I was able to do an hour long interview with Sebastien “7ckngMad” Debs, former coach turned player for OG. This interview was done at The International 8 on August 19th, between the group stages and playoffs of TI8. A week later, OG would win TI8. In this interview we covered a plethora of topics including:
- Roster Issues leading up to TI8
- Ana as a player
- n0tail as a person and player
- His own stand-in situation
- How his experiences have shaped him as a player and coach
- The role of coaches going forward in the Dota2 Competitive scene
- Individualism vs. The Meta
- The Identity of OG throughout it’s various iterations
- His Dota2 knowledge and approach to the game
- Favorite teams throughout Dota2 History and why
- The advantages of having a roster stick together for a long period of time
- His own competitive nature
- Intuition as the ultimate answer to Dota
- Revealing his Dota2 knowledge after his competitive career is done
The interview has also been condensed and edited for clarity. Without further ado
Let’s start with the beginning of this year. After TI7, you guys made the change to get resolution. It looked like a slam dunk move because resolution is a great player. It didn’t quite work out. You guys were good, but never reached the level you wanted. What do you think was it that kept you from reaching your goal with that lineup?
Perhaps team chemistry. I don’t mean on a human level, more on a Dota level. I think Reso’s view of the game just didn’t click with ours. That was the main thing that held us back.
Let’s dig into that as you guys now have Ana back. Even though he’s been criticized in your previous lineup he did have that chemistry with you guys. What do you think it is about ana that makes him work so well in the team?
The criticism that he has received from the community has always been very awkward to me to listen to. Most of the critics that he got were people that don’t understand the game well enough to understand what Ana brings to a Dota game.
So the criticism that he got was never really justified. I think as soon as the team really understood how to play around him–well not play around him, but more like how to make him fit in team play structure, how to optimize what he brings to the game. That is when he started really clicking. Of course, he also grew a lot as a player. But whatever he brought with him before he came into the team was already good enough for him to deserve a spot in a tier 1 team. I mean he’s just growing game after game, tournament after tournament. He’s a really wonderful player to have on the team and a very scary player to play against in my opinion.
“But whatever he [Ana] brought with him before he came into the team was already good enough for him to deserve a spot in a tier 1 team.”
We’ll move forward in the year. So Resolution and the team split because of the lack of team chemistry. No animosity, it was an amicable split. Because of that you guys had a standin issue where you played for the team while you guys were looking for fifth. I want you to describe that situation because it’s a very awkward situation. You’re a great mind, great look at the game, you played your role well or as well as you could considering you were on hiatus as a player for a long period of time. Were you guys looking for a fifth that entire time, what was the environment like?
It was an awkward position for me to be in. At the same time I was ready to do whatever it took to help the team reach the level it’s supposed to be. At that point it was stepping in and playing a core role that was mid, then carry. These are not core roles that I had been…I mean I had been playing mid a lot in pubs to practice it because at that point I needed to help Ana the most when he joined the team. He was the newest edition and a mid player. So I was focusing a lot on this role. So it was kind of convenient for me. I felt pretty good. Carry was very different.
The switch just happened and I had to I had to do it. It was a roller coaster. I played offlane early in my career, I played support, I’ve been coaching. I’ve done it all in Dota actually. I’ve done all 5 roles. Offlane is definitely the position I feel the most comfortable on when it comes to what an offliner has to do in the game. Or at least my read on what an offlaner has to do in a game. It was slightly awkward, but nothing too bad.
You touched on it there. You’ve not only played every single role, but you’ve also done everything you can to. You were a player, an analyst on the desk, a coach, and back to a player again. Have these changes helped you? Has that changed your view on the game?
Yea, it has definitely. Every experience that I got, whether it was playing coaching or casting just helped me grow as a Dota…
Yes, exactly. I have so much experience to work with when it comes to every single aspect of the game. Like the mental part, the in game part. This is what I’m trying to put to use in whatever team I try to help. Or whatever team I play for, I coach for. It is one of my biggest assets. Regardless of what I can do in game mechanically, what I can do in game when it comes to macro things and also out of the game all of these experiences are extremely helpful. This value is not something you can just learn. It takes time and you can’t create time. These eight years of experience help me in every single game I get in.
“This value is not something you can just learn. It takes time and you can’t create time. These eight years of experience help me in every single game I get in.”
There are a lot of different ways we can dissect this. For now, let’s use an NBA analogy. So Steve Kerr used to be a broadcasting talent in the NBA before he became the coach of the Golden State Warriors. There’s an article where it explains how when the Warriors when into halftime, they become better after they go int. The reasoning is that Steve used his skill as a broadcast talent to condense all of his information and explain in a fast two minute segment. Do you think it’s the same for you? You have so much information that your mind by the process, whereas you have so little time to explain your arguments to your team.
