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Watchlist, July 22, 2016: SL i-League StarSeries Season 2

Watchlist, July 22, 2016: SL i-League StarSeries Season 2

The pitch:

Eight teams will gather in Los Angeles for the SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 finals (AKA StarLadder), the last tournament before Dota 2’s premier event, The International 2016. All eyes will be on two elite teams, Evil Geniuses and Team Secret, who are debuting their new lineups at StarLadder.

When and how to watch:

July 21 – 24, 2016
~11 AM EST to ~11 PM EST
Free on: twitch.tv/dotastarladder_en

Here’s what you need to know:

Though formally known as “SL i-League StarSeries Season 2,” just about everyone in Dota 2 calls this week’s Watchlist pick “StarLadder.” First played during professional Dota 2’s infancy back in 2011, StarLadder is one of the game’s most iconic and longest-running tournaments. What the Ukranian LAN has sometimes lacked for prize pool, it has more than made up for in prestige; winning a StarLadder might as well be a rite of passage for professional Dota 2 players.

For reasons that are poorly understood (but probably have something to do with the political situation in Ukraine), StarLadder has abandoned its ancestral home of Kiev for southern California. The tournament will take place at the studios of Beyond the Summita converted McMansion in the hills outside of Los Angeleswhich also happens to have hosted another major tournament only last week (that tournament, The Summit 5, was more or less an esports house party with semi-scheduled outbursts of high-level Dota 2).

This particular StarLadder has the distinction of being the last tournament before teams gather in Seattle for The International 6, Dota 2’s premier event (current purse: $18,176,650). As such, the Dota 2 scene is watching StarLadder closely, sizing up what squads are the favorites going into TI6. Of particular interest are two of professional Dota 2’s élite organizations, Team Secret and Evil Geniuses, both of which are debuting “new” lineups at StarLadder. I hesitate to call them “new” in part because the teams are performing an extraordinary esports analogue to the classic thought experiment “the Ship of Theseus”: if you break a team into pieces and then put it back together, is it still the same team?

If you break a team into pieces and put it back together, is it still the same team?

Evil Geniuses and Team Secret have been swapping players back and forth for the better part of 2016, trying to discover the “optimal” arrangement of players. Cerebral though it sounds, this year in Dota 2 has revealed just how important and fragile the pseudo-telepathic bond between players is; great players don’t always work well together for reasons that are impossible to put to paper (case in point: during the hot minute Evil Geniuses’ offlaner, Saahil “Universe” Arora, spent on Team Secret, he quickly went from being one of the best players in the world to dead weight. As if by magic, his return to Evil Geniuses bestowed upon him whatever arcane power his departure had stripped him of).

With the return to professional play of Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg, Evil Geniuses have settled on a lineup that is almost identical to the team’s 2014 iteration, minus one Artour “Arteezy” Babaev (who now plays for none other than Team Secret; it’s all rather incestuous). It’s the nature of Dota 2 fans to project bad blood onto the two teams’ relationship, but, at heart, they’re competitors and so they respect each other’s desire to win-fucking-everything above all else. But that doesn’t mean the rivalry isn’t as real as it gets either. $150,000 to the winner isn’t anything to laugh at, but with the Biggest Tournament Ever just around the corner, the real prize of StarLadder is momentum. Yes it is.

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