Still the same old SEA...kind of

By ElevatedMarch 3, 2021
Entering the first season of the Dota Pro Circuit, the safe bet was that the Southeast Asian region would be competitive and wild. As the tides of battle finally settle, this perception has been wholly validated. A total of three slots were up for grabs in SEA, and the trio of Fnatic, Neon Esports, and T1 have secured spots at the Singapore Major later this month. However, it took every single week of competition, and a tiebreaker, to get a clear picture of who would make it and who would be relegated from the Upper Division.

The top 3

Neon Esports led the way for much of the season, starting 5-0 and only faltering in their final two contests. Both losses came against other top three teams and show that while Neon has risen to be a true contender in the region, their grasp on the top spot is just as flimsy as everyone else. Neon has made great strides over the past year of play though they are still plagued by awkward drafting at times and the inexperience to close out tough games.
Speaking of experience, Fnatic proved once again that a strong resume often prevails in the long run. There were questions about the roster after losing iceiceice and shuffling their supports but the SEA powerhouse came together and won their early matches on talent alone. As the season progressed, Fnatic seems to have embraced their identity more firmly. Often allowing Djardel "DJ" Mampusti and Anucha "Jabz" Jirawong to play a more fluid support role, Fnatic’s approach to the game brought them victories over Neon and TNC in the final two weeks to secure the top seed. Fnatic’s only series loss happened back in week three against BOOM Esports when the team was clearly still trying to figure things out.
T1, the storied League of Legends organization, finally makes their way to a Dota Major with a strong 5-2 record in season one. The former Geek Fam roster, plus Souliya "JaCkky" Khoomphetsavong, got a lot of hype entering the season and mostly lived up to it. T1’s start was a bit shaky but they showed a lot of growth over the seven weeks and had a shot to advance directly into the Major Group Stage. T1 earned their shot by beating Neon in the final match of the season to force a tiebreaker but fell short in that repeat series.
The drama didn’t stop there for T1 however as the team announced they were releasing JaCkky despite qualifying. This move comes as a shock to most fans as JaCkky has been one of the brightest new talents in the SEA region over the last year. All rumors seem to point towards the addition of Nuengnara "23savage" Teeramahanon to the T1 roster. Since his debacle with ViCi Gaming left him teamless in season one, 23savage has been grinding his way to the highest MMR in the world.
The move has left a sour taste to what has been a very exciting season for T1 fans. JaCkky certainly has the talent to find another opportunity but being denied the chance to play in a Dota Major after earning the spot is extremely unfortunate. It remains to be seen whether 23savage a serious upgrade to the style of play and can actually push T1 to be a true contender on the international stage.

Rough seas ahead

Notably missing from the top three in season one is TNC, a household name at this point and the odds on favorite to win the league coming into the season. TNC released March late in 2020 and promoted Kim "Febby" Yong-min from coach to the active roster. The team looked strong coming into the season but also had to deal with some serious ping issues as Damien "kpii" Chok played all his games from Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. TNC lost their first series of the season to Execration and while they ended up 4-3 this uncharacteristic defeat would deny their shot to qualify.
TNC’s drafting and play was inconsistent throughout the league and the regional competition has caught up. TNC will remain in the Upper Division for season two but both kpii and Febby were released from the roster shortly after the conclusion of the matches. The rumor mill has suggested that TNC is looking to return to an all-Filipino roster but with so much of the region’s talent locked into teams already, it will be interesting to see who they can pick up.
For 496 and Vice Esports, season one was a tough task. Both teams finish with a single series win and face relegation to the Lower Division in the second season. Both were open qualifier teams and expected to finish in the bottom four. 496 had a shot to stay in the Upper Division as they headed into the final week tied with Execration but dropped their series to Execration to fall to the Lower Division.

On the rise

The Lower Division of SEA was closely contested in season one as well. Omega Esports, formerly Adroit, claimed one of the promotion slots as they finished with a 5-2 record. The other slot went to all Mongolian squad Lilgun who won five straight series after losing their first two. The talent pool in SEA continues to grow and impress, which should make for a very exciting season two of the league.
Header image courtesy of EPICENTER. Armel of TNC Predator.
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