ESL One Manila Previews New Secret, EHOME Rosters Ahead of the Manila Major

This weekend was a big weekend for Dota, with some of the highest quality play on display since the Shanghai Major ended on March 6th. For those who might not know, along with the introduction of the Majors tournaments this year, Valve also introduced a new roster lock system that was meant to bring more stability to the pro scene. As a result of this move, rosters unlocked on March 7th, immediately following the conclusion of Shanghai, giving teams until the 27th to drop players that may not be an optimal fit or to pick up new talent for the next Major. This is an especially important roster lock since rosters will not unlock again until after both the Manila Major and the International 6 have been played, meaning any roster decisions made now could potentially end up winning or costing teams millions of dollars.

With a prize pool of $250,000, ESL One Manila is one of the biggest paying LAN tournaments to take place in between the Shanghai Major and the Manila Major. Most importantly, it offers one of the first opportunities to see how some of the major post-Shanghai roster changes will play out in the Manila Major and the granddaddy event of the year, the International – which put a prize pool of over $18 million on the line last August.

Previous smaller LANs like H-Cup Season 4 and the StarLadder i-League invitational offered initial insight into the post-Shanghai Chinese shuffle, including new rosters for teams like CDEC Gaming, LGD Gaming, Newbee, and the perennial Chinese powerhouse, EHOME. Those tournaments also offered a peek at some of the rising talent on display in the Chinese Dota scene, most notably the newly formed Vici Gaming Reborn roster, who bested EHOME in the H-Cup finals and fought their way past OG from the loser’s bracket of StarLadder before getting a rematch series with the resurgent Na’Vi to take the tournament. With the all the fresh Chinese rosters and talent on display in the previous LANs, many overlooked an emergent Chinese team participating in ESL One Manila, Wings Gaming, which had limited success at World Cyber Arena, but was ultimately knocked out by Team Liquid in a 2-0 sweep.

Instead, most spectators were focused on seeing the debut of the new all-star roster announced by Team Secret just before the roster lock. After winning the Shanghai Major with EternalEnvy, w33ha, Misery, pieliedie and Puppey, Secret shocked many (including w33ha and Misery, apparently) by booting w33ha and Misery at the last minute in favor of two highly coveted Evil Geniuses players, offlaner Universe and renowned midlander/carry Arteezy. Already eager to see Arteezy return to Secret given the extremely high level of play that team showed with him prior to their infamous TI5 burnout, fans were even more excited to see how the in-game chemistry between Arteezy and longtime friend EternalEnvy would play out. The unexpected departure of Universe from the Evil Geniuses roster that won TI5, a feat that for many is synonymous with Universe’s “$6 million Echo Slam,” only served to add more fuel to the fire of an already hyped fan base.

With such a star-studded line up, Team Secret had some high expectations to live up to going into their first group stage match with Team Empire. However, Secret’s first series against Team Empire would prove to be underwhelming for Secret fans to say the least, as the team struggled to find synergy against a Team Empire that was demonstrating some above and beyond play, seemingly anticipating Secret’s movements on the map before Secret knew themselves. Universe in particular seemed to have trouble adjusting to his new team, as his performance was nowhere near his normally exceptional level of play. Of his unforced errors in the series, the best example by far was a disastrous missed Ravage (courtesy of LiveCap TV) from his Tidehunter in Game 2 that failed to catch a single nearby Team Empire hero and sent Twitch chat into cries of “Sheever!” (courtesy of Na’Vi’s channel) Ultimately, Secret would end their disappointing first series of play with a disheartening 2-0 loss to Team Empire, who were playing in truly exceptional fashion.

While Secret struggled with their first group stage match against Empire, EHOME faced off against South East Asia qualifier Fnatic, who had shifted up their team composition a little bit, with 343 subbing in for Mushi. EHOME, which had looked to be one of the strongest teams heading into the Shanghai Major, delivered disappointing results in that tournament as the Chinese teams all failed to deliver the dominant performance fans were hoping for with their home-turf advantage.

