With four months to go, we grade the 2015 International hopefuls
But unlike previous years, the early class of International favorites is missing some big names. With some unlikely upstarts leading the pack and some shocking names bringing up the rear, this year's field looks to be the most intriguing since the tournament's inception.
A's - Team Secret
Despite some struggles against Alliance in the Starladder group stage, Secret looked as sharp as ever plowing through the Summit 3 qualifier. With a core of players that rises to the moment, the only question for Team Secret is where its ceiling lies. Even with some cracks in the armor beginning to show, the new king of Europe remains safely ensconced in its throne for the time being.
B's - Alliance, Cloud9
After copious roster changes, considerable time out of the spotlight, and some serious frustration from Jonathan "Loda" Berg, Alliance is back. The former "Kings in the North" have found their stride in a pair of carries and a drafter that's turned the "rat lords" into an aggressive force to be reckoned with.
Joining them in this category is the team that supposedly came out on the losing end of the Great Western Roster Shuffle, Cloud9. Tempestuous carry Jacky "EternalEnvy" Mao still brings inconsistent success and an often self-defeating chip on his shoulder to the carry role. But Johan "BigDaddy" Sundstein and Rasmus "Misery" Filipsen have managed to turn "Clown9" into unlikely qualifiers for The Summit 3 with creative play and some world-beating attitude of their own.
C's - Ninjas in Pyjamas, ASUS Polar, Team Empire
Will they win? Won't they? It all depends on the day with this crowd. Empire has looked the strongest team in Europe at times and ASUS Polar has taken down everyone on the continent at one point or another. But, much like their classmate Ninjas in Pyjamas, it all comes down to who shows up when the horn blows. Unlikely to get invites with such top-heavy competition, these embattled squads will no doubt make their mark when qualifiers begin.
F's - Natus Vincere
Roster changes, haphazard play, and a frustrated fan base have the once great house of Na'Vi on the brink. When your fresh batch of freshly poached players packs their bags just weeks later, you know that things are bad.
A's - Evil Geniuses
Was there ever any doubt? With the game's best strategist in Peter "PPD" Dager, the world's most exciting mid-laner in Syed "Sumail" Hassan, and the West's most venerable safelaner in Clinton "Fear" Loomis, Evil Geniuses has simply never looked stronger. With a versatile new core, a bevy of strategies at their disposal, and the current crown of Interim World Champions after the Dota 2 Asia Championships, the Boys in Blue already look the early favorite.
B's - Not Today
Don't sleep on Peru.
The South American force, with Freddy "Smash" Sina at the tip of the spear, gave Evil Geniuses all they could handle in the Summit 3 qualifiers just a few nights ago. Despite a major roster shakeup after its last banner performance, the renewed squad is quickly showing that it is a force to be reckoned with, particularly if other North American sides fail to shore up their game—fast.
C's - Team Tinker, Wheel Whreck, Complexity
Unfortunately for North America, the competitive pool is as bottom-heavy as it gets. Wheel Whreck While Whistling and Complexity have shown the capacity to surmount all but Evil Geniuses. However, the gulf between Evil Geniuses and the North American average is about as big as they come. With Team Tinker still finding form, it's only a matter of time before it moves up the standings. But for Wheel Whreck and Complexity, average is about as much as they can hope for at this point in the year.
D's - Root Gaming
Adding the emotional Brian "Fluffnstuff" Lee to a team of untested, unproven, and unknown hopefuls was perhaps not the right move for an organization whose notoriety has taken a serious nosedive since StarCraft 2. Without a solid leader or veteran experience, the path to an International spot looks impassable without significant growth.
?? - North American Rejects
North American Rejects' qualification for The international last year was nothing short of magic. An incredible surge of polished play from veteran players was the kind of sports-movie fare that fans like to see. With Chris "Ush" Usher in the mix, the ceiling is high for the newcomers, but will lightning strike twice? Only time will tell.
A's - Vici Gaming
A fan poll of possible dream finals for The International 2015 will likely contain some combination of Team Secret, Evil Geniuses, and Vici Gaming. With Lu "Fenrir" Chao and Xu "FY" Linsen providing all you can ask of a support duo, and Chen "Hao "Zhihao now in the carry seat, anything short of the semifinals should be viewed as failure for the squad that already had the world on notice. Throw in inspired off-laning from Daryl "iceiceice" Xiang and consistent potency from Xie "Super" Junhao, and they look like the safe bet for a Chinese champion.
B's - HyperGloryTeam, LGD Gaming, Rave
Surprised? Yeah, me too. If you had proffered these three teams as Asia's B-class, you'd have been laughed off of your respective message board. And yet, here we are.
Despite a rough performance at the Dota 2 Asia Championships, the addition of Zhang "Xiao8" Ning to LGD Gaming has given it Summit-worthy strength in a hurry. Rave, the new fan-favorite, carries the kind of devil-may-care attitude that makes underdogs so dangerous when underestimated. Finally, HyperGloryTeam just continues to... win. No tricks, no big signings, just high-quality Dota 2 played with consistent, dangerous frequency.
C's - Invictus Gaming, EHOME, MVP Phoenix
Welcome to the land of the under-achievers. Despite adding Zhang "Lanm" Zhicheng and Bai "ROTK" Fan, EHOME's Asian campaign has been nothing short of rocky. Still, the squad of stars has shown potential over the past several days in the run-up to The Summit 3.
Invictus Gaming, on the other hand, has little excuse for mediocre form after adding Xu "Burning" Zhilei to its roster. With support strength in Wong "Chuan" Chuan and carry consistency in Luo "Ferrari" Feichi, Invictus Gaming's lack of results as of late has been puzzling to say the least. Still, with several months to The International, the team has more than enough potential to rise in the ranks, provided it finds its chemistry.
D's - Newbee, TongFu
Overnight millionaires and an Asian stalwart round out the D class. Clearly there's more than just logistics to alleviate if these once-proud houses are to find strength before the qualifiers begin.
With China's unlikely A-students, North America's over-achievers, and Europe's top-heavy competition, the potential field for the 2015 International already looks taut. While the field will surely change shape as teams rise and fall, the race to Seattle is already well under way.
Photo courtesy of Dota 2 The International/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)