How to Watch the 'Dota 2' Kiev Major Like a Pro

How to Watch the 'Dota 2' Kiev Major Like a Pro

16 of the best 'Dota 2' teams will converge in Ukraine for the Valve-sponsored Kiev Major tournament. GoodGame Agency

There's a lot riding on the outcome of the tournament ahead of The International 7 in August

There's a lot riding on the outcome of the tournament ahead of The International 7 in August

On April 27, 16 of the world's top Dota 2 teams will head to Ukraine to compete in The Kiev Major – one of the year's largest tournaments for Valve Corporation's popular MOBA game. Since 2015, Valve has organized a series of these "majors," in Dota 2 parlance – that more or less act as seasonal championships in the year-long leadup to The International, Dota 2's premier event. The Kiev Major is the last Valve-sponsored event before The International 7 in August, and offers not only a serious payout – $1 million to the champions – but also more or less guarantees the winning team an invite. If you're curious about professional Dota 2, there aren't many opportunities better than this to get into the scene.

Dota 2 isn't always friendly to new viewers. Unlike professional League of Legends, which centers almost entirely on Riot's own league, the League Championship Series (LCS), professional Dota 2 is far more diffuse. An archipelago of major and minor tournaments organized by third party companies orbit around Valve's flagship events, and teams generally choose to compete only in a portion of these. As a result, it can be hard for a rookie fan to follow professional Dota 2's storylines, which often weave between different tournaments across the globe.

If that seems overwhelming, don't worry. Consider this your unofficial reference guide to the biggest stories in Dota 2 during the leadup to The Kiev Major. This list isn't definitive, but armed with these five storylines, you can tune into The Kiev Major and see how the games there relate to the Dota 2 scene as a whole.

The Kiev Major runs from April 24 to April 30 on twitch.tv/dotamajor.

The Dawn of 7.05
In December, Dota 2's pseudonymous designer 'icefrog' unveiled patch 7.00, the biggest set of changes to Dota 2 in almost a decade. The patch altered everything from heroes, which now feature Heroes of the Storm-style talents that increase their versatility, to the map itself, the geography of which encourages players to be in constant motion. On the whole, 7.00 has made Dota 2 a much more aggressive game, with a greater emphasis on fighting than farming. Rarely does an entire minute pass without a kill, and long, macroeconomic wars are increasingly rare.

Icefrog and the Dota 2 team have tweaked the basic 7.00 formula several times since December, always going in search of the "best" version of each patch. In many ways, 2015 and 2016 were a "golden age" for professional Dota 2's metagame; virtually every hero in the game was situationally viable, and multiple styles of play – from early game pushing to mid game team fighting to late game wars of attrition – provided attainable paths to victory. Today, though, there are concerns that the 7.00 series of patches has neutered some of the hero and strategic diversity that made Dota 2 so special for so long. At the Dota 2 Asia Championships last month (played on 7.04), only nine heroes out of 111 were never picked or banned, an impressive spread. Yet five heroes – Alchemist, Monkey King, Earth Spirit, Lifestealer, and Magnus – were either picked or banned in over 80% of games, and even the most dedicated of observers tired of seeing them in games.

7.05, which was released last week and will almost certainly be the patch that The Kiev Major is played on, is an attempt to address some of these imbalances. Popular heroes received nerfs, while those considered weak received significant buffs to their abilities and stats. Relatively few professional games have been played on the patch, so the 7.05 metagame is as rudimentary as it can be. Look for new heroes and styles of play to materialize and crystalize over the course of the tournament, setting Dota 2's metagame on a new trajectory (until 7.06, at least).

Going their own way
Unlike most esports, Dota 2 players make most of their money through prize winnings, not salary. As a result, the incentive to join a sponsored organization – which often take a cut of a team's winnings – is much lower if a team thinks they can win on their own. Turning down a full-time salary is a risk, but if it pays off in the form of tournament victories, it means having the freedom to play Dota 2 with no-strings-attached.

