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As we near the end of the year Valve is preparing for Dota 2‘s Frankfurt Major (aka the Fall Major) which kicks off on November 16th. This is the first of four seasonal tournaments, ending with The International / Summer Major event next year.

Unlike previous high-stake tournaments, Valve have set a static prize pool of $3 million, regardless of how many Fall Season Compendiums get sold. The Frankfurt Major will consist of 16 teams, with eight receiving direct invites, while the other eight teams consist of regional qualifier winners. The group stage format is similar to The International with eight teams per group playing each other in a best-of-two series. The top four per group will move on to the upper bracket in the main event while the bottom four receive lower bracket seeds. As for the main event itself, the format will mostly consist of best-of-threes with the exception of the grand finals, which will be played over a best-of-five series.

I’ve had a better time watching these qualifiers than I have in previous tournaments. More often than not teams were guaranteed to make it through qualifiers because of the sheer skill they possessed, and Dota has grown immensely in the past few years resulting in much tougher competition. Teams like (monkey) Business, Unknown.xiu and Mineski have really impressed me and I’m looking forward to seeing them perform in November.

The teams that have received direct invites are Evil Geniuses, CDEC, LGD Gaming, Vici Gaming, Vega Squadron, Team Secret, Virtus.pro and EHOME.

European qualified teams are (monkey) Business and Alliance. American qualified teams are Cloud9 and Unknown.xiu. Chinese qualified teams are Newbee and Invictus Gaming. Southeast Asian qualified teams are Mineski and Fnatic.

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Many strong teams are listed above but only a few catch my interest. Team Secret have been a favourite of mine since their formation, but they unfortunately don’t make my shortlist for the finals. They’re too scattered at the moment, having undergone many player rotations which, as in any sport, causes many problems. Evil Geniuses is another team I’ve lost faith in after The International; swapping out Aui_2000 for Arteezy was definitely not the choice to make.

Out of the direct invitees, the Chinese are strong with Vici Gaming and CDEC likely to reach upper bracket status. However, regardless of the Chinese teams’ strength, one European team is almost certain to make the finals: Alliance. They’ve proven themselves over and over again throughout the qualifying stages with S4 returning from Team Secret, and they seem a very balanced side, with S4, Loda and Akke showing top form.

Predicting who’ll join Alliance in the finals is a tough one. I’d love to see the likes of Mineski or Fnatic or maybe even Vega Squadron, but unfortunately I have to be realistic, since I’ve already gambled on the Alliance pick. With this in mind, my three possible candidates are Vici Gaming, LGD or CDEC to play Alliance for the Frankfurt title.

Is there a dark horse that has caught your eye? Let’s get your predictions in the comments below.