<
>

Favorites and contenders at the Bucharest Major

Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan and Evil Geniuses are favorites heading into the Bucharest Major. Nicholas Pfosi for ESPN

DOTA 2 is in a great place -- and the Bucharest Major at the Polyvalent Hall in Bucharest, Romania is the latest example of how close the game's competitive parity is. Though it's arguable whether any one team can compete against another due in part to the current patch that encourages push-heavy compositions, one thing is clear: expect nail-biting games in a tight race for a $1 million prize pool.

The Bucharest Major is nearing its playoff stage, but the five-stage Swiss-system format deserves praise. Because every team plays five rounds against identical records, this ensures some of the most closely-contested games in recent memory.
Teams that were on the lower rung of tier lists such as paiN Gaming and Vega Squadron showcased potential and impressed against established teams like Team Secret and Evil Geniuses.

And although the group stage is ongoing, it's safe to determine some of the teams that will move on. VG.Thunder, Evil Geniuses and Newbee are all sitting pretty at three wins apiece and look formidable -- it would not be a surprise to see one of those three teams come in as favorites to take the major. On the other hand, there are a couple surprise teams near the top of the standings such as TNC Pro Team and OpTic Gaming. Both teams are not unknown within the competitive DOTA 2 world, but they suffer from low expectations. TNC Pro Team is not considered the best team from the Southeast Asian region (Mineski) and OpTic Gaming's struggles in consistency are well-documented. If either team makes the playoffs, it will make for a great upset.

The favorites

Evil Geniuses

The boys in blue continue to set the standard for creative drafts and high-quality play. Behind a 3-0 start that includes an incredible comeback victory over perennial favorite Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses should be the favorites to take home the major. If its recent play is any indication, the North American lineup may just be over its growing pains and struggles with consistency.

The makeup of this iteration relies on versatility. Gone are the compositions and drafts that highlight farming or standardize lanes and in its place are ambiguous setups where core heroes can be supports and the "safe lane" is anywhere on the map. The key to beating this team will boil down to whether the opposition can force Evil Geniuses to play standard pace, in which its weaknesses (good -- not great -- teamfights and slower rotations) take center stage.

Newbee

The westernized Chinese team continues to stampede toward the title of "best team in the world." Newbee is poised to a lock in a win any tournament it enters and its success is no secret: draft safe compositions, highlight the star power of Song "Sccc" Chun and Xu "Moogy" Han, and allow Damien "kpii" Chok to make plays. The major is no exception. Behind safe top tier picks like Gyrocopter and Death Prophet and high-mobility heroes such as Nyx and Sand King, Newbee's identity transitions perfectly to the push-heavy patch. To beat Newbee is to out-draft and out-lane this team, but beating the legendary mind of Zeng "Faith" Hongda and the individual skill of Sccc and Moogy is a tall feat.

The contenders

VGJ.Thunder

VGJ.Thunder is the story of the tournament so far. Everything about the team's run is impressive: its spotless record, efficient play and one of the greatest comebacks in major history (a near 30k comeback against TNC Pro Team behind a three-Divine Rapier Gyrocopter). A look at its statistics tells the entire story -- 9.28 team kill/death/assist ratio, Liu "Sylar" Jiajun's 16.25 KDA (best out of every player), Liu "Freeze" Chang's 15.25 KDA (second-highest), and support player Leong "ddc" Fat-meng's 12.2 KDA (third-highest). If momentum is a thing in DOTA 2, "contender" status may end up being an insult to this Chinese team.

Virtus.Pro

The ESL One Katowice champions fell to OpTic Gaming on the first day of the major, but it would be the team's only big misstep. The best five-man fighting team once again showed off its ability to execute difficult teamfights, precise ganks and rotations, and skill in scrambles. The stars on the team, Roman "RAMZES666" Kushnarev and Vladimir "No[o]ne Minenko, did not disappoint with consistently stellar performances. It was unbelievable how the supports on Virtus.Pro continued to create space for both RAMZES666 and No[o]ne to climb the net worth ladder game after game. Virtus.Pro is a top-five team in the world and beating this lineup will take an incredible laning phase, snowballing mid-game, and excellent control over its two star cores. Good luck.