To be honest, the analyst part is probably the one that helps the least when it comes to what it brings to the game. I mean you make a very valid point and I never thought about it before. It definitely must have helped me. At the same time, I’ve had to do learn these types of skills during my studies for example. I studied in a top business school in France. The exams I had to go through were really really demanding. I had prepare for 2-3 years just for these exams using analyzing skills, synthesizing skills, or summarizing skills. These were skills that I had to work very hard on. So it definitely helped me when I started coaching for example. Of course there’s an analytical part of coaching where you have a minute where you want to gather all the relevant information and share it to the team.
It’s the way you share it. The mental part is extremely important because when players are under pressure in between games they are under heavy pressure. Let’s say we’re talking winner bracket between game one and game two of The International. You have 30 seconds to talk to them. You can either make them twice as strong as they were before they entered game one or you can break them.
“You have 30 seconds to talk to them. You can either make them twice as strong as they were before they entered game one or you can break them.”
Some people, you might just pressure them and that’s the last thing they want to hear. Some people you might do the opposite and you relax them way too much. They’re not focused anymore. It depends. So there’s a lot of things that come into play and I think the best way to approach it is through experience. You just have to feel things, whether you know the people very well or you’re just really good at it and you know like where the red line is. The one you can’t cross with what you say. It’s a very human thing. These are things you have to feel. The emotions in the room and how people feel. Everyday is different. Like some days there are things they could have heard the day before and today they don’t want to hear it anymore.
So the way you described it there, coaching sounds like a very complicated job. It’s a job that is misunderstood. In the community, people think you have to be like a super Dota 2 mind. While that’s part of it, maybe it’s getting the team cohesion together to work as a unit. So I want to get your perspective on what you think your specialty is as a coach or do you think you’re an all around coach?
I mean every coach must have their specialties that’s for sure. What I brought as a coach was…it’s not my best skill, but I’d like to think that over time I go better. I’d say I got decent to pretty good at understanding the mood of the team and what they needed. But that is also because I started knowing these guys a lot. You travel the world together for two years together, it becomes family right? You know your relatives pretty well. But, definitely what I brought the most was the Dota part. Helping them become a better team when it comes to Dota. Helping them look at other teams and breaking what other teams are trying to do. That part was the part I helped the most with for sure. I ended up having to do a lot of the outside of the Dota part just because it happens. But to be honest, I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to end up having Dota coaches. One is an in game coach or technical coach. Whatever you want to call them and psychological coaches. Most of the time having one person do both is very detrimental.
Sometimes there are things about the game that you have to say. It should not be your job to worry about how you want to say them or if you can’t say them right now. Whenever you want to talk about the game, you should be able to talk about the game. However you want to say and what you have to say. It’s your job as a coach. Then ideally, you should have someone that comes after and just like makes sure everybody is in the perfect mindset. You want someone whose only focus is on this. How are the players doing mentally, are they ready to take whatever pressure or are they like feeling good? Are they not feeling good? That’s a job. That can’t just be done on the side. I also think that a lot of Dota minds, I mean I’m very happy to include myself in that, are very far from doing this optimally. They don’t do it perfectly. You know you can have a Dota talk and say things in a way where it’s definitely not optimal to prepare someone mentally for a very high pressure game for example. I think we should have two coaches in the future. It’s probably the best way.
Let’s talk about this last shuffle. Just the way it happened with S4 and Fly, it doesn’t look like it was like a premeditated move. Things look like they’re falling apart. It breaks apart impromptu and nobody outside knows why it happened. So you’re put in this crisis moment. I want you to talk us through that moment. What do you do in that moment? Do you make sure the rest of the team is sticking together, are you out there looking for potential replacements because TI was coming up very soon.
The first step is definitely to make sure everybody is fine. You know this is a very devastating experience to go through. It was one of the hardest times in my life, honestly. It’s definitely up there, like moments where you feel like the world just collapsed on you. Even though you’ve been working really hard and giving it everything. What people have to understand is that…this is not unique for us it’s like for all Dota players. It’s something we commit to, we put our lives for this.
We’re on the road all year. We don’t get to see our families, we don’t get in touch with friends. We can’t have a stable relationship with anybody because we’re just traveling the world all the time and we have to practice 10 hours a day. When you don’t practice, you’re probably thinking about the game because that’s what your life is. It’s the game. So when you commit everything in order to achieve a goal and then it suddenly stops. I mean it’s not happening, you don’t even know if you’re left without even a team even. The team just broke. That was really devastating to go through.
“So the first step is to make sure that whoever is still on the boat is not dead.”
So the first step is make sure that whoever is still on the boat is not dead. That they’re still alive and have hope. Yea, definitely give people head space to think about what’s next. Do they have what it takes to like stand back up and start rebuilding or do they want to call it? I mean I could understand. It happened pretty fast. JerAx, notail, and I, we were like now we’re going to turn this into fire. We’re going to turn this into something great. So it gave us a lot of motivation to keep going. To keep proving that we’re following our dream and it’s the right thing to do. Eventually we might get out, we might not. It doesn’t matter, it’s the right thing. We keep on doing it. We turned it into a very positive thing. But for sure the first moments after were pretty rough.
