The VS Gaming Championships at rAge: To Masters or not to Masters?

The VS Gaming Championships

South African Dota2 tier 1 MGOs have been making major changes to their Dota2 rosters during the annual roster shuffle period. Since VS Gaming Masters tournaments have concluded for 2017, many MGOs are now focused on strengthening their Dota2 teams. At the same time the VS Gaming Championships at rAge beckon for tier 2 teams. The following teams have so far earned qualification to the Championships: The top 4 teams from Premier Division, top 4 teams from Championship Playoffs, teams placed 3rd to 6th in Community Shield 2, and 4 TBA spots. These teams are:

  • Sinister5
  • Mythic Gaming (now Team Sensation)
  • Reversal esports FoJ
  • HiVe Gaming
  • Ventus White
  • BzK-Reborn
  • PewPew Dota 2
  • Fervour
  • Aperture Gaming Veterans
  • [LP] The Goon Squad
  • VxP | DUC!
  • Ventus Gaming
  • And 4 TBA teams

The above teams all secured invites to the Championships by the 16th of July. Both the final leg of the Premier Division as well as the Community Shield 2 wildcard qualifiers were also concluded by this point. The Championships, however, only take place between the 6th and the 8th of October.  Invited Championship teams (as well as those on the waiting list) had until 23h45 on Wednesday the 6th of September to finalize their rosters. This means that there were 52 days before the roster lock period took hold and 75 days between earning an invite and going to rAge itself.

This is a very important piece of the puzzle – as this a very long time to expect most esports teams to stay static. With so much roster uncertainly a few really good players have landed in teams competing in the Championships next month at rAge. Which, as you can imagine, has outraged some of the players in tier 2 teams.

The Championships have a rule which governs the interaction between Masters players and Championship teams:

1.11.4 Players with Masters contracts
Masters Teams may only make use of Masters Players that are contracted to them.
Teams that are not Masters Teams may not make use of Players that are contracted to other Masters Teams.
Masters Players may only play for the Team they are contracted to.

The Dust Settles @ Thursday 7th September

The Curious Case of Sinister5

Sinister5 have experienced a meteoric rise in the local esports scene. As a non-Masters team they’ve undergone significant growth in a short amount of time. Shortly after they qualified for, and took part at, the Masters Finals at the Electronic and Gaming Expo (EGE) in Cape Town (between the 27th to 29th of July) the organization began securing new players. Within two weeks of EGE Sin5 picked up three players from 2nd place finishers xTc Gaming: Adam “Adastam” Moore, Dennis “_Dota-and-Die_” Connellan, and Dirk “Skynet” van Velden.

Some of the departing Sin5 players joined other teams that had also qualified to go to DGC. The incoming players were released by xTc Gaming over two months ago now.

An important factor here is the intent Sin5 had in acquiring these players. This doesn’t seem to be a short-term acquisition, but rather a byproduct of their unprecedented growth coming up through the Masters wildcard system. This new roster is now active in Orena and takes part in multiple EU tournaments on a weekly basis.

Team X uses a Tier 1 player, It’s Super Effective!

Before deadline closed some Championship teams also found themselves sporting some pretty big name personas. Players like Rynhardt “RDK” De Kock and Claus “Jappa” von Thelemann both appear in the Reversal FoJ roster, although Jappa is listed as a reserve. Jappa used to play for eXdee Gaming until recently and has since been announced as a Pulse Gaming player. RDK, on the other hand, used to play for Bravado Gaming and is currently an xTc Gaming player.

Although xTc Gaming confirmed that RDK has been temporarily released from the organization to compete at this event (so that RDK could honor an agreement he had committed to while in BVD), he’s scheduled to return to the organization and compete for them in the Orena Championship Series after the Championships at rAge conclude. Last year RDK did something similar in the first Masters LAN where he shifted teams to participate.

The Goliath Gaming/Ventus Connection

The Ventus team also saw an influx of talent, by way of the entire Goliath Gaming roster shifting into Ventus. When I chatted to Goliath Gaming a few days ago, they let me know that Ventus had asked if their Dota2 team could sub in and use the spot. Ventus run a few Pokemon gyms, so I’m unsure why they suddenly find themselves in need of players. Regardless, Goliath Gaming ultimately declined to use the spot.

Goliath Gaming cited that players already in the Ventus organization should instead fill the slot; and if not them, then teams who are already on the Championship waiting list that competed throughout the year. This move is a great one by Goliath Gaming. Even though that team would have relished the LAN experience, they realize that making a move like this would not necessarily be the right thing to do for the scene as a whole.

Fallout: Dota2

Why the big deal? Who cares about player movements anyway? I’ll share a bit of what Michael “Onesert” Masson had to say in order to illustrate why this is all very problematic. These are sentiments shared by many players that have been grinding in the Divisions throughout the year.

Our team had a goal of going to and placing in the Championships next month. Our goal was set late last year/early this year. I can’t speak for other teams players, but 4 of us are working professionals in some pretty high stress work environments, particularly myself. We work long hours and had to give up a lot to play dota at the level we were. We felt that we were doing super well considering the time we were able to put in. We adjusted our goal to top 3 when the LAN/teams were first announced as we believed we could beat some of the top four teams on LAN.

