Stick or twist? Does roster stability equal success in esports?

In traditional sport, the debate about stability has raged for decades. On one hand, you have Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and a dwindling group of managers focused on long-term success with one team, while on the other you have sides such Chelsea and Real Madrid, that go through managers at an astonishing rate.

Equally, although players are more tradable as assets in sport than in esports, it is rare for many teams to stay together in totality. However, the way squads work in football means that sweeping changes to rosters are rare, and in cases when entire teams are brought in there is usually a period of adjustment.

Virtus.Pro announced that their remarkably successful Dota 2 lineup had signed new contracts, due to take them through TI8 and tie the five to the org until the end of 2019, making the team one of the most consistent and stable rosters on the international esports scene.

Currently ranked first in the Valve DPC (Dota Pro Circuit) rating system, this VP team has won more than $2.5m and lifted the trophy at an incredible four Majors, including ESL One Hamburg 2017 and ESL One Birmingham 2018. They are among the favourites to win TI8, but have never placed in the top three of the event, making this lineup very interesting for their potential, and their stability.

In esports, though, there are rarely subs, or roster options, and the word means "player we want to sell" in 90% of cases, so any team that sticks together is a rare and wonderful thing. There have been recent examples, such as the G2 French superteam in CSGO, but you rather suspect that stayed as it was for so long due to the owners throwing good money after bad and chasing an investment that should have worked.

There are some examples of teams that have stuck it out, though, and we thought we’d have a look and see what, if any value there is to a team staying together when the first flush of success has swirled down the pan…

Virtus.Pro CSGO

It’s clear VP don't have commitment problem, as their Dota team is the second roster that org has kept around for more than a year. From January 2014 until February of 2018, the same five-man roster represented the organisation, reportedly on wages of $25k-a-month. The team was made up of three Polish legends, combined with up-and-coming talent, and won a fair amount before the decline set in.

They were able - if not notorious for finding ways to reinvent the wheel when the team did slump - but were eventually forced to make changes, and have cut TaZ and lost Snax in 2018. The org has looked to retain their Polish identity, though, with the two new signings both hailing from that part of the world.

Newbee Dota 2


The Chinese org has had the same continual lineup since September 2016, when Moogy, Sccc and Faith joined up with kpii and Kaka, and they have the gold to show for it. Ranked seventh on the Dota Pro Circuit lists, the org has a litany of titles to their name, and arrive at The International with a good, if not great, chance of doing some serious work.

They're not among the favourites, but the power of Chinese CS is not to be underestimated, and Newbee have all the experience and ability they need to succeed. Here's a great deep dive into stability, as it pertains to Dota in particular.


OpTic Call of Duty


There is some debate as to whether this team should be included in the list, but it has great analogies with sport, and stands as a good example of how loyalty can be really easy. Playing your entire career for a team that wins nothing is one thing, but if you find yourself a setup of players that can deliver constant success and huge money, leaving makes no sense. Examples from sport include players such as Paul Scholes and Raul, of Real Madrid, while OpTic CoD are a great one from esports.

The org managed to assemble a dream team of talent at the perfect time, combing talent and experience in a blend that dominated multiple Call of Duty titles. They joined forces on 17th May 2015, and only split this year after a long period of poor results in CoD:WW2.

Vega Squadron CSGO


Prior to their losing mir to Gambit, Vega had actually kept their lineup together since late 2016, which may come as a surprise to some, but there is a good reason for that reaction. Mainly, because this is a team that has consistently failed to make it to the sharp end of tier-one events, and are probably the one that does most to dispel the myth that any stability is good, regardless of other factors.

That’s not to say Vega were ever truly bad, and they appeared at Majors along the way, but they are proof that there is only so much you can do, even if you have the sticker money and stability, with limited talent. Their 9-11th place finish at the ELEAGUE Major was good, and saw them lose their best player to Gambit as a result of his performances, but probably represents the ceiling for an org that has limited ability to punch up.

And finally ... everyone else

There are hundreds of examples of teams that consistently make roster moves, but it’s hard to find an esports Chelsea, who are able to rotate players and coaches but maintain a pretty consistent level of success. Teams that do well tend to take a more considered approach, where they will work out why things are not right, and then change the one aspect that is broken.

You’ll know if you’re onto a winner within a few months of putting a team together

However, that is easier said than done, as CSGO shows. Astralis were forced to change a player, with all pundits convinced the replacement was inferior, but it turned out Magisk is twice the player Kjaerbye is and has taken them to a new level.

Likewise, SK/MiBR are praised for their ruthlessness and intelligence with transfers, but appear to have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in the last few months with moves for players who clearly don’t fit.

Overall then, stability is key, if you can find the right people to do it with and, generally speaking, it seems like you’ll know if you’re onto a winner within a few months of putting a team together. If you do what G2 is, and spend too much, you might be compelled to think they need more time, but that isn’t the case in esports in general, and naturally limits the chances of teams staying together. It’s nice if you can get it, but not something to pursue above all considerations.