In 2014, Evil Geniuses wanted to revitalize their brand name. Up to that point, the Americas were seen as the immature slackers of the competitive Dota world, while Europe had a disciplined work ethic, all the championship players and all the top captains. EG met a fork in the road: on one side, a European squad, built from Puppey, KuroKy and Pieliedie, and on the other, an American squad made up of Fear, UNiVeRsE, zai and PPD. In the middle, Artour “Arteezy” Babaev.
EG.NA or EG.EU? The path of tradition, or the path of cultivation? Old world or new? In the end, Pieliedie wasn't willing to part with Cloud9, which left EG with their North American option; Arteezy ended up on the NA side of the divide, competing with the team through a third-place win at The International 4.
But EG’s other possible future didn’t simply fade away. Over the course of the next two years, Puppey, KuroKy and Pieliedie would all play at some point for a much younger org, Team Secret. In many ways, Secret became the Evil Geniuses of Europe, just without the affiliation.
What seemed like an inconsequential moment in Dota’s long history of trading ended up laying the foundation for the deepest Western rivalry the game has seen. Team Secret versus Evil Geniuses is Dota’s War of the Roses, more than a family rivalry but not quite an all-out war, fought in fits and starts but never reaching a clear conclusion. They are Hatfield and McCoy, Montague and Capulet, Union and Confederacy.
A rivalry as ferocious as this couldn’t have come from just that one event. Rather, it’s grown over time as the two teams have fought for the highest stakes in Dota. For over a year, both were consistently ahead of every other team in the international field, except occasionally Vici Gaming, and both have robbed the other of key victories that would have cemented them as reigning international champions.
The competition hasn’t always been clean, either. Early in the 2015 season, Secret kneecapped EG by suddenly stripping away two of their star players, zai and Arteezy. If that wasn’t enough, they did it again in 2016, this time poaching Arteezy and UNiVeRsE just days before The International 6 roster lock. Although there's surely respect between the players, it’s hard to steer past the animosity that has developed between the two teams.
TI4: Youth in revolt
At the heart of the rivalry between these two teams is a rivalry between two players. However, it’s not the two captains, PPD and Puppey, who are constantly at odds. Rather, it’s PPD and his own erstwhile teammate, Arteezy.
Zai and Arteezy were both quite young when they joined EG; zai was 16 while Arteezy was 17. At first, this was a point of pride for PPD, who told Gamespot, "We have incredibly young players in zai and Arteezy. I think, like our potential is just getting started, which makes me so confident in our ability to succeed."
But that optimism couldn't last when egos clashed. Though PPD is acknowledged as one of the great captains of Dota, he has simultaneously earned a reputation for his faux-politeness, all-chat manners and general saltiness. Arteezy, meanwhile, is known for letting his emotions get the better of him. "We got so angry seeing Secret cheering after beating us. [...] They were throwing headsets and high fiving," he recalled after joining Secret in 2014. "We looked at those guys and said we're going to f***ing beat those f***ers."
According to Arteezy, he and PPD often disagreed about how to strategize in Dota. There were arguments. "We just had a difference of opinion. This was not going to change unless we changed players," Arteezy also said on his stream. After The International 4, where EG failed to take first due to a handful of mistakes — and arguably because Fear's injuries prevented him from playing with his team — Arteezy would follow zai to Secret, leaving EG in the wind for the first (but neither the last, nor most egregious) time.
Arteezy’s departure wasn’t a huge surprise; after all, he had wanted to play with Cloud9 before sticking with Evil Geniuses, and he would have left in early 2014 if EternalEnvy had made the offer. Nonetheless, the incident irrevocably altered the tone of EG and Secret’s rivalry. After that, it was personal.
TI5: Blood in the water
Before Arteezy and Zai switched colors, the two teams had only paired against each other in a handful of series. Secret took the upper hand with a 3-1 match win record. Nonetheless, EG were regularly placing first at LANs, taking not only StarSeries over Secret, but also WEC, DreamLeague, and second at ESL One New York 2014. Secret had more game-to-game success, but they failed to take a single tournament win until Dota Pit Season 2, following Fly’s replacement with MiSeRy.
