Eighteen teams will attend TI6, but only sixteen will compete in the main event. Valve switched to a wild card format at TI5 last year, where four teams played in a double elimination bracket for the final two spots. The change in format also established that no teams would be eliminated during the group stage. A win in the wild card rounds meant at least a guarantee to a main stage appearance.
These were teams who finished right below the cutoff for qualified teams—not good enough to guarantee a spot, but good enough to earn an appearance in Seattle. Yet despite this status as "second tier" teams, last year the wild card teams provided some of the most exciting games throughout the event. CDEC, wildcard qualifier, rampaged through the main event to their 2nd place finish, while the other wildcard team, MVP.Phoenix, finished in 7th-8th place. You can’t have an upset without an underdog.
For TI6, this year’s four wild card teams—Execration, compLexity Gaming, Escape Gaming, EHOME—also have the same potential (some more than others). Both EHOME and compLexity return to improve from their performances at last year’s TI5. Escape Gaming houses TI vets Era, qojqva, and synderen. And while Execration is poised to be one of TI’s weaker teams, they still remain a threat, as shown by their first place, tying performance during SEA’s main qualifiers.
Escape Gaming, formerly known as No Diggity, was founded only four months ago, but it houses quite a few Dota veterans. Dota fans will be more familiar to syndereN’s voice than his gameplay, as he has been more consistently a premier caster at TIs than a player. As the captain of Escape gaming, he has since transitioned into the support 5 role, leveraging the experience he had as a caster from observing and analyzing games on a macro scale.
Escape and Alliance gave fans with one of the most entertaining games of the qualifiers. It was an anti-climactic finish, with a Throne rush that shortcut the raxes, but it capped an end to the rollercoaster frenzy before it. Akke showcased a textbook game on how to use Nether Swap against Chronosphere, while Yapzor on his Rubick did the same. What was promising was that despite qojqva’s hiatus from Dota, he hasn’t lost a step as the mechanically gifted mid player he was before. Era will also be welcomed back at TI, after a roster controversy with his old team Fnatic that may have had a part in the roster lock laws we have today. KhezZu is one of many former HoN pros in the scene and is viewed by many analysts and pro players as the next superstar on the offlane.
EHOME, EHOME, EHOME. They’re an organization that has been around since the birth of Dota. Their manager and coach, 71, has a pedigree that dates back to the same time. The current team now looks like a mishmash of the former Vici Gaming (iceiceice and fenrir) and last year’s EHOME.
Some of the highest level Dota of the qualifiers was played in the series between VG.R and EHOME. Draft, late-game execution, and a clear strategy on objectives during the game. Throughout the qualifiers, EHOME seemed to have a fair grip on a TI6 slot. They tied at the top of their group, then lost to Wings in a best of one. They beat VG.R in the best of three winner’s finals, then lost in the 5th match of the grand finals.
EHOME will be pitted as one of the favorites to come out of the wildcard stage. They’re consistent, in typical Chinese fashion, but they’re also open to out of the box ideas. LaNm has found quite a bit of success in support Kunnka. Iceiceice and LanM are in the exclusive club of players who have played in all six Internationals. Add Fenrir in and all three players have had top five finishes in the past two Internationals. They’ll be bringing this cumulative experience into the wildcard stage.
Execration has the potential to be last year’s Team Archon, a wildcard team that flamed out early, winning only one game. Out of the wildcard teams, Execration may be the team more prone to unorthodox strategies and picking out of the meta—Medusa, Naga Siren, Weaver, and Meepo, to name a few. If their games aren’t competitive, at least they’ll be interesting.
During the qualifiers they were able to pull a game off Fnatic in the round robin, and they ended up in a three way tie at the top of the group, before losing to both Fnatic and TNC. Nonetheless, Execration will be the first all-Filipino team at an International [edit: Mineski at TI1 was the first]. Their current position is a consequence of expanding the number of available qualifier slots for this year's TI. This kind of LAN experience, at the highest skill level, is a rare opportunity--one to improve, one to take home a slice of a record-breaking prize pool, and one that wouldn't exist for SEA, if Valve were to have qualifiers for the best teams, rather than the best teams from each region. The LAN experience will also be a stark reprieve from playing in a region that is still connecting to the internet via dial-up.
Brothers swindlezz and Zfreek are the only remaining members from last year’s TI5 squad. Gone are Fly and Moon (off to OG) and Zyzz (to Leviathan), but this current iteration of compLexity still remains as one of the most consistently competitive teams in North America. This is truer when considering the volatile nature of Dota, whether it’s the meta or team rosters, which continually shuffles the power rankings of teams. It’s a testament to the leadership of swindlezz and Zfreek to be able to keep the ship upright amidst the change.
One interesting dynamic will be how other regions will deal with compLexity and Zfreek’s Earth Spirit. Earth Spirit was an automatic first phase ban against compLexity, where during the qualifiers they won 7 out of 8 games when they were allowed to pick him. However, the hero hasn’t performed as well during other region’s qualifiers. He is contested in all other regions, but has underperformed overall—41.38% win rate in Europe and 34.62% win rate in China.
CompLexity has managed to stay on the cusp of relevancy, qualifying and competing at the Manila and Shanghai Majors (5th-6th), and ESL One Frankfurt and Manila. They might have found more success, if it weren’t for their kryptonite, team Digital Chaos. Head to head, compLexity has lost their last six series against DC over the last month, including the best of five to seal a TI6 slot.
CompLexity lost in heartbreaking fashion, but it’s framed by the heart they bring to the game. Swindlezz is their vocal and emotive leader, who ritually huddles with his teammates before the draft, like a basketball team before charging into the arena. Their losses in the qualifiers were plagued with mental mistakes, partially from fatigue and also just pure error, but these are the kind that can be improved on in the coming weeks.
Headline Image by Escape Gaming