Heen TI8 Interivew: “I think they imagined that life would just be happily ever after winning TI.”

I did an hour long interview with Heen, the coach of Team Liquid. The interview took place on August 19th at The International 8, the day after the group stages and before the playoffs. During this interview I was able to talk to Heen about:

  • Why he became a coach
  • The influence that MVP had on how he views Dota
  • Modeling Positioning and Space in Dota2
  • How he sets up the draft
  • The importance of draft compared to the gameplay
  • How Liquid prepared for TI
  • Why Liquid is so good at teamplay
  • How TI7 forged the mentality of the team and maintaining that mentality through the DPC
  • Strategic insight into the SuperMajor run
  • How internal disputes get resolved in the team
  • How to make a comeback in the game
  • The importance of a core caller
  • The partnership between him and KuroKy

As far as I can tell a lot of the coaches in Dota 2 they have this flirtation with either being a coach or being a player. So what made you decide to be the coach for a Team Liquid.?

It was my first time being a coach. This was back in early 2016. When I recently left MVP, I had no plans of continuing as a player, especially considering in Korea there aren’t many options to if you leave MVP as they are pretty much the only team in Korea. So I was just taking a break.

Liquid got into contact with me. The reason for that is that Blitz was on the team, as a secondary coach with Bulba. Blitz had a run in Korea when he lived there for a year or so. So we played against each other. So he knew I had experiences like captaining a team, thinking about the game strategically, and speaking English. So at the time it wasn’t like, “Hey do you want to sign up with us?” It was more like, Bulba had left, Liquid didn’t have a coach, they’re just going to EPICENTER and they wanted to try out our chemistry. So I actually met them in real life for the first time at the event itself without any boot camping. We went on to win the tournament. It was a first place for Liquid. It was pretty good for a first time and that’s how we kicked off.

Let’s start with your coaching style because like you said that was your nominal run and you’ve been with them for a long time since then. So there are a lot of different types of coaches like there’s a manager type kind of like coach that manages the player personalities. There’s the tactical type, the one that either helps them with the movements, the overall strategy, or draft. There’s also the player training type that helps a player find the best way to enable themselves inside the game and to go that way. How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I think it’s probably due to my background of being a captain. I wasn’t one for very long but, my strength relies on strategic helping of the team. Not focusing so much on the individual, but rather team movement and team draft strategy. That’s where I maintain an intimate relationship with Kuroky —trying to figure out like: Why a hero appears and why at an event you go and some hero has a high win rate and a team does well. You try to figure out how to deal with these heroes. How to utilize our hero pool, because every team for sure is limited by some human factors. You can’t expect the players to play everything and  just pick up new heroes. That’s kind of my style.

I will also point out individual mistakes and try to point the team into the right direction. I might say something like, “Hey look at the counterpart on this other successful team. He does these things differently from you. No, you don’t have to copy him, but take this it into consideration.”

That’s an interesting point because when we talk about liquid they had a brief period before GH joined. They had Bulba and when you looked at their games, look at the draft it felt like they had lost themselves a little bit in terms of identity. So what I mean by that is rather than trying to fit their style into the meta they were following the meta. It’s also a part of​ the player pool as you describe too because that the limitation. So do you think it’s better to play towards your own individual strengths or is it better to just ride the meta so to speak?

Definitely the former. I think you should play to your strengths of your roster because the meta is…it’s kind of like fantasy.

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I think you should play to your strengths of your roster because the meta is…it’s kind of like fantasy.”

I know this because we’ve had our times where we were the team that other teams looked up to and a lot of stuff that we came up with in the past was…not research it was more like in the moment. Heylet’s try this and then we go on to stomp on the team. We just tried it because we felt it was good. Then the next thing you notice in pubs like everyone’s spamming the hero. Let’s say for Axe.

Axe was completely ignored when we picked it up at…it might have been EPICENTER. It was just an idea. We didn’t really practice it. It wasn’t something we prepared in private. We just yoloed it. Next thing you notice our opponents are playing it. PSG.LGD the first picked Axe against us. The pubs are going crazy on Axe and the Skywrath mage duo. The meta is not like natural selection. It’s not like these two heroes are naturally discovered. People can influence the meta. People can say, “I think this hero is good.” Surely there’s some objectivity to what’s a good hero and a bad hero. My evaluation of Dota players in general is that they’re very slow to change. They have very old ideas like this hero is good against that one. They aren’t experimenting to see if these old wisdoms still hold true.

