In light of recent travel restrictions and the evolving COVID-19 situation, ESL is postponing the ESL One Los Angeles 2020 Dota 2 Major. But groups are already announced, let’s analyze them.
All eyes will be on Team Secret, who are widely regarded as one of the best Dota 2 teams in the world. A powerhouse such as Team Secret is bound to make some serious noise in any tournament they attend - and ESL One Los Angeles is no exception. Based on their group, Secret should come out as the first seed, yet it’s hard to completely ignore what Natus Vincere, Royal Never Give Up and Thunder Predator bring to the table. Although the TI1 champions are not as strong as they were in their golden days, Natus Vincere are still a team that can go toe-to-toe with the best squads in the scene. That said, NaVi finished the Leipzig Major at an underwhelming 9th-12th place, meaning they will have a lot to prove in the City of Angels. That might be easier said than done, seeing how they lost their star player Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov to Virtus.pro, nonetheless, the CIS juggernauts still possess enough quality to make a deep run here.
NaVi’s biggest competition in their race to the top-two seed besides Team Secret will be Royal Never Give Up, who reached the finals of WePlay! Bukovel Minor 2020 and with that established themselves as a solid team. Will the Chinese squad manage to stack up with the lineup present at the Major, however, remains to be seen. As for Thunder Predator, they are objectively the weakest team in the group, however, that is not to say they should be overlooked. Predator have established themselves as a force to be reckoned in their region and the fact that they made it through South American qualifiers by losing only one map to paiN Gaming speaks volumes.
It’s hard not to be excited about Group B, which features both Evil Genuises and the two-time back-to-back TI champions OG. Although OG parted ways with their star players Anathan “ana” Pham, Sébastien “Ceb” Debs and Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, the European organisation found excellent replacements in Martin “Saksa” Sazdov, Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng and Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, making this new-look OG just as scary as they were before. What’s more, OG had a phenomenal run through the qualifiers, where they demolished everyone despite the fact their new line-up had less than a month to prepare and establish their synergy, which is why it should not come off as a surprise OG are currently holding a tag of the tournament favourites.
Evil Geniuses on the other side, have a lot to prove, and although they parted ways with their golden boy Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, who is now a member of OG, Evil Geniuses did not lose any quality. Not only did they manage to keep a respectable level of quality, but since the departure of SumaiL, EG completely revamped their playstyle and now look far more consistent as a team. So far, EG already pocketed silver at ONE Esports Dota 2 World Pro Invitational Singapore and finished as runners-up at Leipzig. Major Chaos and Geek Fam are two heavy underdogs in this group and it’s hard to imagine a world where they can finish above either EG or OG. Nonetheless, both teams looked very solid recently and while a lot will have to go right for them to finish top-two, there is always a chance we could see them cause some damage in the lower bracket of the playoffs.
Invictus Gaming are arguably the strongest team of this group, based on their solid performance so far this season. Hu “Kak” Liangzhiand and co. won DOTA Summit 11, and finished third at MDL Chengdu Major, to which they added a silver medal from World Electronic Sports Games 2019 China Finals, fifth-sixth place finish at DreamLeague Season 13 Leipzig Major, and put up a commanding run through the Chinese Major qualifiers, where they lost only one map throughout the whole tournament. Invictus Gaming are easily the most consistent Chinese Dota2 team currently, which might be surprising, yet it’s entirely deserved. IG hold an unmatched ability to adapt to new meta, which secured them a top-five placement in both Majors they attended this season. What’s more, IG’s playstyle is very fast-paced and their rotations around the map are very clean. That said, their biggest and most worrying weakness is their draft. Although IG can produce remarkable results, they frequently find themselves in a situation, where they get out drafted by their opponents and lose the match solely because of that. That might become a huge issue when they face teams that have solid drafts, such as Team Secret, OG, EG and other top-tier teams, but if IG can improve their hero selection, they should easily reach semi-finals.
EHOME are yet another Chinese team that soared to new heights this season. Although they’re miles from their glory days when they were regarded as one of the elite teams in the scene, EHOME are still a team no one should ignore. In November 2019, EHOME signed two new members in Liu “Sylar” Jiajun and Cheng “NothingToSay” Jin Xiang, who joined forces with Zhang “Faith_bian” Ruida, Zhao “XinQ” Zixing and Zhang “y” Yiping. With two new carries in Sylar and NothingToSay, EHOME found their footing and finally look like a decent team. While EHOME can hardly be compared to the top favourites of the tournament, they can look towards LA Major with optimism, given the lack of competition from regional rivals in Keen Gaming, CDEC and ViCi Gaming.
