ESL One Stockholm Major: The rite of passage for the new wave of Dota 2 players from Western Europe
A very special week begins for the Dota 2 fans around the world. ESL One Stockholm, the first Major of the year, is set to start this coming Thursday with a total of 14 teams battling for the title.
Four of the competitors are coming from the Western Europe Spring Tour regional league and for many of the players from the WEU region, the ESL One Stockholm Major will mark their debut at a Valve sanctioned event.
Of all the WEU participants, the Team Liquid roster is the only one that can be regarded as the “old guard.” The line-up is the most experienced one when it comes down to the high level of competition and high stakes.
Team Liquid’s previous DPC year was far from being a good one and that cost them the ticket to TI10. After having to watch the biggest Dota 2 tournament from home, the team welcomed back their very own TI champion Lasse Aukusti "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen, who came from Team Secret along with arguably one of the most versatile players in the professional scene, Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg.
Their arrival triggered role swaps for Michael "miCKe" Vu and Samuel "Boxi" Svahn, who changed from carry to mid lane and from offlane to soft support respectively, and brought a full reinvigoration of the team.
Team Liquid roster
The Last Dance
Matu was determined to hang the mouse after the third-place finish at TI10 with Team Secret. He stated on several occasions that he really thinks this will be his last competitive year. But that should only mean that he is motivated more than ever to achieve a two-peat on The International stage to end his career in the most beautiful way possible.
After placing first in the Winter Tour regular season and finishing runners-up in the Regional Finals, Team Liquid started the Spring Tour with a couple of hiccups. They lost three series in the first half of the league schedule but made a strong statement towards the second half of the season. Matumbaman went on playing 12 different heroes, from his signature Lone Druid to Naga Siren, Razor, Bristleback, Necrophos, and the less seen these days position 1 Weaver.
Much like in his old Liquid days, he is the rock of the team and his aggressive stance unlocked new heroes for his captain and lane partner, iNSaNiA, and more fast paced overall strategies for the team.
This season iNSaNiA hasn’t touched his signature Oracle for instance. Instead, his most played heroes are Grimstroke and Lich, both providing strong combos for lane domination and excellent team fight tools. If sustain and healing power is what Liquid looks for in a match, the heroes have changed to Io and Enchantress for iNSaNiA, while Zai has Necophos as his most played hero this season.
At the recently concluded Gamers Without Border charity event, Liquid explored the position 5 Undying as well, with Boxi taking the Io in the soft support role and Zai playing on tempo setting heroes like Nightstalker and Visage, which should hint that Team Liquid will be looking to unleash full madness at the ESL One Stockholm Major.
Of the four WEU participants, they are the most experienced and should have no issue transitioning from the one series per week league schedule to two series per day at the Major. They also have plenty of LAN experience, and finally having the chance to face a live audience in over two years should fire them up even more.
OG, the only organization in the history of Dota 2 to have won five Major championship titles and claim the most wanted trophy, the Aegis of Champions, twice are now set to debut their new line-up at a Valve sectioned tournament.
With the back-to-back champions all retiring from the competitive scene after TI10, OG reinvented itself by giving a chance to the young generation. Their line-up features the youngest player to have ever competed in the DPC, namely Ammar "ATF" Al-Assaf.
Ammar the Flower
ATF was just 15 years old when he made his competitive debut with Creepwave in January 2021 in the Western Europe DPC open qualifiers and his incredible mechanical skill put him in the spotlight right away.
It was no surprise to see OG recruiting him for the 2022 DPC year. Ceb and N0tail’s flair in finding the future stars has proven once again to be working perfectly. After winning TI with Ana and Topson, they now have built a whole team of youngsters. ATF will be playing at his first-ever Major at 17 years old, just as his teammate, Bozhidar "bzm" Bogdanov, while the OG’s carry Artem "Yuragi" Golubiev, is only 20 years old.
OG’s most experienced players are the team captain, Mikhail "Misha" Agatov, and Taiga, dubbed as Papa Tommy by his teammates.
Despite their very young age, the OG players managed to take the WEU region by storm and they are coming to ESL One Stockholm Major as the regular-season winners. However, with this being the first international LAN for many of them, some might doubt their capacity to deliver the same results in an offline setup. They’ve already had a tough run at Gamers Galaxy Invitational Series in Dubai in March this year. But, if they took that as a test, they might just come to the Major well-prepared to continue the OG legacy.
There’s one worrisome aspect for OG in terms of their possibility of having the full roster in Stockholm. At the aforementioned Dubai event, OG had to play with their coach, Evgenii "Chuvash" Makarov standing in for Misha, who dealt with visa complications.
All OG fans hope that this won’t happen again for Stockholm, but even if Misha won’t be with them, the brightest star that they have on the roster might be enough to pose a real threat for any other team.
ATF has proven the entire year that he can carry the team to victory from his offlane role. He is the perfect successor to Ceb’s incredible offlane playstyle, and some might even argue that the student has already surpassed his teacher.
Every OG game until now has featured some dazzling plays coming from ATF on either Timbersaw, Mars, Underlord or even an offlane Huskar. The new guard has fully inherited OG’s way of thinking outside the box, of staying ahead of the meta and finding uncommon item builds that can break the opposing team, and if they can bring on LAN everything that they’ve learned through the two seasons of online DPC matches, then the Dota 2 fans will be in for a threat.
However, OG isn’t the only team at the Stockholm Major that can rely on one player’s capacity to offset a game with his unique playstyle.
Tundra Esports has a perfect mix of players that can excel in certain situations while also being able to play as a unit.
Neta "33" Shapira’s ability to secure a victory for his team with a Broodmother or a Visage is a long-time proven fact. But apart from benefitting from the insane micro-skills of their offlaner, Tundra has also one of the most atypical mid laners in Leon "Nine" Kirilin and one of the best position 4 players in Martin "Saksa" Sazdov.
