The final Dota 2 major before The International kicks off on with the group stages on June 3, with 16 teams vying for $3 million and a trophy that's sure to win them a ticket to The International 6.
Groups have been locked and the first matches are set in stone. A solid performance in the group stage means starting off in the upper bracket, while landing in the bottom half of your group sends you to a slog through the lower bracket of the double-elimination main event.
Who has a long road ahead, and who is enjoying their placements? Let's break down the Manila landscape, group-by-group.
Group A: OG and Newbee Dominant, Prominent
Teams: OG, Team Empire, Newbee, Complexity Gaming
The most likely "group of death" among the four set for this major, Group A pits two likely favorites for the top spot against two longer shots that may struggle to keep up.
For OG and Newbee, this may look like an easy berth to the upper bracket, but don't count out the magic of Russian Dota; Team Empire has pulled off upsets in the past, like with its third/fourth finish at ESL One Manila. As for Complexity, this line-up has fallen to titans like Newbee in the past, but the team has experience on its side and the luck of not having to face Digital Chaos again until the main event.
OG and Newbee should easily seize upper bracket berths from their Group A competition, but if you're looking for the wildest shot in the dark to bet some rares on, you might want to keep an eye on the Complexity-Newbee matchup.
Group B: Shakespearean Dota
Teams: Wings Gaming, Digital Chaos, Team Secret, Natus Vincere
I really want to personally meet and shake the hand of whoever constructed Group B, because it's the must-watch group at Manila. Team Secret, who recently cut Aliwi "w33" Omar and Rasmus "MiSeRy" Filipsen in order to pick up Artour "Arteezy" Babaev and Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora, now has to face w33 and Misery's new squad, Digital Chaos. Meanwhile, former Na'Vi and current Secret drafting mastermind Clement "Puppey" Ivanov will be facing his old friend Danil "Dendi" Ishutin, who has constructed an impressive squad in the new Natus Vincere.
Sitting on the periphery of the drama and old rivalries is Wings Gaming, a Chinese powerhouse who's likely to make some waves on their way up the bracket. It seems likely Wings will escape Group B unscathed, with the other three teams fighting and clawing for the second berth into the upper bracket.
If we go by tournament performance alone, Natus Vincere is a solid choice for that spot, but Digital Chaos has been having dominant showings (though only within the American region) and Secret is a star team in desperate need of a strong tournament showing. Na'Vi will likely be in for a fight to make it out of the group stage on top.
Group C: Upset City
Teams: Team Liquid, Alliance, Vici Gaming Reborn, Fnatic
Group C, from the outset, is the group most prone to shocking upsets. Team Liquid sits at the top, the favorite in both the group and the tournament, but it's still facing several teams it has little experience against.
Alliance seems primed to start picking games off of the other teams, with a history of always managing to dent the armor of larger squads, but it's never followed all the way through. Vici Reborn, meanwhile, is likely sighing relief at facing teams that aren't Wings or Newbee -- but it's still a team that could fall prey to upset.
Never count out the home team advantage, either. Fnatic's last tournament run in Manila surprised many, and with Mushi at the helm and MidOne performing spectacularly in recent sets against teams like MVP Phoenix, this is a squad that could topple giants. Group C will likely see Team Liquid escape bloodied yet unbowed -- and the second spot could possibly go to Alliance or Fnatic, if they can manage to topple Vici Reborn.
Group D: The Leftovers
Teams: Evil Geniuses, Mineski, MVP Phoenix, LGD Gaming
The general consensus on the Group D placings has been confusion. While this might have been a balanced group three months ago, it screams of an arrangement that still believes Evil Geniuses is at the top of the Dota scene.
Evil Geniuses could, by all means, recapture that kind of status at Manila. But as far as groups go, EG has lucked out a bit here, as it should easily escape Group D with an upper bracket berth. MVP Phoenix is the other likely contender an upper bracket berth here, as it's a team that has faltered in online matches but always seems to bring it together for LANs.
LGD Gaming could be a wild card, as Zhang "xiao8" Ning team is made up of impressive individuals, but LGD lacks the team cohesion that has made Wings, Newbee and Vici Reborn so dominant. Mineski will follow behind, the easiest bet for the lower bracket.
Evil Geniuses might as well start planning ahead for the upper bracket now.