Jonathan 'Loda' Berg has been part of the competitive Dota scene for as long as there's been a scene to be part of. He was the man holding the Aegis of Champions aloft at the end of The International 2013, and his team—Alliance—are one of the most effective, efficient, and idiosyncratic teams in the world. I first met Loda at TI3, when I interviewed him the night before the grand final. That interview became this article . After Alliance's loss to tournament champions iG in the semi finals of ESL One Frankfurt I spoke to Loda for half an hour about the current metagame, that incredible match against Cloud 9, and the way that winning TI3 has affected Alliance for better and for worse. This is a long interview, but I think most Dota fans would appreciate seeing the whole thing so you'll find it all below.
How are you feeling after those games against iG, and what's the plan now?
We feel quite well, actually. Usually S4 picks but this event, since it's so close to TI... it's not like we're holding back but we let EGM pick instead. Just to throw things around a bit and not show any of the things that we've practiced. So, yeah—iG is a very good team and we can see what we did wrong. One of the things you always realise when you play against the Chinese is that you can't ever be greedy at all, because Europeans rely on ultis—long cooldowns—and the Chinese will always go for a lot of heroes that are strong throughout the whole game.
For example, what they did in the last game against us is that they saw that they had stronger roaming potential. Even if they had a decent chance to play against our trilane they chose to dodge it because they saw that we didn't have heroes that could rotate as well as them. They'll almost always dodge the trilane that way—not to go aggressive against us, but rather to dodge us going aggressive against them. But it feels okay, actually. I don't think any of us are extremely cut up about it.
I've seen you play well when you lose one lane by capitalising on your advantage elsewhere. Today it felt a little bit like you were being 70% efficient everywhere, and that slowed you down.
Yeah, I agree. Today in the first game we won like one lane maybe, which was the bottom lane, but they had a solo Doom there who could just go jungle and eat creeps and get back slowly. Then when you get picked off in one lane your whole rotation gets fucked up. We wanted to switch our trilane to top but then one guy gets picked off somewhere along the way, then I TP top but we don't have our two supports there because Akke had to roam mid to remove a ward, then I get picked off top.
They're very good at stopping your momentum, but I think a lot of today was about the draft. I think everyone feels that way. We should never have picked Lone Druid for example—it was quite greedy. We should have put the Batrider on top lane and he could just switch to the jungle for example. Then you have a strong hero mid that can affect the game a lot.
We've seen a lot of Brewmaster in this tournament. Like, everyone is running it and almost every western team is being punished for it. Or at least, for every game where it does well there's a game where it doesn't.
Yeah, for sure. For example the last game I feel what we did wrong was pick a carry like Silencer who is not very mobile and Brew... he is extremely good at taking control of the game but you need to have other heroes that have a lot of damage output and we kinda lacked that. When you're playing Silencer, you want the other four to roam around and fight with the global. For us the Brew could initiate, clap, ult, but even with the global silence we couldn't really kill them during that so the only times we got a kill was when we went for a solo kill with the silence rather than go for a fight with the Brewmaster ultimate. That was one of the big problems in the last game—that we didn't have the right heroes.
As I said, the Chinese rely on having heroes that can do something at all points in the game, where a hero like Silencer would probably get stronger in the lategame with an Aghanim's, maybe a Refresher or Hex, something like that. At the same time you can just be countered by BKBs which they did quite effectively.
Were you expecting iG to change up the way they played so dramatically from yesterday? Their approach to Mouz was just constant push.
We kinda thought that they would go for push in the second game, but no. They have two playstyles—they either go for an all-out push or... it's like this. iG, if you analyse them from an objective view they don't rely a lot on their carry. They put him on heroes that are strong early-mid and also quite hard to kill. They pick Doombringer for him, they pick Lycan as part of that push strat, they pick Pugna for him, but it's not like a carry Pugna.
They put him on heroes that are strong in the midgame and I think they do that really well because they have five heroes that, as I keep saying, are always active. Even if they're not active they can be active. That's what they do well.
Moving on to a happier story, then—that game last night [against Cloud 9]. When I spoke to you last year you explained that there are points in games where you feel confident that you've 'got' it—you might not have it now but you've got it in twenty minutes. Did you have that feeling last night? Because it was fucking close.
Er... not really. We had a strat where we ran Skeleton King [Wraith King]. He's a carry that really peaks between thirty and forty minutes and that game went on to, like, eighty minutes. We felt that they should have had that game because they had, like, two hardcore carries in Ember and Void and they had PotM [Mirana] as well.
We felt that we could win the game, but... it was just about me and EGM creating space just so that Bulldog could split push one of the lanes. Then we'd, like, try to soak them up so that we could get a rax. They had better lategame for sure, but then we just outmaneuvered them I would say. Honestly, I think if they'd have just played a bit better, had better item choices they should have won that game. If I was in their position with those heroes in the midgame I'd be quite content.
It felt like they never got the teamfight they wanted.
Yeah. Yeah, actually—exactly like that. We made them waste their big cooldowns.
That's kinda the story of this whole tournament. It's interesting.
Yeah, it is interesting. We went to China one month ago and it was the same thing there. We realised that you can never get greedy in that way against the Chinese because they will punish it for sure. They are very good at baiting you and just dodging the fights. If you're pushing a tower they've got a Bristleback who has been getting quite good XP against a trilane. It's not so easy to jump on the Bristleback over the tower—they'll be ready behind him and if we go for him we could lose the fight. We can't kill him fast enough, and they'll punish you. The Bristleback is something that they pick against the Enchantress, for example. I've seen it over and over again—just put him offlane while the Enchantress is there and he's quite hard to kill against just two heroes. We didn't really have the right set up to punish him. Maybe if you went for a stun carry, or a Centaur, a midgame carry—something like that.
You've really been favouring that, right? The stun carries.
We switch it around a bit. At DreamHack we did that. Here we did that a little bit as well. For me personally, I like some of them. I dislike some of them. With a hero like Wraith King, I know that my clock is ticking. I have very good farm but it doesn't really scale that well. You want to create chaos in the teamfights, you want to get that reincarnation—so you just go in soak up damage, then you keep picking people off.
But I think you need to switch it around a bit against different teams. Against the European teams it's very good to have these stun carries because European teams tend to be a bit greedy, you can push them a little bit.