Maybe" Yao: Storm Spirit (12-1 since Kiev Major), Queen of Pain (28-7 career, 7.85 KDA is best all-time)
Ren "eLeVeN" Yangwei: Magnus (13-2 since 7.00)
"Yao" Zhengzheng: Ancient Apparition (14-6 since 7.00)
Chen "Victoria" Guanhong: Kunkka (15-4 since 7.00)
Why the team can win
Like sister squad LFY, LGD features rising young superstars in carry Wang "Ame" Chunyu and support Victoria. For several years now, LGD has been known as a team built around Maybe, widely regarded (perhaps with Cty) as the most skilled mid player in the Chinese scene. But it's arguably Ame who's the key to this LGD squad's hopes.
In 7.06, as other teams have shifted more farm priority to the mid lane, LGD and LFY have given more farm to their carries. Ame (661) and OG midlaner Ana (658) are the only two players to average over 600 Gold per Minute in the TI7 Group Phase. Similar to Monet, Ame's hero pool focuses on midgame physical damage, but with more emphasis on pushing (Sven, Troll Warlord, Juggernaut, Terrorblade). His 6.3k average tower damage per match is the highest of any player so far at TI7. Both supports are adept at doing a lot with very little. Both Yao and Victoria average 260 GPM or less at TI7, in the bottom 15 players at the event.
Like vintage LGD teams, this squad looks extremely consistent. Barring a surprising 0-2 group phase result against iG.Vitality and a 2-3 upset in the Summit 7 Qualifiers against CDEC, this team beats who they're supposed to beat, and seems to really show up against the top Western squads.
Why it won't
While they feature decent hero variety, LGD's drafts are extremely formulaic. Like many teams, they rely heavily on dual support or support-offlane combos in the first phase. They feature few to no "flex picks" (heroes that can fill multiple roles) apart from Earthshaker and Faceless Void, neither of whom they really excel with. They've recently put Maybe on a few heroes (Pugna, Legion Commander, Medusa, and Earthshaker) outside his comfort zone, and haven't looked good in these games. TI is the longest tournament of the year. Teams that stagnate in their drafting are more vulnerable to outdrafts than at any other event.
LGD also has to worry about their supports falling behind. This is true of almost every team, and LGD does do a solid job getting them levels in the laning phase. As the game goes on, however, Victoria and Yao tend to get very poor. This could easily cost them in later rounds, when a Force Staff or Glimmer Cape on a support can be enough to turn a game-deciding fight.
Virtus Pro (10-6, No. 3 in Group B)
Vladimir "No[o]ne" Mineko: Templar Assassin (11-0 with current VP roster)
Pavel "9Pasha" Khvastunov: Dark Seer (8-2 last two months)
Alexei "Solo" Berezin: Ogre Magi (23-5 with current VP roster)
Why the team can win
VP is really good. No, seriously. Six of the eight teams that competed at The Summit 7 in Los Angeles are at The International 2017. VP won the event, picking 81 heroes in their 17 matches. They picked only four heroes more than once. Yes, they probably came into that event assured of a TI7 invite, and therefore were playing with house money. But drafting like that is still something that's just, well, not done at high levels of the pro game.
Through its many iterations in pro Dota 2, VP has always been a classic CIS team. They fight early and often, but in the past, have had trouble taking their foot off the gas when those fights go against them. This edition of VP has completely shed that mantle. They are 24-11 in 40+ minute games since the Boston Major, the highest win rate among 63 teams with more than 10 games of that duration. They're still going to try and beat you early, but they're more than capable of going late with virtually any lineup.
This is probably the most talented CIS roster assembled since the glory days of Na'Vi. Both Roman "RAMZES" Kushnarev and No[o]ne are incredibly gifted technical players. Ilya "Lil" Ilyuk is one of the most creative and versatile playmaking supports the game has ever seen, especially on his signature Visage. Solo is a steadying presence, a veteran leader and one of the scariest laning phase supports, particularly on his Ogre Magi. This team had four-time Major champion OG on the ropes in the final game of the Kiev Major Grand Finals (at least one analyst still thinks they win that game if RAMZES doesn't sell Solar Crest on his Alchemist). If they win that game, VP would arguably have come into TI7 as favorites.
Why it won't
A little more than a year ago, 9Pasha was regarded as one of the game's promising young carry players after successful campaigns with Polarity and Vega Squadron. He's made the transition to offlane well, but of VP's five players, he is both the most conventional in his hero pool and the most volatile in his in-game performance. He's a tremendous individual player, but his 11.64 assists per game and 378 GPM since 7.00 are just not quite up to par for an elite-level offlaner. While spectacular in many games, he can disappear in many losses (e.g., a 2/7/4 Puck performance in a group phase loss to LFY). He's the one VP player that really needs to up his game if they're to take home the Aegis.
While incredibly diverse across games, within any particular game, VP will often hard commit to its strats. Why buy a Force Staff or two Blink Daggers when you can have four? Why settle for Armet and Solar Crest on your "Battle Alchemist" when you can also build Sange & Yasha? This can make them scary to play against, but also leave them vulnerable to opponents with good in-game reads and the ability to make adjustments on the fly.