“It happened pretty fast. JerAx, notail, and I, we were like now we’re going to turn this into fire. We’re going to turn this into something great.”
Speaking of turning it into positive things like we can look at OG coming into this event. So you lost two of your players. One of them was your captain, one was S4, considered one of the best players right. You got Ana back, who was on break and milling about a little bit. You bring in Topson, and as far as I can tell this is Topson’s first big LAN event ever?
He played in WESG for Team Finland, I don’t remember what the name called, but it’s a different vibe a tournament. This is definitely his first LAN events, like official Dota LAN events. Part of the circuit and everything.
So because of that you have a lot of different factors going on. You have to rebuild this team. You have to get Topson ready to play at this level of tournament. You have to make sure Ana is back to where he was or even better. You, yourself were standing in and you changed role again.
And n0tail also had to adapt to a captaining position, which is not a light thing. It was a captain/role change for him too. The list is pretty long.
Yeah, so like I look at this and I think, so in order for OG to succeed, eight or nine different things have to go right. And we’re here eight or nine things have gone right. You guys are in the upper bracket so I want to ask what was the process of getting all those things right. Was it like going step by step or did things click naturally?
I mean things kind of clicked. The potential was there so they were clicking sometimes and sometimes they were not. But I mean what you touched on is very true and it feels good to to get a little bit of recognition. Obviously were not seeking recognition, but it always feels good when its there because had to work our asses off. We just gave it our all, we give it everything. Everything we knew, everything we were capable of. Every hour we’re able to put every effort, every drop of energy we had, we put it in.
In order to make this work in time. There was also a lot of pressure on us to perform as quickly as we could because we had to go through the qualifiers. It ended up clicking, I wouldn’t say it’s where we wanted. There is still a lot of room for improvement. There’s also the team experience going through like certain moments in the tournament. Like we get in this tournament and even though let’s say preparation went pretty well, we’re happy, we go to the tournament and on the first day we’re one in five. This is something that most of the teams here, they have experienced before. They’ve been there. They have experience. In the past, they let it it get to them and they probably lost because of it.
Sometimes they were able to bounce back and learn how do we bounce back, lets’ do it again. For us this is brand new as a team. These are challenges you also have to face live in the tournament. So far we’ve been doing a pretty good job at it. We had a very rough first day and we ended up going one five. Now we’re eight and two or something. We definitely bounced back and I’m very proud of this. There are a lot of changes coming our way in the winner bracket. We’re going to keep going, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, give it our everything, try our best. Be as good as we can as teammates, as captain, as offlaner, as whatever and try to make it happen.
So I did an interview earlier with Heen, the coach of Team Liquid and I asked him a question. When it comes to players and their heroes, there’s a strange fascination with them. It’s not just like a hero it’s like it’s part of who they are. So sometimes they force things too much. So for instance, QO. He’s always going for heroes that punch you in the face right? So in your case though, there is this hero, tree. Unlike QO, you’ve somehow made it work. How does this work in the current meta, why do you think it’s successful so far?
I’m not going to answer your question about why it’s successful. I can say it’s a hero I feel comfortable on. There’s a thing in the world that I believe in. I’d like to think that most of the Dota players are pretty passionate about the game, at least it’s the case for me. Sometimes it’s just that I like the hero, I want to play the hero. It can be that simple sometimes. This is a hero I like, give me this hero and I will win. Sometimes it’s strategical.
It fits the meta, sometimes it doesn’t. The most important part to me is if I feel the hero or not. If I don’t feel it, then I don’t want to be playing it. Even if it’s the best in the tournament. Most of the time, you play so much pubs and stuff that I usually feel heroes that are good in the meta. You get a good vibe from playing them. You win with them or has a high impact and then you start feeling the hero. Or if it’s a really bad hero that never gets a good game or gets completely destroyed because all the counters are good. I mean, if you’re going to lose 5 times in a row, you’re probably not going to feel like playing it anymore. Not as much for me at least. For me it’s mostly feelings. Do I feel like playing a hero or not? In this tournament, I felt like playing tree. I felt like this is it, just bring it on.
Let’s talk a bit about your intuition. This is like going to a very strange part of Dota 2 where two conflicting ways of playing. One is you play towards what everybody else is playing, like whatever the ideal meta supposedly is. Then there’s the idea of you play towards your own individual skill and try to fit that into the meta or force the meta to come back to you. How do you balance those ideas or do you think that one is better than the other?
In theory, I guess if you’re able to set the meta, then it’s definitely the most comfortable position. The team that sets the meta, if there is one, is definitely in the most comfortable position. They’re just setting the meta, people are trying to copy. But what does that mean? It means that at best they’re going to do it as well as them and so they’re definitely going to have an edge and they might just keep it for the entire tournament. So in theory that’s the best. It’s hard to answer the question. I don’t know if there’s a better way to do things. For myself I’m very confident in my understanding of the game. I’m confident in it being as good as the captains I look up to, maybe even better. I’m pretty confident that I can come up with a way of breaking any team, even in this tournament.
