"Moving forward," was Peter "ppd" Dager's response to the question of how Evil Geniuses were recuperating from a rough showing at the Manila Major. The captain of Evil Geniuses had a lot on his mind, and the team could spare only a few minutes after a full day of boot camping.
Every response he made was short, direct, honest. Dager didn't like to mince words, and he had little reason to. Evil Geniuses were facing a very different international landscape compared to 2015, and though he said they weren't feeling the pressure, there became an inherent level of expectation for this team.
Changing the playbook
A shift in team dynamic seemed necessary after a disappointing finish in Manila. It was the wake-up call for the American squad, and with The International on the horizon, there wasn't much room in the schedule to slowly work out the issues. Luckily, the replacement offlane EG acquired was a former member of the team. Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora had been with the team when it took home the Aegis at last year's International.
"Coming back wasn't a hard transition," said Arora. Referencing his time with the team in the past, both he and EG's other new addition, Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, were quickly getting back up to speed.
"I played with EG before, so there's no extra pressure, no spotlight," said Arora.
According to Dager, the biggest change wasn't in these returning members, but in the changing role of Clinton "Fear" Loomis. Fear moved from the one-role to a support position after last year's International, but since Arora and Wåhlberg's return, he has been back in the carry role. Loomis' change in roles has his influence extending further into the game, an element that EG has been adjusting to well.
"The biggest difference in shotcalling is probably Fear's role in late-game leadership," said Dager. "Moving Fear from the four to the one-role has been the biggest change in shotcalling."
Meanwhile, in the mid lane, Syed "SumaiL" Sumail Hassan has been finding his groove again. The young prodigy made a name for himself at TI5, showcasing fantastic play across a number of heroes. But Storm isn't in the meta anymore, and Sumail has had to adjust his playstyle. Mirana has been a solid pick-up, but at the recent StarLadder finals, Sumail ran some unusual mids: Oracle and Ancient Apparition, two heroes rarely seen in the middle lane. Dager hinted that they hadn't fully planned to draft either for Sumail, but it came from the mid laner's own suggestion.
"We were a little bit YOLO," Dager said about the unconventional picks. "But Sumail felt confident and we trusted him."
Preparing for the main event
Both Dager and Arora said boot camp had been going well, as the team prepped for the big event in Seattle. EG is in the midst of its intensive training for TI6, right off the tail end of a long qualifier run. Due to roster shifts, the team had to fight its way into the International, past a long line of teams aiming for their shot at the throne.
When asked about burnout before TI6, though, neither player expressed weariness. "This is also the time of the year where teams have to show up," said Dager.
EG is no exception. There's no room for excuses and the landscape certainly isn't the easiest to handle either, as this patch has been the hardest to read. There's no overarching strategy or theme beyond just teamwork, smart play and capitalizing on mistakes. Dager has found that his team has been fine with this mindset.
"We have no set playstyle, really," said Dager. "So the patch has been good for us."
But this year's International might be the most competitive yet. There are favorites, but many of the teams could have a shot at the top. "There's six or seven teams who could win TI this year," Dager explained. He's reticent to divulge "the top teams" at the event but he does chat a bit about what teams he might root for.
"Na'Vi would be a cool team to watch win," said Dager. Referencing the team's recent LAN win at the StarLadder i-League StarSeries finals, EG's captain said it was cool seeing Na'Vi take home the victory in Los Angeles. Dager also expressed interest in playing Wings at TI6, due to the team's interesting playstyle and drafting.