MDL Day 1 recap: LGD cleans up, SumaiL soars

Clutch Gamers on the other hand...

Image via Valve

Last night, eight of the world’s top Dota 2 teams gathered in Wuhan, China for the first day of the Mars Dota 2 League, one of the last LANs before The International 7 in August. As such, it’s one of the final chances for teams to prove their mettle before Dota 2’s most prestigious tournament.

Like many tournaments, MDL is played in two phases: A round-robin group stage that determines seeding for a double-elimination playoff bracket. The top four teams head to the upper bracket, while the bottom four begin in the lower bracket. On the first day of MDL, teams played the first half of the round robin, and though no teams have yet been eliminated, some major trends nonetheless have emerged after the first round of games.

LGD Gaming Cleans Up

Chinese Dota 2 can be a bit of a black box for Western audiences, but MDL, which is (understandably) heavy on Chinese teams, is a chance for North American and European fans to take stock of the region in the weeks leading up to The International. With a flawless 4-0 record at the end of day one, LGD is making a strong case not only for deserving their spot at The International, but also for being the best team in China.

Though LGD did not receive a direct invitation to The International, instead earning their spot through the notoriously fickle Chinese qualifiers, the team has already defeated one of the other qualifying Chinese teams, LGD.Forever Young, and defeated Evil Geniuses, MDL’s defending champions. Tomorrow, they’ll face two teams that received direct invitations to The International—Newbee and Invictus Gaming—as well as Vici Gaming.

Not-So-Clutch Gamers  

Ever since TNC Gaming surprised the world with a sixth place finish at The International 6, it’s been the general consensus of the Dota 2 community that the SEA region is on the rise, lead largely by TNC and Fnatic. But if Clutch Gamers’ performance at MDL is any indication, whatever success has come to the region hasn’t exactly raised all boats. So far, Clutch Gamers has looked thoroughly outclassed in each of their four matches at MDL, and their winless record more-or-less guarantees that they’ll be consigned to the lower bracket.

Still though, many are quick to tear the team down—it’s worth remembering that this is the team’s third international LAN (and only their second one outside of the Philippines), all of which have been played against super-elite teams. That the relatively inexperienced team isn’t performing well isn’t exactly a surprise. It’s still possible that they pull out a stronger version of themselves tomorrow, but for now, Clutch Gamers’ anemic performance indicates that they just aren’t ready to compete with top international teams.

More Genius than Evil

Evil Geniuses has performed admirably, losing to LGD, beating OG, and walloping poor Clutch Gamers. Because every match is a best-of-one, it’s far too soon to make any claims about the relative strength of Evil Geniuses and other elite teams. The real story, as far as we’re concerned, is Syed “SumaiL” Hassan’s very unorthodox but undeniably cool pickup of a Blink Dagger on Storm Spirit, a mobility item on one of the game’s highest mobility heroes.

The genius of SumaiL is not simply in his ability to play standard better than just about anyone else in the world, but also to realize when playing standard isn’t what’s needed and instantly theorycraft his way into a solution. In this case, all Evil Geniuses needed to do was win a single, climactic fight against OG. Blink Dagger’s long-term utility on Storm Spirit is dubious, but in this case, it was beside the point. During a teamfight near OG’s bottom tier three tower, SumaiL expends nearly all his mana. Yet the Blink Dagger allows him to jump to the high ground at no cost and score game-winning kills against Shadow Shaman and Arc Warden.

Towards a New Meta

It’s only been a few days since Patch 7.06e dropped, so it’s too early to draw any wide-reaching conclusions about how the patch is shaping Dota 2’s metagame. So far, the only serious change is the widespread abandonment of Night Stalker, which dominated the qualifiers for The International 7 but has only been picked once so far at MDL following serious nerfs to his early game roaming potential. For the most part, the picks and bans of 7.06e look a lot like the picks and bans of 7.05d.

Despite a truly dreadful winrate (25 percent), Batrider is the tournament’s most popular hero, while Earthshaker is its winningest, with seven wins in as many games. Chaos Knight has also made somewhat of a comeback (three games, 100 percent win rate), as has Tidehunter (three games, three wins). All that said, major tournaments like MDL tend to be an incubator for the competitive metagame, and, as I write, the players in Wuhan (along with their analysts) are likely reviewing the day’s games and tweaking their strategies accordingly. What tomorrow’s games will look like, then, is anyone’s guess.