The stage is set for the final showdown at the Shanghai Majors with three of the best teams in DOTA 2: Team Secret, Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid.
At this point it's anyone's guess which team will ultimately be crowned the champion, but the edge should definitely go to Team Secret. It is guaranteed into the finals with last night's victory over Team Liquid in the upper bracket finals. One of the other two teams will need to hurdle over the other just for the shot at the title. It has been a wild journey, but Sunday will be its climatic ending.
The odds-on favorite to take down the Shanghai Majors is easily the most well-rounded team of the three and possesses several strong advantages for its claim as the best in this tournament. First, it should be noted that Team Secret already beat both Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses on its way to the grand finals. In both victories, it flashed its world-class rotating abilities and early-game team fighting execution, but also its impeccable defense whenever (it doesn't always happen) EternalEnvy made a crucial mistake. Perhaps the most overstated strength of the team is its supports, Puppey and PieLieDie. They've been the MVPs for Team Secret through amazing warding, rotations and pressure, and their contributions in team fights and individual breathtaking plays. They've simply been the best pair of supports in Shanghai.
In its match against Evil Geniuses, Team Secret showcased several strategies that make game planning against them near-impossible. For Game 1, the plan was emphasized around the big team fight with the drafting of an Earth Spirit and Enigma. However, many things went wrong in the beginning -- EternalEnvy's Spectre was near the bottom of the net value for the laning phase, w33's Earth Spirit was in the middle lane with just experience, and only Misery's Lone Druid and Puppey's Enigma farmed. Despite the adversity, Team Secret pulled through and forced several key fights where the combination of Enigma and Earth Spirit were felt. Eventually, the farm of Misery and the power of Spectre took over the game. Team Secret won from a initial deficit. As for Game 3, it was a high-mobility ganking lineup with a focus on vision. Team Secret drafted Night Stalker and Nature's Prophet with the killing potential of Invoker and Ember Spirit. It would harass and punish Evil Geniuses' greedy draft and eventually seize control through the insane vision of Night Stalker.
Those two examples of versatile drafts and the signature ability to recover from mistakes or a deficit, large or small, is what makes Team Secret an absolute threat to take the tournament. Its matches against both Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses were systematic takedowns (more so against Team Liquid), and it should enter the grand finals with confidence.
The key factors: versatile drafts and play styles, PieLieDie and Puppey rotations, and the carry threat of Misery.
The North American hope still remains as arguably the best team left of the three in Shanghai. It possesses two of the greatest carry players, Sumail and Arteezy, the drafting prowess and think tank of ppd, and the overall brilliance of both Universe and Fear's fundamental and efficient play. This is not a team to look past. In its victories, Evil Geniuses looked dominant. It's a claim that none of the other teams have. Whether it was through a lopsided kill score or the structural damage, or even the time played in the game, Evil Geniuses played the part of the overwhelming opponent. If it doesn't forget its strengths of funneling farm through Arteezy and allowing Sumail to pilot a proactive hero, Evil Geniuses could just very well take it all. The biggest key to Evil Geniuses might be speed -- the faster the game or pace, the better for the team. Although it can win and execute well in a longer game, it has been the speedier game that allow for dominant victories. Evil Geniuses' set against compLexity Gaming was a great example. The only loss against compLexity Gaming took 41 minutes in an 18-31 conclusion, but Evil Geniuses' wins were 22:40 minutes and 34:07 minutes, respectively. In those drafts, there were two similarities: Sumail was on a playmaking hero and there was at least one roaming support. If Sumail is denied a hero that can make plays or out-lane the opponent sufficiently, Evil Geniuses will more than likely fall. And, if the team doesn't draft a rotating/gank support like a Vengeful Spirit or a Mirana, the speed of the game will crawl. It's not to say that Evil Geniuses cannot play the long game, it's just that the faster speed of non-stop fighting and rotations favor the North American squad.
Another great example would be its last set against MVP Phoenix. Though speed and frenzied action favored the Korean lineup, it favored the Evil Geniuses more. The drafting of a rotating supporting in Earth Spirit for both games was a game-changer. Not only did you allow the team that needs a rotating support the best one available, but ppd drafted his own signature Crystal Maiden for double the rotating potential. Evil Geniuses fought MVP Phoenix at its game better than any team in the tournament not named Team Liquid. So far, the stars of the Evil Genius squad could be pointed at both ppd (2.6 kills and 11.5 assists per game) and Fear (3.9 kills and 11.6 assists per game). You shut down the rotating potential of Evil Geniuses and it could be lights-out.
The key factors: fast pace and high-execution rotations, tri-core threat of Universe, Sumail, and Arteezy, and individual mechanical skill.
The team that many were waiting for a breakout performance on a LAN finally emerged. Team Liquid is arguably the team with the most to game plan for. Not only does it employ an older two-core style, but its hero picks sway off the traditional curve. From a support Legion Commander to the lesser-picked Tusk, Team Liquid wants to always be in your face early and often. In addition, its signature drafting style is "match and defeat". Team Liquid will allow you to pick heroes that fit your style or strength and then attempt a counter with its own pet picks. Its weaknesses are implied in the style: Team Liquid funnels too much priority into MATUMBAMAN and FATA- and if one is shut down, the team suffers considerably. This is a very fragile ecosystem with cogs that play integral and mostly static positions. The key here is that Team Liquid plays its style so well that it has mostly been indifferent whether you game plan against it or not.
The victory over the Alliance was a great representation of what Team Liquid could do. First, it didn't care about allowing its opponent to select signature and comfort picks -- Team Liquid encouraged it. It simply out-drafted the opponent with heroes that did exactly what Alliance did, but better. Give a Beastmaster, draft a Night Stalker. Allow a Puck to go through and counter with a blink dagger Invoker, and slide the farming Loda a passive Naga Siren so MATUMBAMAN can also farm with his Anti-Mage.
Against Virtus.Pro, Team Liquid gave Silent a Lycan and drafted a Death Prophet and Nature's Prophet. It's a bold anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better statement from the team, and it has worked out so far. As for the two cores? MATUMBAMAN is a star and FATA- has excelled at his secondary carry role. Team Liquids' carry, MATUMBAMAN, is averaging a robust 8.0 kills and 7.6 assists, while FATA- is at 6.3 kills and 9.1 assists per game. That's not to say that its strength is just the two cores; its support system is top-notch in fast rotations and excel in scattered team fights. Whether it's MinDContRol, JerAx or KuroKy, the playmaking starts there. They've been highly involved in every important clash with 10.4, 12.6, and 9.6 assists per game, respectively. It's not the most well-rounded team or strategy, but Team Liquid certainly can outplay and overwhelm any opponent.
Key factors: strong tri-supporting cast, two excellent carry players, and the execution to outplay any draft.
The end of the Shanghai Majors is near and it should be explosive. The winner of the entire tournament will be Team Secret. Its simply playing every team's strategy and employing the Team Secret touch to it. Despite any kind of adversity or mistake, the flawless play of PieLieDie and Puppey more than make up for it. It's too much execution to overcome and this tournament is Team Secret's to lose.