Are SEA and CN stacking up?

By Kenneth WilliamsAugust 25, 2020
While regional locks certainly come with quite a few downsides, they also bring the silver lining of international competition eventually returning. With Patch 7.27 being played entirely online, each region’s metagame has developed almost entirely in isolation. Seeing these metagames clash will make for some very entertaining Dota.
Tournament organizers have already begun linking regions together in online-only leagues. WePlay! has been at the forefront of international Dota in 2020. Their OMEGA Leagues in the Americas and Asia have pit North against South America and China against Southeast Asia respectively. While South and North American squads are regular sights at The International, China’s disparity with SEA is a little more alarming.
We’ve now seen lower-level CN and SEA teams compete together at OMEGA League and Moon Studio Asian League. Those leagues both feature mostly Tier 2 teams, but ESL One: Thailand has brought a top Chinese team and the heaviest hitters in Southeast Asia together. With vastly different competitive scenes and histories, meshing the two regions has brought interesting consequences.

Clash of the metagames

The Chinese metagame in 7.27 is focused on the late game. Hard carries like Terrorblade and Morphling dominate the metagame and are often picked in the first phase of the draft. Utility offlaners like Mars, Phoenix, and especially Clockwerk are often left for themselves with both support players’ mice hovering nervously over their Town Portal Scroll. Victories before 35 minutes are usually the result of a snowballing midlaner backed up by a carry with three Wraith Bands and a dream.
The defining hero of the Chinese metagame is Void Spirit. Picked or banned for a combined 126 games at Dota Pit Season 2 and DPL-CDA Season 2, his strength lies in his flexibility which doesn’t end when he’s finalized as a greedy support, tempo midlaner, or cinch carry. He can close the game out at 20 minutes with nothing but a Eul’s Scepter or dig his heels in with AGHS rush into Black King Bar.
While their northern neighbors relegate their offlaners to getting chased by Winter Wyverns and tanking towers, the hard lane is still the hotspot in Southeast Asia. Powerful dual offlanes control the tempo from the very beginning forcing midlaners to fend for themselves. Less focus on mobility and rotations makes skill gaps incredibly apparent in Southeast Asia. Victories after 35 minutes are usually a result of teams respecting each other a little too much.
While usually stereotyped as a European favorite, Tiny has become the mascot of SEA Dota in 7.27. Southeast Asian players value position and utility above all else to further exploit skill gaps, often warping their item builds in the process. Tiny is one of the few heroes able to scale entirely off natural damage, letting cores dump gold into positioning tools that either sustain the snowball or buy time for their carry. Tiny was the most picked hero at Yabo Ninja Championship and the second-most picked hero at ONE Esports SEA League.

Tier 2 has shown promise

Big tournament organizers have been testing the international waters of China and SEA with Tier 2 leagues. Moon Studio Asian League was the maverick in international online events and immediately turned into a good omen for cross-waters competition. The underdog champions team black scored the first event victory for China, but Filipino national team Execration fought them to a five-game grand final.
We saw many of the same teams compete again at OMEGA League: Asia last week. That event saw the gold go to Southeast Asia in a surprise victory from 496 Gaming. Match-fixing controversies aside, this event also featured plenty of cool matchups and metagame interactions.
The biggest metagame clashes were seen in the corners of the map. Chinese teams have continued to pick hard melee carries like Spectre and Terrorblade and pair them with defensive supports. SEA teams have reacted with Batrider, hoping to force defensive rotations and let their hard support roam mid. CN teams fired back with either tankier cores like Sven or faster ones like Anti-Mage. team black was the only Chinese team at Moon Studio Asian to pick Batrider themselves.
OMEGA League saw both regions actively learn from each other. EHOME.Immortal began picking Tiny themselves, albeit with Dagon instead of Eul’s. Southeast Asian teams fully embraced the anti-carry metagame with Clockwerk Dark Seer becoming the optimal offlane with a 59% winrate over 17 games. These events featured almost entirely Tier 2 teams, meaning these teams are actively looking for learning opportunities. We’ve seen both regions metagames clash and adapt to each other, and both regions have taken a surprise win.

Thailand is the test

Lesser teams benefit quite a bit from international online events; longer group stages, more qualifier teams, and no top teams to unceremoniously snatch the prize money. ESL One: Thailand sticks out from the previous events in that it features top level teams from both regions.
BEYOND EPIC: China winners Sparking Arrow Gaming will be entering after finally becoming acquainted with their new midlaner Gao “Setsu” Zhenxiong formerly of Royal Never Give Up. RNG was also supposed to make an appearance as the clear tournament favorite but mysteriously withdrew at the last second. Sparking Arrow has dominated their group so far including a closer-than-it-looks 2:0 over countrymen Aster.Aries. Boom Esports and TNC Predator are both looking in form over in Group A. Their showdowns with SAG will be the highlights of the event.
While China’s rosters have historically been a significant step above SEA’s, teams from Vietnam and the Philippines have pushed China’s junior teams to the brink. With TNC Predator, Fnatic, Boom Esports, and Sparking Arrow all in one place, CN and SEA will break their 1:1 record at ESL One: Thailand.
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