Saksa is the latest addition to the Tundra lineup. The roster change made at the beginning of the Spring Tour was received with criticism from the community as not many were ready to believe that replacing their captain, Adrian "Fata" Trinks, arguably the one responsible for their innovative drafts, and the titles won at OGA Dota PIT Season 5 and at ESL One Fall 2021, would be beneficial for the team.
In fact, after the roster change, Tundra didn’t improve on their third-place finish in the Winter Tour regional league. This season they placed just fourth, enough for them to qualify for the Major, but not good enough to prove the doubters wrong.
Tundra Esports roster
What makes Tundra special is their wide range of drafts and the ability of having multiple options to place the win condition on. Nine has taken by surprise the much more experienced mid laners more than a couple of times. He introduced the mid lane Keeper of the Light to the meta in the previous DPC season and he has no issues in dominating his mid lane adversary with a Spirit Breaker or a Pangolier.
It’s between him and 33 to create the space for Skiter to farm on his more late-game-oriented signature heroes. Nonetheless, this season, Skiter has joined the early fights more often, as Tundra abused the Chaos Knight- Keeper of the Light/Io combo, while Nine finished the Spring Tour league boasting an 83`% win rate on the mid Pangolier with 5 wins and 1 loss. There is a clear contrast between Nine and Skiter’s hero pool, the former being rather hard to be targeted by his adversaries in the drafts, while probably all the teams know by now how to ban againt Skitter.
Nine has brought this season a total of 12 unique heroes to the mid lane, most of them being atypical for this role or for the current meta. Besides Pango, he can summon a Snapfire, a Batrider or KotL, which gives plenty of room for his coach, Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling to work with.
After peaking at the wrong moment last year, just after the TI qualifiers finished, the five players that will represent the Tundra banner on a Major stage for the first time are coming to Stockholm thirsty for a big win and determined to prove to everyone that they made the right roster change at the beginning of the Spring Tour.
If Tundra excels at taking their opponents by surprise through their players’ individual skills and uncommon picks, one team in the WEU is exactly the opposite.
Synergy before all things can define Gaimin Gladiators. From drafts and gameplay to team cohesion, Gaimin Gladiators are a unit that works like a well-oiled machine. Most of the Dota 2 fans know them as Vikin.gg from the 2020 - 2021 online period or Team Tickles from the Winter Tour.
From Vikings to Gladiators
Despite being the most improved team through the online era, Vikin.gg released the entire roster in the summer of 2021. Three of the players went on to new adventures while the team coach, Daniel "ImmortalFaith" Moza continued to work with Melchior "Seleri" Hillenkamp and Miroslav "BOOM" Bičan and built a new roster. They entered the 2022 DPC as Team Tickles and went on placing second in the Winter Tour and just ahead of the Winter Regional Finals, they got signed by the Canadian company Gaimin Gladiators. What should have been a great Major reveal for the NA organization, ended up being just a regional final, but it came with a title secured, even if it was in an online format.
Gaimin Gladiators roster
This season, Gladiators finished tied with OG in series score through the WEU league, but there were no decisive tiebreakers and the latter took the first place based on the direct result in the league play.
OG was the only team to defeat them through the six-week league. That was the only series where Gladiators gave it a try to the new Techies and obviously, it backfired.
Through all their winner’s interviews, Gladiators’ players don’t miss the chance to point at their coach when asked about their successful campaign.
ImmortalFaith toyed with the idea of becoming a pro player years back, however, he channeled all his energy into helping the Dota 2 community through his in-game item builds. Vikin.gg, now Gladiators is his most precious project in which he put all his knowledge and passion for the game without ever taking the spotlight.
His concept seems to be gravitating around the idea of perfect synergies, in the draft and between the team members. Having someone to watch the game from the outside and be able to adapt the drafts from one game to another with a larger perspective on the game, much like in the case of the Chinese teams, has always put Gladiators a step ahead of their opponents.
Most of the time, ImmortalFaith’s drafts result in team fights that look like a perfectly executed choreography. Gladiators’ stand-out players are BOOM and Ace, but even them are not all the time in the spotlight, although they are extremely powerful players in their respective roles.
BOOM can be regarded as one of the best newcomers to the tier one scene, while Ace has made a smooth and successful transition from carry to offlane. Given his experience, he is now capable to be either be the beefy frontliner on heroes like Tidehunter, Underlord or Mars, or the initiator, the one that stirs the pot and messes up the enemy team fights with a Legion Commander, Pangolier or even an offlane Jakiro. If the situation allows it, he can take full control with his signature Meepo, though he never abused that.
This season, Gladiators made the most use of Mars, which they played in all core positions, safe, mid or offlane, but mostly in the midlane. They usually pair it with other heroes that can provide team fight control, such as Tide Hunter, Keeper of the Light, Underlord, and almost all the times with a position four Waver, hence the sensation of perfectly choreographed team fights where you don’t see overlapped spells or a player rushing to deliver the “big play.”
Gladiators met in person for the first time this Spring Tour, which they played entirely from a bootcamp. Most likely, it was the perfect setup for them to work even more on team chemistry and on getting comfortable to play next to each other in the LAN setup.
Given their lack of experience in an offline setup, not many are ready to see them reaching the final days in Stockholm. However, the groups stage and a good chunk of the playoffs will be played behind closed doors, from the major practice rooms, and that should make almost no difference for them from what they experienced in the Spring Tour bootcamp. The big challenge will come when they will have to face teams from outside the WEU region on the Hovet Arena stage, in front of the live audience. However, this is also the moment they’ve worked hard for and have been waiting for since the Vikin.gg days and from all the new comers, Gaimin Gladiators are the most likely team to deliver the big surprise.