The Bucharest Minor last week marked the return of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit and the start of MOBA's 2019 schedule. The Chongqing Major, which begins Friday in Chongqing, China, will be the first major of the year, and outside of staples like OG and Newbee, every top team will be in attendance: PSG.LGD, Team Secret, Vici, Virtus.pro, Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid.
With a prize pool of $1 million and 15,000 DPC points on the line, teams have a chance to start the year off right with a big bump in qualification points for The International 2019.
The Bucharest Minor provided a nice preview to the hero pool and team compositions that we can expect to see in Chongqing, and the theme of the patch is survival. If a hero had survivability or kill potential in lane, it was a hotly contested selection: Dazzle, Beastmaster, Lich and Centaur Warrunner. Each hero can play aggressively with its toolkit: Whether it was burst damage or a slow that stalled the opponent, the character's skills were game-changers.
In addition, every hero came installed with a defensive option as well -- high life total, healing or armor. The most popular hero at the Bucharest Minor was Tusk due to its versatile kill threat potential and utility in teamfights, and it will be interesting to see whether that trend continues onto the major or if another hero that can do disrupt in similar chaos will take its place.
One thing to definitely expect at the Chongqing Major is long games. Lane success still relies on durability and team synergy, but there will be more farm-oriented team compositions with heroes like Lich that possess both defensive and offensive capabilities. Expect more heroes that keep cores alive like Io, Dazzle and Lich and carries that can farm without relative danger like Phantom Assassin, Tiny and Medusa.
A few headlines ahead of the tournament changed the look of the rest of the field. South American regional qualifiers test123 were disqualified, and Thunder Predator replaced them in the bracket. In addition, one of the stars of the game, Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi, was a late scratch from his team's lineup due to a personal issue, and Team Liquid has brought the retired Chu "shadow" Zeyu, who won The International in 2016 with Wings Gaming, in his stead.
The favorites to win the entire event remain predictable with Secret, Virtus.pro, and PSG.LGD at the top. These three teams, despite the changing landscape of hero picks and gameplans, continue to adapt and enforce their unique identity against all odds.
With Secret, the name of the game is creativity and scaling its mid and safe lanes to the mid-game. For Virtus.pro, it's all about teamfighting and using mechanical skill to stifle opponents. And for PSG.LGD, it's the lane phase and the lead the team builds off of it.
These three teams will be tough to beat, but the potential for upsets always loom in big field tournaments. For the Chongqing Major, the dark horses are The Pango and Forward Gaming.
Once again, the Commonwealth of Independent States region produced another highly skilled and mechanically gifted team in The Pango. With a spectacular victory over Virtus.pro in the CIS qualifier, there is certainly precedent to believe in this team despite its limited exposure on the international stage. Behind the veteran leadership of Semion "CemaTheSlayer" Krivulya and the untapped potential of carry duo Aybek "Naive-" Tokaev and Alexander "Ceyler" Popov, this is the team that can make all of the highlight reels. It will be up to The Pango's experienced players to reel in the aggression of the team, but this could be a breakout tournament.
In Forward Gaming, it is not a question of how but when. The former VGJ.Storm lineup is full of talented names from the West with a mix of incredible experience (Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora) and untapped-strength (Yawar "YawaR" Hassan), but the squad is still without a top finish at a major tournament.
It wasn't that long ago that this team was perhaps the best team in North American but struggled with inconsistency. With a strong finish, Forward Gaming might finally live up to its potential and move toward the elite tier of Dota 2 teams.
It may seem criminal to not include EHOME, but the Chinese squad deserves a consolation shout-out. The Bucharest Minor winners looked dominant in clinching a Chongqing spot and enter the field with momentum. However, Bucharest gave the Chongqing competition an in-depth look at how EHOME plays on the current patch, and the rest of the competition will have an understanding of the team's comfort picks and lane alignments entering the major.
Does one player make a team? Team Liquid, the winner of The International 2017, is one of the world's best, but its most polarizing player and, at times, savior in appropriately-named Miracle- will be missing in action. If Team Liquid can navigate the murky waters of the major with similar results, it will be a testament of the team's quick adaptation skills toward a new carry player in former shadow. In the past, Team Liquid's reliance on a four-protect-one strategy to buy time for Miracle- to bail them out handicapped the team, and it will be interesting to see what style the lineup plays without Miracle- as a crutch.
Miracle- isn't the only player missing the first major of the year. TNC Predator's Carlo "Kuku" Palad was banned from the competition by the municipal government of Chongqing following the use of racial slurs toward Chinese team LGD Gaming during a pub game.
The loss of their offlaner might not affect TNC Predator's identity, but it could hurt the squad's final results. Kuku isn't the core of the team or even its carry, but his immense impact from the offlane and overall decision-making in team fights will be sorely missed.