Pro Breakdown: Is China the strongest region in the Dota 2 Arlington Major?

China's Dota 2 juggernauts PSG.LGD are looking like the strongest team in the PGL Arlington Major. (Photo: Perfect World Esports)
China's Dota 2 juggernauts PSG.LGD are looking like the strongest team in the PGL Arlington Major. (Photo: Perfect World Esports)

This is Pro Breakdown, a series by Yahoo Esports Southeast Asia where we talk with pro players, coaches, experts, and other personalities about anything and everything in the region's esports scene.

The Dota 2 PGL Arlington Major is almost upon us, featuring 17 of the best teams in the world fighting for their cut of a US$500,000 and and 4,570 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) point pool.

More importantly, the Arlington Major is the last chance for teams to secure a coveted direct invite to The International 11 (TI11), Dota 2's marquee million-dollar world championship tournament.

We sat down with Singaporean Dota 2 veteran and Nigma Galaxy SEA coach Nicholas "xFreedom" Kelvin Ileto Lim (@xfreedom on Twitter) to break down what we can expect from the Arlington Major.

How will China do in the Arlington Major, considering their long gap from international Dota?

xFreedom: I think the Chinese teams will do pretty decently. Chnese teams are very systematic compared to other teams and it will be hard for other teams break that system. They go step 1, step 2, and they perfect every step. Even if you beat them in the early game, they have a backup plan. They are very disciplined, especially the three teams coming to Arlington.

It's always said that PSG.LGD is the strongest team in China, but why did PSG.LGD get only third in the Summer regional league?

xFreedom: I can't really speak for them, so take this as speculation: I think it's the whole not being able to travel thing and it's been a long DPC season with six weeks per Tour. Opponents also have a lot of time to prepare and each week a team has to bring a whole new draft.

And I believe in China, anyone can beat anyone, plus it's online, which is quite different from LANs.

What are your thoughts on the two other Chinese teams in Arlington, Royal Never Give Up (RNG) and Team Aster?

xFreedom: I think Aster is as close as you can get to a Chinese team. RNG and PSG.LGD try out Western ideas and incorporate them to their drafts, but Aster plays the Chinese meta and other teams in China tend to follow Aster.

How will RNG work with Anathan "ana" Pham as a stand-in?

xFreedom: I think it's not a big problem, because ana is a very instinctive player, he will adjust to his team. He doesn't say much, he's a plug-and-play kind of player. The other four are already a team and know what they need to do.

[RNG] need any carry who can just do their own thing. He also has [Yap "xNova" Jian Wei] to translate if there are any communication issues.

With all that said, do you think China is still the strongest region in all of Dota?

xFreedom: Yes, I still stick to that. I don't wanna sound like a Chinese lover, but having played in that region and seeing how China played at the Riyadh Masters, that's a preview of what China can offer at international events.

How important is it to scrim when going against international competition?

xFreedom: Scrimming definitely matters.

When you watch a team, it's easy to spot all their mistakes, but when you play against them, it feels different.

You can't really know how aggressive a team is from replays, unless you are watching the game from like the enemy's perspective and doing so from minute 0. A lot of people don't look into detail with those things.

A lot of the teams headed to the Arlington Major have stand-ins due to visa issues with their players. Which team do you think has been the most affected by the situation?

xFreedom: Arlington? Oh, you mean the Stand-in Major? Probably Fnatic.

The core of the team isn't there, you're just taking what is available. You're taking a position 1,2, and 5 and doing the best you can with that.

The second most hurt team by this visa issue would be Entity, because Ivan "Pure" Moskalenko plays a lot of offlane heroes in the safe lane and they play really fast.

Now they are getting another offlaner in the safe lane [in Jonáš "SabeRLight-" Volek], but I don't think SabeRLight plays the same heroes as Pure.

Fnatic's three stand-ins have been revealed to all be from TSM. How do you think that will work out?

xFreedom: I think it's all about how they can adapt to each other, it's more on Fnatic to adapt to TSM, rather than the other way around.

Because you have the 3 and 4 who can focus on one lane while the other two lanes are handled by the stand-ins.

