Dota 2 expert Ben "Noxville" Steenhuisen is gearing up for The International 12 and so are we! “Noxville” has taken a look at the teams entering the competition for us, and has ranked them from Tier D to the top of the board with his Tier S teams. Read on to see where each team ranks!
In just a few days, Dota will return to Seattle, Washington for what might be the most unusual The International tournament ever. The tournament is trending towards its lowest prize pool in nine years, the schedule and format have changed drastically, and a balance patch has just been released which will undoubtedly impact the preparation the teams have made. With of all these changes, the one thing I trust to remain consistent from prior years is excellent Dota 2 - and the field this year seems more open than it has been in ages. Let’s go through some rough Power Rankings - but beware, these don’t consider the all-important group stage draw, which could make runs for some teams much easier (or more difficult).
Let’s start off with the D-Tier, and as you’d expect it’s Regional Qualifier teams from regions that don’t have as much perceived depth, and have had limited international LAN experience this season. Nouns were at the Bali Major, but were eliminated in the group stage with a 5-11 record. Despite being North America’s third best team, they’ve struggled in some online events against teams who were not at all TI-qualification contenders. In a similar situation, Virtus.pro qualified for just one significant LAN (the Riyadh Masters) and dropped out after a disappointing group stage. In a region with such a high quality top end, they’ve been constantly blocked by Team Spirit, BetBoom Team, and 9Pandas – who are all excellent teams.
Keyd Stars were one of the biggest shocks of the Regional Qualifiers. They’d flown mostly under the radar this season, dropping down to Division 2 for Tour 3, but performed well in the smaller Americas tournaments. They were seeded fourth, but this was due to DPC points accrued right at the start of the season. Their team does have four players with experience at The International, however.
Thunder Awaken is an organisation familiar to The International, placing fifth-sixth last year with an incredible run. This year, however, their team has been completely different, and similar to Virtus.pro, they’ve been stuck behind Evil Geniuses and beastcoast when it comes to top tier LAN events qualifiers. They’ve done a better job than Keyd Stars in cleaning up the various online events available to them, though.
Perhaps the most obvious team to jump up to C-Tier is Entity, who managed to qualify through the Western Europe qualifiers - regarded as one of the most highly skilled regions. Their run was short, but quite clean - a 6-1 aggregate score with wins over Nigma Galaxy, Team Secret, and Luna Galaxy. Entity were a formidable force at the start of the season, qualifying for the Lima Major and then placing fifth-sixth. They were then cut off from the majors, with too many good teams in Western Europe and too few major slots. In the Riyadh Masters and DreamLeague S19/S20 events they looked like a shadow of their former selves - but more recently, something clicked. They secured a top six finish in DreamLeague S21 just weeks ago against a strong field, although events so close to The International are often perceived to be less important as teams experiment a little.
The two teams from South America, beastcoast and Evil Geniuses, have been jousting the entire season – with beastcoast winning two of the three SA tours to EG’s one. EG were performing much better in cross-regional LAN events in the first two thirds of the season (top six in Lima, fourth in Berlin, and seventh and sixth in DreamLeague S19 and S20, respectively), but have dropped off, while beastcoast have improved (top eight in Bali, fourth in BetBoom Dacha). It might be that the shorter group stage format at this TI suits both of them, in that they are able to focus more heavily on just four individual team matchups instead of eight or nine. However, it’s hard to predict how either of them will perform.
One of the teams that has been relatively consistent this season is TSM. They’ve done well in North American events, including the DPC Tours (winning two of the three), but on an international stage they’re mostly in that 13-14th range (Lima, DreamLeague S20, Riyadh Masters). They’ve underperformed once (Berlin - 17th-18th) and overperformed twice (DreamLeague S19 - eighth, BetBoom Dacha - second in an eight team event), but for the most part, they are a good benchmark team for this tier.
The SEA Regional Qualifier was certainly wide open, but the experimental Team SMG were able to capture it in a remarkable fashion (9-2 in maps). I call the team experimental because just two weeks before the qualifiers began, Volodymyr "No[o]ne-" Minenko joined the team, bringing a new and unexpected style and type of attack to the team. Whilst SMG have remained in Division 1 this season, they’ve only finished a single tournament (15-16th in the Berlin Major). Despite this, I put a lot of stock in the experience and skill that this roster have. It must be said that there are rumours that Ivan "MinD_ContRoL" Ivanov might stand in for Natthaphon "Masaros" Ouanphakdee, and Clement "Puppey" Ivanov might be involved with the team. If either of these are true, it could change the dynamic of this team entirely.
The B-Tier is the buffer zone - a space where I can’t really decide where they belong (and perhaps this tier could include another team or two from the C or A-Tiers).
Shopify Rebellion’s core have been together for ages, yet have always varied wildly in results. This season, they have placed top four at three big international cross-regional events (fourth in Lima, third in DreamLeague S19, second in DreamLeague S20), but also placed below the top eight at four other events (Berlin, DreamLeague S20, Bali, and the Riyadh Masters). They are a team with lots of potential, lots of individual skill, and huge experience - but sometimes it just doesn’t come together.
