Player Spotlight: SumaiL – A Generational Talent
Dota 2 has always been familiar to really young players making big splashes in the scene. Nuengnara “23savage” Teeramahanon of Fnatic is only 18-years-old as of the time of writing, and has already won several championships in online tournaments with his Southeast Asian compatriots. Michał “Nisha” Jankowski of Team Secret was only 17 himself when captain and owner Clement “Puppey” Ivanov picked him up, and has been a huge part of their success as of late.
But perhaps the best example of the Dota wunderkind is none other than the legend from the Middle East: Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan himself. Signed by American esports organization Evil Geniuses at the incredibly early age of just 15-years-old in 2015, SumaiL burst onto the scene and turned the world into his kingdom as soon as he arrived.
His explosive, take-no-prisoners approach to the game dazzled and mesmerized fans and fellow players everywhere upon his debut in a major tournament. Even with little experience performing on the big stage, he exhibited no fear in-game, always ready to leap headfirst into the fray at a moment’s notice in order to land that all-important first strike. Since then, he has continued to employ his signature playstyle, whether in the carry role or on his throne as one of the best mid laners of all time.
SumaiL is often compared to Michael Jordan in terms of skill level and popularity — and for very good reason. Few others are worthy of such praise, and he has proven time and time again that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live. This is the story of SumaiL, The Boy Wonder.
Born in the city of Karachi, Pakistan in 1999, SumaiL started playing Dota when he was just eight years old. He quickly learned how to play the game at a very high level, which came in very handy when he and his family moved from Pakistan to the United States in 2012. Deciding to try his hand at the North American Elite League upon arriving in the U.S., he quickly rose through the ranks to become the league’s highest rated player.
This caught the attention of Saahil “Universe” Arora, the offlaner for Evil Geniuses at the time and one of the most respected North American players ever. Universe approached him in early 2015 with an offer to join EG, which SumaiL accepted just as Artour “Arteezy” Babaev jumped ship to Team Secret alongside Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg. The young gun struggled initially to make an impact in his first event with EG, leading many to wonder whether he would really turn out to be a suitable replacement for Arteezy in the solo mid position.
Come February 2015, he quickly put all corresponding fears and doubts to rest. Walking into the Dota 2 Asia Championships (DAC) with a newfound swagger in his step, SumaiL led the way for EG and helped them take third place in the group stage. He carried the momentum well into the main event, allowing his team to sprint through the upper bracket to get themselves within arms reach of the Grand Finals. During this whole time, team captain and drafter Peter “ppd” Dager adjusted his drafting style and game plan formulation around SumaiL — which proved extremely effective as the prodigy rapidly found his rhythm and groove.
Riding SumaiL’s hot hand, EG reached the upper bracket final in no time, which set them up for a match against hometown favorites Vici Gaming. The Chinese team got the better of them, sending them down to the lower bracket. EG then handled rivals Team Secret 2-0 to punch their ticket into the Grand Finals, earning themselves a rematch with VG in the process. EG won the first two games, but it was in the third game that SumaiL truly impressed the crowd and the Dota world at large.
Down three deaths with no kills as Storm Spirit (now his signature hero and secret weapon) before three minutes had even elapsed, he ascended to another plane and unlocked a level of confidence that nobody ever expected such a young player to. Completely unfazed by the early setbacks, SumaiL quickly put his foot down and regained control, scoring kill after kill after kill — as if he was never on the back foot in the first place. He ended the game with a scoreline of 17 kills, seven deaths, and 11 assists, proving once and for all that he had more than what it took to be the star player on EG.
He and his team swept the DAC Grand Finals thanks to his efforts, and SumaiL became the youngest player of all time to win a Valve-sponsored event — a record that has yet to be broken to this day. He also helped EG bag the grand prize of more than $1,200,000, giving him a huge head start in his career when it came to earnings.
While SumaiL’s breakout performance at DAC 2015 was definitely something to behold, what unfolded just months later in the same season could only have come from the young boy’s wildest dreams. Having placed well in several important tournaments thereafter, he and the rest of EG were directly invited to TI5 as one of the favorites to win the whole event.
Faced with fierce competition in the group stage, the youngster wasted no time finding his footing in Seattle. His handiwork allowed EG to top their group with an 11-4 score in maps, securing a berth in the main event upper bracket as a result. SumaiL continued to show his swift progression and increasing maturity level on the main stage, assisting his team to the upper bracket final where their momentum was finally halted by the upstarts in CDEC Gaming.
EG rallied in the lower bracket final against LGD Gaming however, and on the same day found themselves in a rematch against CDEC for the Aegis of Champions and more than $6,500,000 in prize money. SumaiL absolutely did not disappoint in the final round, thus cementing himself as the youngest player to ever win the title at The International at just 16 years and 176 days old — another record that still stands at present.
To say that this achievement was nothing short of spectacular and remarkable would be an understatement. In just around eight months of becoming a full-time professional Dota 2 player, SumaiL managed to win two Valve-sponsored events, capture the hearts of the Chinese fans and the rest of the Dota 2 world, earn a life-changing amount of money, and capture the one of the most coveted prizes in esports. To date, there may not be a single debut season that comes close to what SumaiL achieved in 2015 — and it will no doubt be difficult for anyone to replicate, or even eclipse for that matter.
The Arteezy-SumaiL Connection
Fresh off their victory at TI5, ppd’s subsequent decision to remove Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling from the active roster just one week after shook the Dota world. Regardless of what one might have thought of the move, though, the change allowed Arteezy to return home to EG after Secret bombed straight out of TI5 in eighth place. Thus, the star core pairing of Arteezy and SumaiL was formed.
