The group stages have ended, and it's looking like an explosive main event for Shanghai. The last group featured Evil Geniuses, compLexity Gaming, Team Liquid, and Virtus.pro. This was arguably the most evenly matched group of the entire stage, with every team realistically carrying a chance to qualify for the upper bracket.
Evil Geniuses, one of the tournament favorites, are characterized by their strong drafting from PPD, carry play and adaptability. Virtus.pro, the inconsistent and talented roster, boasted a individually intimidating lineup and excellent team-fighting skill. Team Liquid was the second strongest team in the group, with their two amazing carries with balanced support play behind it. And lastly, the wildcard was the reworked compLexity Gaming and their mix of Swedish and American players.
Evil Geniuses against compLexity Gaming
The first toss-up matchup of the group pitted Evil Geniuses' stacked lineup against the unknown factor of compLexity Gaming.
The first game was a perfect example of why Evil Geniuses was not an automatic lock to win the group -- compLexity Gaming was every bit as good as the North American team. Behind the great start and carry play of Linus "Limmp" Blomdin's Tiny and the threat of a stronger team fight, Evil Geniuses was reduced to split-push and small skirmishes. As a result, the game boiled down to whether compLexity Gaming could force a favorable fight and if Evil Geniuses could trade out evenly. Finally, with a pick-off of Artour "Arteezy" Babaev, compLexity Gaming crushed through Evil Geniuses' base and forced the fight they absolutely wanted for complete control and the eventual Game 1 victory.
Game 2 started similarly with Evil Geniuses controlling the lane phase, but this time they had the superior team fighting capabilities behind Tidehunter and Queen of Pain. With the scouting of Arteezy's Clinkz and constant pressure from the rest of the lineup, Evil Geniuses sealed Game 2 in very quick fashion.
Like clockwork, both teams matched speed for speed in the rubber match. If it wasn't a building taken, it was Roshan or a big fight, but Evil Geniuses took the edge early. Although there was some resistance, the combined net worth of Evil Geniuses' carries, Arteezy and Syed "SumaiL" Hassan, ran circles around the rest of the team. In the end, compLexity Gaming's odd draft and timings was their downfall.
What we learned: Evil Geniuses are not without their weaknesses, but the execution and individual mechanical skill of the lineup is insane. CompLexity Gaming is a threat. As evidenced to their Game 1 victory, they can play with anyone.
Virtus.pro against Team Liquid
The second of the toss-up matchups pitted two of Europe's finest teams against the other. Would the inconsistencies of Virtus.pro plague them? Or will Team Liquid's reliance on their two carries prove too much?
Team Liquid started Game 1 by hitting Virtus.pro in the mouth with their team fight execution and controlled the map through multiple ganks on key heroes. They slammed down the pressure and never allowed Virtus.pro to get a good hold of the momentum. Whether it was vision control, capitalization of big mistakes (for example, Roshan pit fight) or forced fights, Team Liquid never trailed in a dominating start to the set.
In a pace-up Game 2, Team Liquid attempted to snowball their laning dominance for a very fast two-game set. Behind the play of Adrian "FATA" Trinks -- and his Puck -- the speed and strength of their lineup allowed them to kill more heroes than minutes played for the entirety of the early game. Amazingly, Virtus.pro's superior defense, the play of G's Templar Assassin, smoke ganks for objectives, and overall poise to keep the game in a standstill. Behind a successful Roshan gank and team fight, Virtus.pro pulled away with multiple pick-offs and tied the kill score at 24 with the late game in their favor. It took one more clash between the lineups for Team Liquid to throw in the towel and complete the Virtus.pro comeback.
The beginning of Game 3 saw both teams trade out fights and rotations, but the farming priority and advantage fell upon the shoulders of the two carries from Virtus.pro. The lead climbed after a big clash that Team Liquid initiated on, but Virtus.pro finished through an exorcism, vacuum and wall combination from Virtus.pro that really put Team Liquid on the backburner. With the winning fight, objectives fell and Roshan was Virtus.pro's to claim. Team Liquid would split-push, defend their base and stall out the game (even claiming the Roshan from Lasse "Matumbaman" Urpalainen's Ursa), and it made the game into a battle of inches. Finally, with a split team fight, Virtus.pro used their exorcism and superior farm to crush through Team Liquid's lineup and the set.
