theWonderCow, January 26, 2017

The State of Chinese Dota 2 in the Year of the Rooster

A year ago, the historically formidable Chinese Dota ecosystem collapsed in on itself. Due to a perfect storm of issues, ranging from motivation to the celebration of the Chinese new year, Chinese Dota teams had a massive failure of execution in Shanghai, leading to a crisis of confidence created the most destabilizing shuffle the region has ever seen. Chinese Dota 2 bets were a risky venture, to say the least.

This Saturday is the Chinese New Year, and just a month later China will have another million-dollar Shanghai event to prove itself. A failure could lead to another roster run, and few (if any) teams would be safe.

The top Chinese teams at the moment are mostly familiar names to Western fans: Wings, Invictus Gaming Vitality, VGJ, LGD Forever Young, and Newbee. Oddly, four of China's former legacy squads (iG, EHOME, CDEC, and VG) still remain unrecovered after last year's debacle despite a few of their secondary teams now making the grade.

How long can Wings call themselves the reigning Dota 2 champs?
How long can Wings call themselves the reigning Dota 2 champs?

Wings—the roster that capitalized on its region's failure by leveraging stability to win qualifiers while other teams struggled to fill empty seats—has faltered since winning The International 6. Although their Boston Major performance was skewed by unfavorable bracket design, Wings also left fans wanting at ESL One Genting, where they were beaten in close series against both Digital Chaos and Newbee. They haven't played a notable team since.

Their style heavily relies on unpredictability and aggressive positioning; while most teams draft and move with the intention of holding territory approximately mirroring their creep equilibrium, Wings frequently push out beyond that relative zone of safety. At least that was the case before 7.xx.

Since the patch, movement flow is different and may have proven a more difficult adaptation than Wings had hoped.

The current Aegis holders still have a lot of eyes on them, increasing the pressure and difficulty of this learning period. The combination of shrines, map changes, talents, and metagame instability have led a lot of teams, notably Virtus Pro, in a similarly aggressive laning and ganking pattern. The increasing visibility of Wings' DNA among the world's gene pool makes countering them that much easier.

Expect Wings to continue to be praised by analysts, even as they may struggle into DAC 2017. It's too soon to call whether they will ultimately recover (most teams dip after winning a Valve event, but often recovery comes before the following major).

LGD.Forever Young's Boston Major performance was understated
LGD.Forever Young's Boston Major performance was understated

LFY took a series of difficult blows at The Boston Major, where they were forced to play with two stand-ins and ended up facing off against underdog runners-up Ad Finem early in the single-elimination bracket. They certainly expected to face Newbee, and went in with less research than they would have liked.

Either way, since LGD took the top seat of the final DAC qualification stages they did not participate in the Starladder/i-League qualifiers, so we're unlikely to see much from LFY until Kiev qualifiers are announced. The team has yet to play a ticketed match with rookie Lei "White" Yipei, instead playing through their qualifiers with their coach, Banana.

Although many would argue Newbee hadn't earned a direct invite to DAC, they were China's second-best team at the time of deliberation, and organizers have a deep China First mentality, where DAC is being held with Chinese fans in mind. They have barely played since the Boston Major, but defeated NP, Virtus.pro, and Wings Gaming (all in split series) at ESL One Genting.

Along with LFY, it's likely that Newbee will skip StarLadder/i-League, making the Kiev qualifiers the first and last serious play they're likely to show before DAC. Right now, they're likely enjoying the New Year, and fortunately there's plenty of time between the holidays and their next big tournament.

They wouldn't be the only team taking a break before bootcamping for this winter's onslaught of million-dollar events: even Western teams such as Evil Geniuses are taking the time now, knowing it won't be available later.

Are Newbee ready to return to form?
Are Newbee ready to return to form?

Newbee looks strong. They are adapting well, and their cohesion has only improved over time. When I spoke to Damien "Kpii" Chok at The Boston Major, he mentioned that the team was starting to come together in that dynamic, which is certainly important for success. Expect Newbee to outperform most, if not all, of their Chinese brethren barring significant improvements from the region.

IG Vitality has been very active in their own region since The Boston Major, where they also played with stand-ins. Their performance clearly marks them as a middle-road squad with decent diversity on Dogfights and Sakata, but lower hero diversity on both InJuly and Paparazi. That lack of flexibility has led to low win rates with nearly every hero not played at least five times this sub-patch, but high win rates for every common hero in their arsenal. That's unlikely to work on the global stage, where drafting research is more thorough.

IG Vitality may actually be at risk of coming near to, or even at, the bottom of StarLadder/iLeague in a month's time. They have a lot of preparation to do before they're ready to face the top teams of Europe or the Americas.

Chinese fans' passions still BurNIng bright
Chinese fans' passions still BurNIng bright

VGJ is, on paper, arguably the most experienced team in China, featuring Agressif (TI5 runner-up), fy, and Fenrir (frequently cited top support duo in Dota history, formerly of Vici Gaming during its years of dominance rivaling EG and Secret), and rOtK (who has placed in the top six teams at five multi-million dollar events with four different teams). But accolades are only as good as the experience they give, and the jury is still out on VGJ.

The good news is VGJ hasn't lost a single one of their last nine series, beating out every regional would-be. The bad news is they haven't faced a top-level international opponent since the ESL One Genting qualifiers two months ago, where they lost to Newbee. In fact, they've never faced a non-Chinese opponent, nor have they even taken on Wings.

Compared to other Chinese teams, VGJ seems like a relatively safe bet, but it'd be very difficult to display confidence in the team against any experienced opponent. Perhaps after their performance at StarLadder/iLeague they'll have the LAN experienced needed to jump the next gap. If you're feeling lucky, then by all means place your Dota 2 bets now.

theWonderCow

With years in esports publishing, broadcasting, and analysis, Gorgon's specialized focus on locking down trends in Dota has landed him as a featured writer for joinDOTA, the Score, Dotabuff, and more. You can reach him on twitter.com/theWonderCow.