It’s been almost a year since Team Liquid won The International. Do you think the win at TI7 changed the team, or is it just the same group of guys playing Dota?
For us, I think winning TI7, regarding whether our lifestyles changed, it really didn’t. We’re pretty much the same 5 people with the same people around us. None of us used our money really, except for me I did buy a house. On a personal level I feel they are still the same people I deal with daily. I haven’t seen any major changes in anyone.
You mentioned you bought yourself a house with your TI winnings, how else did you celebrate after winning?
For me only the apartment that I bought was related to winning. I went to Spain for a week but I already had the trip planned, regardless of whether or not we won or lost. So I did get to spend some time with my friends there after the fact. Also...I bought an armchair that cost 1,000 (Dollars? Euro?) and I still regret it. The most expensive furniture I’ve ever bought and it was a f***ing chair! *laughs* It’s black and real oak wood, very nice. I bought it because it was on discount at 1k.
It sounded like you had a really good vacation, even though it was pretty short. By the second week of October your break was already done because of StarLadder. Did you do anything else during your break after you went to Spain?
When I came home, I pretty much just tried to relax, played some Dota, and then suddenly the season started again! We were traveling to Croatia and the Ukraine and it was Dota life again.
Sometimes we hear that players play their respective games as work. You sound like Dota is still actually really fun for you. Is that the case, or are you simply playing so much to practice?
Of course playing professionally means it’s your job and you have certain responsibilities to keep yourself in shape regarding the game. Of course it’s optimal if you enjoy playing it. I do still enjoy playing Dota. I think none of us on this team would continue to play if they didn’t enjoy it. It’s not worth it anymore, you can do whatever you want with your life. I choose to play Dota. As a professional player I have a lot of time to self-reflect on my decisions and my life and what I want from it. Sometimes, I just sit for thirty minutes and just think. I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else other than playing Dota for now. Then I realize I just want to get better and win the next TI.
It’s reassuring to hear that your passion is still very much intact. Speaking more on TI, obviously the TI curse is a long standing tradition in Dota, but you guys immediately bucked the trend at StarLadder. How did you guys maintain your momentum going into the new season?
I think the start of the season was just that we were playing the same strategies that we ran at TI7. It was fairly easy because people hadn’t caught up to us yet. In that sense at the tournaments we just played our old style and it worked for some time. After a while though it got harder and harder to win games so we found ourselves needing to adapt to the other teams.
You guys showed your ability to adapt by winning the very first tournament (StarLadder) and the very last tournament (Supermajor). What has motivation been like through the year?
I think there certainly has been some fluctuation in our motivations. It’s not easy to keep motivated for the whole year. The off-season is not that long and when it ends it’s just ‘Go Go Go’, tournament after tournament. Three weeks playing; one week at home. Then it happens again. It’s rough. If you don’t have a good support system behind you it can really burn you out mentally. I think our team especially had been really burned out during the mid-season. But we dealt with it and here we are.
It seems like burn out became a big issue for the pro scene this year. How difficult was it for you guys to keep a level of focus and concentration through it all?
For us, sometimes you just need a really good break from Dota and just not be at the computer for a week. At the very least for a couple of days. Completely reset your mind, then you can come back fresh to play the game again and start improving again.
That’s very interesting to hear. Many players across esports simply take a break from their game and play other games, rather than take a break from the computer altogether.
[Laughing] I don’t really play other games. Dota is enough in my life as far as video games. To be fair I don’t really enjoy any other games as much as Dota. That’s the thing. So if I were gonna be playing another game I might as well play Dota. It’s my game, I REALLY love this game. It’s my life by now!
As reigning TI champions did the season feel different from last year? Was there more pressure to perform and win?
For us, the season leading up to TI8 didn’t really feel like we had more pressure, but we did feel like the other teams were more willing to win. They were more willing to adapt to the patches and play different heroes to really be the best. I feel like a lot of teams had this burning in their hearts to become the best. They were more willing to change their playstyles in order to win.
Do you feel like those changes were universal, against all the teams, or do you think it was specific to teams playing against Team Liquid because you guys are the champions of TI7?
I feel like during the year, a lot of teams had the urge to beat us. [Laughs] They REALLY wanted to beat us. I think it’s a lot of factors. I feel like people knew our TI victory was a strategic victory. Our strategies were just superior to everyone else’s. I feel like other teams felt they had to become more diverse in the heroes they play and be willing to change.
After TI7 did the team or the management make any changes to the general approach to how you guys play the game and prepare or was it mostly the same?
I think we have been building a pretty good structure during these years with Liquid. It’s been working out pretty well and we didn’t need to change that much. Of course we can always make small changes and improvements but things have stayed mostly the same. We have a good foundation with Liquid.
The team was obviously struggling a little bit later in the year especially at ESL One Birmingham. How did the team bounce back so quickly for the Supermajor? Did you guys expect to do so well there?
