Invites to Dota’s biggest tournament are just around the corner, and the tension is palpable. Unlike qualifiers, which allow teams to compensate for past shortcomings in a moment of brilliance, some of the biggest teams in Dota now sit and hope their résumés, trophy cases, and stats are impressive enough to convince Valve that they deserve a trip to The International.
But when all prognosticating is done, there are clear candidates for this year’s main event. Bet your item sets on this list friends: These are the teams that look sure to receive an invite as soon as Valve pays for postage.
Barring catastrophic visa issues, Rave is the easy pick for the Southeast Asian spot. Despite a year and a half of carrying the banner for Korea, MVP Phoenix has fallen behind Rave to an appreciable degree. Coupled with a résumé building performance at the Dota 2 Asia Championships and consistent success in the MLG joinDOTA Pro League, Rave is the undisputed benchmark for its region at this critical time.
From strength to strength, Vici Gaming continues to look like the Chinese favorite after a second place finish at The International 2014 lit a fire under team administration. Now with Chen “Hao” Zhihao in the carry seat and competition still catching up, Vici Gaming is a lock for an International invite.
The scariest thing about Invictus Gaming? We have yet to see what this team can do. The underachievers are still finding their sea legs and managed to drop a critical set to HyperGloryTeam in the Summit 3 qualifiers, but Wong “Chuan” Hock Chuan’s sides always manage to find their form when the main event comes around.
The void left by China’s elite 2014 squads was palpable. With the dissolution of Team DK, Vici Gaming’s retooling, and Newbee’s unexpected nosedive, someone had to fill the void. That team was LGD Gaming. With Zhang “Xiao8” Ning’s return to the captain’s chair and Liu “Sylar” Jiajun plying the same carry potency that put Vici Gaming in last year’s final, LGD looks the potential heir to a highly sought-after throne.
Despite an extremely rocky start, the name EHOME has meaning once more. Taking LGD to the brink and ousting Invictus Gaming in the Summit 3 qualifiers, the Bai “ROTK” Fan-led team is looking scarier by the week. Still a far cry from where they want to be, the Chinese Dota house that made the very first International final will look a contender to surprise once again in 2015.
At this juncture in North American Dota’s development, there really can be no other invite. Evil Geniuses is arguably the best team in the world, despite a stumble at the hands of Team Empire in Columbus, Ohio two weeks ago. A lock for an invite in any other region, the Boys in Blue likely already have envelopes with their names on them in the Valve offices as we speak.
In a region saturated with talent, where one deserving team will likely trudge the arduous path of qualifiers, Team Secret stands tall. Adapting to their weaknesses since the Dota 2 Asia Championships, Clement “Puppey” Ivanov and co. look incapable of surrender. If you’re penning your bracket or placing your bets, Team Secret isn’t just a safe choice for an invite—they’ll likely be on the podium by the tournament’s conclusion.
After one of the most tumultuous periods a Dota 2 team can have, Virtus Pro’s final roster looks downright deadly. Innovative, incisive, calculated, and bold, Artem “FNG” Barshak and Ilya “Illidan” Pivcaev are set to stamp some upsets on the competition. Just don’t call it a comeback—the team has hardly missed a beat since Natus Vincere’s systematic dismantling of the team’s prominent two-team stable.
While every other team in Dota spent their time trying to shove square pegs into round holes, Empire played the role of carpenter, patiently shaping precisely the squad it needed to snag an invite at the critical moment. With supports finding chemistry and carries going toe-to-toe with the west’s finest, Empire is back to doing what it always does: playing strong, elegant Dota at the perfect time of year.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
The last spot in Europe is arguably the hardest spot to call. Alliance put together a stunning April while Cloud9 is taking the European Union to task with increasing regularity. But among those in contention for the last direct invite, no other has a résumé like Ninjas in Pyjamas. Whether the selection committee sees it this way or not, one thing is inescapably clear about the Swedes: no matter what day, and no matter the opponent, teams will need to bring their A game to get past comeback kid Adrian “Era” Kryeziu and his band of merry men.