2018 Fall Shuffle: Grading Each TI8 Team’s Offseason

The Dota 2 offseason rarely disappoints, and the 2018 Fall Shuffle has definitely not been an exception.

While this offseason may have been relatively quiet compared to that of previous years, there were still a number of bombshells dropped that could end up reshaping the Dota 2 landscape for the 2018-19 Dota Pro Circuit. Case in point, Ludwig ‘zaiWåhlberg is now back with Team Secret as their latest offlaner.

Sure, critics will likely point out his lack of success in the offlane with OpTic Gaming last year. One could argue that the team only started doing well once he switched back to his more “natural” position as the position 4. However, we can’t just brush off the possibility that zai will play just as well as he did during the 2015 season when he wreaked havoc in the offlane for the all-star iteration of Team Secret.

Of course, zai reuniting with his good friend Clement ‘Puppey‘ Ivanov isn’t the only roster change that happened during the 2018 fall shuffle. There were numerous, in fact. So many that it was probably hard for the casual Dota 2 fan to keep up. This remains true, even if we limited ourselves to keeping tabs exclusively on the 18 teams that appeared in TI8.

Fortunately, the 2018 fall shuffle is now mostly over. Because of that, we can finally zero in on what happened and start grading the TI8 participants based on who they kicked and who they brought in this offseason.

Notable Exclusions

2018 Fall Shuffle

VGJ.Storm and VGJ.Thunder were easily two of the biggest victims of Valve’s latest ruling that no organization can have more than one team qualifying for TI9. (Team VGJ)

OpTic Gaming

After a modest top 8 finish in their very first TI, OpTic Gaming made the decision to drop their entire Dota 2 roster. Whether it was the team, led by Peter ‘ppd‘ Dager, that decided to leave on their own accord, or it was management’s decision entirely, we’ll never know.

Either way, we won’t be grading OpTic Gaming because they don’t have a new roster to grade.

VGJ.Thunder and VGJ.Storm

Both teams fell victim to Valve’s new ruling for the 2018-19 Dota Pro Circuit that only one team per organization can qualify for The International 2018. As a result, we’re not grading them.

I know, it seems unfair. While the entire VGJ.Thunder squad split off, with Liu ‘Sylar‘ Jiajun most notably leaving to play for Team Aster — a team spearheaded by the legendary Dota 2 player Xu ‘BurNIng‘ Zhilei — the former VGJ.Storm roster only switched one player out and brought in a new coach, but the fact remains that they’re not VGJ.Storm anymore.

Because of that, we’re skipping them on this list.

paiN Gaming

Rumour has it that paiN Gaming will pick up an entirely new stack of players, with the most notable of them being Quinn ‘CCnC‘ Callahan, and it might just end up being true. The fact that paiN Gaming already received a direct invite to the regional qualifiers for the Kuala Lumpur Major means that the organization has ironed out the details of their new roster.

Until we receive any form of final confirmation, however, we’re not going to make any assumptions and thus, we’re going to skip grading them for now.

The “Don’t Fix If It Ain’t Broken” Squads

2018 Fall Shuffle

Despite failing to defend their title, Team Liquid, who finished TI8 in 4th place, has announced that the historically-dominant squad will run it back together for next season. (Team Liquid)

Virtus.Pro, Team Liquid, PSG.LGD, Evil Geniuses, and OG.

What do these five teams all have in common? Top 6 placements at TI8 that warrants the kind of support and belief that their lineups have the potentiial to achieve so much more if they stick together. Or, in OG’s case, continue achieving just as much.

With team chemistry looking just as solid as ever and management likely content with their placement at the most recent TI — Virtus.Pro were the only ones to make a change when they parted ways with their coach, TI1 winner Ivan ‘Artstyle‘ Antonov — it was probably only natural that these five Dota 2 teams decided to run it back together for next season.

Having made zero changes to their playing roster during the 2018 fall shuffle and their most recent performance speaking to each team’s relative strength, it’ll be an exercise in futility to try and grade these powerhouses.

The Flat Out Failures (F)

2018 Fall Shuffle

After barely qualifying for TI8, Invictus Gaming decided to go with a rather head-scratching decision to field a roster of relative no names for the new season. (Wykrhm Reddy)

Invictus Gaming

Offseasons just keep on getting worse and worse for Invictus Gaming after BurNIng left the team following TI7.

Last year, they made minimal changes to the roster, but to no avail. A couple of changes later, and the team just wasn’t up to par to the standards set by the TI2 champions in previous seasons. Although Invictus Gaming did manage to somehow salvage their lost season with a berth at TI8, their 17th-18th place finish suggests that the team wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

That’s probably why Invictus Gaming decided it was better if they just let go of the entire squad this year and bring in a new set of players, similar to what they did when they first brought in BurnING back in 2016. But, unlike then, they don’t really have a big-name player to build around right now. The closest they have to that is the duo of Gao ‘@dogf1ghts’ Tianpeng and Yang ‘InJuly‘ Xiaodong, who were previously with IG.Vitality.

