WePlay! Bukovel Minor 2020 is set to kick off this Thursday, January 9, and will mark the first Dota Pro Circuit tournament of 2020 and the second Minor tournament of the season. Travelling to Bukovel will be eight Dota 2 teams, who will compete for the largest slice of US $300,000 prize pool and the last ticket leading to DreamLeague Season 13: The Leipzig Major.
All eight teams will enter the tournament looking to prove their worth and kick-off 2020 with a bang, however, with the stacked lineup, the road to the summit won't be a walk in the park, even for the former Team Liquid roster - Nigma, who missed out on a direct promotion for Leipzig Major in the European closed qualifiers by the skin of their teeth.
Nigma looking to prove themselves
Talking about the European roster, they are seen as the strongest team of the tournament. While there will be plenty of great teams in Bukovel, we can't look past the fact Nigma is assembled from Team Liquid's former roster, which took home a silver medal from The International 2019. Furthermore, four of their members - Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi, Ivan Borislavov "MinD_ContRoL" Ivanov, Maroun "GH" Merhej and Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi are all former TI7 champions. Aliwi "w33" Omar on the other side joined up with the team in summer last year and has previously finished second at TI6 with Digital Chaos. Suffice to say Nigma have a star-studded roster and while they dropped the ball at Leipzig Major qualifiers, they are still regarded as the team to beat in Ukraine.
Royal Never Give Up representing China
Royal Never Give Up will arrive at Bukovel as the only Chinese representatives, who will have a lot to prove following their less-than-inspiring results in recent months.
Last year, RNG were aiming to contest the TI9 title, however, found themselves failing to impress. It all started well for the Chinese roster who dominated the Chinese qualifiers and secured the first seed, but as soon as TI began, RNG’s struggles began.
Underwhelming results earned them an eighth spot in the group, which meant they barely made it into the playoffs. There they bested Alliance and Virtus.pro but lost to Team Liquid in round three to finish at a seventh-eighth place.
Soon after the TI, RNG signed Gao "dogf1ghts" Tianpeng and Lu "Fenrir" Chao in a bid to boost their quality, however, the results they were hoping never came. In November RNG finished fifth-eighth at Hainan Master Cup and lost to Team Adroit in the finals of Yabo Supreme Cup mid-December.
That being said, RNG saw some success at China Dota 2 Pro League S1 towards the end of the year, where they bested the likes of PSG.LGD, EHOME and KG, however, they still have a lot to prove and Bukovel Minor will be a perfect place for them to do just that.
Never sleep on CIS teams
Gambit are a team that might not look strong, however, they are a team no one should sleep on, as they are more than capable of causing some serious damage if given a chance.
One of the strongest CIS Dota 2 teams started the new DPC season with a bang. They finished ESL One Hamburg 2019 Major at a second-place and even took home a bronze medal from ONE Esports Dota 2 World Pro Invitational Singapore, which was a massive achievement, considering they lost only two fixtures, and even that was against Evil Geniuses in the upper bracket finals and the eventual champions ViCi in the lower bracket finals.
The fact that Gambit managed to defeat the likes of Alliance and Team Liquid while playing stalemates against VG, EG and PSG.LGD in the group stage only goes to show they are capable of great things. They might not be one of the top five teams in the world, but Gambit surely plays like one.
Can NA impress?
Representing the North American region we have Ninjas in Pyjamas and Fighting PandaS, who are set to make their region proud, however, both sides made some massive roster changes which raise a few questions about how well will the teams perform.
NiP assembled a strong team, which fields Nico "Gunnar" Lopez, Saahil "Universe" Arora, Malthe "Biver" Winther, Peter "ppd" Dager and the most recent arrival Jason Connor "TANNER" Weedon who replaced Oliver "Skiter" Lepko.
While NiP seem like a team that could potentially impress, there are some concerns whether their new roster had enough time to gel together in order to put their potential to use. In a way, Pandas are facing the same problem, and while the team was assembled in late August last year, that still means the squad was playing together for only four months.
In those four months, they finished third in Leipzig Major NA qualifiers, finished second in Bukovel Minor NA qualifiers and won the WESG NA finals where they defeated NA's Finest stack.
Pandas put up solid results in the last few months, however, when it came to facing off against stronger teams, they failed to deliver, as seen from their venture at MDL Chengdu Major back in November, where they lost to ViCi (0-2) and beastcoast (0-2) to finish at a ninth-12th place.
Both teams have the potential to impress and contest top spots, but for that to happen, they will have to significantly improve to be able to compete against the stacked lineup in Bukovel. Out of the two, however, NiP have a significantly better chance to make it into the playoffs, considering they got paired with Geek Fam, RNG and Team Spirit in Group A.
SEA counting on Geek Fam to deliver
Kim "DuBu" Doo-young and his squad had a very shaky run at the SEA Leipzig Major qualifiers, where they failed to secure a direct promotion and were forced to go through Bukovel qualifiers. There, however, Geek Fam delivered as they decimated BOOM Esports and Cignal Ultra twice which secured them a ticket for the Minor.
Geek Fam had an impressive run in the Bukovel qualifiers, but that does not take away the fact they severely struggled in Leipzig Major qualifiers, where the only team the defeated was Neon.
Mid-December, Geek Fam signed Karl "Karl" Jayme as a replacement for Eric "Ryoya" Dong. Karl has been making a name for himself in SEA scene, however, he is still unproven in DPC, which does make us wonder whether he will be able to deliver here and perform up to par. That being said, he will hopefully add some motivation and confidence to Geek Fam, who need just that after crashing out of Leipzig qualifiers.
Underdogs of the tournament
All teams deserve respect for making it so far and earning a spot in the Bukovel Minor, but as it's the case with every tournament, there are always teams who are regarded as the weakest bunch and in this case, those two teams are Team Spirit and FURIA.
FURIA will be the only South American representatives in Ukraine and while they have had a fair amount of success in their domestic league, they are expected to struggle against the star-studded field.
Looking back, FURIA came close to securing a spot at Leipzig Major in South American qualifiers, but unfortunately fell flat against beastcoast who prevented them from entering the playoffs, which suggests facing stronger teams is a problem for FURIA.
Team Spirit on the other side are in a very similar position. They perform well against weaker teams, but completely underperform when faced with higher quality rosters. Despite that, they had some moments of greatness in the Leipzig CIS qualifiers, where they defeated NaVi and played a stalemate with Gambit.
Another thing worth noting here is that Spirit signed Alexey "nongrata" Vasilyev as a replacement for Andrey "Ghostik" Kadyk at the end of last year, which should be an upgrade in the long run, but even with this move, we can't expect great things from Spirit this January.
All in all, there are loads of reasons to look forward to Bukovel Minor, where we will get to see eight Dota 2 teams showcasing their strength in a bid to secure the largest slice of $300,000 prize pool and a spot at the second Dota 2 Major of the year, which will kick off on Saturday, January 18 in Leipzig, Germany.