The last time we spoke was the eve of the TI3 final. How has that win changed the way you've trained over the last year?
It's changed a lot. Six months felt like a waste of time after TI because we didn't have the same focus, we didn't have the same drive to win smaller tournaments. Even if you try to get that focus it's hard to really be hungry to win these tournaments. For sure, every tournament now has good prize money, but it's just not really the same thing. It's only been in the last two-three months that we've really been able to get the drive to become good again. I kind of predicted it—I was talking to my team about it—but it can be hard to keep the team motivated, even myself, sometimes.
Last year, almost everybody I spoke to said that it's not the money, it's being the best at something.
Yes, it is—that's what I mean. If you won TI it's not like "I won a lot of money" it's "I won the World Cup". Why would we want to win the... I dunno, the Swedish Masterchef or whatever? We would probably still win it, though.
You basically did. But has that attitude changed? I mean, this extraordinary new prize pool—it's so much bigger.
In a way, but I think that either way we'd have started focusing a lot more before TI. I think everybody gets motivated by that, no matter the prize pool. But sure, the prize pool is extraordinary. That's good and bad, I suppose. It puts a lot of pressure on teams.
I'm very interested to see what happens after this year's tournament, because someone is going to walk away with enough money to do whatever the hell they like, training-wise, and whatever they like with the other tournaments. Do you think whoever wins this year will be affected by the same thing that affected you, but on a much greater scale?
I think every team was affected by what we were affected by. I think Na'Vi were affected by it, I think that iG was affected by it. After they won TI2 they were performing quite decently for, like, half a year then they went into a slump that they didn't get back from even at TI3. If you win this kind of money, you should just go away for a while. I think that's a better approach, just to stop playing for maybe three months. Then you come back and you know that you have to train very very hard to become the best again.
If you only take a short break you come back and you play scrims but you never have that feeling like "we really need to out think them, we really need to out draft them". We play these online tournaments where last year we'd be super, super focused and so motivated to win in the finals, but even now, when we've been doing so-so, it's hard to want to be the best when you've already got to that point.
Last year you had something to prove—you had people to take down. Now you're the guys that people want to make a statement against. That must be a lot of pressure.
Yeah, for sure. At the same time, now we've been losing for a while so hopefully we'll be something of an underdog, heh.
It bothers me, the way the community sometimes reacts to the way you play—the whole 'rat Dota' thing. It seems like such a misunderstanding of how sport works.
It's... it's just a result of you being bad and not really understanding. Pro players don't look at it the same way. Pro players don't feel that rat Dota is a worse way to play than any other way. It's a skilled thing that you can pull off or you can't. If you look at League of Legends, for example, rat Dota or whatever you want to call it is pretty much something they hype. If somebody split pushes well in League of Legends they're like "oh my god, they're playing so well".
I don't know. I mean, you can take some offense from it but I don't know that we care so much. We live in a world where people are stupid.
Ha. That's true.
No, but it is. So many Dota players are bad. So many of the casters are bad if you compare them to pro players. I'm not saying that out of arrogance, it's just how it is. It's just the top 0.1% of the players that are good enough to understand all the aspects of the game, and if it was easy to play split push and rat Dota everyone would do it—but they can't. That's enough proof for us that it's just about outsmarting your opponent.
I wonder if it's because it's less visible than a gank or a teamfight or something.
Yeah, exactly. People hype stuff that is obvious to the eye. If someone goes for a solo kill—"oh, he's really good." People see what is easy to see, and casters see what is easy to see. Casters say a lot of wrong stuff a lot of the time as well—they analyse situations wrong.
There was a moment—a huge teamfight right at the end of that second game against Cloud 9 that went from the bottom of the Dire offlane all the way up to mid. Teamfight ult after teamfight ult, but the whole point of it was—where the hell's Bulldog? And then their rax is gone.
Yeah. It's just about outsmarting them. They had some TPs on them so we cancelled the TPs. We just want them to make mistakes. They get more and more stressed and the mistakes came. The time when they went all-in on our throne wasn't the right decision to make. They should have just went for our rax, backed off, kept going for the lategame.
They really wanted to end it.
Yeah, they really wanted to end it and you can see that they... I think maybe they're just not experienced enough. A Chinese team would wait ninety minutes instead of eighty.
What's it been like having WinteR here?
It's good. He hasn't been here very long, and as I said we don't want to show too much at this event, but for sure it's good. WinteR is an ex pro player, and he's good enough to understand every part of the game and bring good analysis to the table. Because we have people that don't speak up a lot after the game—even if they have a point that they thing is good, they don't really talk about it. It's frustrating for myself—it's almost like I'm sitting there and whining because noone else is responding. The good thing about WinteR is sometimes he will either agree with me or point out another part of the game where it's like "if you guys had rotated in the early game it would have put a lot of more pressure on their draft".
For me, it's nice to have someone who can come in from an objective point of view. I feel the same way—I wish my team would tell me "oh, you did this wrong. You should have done this."
Last year you said that you guys were good at not falling into the trap of flaming each other.
We don't at all. I don't think the others feel like I'm blaming them—it's just how we are as people. Communication is something that you have to practice. You have to be honest and it's a hard thing, sometimes. We are all honest towards each other, and if I say something that somebody disagrees with they will tell me, for sure, and I wouldn't be offended by it.
In Dota, it's never just one choice. It's ten choices and you have to go for one of them—and make sure that everyone thinks that that choice is the best one.
And that everyone does it, right?
Yeah, that's something we've been working on. If we make different calls... we used to be extremely good at Rosh and we've become good at it again but for a time we were very bad at fighting around the Rosh pit because we went for different decisions. One guy wanted to finish Roshan, one guy wanted to bait them to go for us, then we'd split up in the fight around Rosh and rather than get one of the things we end up losing both Rosh and the fight just because of miscommunication.
That was also one aspect of becoming as good as we were. When you win TI people feel that... me as well, you feel like you've just won the World Cup or whatever you want to call it. Every feels that they're good enough to make the right call but maybe they don't speak up enough to make it happen. It's more like... instead of having one mind you now have five different minds.
So success turns you into individuals rather than a collective.
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you underrate the importance of just saying stuff rather than thinking that it's obvious.
There's not a lot of time left before TI. What's the plan, now?
This year's TI is best of ones in the group stage so we'll need to prepare in a different way. Playing best of one is not really the same thing as playing a best of three or best of two. Other than that we'll just keep preparing as we always have, try to be ready for anything I suppose.
Are you feeling confident, then?
Yeah, I think so. Same thing as last year—I feel that TI pretty much gets decided after that first day. If you go there and get the right feel for the tournament then you'll keep doing well. A team that is extremely good can lose the first day because they get some all-in strats that somebody has been preparing for a long time, but if you look at it they're probably the most skilled team in the tournament. Some teams handle that in a good way where they'll just come back the next day and do well, some teams fall down and start blaming each other. Whatever happens, we are all confident in each other and we know that we are good enough to go as far as it takes. So, yeah—we're not afraid of going to TI.
Do you have any shout outs you want to make?
Yeah, sure. Shout out to all of our sponsors. HyperX, Monster, XMG, Logitech—our new sponsor. Axe, of course. A lovely fragrance! Also, Planetside 2.
Thank you for your time.
If you missed the tournament this weekend, you can find write-ups of both days here and here . Check out my interview with Pajkatt from Mousesports for more thoughts on the meta in the run-up to TI4. Images courtesy of the official ESL Twitter account .
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Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.