“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” - Henry David Thoreau
Summer 2011, Germany. Clinton "Fear" Loomis, Dominik "Lacoste" Stipić, Per Olsson "Pajkatt" Lille, Sivatheeban "1437" Sivanathapillai, and Alexandru "ComeWithMe" Craciunescu came to participate in The International under the flag of Online Kingdom. It was the dawn of the Dota 2 esports era and an exquisite move from Valve to present its new creation to people: a few weeks before the start of the tournament, the developers provided the players with a ready-to-play game build so that Cologne's Koelnmesse would undoubtedly attract a lot of attention.
Online Kingdom performed well in the group stage but lost the first match of the upper bracket against Invictus Gaming. Then, they fell to the lower bracket, went through a round, and lost again. However, they received a total of 25 thousand dollars as a prize. However, these five players and their coach were destined with historical achievements to accomplish. Today, none of them play professionally; some have disappeared from the radar or changed discipline, Fear is trying to coach, and Lacoste is posting dad jokes on Twitter. Nevertheless, these people left a significant mark on the history of Dota esports.
At TI1, eleven years ago, Saahil "Universe" Arora was coaching Online Kingdom. Initially skeptical about Dota and having doubts about the player's career, Universe would win a TI, set up a couple of records, become one of the best offlaners in history, and retire in peace.
Pic: VALVE. Saahil "Universe" Arora and his family at TI5.
"We thought it was some kind of scam," Saahil said in an interview. However, he did not believe it when he first heard about a Dota tournament with a million dollars in prize money—even considering that Valve organized it.
They didn't manage to place high or play outstandingly, yet finishing 7th-8th provided them with 25 thousand dollars, a relatively large amount of prize money at that time. That was when Universe realized that he wanted to get to TI2 as a player.
I remember my first TI. I went to Seattle. And I started playing in front of a huge crowd. And at that moment, I thought, wow, it's a bit different from how most people play games.
Fear was soon invited to the American organization Evil Geniuses. This was their first Dota 2 roster, but things were not going very smoothly. In May 2012, the team was seriously updated: Universe arrived as hard support to play on the same lane with his old friend, while Kanishka "BuLba" Sosale came to mid. And although on the eve of TI2012, EG looked very scary, at the tournament itself, the team failed in the playoffs, losing to the future champions in the upper bracket and immediately being eliminated by TongFu in the lower bracket.
The team was mentally broken. Universe left EG and took a break from Dota. He wanted to spend time away from esports, reconsider things, figure out what to do, and finish his studies. This reboot was fatal.
In January 2013, he joined Dignitas as an offlaner. Together with the team, he flourished in a new position, introduced new heroes to the position positively, and ... again failed at The International. Saahil calls TI2013 the lowest point in his career. Everything seemed shaky, while Universe's parents were distraught by his career choice. The pressure didn't stop.
The post-TI reshuffles brought Saahil back to EG and partnered with Fear again. He moved to the team's base in San Francisco, leaving his parents' home on a constant basis for the first time in his life. The results were not really pleasing. Therefore the reshuffle came again: everyone except for Fear and Universe was kicked, while the two remained nominally on the contract. Saahil's transfer from Dignitas involved a lot of money, so there was no possibility and sense in getting rid of him, considering his skills simply. Fear and Universe decided to continue pursuing their dreams and formed a mix called S A D B O Y S. Arteezy, ppd, and Zai joined. Oh, and they were good. After proving themselves well and setting a record of 19 wins in a row, EG signed.
Evil Geniuses were influential: traveling to LANs, winning them, playing confidently and firmly, for which they received a direct invite to TI4. In Seattle, the team came third, earning 1 million in prize money. A vast amount of money for the gang; none of them has ever made so much. That crowd of fans Universe pointed out: "It was very different compared to the first three TIs. DK vs EG, what a game. I played Void, placed Chronos, and heard the crowd roar." Alas, they lost the third map in 15 minutes and got only bronze.
That offlane Faceless Void became Universe's hallmark, and Saahil himself was called the best pos3 in the world.
TI5 was special. After last year, Universe has been training more than ever. Like his team, they prepared at full strength, spending a lot of time together at boot camps and traveling around the world participating in various tournaments. In 2015, the stakes were higher, the crowd was bigger, and the opponents were better. That year, Valve did their best with the tournament's organization, for the first time allocating practice rooms for everyone and providing complete comfort for the players.
It wasn't an easy ride for EG. But they made it to the Grand Finals eventually, with Universe's impact pitifully overshadowed by a 16-year-old Midlander play. Universe admits that it was a tough final.
Only after TI5, Saahil's parents realized their son had chosen the right path. It was the peak of Universe's career, his best tournament.
EG was dominating the scene. They qualified for a tournament after tournament and took high places. And suddenly, in March 2016, causing a strong reaction from the Dota community, Universe and Arteezy shocked everyone with their transition from EG to Team Secret.
Good times, but something felt odd.
After several tournaments with Puppey's team, Saahil felt wrong. There were no results, Secret's play lacked glue. It began to seem to him that returning to the EG (what a coincidence, they just called him) would be a good decision. And so it happened. Well, due to the transfer, EG had to play TI Qualifiers, but this was no big deal. And then, at TI6, they came third, losing to DC. It was Universe's third consecutive top-3 TI finish.
It seemed like EG was back. Valve even decided to shoot the new True Site around them: the entire first third of the season, the crew followed the Geniuses and filmed their activities until the Boston Major. However, having shown success throughout the season and during The International I2017 Group Stage, the team was quickly eliminated from the Playoffs, finishing in a disappointing 9-12th place.
From here, Universe's career began to fade. He first moved to Malaysia with Fnatic to peak in fourth place at ESL One Katowice. He then played two weeks at Quincy Crew, six months at Forward Gaming, and another six months at Ninjas In Pyjamas. The results were not impressive, and in April 2020, two years ago, Saahil decided to retire.
The super goal is proving to yourself that you can be the best. That's the main reason why everyone plays.
Universe has truly become the epitome of success in esports: became the legend of the scene and the icon for a large organization, won a world championship and earned several million dollars throughout his career, spawned historical moments and memes to evolve into one of the best in the world in his position and keep it like that for a long time. But most importantly, he felt when it was necessary to leave in time.
Saahil married his best friend last year and has been dedicating his life to the family ever since. Who knows, maybe someday he will return to the stage as a coach or talent. In any case, he will always be welcomed at home with warmth and love.