So the original question. Definitely play to your player’s strength. Because I think a lot of teams that get lost, they’re choking draft wise. They’re doubting…they’re trying to see what the other teams are playing and then doing a mix of their own heroes combined with these new heroes . You can clearly see some of the players aren’t comfortable. Unless they truly believe in it. It’s a game after all so are your players have to naturally enjoy it. Really feel like they can do everything they need to with their hero.

My evaluation of Dota players in general is that they’re very slow to change. They have very old ideas like this hero is good against that one. They aren’t experimenting to see if these old wisdoms still hold true.”

During your time on MVP, you described why MVP were such a dangerous dark horse at these big LAN events. At the time you said something like, “When you run somebody over and over and over again it just ramps up the pressure and we get to that point where people start losing confidence themselves and start breaking down.” This came out as the MVP style which we know as ‘caveman’ Dota. The way you played the game seems to have some kind of influence on how you approached the game strategically. So do you think your playing style or your history as a player has influenced the way you look at the game?

For sure. During my time with the Koreans our playstyle was unrefined. Now if you look back at it in these modern times that there was a lot of truth to it, actually. It wasn’t just running at people, it was good. Every year people gain new common knowledge. For example like if you tend to run at the other team you’re gonna take fights on their side of the map. Should you win you’re going to take objectives, should you lose like you’re going to respawn before they get to your objective. So there was a lot of good stuff that we didn’t realize at the time. And also it’s much easier to play when you’re making the first move. It’s like you know in a real fight.

You’d rather be the guy throwing the punches, not parrying. It’s easier to play if you are on the offensive. Offense is the best defense. It really holds true in Dota where if you can choose when and where to take the fights, you kind of control the game. That’s why some games where we don’t play like that it feels like we can never really progress the game. I try to balance the aggressiveness. Surely there is a line you have to draw because our team tends to enjoy scaling lineups, we don’t want to play a strategy that falls off completely. It does pressure the player from a human point of view, people will get pressure. Say you have no carry, you just have a pushing lineup and they have Spectre. It doesn’t feel nice to play. You can win, but why should you play it?

If you have confidence that you’re the better team you only give yourself room for one mistake whereas, they can f— up 3 times, but they’re still in the game. So we have to be smart about aggressiveness. It’s one of the key themes we’ve been talking about this year. We can farm, but when we make a move on them….you have to​ back off from the jungle and has to be nice and…

Coordinated across the map?

Pretty much.

There is a strange sort of connection between your MVP team and this liquid roster in terms of when the men they move across the map. When you look at the entire Dota 2 scene in general this is a very rare quality. Like as far as I can tell. I think Liquid is probably the best idea at it now. What do you think that is? Is it​ the strategy, the players, or the combination of the two. What do you think is it about liquid that makes them act so well in terms of team play?

One of our mottoes as a team is, “Don’t give them free s—.” I don’t want to take too much credit for the way we’re playing. It’s just aggressive Dota is good in general. One of our mottos as a team is, “Don’t give them free s—.” That includes space. Don’t let them have space when we can deny them space. Don’t let them have our towers when we can defend them. Just make it really hard. Like really a pain in the ass to play against us. If they want something make it hard to get it and choke them out. It’s not just us, but I think right now objectively in Dota, if you gain an advantage, you can sort of set up a perimeter around their base.

“One of our mottoes as a team is, ‘Don’t give them free s—.’ ”

Imagine there’s a bubble and you can make this bubble smaller so that where they can be active is really small. I think it’s really hard to break out of. It’s kind of like, I don’t really watch MMA, but you know when you’re in a choke hold or something….

Basically when you’re on your back?

Yeah, they need a blunder or two. You basically need to get team wiped for them to​ break free and​ push all the lanes out.

Like when a Terran has a siege line on you?

Yeah, kind of. You hold the high ground and it gets too hard. I mean they have shrines where you are on their shrines already you’re going to get there?

Positioning as space has been coming more into the limelight within the last few years as a theoretical sort of way to look at the game, look at how you break opponents rather than just the pure heroes or players you have. How did you come to think about the idea of space, was it always something you naturally think about because​ you’re playing all the time or is it​ something like you’ve come to the conclusion of like this we need this area because this area is so much more of everything on the map.

Space is connected to pressure, they’re kind of like the opposites. There’s​ the good kind of five men which is like basically a thing as a team and then this bad kind of five men which is you don’t have heroes that can be alone on the map. They’re not like exclusive of each other. Basically heroes that can be alone on the map and pressure the map, heroes like Enchantress and Furion. These heroes that are hard to gank, they can push waves safely. Essentially like let’s say you have this one guy and then you have four people there on the other side of the map. I don’t think any good team would let one hero take your objective, right?