“I’m pretty confident that I can come up with a way of breaking any team, even in this tournament[TI8].”
So usually I don’t look at copying first. It depends, if I think it’s good I just pick it up. If I think it’s not good and counterable, I counter it. I don’t have a set approach. Sometimes I just look at certain things. I look at something and think that’s amazing, so I don’t think you should shy away from making it yours. If it’s smart and it works, make it yours. Don’t make it yours blindly. Just because the top team of the group is doing something, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it right. Maybe what they do is pretty weak, but people just don’t understand how to counter it. It just depends. You have to try your hardest to look at it objectively.
OG has gone through multiple iterations. You had miracle originally. Then there was JerAx. You got Resolution. A bunch of different players are coming in now. However you look at the identity of this team, even with many of the core players gone, the identity of the team remains the same. There is a lot of good team play, emphasis on movement, and late game. Is this some kind of underlying style or philosophy or your approach to the game that underlies the team? Is it some combination between you and the players?
Strategically, I think n0tail and I have always had a big say in how this team plays Dota. The ideas that are being brought in are often his or mine. Even when Fly was on the team, it was a lot like this already. It depends. I mean it’s hard to say. It’s a team thing. I’d say that the people that are most interested in meta things, strategical things are definitely him and I. I’ve ended up taking with him about the game for hours, it just never stops. If somebody doesn’t stop us, we’re going to keep going. But everybody brings a lot to the table.
The good thing is that a team it makes it even better. It goes through everybody’s minds and then they’re all slightly improved until it becomes something that you can work with. There isn’t a structure where it always happens in the same way. You have people that are more focused on these things and people that are less focused on these things. It’s just a matter of what it is that you really like in this game the most. It doesn’t mean we’re not focused on other parts of the game, it also doesn’t mean that other players aren’t focused on the strategy part.
So let me ask you about n0tail. He had like a rough time with this shuffle and now he’s picked up the captaincy. This can be a very rough transition depending on the player. N0tail is known for having a very good mind for the game, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader. How has this transition been for this team?
Johan is one of the best players I’ve met in Dota. I’ve learned so much from him when it comes to the Dota part, the non Dota part. Everything. I think he’s done an amazing job. To me he’s already one of the best position fives in the world. His understanding of his role when it comes to what he has to do in the game and also out of the game like as a captain is already incredibly good. I think it’s very fired up for this event. So it probably helped him improve drastically in a very short amount of time.
I was super confident that this move would be no problem for him and he proved it. I never doubted it even a second, so I couldn’t even say I’m surprised. I kind of expected it to be like this and it’s how it is. He brings so much to the table. It’s incredible. It was always the case on OG. For every single major that we won. I can’t…like if I had to remove one guy…it’s more like if you just remove what he was bringing to the table I don’t know if we would have won a single game. Maybe we would, but what he brings is so valuable.
“If you remove what he [n0tail] was bringing to the table, I don’t know if we would have won a single game. Maybe we would, but what he brings is so valuable.”
We touched a bit on n0tail’s Dota knowledge, but you talked about his out of game stuff. Can you expand upon that, because when you talk about other in-game leaders. For instance like PPD, he’s a great leader, a great mind for the game, but he didn’t always get EG on board.
I think he’s like he’s just very emotionally smart. I don’t know if there’s a way to say it in English. In French we have this saying where you have emotional intelligence.
Yeah, I mean I’m not a specialist, but whatever top score is he probably has that. He’s just really smart like, but not smart in the way of “smart smart”. He just feels things like, he understands. He’s a great person. He’s just a good guy at the end of the day. He’s just a great teammate. Literally a great teammate. I don’t want to make it sound like hes doing it intentionally.
A natural leader?
It’s not even the leading part. He just makes people feel good around him and he shares happiness, confidence all these things that are crucial in these high pressure environments. A side of what he brings to the game and this transitions directly into the game. It’s a very important part. It is just a great human being, honestly. It’s as simple as that.
“He [n0tail] just makes people feel good around him and he shares happiness, confidence all these things that are crucial in these high pressure environments.”
So I want to talk a little bit about your own knowledge. There’s this idea that’s been circulating the past few years now. It’s no longer just about the draft or heroes. It’s about map movement, objectives, and space. What can you get a team fight. Does this team fight matter? For instance, you get wiped out on their side of the map, but all the lanes are pushing in. It doesn’t matter in that case. How do you model this idea of space and positioning because even the meta changes, if the patch changes, this idea of Dota doesn’t change.
These are things that I can’t just talk about. Don’t get me wrong…you know I was having a talk with a player two days ago. I really miss those days. So back in the days, we would play some random DreamHack, you’d play the finals. You win, you lose, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say you lose.You go to Puppey, for example, after we just lost to Na`Vi and ask, “Why did you pick this? Why did you guys fight us here?” Talk about the games, share, and learn together. These were the days man. That’s all I want. If I could exchange the winnings and just get in the mind of the captain or the team that we just played against and understand everything that happened in that series. That would be my best reward in a tournament. That would be the absolute dream.