With two holes to fill on its roster, EG brought on Syed “Suma1L” Sumail Hassan and Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling, and bounced back with a major victory at DAC. Secret made similar headway with their new lineup, winning The Summit 3 and and ESL One Frankfurt. The two teams once again ran parallel tracks toward The International 5, but Secret came out just ahead, time and time again. Between DAC and TI5, Secret had a 2-1 win rate against EG. They claimed first in two-thirds of the events they entered, while EG took second in half their events (usually behind Secret).
Secret looked unstoppable heading into TI5 — but it was EG that came out ahead. While Secret's all-star roster collapsed under the weight of egos and personality disputes, Evil Geniuses were skinning most opponents with expert drafting and superior technical skill. Barring a surprise loss to CDEC in the Winner's Bracket finals, EG didn't outright lose a single series throughout the group stages and tournament bracket.
That brings us to this season. In 2016, Secret Geniuses have had more inbreeding than the Targaryens. EG became the first team to kick a player after winning an International in order to bring back Arteezy (ironically getting rid of Aui, a member of the Cloud9 team Arteezy had been so desperate to play with the prior year). Six months later, Arteezy took UNiVeRsE to play again with Puppey, this time with EternalEnvy and Pieliedie. Finally, things had come full circle, and Arteezy had the chance to play on the would-be EG.EU with Pieliedie, Puppey and former Cloud9 carry EternalEnvy, with whom he had always wanted to play.
But the way the trade was made seemed intentionally designed to demolish EG's chances at winning TI6. Neither Secret nor Arteezy gave EG any warning, leaving them only days to put together a world-class team. Puppey has always been a player known to break the game to his advantage — he’s famously admitted that Na`Vi used a fountain-hooking bug to win a match in The International 2013, saying, "In the end, we will do it if we have to to win.”
With no Position 1 carry or offlaner, Evil Geniuses turned back to Aui, desperately consuming his struggling project, Digital Chaos. Both EG and Secret hit the practice room with their new lineups, but the universe is not without justice — after throwing the Western scene into a scramble, both teams had their worst showings to date at the Manila Major. Naturally, they traded rosters again before the event had even finished, with UNiVeRsE heading back to EG while BuLba went to Secret, along with Aui, who will attend TI6 as a coach.
TI6: Shaky ground
Since the last International, these teams have faced off in the locker rooms, but not on the field. Despite their status as the world's most prominent modern rivals, they've only faced off in ticketed matches at MLG Worlds and two of the three Majors. Their 7-3 series record since last year's International still favors Secret, as does Secret's superior showing at last weekend's StarSeries.
The current metagame has not been particularly conducive to Secret's especially greedy style of draft and play, which most frequently uses junglers and semi-cores instead of traditional supports to maximize farm advantage at the expense of laning-phase potency. Their matches historically go longer than average, both in wins and losses. EG more often run dual-core from the mid and safe lane, getting active later than many teams but holding their own until Suma1L and Fear are ready to engage.
Of course, either team could come into The International with radically different priorities; neither has been seen against comparable opponents since their most recent roster changes. Either team could come out ahead at The International, and either team could crash and burn. Secret has also been heavily prioritizing Dire-side matches despite a blatant statistical advantage for Radiant; this alone could indicate that Secret used StarSeries as preparation and have not yet unleashed anything close to their peak execution.
Last year, it wasn’t until the final event before The International that EG finally took first place over Secret. At the time, Puppey said, "Never think EG is a bad team, even if they lose 2-0 or something like that; they still can very well just jump back and refresh their minds. PPD is not a person that is, you don't take that guy negatively. He is actually a very good player. All the players on EG are very potent." At StarSeries, the last event before TI6 this past weekend, EG went down early to finish 5th-6th, while Team Secret went on to place second. But even that might not be a clear sign of what these two teams have in store for the year’s biggest event.
Ryan "Gorgon the Wonder Cow" Jurado writes about Dota 2 and freelances for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.