Dota 2’s most prestigious annual event kicks off in less than two months and every one of the 18 TI8 teams are heading in with their own aspirations. Some will stop at nothing to get the Aegis of Champions, while others are probably content with anything more than a last-place finish.
Having said that, let’s see if we can try to find group all of the TI8 teams into different tiers that best define what should be their expectations.
Championship or Bust
Virtus.Pro won a whopping four Major titles this season, won a Minor with their coach playing as a stand-in, and edged out the reigning TI champions for the highest winning percentage among all teams who played in at least 50 LAN games this season at 66.89%. They, along with Team Liquid (66.47%), are the only ones who have a win rate above 66% this season. The closest? Team Secret, with a 58.97% win rate for the season.
After making their debut at TI7 last year — only Ilya ‘Lil‘ Ilyuk had previously played at a TI — Virtus.Pro are now back with more experience and more confident than ever, with a roster perfectly suited to throw all sorts of looks against their opponents.
Seldom do reigning champions head into next year’s TI as heavy favourites and have the results to show for it, but that’s the reality the other 17 TI8 teams have to deal with this year with Team Liquid.
Kuro ‘KuroKy‘ Salehi Takhasomi and his squad spent most of the year in a relative slumber. They weren’t playing bad, but it was evident that they weren’t playing with the same kind of urgency that you would’ve otherwise seen had they been playing with their backs against the wall. But, you can’t exactly blame them. They’re talented enough to not play 100% and win their fair share of tournaments, as they did this season, and when they finally gave it their all, only Virtus.Pro stood a chance against them, and even then, Team Liquid could not be fully stopped.
This is a rare collection of talent that could go down as the best in Dota 2 history, and you’d be dreaming if you believe that Team Liquid are thinking anything but going back-to-back.
Flipping on the proverbial switch is a really overhyped idea in any kind of sport or esport for that matter, but PSG.LGD proved that to be true when they turned around an otherwise lost season in early February.
Ever since coming in second place against Team Liquid at Starladder i-League Invitational Season 4, PSG.LGD have been damn near unstoppable. Xu ‘fy‘ Linsen has been a god at the position 4, and Yang ‘Chalice‘ Shenyi is the quintessential glue guy that gets very little recognition, is sacked often in his lane and yet almost always has a game-changing impact at some point in their games.
Throw in the remarkable ward game of Jian Wei ‘xNova‘ Yap and the individual prowess of both Lu ‘Maybe‘ Yao and Wang ‘Ame‘ Chunyu, and it’s easy to see how PSG.LGD are the favourites to make sure that the east-west cycle remains unbroken.
Other Dota 2 teams would kill to have the same season Team Secret had — three Pro Circuit LANs, including two Minors and one Major, is nothing to scoff at — but this isn’t just any other team we’re talking about. This is a team that’s built to win yet has built a reputation for dominating outside of TI only to fall short when it counts the most. Case in point, Team Secret have never finished higher than Top 8 at any TI, and they’ve finished as low as in the last place despite an all-star roster.
Anything can and will happen with Team Secret, but now that they’ve had an entire roster that’s been together for the entire season for the first time, it’s plausible that TI8 will finally be the year that Team Secret live up to expectations at a TI.
Much like Team Secret, last year’s runner-up’s didn’t have a bad season. They had a good one, in fact. They won two Minors, one at the expense of Team Liquid, and spent most of the past year consistently challenging for deep runs. We say most because Newbee have had quite a few disappointing finishes this season — they failed to make the playoffs or Top 4 in three separate occasions, including two last-place finishes.
Expectations outside of China and the organization are low, but Newbee aren’t exactly strangers to this kind of situation. They were in the same position last year, and they managed to make it all the way to the Grand Finals, never even dropping into the lower brackets.
While only a few people are expecting Newbee to replicate or top last year’s success, it’ll be unwise to sleep on them.
