Defending UnderdogsThey say there’s nothing more American than warm apple pie. I contend that there is one thing, and that is Evil Geniuses. They have been living the American dream after being bought by commercial giant Amazon. They also acquire talent like other well-known American sports organizations and employ some of the most prolific esports talent out there. When you look players such as Jaedong (Starcraft), Justin Wong (Fighting Games), and our very own Dota mainstay, Clinton “Fear” Loomis, you quickly realize that EG mean business both in the game and with their wallets. Complexity’s Kyle "Swindlemelonzz" Freedman may be known as Captain America in the Chinese Dota community, but Evil Geniuses are truly as American as American gets without chanting “USA! USA! USA!” after gulping down an awful domestic beer.
Hang on for just a moment though. How crazy would it be if the most American team of all might not participate in the biggest esports event of the year (which so happens to be on American soil)? What if after placing third in 2014 and building on that performance with a first place win in 2015 at TI5, I said to you that many might not consider them “good enough” to qualify in 2016? What if I told you that despite keeping a core 3 players since their victory at TI5, they played the host to a revolving door of personnel including the re-acquiring and re-kicking a TI5 winning comrade mere days after hoisting the Aegis of the Immortal together over their heads, shocking the Dota community as a whole? Does it sound like I’m making all of this up?
Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately if you love a good bit of drama), the truth is stranger than fiction and every single one of the above storylines is indeed true. We’ll start from the moment our boys in blue hoisted the Aegis above their heads at last year’s TI5. At the time they consisted of Fear, SumaiL, UNiVeRsE, Aui_2000, and ppd- a lineup that should look awfully familiar to those of you who are up to date with their current roster. Without even waiting for the elation from winning the world’s biggest Dota affair to subside, the Evil Geniuses had a vision so devious that no one could have seen it coming. Only a week later, EG announced that they would be parting ways with Aui_2000 and picking up Arteezy who, along with zai, had left originally left EG for Team Secret back in January of 2015. The decision to kick Aui so soon shocked the community and led to public outrage on multiple discussion platforms, most notably reddit. So much so that ppd specifically wrote a blog to quell the indignation of the entire Dota scene. This wouldn’t be the last time that Evil Geniuses knocked us out of our collective seats by exchanging players with Team Secret.
Even after the aforementioned removal of Aui_2000, the team saw several more iterations. In early 2016 following the Shanghai Major, Artour would jump ship one more time, this time taking UNiVeRsE with him to Team Secret. While EG was able to pick up Bulba to fill the offlane role after this move, they were left in the awkward position of re-enlisting Aui_2000 after axing him post-TI, this time to play safe-lane carry for the team. The merry-go-round of EG and Secret players would take its final spin after the Manilla Major, bringing us to to their current lineup: UNiVeRsE returns to the offlane, Aui has once again received the boot, and now zai has come in to fulfill the role of 4 position support while Fear moves back to the safe lane as carry.
The squad was not out of the woods yet, despite finally settling in with a roster worthy of a championship; they still needed to overcome one last obstacle in order to make it to Seattle this summer. According to Valve’s official Major/TI ruleset, teams must establish, lock in, and maintain their player rosters for the entirety of a chosen time period preceding Valve events. If a team changes their roster during this time period, they are no longer eligible for a direct invitation. Thanks to the most recent change that their squad underwent, this removed them from eligibility for a direct invitation to TI6 and its regional qualifiers - a huge deal for a team that had only a year prior won it all. There was no shortage of criticism, cynicism, and doubt regarding EG’s chances of making it through one of the two open qualifiers, but the competition would prove to be hardly a challenge for a team of their caliber as they would walk all over the competition in the TI qualifiers, making it look easy and coasting into the group stage at Seattle.
The International 201527th of July - 8th of August 2015Location: Seattle, USA
Prize pool: $18,429,613 USD
MLG World Finals16th - 18th of October 2015Location: New Orleans, USA
Prize pool: $284,954 USD
The Frankfurt Major 201513th - 21th of November 2015Location: Frankfurt, Germany
Prize pool: $3,000,000 USD
The Summit 49th - 13th of December 2015Location: Los Angeles, USA
Prize pool: $114,866 USD
Star Ladder Star i-League Star Series Season 113th - 17th of January 2015Location: Minsk, Belarus
Prize pool: $302,227 USD
MarsTV Dota 2 League Winter 201527th - 31st of January 2016Location: Shanghai, China
Prize pool: $277,668 USD
The Shanghai Major 201625th of February - 6th of March 2016Location: Shanghai, China
Prize pool: $3,000,000 USD
Dota Pit League Season 419th - 20th of March 2016Location: Split, Croatia
Prize pool: $195,274 USD
WePlay Dota 2 League Season 328th of April - 1st of May 2016Location: Kiev, Ukraine
Prize pool: $208,239 USD
EPICENTER9th - 15th of May 2016Location: Moscow, Russia
Prize pool: $500,000 USD
Placement: 5th - 6th
PlaystyleEG’s play style has been distinct for quite some time now - win the mid and safe lane, create space with UNiVeRsE, then choke out the enemy team until high ground is a certain win. The only notable major evolution in their playstyle is found in the early game, which has changed slightly thanks to new mechanics that have been introduced to jungling. Now EG, as with many teams, will frequently send UNiVeRsE to spend some time farming the jungle until he has enough farm to contest the enemy carry or, at bare minimum, safely acquire XP and CS. I don’t expect the way that EG masterfully works through the mid and late game to change, however.