“I don’t think any good team would let one hero take your objective, right? But, at the same time you can’t deal with this one hero with one hero of your own. You need to send like two or three heroes”

But, at the same time you can’t deal with this one hero with one hero of your own. You need to send like two or three heroes. Not to mention usually what happens in the actual Dota games is that they trade jungles. Radiant will take over Dire, they’ll put wards all over jungle and vice versa. So, whoever has more pressure, whoever breaks through depends on what’s happening on the sidelines. Not so much mid as because mid is a short lane. They tend to control the TP game because counting TPs right now is very important. Like if someone TPs top just now and you see three heroes bottom, it can be like hey that’s that’s 80 seconds where this guy is gone. We can absolutely for sure take a fight at bottom. They’ll be outnumbered. It’s kind of like​ counting cards in blackjack. You’re counting how many TPs they’re using.

That lets you control the position, lets you control the map?

Yeah, pretty much. We don’t really believe in just –go and bulldoze towers and force everything. It’s more like, put them in a hard decision. Ok, we have one guy top and four guys bottom. It’s hard for them to manage your resources like if you want to defending four then you have to send at least four or five. But as I mentioned earlier how do you deal with that one guy? He’s strong, he’s hard to kill.

So you need at least two or three?

Yeah, the numbers don’t add up. So you put them in a position where they have to make hard choices and then you react accordingly. Then you get space. That one guy plays against like two or three people and then you’re like, “Oh easy.” That means on this side there’s only two people so you just take it all.

Something that’s not talked about that much in Dota because of the roster shifts is team culture. This is an important thing to talk about just because if you look at a previous TI winners besides Liquid, almost all of them have fallen off after their victory. Liquid is the only one I can think of that has had such a successful year after their team victory. Part of it from the outside looks like it’s like a team culture thing where​ everybody is like OK we’re not going to slack off. We won. We’re going to the next one we’re going to keep trying. We’re going to keep grinding we’re going keep our level up. As somebody who has insight into this what are you. Is this like a false narrative is this real or is it something else completely.

We want to win more. Winning is fun. Previous generations they might have… their end goal was TI. I think they imagined that life would just be happily ever after winning TI. But the moment we won TI we were happy. We weren’t like, “This is it. We can retire now!” It wasn’t anything like that. It was like we won a really big tournament. Let’s do it again. After TI we just went to all these minors and majors. One tournament at a time. Why not win it? It’s fun to win. Feels good. You have so much to learn. Actually we learned so much from last year. As a team we’ve grown a lot. It’s not like we’ve maintained their position. We actually had to grow as a team.

I think they imagined that life would just be happily ever after winning TI.”

You made an interesting point where you said you learned a lot last​ year and from what I recall, KuroKy did a Players Tribune article. In it he said there was this critical moment where he kind of saw the fear in GH’s eyes. The pressure of TI was coming down and he basically said the famous line, “You have to have a don’t give a s— mentality.” So focusing on the mentality aspect. Do you think that TI7 was what forged your team into the Champions they eventually became since then? Or do you think it’s just been a gradual process?

I think TI was huge. It wasn’t like… it happened very naturally. Our losses were not taken very well, I admit. And like when we lost to iG. We were the same as this year, we did pretty well in group stages. I’d say even better actually, even though like the score is the same, we were more dominant. Then in our loss to iG, everyone was like, “Whoa! What just happened?” You can imagine what the mood is like. Nobody is really in a talkative mood. The mood was like, “What do we do?” We were still in the tournament, but people were low energy. The Secret series was a complete fight to the death. I think by the end of that Secret series people were starting to feel it’s just a tournament. It’s TI, it’s just…

Another game?

Yeah, it’s just what can you do? You play thousands of games so you can come to this big stage, inside a booth, surrounded by tens of thousands of people. But you’re still playing the same game. It’s not going to help you in any way if you think otherwise, you’re just not playing the game. When we learned how to just play the game. I think we were unstoppable. In the Newbee series, by the time we reached the grand finals we were completely comfortable. We just weren’t scared of anything.

