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The Southeast Asian qualifier for The International 10 (TI10) has concluded, with Fnatic pulling off an incredible reverse sweep over rivals TNC Predator in the grand finals to punch their ticket to this year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament.
While the two most-favored teams ended up being the last ones standing in the qualifier, the end result belies just how intensely competitive the entirety of it was.
Even if Europe and China — the consensus strongest regions in professional Dota — have yet to play their own qualifiers, I think it's safe to say that TI10's Southeast Asian qualifier will end up being the best.
Don't believe me? Just go back and watch the games to see for yourself. My personal recommendations would be, of course, both of the Fnatic-TNC showdowns in the upper bracket finals and grand finals on top of any match that featured any one of TNC Predator, BOOM Esports, OB Esports x Neon, and Galaxy Racer.
If you don't have time to watch everything, then perhaps a quick look at the numbers can contextualize just how crazy TI10's Southeast Asian qualifier was.
A total of 55 games were played across 21 matches in the qualifier, with the average duration of each game clocking in at around 45 minutes. That's significantly longer than the typical game of professional Dota 2, which usually ends before the 40-minute mark.
Of those 55 games, 34 went over the 40-minute mark while 18 lasted over 50 minutes. What's more, half of those over 50-minute games were only finished after an hour of action. Considering how much better pro teams are at playing Dota today than they were during the earlier days of the game, 60-minute games have become quite the rare occurrence.
In fact, the longest game of the qualifier was a crazy 104-minute, 34-second marathon in game two of the elimination match between Galaxy Racer and Motivate.Trust Gaming in the third round of the lower bracket.
That crazy game featured a total of five Divine Rapiers and only ended when Motivate.Trust's carry player, Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong, died in an ill-fated attempt to win the game, bought back, got accidentally cliffed, and killed without buyback — as is typical of ultra-late game Dota.
Of course, the length of a Dota 2 game doesn't always equate to its quality and watchability. However, what it usually does equate to is the similarity in skill level between the two competing teams.
A team that is a tier above its opponent almost always wins before the late game. But when you get two teams that are both evenly-matched and desperately fighting for a chance to compete for over US$40 million, then you get games like the one between Galaxy Racer and Motivate.Trust.
Even the matches in the Southeast Asian qualifier that don't look close at first glance, like matches that ended in 2-0 sweeps, were actually quite competitive. Case in point: the upper bracket final between Fnatic and TNC, where Fnatic defeated TNC in two games that totaled just under 130 minutes of playing time — a duration you would normally expect from a full best-of-three series.
To add a bit more context, the Southeast Asian qualifier SEA qualifier had 10 end in series sweeps. While that's the same number of sweeps in both the North and South American qualifiers, Southeast Asia had a total of 21 matches while North America had 17 and South America had 18.
The average match duration for all the sweeps in the Southeast Asian qualifier — around 43 minutes — further validates just how competitive practically every game in it was.
Even if you don't count the match between Galaxy Racer and Motivate.Trust in that number, the average duration of 2-0 sweeps in the Southeast Asian qualifier still clocked in at a lengthy 43 minutes.
With all that said, what all those numbers I've listed boil down to is the very essence of TI: teams playing some of the finest Dota you will ever see all for the chance to prove they're the best in the world and maybe even get a couple million dollars out of it.
In other words, the intensity of all the matches in TI10's Southeast Asian qualifier could rival the intensity you will only ever witness in TI itself. Rarely you will ever see teams fighting tooth and nail to win every game and every series outside of the grand stage of TI.
With how insanely competitive the Southeast Asian qualifier was, it's such a shame that the region will only be represented by T1 and Fnatic.
It's an unintended consequence of just how closely-contested Southeast Asia is, only T1 were able to get consistent enough results to earn a direct invite and free up more slots for the other teams in the region.
If Southeast Asia had three or even four slots at TI10, I doubt many would complain about seeing the likes of TNC or BOOM Esports there when considering their performance in the qualifier.
That said, the intensity of the competition in TI10's Southeast Asian qualifiers bodes well for the future of the region, despite it only having two representatives in TI10 itself.
Many of the teams that fought their hearts out in this year's qualifiers should eventually get their shot at making it to future TIs — and maybe even win the region its first-ever Aegis of Champions.
Such a future seemed so far away before the qualifiers. But after watching everything that went down, I'd go as far as say that a TI championship for Southeast Asia isn't as far away as most would think.
TI10's regional qualifiers will commence its last leg in Western Europe and China from 7 to 10 July.
Valve announced on Thursday (8 July) that the event would be moved from August to October and pulled out of Stockholm, Sweden, after it failed to get recognition as an 'elite sporting event'. TI10's Group Stage will now be held in Bucharest, Romania from 7 to 10 October followed by the Main Event from 12 to 17 October, where the 18 participating teams will be fighting to claim the coveted Aegis of Champions and the lion's share of a massive US$40 million prize pool.
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