Fall Schism: The International Shuffle (Part 2)
Earlier, we discussed roster changes to the top eight teams of The International, mentioning that EG looks particularly strong heading into the fall while most of Southeast Asia's squads look far less certain. Today, we're looking at the bottom eight teams at The International.
For those keeping track, OG is down three players. In addition to picking up Jerax in a trade with Liquid, OG will pull relative newcomer Ana from Southeast Asia to play mid and add S4, former world champion captain of Alliance, as offlaner. This is S4's first time as an offlaner, but his addition makes OG look like one of the stronger competitors coming out of the shuffle. This change appears to seek a balance between fostering new talent, taking reliable newer veterans, and relying heavily on past experience (an approach that has worked for OG in the past and is often being mirrored in China's shifting sea of teams).
LGD will jettison every player except Maybe, who will be joined by three former members of CDEC.Youth and a former member of VG.Potential. None of these players have a tremendous amount of experience, and the change reflects either desperation or optimism. China has seen the success of teams such as Digital Chaos, OG, EG and Liquid, all of whom rose to prominence by fostering the talent of unproven, rising stars. Don't expect much from this team at first, but with opportunities to grow in regional events, it's possible LGD will have cultivated a surprising new source of success by the winter.
Both AdmiralBulldog and Akke will be taking a temporary leave of play, citing s4's departure. Alliance will pick up Handsken, Jonassomfan, and Limmp, all of whom are Swedes known for their former experience on Ninjas in Pyjamas (a team that rose to the cusp of Europe's top teams but failed to rise into the global spotlight before disintegrating). Since then, Handsken and Limmp played for Complexity with mixed success through several premier LAN events (including The International). Most would say this appears to be a downstep for Alliance, but Handsken and Limmp have demonstrated that they have the potential to grow into a premier-quality team with the right leadership.
Hao, Mu, and Chuan are all taking leave from competitive play, which could potentially become permanent, leaving Newbee short a handful of Chinese legends. They'll take a page from the book of teams such as OG and Liquid, reaching into the stash of regional amateurs to pull out uuu9 and Sccc (both from smaller regional Chinese squads). In addition, they'll pull Sccc's former Tongfu Teammate, Faith, whose career has fallen off since his The International 2012 victory. It's impossible to wisely speculate how the new Newbee will fare because the change is drastic.
Vici Gaming Reborn is to become Vici Gaming's primary brand, retiring the Reborn name. Nono will join Vici Gaming's new junior squad, VG.J, to be replaced by the lesser-known Ghost on the main squad. This team probably needs more change than this to succeed. However, their lack of original style both in drafts and in games has rendered them unformidable over the last half year. Perhaps a new patch would play into their favor, but short of that, it's difficult to imagine a single-player change as enough to upset months of momentum in the direction of stagnation.
Team Secret will pull three SEA players into Europe's ranks (Midone, MP and Forev), marking the first time a Western team has become majority Eastern players and the first time a Western team has drafted more than a single SEA competitor. Although the raw talent is here, we would be amiss to overlook that Puppey and Pieliedie are used to playing greedier, resource-hungry strategies while MP and Forev are best-known for their aggressive early bait-and-fight styles. If they are able to adapt to each other, this team will have possibly the widest variety of options in draft and execution in the world, but if they can't we may simply stop seeing Secret qualify for premier events.
Rounding out The International squads, Escape Gaming will lose their coach but will otherwise remain unchanged. Natus Vincere will also remain unchanged in a serious break from the team's recent history (prior to The International 2016, no other team had as many roster changes over the last 18 months). Na'Vi's success leading into The International likely gave them confidence in their ability to continue a rise, but they may find that this success was due to happenstance as other teams were taking competition less seriously while training for The International. Only time will tell.
Which Teams Are Now Top 8?
Gut reaction: OG, maybe Newbee or Secret, Na'Vi pending the upcoming patch (which I expect to bring an individualistic style to somewhat greater prominence).
OG lost great players in this trade, but they've added a new batch of seriously impressive talent as well. Expect Alliance, Vici Gaming, Escape, and LGD to largely drop rank at first, but any of them could take a bounce in performance as they acclimate to the new culture. There's definitely room for new teams to rise into the next major's ranks, especially as some of these roster gambits will certainly fail.