When you’ve got two players whose biggest claim to fame was getting carried by Zhang ‘Paparazi‘ Chengjun to a berth at The International 2017, that’s a clear sign that your offseason wasn’t as good as you hoped it would be.

The “Happy Enough To Pass” Guys (C-Minus)

2018 Fall Shuffle

Team Serenity were wise to stick to their roster to see what comes of it with more time spent together following a Top 12 finish at TI8. (Valve)

Team Winstrike and Team Serenity

Organic growth. That’s what these two Dota 2 teams are probably betting on considering they didn’t really do any drastic moves during the 2018 fall shuffle, and you can’t exactly blame their orgs for betting on the potential of their squads. After all, both teams did relatively well at TI8 given the expectations, and a 9th-12th place finish is certainly nothing to scoff that, so props to them.

Unfortunately, given the relative lack of inexperience of these two Dota 2 teams, one can’t help but wonder if they could’ve benefitted from a veteran presence on the team. Team Winstrike, for one, sure looked like they could use a steadying hand.

Only time will tell if these two team’s decision to stand pat during the 2018 fall shuffle will prove to be successful, but we’re betting that it won’t be.

The Decidedly Average (C)

Mineski

2018 Fall Shuffle

A core player all throughout his career, only time will tell if Mushi can be just as effective as a captain as a support. (Mineski)

The 2018 fall shuffle was weird.

Perhaps inspired by Johan ‘n0tail‘ Sundstein’s successful decision to switch back to a support role to captain OG, a number of veterans also made the switch. This includes the famed hard carry, Chai ‘Mushi‘ Yee Fung, who will now captain Mineski from the position five.

We don’t exactly know how Mushi will fare in his new role full time, but he is widely regarded as a good captain and now that he can devote more of his energy to directing his team, he could theoretically make Mineski better.

Even if we go by that logic, the other positions of Mineski are still huge question marks.

Kim ‘Febby‘ Yong-min is good, but he is not Anucha ‘Jabz‘ Jirawong, and we haven’t really seen him have much success outside of all-Korean stacks like the now-disbanded MVP.Phoenix. Of course, reuniting him with his former teammate in Damin ‘kpii‘ Chok could help, but as successful as Newbee was with kpii on the team, nobody’s going to mistake him as the lynch pin of that squad.

Then there’s the 20-year-old Thiay ‘JT-‘ Jun Wen, who has only been playing Dota 2 professional for no longer than two years.

Luckily Kam ‘Moon‘ Boon Seng is still on the squad, so they at least have a proven core player to play around. That is if they choose to go that route. But, overall, this new Mineski lineup just doesn’t really impress on paper, which could make qualifying for tournaments difficult with a more stacked SEA scene this year.

ViCi Gaming

2018 Fall Shuffle

Promoted as the coach of the main squad, it will be up to Bai ‘rOtk’ Fan to try and whip the youngsters on ViCi Gaming into shape for the new season. (ViCi Gaming)

ViCi Gaming went with a full youth movement with their latest squad this 2018 fall shuffle, bringing in players from their sister organizations like VGJ.Thunder and ViCi Gaming Potential to replace the veterans that departed the team.

On paper, the move looks like a good choice. We already know how talented paparazi is, given how he almost single-handedly carried IG.Vitality back in TI7 and with one more year of seasoning on Zeng ‘Ori‘ Jiaoyang, these two young superstar cores could only get better come next season. But, save for Pan ‘Fade‘ Yi, the other additions, Zhou ‘Yang‘ Haiyang and Ding ‘Dy’ Cong, don’t really look like they’re an improvement over the players they’re replacing.

The fact that no one in the roster has played Dota 2 professionally for more than three years might only exacerbate the problems that plagued ViCi Gaming all of last season — inconsistency, as well as a tendency to choke in late-game scenarios and during big games.

TNC Predator (C-Plus)

2018 Fall Shuffle

The All-Filipino team walked out of the 2018 fall shuffle as arguably a more versatile team, but it remains to be seen if that versatility translates to more success. TNC Pro Team – Dota 2)

TNC Predator had a lot of problems last year, but two things stood out the most — Marc ‘Raven‘ Fausto’s small hero pool, which severely limited their versatility during drafts, and their questionable late-game decision making.