The star-studded OpTic Gaming squad perplexed us right from the get-go, even more so when they finally started to show signs of life after Neta ‘33‘ Shapira joined their team and Ludwig ‘zai‘ Wåhlberg permanently moved back to the position 4 to accommodate the move.
The #greenwall could be counted on to win against bad teams, and near the end of the season, they beat most good teams as well, save for a couple, like Virtus.Pro, who twice blocked them from getting a direct invite to TI8.
If Peter ‘ppd‘ Dager can work his tactical genius again and help Quinn ‘CCnC‘ Callahan just be a little bit more consistent, OpTic Gaming can win, and win big.
Hard to Pigeonhole
Mineski have proven that they can win after coming out of left field to win the 2018 Dota 2 Asia Championships, but they have yet to disprove the notion that the win was the result of them getting the “easy” bracket — they didn’t get a chance to play either one of Virtus.Pro and Team Liquid.
Their 9th-12th place finish at the China Dota2 Supermajor didn’t help their case either.
If their boot camp before their big Major win is any indication, expect Tang ‘71‘ Wenyi to put Mineski in a position to go out of the gates running at The International 2018, but it probably won’t come off as a surprise if they stumbled along the way.
If there’s one team of all the TI8 teams that has arguably equal chances of making an early exit and winning it all, it’s probably ViCi Gaming. That’s no slight to them. It’s just that, based on their track record, this team seems to fall short when it counts the most.
A talented team headlined by the young superstar duo of Zhang ‘Paparazi‘ Chengjun and Zeng ‘Ori‘ Jiaoyang, ViCi Gaming are a sleeper pick to win it all if they can pull it together.
Wildcards and Dark Horses
For the third year in a row, Roman ‘Resolut1on‘ Fominok finds himself in a team that’s not expected to do a whole lot but can make some noise if given the opportunity.
VGJ.Storm’s last LAN appearance left a lot to be desired as they struggled to succeed once the other teams started to study their playstyle, but they’ve had two months since to be more versatile, and if all else fails, there are very few players in the world that you can count on to carry a team like Resolut1on can.
TNC Pro Team
For perhaps the first time ever, an all-Filipino team are headed into a TI and are not being looked at as underdogs. Sure, they’re not exactly heavy favourites, but anything other a deep run will be considered a disappointment for TNC Pro Team from now on.
Moving Carlo ‘Kuku‘ Palad to the position five has allowed Armel Paul ‘Armel‘ Tabios to shine and unlocked the sort of aggression that was missing when Theeban ‘1437‘ Siva was still leading the team. But, the lack of an experienced captain shows, as TNC Pro Team have a tendency to make ill-advised decisions late in the game, and are sometimes incapable of adjusting mid-series against their opponents.
Luckily, those are things that can be fixed with time, and if TNC Pro Team can shore up their weaknesses, they’re going to be one scary team.
Fnatic are third in our four TI8 teams who teased us with a possible breakthrough and are talented enough to put a monkey wrench into any team’s hopes of winning the tournament.
Jacky ‘EternaLEnVy‘ Mao seems content playing a sacrificial role while presumably letting Johan ‘pieliedie‘ Åström call the shots. Saahil ‘UNiVeRsE‘ Arora remains the stable offlaner that he is, and the chemistry between the explosive playmakers of the team, Abed Azel ‘Abed‘ Yusop, and Djardel Jicko B. ‘DJ‘ Mampusti are top notch.
Taken altogether, this Fnatic team is one of the scariest of all the TI8 teams and are capable of taking a series off of anyone.
The former FlyToMoon squad’s claim to fame is coming out of nowhere to take down Virtus.Pro and very nearly taking out Team Liquid at EPICENTER XL. Had they won that particularly close series, PSG.LGD might not have prepared for what was coming to them, and who knows what could’ve happened then?
Since then, they’ve decimated the opposition at the CIS qualifiers, and looked every bit as good as they did a few months back. But, still, concerns remain. They haven’t played in any LANs since and the pressure of playing in foreign land in front of a jampacked audience is a very underrated factor that could lead to Winstrike striking out early.
