EPIC League Sees a Shift of Balance Thanks to Virtus.pro and Vikin.gg
The balance of power in the European region has been upset in a big way. The teams normally found at the top like Team Secret, Team Nigma, and Team Liquid have been cut down to size at EPIC League Division 1 — forced by other squads such as the new look Virtus.pro and the ever-present Vikin.gg to fight for the middle spots in the group stage.
The aforementioned marquee rosters all found themselves on less than stable footing throughout the preliminaries, displaced by rising rivals with tons of early momentum to work with. As such, it was VP, Vikin.gg, and perennial fan favorites Natus Vincere that held the first three spots in the EPIC League standings.
VP, whose lineup is now composed of players from their academy program VP.Prodigy, impressed the most in particular with a rock solid record of 16 wins and just seven losses in maps. They got off to a great start to their campaign on the first day of proceedings, taking just over an hour’s worth of in-game time to put OG away two games to none.
Both EPIC League games were complete massacres going their way — with the first in particular making them look extremely good as they destroyed their opponents 21-4 in terms of kills. In fact only Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen scored anything at all for OG, with the rest of the team being held to absolutely nothing when it came to the score. VP meanwhile were firing on all cylinders, with Egor “epileptick1d” Grigorenko and Vitalie “Save-” Melnic leading the charge as Faceless Void and Elder Titan respectively.
The second game was much more of the same, with 38 kills on VP’s side compared to OG’s 13. This time around it was the young maverick Danil “gpk” Skutin showing off his sick skills, posting a perfect 12-0 record as the Quas-Wex Invoker. Though he only drew even against Topson’s Tiny in the middle lane, the 19-year-old did very well to capitalize on his build’s strengths by sharking around the map early and often. This was despite OG’s small early lead as well, so it goes without saying that gpk’s ganks definitely allowed VP to keep their opponents in check and later steal the advantage back in the mid game.
With their spirits high and everything clicking into place off the bat, VP continued to impress in their second match — this time against the newly-formed Just Error. Interestingly, Just Error is home to three former VP members, each of them being part of the star-studded roster that won a slew of major titles from 2017-2019 and went to all three Internationals during that period. Thus, the current VP lineup scoring a 2-1 victory over them was quite poetic in the end; a changing of the guard of sorts, if you will.
From there, Save- and his crew went on to win every single match they participated in during the group stage, showing everyone that their organization’s decision to move them up to the A-team was the right decision. They now find themselves in a fantastic position heading into the playoffs, with plenty of experience to work with at least in this event.
Vikings On the Charge
Legend speaks of the brave and valiant seafarers from Scandinavia from which the players of Vikin.gg take their name — and that’s exactly what they’ve been throughout the tournament so far. All five members of the team have been grinding it out through the entirety of 2020, and for the first time they look poised to place themselves within the conversation of “best EU/CIS teams” this year. Melchior “Seleri” Hillenkamp has done a great job leading the rest of Vikin.gg as team captain at this event, notching a map score of 14 wins and 10 losses to secure second place just ahead of Na’Vi (who actually have the same score as well).
Their first EPIC League match took place all the way back on November 13th, when they faced the ESL One Germany champions Team Liquid. This meant that Vikin.gg were immediately put to the test at the start of the tournament — but they took the challenge in stride and put in a solid performance across three games to get themselves on the board. The first game was a convincing one for the Romania-based team, holding Liquid to 18 kills while scoring 36 of their own.
The game was neck and neck between the two competitors for about half an hour, until Vikin.gg’s cores stamped their marks on the map by taking great teamfights in the mid game. Liquid’s Michael “miCKe” Vu was farming well as Sven, but was beaten out by Indji “Shad” Lub as Spectre — which proved instrumental in the battle of the hard carries. In the end miCKe just didn’t have the damage that Sven is now notorious for in Patch 7.27d, which meant that Shad easily doubled his rival’s output by the end.
Liquid countered in the second game by virtue of their great play in the laning phase, scoring multiple kills in the lanes early on to slowly gain a net worth advantage. The first few kills were credited to Samuel “Boxi” Svahn, who made the early moves as the position 3 Void Spirit — though interestingly he was placed in a safe lane trilane setup with Aydin “iNSaNiA” Sarkohi’s Crystal Maiden and miCKe’s Sven rather than the actual offlane. The chaos he was creating in the lane gave miCKe the space he needed to farm to his heart’s content, which translated to 758 gold per minute and a whopping 670 creep kills by the end of the game.
