Later this afternoon I'll be heading to Germany to begin a weekend of coverage of ESL One Frankfurt , the last major Dota 2 tournament before The International. It's shaping up to be really exciting. The scene is in good shape, with varied and exciting play coming from a broad range of teams. Eight of those teams—Alliance, Na'Vi, mousesports, Fnatic, Cloud 9, Evil Geniuses, Vici Gaming and Invictus Gaming—will be competing in Frankfurt for a crowd-boosted prize pool of over $200,000. I sat down with fellow Dota nerd Janusz Urbanski to go over our predictions for the event.
Chris: ESL have made a lot of noise about having all three prior International champions at the tournament—Na'Vi and Alliance, who received automatic invitations, and IG who arrived through the Chinese qualifier. I think the story of ESL One will, at least in part, be about which teams go all-out for that prizepool and which hold on to something in advance of TI4.
Alliance are bringing in WinteR as their coach for this tournament, which suggests that their summer campaign is properly under way. They made a confident return to form at DreamLeague and if they can maintain that pace here then I think they have a shot at taking the whole thing—they're my pick out of the returning champions. The great thing about competitive Dota at the moment, however, is that it isn't dominated by one or two teams.
Janusz: Alliance had a rough patch earlier in the year, but recently they have started to look like the team that won TI3 so convincingly, a worrying prospect for the other teams. As ever, however, Na'Vi can never be counted out. They have played well throughout the year, both online and on LAN, and I'm sure we can expect the Frankfurt crowd to get behind them.
Na'Vi are up against EG in the first round, though, and this talented EG lineup have proven they can beat any team in ESL. I wouldn't be surprised if they treat this as a dry run for TI4.
Chris: It'll be really interesting to see how EG do. If they keep to the form they've been on recently then the tournament is theirs to lose, as far as I'm concerned—their 3-0 victory over Na'Vi in the D2L Western Challenge attests to their dominance, and arguably they've had a greater impact on the metagame than any other team in the last year. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure this is mason's first LAN of this scale—he's hardly seemed to be the type to get dragged down by nerves in the past, but it's hardly trivial to find yourself in front of a stadium full of people a few months into your pro career.
What do you make of Cloud 9's chances? Their run of second-place finishes in the last couple of months suggests that they're unlikely to win the whole thing, but they've proven that they can beat anybody on a good day. I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish high.
Janusz: Cloud 9 don't lack for talent, but can't seem to clinch the win when it really matters. Their farming style may have become a bit predictable and could be punished by the top teams. Going up against Alliance so early will be a tough challenge, but if they can win that match they have a solid shot at taking the tournament. I think they want a big win at this point, and getting one will boost their confidence no end.
Mouz are my 'dark horse' pick, as they've started to look really dangerous in the last few months, but have yet to prove that they've got what it takes to win at the highest level. It will be a tough first round matchup against a resurgent IG. Do you think they'll get past the Chinese TI2 champions?
Chris: You can't count Mouz out, but I agree that it's a tough matchup. That said if Mouz do beat the Chinese team then they could do well overall—they're fully capable of unseating the best western teams, and playing in front of a home crowd should ensure good performances from FATA and paS. Facing Alliance or C9 in the semis is never going to be easy, mind.
What are your thoughts on Fnatic versus Vici Gaming in the quarterfinals? Fnatic are continuing their run with Excalibur standing in for Era, which has been going fantastically for them. They've got incredible versatility and control and I'd expect them to do well in front of a home crowd. Last night's news about them being potentially unable to compete in TI4 could mean they double down on their efforts here.
Janusz: Fnatic are renowned for their stable roster so I was worried how they would do without Era, but it seems to be going well so far. They're are a great team and deserve a win, but they will need luck on their side if the other big teams play their best. Fnatic will be playing Vici Gaming first though, which is a game they can win. VG are a strong team, but like Cloud 9 they just can't seem to win tournaments.
VG do have Sylar, however, an intimidating carry that has had a few stand out performances recently and could make a big impact. Are there any players you are particularly looking forward to seeing play?
Chris: I like watching Hann1 and I'd like to see Fnatic run him on the offlane again. Otherwise, it's all about the support pairings—Zai and PPD for EG, Akke and EGM for Alliance, Puppey and Kuroky for Na'Vi. I love me some rotations.
How do you think Na'Vi will do? EG beat them handily a few days ago despite Na'Vi getting a comfortable set of heroes in the first game—Dendi Puck, Puppey Enchantress, XBOCT Lycan—and that doesn't bode brilliantly for them in the quarterfinals at ESL. We could see them knocked out very early. On the other hand, they're Na'Vi. Coming back from a disadvantage is what they do. If Puppey's sitting on an EG-beating strat, this is when we'll see it.
Janusz: I'm not too worried about Na'Vi to be honest. They're one of the best LAN teams and have so much experience playing in high pressure matches. It's true that they haven't looked their best in the last few tournaments, and EG will go into the matchup with a lot of confidence, but Na'Vi are bound to put up a good fight. As you say, Na'Vi are known for coming back from behind and somehow finding a way to win, which should make for a thrilling match. It's a wide open tournament and Na'Vi can beat all the teams playing, so I look forward to seeing them take to the stage.
Check back tomorrow for more coverage from ESL One.