Gauging the Dota 2 Asia Championships contenders
The International is a well-trod test of Dota's finest at a time when all sides have assembled the best combination of talent, creativity, and reliability they can master. The Dota 2 Asia Championships, in stark contrast, will serve as an unsatisfying litmus test of team cohesion in the wake of upturned rosters and surprising swaps.
So instead of breaking down Shanghai's hopefuls by competitive strength, I decided to look at each team based on their completeness, cohesion, and progression. Some teams enter the contest firing on all cylinders while others limp in with blank t-shirts for jerseys. In either instance, the post-shakeup showdown is sure to be as unpredictable as Arteezy's Ember Spirit (read: very).
Big God (95 percent)
There's little mystery behind Big God. You know the names (Xu "Burning" Zhilei, Zhang "Xiao8" Ning, and Bai "ROTK" Fan, and Zhang "Lanm" Zhicheng), you know their copious achievements, and you know what they're capable of. The only real question is what this (or any) competition means to the reunion tour of Chinese Dota legends. For that reason, there will always be an air of uncertainty surrounding this star-studded lineup.
CDEC (15 percent)
CDEC were once the surprising success of the D2L. Since their split with LGD Gaming, however, things have been rough to say the least. With an incomplete roster of unknowns in charge of its campaign, CDEC could be literally anything by the time The International rolls around.
Cloud9 (25 percent)
Cloud9 should carry a Surgeon General's warning at the Dota 2 Asia Championships: Prognosticating on this particular team at this particular tournament is sure to give once-hopeful fans a heart-attack. Whatever the North American side was before is gone as recent moves have undone one of the longest running rosters in competitive Dota. With the entire support corps playing on a probationary basis, fans of Jacky "EternalEnvy" Mao and co. should temper their expectations, but not take wins or losses too seriously.
EHOME (80 percent)
We know Chai "Mushi" Yee Fung. We know LV Gaming. We know that the two easily handled the D2L LAN finals. The only question surrounding this team is the height of its ceiling. Regardless of its placement at this tournament, EHOME is only just beginning what's sure to be a striking surge of strength in the countdown to August.
Evil Geniuses (45 percent)
I suggest a wager: If you can successfully predict what will happen to Evil Geniuses with the departure of Artour "Arteezy" Babaev and Ludwig "Zai" Wahlberg, you can have the contents of my bank account (joke's on you—I'm a writer).
Who is Syed "Sumail" Hassan when the lights are shining? Will Kurtis "Aui 2000" Ling commit to Peter "PPD" Dager's system? Can Saahil "Universe" Arora and Clinton "Fear" Loomis pick up the slack in Babaev's absence? The Dota 2 Asia Championship will certainly give us a peak into this new lineup's development, but the ultimate destiny of the "Boys in Blue" is as cloudy as a Seattle summer.
HellRaisers (90 percent)
The squad that won the European qualifier took many teams by surprise over three days of action, but they're unlikely to sneak up on anyone in Shanghai. What's known is that this team is clicking at a time when Europe lies in disarray. What's unknown is whether this CIS roster will follow in the footsteps of other CIS sides like Empire and Virtus Pro and lose their fire before The International. Sitting at a crossroads, the Dota 2 Asia Championships will define this team for several months to come.
Invictus Gaming (60 percent)
The glow of Cruel Catastrophic Memory has long since faded from the house of Invictus Gaming, but you can't keep the black and white down for long. With a solid core in Luo "Luo" Yinqi, Luo "Ferrari 430" Feichi, and Wong "Chuan" Hock Chuan, Invictus Gaming always has the potential to make waves when Chinese sides clash, but too many questions remain unanswered to put money on the house that Ferrari built.
LGD Gaming (100 percent)
Sleep on LGD at your own peril. The team that opened 2015 with an i-League win over Dota 2 Asia Championships wildcard qualifiers HyperGloryTeam continues a strong run of momentum from late 2014. With a practiced, seasoned roster that includes names like "Liu "Sylar" Jiajun, Yao "Yao" Zhengzheng, and Lei "MMY" Zengrong, LGD looks to crowd out even the most hopeful of Western sides when pool play begins.
MVP Phoenix (100 percent)
MVP Phoenix is what MVP Phoenix always has been: an anomaly. In the country that invented esports, Korea continues to struggle, though MVP has nearly always been their shining hope for international parity. Fans shouldn't expect too much from the team because they already know what to expect: clever, creative, well-drilled play that always falls just short when the moment reaches a fever pitch.
Newbee (100 percent)
If you're sitting in Europe or North America right now, hoping for the mid-year checkpoint to present a glimmer of Western hope, I have one word for you: Newbee. The world's strongest team/overnight millionaires looks even stronger now than it did at the same point last season, moving from strength to strength with the acquisition of Wang "Rabbit" Zhang in the wake of Zhang "Xiao8" Ning's retirement. If you're looking to ride an uncontroversial band wagon all the way to an International repeat, buy your Newbee t-shirts now; the Aegis of Champions remains its to lose, and there's little uncertainty in that fact.
Rave (100 percent)
Rave fans feel free to shoot me angry emails, but we know who this team is, and they aren't even as good as MVP Phoenix. There's little hope of a surprise southeast asian champion in Shanghai this year.
Team Secret (40 percent)
Fans of both Secret and Western Dota have high hopes for this new-look unit, but gauging their performance at this week's tournament is a dangerous exercise indeed. If you've been around esports for more than a year, you know that "bootcamps" are far from a quick fix for team chemistry, and Secret's Chinese experiment is sure to confirm that understanding. Furthermore, how will Babaev and Wahlberg, apparently strong personalities in their own respects, fit with Dota's most domineering voice: Clement "Puppey" Ivanov? This team could beat Newbee to a pulp, or fizzle out before June, but the Dota 2 Asia Championships is unlikely to portend which outcome will transpire.
TongFu (?? percent)
Who is this team? How good can they be? The players barely register on the competitive radar. But they outlasted CDEC, EHOME, Big God, and Hyper Glory Team en route to the top Asian qualifier spot. The scariest thing about TongFu is that no one knows where they stand, how good they will be, or how much developing they have left to do. And that, fellow fans of unpredictable Dota 2, is very good news indeed.
Vici Gaming (100 percent)
You know this team. You love this team. You know that, among Chinese sides, its most likely to topple Newbee should the winds blow the right way. Dominik "Black" Reitmeier and Daryl Koh "iceiceice" Pei Xiang will ride into another tourney looking to make a statement, and they're unlikely to surprise in their excellence.
The moral of the story is simple: don't put down your favorite horse if they finish poorly at the Dota 2 Asia Championships. The field of international contenders is too unpredictable at this point to hang your hopes on the results to come. Rest assured, however, that whatever transpires in Shanghai is sure to entertain, and we have the Great Western Reshuffle, the will-breaking tension of the moment, and the looming size of the prize pool to thank for that fact.