“These were the days man. That’s all I want. If I could exchange the winnings and just get in the mind of the captain or the team that we just played against and understand everything that happened in that series. That would be my best reward in a tournament. That would be the absolute dream.”
So I wish I could just publicly talk about what I think about the game and all these things that are to me…it’s what drives me. All these little things. But I learned to my own expense that it’s a bad thing for me to do it. There’s so many concepts or things that I’ve known for a very long time where it was my approach to the game. I actually realized that certain things that I used to say, now they became–it’s not like it was me, it could have been someone else, I don’t know. Certain things I haven’t said and it’s not public knowledge. Certain things I have said and now it’s public knowledge. And people improve so it’s not like we’re better. It just happened that we thought of something that people didn’t think of yet, it was just a matter of time. Whereas they might have thought of something you haven’t though of yet. So if you’re going to speak about it and they don’t speak about it, you’re pretty much giving them an edge. Then you just lose to them in tournaments. So I can’t just talk about it. I wish I could. I really wish I could. It’s tickling, but I can’t.
How about this then. Let’s time travel back. Because in that case you can talk about it. We’ll start with the very beginning of your career. What were the concepts back then that I have survived?
So a very simple one. I even blogged about it back then. But it was a mistake to blog about it. I made a whole blog about the importance of vision in Dota. I was kind of frustrated playing certain games, with certain players, or against certain teams. I could tell that people underrated this vision so much. For me it was everything. Back then, everything you talk about back then after a team fight was why did you not Echo Slam? Why did you not be BKB? You can talk about micro things, but it’s like they had a ward on us, we did not, end of story. It’s already ten times easier for them. That’s it. Vision.
Vision is the name of the game. Very simple things, like there were games back in the day seven years ago. People just wouldn’t buy a gem. Back then gem was a simple item. You buy it, you lose it, you buy another one anyway. So you had teams that wouldn’t buy a gem. So we buy a gem, deward the entire map and win. They would not do it, even if they have a huge advantage on us, they would not buy that gem. We could still play around the wards. Nowadays these things won’t happen. All the warding of the teams is almost top notch, all the teams in the tournament. People just keep getting better year after year and then you have to keep finding things that they don’t yet understand. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, I’m sure a lot of teams understand things that we don’t.
It’s just how Dota works. The beauty of it is that everybody just keeps getting better every year and where is this head? There’s going to be a point where… I keep thinking there’s going to be a point where we’re going to have it figured out. But the truth is we haven’t figured out anything. It’s been eight years and we keep learning. Every day I learn something new about this game and how to improve. I’ve been doing this for so long. So when does it stop? I don’t want it to stop.
“There’s going to be a point where… I keep thinking there’s going to be a point where we’re going to have it [Dota] figured out. But the truth is we haven’t figured out anything. It’s been eight years and we keep learning. “
So we can’t talk about some of the modern stuff. I’ll try to stay from that. What I want to ask is something more abstract. So I’m going to give you an example. There is this game called quake. A 1v1 FPS game. So there’s an American played named Rapha. He has this idea about what was the difference between him and the other players. It’s similar to how you were describing vision. He basically said that mechanically speaking he might not be the best compared to the rest of the guys on the day, but because I understand the map, I understand the timings, and the position. I can create fights that always favor me. If you have vision, you’re going to win because you know when you can set up a fight. Instead of taking a 50/50 coin toss, you can increase your margin of winning by creating a good fight. When we talk about vision, it sounds like you as a player or as a mind think that rather than thinking of the team fights, you think of what sets up the team fight, what leads up to the team fight, what goes around the team fights. Is that a fair way to talk about the way you look at Dota 2?
I think not. Sure I look at it a little like this, but like most teams right now, you see the importance and emphasis they put on this. I mean it is it is very important and like a lot of teams. If they want to fight or go Rosh, they put down a ward and go Rosh. Even in public games I’ve seen it. I see it all the time, but just the warding in pubs has gotten so much better. People understand how important it is. Sometimes you have these games where nobody buys wards and people complain, “Dude go buy a ward.” Back in the day, nobody would care. You play pubs and there were no wards and then what? “I’m getting a BKB, are you stupid why would I get wards?” I got flamed for asking for wards back in the days because the support was about to get his BKB. Things just evolve.
What you said about this Quake player, he’s for sure right about it. But the thing is, even if he was as good mechanically, it doesn’t even matter. Even if he was better mechanically, it wouldn’t. It’s still important, it’s…I don’t believe that the actual skill between players is that different. It’s not a matter of skill. Or we could try to define skill. What is skill? How fast you can click, how fast your reflexes are. Sure that’s part of skill. These differences, they don’t win or lose games. Sometimes you see it in certain games, once in every five games where there is this one move or reaction that was really clutch. But most of the time, it’s actually nothing to do with the mechanical part.
