Kuro will be the first to admit that his teammates have played a large part in reaching his milestone of 1000 wins. As the captain of Team Liquid, he goes to great lengths in order to enable his teammates both in and out of the game. For his efforts, he has claimed the most prestigious prize in Dota 2: The Aegis of Champions at The International. The impact that his mentality has had on his teammates cannot be understated, especially during the extremely stressful lower bracket matches which Liquid had to endure at TI7.
KuroKy’s teammate Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi recognizes the impact that KuroKy has had on him as a person. “He’s like my older brother, you know? He empowers me a lot,” Miracle- shares, “He gives me a lot of advice both inside and outside of the game which helps me a lot. It makes me play better and I really appreciate it.”
Team Liquid’s lower bracket run at TI7 can only be described as a miracle run. When facing the jaws of defeat it is very easy to let that fear swallow you whole, the stress unbearable to some teams and players. Miracle- compared playing for OG during TI6 to his experience with Kuro at TI7. “Last year with OG I was scared s***less. I was so scared. I didn’t expect that much pressure last year but this year it was much better. I think it’s actually better that we lost in the upper bracket… At TI7 after each win in the lower bracket our confidence grew more and more and it was during that when Kuro told us to just not give a f*** and it helped us play like normal.”
With their backs against the wall, Kuro put all his experience to use during their triumphant TI run by helping his less experienced teammates. He did what all good leaders do and ensured they felt comfortable, softened the burden placed upon them, and made sure that their mistakes would teach instead of trouble. In the biggest moment of their career, Kuro was the captain his team could rely on.
“Going to the lower bracket it was just like, okay… I’ve been there a couple of times. So in that moment what was important to me was to straighten the focus of my team since most of them had only played one or no TI’s before. In my experience TI is an extremely stressful experience for all players, so my mindset, I was only thinking about my team. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about what I could give them that nobody had ever given me before over all these years. I just wanted to help them as much as I could.”
Once upon a time, Kuro was the fresh-faced prodigy with the world at his feet. Since his time on Na`Vi and Team Secret, and competing under the tutelage of one greatest captains the game has ever known, Puppey, KuroKy has become his own man — his own leader. More than just learning from his mentor, he has used his own experience to inform his decisions as a captain. For Kuro, it is the wellbeing of his team that he prioritizes, including their ability to handle pressure, cope with disappointment, and maintain their composure.
“I think in a way, comfort [is the most important thing]. Reaching them and reaching their mentality in a certain way, it’s extremely hard. My main job as the captain, it’s not just solving the moment but also the build up, the whole year. What do we work on, what did I strive for with my team. More than anything it’s calming them down and making them understand certain things about [the] competition.”
It is no surprise then that his teammates hold him in such regard both as their captain and as a person. Of course, he’s a hell of a Dota player too, and he knows what it takes to reach the top of the game. By focusing on mentality in addition to skills, he is able to bring out the full potential of those that he plays with.
“I do think my specialty is enabling my teammates. For example the original Team Liquid with FATA and Jerax, and MC, and Matumba was literally three players who were pretty unheard of and then Fata who was already known and successful. Suddenly a year later all of them have become stars and then GH joined and now he’s also a star. Arguably the two best 4 positions have played under my captainship and I think that’s my specialty, drawing out the potential of the players. My ultimate goal on Team Liquid always was and still is to enable my teammates.”
In return, the players on Liquid have helped Kuro in ways unseen, maybe even to them. When asked what would have happened with his career had he not won TI he replies, “If I hadn’t won TI I don’t know if I would have still played [Dota].” It was a rather somber response from someone who sits at the apex of Dota 2.
He went on to clarify, “It’s hard to say. After every TI I reset my thoughts and see if I should keep doing it or not. I always have to watch out for my energy levels too because I’ve been doing this for a long time and it can be quite tiring. Either way I just want to win. Win TI or not, I can never go to a tournament and not try to win it, otherwise what’s the point of going to that tournament?”
It took over 900 wins until KuroKy finally lifted the Aegis, and it was this drive to win that propelled him forward even at his lowest points. For almost every professional Dota player, winning The International is the primary motivation to keep playing. In many ways, it’s the ‘happy ending’ to the story.
“It was really just trying to win TI over and over again. It was my life goal, I put it above everything else in my life. I sacrificed my time, health, energy, everything I had just to win TI. I had to go through a lot of ups and downs and when I was really stressed and about to give up, I just couldn’t quit. I thought I had to keep going and prove it to myself that I could win.”
100 wins later, and it’s clear that TI7 was not an ending, but a summit in a decorated career. Captain Kuro still possess the same competitive fire and 1000 wins is just another marker on the way to greater heights. There are still feats that no one has accomplished.
When asked what advice he would give to a new generation of players, his answer is very pragmatic.
“Staying humble is maybe the most important thing. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the competitive scene. Unrelated to Dota that’s what I believe. Work Hard. It’s these kinds of cliche things but they are cliche for a reason, because they are true. They’re very true — you have to work hard, stay humble, put your head down. For younger players, if they have a chance to play in bigger teams just put your trust in the people you chose to join. Put your trust in them and see how it goes.”
It is on this trust that KuroKy has built Team Liquid, the reigning TI champions. From their lower bracket run to their exorcism of the TI Curse, they have continued to win at a level of consistency unheard of in Dota 2. Yet they will need a hundred more to reach the unthinkable: a second TI title.
For the man with a thousand wins, a hundred more doesn’t seem so far away.