The Chinese website HUPU (虎扑) posted at the beginning of this week an extended interview with the Vici Gaming manager Xu “Xiumi” Xiaoyun and the team coach Tong “Mikasa” Junjie. The website reporter YaoLaLF visited the Vici Gaming training facility and had a very insightful talk with the two men behind the Vici Gaming main team.
What went wrong in the DPC season, where and why did the players mentally suffered the most, how do they plan to approach the TI8 matches and what’s the team goal for this International are just a few of the subjects discussed. We are happy to share with you the English translation of the interview.
Thank you Xiumi and Mikasa for taking the time to carry out this interview. How is VG currently preparing for TI8?
Xiumi: Recently, we have been undergoing intensive training in preparation for TI8. Also, we are still waiting for the approval of our VISA. To avoid having any VISA issues, we have communicated with the TI8 organizer, PGL, who has been helping us with the application and ensuring that everything is in place. However, the approval process is taking longer as a result. We are also planning to go to Canada in advance for our boot camp and have already booked our accommodations and training location. We will set off once our VISA gets approved.
VG started to reign in the Dota 2 world ever since TI4, where the organization achieved the 2nd place at its very first TI appearance. It has been 4 years since then, how does it feel returning to the TI stage after missing out on TI6 and TI7?
Xiumi: I joined VG in 2014 and TI4 is not only the first time ever we got a direct invite, it was also my first time experiencing an entire season. That year, the joint effort of everyone was the reason why we received the direct invite. After TI4, VG’s momentum and outstanding execution allowed us to continue our dominance in all the tournaments, be it regional or international. As such, we became the first directly invited team to TI5. At TI6, we made roster changes outside of the transfer period and found ourselves in the TI qualifiers where we lost the deciding series against our sister team VG.Reborn. As for TI7, we lost a BO3 against LGD and failed to make it to TI yet again.
As an organization where things have always been smooth and we were always receiving direct invites, it was the lowest point for VG. As such, we have been extremely serious when forming our team at the start of the season, as well as during our training. In this season, from earning DPC point to getting directly invited to TI, things have been smooth sailing for us. All we lack now is a championship title.
Returning to the TI stage after such a long period of time, it has the same feeling as when a couple finally meet after a long period of separation. With our commitment to Dota 2 as well as our deep knowledge and experience towards the game since 2014, I feel that it is only natural that we are going to be on the TI stage this year.
After TI7, VG made a huge roster change, keeping only Ori from the old roster. How would you rate the growth of Ori over the past 1 year?
Xiumi: In the later part of last year, Ori’s performance at tournaments has been outstanding for a newcomer. When he first started playing professionally, he has shown many of his bad habits from his pub games. Moreover, due to his introvert personality, he faced problems when it came to team communications and this resulted in him committing mistakes which cost his team the match. Some of the matches that we lost last year were to pay his ‘school fees’. He has grown in a lot of terms now. His mentality changed, as well as his in-game execution and he is starting to look more like a champion.
In the TI qualifiers every year, we always get to see many surprises. This year we saw Dendi getting eliminated in the open qualifiers, W33 leading paiN Gaming into TI8 via the SA qualifiers and the rise of Winstrike towards the end of this season. What are your thoughts towards the results of the various region qualifiers?
Xiumi: I feel that this is just history repeating itself. The past few TI qualifiers have always been like that, new teams suddenly emerge into the battlefield. It is difficult to achieve good results if a team only consist of veterans without any new bloods. It is more evident this season where the competition is getting even more intense.
Outside of the game, external factors such as player’s mentality and health also play a very important role. Therefore, the best teams usually have a good balance of players. As you can see, many Chinese teams started using a well-balanced combination of veterans plus new bloods. Some of the good examples are PSG.LGD and VG where the supports are the experienced veterans and the cores are the highly-skilled and gifted individuals.
Players can cover each other’s weaknesses and complement each other’s strengths. I feel that the standard for this year’s qualifiers have fallen compared to the previous two years. Taking SA for example, paiN Gaming was able to qualify as they are the strongest team on paper and no other teams were able to match against them. NA was given 3 slots. No matter how you look at things, there are only 3 teams that are good enough to qualify. As such, I feel that there are not that many surprises at this year’s qualifiers. Teams who are not strong enough were eliminated whereas the deserving teams all made it.
Mikasa: At the recently concluded TI regional qualifiers, there weren’t any dark horse teams that surprised us. Most of them are the teams that have been showing up in recent tournaments. We are very familiar with these teams and understand them very well.
