The International is omnipresent in the Dota world. Teams spend their entire year gearing up for a chance to become overnight millionaires. Even if squads fall short, the experience and sponsorship exposure are critical, making it one of the most crucial events in all of esports.
There’s a lot at stake, and few can argue that the game’s main attraction looms like a cloud over the entire scene. Since 2011, Valve’s handling of the critical event has been exemplary. This year, however, a routine invite will certainly dent the tournament’s sterling reputation for taut competition.
While 90 percent of Valve’s invites strike a note of good sense, (particularly with Virtus Pro’s track record of consistency winning out over upstarts Ninjas in Pyjamas and Alliance) one name likely left Dota fans scratching their heads: Newbee, last year’s runaway champions.
Superficially, the invite makes sense. The Chinese squad found success early in 2014 and crescendo-ed elegantly to The International championship. Since August, however, the team that hoisted the Aegis of Champions rapidly and spectacularly evaporated from the competitive pantheon. And because of tradition, at least one more deserving side will sit at home while what’s left of China’s overnight millionaires assumes a seat it does not deserve.
Dota 2‘s patch 6.83, released in December 2014, is the definitive measuring stick for invitees, with recently published patch 6.84 offering too few games for consideration. Statistically speaking, Newbee’s 6.84 résumé speaks to neither past nor future success.
Over 89 games, the defending champions sport a 39.3 percent win rate. Teams with greater success rates include notable Valve snubs Ninjas in Pyjamas, Alliance, and Rave. Collectively, the side manages a dismal KDA ratio of 2.57, a metric surpassed by a staggering 42 sides—a number greater than the total number of qualifier participants across all regions.
With little statistical footing, and even less concrete success, perhaps the most telling aspect of Newbee’s lack-of-strength is the clearly visible listlessness of its play. Over a dozen games at the Dota 2 Asia Championships, late-2014 acquisition Wang “Banana” Jiao looked nothing short of listless, missing critical abilities at significant moments. Even with the acquisition of Lin “June” Shiyang, moving Wang into the support role, the team’s support staff consistently fails to both position properly during team fights and contribute meaningful interference as carries fall. Both during and after the Dota 2 Asia Championships, Newbee carries maintain a reputation for achieving little and dying often.
What makes this appraisal, and Newbee’s subsequent invite, even less excusable is the shear volume of more qualified sides that must now vie for limited spots. Among the snubbed, southeast Asian sides Mineski and Rave could have given the flagging region a boost while contributing more competitive games in the process. Even within China, TongFu, Energy Pacemaker, and CDEC all possess either superior statistical metrics, better objective accomplishments, or both.
But the true victim in Valve’s hasty adherence to tradition is recently rekindled Chinese mainstay EHOME. Off-laner Bai “ROTK” Fan led Vici Gaming to a runner-up finish at last year’s main event and continues to look the consummate leader as the squad gels. Zhang “Lanm” Zhicheng championed early runaway favorite Team DK from the support role—a performance he’s quickly working to duplicate. Explosive newcomer He “Inflame” Yongzheng started 2015 an unknown commodity before rising through the ranks to become one of China’s finest carries.
With a 54.5 percent win-rate on patch 6.83 and a KDA on par with other, already invited sides, EHOME’s lineup looks an easy challenger to the likes of LGD Gaming and Team Malaysia. On paper and visually, individually and collectively, there’s little contest between the squad that Valve forgot and the one that just happens to share a name with last year’s victors.
It is a common critique of defending champions to say that they are not as polished as when they won the title. That kind of sentiment does far too much service to post-championship Newbee. The squad whose administrative staff now busy themselves securing visas and booking flights should, by any objective measure, be occupying themselves with preparation for the Chinese qualifiers–a qualifier that it would, on generous odds, fail to overcome.
Image courtesy of Newbee