A new professional Dota 2 [official site] season means new, ultra-high-stakes Major tournaments, and the first is upon us: the Boston Major is underway, with a $3,000,000 prize pool and a neat bird-shaped trophy on the line. The event is live right now, and below you'll find all the information you need on the teams and the tournament, as well as the links you need to watch.
In some ways, Valve is stripping back the Majors format for this one – the main event, starting today (the group stages are already complete) is taking over Boston’s Wang Theatre, a smaller and more intimate venue than the usual arena-sized Dotadromes. More pertinently to the teams involved, it’s also the first Valve-sponsored tournament to use a single-elimination, not double-elimination, format; lose one series on the main stage and you’re out, no lower bracket or second chances.
This has actually been the subject of some grumbling, be it from players, casters, analysts and fans. While favourable seeding can be won in the group stage (teams which top their groups can choose their opponent in the first round of sixteen from the 3rd/4th place finishers of other groups), it does mean that the “strongest” teams are only ever one best-of-three away from elimination, the exact same as the “weakest teams” – in double elimination, a successful group stage is at least rewarded with the buffer of an upper bracket seeding.
Critics argue that this lessens the importance of the groups, and that it increases the chances of higher-skilled teams going out unduly early, whether it be to a surprise cheese strat or, as statsman Noxville suggests, the possibility of the two best teams being seeded on the same half of the elimination bracket. Indeed, out of the three teams with the best pre-Major results – Wings Gaming, Evil Geniuses and Virtus.pro – one will drop out in the first round and another won’t make it past the quarter-finals.
Conversely, so say fans of the change, single-elim raises the stakes and ensures that every match is a life-or-death situation for both teams.
As a spectator, it’s easy to gravitate towards the latter argument, but…well, it’s equally hard to ignore the pressure this format must put on the actual competitors. Speaking of which…
There’ll be sixteen teams attempting to ignore the rather precarious bracketing situation, and power through for a prime cut of that prize pool.
Wings Gaming were the obvious first direct invitees, having claimed first place at August’s The International 2016 (TI6), Dota 2’s top honour. Since then, this aggressive, utterly unpredictable Chinese squad has kept on form, notwithstanding a surprise 1-2 loss to WarriorsGaming.Unity in Group A, ending up with a respectable 2nd seed.
US-based, internationally-composed Digital Chaos looked considerably shakier post-TI6, despite taking silver at it. Nonetheless, they’ve put in a commanding performance at Boston, including a gripping comeback in a 70-minute game against LGD.Forever Young. They top Group A undefeated.
After a shock victory in the Southeast Asia qualifiers, WarriorsGaming.Unity – a Malaysian-based team with practically zero international experience – produced an even bigger upset by besting Wings in their Group A clash. They still only finished 3rd, but this surprisingly spirited performance should give pause to any rival squads think they’d be an easy win.
LGD.Forever Young ended at the bottom of Group A, but they are playing with two stand-ins (due to carry Monet and support Lpc failing to secure US visas in time), Vici Gaming’s END and DDC. Unfortunately for LFY, this lineup – led by celebrated Chinese captain Xiao8 – hasn’t meshed as well as they’d have liked, boding ill for the playoffs stage.
Along with Wings, Virtus.pro are a good bet for the top spot; they’ve been carving a bloody path through the season so far, and literally rampaged through Group B. As you’d expect from an entirely CIS-based team, they run an incredibly in-you-face-style, but balance that with moments of strategic brilliance, like this game-turning sneak attack on an undefended Newbee base.
On the subject of Newbee, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call them the best Chinese team in the run-up to Boston, largely thanks to midlaner Sccc’s frequently astonishing plays. They took 2nd in their group, losing only to Virtus.pro, and look set for at least a decent run at the main event.
Team NP, on the other hand, must be quite worried. A likeable band of North American players, including the inimitably chaotic EternaLEnVy and TI5 champion Aui_2000, they’ve done well in recent tournaments and qualifiers but struggled against the more co-ordinated Newbee and VP in Boston. They’ve got Group B’s 3rd spot, and will be hoping for a more favourable match-up on the 7th.
