Over $20 million in prize money is on the line for Dota 2's The International 6. In Seattle's KeyArena, 18,000 people are gathered to watch 16 elite teams fight to the last squad standing. The competition has been fierce and upsets have kept the audience on its toes.
On the first day of the playoffs, returning 2015 champions Evil Geniuses made a surprise debut in the winner's bracket with a win over Chinese team Newbee. Four of Evil Geniuses' players are already millionaires from their $6.6 million win last year, but Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora wants to do it again.
"I felt pretty good. I think we match up well versus most Chinese teams," he says. "I think with Newbee, I wasn't afraid of them at all, because they play pretty passively and their picks are pretty standard; they don't do anything out of the box or they don't really even pick meta heroes. They just pick their own style and go with it."
With the win over Newbee, the team has the opportunity to advance to the upper bracket finals if they win a match versus EHOME on Wednesday. While they beat Newbee fairly convincingly, despite a 70-minute game, UNiVeRsE believes that EHOME will be a harder challenge for him and his Evil Geniuses teammates.
"I think they play a much more aggressive style, and they pick heroes that are more in tune with the meta so I'm a little bit more apprehensive towards EHOME," he says. "I think it'll be a closer series [than with Newbee]."
He says his team's preparation tonight will begin with watching EHOME's matches today versus Evil Geniuses' sister team, Alliance, and watching matches of their own to see where they can improve.
"We're probably not going to play that much in between our games, because we have to prepare in terms of draft for the next game and watch the matches going on," he explains. "You just get a really good feel of all the teams in the tournament [by watching them play]. It becomes kind of like a chess game, I guess. Just trying to outthink each other."
The biggest challenge in facing EHOME and other tournament powerhouse MVP Phoenix, which Evil Geniuses could face should the stars align, is their aggressive playstyle, UNiVeRsE says. It's something that makes both teams incredibly scary opponents.
"You just have to try and quell their early aggression," he says. "You can't get run over in lanes, basically, so you have to pick strong laners and be able to fight midgame because they're going to take the fight to you, so you have to have strong teamfight [abilities] in order to match up against them."
While this is UNiVeRsE's second time in a row playing for Evil Geniuses at the International, he has not spent all of the past year with them. In March, he left the squad to join rival Team Secret, something he says happened after feeling a lack of compatibility with EG teammates.
"At the time in Evil Geniuses when me and [Artour "Arteezy" Babaev] were on it, things were not good personality wise; we weren't meshing that well," he says. "I thought that it would be hard to reconcile those differences at the time and I didn't see a very good replacement for Arteezy at the time, so I just thought that my best chances of winning would be going to Secret."
Upon joining Secret alongside Arteezy, UNiVeRsE and Arteezy did not work as well as expected. Team Secret landed in last place at the Manila Major in June, much lower than anticipated, along with Evil Geniuses. Only days afterwards, UNiVeRsE left the squad to rejoin Evil Geniuses.
"Obviously [joining Secret] didn't pan out that well, but I don't have any regrets going to Secret," he says. "In hindsight, it's easy to say, 'you messed up by going to Secret', but I think I made the right decision and I don't have any regrets."
He says the decision to rejoin Evil Geniuses made sense considering that the team also picked up Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, who had played on the team previously as well. This move made UNiVeRsE feel that Evil Geniuses was the place for him again.
Now, UNiVeRsE and the boys in blue will look to repeat their victory at a second International in Seattle, something that no team has managed to do before. Their upcoming match against EHOME is one that UNiVeRsE says he was looking forward to prior to the tournament.
"After I saw EHOME in the group stages, I thought they were going to do really well, just from the way they were playing," he explains. "They were really confident, it seems like. I really wanted to keep my eye on and watch out for [them] because they're really good and innovative."
But despite a challenge in a competitor that completely wiped Alliance today, he believes that his team can win it all once again, whether it be from the winner's bracket or, like last year, the loser's bracket.
"I think we have a good shot," he says. "I think there are a lot of teams who could win this event; I think it's very close between the top teams. I think anyone can win it; I wouldn't say one team has a huge advantage over other teams, but we definitely have a shot."