Many fans were excited at the prospect of seeing two mechanically-gifted players fighting side by side, and so expectations for EG were high going into the 2015-2016 season. The new lineup stumbled out of the gate that year, but quickly redeemed themselves at the MLG World Finals with a second place finish. At the Frankfurt Major, they blitzed their group to come out in first place and ended the tournament with a bronze medal. Throughout all this, SumaiL remained an important member of the roster, regularly making important plays for his team as per usual.
He and the rest of the squad continued to post fantastic results in the following months. They finished first at The Summit 4 and fell just shy of the Grand Finals at the Shanghai Major, thus allowing them to keep their status as the premier North American Dota team. With the Manila Major looming on the horizon, the combo of Arteezy and SumaiL looked just as strong as people hoped it would be.
Turmoil and Strife
Traveling to Croatia for Dota Pit League Season 4, SumaiL and his teammates looked to continue their string of successful tournaments in the lead-up to the Manila Major. With their rivals in Team Secret unexpectedly bowing out of the event early, EG cruised to the Grand Finals — but were met with resounding failure as Korean squad MVP Phoenix swept them clean in a complete routing.
Just a few days after their loss at Dota Pit, Arteezy did the unthinkable yet again and went back to Team Secret — this time taking Universe along for the ride. Left with no choice but to cobble together a new roster in time for the spring roster lock, EG hastily signed Sam “BuLba” Sosale, as well as Aui_2000 — the very same man that ppd threw overboard after winning TI5.
Soldiering on in spite of the sudden departures, SumaiL and the rest of EG did their best to recover while keeping the Manila Major in the back of their minds. They placed third at the WePlay! Dota 2 League, shaking off a rough ride in the group stage to make it all the way to the top three. Their performance at Epicenter a few months later left plenty to be desired, though, and was not a good sign going into the next Major.
True enough, they struggled mightily in the Philippines. EG floundered in the group stage and were eliminated by Vici Gaming Reborn in record time. Not even SumaiL, with all his might and skill, could prevent them from such a humiliating result in front of one of the most passionate crowds in all of esports. His efforts could not produce the results that he had in his debut season, and SumaiL was now at a pretty low point in his young career.
Bearing the Third Place Curse
Following their poor showing in Manila, SumaiL and EG welcomed Universe back into their ranks as their former offlaner just didn’t have the best time as a member of Team Secret either. Aui_2000 was yet again removed from the roster, and it was BuLba that they traded in exchange for Universe in the first place. Clinton “Fear” Loomis moved back into playing the carry role, as this time Arteezy elected to stick with Team Secret for the remainder of the 2015-2016 season.
The team’s decision to change rosters once more did come with a serious consequence this time around. Having broken the roster lock, EG were forced to play through the open qualifiers for TI6. Fortunately they didn’t encounter much resistance there, and soon found themselves in the mix for The International once again.
People had mostly written them off given their tumultuous season — but EG did as they often do: surprise their fans and critics alike. They placed second in their group and went on to place third at the main event, defying the odds and overall expectations with their result. Still, it was doubtful for SumaiL to have been completely satisfied with the outcome, prompting him to try again the next year with the same team.
Sadly, it still hasn’t quite panned out for him. Even after ppd’s post-TI6 “retirement” and the addition of two-time Major champion Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen to the EG roster, he has been unable to win the Aegis of Champions for a second time. Even in 2018, with the addition of former OG captain Tal “Fly” Aizik and TI3 winner Gustav “s4” Magnusson, things just didn’t go his way as planned as the team went out in third place for the third time since TI4 and TI6. TI9 wasn’t very kind to him and the rest of EG either, as they went out in the top six spots with the same roster as the previous year.
Thus, SumaiL saw the string of failures as a sign to finally make a change in his career. On January 1st, 2019, he left Evil Geniuses — his esports home of five years and the team that helped him achieve so much overall success so quickly. Upon announcing his leave from EG, he also made it known that he had his next destination already set in stone: OG, the very team that sent him and his teammates into the lower bracket at TI8.
Curiously, SumaiL also revealed that he would be playing carry for OG, as opposed to solo mid. This was of course primarily because OG already had Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen playing the role, which Topson himself would likely not have given up for anyone else. Regardless, it took SumaiL very little time to get settled, assisting his new team in the qualifiers for ESL One Los Angeles and helping them get second place at the event itself. He would later on contribute to their third place result at OGA Dota PIT Online and their second place finish at BLAST Bounty Hunt.
His time with OG would not last, however, as it was announced on July 25th, 2020 that SumaiL would be departing the squad with Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng replacing him in the carry role. Longtime member Sébastien “Ceb” Debs also made his return to the roster as a result of SumaiL’s exit.
Presumably, the rest of OG’s rather mediocre showings in other online tournaments like the WePlay! Pushka League and ESL One Birmingham prompted the decision. Although there have been bright spots in their campaign through this online-only Dota timeline of today, the rest of OG’s results have been more or less uncharacteristic of two-time International champions, truth be told.
So it would seem that SumaiL’s quest for another International title continues, albeit with a different team yet again. Could he possibly make a temporary return to the Boys in Blue at EG, given that Abed “Abed” Yusop’s geographical location does not allow him to play with the squad at present? Or could he have some other organization in mind when it comes to his next stop as a professional player?
Only time will tell from here on, but one thing is clear: teams will always seek to avail of SumaiL’s expertise and immense talent. The Boy Wonder still has many years left in his already stellar Dota 2 career — and if he finds the right mix of people to work with, we have no doubt that he will succeed in his journey to become a repeat champion. Until then, we can all sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is the SumaiL Show.