So this is actually a very hard mentality to come by this complete lack of fear. Because when you talk about every Dota 2 team in history, even the champions, there is a certain level of pressure, a certain level of fear that accompanies the high pressure moments. Even when we’re talking about all time great champions sometimes, the mentality falls back. I’ll give you an example. Jaedong from Brood War. He was called the tyrant and was one of the all time greatest BW players. When he transitioned to Starcraft 2, he had a string of tournaments where he crumbled under the pressure when he got to the finals. So how has it been to., trying to maintain, accelerate, or improve that kind of mentality throughout this year.

We’ve been in a lot of finals since last year’s TI. I think, to be honest it’s hard for me to actually have control over how the players feel. We have been talking about it since the group stage and that for the rest of the tournament…rather that the tournament really begins now right? It’s not much that gameplay preparation will do it. We’ll do it, but the really important thing is to do whatever it takes to feel at home when you play. It’s cliche, but don’t give a f—.

Don’t be scared of losing or winning or thinking about like the what ifs. What if we lose? What if we win, then who do we play, what does that bracket look like? I think the super major was really nice for that because it was fairly recent. We came off of ESL Birmingham where we did really bad. We had a super major where we were kind of in a humble state. We didn’t go into that storm and think you were the favorites. We just played every series and before we knew it, we were in the grand finals and then the series against VP was pretty crazy. Best of five, game five. That’s the kind of approach I would like our team to take. One game at a time like in a sense that, you’re focused on this one game in front of you. You’re not thinking about what the next series, like what if we lose, who do we play, what if we win, who do we play? That kind of stuff.

So it’s about focus in the end?

Right. I really believe that in our team, choking is related to just thinking too much. They just have to play the game.

In the last year you guys were among the top teams I think you did great at the supermajor and talked about the mentality there. Do you think there was anything strategic that happened going into the supermajor?

We didn’t really have time to practice. Even before ESL we didn’t really practice at home whatsoever and then we barely played between the two tournaments . SuperMajor was more like…I wouldn’t say recycling old strategies but these strong ideas. The pillars are so strong that patches might change, but it’s still good. Like pressure, we talked about pressure and space. The concepts don’t really break down and then we just played on to the heroes the guys were feeling comfortable at the time. Seeing how we can build a lineup.

“The pillars are so strong that patches might change, but it’s still good. Like pressure, we talked about pressure and space. The concepts don’t really break down”

Visage was a huge hero. Visage was a fairly recent hero. I want to say about that tournament it was really a lot about the visage. We just naturally thought about…it depends on every game. We don’t really have like, “This guys our star player, we’re always going to play around him.” It changes, it can be a miracle it can be MATUMBAMAN, it can be MinD_ContRoL sometimes, GH, rarely KuroKy. When we have Visage, just an example, when we have these heroes we can lead the game. I think that’s what we are missing in ESL Birmingham. We didn’t really have a focal point as a team.

I said earlier that everyone should just play the game, but that doesn’t mean you should tunnel vision on your hero. You still have to play the hero correctly with your team. It’s a team game. That’s what we did well in the SuperMajor, we played around timings. Reminding themselves of all the concepts that we value as a team. Pressure, timing, space.

So you put a pretty interesting point it’s not necessarily about having a star player like Resolution on VGJ.Storm or his old teams. Everybody get him the money get them the resources is more like you have an overall strategy and then you have a focal point and the focal point can shift between any of your core players. So that’s when the pressure and space and all that comes into play, is that a good way to put it?

Kind of, sometimes it’s not even pre-planned. It’s more like in the game. If one guy has a great game, he’s going to have a game flow. That’s the term we like to use, game flow. It means it’s so easy to know what to do next. Whereas like heroes that get crushed in lane tend to be like, “Oh I have to catch up.” I mean they’re weak so it’s harder to see what the options are and what the outcome might be because they’re so weak. We try to mirror the game right now for this reason. If you lose lanes suddenly your core players have a hard time finding balance, footing in the game. To see what they can do. And what happens is you know people call it the snowball effect it’s.

“If one guy has a great game, he’s going to have a game flow. That’s the term we like to use, game flow. It means it’s so easy to know what to do next.”

In reality they don’t know what to do and they get ran over it because for the teams that won the lanes it’s kind of straightforward. You run them down as they’re weak. So that’s something we try to establish in every game.

That you have a great point here because we’re talking about a bunch of teams and the snowball effect. Everybody looks good in a game where they ‘re taking control, they have the gold lead and running down the game. But the few times your team falls behind, you still find a way to prolong the game and get your way back into the game. ​ Is that because of what you talked about? One guy has game flow, or is it just something you guys work on. Because that part of the game is the hardest to work on because the options are so unclear at that point and you can’t even recreate that simulation outside of the game.