Ninjas in Pyjamas’s choice to compete on the European soil was in eyes of many a poor a decision making from the organisation, as many believed that would hinder their ability to qualify for Major tournaments. That said, Ninjas in Pyjamas silenced doubters rather quickly with their successful run through European qualifiers that earned them a spot in Los Angeles, but their road to LA was not as smooth as they had hoped. Since September, when Ninjas in Pyjamas announced their new roster, the team has made quite a few roster changes in a bid to find some stability. Oliver “Skiter” Lepko left the team in December and got replaced by Jason Connor “TANNER” Weedon. More roster changes followed at the end of January when Nico “Gunnar” Lopez and Malthe “Biver” Winther left the team in favour of Nikita “Daxak” Kuzmin and Rodrigo “Lelis” Santos, who rounded up the new-look NiP squad.
With a new roster, Ninjas in Pyjamas ventured off into ESL One Los Angeles 2020 Europe Closed Qualifier, where they suffered two crushing defeats against OG and Team Secret, yet still secured the third ticket with a 2-0 win over Aggressive Mode. Although the team might lack the elite-level individual quality of OG and Team Secret, they have an exceptional captain in Peter “ppd” Dager, who knows exactly what it takes to succeed at the top level. Will that be enough for Ninjas in Pyjamas to reach the summit, however, remains to be seen. The biggest issue this team is facing is their consistency, or better yet lack of it. At some points, they can look incredibly strong, but other times, Ninjas in Pyjamas drop the ball, meaning we can either seem them make a deep run into the tournament or drop out of it in the first round. Which version of Ninjas in Pyjamas we will see in Los Angeles, however, is anyone’s guess.
Fnatic ended up at ninth-12th spot at the last Major, which might seem like a poor result, however, we have to consider the fact that they had to play some very tough opponents. In that regard, it’s also worth noting that Fnatic pressured Team Secret hard in their meeting and although they lost 1-2, the SEA juggernauts looked very solid. After their defeat against Secret, Fnatic played TNC Predator, which they also lost 1-2, however, it’s hard to criticise them too much for that result, given that TNC Predator are the current DPC leaders and know how to defeat Fnatic very well, which suggests that if Fnatic had played any other team they could have won and make a deeper run into the Leipzig Major. While Fnatic are not a team anyone expects to win, this roster holds a lot of promise and if the stars align, they could make a deep run into the Major.
To say Virtus.Pro had an underwhelming start of the season would be an understatement. As a team which entered the 2019/20 DPC season with high expectations on their shoulders, the Russian squad fell flat and struggled to make an impact in any of the tournaments they played in. Two 5th-6th place finishes at ESL One Hamburg 2019 and ONE Esports Dota 2 World Pro Invitational Singapore, followed by an underwhelming 13th-16th place finish at Leipzig Major, ushered roster changes in a bid to find more stability and better success. In February Virtus.Pro signed Zayac from Natus Vincere in one of the most controversial signings of the season, however, it seems like their latest pickup is exactly what they needed. Shortly after signing Zayac, Virtus.Pro finished third at WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Mad Moon, which was the team’s best placement since they won Adrenaline Cyber League 2019 in May 2019. Although Virtus.Pro still have a lot to prove, their recent surge in form suggests they might make some noise in Los Angeles – hoisting the trophy, however, is another story.
Another team that has a lot to prove is beastcoast, who suffered a crushing defeat against Thunder Predator in the South American Major qualifiers, which was possibly the biggest surprise result of the event. While beastcoast ended up securing a spot at the Major, losing to Thunder Predator was a huge blow for their morale, considering beastcoast were the dominant force in their region for so long. Since their incredible run at TI9 (while still playing under Infamous banner), beastcoast’s roster proved to be a tough nut to crack for any team and we don’t expect that to change here. At MDL Chengdu Major, they went toe-to-toe with Invictus Gaming and eliminated Nigma at Leipzig Major, which speaks volumes about their quality. That said, beastcoast never made it into the top-five in any DPC event they were involved in and there is a good reason for that. They might be capable of producing upset wins, but their overall quality still lacks behind top teams in the scene. There is a good chance they will have better success in Los Angeles, considering many top tier teams are not attending it while other teams are facing visa issues Whether beastcoast will manage to find some stability in their performances make the best of the situation remains to be seen.
Team Adroit and Team Aster are both facing visa issues and while both sides saw some success in recent months, it’s hard to expect too much from them as they will probably have to field stand-in players. Team Aster are recent StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 3 champions, and are surely in the top 4 contenders for the title in Los Angeles if they will play with their full lineup.