9Pandas (the squad that was formerly HellRaisers) are a team that have done consistently well, but have never strung enough matches together to win a cross-regional event. Ninth-12th at Lima, third in Berlin, fifth-sixth in Bali and Riyadh, and top eight in DreamLeague S20 and S21. The fact that there are eight teams combined in the S-Tier and A-Tier (suggesting 9Pandas are ninth at best in these power rankings) is simply because 9Pandas have been consistently good, but never great. Other teams have, at times, shown higher ceilings. With great leadership in the form of Alexey "Solo" Berezin, perhaps a journey to the Aegis is possible - but for me, there are other teams that seem more promising.
Given a few more events, I’d possibly have pushed Azure Ray up a tier, but there’s really not enough data to judge them accurately. They were formed in Tour 3 from the remnants of Ybb Gaming, narrowly qualified for the Bali major, and then placed top eight. In the Chinese Regional Qualifiers, they advanced through the Winner’s Bracket, only to meet and beat Xtreme Gaming twice. Their captain, Xu "fy" Linsen, is the fourth most experienced Dota 2 player (2,354 games), and Lu "Somnus" Yao isn’t far behind him (2,087 games, 13th most experienced player). Yang "Chalice" Shenyi is no slouch either, with two top three finishes at prior iterations of The International. There’s a lot of skill and experience here, but their synergy and mental fortitude on a big stage will be what makes or breaks it for them.
Talon Esports were the shining star of SEA this year. Third place at the Lima Major (one of the craziest runs of the season), fourth at DreamLeague S20, and third in the Riyadh Masters might be enough to convince many that they should be in the S-Tier. I am a tiny bit more pessimistic however, I think Talon’s success comes from longer group stages where they can adapt, tinker, and build momentum for the playoffs. With a shorter group stage format this year, I think it hurts them. It’s also possible the opposite is true - that their key strength is individual matchups (not preparing for a wider field of six or eight teams) and they will crush this group stage.
Tundra Esports have shown they are very scary when the patch bends and distorts in just the right way for them. That said, they’ve had to do a little shuffle internally, as Martin "Saksa" Sazdov is taking a medical break, and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen has joined the team - and we only have their DreamLeague S21 result to evaluate how this is working (they came fifth-sixth). In the same way that “No[o]ne-“ changed the shape of attack for SMG, “Topson” has the capacity to do that for Tundra – however, the required sacrifices in the other lanes might be significant. A big indicator of Tundra’s success will be how Neta "33" Shapira is able to perform - will the metagame that develops at The International suit him and his lane-dominating antics, or will he have to make do with the scraps as “Topson” and Oliver "skiter" Lepko become the late game playmakers?
One of the late blooming teams, Quest Esports came up from Division 2 in Tour 1, missed out on the Berlin Major on a tiebreaker in Div 2, and finally made it to a major in Tour 3 (Bali). There they placed fourth, and their popularity soared. They qualified for the Riyadh Masters via the MENA Qualifier, and finished a respectable seventh-eighth. Their group stage was great (9-5 in map score), and perhaps they were unlucky to meet Gaimin Gladiators in an elimination match in the lower bracket. Their Western Europe TI Qualifier was a bit shaky with a loss to Luna Galaxy, but they bounced back to take the second qualifier slot. Overall, they are a well-rounded team that has consistently improved over an extended period of time, and a team full of playmakers makes it hard for them to be shut down.
In terms of pure match-level stats, it could be said that BetBoom belong in the S-Tier. Their current Glicko 2 rating is above that of Liquid - but ultimately, their event-level results are not as good nor as consistent as any of the S-Tier teams. This suggests that they can beat good teams, but are unable to convert that success into trophies. They’ve done better in the non-DPC events: finishing second in DreamLeague S20 and in the top six at the Riyadh Masters. Their DreamLeague S20 final against Gaimin Gladiators was one of the few times a true Gaimin challenger appeared in the season.
The year started roughly for Chinese Dota, with the Team Knights/EHOME scandal and poor results all round as LGD Gaming came ninth-12th. In Berlin and Riyadh, they repeated the same result. In the Bali Major they managed to sneak a top six finish, and in DreamLeague S20, a third place finish - their only cross-regional podium finish of the season. Overall, they’ve been eliminated twice by Quest, and once each by Gaimin, Talon, and Spirit - teams who are in the A-Tier or S-Tier of these rankings. LGD are a solid team that can take individual games off anyone, but in the playoffs they sometimes hit a brick wall. Something about DreamLeague S20 was different - even in the second group stage they went 6-1 and looked extremely impressive against a strong field, and if they’re able to replicate that level of intensity here, they could be excellent.
The S-Tier is the simplest, since it’s all the teams that have looked truly excellent this year. So much analysis and discussion has been centred around these teams - but I feel afraid to call them the favourites simply because of “The International curse”, where the favourites never win!
Gaimin Gladiators won a lot of events this season: Lima, DreamLeague S19, Berlin, DreamLeague S20, Bali, BetBoom Dacha.
Team Liquid made the finals of a lot of big events: Lima, DreamLeague S19, Berlin, Bali, the Riyadh Masters - but never won any!
Team Spirit were mediocre for most of this season, with a seventh-eighth in Lima and ninth-12th at the other two majors. They excelled in the ESL Pro Tour however, with a fifth place finish in DreamLeague S20, before going on to win the Riyadh Masters and DreamLeague S21. They’re in form, and have shown they can absolutely crush anyone when things are going their way.
If I had to pick an exact ordering right now I’d go Spirit > Gaimin > Liquid.