For the next four days, 37 teams will compete to fill the ten remaining slots for the sixth International. Split into the EU, Americas, Southeast Asia and China, each region will compete in a round-robin tournament to determine the top qualifying teams. With only six teams directly invited to The International this year, stakes are even higher -- there's more spots for qualifying teams to make it, but the regional brackets are much more competitive for it.
Whether the smaller direct invite list will benefit the tournament overall or not, it's certainly made for some dramatic storylines going into TI6. Here's a rundown of each region, with the teams to watch and the potential upsets we could see over the next four days.
The Americas: Seven is our lucky number
Unlike the other three regions, the American qualifier will only have seven teams competing for the top spot. This is likely reflective of the region's overall performance; though an American team took the Aegis at last year's International, the region has struggled to maintain its top spot.
Nothing is more symbolic of this than Evil Geniuses. Due to a late roster-shift after a poor performance at the Manila Major, it was disqualified from receiving a direct invite to the regional qualifiers and had to play in through the open bracket. Old man Clinton "Fear" Loomis is back at the carry role, with Saahil "Universe" Arora replacing Kanishka "Bulba" Sosale, and Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg as the new recruit to the team. EG had a strong showing in the open qualifiers, but the regionals will be the real test for the team looking to defend its title.
The ones most likely to test this team will be Digital Chaos, a squad which had an incredible first-showing on the worldwide stage in Manila. No doubt this team will be looking to solidify its spot as the new kings of NA, with the talented tri-cores of Aliwi "w33" Omar, Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok and David "Moo" Hull leading the way. CompLexity are the odd team out here, as it also had a similarly disappointing performance at recent tournaments. Captain Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman will need to rally his team and put some effective drafts on the table to avoid a third-place finish and a Wild Card run.
Europe: Secret rising, Greece surprising
If you watch any single qualifier bracket, it needs to be the European regionals, as this is an incredibly stacked group of teams fighting it out for only two guaranteed invites. Leading the pack is Team Secret, which also had to play-in through the open bracket due to late roster changes. Compared to EG, Team Secret had a few more nail-biting moments, and came within a few seconds of a single Sven player knocking the team out of the tournament. When the new Secret fires on all cylinders, it's impressive; but its about to be tested by a completely different level of opponent from the pub-stacks found in the open brackets.
Alliance has previously managed appearances at most major tournaments, but was left off the short-list for direct invites for this year's TI6. Placings can be argued as the reason here, but either way, this Alliance squad is reformed, energized and now focused on reclaiming an invite it fully believes it deserves. Team Empire, Vega Squadron and Virtus.Pro all sit in similar positions as top-level teams which could have easily filled out the next three or four direct invites in a previous year.
If there's any room for upsets, though, it's in the Greek team Ad Finem. A squad that was barely edged-out by Team Empire for a Manila Major invite, this is a team that can play at the top level. It will likely look to star carry Omar "Madara" Dabasas and his stellar Slark play to pick best-of-one games off the top-tier teams.
Southeast Asia: Fnatic and friends
White Fries Gaming
There's no question here that Fnatic will make it out of the Southeast Asian qualifiers. A team that has looked quite impressive over the last few premier tournaments, it was a big surprise that this lineup didn't earn a ticket straight to Seattle. Either way, Chai "Mushi" Yee Fung and his ragtag group of SEA pros will likely have little trouble making it to TI6, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
As for the rest of the group, Mineski and Rave are two standouts to fill the second spot, as both have experience playing at an upper level. Mineski only took one game off an opponent at the Manila Major, but given that Fnatic will likely seize the first place spot and the other region's titan, MVP.Phoenix, isn't competing in the regional qualifiers. This means there's at least one spot open for a lower-tier SEA team to make an International appearance.
China: The redemption of Wings
Vici Gaming Reborn
Like Europe, the Chinese regional qualifier has a dangerous list of teams looking to make it to TI6. Chief among them is Vici Reborn, a squad that arguably barely missed the mark of getting a guaranteed appearance in August. After being dropped out by LGD in Manila, Vici Reborn will be looking to reassert the dominance it held on the Chinese scene not too long ago, after hopefully finding some of the mojo it lost. If Yang "Zyf" Pu and Wang "Nono" Xin can find their groove again as the cores for this team, Vici Reborn will be a force to be reckoned with.
Similarly, Wings Gaming will be eager to find its center, after a very disappointing performance at the recent Major. A 3-0 run and third place finish at the SL i-League StarSeries qualifiers shows a little promise, but also shades of continuing problems. When this team gets confident, it gets hard to face off against them; but as Digital Chaos and others showed in Manila, you need more than tricky picks to be a top team.
Even more top-level teams make up the Chinese qualifier, as Vici Gaming proper, a veteran lineup in EHOME, an IG squad still led by longtime mid player Luo "Ferarri_430" Feichi and both CDEC Gaming and CDEC Youth could all easily compete for the top two spots. This isn't just a stacked qualifier, but likely Wild Card winners as well, as the Chinese scene continues to look the most intimidating overall headed into this year's International.