The problem with when we’re losing, we try not to farm our way back into the game. It’s really inefficient. Unless you have some special Heroes that really can…like alchemist for example. He’s a hero that transcends that….

Breaks gold?

Yeah, it’s just not like a normal hero, it just farms way too fast. But if you try to farm against a competent team that has a lead on you. They’ll farm more because they have more lanes to go to and then they’ll farm your heroes so you have to fight your way into the game. Finding these fights, you want to take favorable fights ideally, has a lot to do with the space thing I talked about earlier. Where you try to make them run through hoops around the map. Then you think you have them where you want them to be. Then “Ah hah”, you do that. The problem is when you f— up one of these fights when you’re behind, then it becomes really hard.

There’s a point in the game where they have a lead on you and then you decide to take a fight, but they were ready and they wipe you. That’s usually when you probably shouldn’t take a fight immediately after unless they pop black hole, globals, cooldowns. Right now, I feel like, if you lose two team fights in a row you’re in a really bad spot. So if you’re leading and you lose two team fights in a row usually, I’d say you’re losing. Because what people often don’t look at is the XP change which is huge.

“Right now, I feel like, if you lose two team fights in a row you’re in a really bad spot. So if you’re leading and you lose two team fights in a row usually, I’d say you’re losing.”

Usually if you lose two team fights in a row you’re losing in XP, almost always. But you know when a team is leading 10k and they lose two team fights and they’re still like 2k-3k ahead. People think they’re are ahead, but they’re really not. The other factors is that when you lose team faces the creeps get push in. When you respawn, suddenly all the creeps are in front of your like tier twos let’s say. The map is dark, you can’t get bounty runes or if you want to get bounty runes, you have to start TPing and you’re more vulnerable on the map. So there’s a lot of these subtle factorsSo that’s one of the things about getting back into the game. So reversely we want to catch them off guard. If you win two team fights it’s pretty much going to be gucci.

Going back a little bit, we talked about the ideas of pillars the ideas of space and pressure and how ideas don’t go way no matter how much the patch changes. This year the patch has changed a lot. So it becomes very hard for a team to practice or a team to get their footing in the game because of all the constant changes, because the strategy might be fantastic but the details of it and how it works out is going to get complicated if the patch changes all the time and especially in your case where you guys traveled a lot. So how did you guys deal with this constant change in the patch?

I mean it was hard, but the patches that are really hard to adjust to are the ones not with the hero changes, but more the the rules of the game change. Like for example bounty runes from two minutes every two minutes five minutes. The way denying works. It used too give you something XP, now it gives you something else. Neutral changes where both sides get the XP. These kinds of changes the way you view the game because of the early game and early game is pretty much the most important thing in Dota. Other than that, when the patch first hits we don’t like to scrim right away and figure out what to do. We play pubs. Everyone on their own. We have five set of eyes playing pubs and they report back to each other.

They’re like, “Hey, I saw this guy playing that. It was super effective or this guy was such a bad player, but the way he played was still effective. What if a good player played like this guy?” It all comes together slowly. I think when we start playing other teams, it’s funny in Dota because the way I look at it teams do research for you. So it’s very hard to come up with something new. But once you see it it takes not much time to take it into your own arsenal and see it as your own weapon. You learn from other teams. Combined with the guys…it’s a game. So they don’t necessarily try to look at it from the angle of, “The best hero.” It’s more like the hero best for them. That’s all that matters. I think we tend to be more free than other teams and making heroes good.

Some of the like…I don’t want to flame them, but the lower tier teams, I get the vibe that they’re just hungry to like look around for the best heroes. Like, “What’s VP playing? Let’s copy them.” It’s like they’re blank. They try to snag the best heroes and play the game with the better heroes. But, in reality all the best teams, they just make heroes good.

“I don’t want to flame them, but the lower tier teams, I get the vibe that they’re just hungry to like look around for the best heroes. Like, ‘What’s VP playing? Let’s copy them.’”

So in Korean Overwatch, there is a concept of team color or identity. The way you described these tier 2 teams, they’re kind of blank. They have no identity. That they’re copying mindlessly. Whereas throughout this interview you’ve always been insistent on the fact that it has to be your individual thoughts and meta have to combine into one in a sense. It’s much more about your individualism. So I want you to describe to me what you think your team color is like? What you think your identity is as a squad?

