There’s a new tournament on the calendar, and it seems like a massive one! The Riyadh Masters will be one of the biggest Dota 2 tournaments yet. Ben “Noxville” Steenhuisen takes a look at the nine participating teams that didn’t play at the Bali Major, and weighs in on how they will stack up.
In the competitive Dota universe, the last event of every season is The International (TI). It’s the biggest and most prestigious, and the event that even non-enthusiast Dota 2 fans tune in to watch. There will still be a TI this year, but in terms of prize pool at least, the Riyadh Masters might eclipse it - $15 million is up for grabs, which is the 10th-largest prize pool of all time in all of esports (and eighth-largest in Dota 2). Riyadh is going to be a marathon – it will likely be the second-longest LAN event in Dota 2 history (after TI 2022’s 231 games), and in a similar fashion to TI, it will develop its own meta.
A very competitive tournament
The competitive field is astoundingly strong - 18 of the top 19 teams by historic Glicko-2 ratings will be present. When considering the top 16 teams, it will be the highest average-rated Dota 2 LAN event of all time - peaking just above the Berlin Major earlier this year. It also includes all 12 of the direct invitees to The International 2023 based on DPC points.
If we were to ignore the half-year-long qualification process entirely and just invite the current strongest teams, there are only a small number of slight improvements to this field that could be made. However, the format of the event itself corrects many of these issues. There is a play-in stage for 12 teams, of which four will eventually be eliminated. The remaining eight teams will join the eight direct-to-groups invited teams in the group stage, which will follow the current event standard of a two-group round-robin group stage into double-elimination playoffs.
Looking at the last international LAN event (the Bali Major) which finished just over a week ago, 13 teams from Bali will feature at Riyadh - a huge proportion of the field. Five teams who were in Bali will miss out (Azure Ray, BLEED, Blacklist, nouns, and Invictus Gaming), whilst seven teams who missed Bali will be attending. Rather than presenting a full power ranking of the 20 teams, we will instead look at how these seven teams will fit in. We will also look at which other teams we expect to have changed performance-wise since Bali.
What are the expected placements for the Riyadh Masters?
First up are Talon Esports and TSM - both are locked for The International despite missing the final major.
There has been a lot of unwarranted negativity towards TSM surrounding their TI qualification, and although Riyadh is an opportunity to silence those haters, it will be a difficult task. In DreamLeague S20, they were eliminated in the group stage, however, they had six draws (vs. PSG.LGD, Evil Geniuses (EG), Talon, Tundra, Secret, and Spirit) and just a single 0-2 loss (vs. Team Liquid). The group was so tight that just three map wins (every team played 14 maps) separated first and last place. What is unfortunate for them in Riyadh is that I don’t expect them to make the top two in their group in the play-in stage. Therefore, they will probably go into the decider matches, where the specific matchup is extremely important - so a 17-20th placement seems like a fair prediction for them.
Talon Esports, on the other hand, have a relaxing opening few days, since they made it directly into the group stage and therefore they will skip the play-in stage. Their potential range in this group stage is wide - although based on their history this season, I would expect them to come close to the fourth/fifth cut off point and then hope the playoff bracket is favourable. However, considering their absence in Bali and a poor Tour 3, I think we are forced to adjust them down slightly. I think their expected placement will be ninth-12th, but part of me feels even more pessimistic and perhaps they even might be 13-14th. That said, I would love to be wrong about them - it is just hard to remain positive about a team that messed up regionals in a region that has struggled so much this year.
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Virtus.pro (VP) have not been to a single LAN event since The International 2021. They have consistently finished fourth in the DPC EEU Tours - shut out by Team Spirit, 9Pandas (formerly Hellraisers), and BetBoom Team. There is a clear similarity between them and TSM: both come from regions where there is a clear hierarchy above them (and those teams are known and respected internationally). However, the difference between them is twofold: the regional depth (VP have three of those teams above them in EEU, while TSM have just one - although nouns are competing directly with them) and LAN experience (VP have been completely roadblocked, whereas TSM have been able to make it to a few LANs). Overall, 17-20th seems like the right placement for them, but given their lack of international exposure, they could perhaps exceed our expectations and triumph against teams that are not prepared for them.
Entity started the season in a fine fashion with a fifth-sixth place finish in the first major, but have since performed dismally. They have managed to survive relegation, but haven’t attended any majors since, and came in last place in both DreamLeague S19 and S20. Just a week ago, they made a replacement, dropping Tobias "Tobi" Buchner and bringing in Kim "Gabbi" Santos - but this seems like a ‘Hail Mary’ play. Their group in the play-in stage is one they could top two in (it is unlikely, but since teams only play 10 maps, a single series upset could prove crucial), but what’s unfortunate for them are the possible matchups in the decider. 15-16th seems a middle-of-the-road prediction, but I would not be surprised with a placement one higher or lower than this.
In a manner similar to but slightly different to VP, Team Secret have not been to a LAN event since The International 2022. They were relegated from Division 1 to 2, promoted back to Div 1, and next year will be starting in Div 2. DreamLeague S20 wasn’t too bad for them - one more map win during the group stage would have let them avoid tiebreakers (and secure a guaranteed top eight finish). However, it was not meant to be, as they were eliminated in 11-12th place. I don’t expect them to place in the top two in their play-in group, but I do think it’s possible for them to win their decider match. Once they are in the main group stage, anything could happen, but the most likely outcome is elimination - setting them up for a 15-16th place finish. Like my Entity prediction above, it could go slightly better or worse for Secret.
It has been one of the craziest years in Chinese Dota, with the first major having two teams eventually banned for match-fixing/cheating, and the region has slowly been recovering since. Xtreme surprised many with a first place Tour 2 DPC regional league result (fifth place in Tour 1), but finished ninth-12th in Berlin, and then slumped back to fifth regionally in Tour 3. They’ve made a roster change, losing the iconic Hu "Kaka" Liangzhi, but gaining TI 2021 finalist Zhao "XinQ" Zixing. It is hard to know how this will impact their team dynamic, so I’ll give a slightly wider range and say 15-16th or 13-14th - simply because I think their decider match will be favourable.
Like Secret, OG Esports are in Group B of the play-ins, which means that if they go into the decider they will be matched up against a Group A team. I think that this is probably a favourable situation for OG, so their chances of advancing to the main group stage are good. It is hard to call it beyond that, though. OG have made some changes with Sébastien "Ceb" Debs stepping in to play as their temporary position four, and despite the fact that subs are normally net-negative… it is OG we are talking about here, they thrive under these conditions. I think ninth-12th feels appropriate, but it is hard to tell if I’m overcompensating for the OG effect, or just undervaluing how strong the field is.
More teams that have made changes
Quest were unable to reach a deal with Ammar "ATF" Al-Assaf and Nigma Galaxy, so “ATF” has left their team and Abdimalik "Malik" Sailau (from Natus Vincere) will be their substitute. Quest were a good team before “ATF”, but really seemed to perform well with him. This definitely means we need to adjust our expectations for Quest downwards, but probably not by a huge amount.
When “kaka” left Xtreme, he joined Team Aster - displacing Ye "BoBoKa" Zhibiao. This ended the long-term partnership between “BoBoKa” and Lin "Xxs" Jing (1,755 pro matches, the longest partnership in competitive Dota 2 history). Perhaps this was out of frustration - Aster had been unable to make the top six in an international event this year, and were always on the border of major qualification (first to fourth place within Chinese regional leagues). In recent times, Aster have been a statistically better team than Xtreme, and I imagine that will stay the same. A change like this is a risk - maybe their potential to gain a few places goes up, but so does the chance to lose ground.