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Photos of Nikobaby for TI interview
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Nikobaby's Hunt for TI Glory

Oct 062021

Alliance’s carry, Nikolay “Nikobaby” Nikolov has risen to prominence faster than most do in Dota 2. Known for his aggressive gameplay, drawing comparisons to a cold-blooded shark by the Dota 2 community, Nikobaby has been thrusting Alliance ahead in their hunt for glory. Despite the team’s best efforts, this year has been one of ups and downs for the Swedish outfit, with the team doing well in the regional DPC Leagues, but falling short at the Majors. As Nikobaby gets ready to attend his second ever TI, we caught up with the Bulgarian to talk about Alliance’s competitive year, the journey to TI10, and how he plans to change the team’s fortune at Dota’s biggest Major of all.

"Every region seems to be doing better than before, if you ask me."

Congratulations on making it to TI10! Is Alliance bootcamping before The International begins in Bucharest?

Yes, we are currently bootcamping in Kyiv, and it has been going quite well.

You did extremely well in the EU DPC League in both DPC seasons, finishing second and first respectively, in what is possibly the most competitive league of the six regions. But that form didn’t translate to either of the two DPC Majors. What do you think happened there?

The first experience we had as a team playing in one place was the bootcamp before the first DPC Major. We didn’t really have the best idea of what works for us as a team on LAN, because a LAN event is significantly different as compared to the DPC Leagues. For me personally, LAN events were a massive shock because of how different things are as compared to a bootcamp. We didn’t have too much time to make changes, but we have learned a lot about how the team and each individual works on LAN, and have made some good adjustments for TI10.

But to be fair, it wasn’t just Alliance that suffered at the Majors. In the second DPC Major (the WePlay Kyiv AniMajor), none of the teams that won their regional DPC League were able to win a single series against the teams that came from the group stages. Do you think the lack of games before the playoffs is a major disadvantage for the teams that top the regional DPC Leagues?

I believe so. It is quite advantageous to warm up by playing the additional games in the group stage. The teams that do so get to practice more strategies and experience how opposition teams are playing, instead of just watching them. I’m glad that at TI10, we will be playing group stages because that will be really beneficial for the experience before the playoffs begin. Observing other teams and picking whatever is strong in the meta isn’t enough in top tier tournaments.

Personally, I would definitely prefer to play in the group stages at the Majors even if we have topped the DPC League, and would like to see some changes to the DPC Major format.

China will have the highest number of teams at TI10. Both DPC Majors were also won by Chinese teams. What do you think makes the region so strong right now?

Chinese teams have been the quickest in figuring out new patches and taking advantage of certain things in the meta. It also feels like they take tournaments a lot more seriously than teams from the other regions, which gives them an added advantage. But we’ll see what happens at TI10!

Has the lack of international, or inter-regional tournaments increased the skill gap between regions this year? Would you like to see more third party (non-DPC) events involving all the regions throughout the year?

I don’t think that is the case with the skill gap. With the new DPC Leagues and Major format, each team gets to play with a lot more teams and most of them are a lot more motivated than before to be the best in their region and do well. Every region seems to be doing better than before, if you ask me.

Inclusion of non-DPC events in the year depends on how long the DPC seasons go. This past year, each regional league was an eight week bootcamp. If that can be reduced to four weeks, I can definitely see teams being eager to play in more third party events. But with the current format, it would be a bit too intense.

Dota 2 patch 7.30c was released just over a week ago. What do you think of the patch from the perspective of a TI patch? Any thoughts on the inclusion of Dawnbreaker in Captains Mode?

The patch seems quite balanced so far, and I like it. There are some intriguing things to explore, and on the whole, there is a good deal of freedom with the hero picks. A lot of heroes are viable in professional games and it isn’t the case where only three or four heroes are strong for every position. As for Dawnbreaker, she is actually one of the heroes that can use a bit of balancing. Her first two levels are way too overpowered.

For the past few years, EU teams have dominated Dota 2. But the region has had a tough year in the Dota 2 scene, with the best result for an EU being a fourth place finish at a DPC Major. Though Alliance have been a part of that pack, they have shown from their performances in the EU DPC Leagues that they have the potential to standout amongst some of the best in the business. In that journey, Nikobaby has been their talisman, with his fearless attitude leading the way to greener pastures. As long as the Swedish outfit can tap into Nikobaby’s potential and adopt to a strategy where his carefree playstyle can thrive, Alliance have a good chance to be EU’s charge to the Aegis at TI10.

"The secret sauce was absolutely not caring what happened [at TI9]!"

TI10 will be a record breaking esports event with a prize pool of over $40 million. How do you personally, and Alliance as a team, train and prepare for an event of that magnitude?

For me, the preparation begins from the first day of the bootcamp in Kyiv. I adjust my sleeping schedule, my workout routine, my diet – everything is connected to Dota 2. I want to be in the best mental state possible while playing the games, and it all starts with changing your lifestyle, not just the in game stuff.

As for the team, we are all trying to have the same mindset by improving our lives on a daily basis. When we go to Bucharest to play TI10, the goal is to be one unit and punch the opposition together!

The last iteration of The International, TI9, was the one where you exceeded expectations while playing with Mineski. Was that the tournament which announced your arrival on the international scene? What was the secret sauce to enhance your performance back then?

Without a doubt, TI9 was my breakout tournament. I hadn’t played a major LAN event before TI9. It was my first tournament amongst the big boys of Dota 2, and ended up being the announcement of my arrival to the professional scene.

The secret sauce was absolutely not caring what happened there! I just wanted to play some good Dota 2 and make the most of the experience. Not a lot of people believed we would end up doing well in the tournament, so there wasn’t the burden of expectations on our shoulders. A lot of the other well-known teams had the pressure of losing early or putting up bad displays. I just didn’t put any pressure on myself and gave it my all, knowing it was my only shot.

Definitely helps to not have the burden of expectations on your shoulders! How and when were you introduced to Dota 2?

It was quite a while ago, somewhere around TI2 and TI3. A friend of mine forcefully made me play Dota 2 in an internet café when I was a teenager. When I played the first game of Dota 2, I knew I wanted to be the best at it.

This Alliance roster has been together for quite a while now. Who do you get along with the best outside of the game? What does the team like to do when not playing Dota 2?

That would be Simon “Handsken” Haag. We share a similar mindset, which makes it easy to get along with each other. We have our own language where we share a lot of banter, things that don’t make sense to others, and have a lot of fun while streaming as well.

Talking about the team, when all of us are outside the game and trying to bond together, the activities typically include going to restaurants, movies, spas, playing ping pong or tennis. The goal is to try to be one unit and increase the cohesion amongst ourselves outside the game.

Thank you for taking the time today. Any shoutouts?

Thank you to everyone who supports us and believes in us. We are going to try to make you proud at TI10!

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