The Biggest Takeaways from EPICENTER XL 2018

EPICENTER XL 2018 kicked off what’s probably the most important stretch of the season and the stakes were interesting, to say the least. For Virtus.Pro, this was their chance to win big in front of their hometown crowd, while Team Liquid were aiming for a three-peat and their first ever Major trophy. For Team Secret, a deep run here would all but secure their direct invite to The International 2018, among many other things. On the east side of things, PSG.LGD and Mineski each had something to prove coming into the tournament. Especially the latter, who many believed had a relatively easy route to their win at DAC 2018 by dodging both Team Liquid and Virtus.Pro in the playoffs.

Ultimately, though, what happened was that EPICENTER XL 2018 helped solidify PSG.LGD’s position as one of the best Dota 2 teams right now. There’s just nothing to take away from their performance except that they played extremely well. How could you even begin criticizing them? They took out Virtus.Pro and Team Liquid, quite handily at that. They even pulled out some off-meta picks while they were at it, breaking the trend of Chinese Dota 2 teams, though skilled, being too stubborn to experiment in the middle of the of the tournaments.

Also, let it not be said that we’re sleeping on FlyToMoon, because they certainly gave the CIS crowd a lot to cheer for after going from “underdog team that was just happy to soak up some LAN experience” to world beaters that took out heavy favourites Virtus.Pro and gave the eventual runner-ups, Team Liquid one hell of a scare.

PSG’s Investment Pays Off

EPICENTER XL 2018

Less than a month into their partnership, PSG.LGD has already won a Major with a chance to win even more in the coming weeks. (LGD Gaming)

Less than a month ago, one of the richest soccer clubs in the world, Paris Saint-Germain, decided to venture into Dota 2 and signed a partnership with LGD Gaming, one of the oldest organizations in the history of Dota. Now, that very same Dota 2 team, who has since changed their name to PSG.LGD, just won EPICENTER XL 2018, at the expense of the two-time defending champions and reigning TI champions Team Liquid no less.

With their win, PSG.LGD became just the fourth Dota 2 team this season to win a Major and the sixth overall in the history of the game. But it’s not just the fact that they won it, though. It’s how they won it.

Criticized for being too stubborn to try out strategies from other regions, PSG.LGD borrowed ideas, effectively ushering in Slark, a hero that has not seen regular play in competitive games for more than a year, back into the meta by winning all four of their games on the hero after losing to it twice against Team Liquid in the group stages.

Now PSG.LGD are Major champions, with 4,071 Qualifying Points to their name, and are, more importantly, easily the biggest threat to fulfil the East-West prophecy that a Chinese team will win The International 2018.

CIS Is Not Just a One-Team Region

EPICENTER XL 2018

While they did not end up winning the tournament, FlyToMoon’s third-place run at EPICENTER XL 2018 is easily one of the best underdog runs in Dota 2 history (FlyToMoon)

So much for being a region of Virtus.Pro and everyone else, eh? FlyToMoon just proved that the CIS region is more than just about the bears. Sure, Natus Vincere kind of did the same earlier this season, but they didn’t go as far as FlyToMoon did. The closest they ever got was a fourth-place finish at DreamLeague Season 8, and their run wasn’t even that particularly impressive looking back.

On the other hand, FlyToMoon’s was unique. They went 3-2 in the first-ever best-of-three round-robin group stage of the season, losing only to Team Liquid and PSG.LGD, who both went to the Grand Finals, and it’s not like their losses were lopsided either. They put up a damn good fight. Then, come playoff time, FlyToMoon took out paiN Gaming, OG, and then swept Virtus Pro before giving taking Game 1 off of Team Liquid in the lower bracket finals and looked very close to pulling off the upset and moving on to face off against PSG.LGD for the title.

FlyToMoon took their shot at the moon and landed among the stars, which isn’t half-bad. But now comes the hard part. Since their 3rd-place finish will surely put their old-school aggression on the map, FlyToMoon will have their work cut out for them as they’ll now look forward to contending against Vega Squadron, Natus Vincere, and Team Empire to try and qualify for The International 2018.