Most of the time the guy just anticipated what was going to happen. So he reacted faster because he understood that this is what happened. So people are like, “Oh he’s so quick!”. He’s not so quick, he’s been thinking about it for two minutes sometimes. There’s a lot more to it than just like raw skill. That’s just what I think. I think everybody has different approaches. Of course raw skill is…if you’re not good enough for the game, then you don’t stand a chance. All of the players in this tournament, they’re insanely good at the game. You don’t get in a top team if you’re not insanely skilled mechanically. Because if you’re not good enough, you can’t keep up. You don’t get to play. This is a myth like, “Oh he’s not very good, but he’s smart so it’s fine.” No, if you’re smart, but not good be a coach. Assist the team. Let someone be super good and smart, cause they are now, play the game. It’s going to happen. Teams don’t enjoy being held back by anybody.
I’ll try to stay away from modern era. So how about the first iteration of OG, can you talk about that? Not the drafting or heroes, but the map movement and how you influenced that team?
It’s too specific for me to get into it.
Could you talk about an opposing teams from back then?
Also too specific. These are things like…now we’re getting into how I read teams and how I approach the game. These are things that give me an edge on most of the teams in the world. It’s going to take them time to get there and I don’t want to help them get there. They also have things going. So now if we’re talking and trading information, then we can talk about it.
So I just have to get a leader here to trade information?
I’ll see if I can set that up.
That would be interesting.
So as far as I know you’re the only player who’s ever written about Dota 2 in analytically like when you did the blog about vision. So years from now when you no longer plan to be a coach, maybe 30-40 years down the line, are you ever going to come back and write down your secrets?
It could be interesting. I think once I’m done with competition itself, whether its playing or coaching, trying to dominate the scene or trying to be the best, it’s what competition is. Once I’m done with that, it would be be interesting to break it down for people. I’ll do it, 100 percent.
“One day I’ll give back. Everything I know about the game…Let’s improve together. ”
One way or another because I can see how people are passionate about this game and whenever they get to improve or understand, level further or deeper. It just drags their whole attention, that’s all they care about. Same for me, I get the same feeling and I still have it. I’ve always had it’s like. Let’s say I’m doing something great, its super exciting and somebody is talking about something about Dota that I’ve never thought abut. Everything just stops.
Now I want to hear more about this. I can tell that most of the Dota fans, which I am one also, they have the same approach to the game. They’re so passionate about the game and all they care about is how to improve. One day I’ll give back. This is going to be my way to give back. Everything I know about the game, here it is. Let’s just improve together. I will make it happen one day for sure, I’ll make it happen. It’s going to be a blessing for me to share this. I’m holding it back. It’s not healthy, I hate holding it back. But, I mean I’ve regretted not holding it back. It cost me a lot because I’m chasing a dream of being the best. It doesn’t help me be the best.
If anything it does the opposite. I’ve realized that most of the other players and coaches were way smarter than me about this. They were trying to get info and they’re keeping info. I’m a very candid person. I never expect the worst out of people. I expect the best. Stuff happens and you probably need to toughen up a little bit. You need to change your approach because this doesn’t help you or the people around you.
We talked earlier about the idea of getting two coaches. One to deal with the Dota stuff. The other to deal with the out of the game stuff. Right now, Valve has increased what the coach can do by letting them do the draft. I talked to cr1t earlier and he said something along the lines that he thought the drafter was always going to be the coach. The reason as because if you have the drafter inside of the team, that it creates a level of separation of tension between the drafter and the rest of the squad. What’s your view on this drafting rule, do you think like that’s the case?
There’s some truth to what he said. My experience as a drafter is that when you draft something, you really want it to work. You probably do not see…not bias exactly…you have a vision. So when things go wrong, it can create tension. Because now you have to let go of that vision. Whatever you were trying to build, you have to let it go sometimes because something happened. Or somebody has another vision of the same drafts. It might be as good, but it doesn’t matter.
It’s true having the drafter more detached from the in-game part might be a good thing, but then you need to make sure that that transition works. He’s not going to be there when they play in the game. So this also creates risks. So if you have a misunderstanding between how the drafter wanted the strategy to play out and now they’re doing the opposite and the draft doesn’t fit that at all. It’s hard to say what’s the best. There’s definitely risks in both situations.
So let’s go back to talking about your playing career for a bit. You’ve played every role. While that’s not that rare, it is uncommon. How has that improved your overall Dota knowledge?
For sure, you learn very simple things. Say I’m playing in the offlane and ganking the mid player. I’ve probably played his hero a lot and to the same level that he does. So I understand exactly if he’s going to go for a rune, go back to farm the jungle, if he is going to take my mid’s hill because I know the match up, I know if he has ult, he’s probably going to play aggressive now, so I’m here. The more you know about the game, the better you get as a player. I’ve played carry and now I have to break the enemy carry’s game. I’m on his lane, so I understand what he wants, what he likes, and what he hates. It helps you grow as a player immensely.