We have some unique heroes. I mean at the moment I think it’s very hard for teams to have like truly unique hero pools. Last year for example we were the only KotL team. We were one of the very few Io teams, one of the very few brood teams. This year we can’t really say that about most heroes. We just play them better than a lot of teams. We play them more suited to our style. Let’s start with Matu.

He plays very different heroes and a very different playstyle from most conventional carries. He’s evolved from last year. He’s found a nice balance where he carries for the sake of game flow. Miracle’s more, he’s like the true carry in the sense that he usually has higher farm priority. So MATUMBAMAN is a guy we rely on like he’s a strong guy in the mid game where we can follow his lead. Play objective based. But I think a lot of other teams it’s the opposite. Their carries are usually the guys that farm and let their team do the dirty work . You know where, “I’ll TP in if it looks good for me.” Whereas Matu is like, “All right guys. You know I’m going bottom can I get some TPs to get behind me.”

It’s the opposite kind of relationship. I think that’s one of the reasons for our successes. I think Gore’s vocal chords are easy to follow and that makes the game easier to play. So supports…it’s very hard to take initiative with supports. They’re objectively much weaker. But, you can be strong if you combine strengths. Supports have different skill sets. I mean literally, like they have aoe stuns and stuff that are Necessary to make these plays. Calls aren’t necessarily easy for them to make.

This is actually a concept that Kyle has been touting on the desk. His idea is that Dota 2 has evolved to a point where you need a core player that can make these calls because they understand best as to when they are strong or weak. With supports as you’ve pointed out, it’s harder to know that info. So do you think it’s a requirement now for a top team to have one of your cores to be able to call or lead in a sense?

Requirement is a strong word, but I’d say it’s highly preferable. OK you don’t need this so you need your cores to be vocal, like talkative. But you need to know what they’re doing. Usually you assume if the person isn’t talking or making calls, you assume he’s farming and you don’t really know where he’s going to farm next. But as long as you have a guy that you understand how he plays. You know where he’s going to go, why he’s going there, and you can coordinate with your team. That’s all you need. I mean ideally you probably want at least one core that’s talkative. Combined with supports. You know combine their strengths like yin and yang you know they see different things.

So we’ve been talking about this general theory where you want players with divergent strengths because they complement each other as you’ve pointed out. But it’s pretty hard to get these strengths to combine together as divergent strengths​ also means you might have divergent mentalities. You might have different ways of looking at the game and then you have to sort of compromise between those different ideals. Your team is one of the longest running lineups in terms of five man lineups we’ve seen in Dota 2. So if there is an internal conflict, how do you resolve this and get back on the same page?

We’re on the same page about a lot of things. Sometimes we have disagreements between​ wanting to farm a bit more and going. But it ends up not even being a dispute. What happens naturally is that the supports like KuroKy, for instance, have a very aggressive nature. He wants to choke them out, not let them have space because he’s a support. Like he’s not going to farm anyway. Let’s say compared to a Miracle-. He​ really believes that if he gets one more minute of farming and finishes his item, the game is secured. But then, we just have to compromise and choose one. You can’t camp a ward with three man or two man. And then have one of your strongest heroes on the opposite side farming ancients. You just have to choose one thing to do. And that’s why I wouldn’t really call it a dispute. It’s more like a healthy…


Yeah, learning experience, it happens a lot. At the end of the day we just say as long as we can get on the same page​ we can be happy. It’s not about playing the optimal way it’s just about playing efficient. Efficiency is a really poorly used in the Dota community. It’s basically whatever gets you to high CPM as efficient apparently. Whereas most efficient would…I like the word more effective. Whatever wins you the game like, whatever makes it so that you can farm in a strong position that’s effective. Efficiency is stupid because you increase the risk. The risk increases proportionally much more compared to the reward where people go for these efficiency moves or farming patterns.

“Whatever wins you the game like, whatever makes it so that you can farm in a strong position that’s effective.”

So it’s like the saying, the perfect is the enemy of the good? It’s harder to do and the risk outweighs the reward?

No, I think the perfect play. These, “Oh you have to dodge all the ganks and read the map perfectly,” aren’t going to work out. Getting away with things I think is flawed in nature because you’re playing against an opponent who’s most likely going to be very competent. I think it’s really hard to sneak things right now in Dota. It seems pretty easy to mobilize your team to get to point A to B. People generally know where the other team is even in fog. Teams have become very good at map awareness. I think you don’t really get that much if you try to be more greedy.