One team having an even more disappointing Major is MVP Phoenix, who finished bottom of Group B without a single series win to their name – despite having performed well enough throughout the autumn to earn a direct invite, and having re-acquired offlane dynamo Forev after his brief stint on Team Secret. MVP have repeatedly gone far in these big tournaments, with unconventional hero picks and a breathlessly aggressive playstyle; they’ll need to tighten up a bit to do so again. At least they gave us one of the most entertaining games so far, this surprise-stuffed showdown against NP.
LGD Gaming aren’t really supposed to be here – they replaced SEA invitees Execration, who pulled out due to visa issues – but have taken Group C by storm, finishing 1st with a perfect 4-0 record. Not bad for a lineup comprised mainly of younger talent, including one of China’s most promising carries in Ame.
Perhaps the biggest surprise (in a tournament already awash with them) has been compLexity Gaming’s run: they secured 2nd seed in Group C by beating arch-nemeses Evil Geniuses not once, but twice (the second game of the second series is a particular corker). This is in spite of ar superior on-paper credentials and the fact that CoL, as they’re known, are playing with a substitute, monkeys-forever, after midlaner jk quit the team in the middle of a match last month.
Evil Geniuses themselves are staring down the barrel of an elimination match against Wings after an unexpectedly middling group stage. Arguably the most consistently high-placing team in Dota, EG had largely appeared to brush off ex-captain PPD and beloved veteran Fear moving into managerial and coaching roles respectively, but at Boston, they’ve proven rather prone to being outmanoeuvred in teamfights.
Team Faceless dominated the SEA region prior to this Major but have faltered at the event itself, ending up bottom of Group C with no wins. Picked apart by LGD (see below), they’ll now need to put themselves back together in time for their main stage clash with Digital Chaos, who recently knocked them out of the Summit 6 LAN in November.
Like Virtus.pro, OG have lived up to their pre-Major hype, sweeping Group D largely on the back of JerAx’s eminently watchable style of battle-support. The loss of star midlaner Miracle- to Team Liquid (who didn’t qualify) hasn’t seemed to slow them down too much, with Australian newcomer Ana playing a similarly domineering role.
EHOME’s path so far has been rougher than other 2nd seeds, being the only ones who didn’t take any clean 2-0 series, instead being pushed to three games in all their matches. Wins are wins, of course – their bigger concern might be that they now face NP, the team responsible for them crashing out of the Northern Arena BEAT Invitational a few weeks ago.
The all-Greek Ad Finem won many hearts with their successful run through the qualifiers, and possibly strained most of them by narrowly losing Group D’s 2nd slot to EHOME. To chuck impartiality aside for a bit, it would be a shame for AF to go out in similar fashion on the main stage – this is a team of friend that’s stuck together through multiple roster shuffles, and when they play well, it shows in some impressively co-ordinated assaults.
Lastly, we have iG Vitality. Boston has not been kind to these guys – two players, super and dogf1ghts, are absent thanks to yet more visa woes, and even with experienced stand-ins BurNing and Q, they couldn’t close out any of their matches with a victory. They now face Virtus.pro at the main event: an even scarier prospect than a US work permit application.
Happily, the Dota 2 metagame hasn’t changed too much from its TI6 status, in the sense that there are no insta-win heroes or strategies, thus allowing teams to play to their individual strengths. That said, Boston has seen a slight shift from the tricksy illusion spam of TI6 to a more straightforward 5v5 teamfight meta. It’s rare to see small skirmishes past the early game, and many teams (particularly compLexity) have been extremely liberal with their buyback spending, maximising the number of heroes they can bring to bear in a brawl.
Thus, the most popular heroes are those that bring great utility to fights. Hot picks include Ogre Magi, a tanky support with good stunning and slowing capabilities, Warlock, who offers healing, disables and a powerful AI summon, and Outworld Devourer, whose ultimate, Sanity’s Eclipse, can be one of the most devastating skills in the game if used at the right time.
As ever, you can watch the Boston Major either on Twitch or within Dota 2 itself. The first game of the main event, Virtus.pro vs iG Vitality, kicked off at 3pm GMT and the event is taking place right now, with the semi-finals and grand finals all taking place on the 10th. That’s a lot of finals!
If this will be your first time watching competitive Dota, or you were just baffled by all the caster-shouted jargon on previous occasions, have a read of our beginner’s guide to spectating.