In the great Chinese post-Shanghai reshuffle, Iceiceice and Fenrir left Vici Gaming for EHOME, as ex-EHOME members cty and Kaka took up the Vici Gaming (not to be confused with Vici Gaming Reborn) mantle in their place. With new blood in the mix, EHOME showed up to play at H-Cup, but ultimately lost in the grand finals to iceiceice and Fenrir’s former teammate, fy, and the squad on Vici Gaming Reborn. Sadly, they would be unable to replicate their H-Cup success at Manila, ultimately sharing in Secret’s early misfortune as they also succumbed to a 2-0 first round loss.

As the two losers of the first round bracket, Secret and EHOME would end up playing with elimination on the line in their second best of 3 series. After a very rough first series against EHOME, Secret looked to have slipped into a more comfortable groove and were demonstrating great map movement and plays that looked much more like the expectations fans had of their lineup heading into the tournament. Arteezy was in particularly good form on Invoker in the first game, showing his pub hero spamming had paid significant dividends as he landed precision Sunstrike after Sunstrike with the help of pieliedie on his signature Lion. Unfortunately, EHOME was unable to find their comfort zone in this tournament and suffered another 2-0 series loss to Secret, sending them home without having won a single game.

With this Team Secret had their shot at redemption and a semifinal seed as they headed into a second best of 3 series against Empire. Secret would be able to find some vindication as they took their first game in the series on the back of Arteezy’s Invoker and a fearsome display from EternalEnvy on Clinkz. However, the real highlight of the series (and the tournament) would come at the end of game 2. Team Empire and their carry, Ramzes666, demonstrating the reasons for Spectre’s unusually high winrate in the tournament, had Secret firmly up against the ropes in the late game when Secret initiated on Spectre in a last ditch effort to turn the game around and secure the series win. The teamfight that followed (in the mind of this writer, at least) should go down with Navi’s “the play,” Alliance’s “million dollar Dream Coil,” and Evil Geniuses’ “$6 million Echo Slam” as one of the defining reasons that we watch professional Dota. Words can only do it so much justice, so I highly recommend checking out the replay (courtesy of NoobFromUA’s Youtube channel). Ultimately, Team Empire would expend massive buybacks to turn the back-and forth wombo-combo fight into their favor, ultimately winning them the game. They would go on to take the final game of the series as well, ending with a 2-1 victory that took them into the semifinals and deflating the new Team Secret’s hope of walking away with a LAN win.

I would, of course, be remiss if I did not mention the breakout team of the tournament, Wings Gaming. Wings, as a team, has been around since 2014, but before this tournament had not been able to even qualify for the Shanghai major, let alone having a major LAN win to their name. Their most notable player, iceice, (not to be confused with iceiceice) was a well known pubstar on the Chinese server and was first introduced into the pro scene by renowned player (aka the “Chinese Puppey”) xiao8 back during the Dota Asia Championships, pre-TI5. At ESL One Manila, they were able to fight past their first series with compLexity Gaming with a 2-1 victory, overcoming a novel Lifestealer+Anicent Creep+Radiance build from coL that cost Wings Game 1 along the way. That game was a special treat to watch due to SirActionSlacks on the casting panel, who bestowed the names “Gary” and “Horatio” on the Ancient Golem and Dragon. Wings would hit a roadblock in their next series against Team Liquid, who were able to walk away with a dominant 2-0 victory despite some mid-game recovery from Wings in both games. Wings would fight through a Complexity rematch series and a semifinals series against Fnatic, winning both series 2-1 to break through into the finals to face down Liquid once again, hungry to avenge the previous loss.

Interestingly enough given all of the excitement around the post-Shanghai roster shuffles, the grand finals was played between Wings Gaming and Team Liquid, who have been two of the most stable teams since TI5, as noted by the game’s stats analyst. Wings showed significant growth since their previous match-up against Liquid, and were able to take a hard fought two game lead up on Liquid heading into the third and potentially final game of the Best of 5. Liquid broke out a fearsome draft going into Game 3, picking two of the dominant “flavor of the patch” heroes, Outworld Devourer and Spectre. Wings responded with a highly unorthodox mid Alchemist and carry Venomancer rebuttal that ended up winning them their first major LAN and introducing yet another team into the pro scene that has legitimate potential to come away with the coveted victory at the Manila Major. With a new patch (6.87) just being announced today, Wings’ creative drafting victory over the 6.86-meta Liquid picks serves as an appropriate eulogy for 6.86 and gives a preview of the excitement that 6.87 and the upcoming Manila Major and International LANs will hold.