"There’s a motto in our team, “Be humble but confident”..."
Copyright: ESL | Helena Kristiansson
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Let’s start with the extended break you took. Was it refreshing and helpful overall?
Yeah, the break was just for me. Personally, it was just to chill and take a step back and reflect, take a look at my life because everyone in this business – Dota – we’re in a unique trajectory. I thought about my future — I mean it wasn’t all so serious but I also kinda pondered what happens if Dota fades away for some reason, stuff like that. I tried to play some more and I kept up, but not as intensely as I would if I had been active, and I tried to form my own opinions since I’m separated from Liquid, I would have a very pure and unaffected opinion of my own, whether it be right or wrong. I joined TNC afterwards and then I tried to project what I thought was good Dota.
Your videos were really popular during this break. Even though you’re working with TNC at the moment, would you consider doing them now or maybe in the future when you’re back to being more inactive?
Yeah, definitely. Making videos was actually one of my friends’ ideas. He’s a non-Dota fan and he said “Hey, you have a unique career so you’re allowed to take a break for six months but if you work in a corporate environment you can’t really do that. You should do something productive to keep yourself busy” and I was like, y’know, making a YouTube video and the whole editing and whatever always kinda interested me. It looks fun and later I learned it was a lot of hard work especially for a noob that doesn’t have experience like me. Then I got really positive responses so yeah, it’d be something I’m looking forward to doing again.
I’m not sure how serious I would take it though, I’m not sure if it’s something I wanna do full-time but maybe as a side project. I did have some very realistic thoughts about my target audience for me, and it seems to be very niche where it’s like a million people playing Dota and consuming Dota-related content; I think only less than 10% of those would be interested in what I have to share because I don’t want to go over basic stuff, I don’t want to make tutorials, there’s plenty of other people who have done that. My material is for people who have already put in thousands of hours into the game.
Moving on, how did you come to be with TNC? Did you reach out or did they reach out to you?
Yeah, I mean I had quite a few offers during my break and at least in 2018, I declined all of them because I was still on my break. Starting this year, I got more offers and then I had to balance a lot of things like English-speaking teams are favoured but I even got offers from China, but I thought that would be too far-fetched. Then it came down to how much I believe in the potential of the roster so when I looked at TNC, and I know these players, not personally, but I really felt like this is a group of highly skilled individual players and they give off the impression of a blank sheet of paper.
I can influence them better than, like – without generalising – I think a lot of the Western players have very strong egos and very rigid conceptions about the games whereas a SEA team like TNC, they are aware that they traditionally lack a captain, they lack a strategy, and they’re actually just playing a combination of heroes so that’s where I felt I could have the most influence and I wanted to enjoy the job. Last year, I said I kinda got burned out, and I love Liquid but it was kinda stressful at the same time.
What would you say it’s like to work with TNC? What’s the communication like? Do your ideas get across clearly? What’s it like drafting for them like Chinese coaches do whereas Western coaches tend to have a more assistive role in the draft?
At first, I kinda predicted it because they pretty much said that they wanted me to draft for them. They don’t really have a captain which is and has been a weakness of SEA for a long time. Of course, like I said before, I haven’t been active for over half a year so it put some pressure on me at first, but then I kinda realised I’ve been involved with this game for so long that if I spend a few weeks with these guys then we begin to find structure and a method that works for us. That’s pretty much how it went, we just kept playing and playing and playing, and talking to the players about what their best heroes are, what the general playstyle they excel at is etc. I don’t even draft in a way that it needs to be an outdraft. It’s more like I just wanna build a nice lineup for the guys so that what they do on the map is coordinated.
How would you say the coaching differs from back when you were working with Liquid?