The quality of the matches played during the qualifiers were not up to expectations. What do you think is the main reason for this and what changes can we expect in the future?
Xiumi: I feel that this will be improved in the season next year because of the major changes to the entire format. All the top teams were directly invited to TI which means the standard of the remaining teams will naturally decline.
Mikasa: Simply because the stronger teams have already been directly invited to TI. Taking the China region for example, the competitiveness is not as high as compared to the previous 2 years.
Upon the conclusion of TI8 regional qualifiers, patch 7.18 was released. Some unpopular heroes were buffed and have the potential of returning to competitive play (i.e. Ursa, Alchemist, etc). At the same time, heroes such as Night Stalker and Io have been nerfed quite badly. What do you think about the prospects of these heroes going into TI8?
Mikasa: For our team, we might bring out some of these unpopular heroes based on our opponent’s draft. These heroes are rarely used by us during training. Dota 2 is a complex game and in theory, if your hero pool is wide enough, any hero can be played in a competitive match. Sometimes when you are facing a tactical dilemma during the drafting phase, picking an unpopular hero might just be the solution to deal with it.
This is the first official season utilizing the DPC system and although the Chinese teams occupied half of the direct invite slots, many fans were not satisfied with the actual performance of these teams. How would you rate the performance of the Chinese teams in this season? What changes need to be made to find the best form going into the next season?
Xiumi: First of all, I feel that the DPC system is unfair. Although tournaments are divided into 2 separate categories (Minor & Major), the quality of the teams participating is the same. The difference in points lies in the prestige and format of the tournament. For example, we placed second and at Dota Pit, but at ESL One Genting where Newbee won the championship by taking their revenge against Liquid, all the top teams were present, however, there were less points because it was a ‘Minor’. Some of the Major tournaments outside of China featured only 8 teams and have very few Chinese teams. Team Liquid and Team Secret obtained a lot of DPC points from these Majors during the early part of the season and stabilized their position on the DPC ranking.
In the second half of the season, we took part in many tournaments and we were constantly traveling back and forth, resulting in a decline of performance due to fatigue and the lack of time to practice. LGD was undergoing intensive training in China and coupled by their roster changes, they had an amazing run in the second half of the season. In contrast, our players were facing a heavy amount of pressure due to the lack of results in the second half of the season. Before we could resolve an issue, we had to compete in the next tournament and this resulted in a vicious cycle, causing a decline in performance. It was the same for Newbee.
We will not see the same problems again as Valve has made changes to the system for the next season. Internally, we will also do our best to improve constantly and solve our problems in the limited amount of time.
Almost every team has had their ups and downs in terms of performance during this season. One of the main reasons is the super tensed schedule. What do you think is the most reasonable tournament intensity?
Xiumi: In the next season, every 2 months we will have 1 Major and 1 Minor being played. One month for the qualifiers and the other month for the main event. So we’ll be able to attend some other non-DPC events and practice our strategies. At the start of this season, we had lots of Minors, even though they were Minors, we still had to play all of them because every point mattered. Not a single team would think “I’m just gonna give up all the Minors, we’ll focus on Majors only. ” Moreover, our team just underwent a huge roster change after TI7, so we really needed LAN experience.
Speaking of last season, VG claimed five runner-up titles throughout this season: 3 Minor runner-ups and 2 Major runner-ups. It’s indeed a pity, but what happened, what went wrong?
Xiumi: At the Dota Pit we spent all of our time preparing for the match-up against Newbee. We took them down 2-1 and in the grand finals, we took the first 2 games against Liquid in a rather quick fashion. Then, we just let our guard down and played really relaxed. We lost game 3 and all of a sudden our momentum was gone. Just like that, we lost the grand finals.
We lost the grand finals of the Perfect World Masters to Newbee because of the draft. At that time we were around the same level in terms of skills, but we lost to ourselves.
The Captain’s Draft grand final was our best chance to claim a championship. We were in good form but we made too many mistakes and threw the game. After that BO5, the mentalities of the whole team changed, players become afraid of making mistakes and we started to play extremely safe even when we have a huge lead.
Walking into the grand finals so many times but losing all of them, it must be tough, does it put extra mental pressure on players?
Mikasa: Of course it does, especially for the newcomers. We will arrange psychological counseling for players before TI. We want them to be able to play their own game even when they are under pressure. It’s not about on what spot we finish; it’s about performing up to our full potential.
Many people think that the draft is what makes VG so inconsistent. When you guys are picking your lineup, do you focus more on player’s personal hero pool or do you favor heroes that are in the meta?
