After four days of group play, the brackets are set and the main event of the inaugural Dota 2 Shanghai Major is officially upon us. It's clear that these initial pairings should be nothing short of explosive, with more to come as the tournament progresses -- and you can expect more upsets and the interruption of the "status quo" by the time this tournament is over. I guarantee it.
As for what to expect from a strategy point of view, the group stages revealed plenty as far as the hero trends go. The obvious call-outs: Earth Spirit was the most banned hero at 81.3 percent, simply because of the long list of positives that this hero provides to a team. Earth Spirit, Invoker and Enchantress are the three most picked/banned heroes so far, with all of them eclipsing 80 percent (and Earth Spirit at a gaudy 97.9 percent).
As for the most popular selections, five in particular stand out: Vengeful Spirit, Nature's Prophet, Beastmaster, Faceless Void and Batrider. While these picks are no-brainers to DOTA followers, it should be noted that each hero is a proactive contributor with incredible early-game impact. The trend of teams fighting early and often with a pickoff mentality or a heavy push strategy is likely to continue through the later stages of the tournament.
Alliance vs. Team Liquid
On paper, it's very difficult to decipher which team holds an edge here. One thing to note: If Team Liquid bans the comfort picks of Alliance, this series is going to be very interesting. Those bans would include Lone Druid, Queen of Pain, Puck, Batrider and Nature's Prophet. Alliance's reliance on S4 is absolutely crucial for the team to function; one bad start and it could be lights out. Team Liquid will need to siphon farm into their two mega core players -- FATA- and MATUMBAMAN -- quickly for the team damage to matter, as they've accounted for over 10,000 damage each in their games, with the closest player after those two being JerAx's 6,836 output.
Prediction: Team Liquid in a nail-biter
MVP Phoenix vs. LGD Gaming
Is MVP Phoenix legitimate? That's the first and biggest question I have with this set. If the answer is yes, then this could be another victory for the upward-trending Korean team. They crushed talented teams in Team Secret and EHOME 4-0 in blitzkrieg fashion, with only one game lasting over 30 minutes. On the other side, with LGD Gaming, it's a mixed bag. Either you get the brilliance of rOtK's drafting with the perfect blend of Maybe and Sylar carrying, or the draft is confusing and inconsistent and it's an over-reliance on Maybe to stabilize. If MVP Phoenix can fluster the Chinese team, this could be another quick series.
Prediction: MVP Phoenix
OG vs. Team Secret
It should be noted that Team Secret's group was arguably the toughest of the entire stage, and they made it through, but that's hardly an endorsement for their matchup here against one of the best teams in the tournament. It was an impressive showing for OG, who dominated their games with the damage of N0tail and the individually gifted play of Miracle-. This set will boil down to the support play, and the space creation from Team Secret's pair of Puppey and PieLieDie will be the key to any potential victory. On the other side, OG need Cr1t- and Simbaa (Fly) to dominate the laning phase for their two important cores -- and if one of them falters, it will be a difficult climb back to victory.
Prediction: OG -- Miracle- is simply playing at another level
Evil Geniuses vs. Fnatic
The general consensus is that Evil Geniuses will stomp out Fnatic here. It's the tournament favorite pitted against an inconsistent and largely inexperienced team; Fnatic struggled in their group stage to advance to the upper bracket, but they did show up against the Chinese juggernaut, Vici Gaming -- albeit with the aforementioned opponent in poor form. Simply put, it's just difficult to endorse Fnatic against the execution-heavy and mechanically gifted lineup of Evil Geniuses, as this North American team just does too many things well and boasts two of the best carry players in the game today: Sumail and Arteezy.
Prediction: Evil Geniuses
EHOME vs. Team Archon
The deck is stacked against Team Archon delivering a single victory in this tournament, and EHOME isn't going to make it any easier. With EHOME, there's the carry menace of Cty, a player who could single-handedly win the game, and the support play of LaNm that usually bails the Chinese team out of many unwinnable situations. The one big positive for Team Archon is their early game aggression -- they draft for the snowball -- but their team fight execution lacks polish. It is possible that Team Archon could just overwhelm EHOME with another draft that emphasizes a roaming hero or two (Mirana, Vengeful Spirit or an Earth Spirit), but don't count on it.
Team Spirit vs. compLexity Gaming
The broadcast panel talked up Team Spirit quite a bit when they played, but they're simply no match for this revamped compLexity Gaming lineup. The versatility of compLexity Gaming's lineup will be a nightmare to game plan against, as they could shift swindlemelonzz to the carry position and Chessie 2 to the offlane, or put Limmp on a versatile support hero for the middle lane. Team Spirit is linear and somewhat predictable -- they need Iceberg and RAMZES666 to catch fire, or they sink. The experience of compLexity Gaming's new additions put them over the edge, and it should be a quick wrap-up.
Prediction: compLexity Gaming
Virtus.Pro vs. Vici.Gaming
It's almost criminal to see these two consistently top-placing teams face off in the lower bracket's first round. If it's a judgment based on group play, it's Virtus.Pro in a landslide because Vici.Gaming played horribly -- they had little synergy and meaning behind their plays, carry players BurNing and Super were lost and behind most of the time, and Iceiceice was the only real power threat. If this continues, Virtus.Pro's superior team fighting coordination and the duo of G and Lil will overpower the Chinese lineup in one of its quickest exits from a major tournament ever.
Prediction: Virtus.Pro in a close one
CDEC Gaming vs. Newbee
The manual on how to play against CDEC Gaming was out there after their surprising run through "The International" -- they smoke gank constantly with predictable timing, they group consistently and force fights, and their drafts are traditional and lack any kind of pizzazz. It should be noted, however, that CDEC Gaming's drafts look much stronger in relation to the patch and the current hero trends, and their opponent doesn't look to be in top-tier form. Newbee looked inconsistent in their overall game plan during the group stage; if it wasn't a strong draft, it was a bad team fight coordination or timing. Either way, Newbee have all the talent in the world to compete with CDEC Gaming, and it should be highly competitive as both squads aren't quite at their best right now.
Prediction: CDEC Gaming