Age of Empires streamer, caster and player Nili is one of the most well known faces in the community. VPEsports had the chance to catch up with him and talk about the AoE II meta, the direction the game is headed in, their roster (formerly Team Secret) and Red Bull Wololo 2 amongst other things.
Hello Nili! How’s it going? How are the conditions in Germany?
You have to wear a mask if you use public transportation and go shopping, while being seated in restaurants and in most public places. All reasonable things, and most people are dealing with the situation quite well, but just like everywhere else, there are some idiots.
How has the pandemic and quarantine affected you on the whole?
When the quarantine began, I was what you can call over responsible and only left my apartment every two weeks for grocery shopping. Since the past two months, I started meeting friends again. We have a very few cases in my area – zero new cases for several days in a city of 1.8 million people. Streaming wise, it went pretty well, but I also got quite lonely.
Hopefully, we can put all this behind us pretty soon. Let’s just jump right into AoE. How are you liking the current meta?
I don’t believe there is ‘the meta’ as such right now. Hidden Cup 3, Battle of Africa 2, Red Bull Wololo all had completely different aspects to the game. If you ask about ladder alone, I think the map pool allows for easy walling and there isn’t much incentive for aggressive plays.
Anything you’d like to change? Any civs you think are a bit too overpowered?
Not overpowered necessarily, but some civs could definitely benefit from buffs: Turks, Italians on land, and maybe Bulgarians.
What are your thoughts on the monthly patches? Is it good the way it is, or would a major patch every 6-8 months that brings in big changes be good to spice things up?
Considering how broken the game was during the first patch, less frequent updates would just result in frustration. I think monthly updates are absolutely fine. Maybe you could make an argument for a patch every two months.
Let’s talk about the ladder. What are your thoughts on it? A lot of professional players say it isn’t the best way to gauge the top players. What can be changed?
At the moment, it’s mainly for spectators and isn’t really a good way to measure skill. The best way to change it would be to put prize money for seasonal placements on the ladder. That could motivate players to try harder.
That’s definitely something that can be done. Are you liking what they are doing with the map pool selection, leaving it to the community?
I don’t think they are leaving a lot to the community. It’s a selection of 8 maps in addition 4 set maps out of hundreds of possibilities. But I do like how they are approaching it.
Coming to your tryst with AoE. When did you start playing AoE and what made you think you could make a career out of it?
I started playing when it was released in 1999 and played AoE I before that. I decided to make a career out of it when I knew that AoE II:DE and ECL was coming. I was enjoying (and still am) AoE II a lot at that time.
How did you get into casting?
I started with audio casts in 2004. Back then, people were listening to the audio file while watching the recorded games, because streaming simply didn’t exist like we know it today. So it was me saying “I’m at minute 5 now and the scout is going to the right hand side of the map” and then people had to synchronize their recorded games themselves. Crazy times! I loved it, people loved it. In 2011 I did my first stream on justin.tv and I haven’t looked back ever since.
That is indeed crazy! I cannot imagine having a separate audio file and then synchronizing it with a recorded game. Coming to the AoE 2 esports scene – it is still pretty nascent as compared to a lot of other esports. Do you think the game is heading in the right direction to make it as a big esport?
Well, there were tournaments in some form since 1999 and we had WCGs in the early 2000s, so it’s actually not that new. And yes, we are heading in a good direction. I think we just need to speed up the Dark Age a bit more!
I guess we need to channel our inner Malays for that. Has the jump to Definitive Edition helped in that journey?
Massively. So many people came back to the game, trying to play it for old times’ sake and were surprised how many tournaments were running. A lot of them are now following the competitive scene.
Anything you think that needs to be done by the players/community/Microsoft to make it as big as Dota 2 or League of Legends?
I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. The game is not newcomer friendly enough and too tough to follow if you haven’t played it yourself.
AoE IV is about to be released quite soon. Thoughts on that? Do you think it is worth switching the esports scene to a new version, or is the current path the better one for the future of AoE as an esport?
I think Microsoft will heavily focus on making AoE IV a big e-sports title and most of the AoE II top players will give it a fair shot.
Coming to former Team Secret, what happened with the organization that you couldn’t work together?
We could have worked together and both parties would have loved to. Sadly, we simply couldn’t come to an agreement on how valuable the roster is. Team Secret is very e-sports focused, but AoE II is more of a streaming game than a competing game right now.
What’s the path ahead for the roster and what does Jordan coming back do for practice sessions? You have enough people for an internal 3 v 3!
Internal 3 v 3 only makes sense for a 3 v 3 tournament and there is none on the horizon. Therefore, it isn’t the biggest change practice wise. Obviously though, having Jordan as a practice partner for one against ones will be extremely valuable, since he is very hungry to improve and get better at competing. Currently, the path ahead is focusing on solo games. We might send some teams for Empire Wars Duo.
Red Bull Wololo 2 is coming up! Are you excited? What are your thoughts on Empire Wars? Are all rules the same as the first version or are there any changes.
I think I will get excited once I will see what creative strategies the players will come up with. Also, I get pretty hyped when I’m able to do professional, high production value casting.
I love Empire Wars and was the one recommending it to Red Bull for RBW1. I did similar tournaments in the past (Clash of the Hippo 1-5) and had an Empire Wars show match during NAC3 as well.
The main changes for RBW2 are that Chinese are allowed back in (but lose the +3 vils), there are new maps and now you start with a scout instead of two horses.
I believe Meso American civs and Indians were pretty popular last time. Any specific civilizations to watch out for this time?
Indians won’t be played this time, since there are no more shore fish maps in the map pool. But we will see Vikings (if they aren’t banned, that is) dominating again and maybe Slavs and Magyars for short distance aggression.
Do you play any games other than AoE?
Not really, I really like to compete at the highest level, and I can’t do that in any other game.
What does Nili like to do outside gaming? Feed wild hippos?
Right now, I’m living AoE: playing, casting, organizing tournaments, coaching, contract negotiations with potential new teams. But I do look forward to being allowed/able to travel again.