So I wanted to talk to you about the pure aesthetic of the game. What I mean by that is are there certain teams or players, where you watch are are amazed? You don’t have to pick a modern team, it can be from any point in your career. You watch the team and you see they know exactly what to do, how to do it, and when you watch you think, that is beautiful Dota and it makes the game great to watch?
Yea, I’ve had this with Wings, with OG around the Manila Major, [A]lliance TI3, and EHOME 2010. These are my top four. The Dota that was being played, it was just beautiful. There was almost nothing to say about it. It was surgical. Everything was perfect almost. It was the highest level of Dota that was being played in the history of Dota. That’s what I think at least.
I want to go back a bit to 2010. This is a time period almost nobody now would probably know about. I want you to paint a picture for me and tell me what made EHOME special.
The thing is that the global level of the game has evolved so much, so if you look at what they were doing back then and you put any team in this tournament against what that team was back then, they would probably destroy them in 10 minutes. Because people are not as smart about the game as they are today. But back then…for the EHOME team it was mostly like positioning. I don’t want to say mechanical skill because it was mostly team coordination. They were on another level of execution when it came to how they played the lane and team fights. That was what was amazing about them.
[A]lliance it was strategical. They were smarter than other teams when it came to executing strategies and how to build strategies. For OG it was about how you get the most out of a team. How you get the most out of five players. Wings was pure Dota knowledge like heroes.
“Wings was pure Dota knowledge.”
Everytime they went into a game they had everything that was in the game. Not the meta or anything. Just everything, 110 or whatever…all the heroes, all the ways to play, all the items. Everything was on the table for them to grab and every game they were grabbing very different things because when you have everything to grab, there’s so many things you can do to break whatever people try to put in front of you. So Wings gaming was pure Dota knowledge. It was amazing.
They were doing drafts that I remember teams doing five years ago to counter a certain hero combo. Wings they just know, they do it. It’s great, it’s absolutely amazing. Let’s say Wings would play against TI3 [A]lliance. They would probably come up with how Na`Vi beat [A]lliance back then. It would be coincidence, but they thought…they just feel the game, they were just really good at the game. I mean in terms of concepts. Not team concepts. Like this hero is good against this hero because of this and that. The understood the heroes, the items, they were just really smart. I think a lot of it was instinctive also. The more you play, the smarter you get but not because you’re thinking of whatever happens…
You build it up slowly?
Yea, sometimes I’m looking at a lineup and I know that this hero is going to break the lineup. I can’t explain why, I mean I can. But it’s going to take me an hour to sit down and think. Then I’m going to break it down, but at the very specific point, I know it’s just the hero you have to pick. It’s somewhere in your brain, you’ve seen it so many times it’s just there.
The way you’ve been talking through this interview and how you process things, it reminds me of mathematicians or scientists. The actually come up with their discoveries in a similar way when you look through history. Yea, they have a process, equations and experiments. But throughout history, the idea often comes up as a feeling, an intuition, or a dream. So a question might be how do you come up with these intuitions, but perhaps a better question might be this. Is intuition the ultimate answer for Dota?
I think at the end of the day it is the answer. I mean now we’re going away from Dota, but I like it. I love it. What is intuition at the end of the day? Is intuition, really intuition? Or are you mistaking intuition for something else. Maybe intuition is all the hard work. Now take all the hard work and now you’re so well prepared that now it takes you 0.5 seconds to solve the problem. You don’t even realize you solved it, but you solved it. That’s what people call intuition. Maybe it’s not intuition at all. Maybe it’s just like all the hardware you put before. Maybe had I not played my 15K hours of Dota or whatever, you put me in front of this game and I’m not going to have any intuition. Maybe I will and it’s going to be worth zero. So what I call intuition is actually all this hard work, all this experience, and all these images and whatever I have in my head.
“So what I call intuition is actually all this hard work, all this experience, and all these images and whatever I have in my head.”
It makes me solve it, without me even realizing I solved it. So I don’t really know, but at the end of the year what we would call intuition. Which is this gut feeling that you have, that you can’t explain. It’s probably the most useful thing you have with you. If you start, if you want to break everything down… sometimes you just can’t do it. It’s a team game. So you need to make sure that the others they follow the same…first of all do they have the same approach to the game as you? Maybe they don’t want to get that deep. Maybe they don’t, maybe they do. If they do, that’s great. So if they do, can you get them to understand what you have in your mind? Can you explain it well enough? Are they going to get it, are they not? There’s so many questions. At the end of the day, intuition might just be the best. With intuition comes confidence because you’re feeling it. When you do something you feel, most of the time it feels good. If you do the opposite of what you feel, you might feel pretty bad about it. So I believe in intuition a lot.
So let’s go back to Wings as Wings is a unique team in all Dota 2. When we talk about their five man lineup, they played together the second longest after [A]lliance. You look at the careers and they didn’t rise to the top until they were deep into it. When we look at it that way, do you think there’s something to be said about keeping five players together for that long? Has that built up the intuition so to say?
