There are a lot of questions going into the Manila Major. As the last Valve-sanctioned major before The International, this tournament's results will likely determine who gets a ticket to Seattle come August.
There have been a few premier LANs in the time between Shanghai and now -- even fewer on the current patch -- but most teams have scrapped with each other enough for us to get the lay of the land. Going into the major, here's our current power rankings: who's king, who's reaching for the throne and who needs a miracle in Manila.
1. Team Liquid
There's little room to question this pick for the No. 1 slot. Few have managed to topple the titans of Team Liquid in the months since the Shanghai Major, and their showings have been dominant against all but its closest competitors. This Liquid lineup can adapt to any situation and is a challenge to contest in any stage of the game. Spurned once in Shanghai by Team Secret, Team Liquid enters this major with little to prove. A No. 1 spot here will simply be a step on its march to The International. Still, a little extra confidence boost from a Manila title win never hurts.
The Frankfurt Major champions had a weak showing at the following premier, but since dropping to Fnatic in Shanghai, they have been clawing their way back to its former glory. With a 3-0 sweep over a rising Na'Vi squad in DreamLeague and a third-place finish at Epicenter, OG has proven itself as heir once again. On an individual level, OG is at the height of its game, with 9000 MMR player Amer "Miracle" Barqawi, supports like Andreas "Cr1t" Franck Nielsen and captain Tal "Fly" Aizik. Miracle and his motley crew will have to put in extra work at this major to seize a top spot, as many of the teams that have knocked them out of tournaments prior will be in attendance.
3. Wings Gaming
In results alone, Wings Gaming can seem like a mixed bag, ranging from incredible sweeps against Team Liquid and Vici Gaming Reborn to less stellar performances within the highly competitive Chinese Dota scene. It isn't just the results to look at here, as the way Wings drafts and approaches the game is unlike any other team in the scene. Under team captain Zhang "Innocence" Liping and the wide number of heroes each member can play at a top level, Wings is bound to bring some challenging, interesting mind games to Manila and throw many of the conservative drafters for a loop.
Newbee's strength has been the worst-kept secret in Dota, as it silently picked off the top Chinese teams one-by-one. That led up to a shot against Team Liquid in Epicenter, where Newbee took the tournament favorites to a full five matches. Even listing off the members, it's apparent that from hard carry Chen "Hao" Zhihao down to five-role team captain Hu "Kaka" Liangzhi, this is one of the few "super teams" that doesn't falter under the weight of its individual stars.
5. Vici Gaming Reborn
Made up of former Vici Gaming roster members and newcomers, this B-squad to Vici has shown itself to be anything but a second thought. Especially impressive is the play from lesser-known players like Wang "Nono" Xin, Zhou "Yang" Haiyang and sub Tong "Mikasa" Junjie, leading the team to wins over teams like Wings, Natus Vincere, OG and LGD Gaming. It'll have to overcome more regional competitors on its way to the top, but this team has the right players in the right place to make that kind of run.
6. MVP Phoenix
Often the sole representative of Korean Dota at any major event, MVP Phoenix has managed to pull consistent quality wins despite coming from a less competitive region overall. Its revenge-sweep of Evil Geniuses at Dota Pit League was impressive, but the following drop out of the Starladder i-League Invitational without a single win was less so. With the devastating dual cores of Pyo "MP" No-a and Kim "QO" Seon-yeob leading this squad, it'll still have every chance at a good run, but it'll need to show up in better form.
7. Natus Vincere
The new Na'Vi is something intimidating, if uncertain of itself. Mid lane star Danil "Dendi" Ishutin has assembled a lineup of both old Na'Vi talent and new recruits to give this team the most life it has had since the glory days of TI3. Its fast, team-oriented Dota is refreshing for fans longing for the return of Na'Vi. Unfortunately, this team is inconsistent, taking big series and then losing the next with the same conviction. Na'Vi has the talent to make it far in the bracket, but it'll need to find its center to get there.
