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Assembling the team: Examining when to roster swap

Forming a team is a complicated and tedious process. Teams must consider many factors including contracts, costs, communication issues, balance of roles and timing. Talking about transactions is also one of the favorite things a fan can do, and the assembly of a lineup in every medium is something everyone wants to watch. But one question always remains: When, if ever, should a team swap?

There is no set rule as to what initiates a swap. A lot of it comes down to what the teams themselves want to be. For the sake of this article then, I will make the objective clear, and that is to be a tournament-winning team. The first thing we should note, then, is when a team shouldn’t disband.

The obvious answer is when it gets good results or wins a tournament. Winning is enough of a reason to stick it out at least for one more run to see if the team can continue to make it work. Unfortunately, in Dota 2, this type of wisdom has never held as both Evil Geniuses and Secret changed their rosters after their International and Major wins, respectively.

For every other team that isn’t in Dota2, a top-four finish at a LAN is a good enough result to justify keeping a roster together. A good example of that is Astralis.

Astralis has racked up multiple top-four finishes this year. That is good in and of itself, but as a team, it was clear that there was a continued pattern of choking or lacking some element in their game that stopped them from winning a tournament. As the team started to drop out in group stages of tournaments, it quickly made a roster swap for Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye.

Photo courtesy of DreamHack.
Photo courtesy of DreamHack


Although it hasn’t panned out as they wanted to just yet, it was the correct move. The old roster had played to its maximum potential and had failed group stages. Kjaerbye had shown himself to be the exact player they’d need: an aggressive rifler who also proved to be clutch under pressure on LAN.

By the same token, then, Fnatic shouldn’t have disbanded. It had a top four at ECS, another top four at ESL One Cologne and second at ELEAGUE. But Fnatic’s problem was that it was a skill-based lineup predicated on everyone being in form at every tournament. When they couldn’t reach that level of play, there was no stable backbone of tactics to fall back on like SK. That created a lot of role issues in the team that eventually ended in the Swedish Schism of 2016.

So when should you make the roster swap? The best time to do it is after you’ve reached close to whatever the maximum potential is for the team. Generally speaking, rosters take somewhere between three to nine months to jell, assuming there aren’t extenuating circumstances. Generally, by the end of those nine months, the results you’ve accumulated will be close to what you can expect of that particular roster barring a major leap from one of your players.

This is the point where teams struggle when deciding to roster shuffle or not. Alliance in Dota2 reached its max potential a long time ago but still stuck together and had an unimpressive 2016. CLG did something similar in Counter-Strike, where it stuck with the same lineup for an extended period. It led to situations where they could have made upgrades, but never did, and have slowly bled out players from their lineup. Consequently, CLG is now forced to rebuild its roster again.

There is one exception to the rule of trying to maximize your roster’s potential before the end of the three to nine month formation period. And that is when a superstar level player is on the market. Unless you’re a championship team, signing superstars is always a priority as they are the rarest breed of player, and the chances of getting one is always slim.

These are some thoughts to consider when examining team roster changes. Did they have the results to justify the change? Did they maximize the potential of the roster? Did they skip out on a chance to get a superstar player when they had the chance?

Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL,


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