Not to be outdone by his friends in the trilane, the veteran mid laner Maximilian “qojqva” Bröcker styled all over Vikin.gg as Viper — thanks in no small part to his savvy play against Miroslav “BOOM” Bičan’s Invoker which allowed him to snowball as Viper tends to do. His 13 minute Boots of Travel timing meant huge trouble for Vikin.gg, as he was then able to impose his will on the map every time his Town Portal Scroll was off cooldown.
Of course in the late game he was also a key part of Liquid’s efforts, forcing Shad to buy a Black King Bar as Spectre just so he could shrug off the Break mechanic from qojqva and his Nethertoxin. But even magic immunity couldn’t save Vikin.gg from the impending loss, as it was clear that Liquid’s increasing advantage and almost unbeatable win condition in the form of Tommy “Taiga” Le’s Enigma pick were both just insurmountable.
The EPIC League series therefore was locked at one game apiece, but the members Vikin.gg dug deep to eke out the win in the final map. Despite facing one of the best Storm Spirit players in Europe in qojqva — who did indeed get his hands on his signature hero — the monster performance by Shad as the safe lane Medusa was too much for Liquid to handle. The Dutchman posted an eye-watering 955 gold by the end of the almost 38 minute game, and there were simply no answers from the opposing side. qojqva’s 12 minute Orchid Malevolence pickup did help him score some pickoffs here and there, but with Vikin.gg’s carry just growing way out of control there was little that they could do to stem the tide. In the end, they just couldn’t deal with such an overfarmed Medusa.
Of course, Vikin.gg were not content with just squeaking past one premier team; they had their sights set on an even bigger target in the form of Team Secret. And what a performance it was against the best team in the region, as Seleri and his boys walloped Secret two games to none. Both Shad and BOOM were the MVPs of the series in question, playing well off one another to make Clement “Puppey” Ivanov and his squad look like a bunch of random pub players for once. An incredible run for them thus far all things considered, and we’re sure they’re looking for more as they head into the playoffs.
Contested Middle Ground
As mentioned before, the middle of the pack in the EPIC League group stage were all left to fight amongst themselves in tiebreaker matches, all of which took place on an extra day of competition on Sunday. Mudgolems and Alliance were eliminated from Division 1 as a result of these games as they lost each best-of-one series against Just Error, and will now have to play against teams like ex-Ninjas in Pyjamas and Winstrike Team in Division 2.
Just Error therefore will hang onto eighth place by the skin of their teeth, finishing the preliminaries with a record of 8-15 in maps. Not exactly an inspiring result for Syed “SumaiL” Hassan’s new team, but they’ll definitely take the last available playoff berth and the right to stay within Division 1. They will have to figure plenty of things out going forward though, or they’ll be the first to go at this rate.
Likewise, OG have got some thinking to do when it comes to their campaign so far after losing both of their tiebreaker games as well against Liquid and Nigma. Their score was much better than Just Error’s, at least, winning 12 games while giving up nine. Prior to the tiebreakers they were practically on the same level as the other teams in the midfield anyway, so late stumbles notwithstanding there’s still a chance for them to get back in the mix once the playoffs begin.
As for Secret and Nigma, their play in the tiebreakers has proven that they can still muster up the confidence and keep their nerves in check when things aren’t quite going to plan. Secret especially showed their wealth of experience and ability to rise above difficult circumstances in the tiebreakers, winning every single best-of-one very handily to secure fourth place. Nigma on the other hand looked shaky in the last tiebreaker game in particular, picking Meepo for Aliwi “w33” Omar despite the hero not exactly being great in the current metagame. The cheese pick fell completely flat, with Nigma able to score only eight kills against Secret’s 40.
The EPIC League playoffs are therefore just over the horizon now, with the first matches scheduled to take place on Tuesday. The surviving eight teams will face off in a double-elimination bracket over six days of play, with every set aside from the Grand Finals being a best-of-three. Be sure to watch the drama unfold and see if the top three teams can hold their ground against some of the best players in Dota history — all via Epicenter’s official Twitch stream.