Let’s talk about the draft. What does it mean to be a drafter? How do you setup the draft with you’re players, your leader and yourself. So how do you go about looking at the draft in terms​ an opening gambit? Do you think of it as these are various different types of openings that create these specific scenarios. Do you think of it as we have this is opening, but then after that it’s fluid and you adapt to what your opponent is doing?

I’d say the first phase is usually pretty predictable in most cases. Nobody likes getting counterpicked so you want favorable matchups in the first phase. That are flexible enough that the follow up these are the three picks following up or can lead to as many paths–like tree branches branching out–​ you want as many possible options from that. First phase is usually just about trading heroes. Two teams try to get their favorites. Right now, it’s usually supports. Then from there it’s adapting to the opponents. What’s changed about this TI is that these matchups are pretty hard to grasp all of them. It’s hard to know like how the matchups will play out. Especially when this team picks something and then they counter that and then they pick a counter to the counter. So it becomes a bit hard to estimate how it will play out at the game. Will the second fail-safe deliver to help this guy from getting completely demolished? It’s pretty fluid in our team.

There’s always been an argument as to how important the draft is relative to the actual game that’s being played. What do you think it stands right now because it changes from time to time?

It’s very important I’d say like 70-30, draft is 70. I don’t mean to say like drafts will win when you the game. I mean more in the minds of a draft is a reflection of your team’s understanding of the game. If you out draft an opponent, you had a moment where you’re Dr. Strange, you see what’s going to happen, all of the outcomes. Then you’re going to play correctly. If you have a good draft you tend to play really well. If you have a poor draft, you tend to play worse.

“If you out draft an opponent, you had a moment where you’re Dr. Strange, you see what’s going to happen, all of the outcomes.”

People they look at it too black and white. They lost because they had a bad draft. No, it’s partly because they played bad that they had a bad draft. They didn’t have the answers to solve the game. So in that sense, draft is like 70-30. 30 play, 70 draft. But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression that the game is over after drafting phase. You know that’s just 10 minutes and it’s not like it doesn’t matter what happens in the game. It’s more like…they’re kind of the same thing in a way. The draft is just…. it’s like a prediction of the game. You have to execute it, it’s like a simulation.

“People they look at it too black and white. They lost because they had a bad draft. No, it’s partly because they played bad that they had a bad draft.”

Like shadow boxing?

Yeah, you draft heroes and it’s a simulation, but you might have better hardware so you can outplay a better draft and vice versa. Right now, drafting is hard right now and very important.

Looking at your players: MATU, Miracle, Mind_Control, GH, and Kuroky. All five of them are from five different countries. So when you talk about something like CS:GO, that that kind of configuration isn’t as commonly used because there’s a natural understanding of game knowledge within each inherent country. For example, in China a few years ago, they all watched BurNIng play. So they have this idea of how to play Dota. You play defensive, play mid game control, get to the critical point where your carry wins the game. That’s the natural understanding they get to. This team on the other hand was assembled by KuroKy and a lot of them didn’t have that much experience outside of this team (excluding Miracle on OG). So even though these guys are champions, how has it been like trying to teach these ideas to the players?

Teaching sounds is like a one way thing. It’s more like synchronizing process. Like tuning instruments, you want to tune your players the same…what do you call it?


Teaching sounds is like a one way thing. It’s more like synchronizing process. Like tuning instruments, you want to tune your players the same. Like. Yeah, same frequency. Most good players tend to have an aggressive nature about them. They get in the game, want to show off, get kills, and want to play very fun in a way. So it hasn’t really been hard…the language barrier is pretty nonexistent we all speak pretty fluent English and…I think it might have to do with like EU being one region. So even in your example when they grow up watching Dota they watch [A]lliance ad they’re more open minded about deciding for themselves what’s good.

In China, it’s huge, it’s is the only country where it’s called a regionWhereas all the other ones are continents. So in China you can get a Chinese kid, growing up, watching Chinese Dota and idolizing it. But I think for Europeans it’s like Matu for example. He’s from Finland. Like Finland Dota? Come on, it’s not similar. He’s going to look up to EU, then the rest of the world. Because they’re all from like these minor countries like Bulgaria, Finland, Germany kind of, Jordan, Lebanon, these are all minor countries so I think they are naturally very open minded. They can look and decide for themselves what they want to become or strive to become.

This is the second time you’ve come to TI with the team. My question is how do you prepare for TI? This specific TI was different as there weren’t any tournaments beforehand. This year it’s basically beyond the summit and nothing for like a month. So in terms of raw data out, there isn’t as much. Did you just play pubs and fine tune everything?

