June is coming to an end, and everyday we inch closer to The International. This August will mark the sixth annual International, as 16 of the best teams in the world will assemble in Seattle to play for the continually growing prize pool and have their names emblazoned forever on the Aegis.
Last week, Valve announced the teams that will receive a direct invite to the tournament. Six teams will not have to compete in a qualifier and can rest easy in the coming weeks. But the teams not invited will be subject to the regional qualifiers -- or worse -- the open qualifier bracket, where they'll have to play 10 grueling matches to earn a spot in their regional play-in bracket. Let's take a look at who's in, who's out and the notable changes made this year.
The six invited: OG, Team Liquid, Newbee, LGD Gaming, MVP Phoenix, Natus Vincere
OG is the least surprising. This team has looked dominant since its recent matches in Manila and even more so in the ESL One Frankfurt finals. Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barqawi might be the focus here, but every member has been turning in solid performances, including Andreas "Cr1t-" Franck Nielsen, whose recent core Riki pick paid off huge in a grand finals match at Frankfurt.
Team Liquid is no surprise either, as runners-up at the Manila Major. Though OG has snubbed the team's title hopes twice, Liquid likely will be a force to be reckoned with at TI6. The same could be said for Newbee, the powerhouse Chinese Dota squad that played in from the regional qualifiers to a third-place finish at Manila under the leadership of veteran captain Wong "Chuan" Hock Chuan.
LGD Gaming and MVP might be surprising selections, but both squads' performances at Manila showed the capability to take down top teams. A little practice will do these teams good, as both had issues performing under pressure against teams such as Liquid and OG. Natus Vincere rounds it out as the more questionable invite of the six, but given the squad's number of top-four appearances and for the overall representation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Na'Vi should by all means be attending this TI.
If you haven't been watching competitive Dota 2 lately, you might be asking where Team Secret or Evil Geniuses are in the aforementioned invite list. These two titans of Dota 2 suffered last-place finishes at Manila that prompted a major roster shift. This means they will have to play into the regional qualifiers through the open brackets, among 1,023 other teams looking to earn tickets to TI6. Let's hope the roster shifts are worth the bracket struggle.
Other teams worth mentioning include Wings, who also had a lackluster (and, frankly, uncharacteristic) showing at the Manila Major, dropping to the bottom half of its group before exiting in the lower bracket. An argument could have been made for Alliance to make an appearance had there been more slots for direct invites. But with only six available, it is harder to argue for a team without any recent top-four placings.
The most notable exclusion is Fnatic, the SEA squad that finished in the same bracket as regional companion MVP Phoenix in Manila. Many are pointing to the seventh/eighth-place finish at ESL One Frankfurt as the reason for the snub, but it's certainly strange to see Fnatic miss the invite this year. Regardless, this team is dominant in the SEA region and will likely have little trouble making it to the main event in August.
The shifting nature of direct invites
More than the teams invited, the shock this year was the number of direct invites offered -- only six, the least amount ever set aside for the The International. It snubs many upper-middle teams by sending them to the regional qualifiers. It also means that no North American team received a direct invite, another first in Dota 2 history.
On one hand, there's reason to be frustrated, especially if you're a member of a squad on the fringe of the top tier. Teams that have had solid performances year-round -- or even recent successes -- still have to play through a serious amount of matches, which will leave them tired headed into the main event. Digital Chaos, Alliance, Fnatic and more are all top competitors and could take games -- even full series -- from the six invited, but with the amount of matches they'll have to endure leading up to the tournament, that becomes more difficult.
Still, six invites mean a much wider berth for those looking to get into TI6 through the qualifier brackets. There are two spots for every region as well as two wild cards, which means the majority of teams in Seattle will have earned their spots by beating the best in their region. It also shows that Valve recognizes the impact that play-ins and qualifiers have had on this year's Majors. Teams such as OG, Newbee, Team Liquid and MVP Phoenix snagged direct invites to TI6, and yet all four had to play into a Major at some point this year. It's at least something to recognize that many teams deserve a shot to prove themselves.