If we're talking the glory days of TI3, Alliance is right alongside Natus Vincere in that conversation. The entire winning squad from the third International has reassembled, but not without issues. The same squad that had such a dominating run in 2013 is struggling to take more than a match at a time against the bigger teams. That said, this patch might actually favor its strengths, from hero picks like Lifestealer, Lone Druid and Puck being in vogue for the faster, team-oriented style that winning teams are using. Alliance could make a solid run -- maybe not for the top -- but a top-eight placement could be in the cards if the TI3 victors can put together some convincing series.
9. Evil Geniuses
This season has been shaky for Evil Geniuses. The TI5 victors have gone through several roster swaps with results ranging from solid at Dota Pit League and the Shanghai Major to getting swept 0-2 by North American rival Complexity at Epicenter. Star mid Syed "SumaiL" Sumail Hassan and returning carry Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling need to look a little more comfortable in their roles, and captain Peter "ppd" Dager will likely be studying past drafts to avoid more upsets. This is a team still capable of greatness, but it will need to prove that at Manila to feel confident going into the next International.
A fan favorite for the Manila crowd, the regional team will need more than the crowd behind it if it wants to take a shot at the top. Team captain and hard carry Chai "Mushi" Yee Fung has been incredible to watch through his career, but look to mid player Yeik "MidOne" Zheng Nai to be the key factor in this team's success at Manila. A good showing from those two will mean the difference between a top placing or a quick exit.
11. Team Secret
It's hard to think that the victors of Shanghai and runner-up to Frankfurt's title would be so sorely in need of a win going into the final major, but here we are. The decisive booting of w33 and Misery, for Evil Geniuses stars Artour "Arteezy" Babaev and Saahil "Universe" Arora, has yet to be shown as a good decision, as Secret has continued to put up results less stellar than it should on paper. It's strange to think of a world where Team Secret might be facing a qualifier run, but a good showing at Manila will be about more than TI prospects; this is about the dream team getting its groove back or getting left in the dust.
12. LGD Gaming
A controversial direct invite at the time, Zhang "xiao8" Ning's new squad has shown some signs of life lately, but still looked shaky compared to other squads in the tournament. The résumé of each individual player is strong, but they have shown a lack of cohesive play compared to squads like Newbee and Wings, and it's hard to call it a sure bet against any of the other top eight teams. There's potential for victory, but it's also likely to get upset and sent home by seasoned teams that have spent more time together. Look to the star power of Sun "Agressif" Zheng and Lu "Maybe" Yao to be the biggest factors in LGD's tournament run.
13. Digital Chaos
The darkest horse in this tournament, Digital Chaos has the propensity to rocket to the top and upset every team in the major -- or crash and fail. It has been making waves on the North American scene for a while now, taking three consecutive series against Complexity in the recent qualifier gauntlet. Disregarding individual experience, this team lacks experience against foreign teams. It's likely former Team Secret members Aliwi "w33" Omar and Rasmus "Misery" Filipsen will be the on the lookout for revenge, as Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok looks to continue his dominating streak in the hard carry role. Individual play may or may not be the thing that puts it over against teams like Liquid, OG and Wings.
14. Complexity Gaming
A couple weeks ago, Complexity would have easily been several spots higher in these rankings. A win over Evil Geniuses and fourth-place finish at Epicenter were surprising, but the subsequent losses in the NA qualifier gauntlet have tempered those rising flames. Complexity still has plenty of potential, but it needs to show a more collected, focused approach in this tournament, especially if it's going to tackle the titans in its group and avoid the single elimination lower bracket.
15. Team Empire
Despite a strong appearance at ESL One Manila, Team Empire has a lot to prove when it returns to the Philippines. It's easy to see this as a strong team, but going up the list above and pitting its odds against each squad, it's hard to find any one matchup that would be a surefire victory. If it makes an impressive run, look to Roman "Ramzes666" Kushnarev and Vasily "Afterlife" Shishkin to pull the weight. This Russian squad has some talent, but it's hard to see it do more than dent the armor of the stronger teams in the major.
Mineski is a team that always makes it to the tournament and then often loses in the first round. Compared to other Southeast Asian teams like MVP Phoenix and Fnatic, Mineski offers little in the way of quality wins or résumés to offer some aspirations for the top. A strong run from this team would be unexpected and exciting, but also a little miraculous. It's always good to see SEA representation, and the home crowd will no doubt be cheering for Mineski through it all, but this team would need a miracle to see the upper bracket.