If Winstrike can avoid tilting and play to their absolute best, they’re a team to watch out for, but if not, well, better luck next year, which makes them very much a wild card at TI8 later this year.
Happy to be Here
Nobody expected Team Serenity to be one of the TI8 teams, let alone beat out the likes of Invictus Gaming and LFY for one of China’s two spots at TI8. But, alas, here they are, and while we’re pretty sure that they aren’t the second coming of Wings Gaming, we’re not exactly certain what to expect of Team Serenity other than for the team to be happy that they got a chance to be here.
paiN Gaming barely made it out of the South American qualifiers, which isn’t a good sign, especially when the team that gave them a good run of their money was a revamped SG e-sports roster that only had days to accommodate the joining of Francis ‘FLee‘ Lee and Stanley ‘Stan King‘ Yang.
The Brazilians plus Aliwi ‘w33‘ Omar have done well for themselves all things considered and, next season, if they stick together, they have a chance to do something special. But, as one of the TI8 teams, expecting anything above a 9th-12th place finish from paiN Gaming is pushing it.
VGJ.Thunder were very close to not receiving a direct invite to TI8, and had that happened, there’s no telling if ever they’d make it out of the Chinese Qualifiers as they are.
That alone should speak to VGJ.Thunder’s chances at The International 2018.
Of course, we’re no oracles here. Two months is a long time to practice, and we’re sure Bai ‘rOtK‘ Fan will stop at nothing to whip his team back into shape. But, given the circumstances, it’s hard to expect anything other than an early exit from VGJ.Thunder.
The boys in blue salvaged an otherwise lost season by bringing over Tal ‘Fly‘ Aizik and Gustav ‘s4‘ Magnusson and taking one of the three spots at the North American Qualifiers. Had there been fewer slots, Evil Geniuses’ feat would’ve been more noteworthy. But, that wasn’t the case, and for all the star power that Evil Geniuses have on their roster — a TI3 winner, a TI5 winner, a two-time Major winner, a four-time Major winner, and perhaps the most mechanically skilled player in the world in Artour ‘Arteezy‘ Babaev — we all know that it takes more than just names to make it big in Dota 2’s most prestigious tournament.
Take the star power narrative and flip it over its head and change it to rookies and that’s pretty much the story of OG.
Bringing back Anathan ‘ana‘ Pham was a smart decision, as is picking up Topias ‘Topson‘ Taavitsainen, who’s been a revelation so far. However, as good as these youngsters have been, there’s no telling just how much the pressure can get to them, and we know for a fact that ana has had problems dealing with it in the past.
If OG’s core duo can find a way to continue playing loose even when the stakes are highest, OG will have a chance to make some noise and go deeper than they ever have in the past.
At The International 2015, CDEC Gaming went from an unknown, open qualifier team to runner-ups. Though they were clearly outclassed in the Grand Finals against Evil Geniuses, the fact that they made it all the way there was an achievement on its own.
Three years later, one of the players of the said squad, Sun ‘Aggressif‘ Zheng, is back on the biggest stage in all of Dota 2, with a team that, like CDEC Gaming, isn’t expected to achieve much.
We’re not saying that the same thing will happen to Invictus Gaming, but we’ve seen weirder things before.
Unlike in previous years, none of the TI8 teams is looking like a free win. Arguably every team is capable of taking a game and a series off of anybody. Might this be evidence that the DPC, for all its shortcomings, worked? Perhaps.
Either way, with only a few weeks until The International 2018, expect every one of the TI8 teams to be hard at work and to find a way to elevate their play even further to get a bigger chunk of what’s looking like a record-breaking prize pool and more importantly, make their mark in the history of Dota 2.
All stats courtesy of DatDota unless otherwise stated.
Which of the eighteen TI8 teams are you rooting for the most? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.