ESI Gambling Report: Epicenter XL preview

As the playoffs dawn this weekend at the Epicenter XL Major, Dota 2 teams are strapping themselves in for a weekend of warfare in Moscow, Russia. Alongside a sizable $1 million (£735,600) prize pool, there’s a total of 1,500 Pro Circuit points up for grabs at Epicenter XL, enough to stamp the passport of either Team Liquid or Team Secret to The International 8.

Foregoing playoffs this weekend, we’ve spectated a grueling group stage that shaved four of the 12 qualifying teams from the double-elimination contest; with just eight squads remaining in this fierce trial, there’s a wealth of speculation as to who is going to come out on top in Moscow.

We’re taking a closer look at how the remaining teams will match up head-to-head in this week’s ESI Gambling Report:

The group stage is going to be our best indicator what the rest of the tournament will look like; a bulky amount of heats over the last week certainly offer a decent bit of insight to draw from as the playoffs commence.

Group A

It was presumed Team Liquid, Mineski and PSG.LGD would survive Group A unscathed, making it a race to fourth; Russian-based FlyToMoon turned some heads though as they fashioned their way into a third place seeding in Group A moving into the playoffs. Securing their first victory against Team Empire, the team rightfully struggled against a robust PSG.LGD squad; things started to click for FlyToMoon mid-way through their group play as they forced Liquid to Game 3 – carrying over that momentum into their next series against Mineski and toppling them 2-1 on their home turf.

Group A’s chief narrative comes in the form of Liquid and PSG.LGD’s superiority in group stage; Liquid swaggering a perfect 5-0 record only dropping a game to PSG.LGD and FlyToMoon each, respectively in their series. Not quite as authoritative as Liquid’s playoff priming performance, PSG.LGD’s finalist pitting still seems rather promising – four commanding wins and a nail-biter against Liquid still classifies them as a strong contender in my opinion.

Clinching the fourth seed in Group A, Mineski was a bit of a questionable act this event; considered to be a part of the upper echelon in their group, they struggled a bit more than we anticipated. Perhaps it was less than surprising to see them drop a series to both Liquid and PSG.LGD, and kudos to FlyToMoon for managing an upset against the South East Asia qualifiers – still, Mineski is going to need to step their game up if they want to place among the top four at Epicenter XL.

Group B

Albeit more well-rounded, the second group was still rather top-heavy with Virtus.Pro, Team Secret and Newbee – throw in the likes of Na’Vi, OG and paiN Gaming who have all exhibited above average form lately and you’ve got yourself quite the fray. Group B definitely delivered the bloodbath you’d anticipate from this combine; there’s plainly a lot worth talking about following the results.

Shockingly, Epicenter XL would see an early exit from both Newbee and Na’Vi; while Na’Vi’s playoff prospect seemed trivial, Newbee’s premature departure felt rather abrupt despite the Chinese troop’s recent substandard tournament performances. The running was close in the second group, the permission into the playoffs was a game of inches – or points – where a four-way tie led to point differential being the decider of who went on and who packed their bags early.  

Two teams stood out in Group B, the first being Virtus.Pro, one of the favourites to take first in Russia at Epicenter XL. Aside from having the home field advantage in Moscow, Virtus.Pro closed a top-finish at both The Bucharest Major and ESL One Katowice 2018 that’s helped congeal the squadron among the elite Dota population. Other than Na’Vi being able to steal a series off Virtus.Pro in the group stage, the team primarily breezed through their competition. Virtus.Pro faces PSG.LGD in their first playoff bout this event, which is likely to rekindle some bad blood after they were knocked out of the Dota 2 Asia Championship last month by the same platoon.

OG’s playoff seeding seemed dubious at first glance, considering the brawny group implied they would be one of the squads to take an early flight home. Despite grappling in their first two series against Newbee and Virtus.Pro, OG managed to set the tempo halfway through their group stage skirmishes. The pendulum started to swing to the beat of OG after they seized an unexpected victory against Team Secret – closing out the rest of the group with wins against paiN Gaming and Na’Vi. Coming off a fresh win at ESL One Birmingham 2018 Europe Qualifier against Kinguin, OG is establishing themselves as a top competitor in the Dota space.


Team Liquid

Liquid’s lack of consistency this year has been a huge set back for them; a 5-6th place finish at the Dota 2 Asia Championship and third at ESL One Katowice sprouted some speculation surrounding an upper-placing at Epicenter XL. Yes, the recent uncharacteristic finishes from Liquid may be hard to look past, however, the team looked to be in star form as they closed out the group stage undefeated. Being the previous back-to-back Epicenter XL champions and with enough Pro Circuit points at stake to ink their name onto the TI8 playbill, this is Liquid’s opportune moment to shift gears back to their titlist state. Liquid is presumably going to be the most bloodthirsty team in this running everything considered, they’ll just need to match and sustain that caliber over the weekend.

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My other pick to take first at Epicenter XL has to be Virtus.Pro; the Russian gang being on their home soil and coming off a couple commanding conquests – including first at both ESL One Katowice and The Bucharest Major – gives the squad a prizewinner prestige at this event. Major obstacles in the way of Virtus.Pro’s Moscow crusade will be Liquid and PSG.LGD; in equally as good of form in the group stage, the early clash between PSG.LGD and Virtus.Pro is sure to be a close race. Assuming Virtus.Pro is able to make it to the next round, they’ll face either Liquid or OG in the winner’s bracket final. Team Secret will undoubtedly pose a threat to them if they meet in the bracket – then again, it seems that any of the lower-ranked squads are capable of taking out a titan (or two) at Epicenter XL, providing little safe territory in the playoffs.

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