There’s a mental aspect to it where I’ve had more experience than them so taking this tournament for example, I told them straight off that we’re gonna play seriously, we’re gonna play to win, try our best, but at the same time, we were coming in as the underdogs, like we were objectively the underdogs. I’ve been to so many LANs and the good part about LANs really is that each official game you play is like 10 scrims’ worth in terms of learning value so worst case scenario, we get last place but we learn a lot. So I told them to just take it easy, don’t think about the winning, don’t think about the scores, don’t think about the fact that you lost the last game so you have to win the next game.
Just play Dota and play some of the strats that we wanted to try and play against things that we know are quite good that we’ll have to play against because against good teams, we can’t really ban out all their heroes so it’ll be a nice experience. For example, when we played Secret, we knew they were gonna pick Enigma but it’s like, how many times are you gonna get to play against an Enigma of that caliber? We lost and the guys were like “Ah!”, but I think we tried everything we could, we planned how to draft against Enigma but it was just too foreign for us because we just always banned Enigma, especially when it was more overpowered. It’s that kinda stuff.
Going on that, are you overall satisfied with this tournament, especially coming in as the underdogs?
I think we’re all a little bit disappointed but it’s only human. I think we could’ve beat EG — the 2nd game, we had, in my mind, pretty much won it. We went most of the way but then we had some poor lategame decisions. I think against Secret, we have less regrets because all three games were somewhat one-sided but the takeaway for me is that, now, seeing that these two teams are both in the Grand Finals, the takeaway is that we are capable of beating any team.
There’s a motto in our team, “Be humble but confident” so I think in the next Major, and hopefully TI if we make it there, we’ll be at the mindset where we’re gonna respect the teams that we play but we don’t need to feel afraid. Apparently, they felt scared to play some teams in the past but I think that burden’s been taken off through our wins against EG, and especially against Secret because we beat them pretty convincingly so we can be proud of ourselves and whatever we’ve practiced at home can work, and work well.
Coming back to the coaching aspect. The Korean scene hasn’t really flourished and we have DuBu coaching Fnatic, SunBhie coaching Secret, yourself coaching TNC, March and FoREv are still in NA but do you think there’s something that you all bring in particular, as coaches, to these teams?
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but I think we’re maybe a bit bolder when looking at the game and thinking about what’s good and what’s not. I don’t really know, it’s like one part of me thinks that because we’re all Koreans and we only had the old MVP roster as a pool of players to play with, and once that didn’t work out, it was more like a natural transition to become part of Western teams. From what I understand, they still want to play with other Koreans, but it’s just like the Korean player pool is too weak to do so. The second-best option is to be part of a well-established team but maybe not as a teammate, but as a coach.
Currently, in the DPC, all of the Top 12 teams have coaches and obviously they’ve been becoming increasingly influential. How do you feel about this apparent trend? Do you think it’s a good thing that players are able to depend on coaches a bit more?
Well, I think it’s different for every team. I think the thing about coaches is that the players have to want the coach. Fortunately for me, TNC did really want a coach so I was very well-received. Since I got there, they’ve been very receptive of my opinions, even to the point where I told them, “If you disagree, you can just fight for your own opinion. Argue back, I don’t want a one-way conversation”. If what you say makes sense, if there’s a counter point or I’m wrong then I’m happy to concede the point.
I said this in an interview last year, but it’s hard to know the impact of coaches because that’s just how it is and we don’t really talk about our coaching methods with other teams so I guess the current state is that it can’t hurt to have a coach so most teams are getting a coach like, you go to these events and the norm is that you have one coach and one manager for a team so why not use those spots rather than waste it?
Does it then make the game slightly more complex or difficult when you have to draft against other coaches in addition to captains?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I don’t really care if the whole team is drafting against me or it’s just the captain. Drafting is straightforward. It’s not easy but it’s straightforward and you don’t need to add these artificial elements to it like thinking they have more drafters, more brainpower and whatnot. I don’t really care about who I’m drafting against, it’s more like: I know this team, I know how they think, how they draft, and it’s just a logical flow of “I pick a hero, you pick a hero” and all that.
Alright, thanks a lot again for doing this interview.