Photo credit: ESL/Helena Kristiansson
ESL Frankfurt 2015 begins tomorrow and runs until Sunday night. This is the biggest Dota 2 event of the year in Europe and the last major tournament before the International. If you're looking to get up to speed before the world's best teams compete for that staggering $14m+ prize pool, this is your best chance to do so. Besides, it'll be fun. You can either watch the games for free via Twitch or, if you're in the Frankfurt area, tickets are still available for the live show.
Here's what you need to know.
What's the prize?
A base prize pool of $250,000 has been increased north of $290,000 by the sale of tickets and cosmetic items. Of this, the winner will get 40% (about $117,000) with a sharp drop off from there. While every participant is guaranteed to come away with something, the bottom four finishers only get 5% each.
What's the format?
Yesterday, all eight teams played a best-of-one double elimination bracket to establish their starting positions in the tournament proper. This seeding bracket was done because the tournament itself is going to be single elimination. Last year, ESL One Frankfurt hit scheduling problems when games ran long. To fix that, they've removed the lower bracket.
The downside to this is that if a fan-favourite team loses a single match, that's it: they're out. On the plus side, it means plenty of time to get those best-of-three series played and guarantees a proper best-of-five grand final on Sunday.
What's the schedule?
The first match, Alliance vs. VP, will be played tomorrow (Saturday 20th of June) at 10.00am CEST (9.00am BST/1.00am PST). After that, matches are scheduled at roughly three hour intervals.
Who are the teams?
Competing this weekend are Virtus.pro, Alliance, Team Secret, Fnatic, Evil Geniuses, Cloud 9, Vici Gaming and Invictus Gaming. Let's run through them one by one.
Despite their victory at DreamLeague, Virtus.pro would not have made many top three lists until very recently. Their aggression and consistency made them the surprise winners of the ESL One seeding bracket, toppling Secret to enter the main event as favourites. A win here would confirm them as serious International contenders. Their first round match-up against Alliance certainly looks favourable for them at the moment, and they're guaranteed not to meet IG or Secret until the grand final.
Once the Kings in the North, Alliance have never quite regained the form they demonstrated at the 2013 International. Having failed to qualify for the International this year, ESL One Frankfurt represents their last shot at glory, at least for the next few months. Their situation is a strange one: they qualified for this tournament in April with a different roster. Having since swapped out Niqua for AdmiralBulldog, they've struggled to find the traction they need to beat better-established teams. Alliance have a lot of experience and they can be brilliant, but ESL One's single-elimination format is punishing to inconsistent teams and that could be their downfall.
A supergroup of sorts, Secret represent the best of the last two years of western Dota. Arteezy and Zai, formerly of EG. Puppey and KuroKy, formerly of Na'Vi. S4, formerly of Alliance. They have a vast amount of collective experience, a lot of former captains, and a lot of former drafters. They can be beaten (Virtus.pro proved that) but they nonetheless remain the team to beat. Of note to newcomers is the fact that they have no sponsor, and belong to no esports organisation. What they win, they keep: and they have a good track record when it comes to winning.
Formerly Team Malaysia, Fnatic represent some of the best of South East Asian Dota. This is a region that has always produced phenomenal players and that has always done well on the world stage, but not well enough to bring home many titles. They stand to do similarly here: their performance in the seeding bracket was better than some, having beaten C9, but they lost to both of the Chinese teams and their prospects against Secret, who they face first, look shaky. Fnatic have a lot of versatile players and something to prove, however: if there's a fairytale result this weekend, Fnatic could be at the centre of it.
While not quite the unstoppable force they once were, EG haven't fallen that far either. They're certainly considered to be at the very top of international Dota. Their run through the seeding bracket was a little rough, however, losing out to IG after claiming wins against Alliance and Vici in the lower bracket. Poor day one performances are an EG tradition, mind, and they may well have found their feet by the weekend. They need to: this single-elimination format provides little room for heroic turnarounds.
Talented but with inconsistent results, it's hard to get a precise read on C9's prospects for the main event. They lost both of their seeding bracket matches, but were playing with a standin, paS, while regular offlaner b0ne7 recovered from an operation. With their full lineup restored, they could cause a real upset. That said, their first match pitches them against IG: right in the deep end against one of the best Chinese teams in the world.
Having won second place at last year's International, Vici didn't do quite as well in the seeding bracket as some might have expected. They certainly seem to do less well in international tournaments than their counterparts, IG. They face EG in their first game, who already beat them in the seeding bracket. Keep an eye out for fy and Fenrir, who have proved themselves over and over as one of the best support pairs in professional Dota.
Last year's ESL One Frankfurt winners return with a new lineup and a third-place finish in the seeding bracket to their name. If they can maintain their momentum, they should do very well: this is a roster of players who are not only world-class, but have been world-class for many years. An unmissable IG-Secret match in the second round seems likely: almost a shame, really, given how many fans would like to see these two face off in the grand final. Their close best-of-five series at Red Bull Battlegrounds remains one of the best pro Dota matches in recent memory.
Check back tomorrow for highlights from the first day of play.