Their TI6 qualifier run made it clear that they had several signature heroes planned for a few of their players. We frequently saw them running Dark Seer, Tidehunter, and occasionally Beastmaster for Universe - again, this makes plenty of sense due to these heroes’ innate ability to jungle and lane safely against many enemy safe lane combinations. Additionally, EG knew what the meta was going to look like going into these qualifiers and combated it when they were picking zai’s hero: frequently a Riki or Bounty Hunter. When zai wasn’t contesting enemy junglers, ppd stuck him on a more active support like Lion or Nyx. It really feels like EG will see a lot of emphasis placed on zai roaming to create space for his teammates by completely disrupting the enemy team and being a general nuisance; a play style that has really worked for them during the qualifiers.
In the middle lane, SumaiL looked extremely comfortable on Timbersaw but following the slight nerf to Timber’s strength gain in the most recent patch, ppd may choose to place him on other mids. However, in my opinion, the change was not enough to deter playmakers like SumaiL from excelling on the hero. More interestingly, though, we have seen SumaiL on farming carries that would traditionally be found in the safe lane: Phantom Lancer, Juggernaut, and Terrorblade. While these heroes are not as flashy as his other signature heroes, if his qualifier performance is any indication of the level that SumaiL is playing at, we’re in for a real treat during TI6.
Fear and ppd both boasted a large variety of heroes during the qualifier run. Fear played 9 different heroes and the other EG mainstay, ppd, played 11. While consistency is the name of the game when it comes to their roster status, these two are far from consistent when it comes to the variety of heroes that they play. When you look at the hero pool that these two have and combine it with a player like zai, who can play just about everything (seriously, I’m hard pressed to find a hero that zai is weak on), you get the dream for any drafter.
Clinton “Fear” Loomis is the longest standing EG member, being the only remaining player from their first ever Dota 2 squad formed in October of 2011. He is one of Dota’s most storied players and any newer people to the scene can find his story in the documentary “Free to Play” which covered the lives and journeys of three veteran Dota players. He was one of the original North American Dota 1 professional players that had earned great respect all over the globe, landing on a compLexity Dota team that was known for being the first to receive a sponsorship. For the past decade, “Old Man Fear” has been honing his craft, despite suffering an injury that kept him out of TI4. Many doubted his ability to return and play at the level he was previously competing at due to his age, but he proved everyone wrong by playing the carry for EG’s TI5 winning squad. He will undoubtedly be seeking his second Aegis of the Immortal, aiming to be crowned the first two time champion and making his statement for the title of ‘most legendary Dota player’ on the ‘most legendary Dota squad’ that the world has ever seen.
SumaiL. Where can one even begin to describe the talent that the 17 year old Pakistani Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan contains within his fingers? I mentioned his signature heroes above, but we should all look forward to the flashy plays that he will bring to the stage at Key Arena in August. While he may have been playing some farming mids during the qualifiers, he is without a doubt in his comfort zone when he is able to be the playmaker for EG. Even if he doesn’t win his lane, the kid has the remarkable ability to bounce back and crush his opponents. He won a TI last year at age 16, and like a fine wine, he will only get better with age. His skill ceiling should be higher than it has ever been this year.
While Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora is technically a recent addition to EG’s current roster, he is anything but new to the organization. Prior to his departure for Team Secret, he had spent two and a half years on the Evil Geniuses roster alongside Fear and ppd. His play was a driving force crucial to the success of the TI5 winning roster and can be described as nothing short of game changing at times; in fact, he has often been synonymous with the phrase “space creation.” As we learn more about the changing offlane meta going into The International, we can without a doubt get a clear understanding of how it will play out simply by watching UNiVeRsE’s heroes and pristine execution. Expect big things coming out of the offlane for EG.
Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg is the most recent addition to this EG lineup after taking a long break from competitive Dota 2 to finish high school and he is showing great form after taking so much time off. As mentioned earlier, his extremely deep hero pool and versatility as a player makes him a force to reckon with and that doesn't seem to have changed since we last saw him at TI5. What has changed since last year is where we will see him - previously he was the offlaner for Team Secret while this year we will see him playing the 4 position on EG, which is a role familiar to long-time fans. If his qualifiers performance was anything short of his best form after taking some time off, I would hate to be playing against him come August.
As mentioned in the playstyle overview, EG’s Captain Peter “ppd” Dager has become notorious for being one of the strongest drafters in the professional Dota circuit and it is easy to see why. As I just pointed out, the players that he picks for have deep hero pools and very strong signature heroes. Simply put, there are not nearly enough bans to shut down each of EG’s players and that allows ppd to draft something within each of his players comfort zones. When the captain gets what the captain wants, he leads his team to overwhelmingly strong results.