A look at what might unfold at ESL One Hamburg

The first Major of the season has everyone's attention—and not just because of the Dota.

Image via Valve

If you had told us five years ago that Mercedes-Benz and Pringles would both be big sponsors of a Dota 2 tournament worth $1 million in prize money, we’d have called you crazy. More so considering that the tournament in question isn’t The International.

ESL One Hamburg is an official Dota 2 Pro Circuit Major, with a million bucks on the line alongside a whopping 1,500 qualification points for TI8. It will be the very first Major tournament under the new Pro Circuit ruleset, and the second Valve Major since the Frankfurt Major held in 2016.

Some of the world’s best teams will gather today at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany, to do battle over four days of play. The event will begin with a GSL-style group stage, followed by an all best-of-3 playoff bracket.

Yes, that does include the grand finals. Despite its status as a Major, ESL One Hamburg will not feature more than eight squads in the field, and will conclude after a maximum of three games in the final match. ESL did make a statement about these aspects last week, however, explaining that the event had already been set in stone before the announcement of the Pro Circuit rules.

Either way, there should still be some great games in store for fans in attendance and those watching at home.

First outing of the new year

For teams like Fnatic, Keen Gaming, and Virtus.pro, ESL One Hamburg will serve as their first Pro Circuit event of the season. While Keen and VP will both be working with the very same lineups they had in the previous season, Fnatic will be fielding their almost entirely new roster here.

Though Fnatic participated in a small LAN in Malaysia just last week, this will be the first real test for Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao, Johan “pieliedie” Åström, and Steve “Xcalibur” Ye as new members of the Malaysian squad. Given the success that the first two enjoyed in Team NP last season, Fnatic fans will be hoping for a strong performance.

However Fnatic failed to qualify for the event. Instead, they’ll be taking the place of Filipino team HappyFeet, who unfortunately could not attend due to visa issues.

As for Keen and VP, they’ve both decided to go the Newbee route. Sticking with the gameplan even after the former missed TI7 entirely and the latter was eliminated early in the tournament, it’s clear that they both think that their current rosters have something special going on. VP needs little introduction at this point—they’re still the best the CIS region has to offer and all five players can go on a tear at any event.

Keen Gaming actually got here by taking down tier 1 Chinese teams, with LGD Gaming being their most proud conquest in that qualifier run. This accomplishment was no simple task, and gives the impression that this is a team with some true potential.

There’s no better way for these kids to test their mettle than to dive headfirst into a premier LAN with high stakes involved. If there was one underdog team to watch this weekend, it’d be Keen for sure.

More chances at redemption

TI7 silver medalists Newbee had an extremely rough start to the season. Going 0-4 in games at the StarLadder i-League Invitational two weeks ago is really not how they had envisioned things would go early on, but Chinese teams have traditionally struggled right after TI.

This is a big chance for them to redeem themselves, but just like at StarLadder it won’t be easy here in Hamburg. Team Liquid, the team that destroyed them at the TI7 grand finals, will be at the event as well.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the two teams won’t meet in the playoff bracket depending on how the groups go. But if the opposite happens, Song “Sccc” Chun and his teammates will have quite the mountain to climb.

Then there’s Team Secret, a squad that has shown fantastic play over the last two weeks but without the results to back it up. Top 4 at StarLadder was certainly respectable, but their early exit from the PGL Open last week was disappointing to say the least.

Looking at the personnel on this team, they’ve definitely got the tools to make a deep run. It’s just a matter of fleshing out their teamwork and refining their synergy, which they’ve hopefully figured out after the first two events of the year.

Lastly, we’ve got the Evil Geniuses and SG e-sports. While the Brazilians aren’t likely to make it far here, EG should get into the playoffs with relative ease. In fact, had LGD not been hot last week at the PGL Open, it would have been EG against Mineski in the grand finals. Though their redemption story here isn’t as big as those of Newbee and Secret, we’re sure they wanted more than just a fourth place finish in Bucharest.