In the buildup to TI7 I’ll be writing a few previews, each one focusing on a particular player from a particular team. For every team covered I’ll choose a player who I think has a storyline worth emphasizing.

The 2015/2016 season saw Cr1t breaking out as a premier roamer, consistently achieving a higher impact than any other roamer aside from Jerax, who would later come to replace him in OG. Despite his phenomenal performances, Cr1t often found himself in superstar Miracle’s shadow and it took some time for the public to really focus on him. One party who clearly noticed him was EG, who would enlist him to replace ppd shortly after TI6.

Like Miracle, ppd has also had a kind of legendary status in Dota 2. Along with Fear, ppd is widely credited for putting EG (and NA Dota as a whole) on the map in Dota 2. While his team will go down in history for winning TI5, more impressive is the level of consistency they managed to achieve under him, rarely placing beneath top 4 at any event.

All this is to say that at the start of this season Cr1t found himself yet again in the shadow of another player. Only this time he was replacing a player who played a very different role to him and was responsible for drafting. So the odds were extremely stacked against him. Early performances of the team invited criticisms from analysts. Critics believed the new captain was struggling to adjust to the role of drafter and the team was having a hard time finding an identity.

Despite this, 2017’s EG have maintained the high standard of their organisation, usually finishing top 4 and bagging several premier championships along the way. Critics are quick to point out that they’ve still failed to win either of the Majors they attended. The suggestion is made that the team has gone very deep at some events purely based on their raw talent and experience rather than the team having solved their identity problem. This is somewhat reinforced by two recent events in which they actually placed outside of top 4, DAC and MDL.

However, those paying close attention to the team will have noticed that adjustments have been made and it does indeed look like they’ve figured out what kind of system suits them best. MDL is an exception since the team seemed to quite clearly use the event to experiment (and hide their strategies going into TI).

Interestingly, EG’s system appears to quite closely mimic the kind of systems ppd used to use when he was in command. In fact, if anything, this EG seems to have solved one of the problems that ppd failed to undo — how to draft optimally when you have both Sumail and Arteezy on your team.

The first successful EG had Arteezy in the mid lane where he redefined the role, playing the carry role despite not safelaning. Later, when Arteezy left the squad, Sumail would join and assume the same role, albeit with different heroes. This raised an obvious problem when Arteezy rejoined the team to play alongside Sumail. For a long time it looked like farm priority was never quite balanced, particularly given the fact that Universe is a very farm heavy offlaner as well. Someone had to budge.

And recently, Arteezy has. How it happened we cannot know, though my guess would be that the absence of ppd — who Arteezy is well known to have clashed with — has actually allowed the latter to mature somewhat. Recently, Arteezy has played a role much more similar to the kind of carry role Fear used to play. In his own words he mostly plays ‘toxic heroes’ like Venomancer now. This allows Sumail and Universe to play the styles they prefer.

So how does this all relate to Cr1t? Well, if Sumail represents the original Arteezy, Arteezy represents the original Fear and Universe and Zai are playing similar roles to what they’ve always played, for the system to be replicated it seems to suggest that the final piece of the puzzle requires Cr1t to become ppd. While the drafting aspect of this has been discussed extensively, very little commentary has been made on how well Cr1t has fit as a replacement for ppd as a player.

ppd was a pioneer in what is now referred to as ‘6 position’ support. Basically, the guy who is entirely selfless and doesn’t get any farm priority. Cr1t just isn’t that kind of player. He certainly wasn’t in OG. While his counterpart Jerax played the roaming role with very little farm in Liquid, Cr1t was a clear position 4 in OG, Fly playing a similar role to ppd.

Attitude wise, it’s easy to see that Cr1t has the maturity to make this adjustment. He would not have joined EG if he didn’t think he was capable of doing it. And for the most part, he’s done fine at the job, particularly because he’s managed to still play his signature Earthspirit fairly frequently. However, there have been some hints that Cr1t might be troubled by an internal struggle.

He has, throughout the season, looked a bit disillusioned about the 5 position hero pool, repeatedly making attempts to innovate and make unorthodox picks fit the role. The most prominent examples are Windranger and, more recently, Puck. Of course, innovation is an important part of being successful. But even a cursory glance at his Dotabuff page suggests both that he’s been practicing those two heroes a lot and that he’s not been especially focused on playing support in pubs, playing other roles just as frequently. This can sometimes be a sign that a player isn’t entirely comfortable in their role or isn’t enjoying it.

The above bits of information, together with the dramatic contrast in his role in EG compared to his previous role in OG, seem to suggest that there might be something to this. Even some of Cr1t’s more ‘standard’ picks have started to be non-meta picks recently — for example, Bane.

While the player is obviously mature and capable of doing what is best for the team, a person can only control their desires so much. If you have a strong compulsion to be doing one thing but your team needs another, eventually this will lead to problems.

So, as the main event of the year approaches, the pressure is quickly ramping up. Arteezy looks to have found his role in EG’s system, already a big boost to the team. But whether Cr1t will succeed in something resembling a ‘ppd role’ might just be EG’s ultimate test come TI7.

Anthony is a former Dota 2 coach and commentator. He is currently studying towards his Masters in Public Health.