Newbee (11-5 Group Phase, No. 3 in Group A)
Song "Sccc" Chun: Queen of Pain (15-7 since 7.00, 9.85 KDA)
Damien "kpii" Chok: Legion Commander (14-4 since 7.00), Nyx Assassin (6-2)
Hu "kaka" Liangzhi: Sand King (32-18 since 7.00, no other player with >12 wins), Nyx Assassin (12-2)
Zeng "Faith" Hongda: Shadow Shaman (10-2 this month), Nyx Assassin (1-0)
Why the team can win
Newbee were directly invited to the last four Valve events (TI7, the Kiev and Boston Majors, and TI6) and regarded as one of the most talented squads in Dota 2 during that period. But in all three previous events, they finished in the bottom half of the field.
This Newbee squad is different. They're getting the consistently excellent support play that's been a franchise staple. Kaka's roaming Sand King is probably the best known player-hero combination of any current support. While many Chinese quads (iG in particular) struggled to find solutions to their mid lane following the Lina nerfs in the wake of this year's DAC, Newbee's Sccc has excelled, first bringing back his vintage Queen of Pain at StarLadder, and playing 13 different heroes in 16 TI7 group phase games, tied for third at the event. His 625 GPM is No. 1 among 124 pro players with 100+ appearances since 7.00. His 920 GPM on Morphling during the group phase was the highest single-match GPM ever on the hero in pro play.
The biggest knock on Newbee is probably that when they get to the playoff bracket at premier tournaments, both their drafting and play become very safe and predictable. Kpii in particular, an extraordinarily creative and versatile offlane at his best, seems increasingly relegated to safe picks (Dark Seer, Tidehunter) and play late in events. This squad looks to have broken out of that mold. They've pulled out surprise Underlord picks for kpii late in the tournament at Galaxy Battles to devastating effect. They've mixed in Moogy's Drow Ranger and Venomancer as well as an impressive Faith Visage. They are still among the most patient, disciplined squads in Dota 2, capable of turning around deficits with excellent high ground defense, but they're now much more dangerous in the draft, and much more comfortable on the offensive.
Why it won't
Newbee's support play is stellar, but doesn't vary much from game to game. As good as Kaka's roaming Sand King can be, by now every top team is prepared for it. Faith isn't naturally a flashy, playmaking support, but to win they'll need at least a few performances like he's showed recently on his Visage.
Bad habits are always hard to break, and nowhere is this more true than in Dota. It's one thing breaking out of a rut in smaller tournaments. Which Newbee team shows up on the main stage at Key Arena is a very different question, and will largely determine how far this team can go.
OG (9-7 Group Phase, No. 5 in Group B)
Anathan "ana" Pham": Invoker (12-11 since 7.00)
Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka: Earth Spirit (46-22 career, 7-3 since Kiev Major)
Tal "fly" Aizik: Dazzle (79-35 career, 13-5 since Boston Major
Why the team can win
Things aren't looking good for OG. The lone lower bracket team on their list, OG enter the Key Arena with no room for error. A single mistake means a repeat of last year's disappointment, when they also won two Major championships but failed to win a single series at the TI6 Main Event, finishing in the bottom half of the field.
It's long been said in pro Dota 2 that a great team can beat anyone except Icefrog. OG's holy trinity of Terrorblade, Naga Siren, and Alchemist, were all nerfed severely after the Kiev Major. Gustav "s4" Magnusson's world famous Magnus was hurt severely by nerfs to Empower. Even Brewmaster, a staple hero for both s4 and Johan "n0tail" Sundstein in previous years, has looked unimpressive despite a string of buffs in recent patches, and has yet to catch on with any other team (apart from possibly Liquid). With Alchemist, Ember Spirit, and Templar Assassin out of favor, OG can no longer consistently sacrifice midlaner Ana in the early game and count on him to flash farm his way back. They've even tried occasionally shifting him into the safe lane on heroes like Anti-Mage to alleviate the pressure with n0tail taking over the mid role (one wonders whether they'll give s4, who played mid for TI3 champion Alliance, his turn as well). So far, nothing has consistently worked.
OG are still a great team. They're also a team where great isn't good enough. They're looking for answers (seemingly at every position) to get them back to their Major-winning form. But they're also probably the best equipped team to find and implement those answers in only a few days. They have the game's best coach in Sébastien "7ckngMad" Debs, who has a strong relationship with all five players. And they've been here before: They won seven straight elimination series in taking home the Frankfurt Major title, the first of their record four.
Why it won't
It doesn't get any easier from here. Like EG, OG go into every event with a target squarely on their backs. Every opponent they face wants to be the team that sent OG home from TI. We've seen OG's players respond to adversity before. We've seen them make adjustments as a team. And we've seen them make epic lower bracket runs. This time they need to do all three. And, as in many other esports and traditional leagues, the competition has only gotten tougher.