The roster swap has been a staple of the Dota scene for years. If a team didn't click or if internal issues created too much noise or confusion, it was easier to just swap to new teams where those problems wouldn't persist. Since the inception of the Majors, Valve's roster lock dates have added a little more stability to the scene. Teams that have stuck together for some time, like Team Liquid or Complexity, also serve to build on that sense of a stable roster. But few have swapped and shifted players like Team Secret and Evil Geniuses.
Dota 2's shell game
As a result of recent lackluster performances at the Manila Major, both Evil Geniuses and Team Secret have announced roster changes. Better still, it's a swap with each other: Saahil "Universe" Arora has left Team Secret, heading to Evil Geniuses in order to reform their starting lineup from TI5, while EG's former offlaner Kanishka "Bulba" Sosale is joining Secret to fill Universe's position.
It's a strategy not uncommon to these teams, though. One look down their "former members" list gives you an impression of how many faces have come and gone under each roster.
For Evil Geniuses, there's Artour "Arteezy" Babaev, a player who left for Team Secret after a run with the team in the fourth International, when Ludwig "Zai" Wåhlberg and Mason "mason" Venne still wore blue. Jimmy "Demon" Ho, Rasmus "Misery" Filipsen, Pers Anders "Pajkatt" Olsson Lille -- many faces have come and gone to different teams.
On Secret's side, this could be considered the fifth incarnation of the team. The original Team Secret featured Johan "N0tail" Sundstein and Tal "Fly" Aizik, though they played under different handles at the time. Clement "Puppey" Ivanov became the cornerstone of Secret as it rotated through several players, including Kuro "Kuroky" Salehi Takhasomi, Gustav "s4" Magnusson, Aliwi "w33" Omar, Misery, Zai and Arteezy (twice).
Most of the star players on teams like Alliance, Natus Vincere, Digital Chaos and OG were, at one point or another, on EG or Secret's rosters. So why the constant change?
The question of why any single roster has shifted players is a difficult one to answer. There's really no consistent reason, but in looking at cases, it might start to paint a broader picture.
Take the post-Manila switch of Universe and Bulba, two players who operate in the same role of offlane, but play that role in very different manners. Universe is at least somewhat farm-reliant, relying on more core-oriented heroes like Dark Seer and Faceless Void. Arora likes to get the items he needs to force the situation for his teammates, but needs the space to make those big plays. In his last fifteen matches as a member of Secret, Universe has won four, none of them on his signature Void or Dark Seer. His performance on meta-picks has often been lacking, with low-farm item builds and poor KDA's (kill/death/ratio) that signify a core that hasn't been given the space he needs.
Sosale, on the other hand, has sometimes been referred to as a "four-role offlaner." Bulba's Clockwerk, while not in-vogue for the current patch, is a pick that won many games for his then-teammates on Team Liquid. While before he was mostly known for his mid lane play, especially on Tinker, Bulba has adapted well to the offlane as a less farm-reliant offlaner. Picking up Beastmaster and Nature's Prophet (the latter of which he's undefeated on for this patch), and pioneering offlane Abaddon play, Bulba plays offlane in a manner that asks very little of his team.
Though many have offered up armchair analysis of Secret and EG's issues, one point has been clear from the outset: Team Secret's current lineup has a lot of players who, in previous teams, were the focus of that squad's farming efforts. Arteezy and Jacky "EternalEnvy" Mao both require huge amounts of space on their respective heroes. Take a look at EG and you might see different issues, like a hesitation to engage and a lack of a true playmaker in the offlane role.
It's something common to these squads -- that even after huge successes like a Shanghai title finish (Secret) or taking the fifth International (Evil Geniuses) -- the teams adjust and move around. Criticism is often thrown their way because of it, with roster changes being called "knee-jerk reactions."
Be water, my friend
In another aspect, these teams have shown success just as often as failure through swapping player roles and lineups. Many blame roster changes for Team Secret's lackluster showing in Manila, when it was a similar shift in roster that took the team from a lower placing at TI5 to winning the Shanghai Major.
For Evil Geniuses, a missed shot at the top for the fourth International turned into a title win at the fifth after swapping out three of its players. Falling to an unstoppable Newbee squad in TI4, EG went onto change out its mid, safe-lane carry and support, which allowed it to take the Aegis 3-1 in the finals.
Sticking together and working it out can be good -- conducive to team chemistry -- and create a strong bond. But there's something to be said for knowing when enough is enough, and moving on. You'd have to be a fly-on-the-wall to know for sure about most of these roster swaps, as the most you'll ever hear are rumblings and chatter. With the International looming so close and with a run at the open qualifiers any way you cut it, it might be better to try a new change, rather than force an old one to work.