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Photos of the Fnatic Dota 2 team playing in Dota Summit 8 at the Beyond The Summit house in Walnut, CA

Coming back to SEA

Dec 152017

While the Philippines is rarely included in conversations of the world’s Dota powerhouses, it’s difficult to argue against the country’s ascendancy. During The International 2017, the Southeast Asian archipelago sent the 2nd most number of players behind China. According to Abed, Dota is part of their gaming culture.

“I think it's because a lot of players there, a lot of people there originally played Dota 1 and then they transitioned into Dota 2. It was a game for fun, a good game to play with friends.”


In a country with notoriously poor and expensive internet connections, playing games with friends meant hunkering down in a LAN cafe and grinding hours against local competition. “We had a small LAN cafe near my home” Abed recalls fondly, “We usually played every afternoon after school.” While the world played online games, the Dota scene in the Philippines grew. In Abed’s own words, “It was the LAN cafe culture.”


It didn’t take long for people to realize Abed’s unique talent. In the halls of those internet cafes, he began to develop a name for himself. “I realized I was really good when I started beating all of my friends,” he admits, “They told me I was really good at it.” Soon, Abed would have to move online to find a challenge. Once again, he would steam past the competition with ease. “I started to get into the leaderboards on matchmaking, and I saw I could do something with this.”


His first taste of professional Dota 2 came in 2015 with Trackmate.Tric, a local Filipino team, but success would have to wait until he joined Execration in early 2016. The team had a long history as a strong SEA team, but had never found consistency as a top team in the region. That is, until Abed finally blossomed. 


The star midlaner put himself on the Dota 2 map during MPGL Southeast Asian Championship, where Execration defeated Fnatic, Mineski, and MVP Phoenix — arguably the three teams to beat in South East Asia at the time — to win the title. Their encore performance was a silver at ROG Masters 2016, losing to Team Secret in the finals. By this time, Abed had already caught more than a few eyes, and he would bow out of the team with another gold at ASUS ROG SEA Cup in December, just before the holidays.


Only a year after making his big break into the scene, Abed would choose to pack his bags and change regions to North America, joining Team Onyx, the team that would become Digital Chaos. Despite Abed’s shy and reserved character, he understood that growth was the most crucial factor that would determine the trajectory of his young career.


“I joined DC because I wanted to play in a different environment, and I thought I could learn a lot in playing in a different region.” On the outside, Abed can appear very modest, yet inside burns a quiet resolve to get better. When he talks about Dota and about his own ambition, there is a stark difference in his level of confidence. “I learned a lot during this time,” he beams.


Unfortunately, a revamped DC would not be able to recreate the heroics of their International 2016 squad. A 9th-12th place in TI7 was still admirable, but it was clear that the whole summed up less than its talented parts. Abed left DC not long after TI7 and returned to SEA with Fnatic.


“I decided to leave DC because I thought that the team wasn't going to work,” Abed reveals with a surprising frankness. “I'd been thinking of joining Fnatic since after the Kiev Major.”


When asked why he chose Fnatic, his response is clear: “I think [the main reason I joined] was the players; I really wanted to play with EternalEnvy and DJ.” Once again, his main motivation is growth. “All of them, they have been playing their roles for several years now,” Abed explains, “I have a lot to learn from them, especially from EternalEnvy.”


Even though his captain is often maligned on reddit, Abed sees things differently. “He makes a lot of good calls in game, and he teaches me a lot after every game. I probably learn more from our losses.”


Still, the transition back to SEA has not been easy. It’s a new team, a new environment. Abed understands that there is still a lot of work to be done. “I think we were losing quite a few games after I joined,” he admits, “But it got a lot better after we were able to practice hard for a week.”


For Abed, one of the main reasons why he thinks this roster will work is the faith that his team has in him. He laughs while confessing that his team has been most accommodating, on and off the field. “I didn’t really have to adjust anything, I think I’m still playing my own style. I think my team adjusted really well to me.”


A lot of people have put their faith in him, and he hopes to repay that faith soon, starting with his hometown fans. Playing in front of a Filipino crowd, perhaps with some of his old LAN-mates in the audience, is still a dream for Abed. “It just looks really fun to have a Filipino crowd and playing in your own country,” Abed bares wistfully, “And of course, I want to hear them cheering my name.”


Even though that remains an empty box on his checklist, fans in the Philippines are beginning to recognize him. According to Abed, he has been stopped more than a few times in malls for his autograph. No fangirls yet, but he can work on that. It seems like work is one of the few things that Abed isn’t shy about.


And what about the hallowed halls of MMR? Once upon a time, it was a way for an up-and-coming player like him to show his skill, determination and drive. However, Abed concedes that now that he’s playing in the highest tiers of professional Dota: “Maybe it’s just a number, but I think it’s a good indicator of how consistent you can be playing alone.” 


Unfortunately — or fortunately, from a different perspective — Abed will no longer have higher numbers to attain. With the change to Dota 2’s matchmaking ranking system, those mythical goalposts have disappeared. While Abed’s priorities have changed from grinding MMR to winning tournaments, he isn’t entirely pleased with the change.


“Honestly, I think it got a little worse. Queue times are so long. It takes me around 80 to 100 minutes to find a game.” For Abed, that’s a hundred minutes that he’s not working, practicing, and climbing higher. There may no longer be a number with which to count the rungs, but Abed clearly knows where his priorities lie.


On the outside, his adventure in North America with DC may have looked fruitless, and perhaps he could have moved to Europe for even greater challenges. Yet there is a humility and willfulness in Abed’s approach to his career, where growth and learning currently come first. Even though his name is already immortalized in LAN cafes and leaderboards — and now, in the ghosts of MMR past — Abed knows that the ladders he has scaled so far do not even come close to the ceilings that he could reach.