OG famously won the Stockholm Major with Sébastien "Ceb" Debs as their stand-in and now it's happening again in Arlington. Are OG still likely to win another Major, considering the competition is higher in Arlington than in Stockholm?

xFreedom: I'd say OG is a Top 3 team to me, whether it's Ceb or [Mikhail "Misha" Agatov] playing.

Ceb won 11 out of his 12 games on Windranger at the ESL One Stockholm Major. (Photos: OG, Valve Software)
Ceb won 11 out of his 12 games on Windranger at the ESL One Stockholm Major, helping OG become the Stockholm Major champions. (Photos: OG, Valve Software)

Ceb and Windranger, is it worth banning?

xFreedom: I think it's all about picking your poison, whether it's worth dealing with [Ammar "ATF" Al-Assaf's] heroes or Ceb's heroes because you can't ban everything.

Windranger only looks good because Ceb is winning with it. It looks so good because Ceb is very comfortable with it and Dota is a game of confidence.

Banning it is hard to say, because it depends on what the team can handle, like can you handle Ammar's Timbersaw? Razor? Is it worth it to ban a 5?

I think there are other heroes more important to deal with than a Position 5 Windranger.

You already mentioned OG are one of your Top 3 teams, who else is in your Top 3?

xFreedom: Not in any particular order, I'd say my Top 3 are PSG.LGD, OG, and a toss-up between Tundra Esports or Team Spirit.

Why are Team Spirit looking so good now compared to their underwhelming showings earlier in the season? Tundra have also been looking dominant in the regional leagues, do you think they can go all the way this time?

xFreedom: Based on their performance in the Riyadh Masters, they are slowly finding their identity in this patch. They are on their way to that TI form.

The old Spirit didn't know what to do when the patch first dropped. Even before Stockholm, in the qualifier, it didn't look like Spirit.

As for Tundra, it all depends on how they play in the DPC, they always pull out something there.

Especially around [Neta "33" Shapira], because in Riyadh they didn't have their key player and they didn't look like the Tundra everyone was afraid of.

Why do Team Liquid implode internationally?

xFreedom: Team Liquid play a little slow, and at the international level, if you play slow you have to win fights.

When Liquid play slow, sometimes they get outscaled. They either win really late or really early.

I am not counting them out of Top 6, they are in the middle of the pack.

Which team in Arlington do you think are too underrated?

xFreedom: Probably RNG, I think these guys have something to prove since their loss at TI, and they have been together through multiple teams, I think they are really hungry.

Even though they have a stand-in, they are still a scary team.

BOOM Esports notably underperformed in Stockholm, should we expect them to do better in Arlington?

xFreedom: BOOM will pull off a bit of upsets, but they will end up middle of the pack. Their strategies are not as innovative as other teams, they play the same thing over and over.

They are also a bit reactive in their draft, they pick their heroes based on enemy picks.

Look at OG and Tundra with 33, they first pick what they want regardless of the enemy's draft.

On the topic of SEA teams, how will Talon Esports fare in Arlington?

xFreedom: Coming from SEA, I hope SEA teams do well, but knowing Talon, they are sort of like BOOM.

They have been playing with a lot of Chinese teams and adapting to that playstyle. They remind me of T1 from last year — they are really slow and if they win, they win very late.

This will be problem for them because it's a LAN tournament. At LANs, the ballsiest teams are the ones who win.

With Tal "Fly" Aizik back on the roster, do you see Evil Geniuses (EG) as a threat in Arlington even after their abysmal showing in Stockholm?

xFreedom: EG might make me eat my words but they will either be middle of the pack or they might surprise us all.

Seeing how they played at the NA DPC, it still doesn't seem like the EG we saw at the Singapore Major. I would still rate the Chinese teams higher than EG.

South America had a huge showing at Stockholm with the second best region performance. What do we expect from them at Arlington?

xFreedom: I'd say Top 6, Top 3 is possible but it would be a surprise.

It would depend a lot on brackets. Like if you put the best teams in the upper bracket and they don't meet each other, that's bad luck for other teams.

I'll give you a scenario, let's say PSG.LGD drop down to lower bracket, which is unlikely, any team that meets them there is eliminated.

I imagine Spirit, RNG, OG, and PSG.LGD to stay in the upper bracket, and if they drop down, they will climb back to the grand finals. And any team unlucky enough to meet them gets knocked down.

The seeding of the bracket actually matters a lot.

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