As most of the top Dota 2 teams took advantage of the gap between DAC 2018 and EPICENTER XL to prepare for the last two months of the season, the Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 in Kiev was a rare chance for the attending teams to rack up some easy Qualifying Points.
Make no mistake, however. Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 had a lot of action going for it. From the CIS teams playing well in front of their home crowd to OpTic Gaming playing spoilers to VGJ.Thunder’s hopes of finally winning a title, the lack of prestige and competition did not stop Starladder’s third Minor of the season from giving Dota 2 fans a tournament well worth following.
Having said that, below are five things that stood out the most from Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5.
OpTic Gaming’s Belated Coming Out Party
It may have taken Peter ‘ppd‘ Dager more than half of the season to finally take his squad to the top of the podium, but they finally did it and in dominant fashion, no less.
Heading into the tournament, OpTic Gaming had been seen as a squad that could put up the occasionally brilliant performance but was ultimately inconsistent to win big when it mattered the most. Many, in particular, called out Quinn ‘CCnC‘ Callahan for his lacklustre play, even when the team chose to play around him. Now, those critics should stay quiet. At least, for a while.
Of course, the win was a team effort. Ludwig ‘zai‘ Wåhlberg is back to playing like a top-tier position 4 support and his synergy with long-time teammate ppd is evident. Meanwhile, Neta ‘33‘ Shapira and Pers Anders Olson ‘Pajkatt‘ Lille played out of their minds, especially during the Grand Finals. But, with CCnC showing that his performance with Team Freedom during the TI7 NA Qualifiers was no fluke, OpTic Gaming is finally inching closer to their ceiling.
Trouble Brewing in China
Second place finishes normally are not a cause for concern. Most teams would be happy to have them. But not China. Especially not when it’s happened multiple times already this season. Case in point, ViCi Gaming, LGD Gaming, and VGJ.Thunder have lost ten Grand Finals in Pro Circuit tournaments this season, with VGJ.Thunder making up three of those losses just in this past few months alone.
Years ago, China’s tendency to stick to what works, well, worked for them. Just not this season. With all the games being played nearly every day, their tendency to be one-dimensional has made it easier for teams to prepare against their drafts and playstyle.
A Failed Experiment
With Fnatic having yet to provide a sensible explanation regarding what happened why they chose to sub in 343 for pieliedie just days before Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5 (we’re not buying their official statement), we’re only left to criticize the result and it wasn’t pretty.
From switching one of the world’s best position 4 players in Djardel Jicko B. ‘DJ‘ Mampusti to the position 5 to the team’s obvious lack of cohesion all throughout the tournament, Fnatic’s “experiment” obviously failed, and it’s not like they can afford to make mistakes this late into the season. After all, all Fnatic had to do was build on their strong showing at DreamLeague Season 9. Instead, they decided to change things up with only 1 Minor and 3 Majors left for them to try and qualify for.
Consider me baffled.
Watch out for the CIS Sharks
Typically, CIS squads are composed of five free-agent veterans who decided to band together. Very rarely are teams from the CIS region mostly composed of newcomers. That’s how they usually roll in the region. Not Vega Squadron, though.
Composed of three relative newcomers with Dmitry ‘UnderShock‘ Bolshakov and Semion ‘CemaTheSlayer‘ Krivulya serving as the team’s veterans, Vega Squadron’s atypical lineup seems to be working for them. Playing in front of their home crowd, Vega Squadron took out Fnatic during the group stages to secure a Top 4 finish. They then gave VGJ.Thunder a good run for their money in the playoffs.
Though Vega Squadron ultimately fell short, a Top 4 finish for a squad that had yet to produce results all season long is a huge win. Should they continue to improve, look to Vega Squadron to take advantage of Natus Vincere’s struggles in a wide open CIS field.
What A Minor Should Be
Of the 12 Minors that have played out this season, you can only count in one hand the tournaments that actually feel like a chance for Tier 2/3 teams to shine and get some valuable LAN experience.
First was MDL Macau, where an incomplete Virtus.Pro played, giving TNC Pro Team and OG a chance to make deep runs. Then there was GESC Indonesia, where a struggling Evil Geniuses squad took advantage of the relatively shallow competitive field to rack up some much-needed Qualifying Points. Finally, there’s Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5, where OpTic Gaming finally put themselves up on the board. That’s only 3 out of the 13 Minors that genuinely felt like a tournament where lesser teams had a chance to shine.
Here’s to hoping that Valve considers changing things up next season so Minors feel more like Minors and Majors feel like Majors.
Meta-wise, there aren’t really any big takeaways from Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5. There were only eight teams playing, after all. Meta heroes like Tiny, Terrorblade, Razor, Death Prophet, Lifestealer Gyrocopter, remain top picks. Especially Tiny, which saw a 100% Pick and Ban rate with a 52% win rate throughout the whole tournament.
It certainly seems like the latest Dota 2 patch has not dissuaded teams from picking Tiny and valuing the status resistance bonus that Grow gives him. But then again, maybe it was just this tournament. Who knows? Come Epicenter XL and a new patch, Tiny might not be that big of a deal anymore, though I highly doubt it.
Having said that, while OpTic Gaming’s win makes for a nice feel-good story, especially for Pajkatt’s decade-long title drought, their win doesn’t change a lot in terms of the season standings. Already out of the running for EPICENTER XL, MDL Changsa and GESC Thailand, OpTic Gaming will have to qualify and win big at ESL One Birmingham 2018 and the Supermajor 2018 if they want to avoid having to go through the North American Qualifiers to secure a spot at TI8.
What do you think were the biggest takeaways from Starladder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.