We valued our chances of winning the LAN as the only real important aspect considering going to the Championships at rAge. We were only going to go if we believed we could place in the top 3. We were playing to win. We weren’t going to give up a 4 day weekend and 1 month of intense, uncompromising training, if we thought we were going to place 5th.

Then the news of lesser teams taking on proper masters players for the Championships started breaking. The doubts started to set in: We were committed to our roster, unlike some other teams. People changing left and right, grabbing as many tier 1 guys as possible. The teams we knew we could beat are suddenly twice as good, probably running completely different strats now. I felt us sticking together and working to a goal had no upside. We considered new players, but no one had the drive to find them. No one was gonna stand up and say who the weak links were and how we could improve the roster. We were friends you know, and we’d all invested so much.

How can we develop our tier 2 scene if everything these teams worked for over the entire year is handed on a platter to tier 1 guys, who have their own tournament? We’re talking about incentives for tier 2 players to commit. We’re basically telling tier 2 players in Premier Division and below that you can work all year, but come LAN time you’ll be playing in a different league against tier 1 opponents. I think you’ll find more guys move away from committing next year.

It’s hard to read this and not feel a little sympathy for these players who suddenly find themselves up against much better competition at the last minute. If you’re one of these players, rAge can appear even more daunting up against the likes of RDK.

VS Gaming Rule Clarification

Now that you’re caught up we can move into the VS Gaming clarification on the Masters ruleset. I sat down to chat with Lenushka Parannath (Chief Commercial Officer), Johann Von Backstrom (Chief Operations Officer), Robert Hart (Tournament Director), and Gugulethu Maqetuka (Group Communications) from VS Gaming to find out what they were doing about all this. They told me that VS Gaming had escalated queries regarding the ruleset (specifically 1.11.4 listed above) to the tribunal officer, who clarified the rule as:

The purpose of this write-up is to clarify the issue of the Masters Players who were released from contracts or their contracts were terminated by their respective Masters teams but participated in Dota 2 during their tenure as Masters Players. The intention and spirit of rule 1.11.4 should not be limited to the three (3) instances detailed thereon but should also be applied to bar Masters Players who are Cup Locked by virtue of their participation in Dota 2 Masters Finals when they were still contracted to the Masters Teams from playing in the Dota Championship Games.

This means that any player currently contracted to a Masters MGO, or any player who was contracted to a Masters MGO that participated at EGE, are ineligible to play for teams participating at the Championship at rAge this year. In effect that is a list of about thirty players in total who participated at EGE who are now ineligible.

Sin5, for instance, can no longer use now Adastam, _Dota-and-Die_, or Skynet. Jappa is ineligible for FoJ, but RDK is free to participate. VS Gaming told me that a special transfer window will be opened to facilitate affected teams the opportunity to make last minute changes since this rule has come into play.

Closing Thoughts

Part of me wants to applaud VS Gaming taking some action here, although I’m not sure how much of a fix this really is. Without going into what is fair and what isn’t, clarifying a rule with only three weeks before the event is a hugely risky move. Whichever side of the fence you find yourself, you have to feel for Sin5 here. Their intent has only been to go from strength to strength and they’ve been completely hamstrung by this (through no fault of their own). In their defence VS Gaming have said they’ll cover any costs that Sin5 have already incurred for these players (i.e. flights and accommodation). In addition VS Gaming have said that Masters will be overhauled in 2018 with new rosters able to qualify for spots in Masters. So entry to Masters doesn’t seem to rest solely on performances at the Championships (as it did last year). This sounds really positive.

On the other hand, teams like FoJ who a month ago had little chance of coming top are now going to be grinning from ear to ear. Sin5 might knock on the door to try to get some of their old players back (like F3arBender) but I doubt this would happen. Sin5 will now have to find 3 brand new players from somewhere.

A major problem with this is that the rule clarification requires that Masters players = Tier 1 players, which isn’t necessarily true in the local scene. Bravado Gaming don’t even participate in the year long Divisions, nor do they participate in Masters. They’re totally outside the scope of these rules. But even if you are a Masters player right now, having the ability to merely be momentarily released from a Masters contract certainly poses significant problems.

All in all I’m not entirely sure who won or lost in this exchange. What is certain is that the team that (even before their roster change) almost no one could beat all year – has just been deleted from the running. And RDK is playing in that same minor tournament. Recognizing the issues is at the very least a step in the right direction, but perhaps this came too late? Goliath Gaming technically could play here as well, but took themselves out of the running of their own accord. Perhaps others need to follow this example?

TL;DR RDK in & 3x Sin5 players out @ rAge 2017.

About @SargonDotA2

Chris "@SargonDotA2" House started writing about competitive local esports in 2016, focused primarily on DotA2 since he played competitively around that time as well. Since then we keep him locked up, churning out DotA2 articles as often as we can make him do it. @SargonDotA2 is sometimes referred to as the Batpanda...