TI11 preview: Can Evil Geniuses become real challengers for the Aegis again?
When one thinks of North American Dota 2, there's usually one team that stands out — Evil Geniuses.
They've traditionally dominated the NA region, though this year, they found themselves facing stiff competition from both the TSM FTX formerly known as Undying and the Soniq Esports that used to be Quincy Crew.
EG did get their direct invite to The International 11 (TI11), this year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament, but it was such a rollercoaster ride and it was clear they were far from the contenders they used to be in past years.
Can EG regain their dominance over North America and reclaim their mantle as perennial contenders for the Aegis of Champions at TI11?
EG's rollercoaster season
After coming second in both Majors in the 2021 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season, EG entered TI10 as one of the favourites.
That didn't last long, as the team had an uneven performance in the Group Stage, placing sixth overall, and had to start the playoffs in the lower bracket.
EG managed to survive their first elimination match against Elephant but lost to Vici Gaming in the second round of the lower bracket, bowing out in a disappointing 9th-12th place.
The North American squad decided that changes needed to be made and parted with long-time captain Tal "Fly" Aizik, who had been with the team for three years, as well as team offlaner Daryl "iceiceice" Koh.
With two slots open on the team, EG recruited Egor "Nightfall" Grigorenko as their new offlaner and brought in Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka, who won TI8 and TI9 as OG's position 4 support, to replace Fly as the position 5.
The new EG lineup started a little slow, placing third at the 2021-2022 DPC's Winter Tour but kept improving as time went by.
EG got second at North America's Winter Regional Finals and proceeded to win the Spring Tour regional league. The team were once again one of the favourites heading into the ESL One Stockholm Major.
But disaster struck EG at another international event, as they went winless in the first day of the Stockholm Major before bowing out in last place. Before this, the team hadn't placed last in a DPC event since the EPICENTER Major 2019, three years ago.
EG then parted ways with JerAx and turned to their old captain Fly in order to secure their spot at TI11.
With Fly back on the team, EG returned to dominating North America, winning the Spring Tour regional league and qualifying for the PGL Arlington Major — held in Texas, right in their home court.
But despite their home court advantage, EG were one of the first teams to get eliminated from the Major, a recurring fact that Jake "SirActionSlacks" Kanner pointed out.
Despite the team's poor results in both Majors, EG accumulated enough points from the DPC Tours to place 11th in the overall ranking, enough to secure their spot as one of the 12 invited teams to TI11.
Will EG become a contender again at TI11?
It's impossible to predict how well any team will do at TI.
Star-studded teams such as Team Secret have disappointed, while OG slapped together a last-minute lineup that included their coach and a pub star attending his first LAN event and ended up winning the Aegis year-on-year.
In short, anything can happen in TI.
EG have often entered international tournaments as one of the favourites and in the past year, the team have failed to live up to the hype.
For the first time in years, the North American squad are entering a Dota 2 tournament as one of the underdogs... and perhaps that is what they need to claim the Aegis.
There is no lack of talent on the squad, as they have been playing with Artour "Arteezy" Babaev for more than six years, one of the longest tenures in the Dota 2 world.
Arteezy still holds a reputation of being one of the best late-game carry players in the world. His hero pool is perfect for the meta in Dota 2 patch 7.32, which is longer than previous patches, allowing hard carries like Terrorblade, Luna, and Medusa to shine.
Since Arteezy plays passively during the mid-game, it's up to his teammates to make space for him and midlaner Abed "Abed" Yusop often acts as the tip of the spear for the team.
The first player to hit 10,000 and 11,000 MMR in the world, Abed is a monster in the mid.
Since joining EG, though, his hero pool has become more predictable, as his team almost always picked one of the Spirit brothers or Puck for him in every game.
With that said, few teams can compete against EG when Abed has a good game.
Recognising their need for more aggression on the team, EG recruited VP's former carry, Nightfall, to the squad.
Nightfall had the unenviable task of swapping roles to become the team's new offlaner, but he was more than up to it, often carrying the team on Viper, Mars, and Razor.
Due to his background as a carry player, Nightfall regularly out farms all the other cores in the game, even Arteezy.
Due to EG's focus on a strong laning stage into a four-protect-one mid-game strategy, their supports have to act as stabilising forces, and nobody does that better than Andreas "Cr1t-" Nielsen. The team's roaming support focuses on picking all-rounder heroes such as Snapfire, Tusk, and Marci.
Cr1t- knows his role on the team needs to be flexible and he does well with his jack-of-all-trade heroes. That flexibility comes at a cost, though, as he tends to have less farm than other roaming support players.
The team is once again led by long-time captain Fly, who joined EG in 2018 and has been a staple since, barring a two-month stint with Talon Esports.
Since the team is built around Arteezy, it's Fly's job to give him the best laning stage possible, and his hero pool reflects that, mostly picking lane dominating heroes such as Dazzle, Winter Wyvern, and Enchantress.
EG have been the strongest team in North America for nearly half a decade since they won TI5.
But the team's performance in the last year means that EG are not entering TI11 as one of the early favourites to lift the Aegis.
I believe anything is possible, and that the current slower-paced patch suits the team much better than the high-tempo gameplay of previous patches.
EG are one of the hardest teams to rank as they can bomb out of the group stage or make it to their iconic third place.
EG are one of the 12 teams to receive a direct invite to TI11 out of a total of 30 participants. They will be one of the 20 teams to start in the Group Stage alongside the other directly-invited teams, the six winners of the regional qualifiers, and the two winners of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ).
TI11 will be hosted in Singapore from 8 to 30 October and features a revamped format with the new LCQ and a longer schedule. For everything you need to know about TI11, check here.
Evil Geniuses roster
Artour "Arteezy" Babaev
Abed "Abed" Yusop
Egor "Nightfall" Grigorenko
Andreas "Cr1t-" Nielsen
Tal "Fly" Aizik
Otomo is a long-time gaming enthusiast and caster. He has been playing games since he was 10 and is the biggest Dota 2 fan.
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