There is something about keeping players together. So when you get on a team, there’s always a honeymoon period because you’re very mindful of what you’re doing. There are good things that you bring to a team, but also bad things. If you’re a person that can get frustrated or if you’re a person that sometimes gets lazy. We all have our demons right? All the players have theirs and there is this honeymoon period because you’re trying to be as good as you should be. If you manage to try as hard every day…sometimes we have bad days and sometimes you don’t try as hard or you’re not as good of a teammate as you should have been. This forces you to work on yourself because people tell you, “Oh this is not okay or this could have been better.”
You self-reflect, you become a better person and a better teammate. But that implies that you’re willing to work on this together, solve issues, and keep doing it. Some people are just not strong enough to do it. They’re weak and they run away from it. They switch teams because they want to keep finding this honeymoon period. As soon as it goes away, you start again. But then you have players and teams that are willing to go through hell in order to get to the heavens.
“But then you have players and teams that are willing to go through hell in order to get to the heavens.”
That is the only way to get there I think. It doesn’t just happen. It’s like. To me these people, even if they win, it isn’t going to be consistently. They’re going to win today or tomorrow, but they’re not in control of anything. Wherever the wind takes them, they go. A team like Liquid last year. Before they won TI last year, for the most part of the season, they were not playing good. I’m pretty sure they were super unhappy with how they were playing Dota. They couldn’t even make it to tournaments. They had really good players and they knew they had good players. They stuck together, they stayed strong, they kept working on their issues, and they end up winning TI. Look at them now, they’re winning the Group Stages and they look really scary. It says something about what commitment and hard work and where it can get you.
You bring up an interesting point about how a bunch of teams are too immature. They shuffle over and over again. This does remind me a bit of the Street Fighter player, Daigo Umehara. He’s been very critical of the players who chase whatever is best now. They stick to their tricks rather than expanding their knowledge to the maximum. He always says this it’s better to know how to learn rather than learning whatever is good right now . Because while the latter can get you short term wins, the former will can last for much longer. By going down this path, he thinks you can get the ultimate strength. Is this what you and your team are striving for then? To become the best ever, to dominate the world?
There is something about it. It might sound silly, but it’s not even in my control to be honest. If I could control it, I’d probably be a happier person, I’d just be chilling. I’d be enjoying my time. I’d lose a game and I’m so happy, I don’t care, I’m going to enjoy a great meal. But the truth is that if I lose a game, the world collapses on me and I have to start working again.
“But the truth is that if I lose a game, the world collapses on me and I have to start working again.”
Harder even. I need to go through pain again in order to get myself back up there. It’s not even a good thing to have. I don’t know…if I could remove it from myself, I’d do it. I want to be the best, that’s it. It’s not that I want to be the best. It’s that if I’m not the best at what I do, I’m not in peace with myself. I don’t think it’ a good thing. [laugh] I think I should go to a psychiatrist, you know what I mean, I don’t think it’s a good thing personally. I don’t know, I don’t even want to judge. I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing either. Some people just have it in them. Some people are more at peace with themselves. They don’t need that, which is good for them I guess. I envy them sometimes. With this competition comes a lot of lows and a lot of highs. If you don’t strive for this, you don’t you don’t experience these highs. It depends what you seek in life, a the end of the day. What makes you happy and what doesn’t. Trying to be the best and being the best. It makes me happy.
Going off topic a little bit right. So. Let’s talk about your own personal philosophy because you want to be the best. The way you describe it, the reason you want to be the best is because that’s just who I am. It’s just how you’re structured you are. So we look we look at it that way you look at it, we’re not just talking about Dota 2. We’re talking about the arts, sciences, in general. When you look out like the people who excel to the highest order. There is something strangely, maybe fundamentally egotistic and individual about them that makes it very beautiful to watch. It requires an extreme burden, like you said from heaven to hell. Even though you started earlier saying, “Oh this is a bad thing, maybe I want to take it out.” But at the end you come back and say, “Maybe this isn’t so bad.”
Like if I didn’t have it then, what would I be doing? I could be drinking a nice drink, like a cocktail on a nice beach. Then what? After five minutes, I’m going to be dead bored. It’s for sure off track, it’s about how much you know yourself. What makes you happy and what doesn’t. Just go for it.
Because when I look at your career everything, you’ve done is in Dota 2 is your art in a sense right? It expresses everything you are about yourself?
Okay, so don’t think about winning or losing, I want to ask you what you’re going to do after this tournament. Does a part of you want to go the BurNIng route? Maybe return from retirement, maybe I’m going to be like xiao8 and coming out of the log cabin for one last time.
It’s very hard for me to know. I forbid myself to think about it because the only thing I care about in my life is the game. I’m going to have to play against VGJ.S. That’s it. I have a bo3 to play. After that, I don’t even know what’s after that. I don’t want to know what’s after that. Whatever comes after I’ll deal with it. There’s going to be a new morning and I’m going to probably be informed that we have another team to play and that will be it. So I’m not thinking about anything else. Right now I have a bo3 against VGJ.S that’s what my life is about it.