Thunderbirds – a new team formerly part of Digital Chaos – is only the latest organization to ditch traditional esports organizations in favor of total self-management. Thunderbirds surprised everyone, including (probably) themselves, by placing second at The International 6 last August (while still playing as Digital Chaos), and clearly think that they are strong enough to go their own way in the months leading up to The International 7.

Not to be outdone, Digital Chaos (the organization that the Thunderbirds team dumped) instantly picked up the North American team formerly known as Team Onyx to be their new Dota 2 squad. All things considered, it's probably a downgrade – Team Onyx is composed mostly of the stragglers from the last offseason who didn't land on a major team – but it's the best chance Digital Chaos has to retain their spot as one of Dota 2's top North American organizations. At minimum, this turn of events makes for a good rivalry. But it also illustrates some of the tensions endemic to Dota 2's largely unregulated professional scene.

New Challenger Approaches
For years, North America was considered the weakest region in professional Dota 2. But in 2015, the San Francisco-based team Evil Geniuses won The International 5 over the Chinese juggernaut CDEC, cementing their place among world's premier teams. Since then, North American teams have grown significantly in reputation, but for the most part have been competing for the title of second best to Evil Geniuses, whose prestige (and deep pockets) can convince almost any player to join its ranks.

This year, though, things aren't so clear cut. Evil Geniuses is still the best team North America has, but Thunderbirds and Digital Chaos aren't far behind (and neither, for that matter, is Team NP and Complexity, though neither will be playing in Kiev). EG is still the favorite to win against either team, but Dota 2 can be fickle, and an upset isn't out of the question.

With invites to The International 7 likely being announced in May, the push is on for North American teams to distinguish themselves from the pack fighting over EG's scraps. Evil Geniuses will almost certainly receive an invite based on their performance since The International 6, but the other North American invite is up for grabs. Defeating Evil Geniuses and winning The Kiev Major would make a strong argument for inviting either Thunderbirds or Digital Chaos to Dota 2's biggest event.

Regional Squabbles
One of the longest running storylines in Dota 2 is the competition between Chinese teams and squads from every other country. Before 2013, it was all but doctrine that China-based organizations were the best in the world. But after the Swedish team Alliance dethroned the Chinese at The International 3, Western teams have slowly proven themselves the equal (and, often the superior) of their Eastern competition. The balance of power shifts over time, but for most of 2016 Western teams held a slight edge over China.

Until last month at least. Playing on their home turf at the Dota 2 Asia Championships in Shanghai, China roared back into relevance. Three of the top four teams at DAC hailed from China, and the eventual champion, Invictus Gaming, dismantled OG, one of the West's best teams, in an ugly 3-0 blowout. Were any of the five Chinese teams in attendance – Wings Gaming, VG.J, Invictus Gaming, Newbee, and iG Vitality – to win the Kiev Major, it would cement China as the region to beat going into The International 7.

LiquidGH, The Prodigy
Despite the rhetoric of meritocracy that dominates most discussions around the game, professional Dota 2 is notoriously resistant to new professional players. There are important exceptions, but many top teams simply recycle different permutations of the same roster of elite players, hoping to find a group that clicks in the context of a certain game patch. Genuinely new players are a rarity, and perhaps one or two trickle into the scene each year in each region.

Maroun "GH" Merhej – a Lebanese prodigy who now plays for Team Liquid – is one of these. After struggling throughout the fall, Team Liquid took a risk on the untested GH, who had played only a handful of professional matches at that point and was mostly known as a high-MMR "pubstar" – a superlative amatuer in the public competitive ladder. It was a risky move, but it paid off beautifully – at GH's first tournament as an official member of Team Liquid, the team took home first prize at the prestigious StarLadder Series Season XIII.

The team's next performance with GH, DAC 2017, where Liquid was among the first teams eliminated, was less impressive. Heading to Kiev, GH will be looking to prove that he's earned his spot on one of Dota 2's premier organizations, and that his championship at StarLadder was no fluke.