Raven is now out of the team, replaced by Kim ‘Gabbi‘ Villafuerte, who can play a lot more heroes and can switch places with Armen Paul ‘Armel’ Tabios, depending on the draft. Add Carlo ‘Kuku‘ Palad to the mix in the offlane, and this is a squad that has some serious versatility with how they draft for their cores and play their lanes if employed correctly.

The man tasked to make sure that happens is Michael ‘ninjaboogie‘ Ross Jr., who is coming in from Mineski and is just exactly the type of person TNC Predator needs to rally the troops.

Unfortunately, while all of their moves during the 2018 fall shuffle make a lot of sense, it’s hard to grade the All-Filipino squad any higher when Gabbi hasn’t really had much success internationally as a hard carry and the last time we saw Kuku play the offlane professionally was when Dota 2 was still in closed beta.

Newbee (B)

2018 Fall Shuffle

Faith and Song ‘Sccc’ Chun will be looked at as the leaders of the latest iteration of Newbee’s Dota 2 roster. (Newbee)

We’re skipping the B-minus and giving Newbee a straight B mark for their acqusitions during the 2018 fall shuffle.

To be fair, Newbee could’ve kept their squad together for another yet and they would’ve probably still performed well. Their former lineup was good enough to be one of the better Dota 2 teams in the world as is. But, better just isn’t going to cut it for a squad that’s already won a TI and is looking to be the first to win two, which brings us to the changes they made during the offseason.

While losing their captain, Hu ‘Kaka‘ Liangzhi, hurts, the move could end up being an addition by subtraction because there should be fewer chefs in the kitchen, or so to speak, now that the reigns have eben handed over to TI2 champion Faith. 

With He ‘Inflame‘ Yongzheng replacing Kpii in the offlane — who was easily one of the standout players for TI7’s LGD.ForeverYoung squad — Newbee could be even better this season. That’s not even factoring in what Tang ‘CatYou’ Xiaolei brings to the table, which given Newbee’s track record of promoting players from their Newbee.Young, should be no slouch himself.

Fnatic (B-Plus)

2018 Fall Shuffle

Composed of some of the best Dota 2 players that SEA has to offer, Fnatic definitely made use of the 2018 fall shuffle to improve their team. (Fnatic)

Losing Saahil ‘Universe‘ Arora would hurt most teams, but when you’re replacing a TI champion with someone that’s just as well-regarded as Daryl Koh ‘iceiceice‘ Pei Xiang, you’d be forgiven for letting Universe walk away, which is exactly what Fnatic did.

One of the last teams to announce their roster during the 2018 fall shuffle, Fnatic decided to build around Djardel Jicko B. ‘DJ‘ Mampusti and Abed Azel ‘Abed‘ Yusop for the new season, bring over iceiceice as their new offlaner,Pyo ‘MP‘ No-a as the hard carry, and Jabz as their position five support player and captain.

Nearly every player in this roster fits on paper.

For example, MP’s sacrificial hard carry playstyle should fit well with the rest of his more farm-hungry teammates. But, it’s not perfect. Case in point, having both Jabz and DJ on the same just feels off. These are two of the best position 4 players in the world and asking Jabz to play out of his natural position might warrant a huge drop in game impact and overall performance.

If Jabz can prove his chops as a captain, this Fnatic squad could make some serious noise next season. If not, well, we already know how Evil Geniuses’ fun little experiment with zai and Andreas Franck ‘Cr1t–‘ Nielsen back during the 2016-17 sseason turned out.

Team Secret (A)

 

The only team to get an “A” mark during the 2018 fall shuffle, Team Secret did just about everything right.

The only team who made it to the Top 6 at TI8 that changed their roster, Team Secret knew that something had to be done. Although Puppey surely enjoyed the versatility that Marcus ‘Ace‘ Hoelgaard and the stability that Adrian ‘FATA-‘ Trinks offered, it was clear that Team Secret needed someone other than Yeik ‘MidOne‘ Nai Zheng that they could enable to take over games depending on what the draft dictated.

Insert Michal ‘Nisha‘ Jankowski.

Easily the best Dota 2 player on the former Team Kinguin roster last year that really had no business qualifying for LANs but gave a lot of teams a good run for their money when they did mostly because of Nisha’s doing, the 17-year-old Polish prodigy now has all the tools that he needs to succeed and play to his maximum potential.

Then there’s zai, who was considered as the best offlaner in the world back in 2015 while playing for a star-studded Team Secret squad that could have probably won TI5 if not for chemistry issues that caused the team to finish ONLY in the Top 8.

With three players capable of taking over games all on their own  — Yazied ‘YapzOri’ Jaradat is a game-changing position 4 support player that has been known to win games for his team — Team Secret easily had the best time during the 2018 fall shuffle.

What do you think of the changes made during the 2018 fall shuffle? Which additions surprised you the most? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

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