Forget Qualifiers! These Teams Should Have Taken a Risk on Zai
The Zai speculation is over. The teenage Dota prodigy has signed with Kaipi to make a run at The International. It was a surprising move, but it made sense given the unlikelihood of the team receiving an invitation to The International.
For those following along at home, signing Zai was a difficult proposition for most teams. The Valve roster lock meant that disrupting existing five-man squads would make most teams ineligible for invitations to TI or even Regional Qualifiers. Still, for these teams, signing Zai would have been worth the risk of an Open Qualifier run.
DC find themselves in a precarious position in competitive Dota. Meme though it may be, they are truly on the cusp of being a top-2 team in the NA Region, which places them in contention for a direct invite to TI6. However, DC has shown themselves repeatedly to be a capable qualifier team in lieu of previous invite opportunities, so they shouldn’t be scared of diving into the belly of the open bracket beast if it means a better shot at ultimately winning TI. 4 position support Saksa has performed admirably, but he’s not Zai.
This might seem pretty out there, but hear me out. Vici has recently been overshadowed by their younger, more innovative “Reborn” squad, but there’s no reason a team with Sylar, Cty, and Burning shouldn’t be in contention for The International title.
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Offlaner rOtK is clearly respected as a valuable presence on pro teams, or he wouldn’t keep showing up on rosters with the way he’s played for the last couple of years. Moving rOtK to the coaching position that is inevitably waiting for him in the near future and putting Zai in the offlane could jumpstart Vici’s shot at a championship. This wouldn’t be the first time the team reached out to Western talent, as they had success with Black in 2015. Given the team’s current middling standings in the Chinese scene, what is there to lose by going for broke with Zai and taking a mixed-language team to the Open Qualifier?
It’s hard to believe that this star-stacked roster could miss out on a TI invite, but based on the way they have been playing recently it’s a real possibility. Why not reunite Zai with Team Secret and force themselves to build some synergy playing through the Open Qualifiers in the process? The biggest question is: who would he replace? Pieliedie and Universe have been underperforming of late, but cutting either of those players would be insanity. My vote? Puppey. Yes, the team captain is one of the all time great players in Dota history, but why not let him take his game knowledge and drafting accumen to a coaching position, and let Zai man the keyboard at position 4?
This was the obvious choice, and I actually have a hard time believing that Zai didn’t end up playing for EG. Since he was already listed as an EG sub, EG was the one team that could have avoided the Open Qualifier and maintained their invitation-eligible status with Zai on board. The obvious roster swap was to put Zai in the offlane and move Bulba back to the coaching role he held when he guided the team to a world championshing at The International 2015. Beyond that, there were still several possible moves including sticking Zai in position 4 and letting Fear and his consistent but beleaguered hands retire (still the best bet for a post-TI roster move), or moving Fear back to the position 1 carry role and re-dropping AUI_2000.