On Tuesday, March 22 (or 3/22, as fate would have it), Team Secret Director Kemal Sadikoglu sent shock waves through the pro Dota 2 scene, announcing via Twitter that Artour "Arteezy" Babaev would be leaving Evil Geniuses to join Team Secret.
- Kemal Sadikoglu (@ksadikoglu) March 23, 2016
Arteezy's sudden departure is almost eerie in its resemblance to January 2015 when the young superstar stunned the pro Dota 2 scene, as he and teammate Ludwig "Zai" Wåhlberg left Evil Geniuses to join Secret. Zai displaced highly regarded and popular support Johan "n0tail" Sundstein on Secret's roster. The news came amid rumors of internal clashes at The Summit 2, and was revealed as rosters were posted online for the Dota 2 Asia Championships, a $3 million tournament that remains the largest prize pool for a non-Valve hosted event.
Fourteen months later, Arteezy takes with him Saahil "Universe" Arora, widely regarded as the top offlane player in the world. Though much of the praise following EG's 2015 dominance centered on 16-year old mid player Syed "SumaiL" Hassan, Universe was arguably the team's most consistently excellent player in 2015. From the beginning of DAC through The International 5, Universe's 4.71 KA:D (Kills plus assists divided by deaths) was in the top 10 among all pro Dota 2 players, and just ahead of Arteezy's 4.62.
This is simply unheard of for an offlaner: For reference, the next closest offlane player was Virtus Pro's Alexander "dkphobos" Kucheria ranks 25th at 3.76. Despite EG's 3rd place finish, Universe's 5.73 KA:D at the Shanghai Major was No. 1 among all players at the event.
Arteezy and Universe's departures come less than one week before the final roster lock of the pro Dota 2 season -- by Sunday, all players must register with only one team to be eligible for direct invites both to the Manila Major in June and The International 2016 in August. Mid position player Aliwi "w33" Omar" and offlaner Rasums "MiSeRy" Filipsen, both living in Europe, are left unexpectedly teamless, with only days to find new homes at a time when many or even most of the top teams in the region have already locked in their rosters. Both showed dominant form in Secret's recent Shanghai Major win, with w33's 7.6 kills/game and 5.17 KA:D both highest on the team and in the top 5 among all players at the tournament.
Just as in late 2014, growing rumors of internal conflict have plagued EG in recent weeks. The team has enjoyed tremendous success with their current roster, formed when Arteezy rejoined the squad after their championship run at The International 2015. EG has finished third in two straight Majors since, and second or higher in five straight international LAN events, amassing over $950,000 in total prize money over 4 ½ months. But EG has gone 0-8 in games (maps) at three straight LAN Grand Finals (StarLadder 13, MarsTV, and DotaPit) and was dismissed 2-0 in the Shanghai Major Loser's Bracket Final by Liquid, led by Arteezy's ex-Secret teammate Kuro "KuroKy" Takhasomi. Six of the 10 matches ended before 35 minutes, with EG being outscored a combined 144-62 in kills by their opponents.
Fourteen months ago, EG turned to the then-relatively unknown SumaiL and veteran support Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling to replace Arteezy and Zai. This time, the team must rebuild on an even shorter time frame. EG has arguably already survived its greatest threat ---only hours after Arteezy and Universe's departure, a fragbite.se story indicated that Sumail and Clinton "Fear" Loomis would also leave the team. This has since proven false, though subsequent reports do suggest both seriously considered leaving.
EG is left with two roster spots open. With Digital Chaos Captain Sivatheeban "1437" Sivanathapillai and mid player Roman "Resolut1on" Fominok confirming their departure from the team via Twitter (the former will be Team Secret's full-time coach, a role he occupied both at Shanghai and during the team's tremendously successful run last summer), it seems likely that EG's last two spots might be filled by DC's remaining three players: Aui_2000, offlaner Sam "Bulba" Sosale, and SumaiL's older brother, carry player "Yawar" Hassan.
All three come with serious questions. Though Yawar's talent is undeniable, he is by far the least proven. Though Bulba is close to the team, enjoying success in coaching EG during their championship run at TI5 as well as Shanghai runners-up Team Liquid, LAN success has proved elusive in his pro career so far. Aui_2000 is probably the best fit on paper. He spent several years as a support, he was a very strong carry player early in his career with Team Dignitas, and would bring valuable options as EG considers whether to keep Fear at support, or transition him back to the carry role. Unfortunately, Aui_2000's abrupt post-TI5 dismissal from the team was acrimonious, and lingering personal issues might represent a serious hurdle to his rejoining the squad.
For now, though, that's all speculation. Like last year, Team Secret now stand as a true Western all-star team, while once again EG is left searching for answers. But we've seen this before, and there are no guarantees that Arteezy, Universe, and Team Secret will flip the script. For now, we can only wonder if, as Shirley Bassey once sang, this is all just a little bit of history repeating.
[Editor's note: At the time of publication, reports had surfaced that appear to confirm Bulba and Aui_2000 as the final two members of EG. To our knowledge, the only written report of this comes from the same source as the initial news of Fear and Sumail's departure, though in this case it appears to be supported by comments made by professional players during their livestreams.]