We had a talk after the event which was, to put it bluntly, a literal sh*t show for us. Not getting to the stage and playing in front of the audience was… Personally my first time not getting to the stage in any event. It was a catastrophe. We had a talk about how the next event in one week was our last event so let's give it everything we’ve got, Dota 24/7. We went with it and we submitted to one idea of playstyle. At Birmingham we had different ideas and opinions about the game and we really couldn’t get them to gel together. In China we basically said let’s go with this one idea and commit to it.
How do you think the team has changed through this DPC season? Has your playstyle changed?
Definitely — during this season we’ve had to adapt and change our playstyle. The old stuff we used to run doesn’t really work. We had to come up with new ideas, fresh ideas. Players can easily get stuck in their old ways that used to work. They look back at the old days like, “I want to play this, it worked so beautifully! Why can’t I play this now?” You can’t because the game changes and you have to change with it. We really tried to change and I feel like towards the end of the season we really started to change. Now we have to see how well it works at TI. A lot of it is about looking at other successful teams and blatantly copying what they do and making it your own and make it even better.
Over the past year when people talk about Liquid they often mention Miracle-’s play, GH’s support, or KuroKy’s drafting. Do you think you’ve been flying under the radar this year and how do you feel about your own play?
I don’t really think about these things. I just play the game and try to provide the things my team needs to win. I don’t have a big persona or presence on social media. I don’t mind that stuff. I even stopped reading Reddit because it was just a waste of my time. My teammates deserve all of the praise that they get. That’s how I feel.
Further on that point, Reddit seems to associate you with either “cancer heroes” or green heroes. However, when you first made a name for yourself it was on micro heroes like Lycan, Lone Druid, and Broodmother. How do you feel when fans have this kind of perception of you?
Well of course they can think whatever they want. I don’t really mind the perception that the spectators have of me. What can I do about that? I mean, I played micro heroes pretty well but some people might consider them the “cancer heroes” too, you know? “Aww man, this Lycan keeps pushing my towers. Aww man, this Broodmother just sends spiders on me and I die and there’s nothing I can do!” It’s just a matter of perception; I like these heroes.
The more astute fans consider you more of a sacrificial member of the team. You mentioned that you play to provide your team with the tools to win. Part of that means playing heroes that aren’t that flashy or “fun”. How does it feel playing such a flexible role and how do you make sure you’re still able to contribute in this position?
Personally I just try and find heroes that really abuse the game. Sometimes it’s Viper, sometimes it’s Necro, or these micro heroes that have a lot of summons and push towers really efficiently. How do I even say this — it’s just Dota. It requires different kinds of skills. It doesn’t mean me playing ten Viper games is gonna dull my mind in any way you know? [laughs] I can’t really care about other people’s opinions. It’s a competition and you’re just trying to raise your winning probability. The audience doesn’t have much to say when it comes to that. Outside the game of course we appreciate the fans. It’s really comforting to me personally that almost every event this year there were some Finnish people coming to talk to me and take pictures. I’m always so happy that people come from my home country to cheer for me.
Do you think you’ve perhaps mellowed out over the last year? We haven’t seen as many flashy antics this year. Do you think that comes from you just not playing flashy carries or is it something else?
For me, I think I’ve grown up quite a bit through the years I’ve played Dota. I feel like I became an old man and I don’t really need a huge presence on social media and I don’t find interviews as important. Back when I was in school I used to be the funny guy but now I’ve come to the realization that I don’t need the approval of people finding me funny. I can just do what I love and be satisfied. I don’t need people to like me. I’m not looking for validation from anyone else.
Well, now that the DPC season is over, do you think you were able to accomplish everything that you set out to do?
Personally I feel like we didn’t quite accomplish what we wanted to this season. I mean we got 2nd place in points but it didn’t feel like we were close to a top team. Virtus Pro sorta just had our number and were really dominant. We kinda wanted to be that team as well, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. I feel like in that sense we failed but we also have to think positively — we came in second during this season. It’s not that bad; it’s alright.
After such a tiring season there’s one more big tournament to go. You guys were in the Netherlands for your final bootcamp. How was it?
We were bootcamping for a pretty long time. It was pretty hot, not gonna lie! [Laughs] The weather was killing me. Game-wise though the bootcamp was pretty good. Not much arguing or disagreement. We were just trying to be on the same page. It’s hard to say; I could always spout some general bullsh*t about the bootcamp being super awesome, but we’re just working and preparing for the biggest tournament of the year.
The big one is just on the horizon! Any final thoughts heading into TI?
For us I think we understand the meta pretty well. TI always comes down to which teams are able to perform on stage and really execute their strategies, and believe in themselves enough to do it well. It’s a lot of mental stuff. In the end Dota is a very mental and strategic game. Of course mechanics are still very important but I think the strategic part of it is more so. Personally I’m feeling great going into it. I could use a little bit less heat because it’s dulling my brain though! [laughs]
Well, speaking of reducing heat, do you have any final words for your fans?
Of course we have to shout out the fans, especially the Finnish ones that come to support me at my events. Without all of you none of this would be possible. Thank you guys!