The retirement of Peter Dager from competitive Dota left a vacuum in Evil Geniuses. As Dager moved into a management position, the burning question was who would take the helm in his place. His successor would have to perform in the shadow of a captain who had consistently led his team to top three finishes at three consecutive Internationals.
Enter Andreas Franck "Cr1t-" Nielsen, former four-role support for OG. This is Nielsen's first time stepping into the captain's chair, and it's alongside four teammates who already know each other well.
"Obviously, it was scary going into it," said Nielsen. "Before we met up, before we started playing, I had a lot of thoughts about the team and I wasn't sure how it was going to be to play with them. You don't really know what's going to happen when you get into the game."
Nielsen said he wasn't scared, only nervous at the thought of captaining this team and playing with EG. The first couple days the team played online were rough, he admitted.
Fast-forward to today, and Evil Geniuses have already won one LAN at MDL Autumn 2016. Overcoming teams like Newbee and Nielsen's former team OG, EG has already established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the coming competitive season. So how did things change from those initial days up to a major LAN victory?
Friends and family
Nielsen said he was initially unsure about the move to Evil Geniuses, but early coaching from Clinton "Fear" Loomis helped him find footing.
"He gave me a certain style he thought would be good for this team, and I just followed that," Nielsen said.
Loomis, who was the one-role carry for EG during their most recent TI run, retired to coaching the team this year. In his new role, he works to support the team and add some cohesion. "I think this version of EG has so much talent, it makes you scared they don't have the stability that most teams do, so I try my best to help them stay solid and play as a team," said Loomis. "Honestly, Andreas is a much more suitable captain than I thought when he first joined, and I only expect this team, full of fresh talent and arguably the best at every position, to succeed beyond every expectation with Andreas leading them."
A support structure underneath the five players of EG, holding them together during those awkward first steps, Nielsen said it all started clicking when the team assembled for its first boot camp. "I think the main strength we have in our practices is not that we always take it serious, but it's more that we know when somebody's not taking it serious and we all kind of fool around so nobody gets mad," said Nielsen. "I think it's pretty important, because that's one of the issues we had on OG, was that we weren't always on the same page. So somebody would try super hard while practicing and somebody else would fool around, and that creates conflict on the team."
Nielsen compared the difference between OG and EG as the difference between family and friends. Nielsen enjoyed spending time outside the game with the other members of EG, and the team came together much faster because of it. It wasn't easy, Nielsen said, but as the boot camp and early days of MDL group play went on, the edges began to smooth and the five found their stride.
"We were somewhat sloppy, but we got better and better, and eventually we didn't really make mistakes," said Nielsen. "Well, we did make mistakes, but we cut down on the mistakes."
"We were somewhat sloppy, but we got better and better." Andreas Franck "Cr1t-" Nielsen
That changed, though, when Evil Geniuses found its match against Newbee. After a triumphant run through the group stage and over Team Secret, EG found itself against Chinese powerhouse Newbee in the winner's bracket finals. Concluding in a brutal exhibition of Newbee mid laner Song "Sccc" Chun on Invoker, EG lost 0-2 and dropped to the lower bracket. It might seem insane, then, that after besting Nielsen's former teammates OG and earning a second shot at Newbee for the top spot, the captain would allow Invoker through the draft again. Nielsen said that after reviewing the replays, the team was confident in what went wrong, and knew they could beat Chun's Invoker the second time around. It wasn't just confidence; it was a power play, a gambit to put Newbee on its heels right away.
"We knew that if we win that game, [Chun]'s going to be pretty demoralized," said Nielsen. "When they pick a hero like that, that's for him to shine, so if they lose it takes a lot from them morally."
Those kinds of picks can be tricky in the heat of the draft, and as Nielsen describes it, EG is no different. He's had to listen to discussion, argue for certain picks and work to meet common ground with the team, but ultimately, Nielsen makes the final call.
"In a healthy way, they want to convince me that they need [a certain hero], because they have this idea that it's very necessary," said Nielsen of the drafting process. "So we talk about it and reach a conclusion, and then maybe I change my mind, maybe I don't. But at the end, at least they don't tell me if they don't agree, but they do what I say and trust, so that's good."
The move to allow Invoker in game one was a "minor thing," as Nielsen describes it, but the results speak for themselves. A win over Chun on his shining pick led to a 3-1 series win in favor of EG, and a LAN victory to start off the season. Nielsen said it wasn't something he personally expected, but he knew it was going to be good for the team if it did happen.
"What mattered is that we showed that we could actually play when it matters," said Nielsen. "I was pretty happy with our change of pace, from our practice games going into the official matches."
Finding a new rhythm
Now, several weeks removed from their victory in Xiamen, China, the players of Evil Geniuses are continuing to hone their skills and prepare. The Boston Major is on everyone's minds, and much further out is The International 7. For the time being, though, the team seems to have found a rhythm. Nielsen said the greatest change he's adjusting to is still finding confidence in the captain's chair.
"The main difference is that when there's big, game-changing calls, I have to be the one who makes them," said Nielsen.
Though Nielsen may still feel he has room to grow, MDL's results speak for themselves. Though Artour "Arteezy" Babaev is technically a new addition to the EG roster, this marks his third time joining the boys in blue, and he's already finding Nielsen to be up for the task of captaining EG 2.0.
"[Nielsen] offers the same sort of discipline and leadership that Peter had for us when I was on the team a couple months ago," said Babaev. "It feels pretty natural as of right now, we are just playing Dota and things are clicking."
In his own personal play, Nielsen has to adjust to a new position as well. While the difference between four and five-role supports can seem minute or muddy, Nielsen said it's been a struggle to force himself to spend time practicing the role in the one place most pros do: public matchmaking games. "It's maybe not what I enjoy the most, but I need to try and find the satisfaction," said Nielsen of his new support role. "It's really satisfying to play position five in tournaments and with your team, but when you're playing pub games, it's not that satisfying. So I need to motivate myself to keep playing that role in public games and hopefully I can get a lot better, because there's still a lot of things, a lot of places where I can improve in that specific role."
Describing his new role on the team as "two 4.5's," Nielsen and fellow EG support Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg have been working on their new partnership. From nailing rotations and playstyle to simply knowing who will buy the wards and smokes, Nielsen and Wåhlberg have adjusted because of the similarity in their approaches.
So as the gears click and EG continues to hone its strengths and shore up its weaknesses, eyes are already drifting towards Boston. Nielsen said plans were already set for boot camps and LANs prior to the event.
"The goal is to go to TI, and win TI," said Nielsen.
Nielsen may be new to the captain's chair, but after a boost of confidence at MDL, he already has another trip to Seattle in mind. His role on EG is not just to continue playing Dota, but to do so with a purpose: to finally take home the Aegis, by leading a team well-suited for the job.