This week ESL returns to Hamburg for their first event of the 2018/’19 Dota 2 season. Despite being the third significant LAN of this new season, there’s very little cross-regional information available about the teams participating - the qualifiers for the upcoming Dreamleague Minor and PGL Major having taken place a month ago.
Although not part of the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC), ESL has managed to attract the likes of multiple well known teams, including Virtus Pro (won 3 of the last 4 ESL events and 5th-6th place at The International 8), Evil Geniuses (3rd place at TI8) and Team Secret (runner up at ESL Hamburg last year, and 5th-6th at TI8).
Both Evil Geniuses and Forward Gaming will have to play with standins as the Hassan brothers both had visa issues for this event. As a result CCnC will play for SumaiL, and Excalibur will play for Yawar. This will obviously have a slightly negative impact for both teams.
Although not a standin, Skem (aka Skemberlu) will finally join up with his team in Complexity - they are scrimming together for the first time as I write this article. It will be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to his new team, and (should Complexity make it to playoffs) perform on the big stage.
Ppd returns, but with a Ninjas in Pyjamas jersey replacing his OpTiC one from last season. He’s stuck together with 33, but also joined forces with the duo of Fata and Ace formerly on Secret, as well as Saksa.
Pain has just one change from their TI8 lineup, with Misery coming in for Duster. They looked reasonable at the very recent Red Bull Guardians event (despite the unconventional format), but were outclassed by Mineski.
China brings in two very strong teams: Aster and VIci Gaming. Whilst Aster convincingly beat Vici in the Kuala Lumpur Major Qualifiers, they ended up losing twice to LGD (but still qualified). Even in the qualifiers for Hamburg things were not easy for Aster as they were forced to replay matches after it was discovered they had swapped accounts to swap heroes. It seems like a power struggle to be the top team in China (along with LGD), and Hamburg would be a great morale-boosting start to the season for any of them.
Alliance remain unchanged since their TI8 qualifier run that fell just short from making playoffs. EVOS remain the wildcard coming into this event after losing to TNC in the qualifiers, but beating them in the visa struggle.
A notable difference from the 12-team ESL Birmingham event that capped off the previous season for ESL in May is a new and improved format. Two groups of six teams will play a two-game-series round robin. The top 2 per group will slide into the winners bracket of an eight-team Double Elimination bracket. The middle 2 teams per group will slide into the lower bracket, and the bottom 2 teams will be eliminated.
This format is definitely a big step up from the last few ESL events - and with more matches on each arena day the fans will also appreciate it. It rewards good group-stage performance, but also makes each playoff match exciting and valuable.
I think that EG, Forward and Complexity won’t be firing on all cylinders due to the aforementioned roster snafus, whereas Secret, VP and the two Chinese teams will be fine. Mineski haven’t looked good within their region, losing all matches in the Major Qualifiers and then their first game of the Minor Open Qualifier.
Finals: Virtus Pro (is there another Mercedes on the line?) beating Vici Gaming.