The fight is finally over, and eight teams have joined the Kiev Major final selection. This time around the qualifiers were handled differently, with some of the regions split into two. It allowed for fairer competition, with similar pings for various teams, and guaranteed South American and CIS representation at the event.
A total of 109 heroes were either picked or banned, leaving Shadow Shaman as the only uncontested hero throughout the qualifiers. Chinese teams were the most conservative—a total of 74 different heroes were picked or banned in the Chinese qualifiers. The CIS qualifiers were the most diverse with 91 contested heroes.
The tournament meta was as expected—teams favored strong laning stage and early game potential. A lot of focus has also been put on the initiating heroes, with both Slardar and Centaur Warrunner being among the most contested heroes of the qualifiers.
While Centaur was strictly confined to the offlane role, Slardar was often a position 4 support, with early ganks and frequent roaming. We will discuss the hero in greater detail in one of our upcoming blogs.
Lone Druid was the most popular ban of the tournament—his fighting build was deemed an unnecessary threat to take on by the majority of the teams. Given how secure the hero is in the lane, how fast he can farm, and how much damage he deals to structures, this trend is certainly unsurprising.
Ursa has made a comeback. Primarily fueled by the popularity of Lifestealer, the hero proved that he can be a viable competitive pick with an almost 60% win rate across 60 games. Unlike other meta cores, Ursa struggles with tower pushes, but he compensates for it with the ability to quickly burst down Roshan. A lot of professional players have also opted for Helm of the Dominator as their starting item and used the creep to tank for them, rather than relying on lifesteal.
Meta is evolving by nature and the increase in popularity of Ursa has lead to higher popularity for Troll Warlord. The hero seemed long forgotten at this point, but he was picked in 42 games during the qualifiers, winning 53% of his games. In fact, the hero was more popular than the recently nerfed Luna.
For the most part, Troll Warlord fills the same early game niche Lone Druid does, apart from being a good counter to Ursa and several other physical cores. He doesn’t excel at farming and split-pushing as Lone Druid does, but can still be quite independent, while providing his team with a very potent AS increase. More often than not, especially in the early game, teams with Troll Warlord synchronize their efforts on two different lanes, melting two outer towers at the same time under the effect of Battle Trance.
Two supports have also seen some playtime, as a response to auto-attacking, tower-melting cores in the meta. Both Oracle and Winter Wyvern have been situational picks, albeit with a rather unimpressive win rate. Oracle managed to win only three out of ten games he was played in. Winter Wyvern was a little bit more successful, with a 50% win rate.
Oracle’s win rate should not dissuade people from playing him, however. The hero is situationally very strong. He is the best lane support against Dark Seer, if you need to protect your melee core from Ion Shell and can be played even without his usual buddy—Huskar. There are a lot of debuffs worth dispelling and there is a reason Satyr Banisher has been among the most popular choice for domination.
Winter Wyvern is simple—you see enemy drafting 3+ physical damage cores, pick Wyvern and win the game.
The pick and bans priorities have been roughly the same across all regions: EU was slightly more interested in Ogre Magi, NA loved their Abaddon, China heavily favored their Lifestealer, while CIS and SEA doubled down on the Slardar pick. With the meta so similar across different regions, analyzing approach to the game from teams from different regions became a lot easier.
And there is a massive, potentially subjectively perceived difference in the levels of the teams.
China gave us the least surprising qualifier, with the exception of early departure of Maybe’s LGD. Teams were roughly on the same level, played incredibly well and were disciplined through and through, sometimes to a fault. There isn’t really much more to say: both IG and IG.Vitality deserved their spots at the event with some impressive plays and, perhaps more importantly, their consistency.
EU was similar, in a sense that it also didn’t come with a lot of surprises. Team Secret were considered the favorites of the tournament and even [A]lliance couldn’t stop them on their way to the top, despite putting up a decent fight.
SEA qualifier spots were taken by Team Faceless and TNC Pro Team, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Team Faceless were the clear favorites of the region, with very experienced players and good team synergy. TNC can’t boast the same level of experience, but they were still miles ahead of their competitors—they’ve played together the longest, have very talented players in their core roles and most of their roster have already been at big LAN event: three players of this squad were top 8 at TI6 after all.
The other qualifiers were less predictable.
South America is a relatively unknown (no pun intended) region, but the stars of the last year’s Frankfurt Major couldn’t push their team to victory. Kotaro Hayama’s Not Today ! and Greedy’s Infamous、 both succumbed to the new blood in the SA region—SG e-sports. The team consists of relatively established players of the region, but none of them have been at a big LAN previously. The single elimination format definitely works in their favor, but they will still need to play out of their minds to achieve high placement—their competitors have a lot more experience. Luckily, the SA region is known for their unconventional drafts and playstyles, so they have some chance of catching some of their enemies off-guard.
North America qualifiers had two clear favorites: NP and Complexity. In the end, however, it was Team Onyx who took the spot. A mix of raw talent from Abed and DuBu, experience BuLba and DeMoN and a pinch of salt from mason turned out to be a game winning recipe. To be fair, however, a lot of team’s success should be attributed to their pocket Meepo and it is very unlikely that in a LAN environment, especially in single elimination, a lot of captains are going to let this hero through the first phase.
And then there is CIS. The region with the history, the legacy, and the undeniable will to win. As a representative of the CIS region myself, it pains me to admit that these qualifiers were the weakest ones.
Na’Vi almost had a dream run, barely making it out of the group stage and then moving into the grand finals. Team Empire, arguably a stronger team, succumbed to their own inability to hold on to their advantage. And Team Spirit couldn't capitalize on multiple comeback options Na’Vi gifted them in their elimination match.
Virtus.Pro looks like a very strong team. Coming into this tournament they are expected to do well and it shouldn't be a surprise that they won the qualifiers. But given the level of competition the question about their actual power remains unanswered.