Lucky for FlyToMoon, there’s at least a month between now until the Regional Qualifiers, so they’ll have ample time to prepare.

Trouble in Puppeyland

EPICENTER XL 2018

Ever since ending 2017 on a high note, Team Secret’s performance in recent months has left much to be desired. (Team Secret)

Does anybody else feel like there’s something wrong with Team Secret? Hands up if you do, because you’re probably not alone. Seriously, what’s up with them? They haven’t had a good showing in a while — in hindsight, their win at DreamLeague Season 9 probably doesn’t amount to much considering the dearth of competition there — and something just feels off watching them play.

We’re used to seeing Yazied ‘YapzOr‘ Jaradat make one highlight after another, but he hasn’t done anything really noteworthy recently. But, it’s not just him. Everyone else in Team Secret just look like they’re not playing as well as they should be. Even worse, Clement ‘Puppey‘ Ivanov keeps on drafting his team into a corner by pulling off high-risk, low reward drafts all of the time, making it even harder for them to win and get some momentum going.

But hey, who knows? Maybe this is just some next-level IQ play from Puppey himself, experimenting and trying stuff out this early on knowing full well that they’re nearly 100% guaranteed to receive a direct invite to The International 2018 anyway.

Tough Days Ahead

EPICENTER XL 2018

The four-time Major champions are in dire need of a roster change if they want to improve. (OG)

With EPICENTER XL 2018 now over, any team not named Virtus.Pro and Team Liquid will have a lot of thinking to do as The International 2018 inches closer as the days pass by.

Newbee, for one, might want to take a page off of PSG.LGD’s book and stop drafting the same heroes over and over again if they ever want to come close to winning a Major this season. It’s not like they don’t have the talent for it, because they remain one of the most talented squads in all of Dota 2. Meanwhile, as disappointing as their top six finish at EPICENTER XL 2018 was, Mineski can at least raise their heads up high knowing full well that they did their best to go on a deep run.

Both OG and Natus Vincere will no doubt have some tough decisions to make regarding the future of their respective rosters. The latter especially after they missed out on yet another playoff appearance. The same goes for the tournament’s more underwhelming squads compLexity Gaming and Team Empire. 

As for FlyToMoon and paiN Gaming, both teams will have nowhere to go but up if they keep on improving.

No More Stale Meta

EPICENTER XL 2018

Once considered as more of a regional pick, Doom, who is now more tanky than ever, is back firmly into the meta (Biggreenpepper)

The meta that developed at EPICENTER XL 2018 was easily the most diverse of the season. Across nearly two weeks and 97 matches, we saw 105 different heroes get picked, with only 7 heroes being ignored (not banned or picked). It’s no coincidence that it came after a rather huge “mini-patch” in 7.14 that brought plenty of changes to off-meta heroes.

Two heroes that emerged as the most successful were Doom and Leshrac. Teams valued the former for the hero’s innate tankiness and an ultimate that essentially makes one particular hero useless for the duration of a long fight, while the latter became a flex pick that teams could draft during the first phase without really revealing much of their strategies.

Another once-forgotten hero that saw a resurgence at EPICENTER XL 2018 was Slark. Though the former dark reef prisoner was not among the most picked heroes of the tournament, he was the most successful among those picked at least 10 times with a win rate of 84.62% in 13 games.

Final Thoughts

With five slots for The International 2018 all but secured by now — it’s very unlikely Mineski and PSG.LGD will drop out of the top eight of the leaderboards anytime soon — the race for that coveted direct invite to Dota 2’s biggest annual tournament just got a little tighter.
 
This can only mean one thing: even more Dota 2 action in the weeks ahead.
 
We’ve still got one more Minor and three more Majors left before the Qualifiers for The International 2018 and we can’t just wait to see what kind of storylines develop until then.

What do you think are some of the biggest takeaways from EPICENTER XL 2018? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below. 

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