Mikasa: Usually we just pick lineups that we have practiced in scrims, and adjust it a little bit according to the draft of opposing team. It’s just our losses in previous grand finals have put heavy mental pressure on our players. When we were playing LANs, especially when we were playing inside the venue, the players often got nervous and underperformed. That’s our biggest problem.
In addition to daily scrims, do players take other types of training?
Xiumi: Yes, they do. The training mostly focuses on players’ individual skill. For example, our mid laner has 1v1 solo mid training every day. Players also take physical training in our gym.
Can you tell us about the daily schedule of the team?
Xiumi: We demand all players to arrive at the training room at 1 pm, they will have 1 hour to warm up and from 2pm to 10pm we’ll scrim with other teams. After 10 pm, players will start playing some ranked matches until 2 am, recaps and post-match analysis will be conducted in between.
To be honest, this year we are training less than previous years, I remember back in 2014, we started our day at 10 am and there were still teams practicing after midnight. This year it’s pretty difficult to find another pro team to practice in the morning or after midnight.
Apart from daily scrims and physical training, does VG host other team building activities?
Xiumi: We’ve watched “Swords Drawn”(A Chinese drama about anti-Japanese war) together, sometimes we watch other movies or anime.
Mikasa: It was actually LaNm’s idea to watch “Swords Drawn”. We think there are quite a few things (like team spirit ) in that movie that player can relate and use in Dota. Moreover, it’s also a chance to bring us together and change the team atmosphere a little bit. We have had some internal problems so we needed to do something.
What were the reactions after watching Swords Drawn? Did it help in any way watching it?
Xiumi: It’s quite an old one so we just sat together and joked about it, but young players like paparazi don’t really get the point.
Mikasa: It really depends on the player himself, if he thinks it’s plainly a waste of time, then no, it didn’t help. If he’s learned something from this drama, but when an internal argument breaks out he doesn’t use it to fix the conflict, then still no. It only helps when he really understands it and knows how to use it to fix problems.
The FIFA World Cup has just concluded, did the players follow the World Cup?
Xiumi: We’ve got a TV in our training room, so sometimes we watched the match together after 10 pm. Most of the time players were in ranked matches so they only took a glance at the TV when there was a goal. None of them are football fans though. Our coach is a huge fan of Messi, so he watched more often. Fortunately, Argentina got eliminated quite early, so he could put the attention back on the team (laughs). I was rooting for Spain, they also got eliminated early but I did watch the rest of the matches.
Food has always been a big problem for Chinese teams when playing international LANs, some teams even brought instant noodles or soybean paste with them when they needed to play in a foreign country. Will you be doing similar preparation this year for TI8?
Xiumi: There are lots of Chinese living in Vancouver so I think food shouldn’t be a huge problem. We’ll bring some instant noodles with us just in case. We still eat Chinese food when we play in a foreign country so I think we will be fine as long as we can find some Chinese restaurants.
7ckngmad mentioned during an interview that ”VG is heavily underrated, once they are fully prepared people will be surprised at how strong they are ” How do you feel about this comment?
Mikasa: When we were practicing with them we were at our peak. We had great chemistry and in-team atmosphere, so we gave other teams the impression that we are really strong. But when it came to LANs we were unable to execute to the level of play that we had during our training, so maybe that’s why he thinks we’re underrated.
I do think we have a huge potential and we just need to be more confident. As long as we can adjust ourselves and give our best in tournaments, we will achieve good results.
Let’s talk about TI8. The players have practiced a lot and are fully rested. What’s your expectation for this team coming into TI8?
Xiumi: We’ve lost too many grand finals and the obsession to break the “runner-up curse” has become a huge mental burden for our players. It’s getting our way and we need to drop the burden at TI8, just play our game, treat every game seriously and respect every team.
Mikasa: It’s really difficult to predict, we have the potential to lift the Aegis, but for now we are not in our best form, so I’d say our primary goal is top 8 and once we achieve that, we’ll try our best to get top 4.
Which teams are the strongest opponents for VG?
Xiumi: Our biggest opponent is ourselves. And LGD of course, LGD is now the benchmark when it comes to scrims in China. When we win against LGD, we are happy, but when we lose to them, we have the feeling that we are not good enough.
Mikasa: Domestically: PSG.LGD,IG and VGJ. Thunder. Internationally: Liquid, VP, and Mineski.
Mikasa, as the coach of VG, is there anything you want to say to the players?
Mikasa: I hope once they are at TI, no matter if it’s the group stage or the playoffs, they will treat every other team as their strongest opponent. Also, I hope they can be more confident and trust their teammates more.