Yeah, we play a lot of pubs. We scrimmed a lot. We scrimmed the majority of the teams in our group actually. Obviously, we didn’t know they were going to be in our group. You get a good winrate with a hero and you kind of assume that this hero is really good. Then you started experimenting you start first picking these heroes that you think are really good. Say like weaver. What can counter it? Then if you win your next three games with weaver first pick it must mean this hero is pretty d— good. Even though it’s a core hero you can first pick it and they can’t really counter it for example.

You can never be certain about strategy. You can only be certain about the strategy you like in combination with your team, like your team is really good at this strategy. You always have to be prepared to get to TI and have someone expose your flaws. It’s nothing special really. We had a long break, then lots of pubs and lots of scrims. Personally I’m more focused on helping the guys have a healthier attitude like this. Just relax, don’t give a s— attitude. Game wise we’re pretty good.

“You can never be certain about strategy. You can only be certain about the strategy you like in combination with your team”

Even though you guys did well at the group stages, it’s only the beginning. It just gets you seeded into the bracket. You even referenced this last year where you guys were dominating the group stages, but then lost to iG in the playoffs. How are you guys preparing for this playoffs?

Last year we did have some Dota problems, we overlooked some problems we had in the game because we outplayed a lot of our opponents and we were simply better so we ended up winning. We won, so it’s probably fine, though we could have played better. I think this year we just have to be a bit more critical and composed. We don’t really even have unique heroes anyway. So we’re not emotionally attached to some heroes. They’re like playing cards, treat them [heroes] like objects. Then evaluate how good are these heroes, they’re just weapons after all. Mentality wise, we shouldn’t expect to win against any team.

“They’re like playing cards, treat them [heroes] like objects.”

We are a strong team, but I’m not saying our team doesn’t respect our opponent sometimes, but we certainly tend to play better against the big you know three, big four teams. It’s a competitor thing. I think against last year against iG, I was feeling super confident. I’m not going to say we like disrespected them, but certainly there wasn’t a healthy amount of anxiety. you have to give your best, it’s do or die for every series. Last year it was like, they’re iG, we’re Liquid. We topped our group. So…

Right, so you answered that question. You bring up an interesting point about being attached to your heroes. Like QO for instance. When you see him play, you can tell his favorites heroes are the ones that punch you in the face. Is there an actual problem where a player can get too attached? Where I have to keep playing it because it’s my one true love?

Yeah, I mean some players can be like….QO for sure is one of those players who takes it to an extreme. He’s stuck on old times from what I can see. These heroes, they come and go so just treat them like seasons. Embrace the new season. When these heroes don’t work, you have to be super godly on them​. As for our team, we have some disagreements about what heroes are still good and not. But, usually those are settled by Kuro. Kuro is really sharp about the state of heroes whether they’re good or not. So we try them as we always have to see for ourselves. We tend to come to a pretty reasonable conclusion where heroes stand and when they can be picked.

“QO for sure is one of those players who takes it to an extreme. He’s stuck on old times from what I can see.”

We’re going past an hour now. So I’ll give you one final question. What is your working relationship like with KuroKy. How do you guys split the work, how does the combo work. What are your thoughts about him as a leader, drafter, or a teammate?

I try to see myself as the sub captain. He’s the main brain behind this team, the main leader. I try to help out with giving my input on the strategical things that he has to worry about. How to play the game, how to make the team play good, not individually, but a big picture thing. Basically I have really free conversations with him about the game. I do a lot of the petty stuff, I guess, like watch your opponents. Go through some micro things with individual players about what he could have done better because he[KuroKy] is more focused on the really important things like timings. Of course laning is important, but how to lane and stuff like this it tends to not be not pique his interest.

That’s how we…I wouldn’t say separate. It’s just different personalities anyway. So it’s not like we consciously think of it as dividing work. About him as a person. I think he’s a phenomenal guy, a great leader. He’s always said he didn’t want to be a leader. But, I think he leads by example and competency. He’s super competent. He’s not a super high skilled player like him. It’s funny because he used to be. He’s still a very good player. His core strength comes from knowledge. He’s a wise guy. A literal wise guy. He knows the game, he loves the game. He knows it inside out. He plays almost every hero. Like if you look at his total profile he’s played the most. He knows every hero. He cycles through them. He wants to learn something.

About him[Kuroky] as a person. I think he’s a phenomenal guy, a great leader. He’s always said he didn’t want  to be a leader. But, I think he leads by example and competency.”

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