After two days of group stage play, the lay of the land is set for the main stage of the event.
It was a trying group stage for many, as upsets and surprises kept the drama alive, and even the titans of the top tier of Dota occasionally faltered. The placings have been drawn, so now we'll take a look at storylines and prospects for the sixteen teams about to battle it out for the top prize in Manila.
Upper Bracket: Best-of-three matches
In the upper bracket, several victors are sitting happily after solid group stage performances. Newbee, Team Liquid, Natus Vincere and LGD Gaming all escaped relatively unscathed as the top seed of their groups.
The teams in the second seed spot had to fight a little harder, which could mean good or bad news for the top teams they will be facing. OG and Digital Chaos have shown they're not an easy team to beat, putting their respective groups through the paces over the course of the group stage. MVP Phoenix and Fnatic, two regional favorites, also have the home-team advantage, and seem a bit more of an unknown quantity in the tournament.
The first match-up in the upper bracket will be OG vs. Na'Vi, a close series that could be anyone's to take home. OG came into the tournament a favorite under the stellar play of Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi, but a 2-0 loss to Newbee made them look a little shaky. Meanwhile, the Na'Vi squad that arrived in Manila has been looking incredibly dominant, with Danil "Dendi" Ishutin's Tinker play in the group stages already becoming a tournament highlight. OG will be this Na'Vi squad's first real test; look to Dmitry "Ditya Ra" Minenkov to pick up the carry role a little more to alleviate the weight on Dendi's shoulders, and never count out the excellent play of four-role support Akbar "Sonneiko" Butaev on heroes like Phoenix.
The top seed of Group A, Newbee, will face the second-seed of Group B, Digital Chaos. The Chinese squad of Newbee looks nigh-unstoppable, as no team could take a game off Newbee throughout group play. Drafting against this team is a nightmare as well; they have so many signature heroes and power-roles. Digital Chaos may be the right team to knock Newbee down a peg, though. The NA powerhouse has shown impressive play from its individual roles, like Roman "Resolution" Fominok and David "Moo" Hull, as well as incredible teamfights and rotations. This could be in the bag for Wong "Chuan" Hock Chuan and the Newbee squad, but DC have been a team already bent on upsets.
LGD Gaming and Fnatic will face off in the third upper bracket match, where the home team of the Philippines region will have to contest against the impressive Chinese squad, led by Zhang "xiao8" Ning. Fnatic have equal measures, showing impressive cohesion in its group stage matches, especially in the now-infamous Kunkka-Dark Seer combo that wiped Team Liquid in game one of the series. LGD doesn't seem quite so gullible. Its play seems meticulous, calculated and aggressive. If the home team wants to stay in the upper bracket, it'll need to dissect xiao8's drafts and find the core components that make this LGD team tick, and find a better performances from Yeik "MidOne" Zheng Nai, who looked off-form for most of the group stage.
The final upper bracket sees the unstoppable Team Liquid meeting up with the South Korean hope, MVP.Phoenix. MVP's X-factor of always showing up strong to LAN tournaments has held true so far, but they face one of its most difficult competitors right out of the gate. Team Liquid put up strong showings in Group C on the back of Lasse "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen's Lycan, Jesse "Jerax" Vainkka's signature Earth Spirit and some incredible play over multiple series from offlaner Ivan "MinD_ContRol" Borislavov. Every member of Team Liquid has strong picks you don't want to give them; banning Wisp and Lycan means handing Jerax his Earth Spirit, while banning that same Earth Spirit could mean letting MinD_ContRol get his Dark Seer, or mid laner Adrian "FATA-" Trinks a Puck or Razor. MVP will have to both out-draft and out-play Liquid to stay in the upper bracket and continue on to the top.
Lower Bracket: Best-of-one matches
Kicking off the lower bracket is a match-up between two teams who underperformed expectations, as Team Secret and Team Empire fight to stay alive in Manila. Empire, a CIS squad who had impressive outings at recent tournaments, only managed to beat out compLexity in the group stage, showing difficulty facing teams like OG and Newbee. Meanwhile, the dream team of Team Secret continues to fall from grace; they are a single map from elimination. The winners of the Shanghai Major, this new iteration of Secret is showing holes in every area, with especially lackluster performances from core and drafter Jacky "EternalEnvy" Mao. It might need a miracle to beat Empire, and in a single map match-up, the odds don't look good for the former major victors.
Alliance faces Mineski in its match and can likely breathe a sigh of relief. Alliance fought hard in the group stages, showing impressive play against top teams like Liquid and Fnatic, so a match against Mineski should be an easy one for them. Mineski also picked a game or two off its group match-ups though, and it wouldn't be surprising to see this SEA squad try to run a surprise composition to knock Alliance on its back enough to take the win. This should be an easy match for Alliance, but no wins are free in Manila.
In one of the tougher face-offs to predict, Evil Geniuses will be taking on Vici Gaming Reborn. The winners of last year's International have faltered greatly since, and though it had some good matches against others in group D, the team certainly performed below expectations for the group. The same can be said of Vici, whose prior tournament results would have indicated them easily besting Fnatic and Alliance. Instead, it found itself at the bottom of the group, and now one game away from an early exit. Vici Reborn will need to find its center, or rather its mid, as returning mid laner Wang "Nono" Xin has looked rough in his last few matches, and the team has overall looked incohesive. Evil Geniuses will be looking to captain Peter "ppd" Dager to out-draft the Chinese squad, as well as Kanishka "BuLba" Sosale and Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling to have some more impressive outings. It's a match that could easily go either way, and that might be the scariest aspect for both teams; it's going to simply come down to who can draft and execute best as a team.
Our last lower bracket match sees the fallen Wings Gaming matched with an erratic compLexity squad. The former has seen better days, with its previous trip to Manila ending in a first place finish over Team Liquid at ESL One. But Wings has looked less impressive in the last couple days, struggling to compete against the aggressive, team-oriented play of Na'Vi and Digital Chaos. That same team play is something compLexity boasts, but this NA squad has also seen brighter times. IT fell 0-4 in Group A, unable to take a single map. Communication and cohesion will be the key, and compLexity will have to execute hard on its draft in order to overcome Wings' proficient talent pool of players. Look to brothers Rasmus "Chessie" and Linus "Limmp" Blomdin, as their match-ups against Chu "Shadow" Zeyu and Zhou "bLink" Yang will set the tempo for the map.