What we learned: Both teams deserve consideration for the upper bracket as the talent is apparent. For Virtus.pro, their skill in team fighting is still as relevant as ever. And Team Liquid's comeback mechanic is undeniable.
Evil Geniuses against Virtus.pro
The decider match to enter the upper bracket was a battle of similar styles. Both deploy two great carry players, high-impact offlane players and world-class supports. The difference between the two is just consistency.
Game 1 began with a slow lane phase transition to the midgame, while both teams equipped the best tools to fight the other. Smokes were met with smokes, ganks were answered immediately with one on the other side and the stalemate extended into the late game. It was clear that the winner would come down to a mistake from the other side. Evil Geniuses recognized the great organized team fight execution of Virtus.pro and took their lead with a chaotic split team fight where they isolated the supports and cores from the other. One fight, several "diebacks" and one failed base defense made up the climatic finish of Game 1.
Game 2 was a change of pace with both teams opting to fight early and often. Evil Geniuses' itemization and superior farming abilities edged them to the lead over Virtus.pro despite the stalemate on the map. A disastrous base siege allowed Virtus.pro to even out the farming advantage, but the superior pushing abilities of Evil Geniuses allowed them to continue to mount pressure on the opposing structures. All went to a head when Evil Geniuses threw bodies into Virtus.pro's base to destroy their barracks and succeeded in taking the majority of it at the expense of the fight. The rats of Evil Geniuses continued to pressure Virtus.pro's defenses, but eventually the power of creeps tipped the game in favor of North America.
Team Liquid against compLexity Gaming
Both teams boasted unique styles with Team Liquid's resource equilibrium behind their two great carry players and compLexity Gaming's aggressive drafts and fast rotations. It was an example of how great adaptation and defense win games.
CompLexity Gaming couldn't ask for a better start with a Bounty Hunter and fast blink dagger from Slardar wreaking havoc. Team Liquid would not be overwhelmed and punished every overextension or wrong move and stalled out the initial momentum. Behind the farmed Matumbaman" and great initiation from the Beastmaster, Team Liquid took firm control of the game. CompLexity Gaming would desperately attempt multiple pushes to end the game, but Team Liquid held and held until they finally pushed back and finished the game.
Game 2 was all Team Liquid: They were allowed to pick comfort picks and counters to any early aggression and their lane phase was dominant. With the aid of better power spikes, rotations and sustain, Team Liquid pressured barracks at the 22-minute mark and constantly camped out at compLexity Gaming's side of the map. There just wasn't enough damage to push out Team Liquid as they lose the set to send them to the lower bracket.
Team Liquid against Virtus.pro
Game 1 of the rematch was all Team Liquid from the beginning. Virtus.pro was punished over and over again for their greedy extensions, and Team Liquid's rotations, team fight composition and burst damage were the absolute killer in this matchup. With every outer tower destroyed, Team Liquid controlled the map for the entirety of the early game through the midgame. The big fight that is a signature for Virtus.pro's games happened when the Phoenix, Death Prophet and Witch Doctor ultimate combination wiped Team Liquid's entire lead. The split push of Nature's Prophet and Gyrocopter forced Virtus.pro's hand, but Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka's Tusk stopped all of the teleports and the barracks and map control fell back into Team Liquid. From there, Team Liquid wiped out Virtus.pro's hopes with a successful team wipe after the Roshan take and finished off the first game.
Virtus.pro would lane better in Game 2 and kept the kills in their favor for the early game. Team Liquid's response time in rotations, objective takes, and Roshan decisions were perfectly countered off most of the advantage. Even Team Liquid's mistakes or initiations worked in their favor as Virtus.pro continued to lose ground and fights with every engagement. The mistakes piled on, and Team Liquid snowballed their team fight into the Virtus.pro's side of the map. Eventually, the superior pushing abilities of Death Prophet and Nature's Prophet of Team Liquid ignored the comeback factor of Virtus.pro for the set victory.
So, there you have it. Group D was the end of the group stages and it should be a ridiculously entertaining main event.