Times are changing in Dota 2.
Budding regions such as South America are making headway in the global game, Patch 7.00 was released -- the biggest and most important change in the game in a year -- and recently Valve announced 11 minor tournaments and 11 majors next year, cementing Dota 2's future as a legitimate esport for the foreseeable future.
A team expected to continue to be a signature franchise is 2015 The International champion Evil Geniuses, a club that has persevered through all the recent developments, reshaping itself to fit whatever Valve throws in terms of rules, patches and format changes. EG has been the flag bearer for North American fans peppering Seattle's Key Arena, with the club finishing in the top three at TI each of the past three years. While other legendary teams have stumbled once or twice over that time period, with some missing The International altogether, EG has stood the test of time.
At the core of the team are the two remaining starters from the 2015 championship squad. Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora, polite and eloquent, is the nerve center of the team and one of the best off-lane players ever to play at TI. The younger of the two, Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan, was only 16 when he was presented the Aegis alongside UNiVersE and the rest of the EG. A prodigy discovered through in-house leagues in North America for up-and-coming talent, SumaiL's entrance onto the world stage fit his personality to a T -- explosive, a bit brash and always, always confident.
"I've played two TIs, and at each TI, I feel like, I've been the MVP," SumaiL said. "It just happens at every TI. I play better than everyone else. So hopefully it happens again, and if we win ... I just want to call myself the greatest of all time."
In a scene that can be lacking big personalities, SumaiL is a different breed. He isn't afraid to speak his mind like many other Dota 2 players who prioritize winning over building a personal brand. Admittedly more mature than when he made his debut at TI two years ago, SumaiL's attitude combines a winning mentality and not being afraid to say what he believes.
"When I came into the scene, I said whatever I wanted," Sumail said. "These days, they try to keep a good PR and not hated by the fans, so I don't really see [any up-and-coming players] like me, what I did. I just said whatever I wanted and didn't really care about anyone."
Almost a decade older than SumaiL, UNiVeRsE still feels the magic of the event no matter how many times he has walked onto the main stage, either at the tournament's old venue, Benaroya, Hall or the current home at Key Arena, both in Seattle.
"The level of excitement," UNiVeRsE said. "The kind of feeling -- fans all over the world, there are more fans here than any other event. And if you make a huge play, the feeling you get after making it is more than any other event because you hear the roar of the crowd. The atmosphere overall is just way different."
In the losers bracket following a crushing day one main-event loss to Chinese powerhouse Newbee, SumaiL and UNiVeRsE will need to recapture that feeling -- the roar of the crowd chanting "U-S-A!" over the dueling Chinese fan contingent -- to make it through to another bronze or higher finish at the world championship.
As the week progresses, more fans will filter through the halls of Dota 2's Super Bowl, and others will watch from the outside, lounging on the grass and watching the games on the big screen showing all the games.
Dota 2's evolution isn't going to slow down, and if SumaiL and EG have any say in it, neither will they.