Going into this MLG, the first Dota 2 MLG, I didn’t really know what to expect. Never having been to Columbus before, that added to the mystique. In the end, I came out of it with a truly unforgettable experience, friendships, and a new-found understanding for why so many pro players are so damn skinny. I apologize in advance for the relative lack of pictures, as it’s a personal thing for me to not abuse my access when I’m invited to an event. This is my point of view from MLG Columbus 2013 as both an invitee to help with DK, and as a Dota 2 fan there for the spectacle, and finally, as a DK fan.
Thursday Nov 21, 2013
I left home in Seattle at 5am sharp to catch a series of flights that would guarantee I arrive in Columbus with a few hours to spare before DK’s plane was scheduled to arrive, the reason being that my first duties for MLG Columbus entailed being at the airport with the hired van driver to pick up DK and get them to the hotel. MLG had rented a big comfy van and a driver for this purpose, and around 9pm I got the call from the driver downstairs of the hotel and we headed over to the airport. Whilst waiting, Sigma and NaVi both went by and Dendi noticed me, got a goofy grin on his face and waved, to which I grinned back and waved probably even more goofily. His team seemed to be like “what you doing bro” and he gestured in my general direction. A brief time later, and the first of DK appeared at the foot of the escalators, coming down from the upper level of the airport to the baggage claim area. iceiceice, Mushi, and MMY, then BurNIng and LaNm. BurNIng smiled, somewhat surprised I was there I suppose, but seemed happy enough. A familiar face after nearly a full day of travel, perhaps? I waved as they approached, greetings were made, and iceiceice asked some random questions. We waited for their checked bags, and then we were off to the van to the hotel.
On the way to the hotel, I asked if they were hungry, and hungry they were. After getting them into their rooms and dropping their stuff off, by this time it was nearly 11pm, and so we simply decided on getting them food at the bar on the second floor of the Hilton. They got some pizza and wings, and LaNm wanted a burger, so he got that too. Iceiceice got a single pork belly slider — it was good, he said. While eating, MLG’s Adam happened upon us, and the introductions were made. Awesome guy, super straightforward kinda dude, he made sure that DK were as comfortable as they could be with their accommodations and filled me in on the basics of what to expect for the weekend.
With stomachs filled, the team was ready to rest up. LaNm would room with BurNIng, and BurNIng jokingly asks LaNm if he snores. LaNm exclaims that, no, he doesn’t! Mushi and iceiceice are together, while MMY rooms with the manager Farseer. I update them on the schedule for the next day: venue opens at 10am, teams are free to enter at that time to practice on the many stations MLG had set up backstage, the event officially starts at 5pm, etc. MLG really had their bases covered regarding practice space for the teams — there was never a lack of stations for teams to warm up and watch replays on and players had full access to these stations during all hours of the event — well played.
Friday Nov 22, 2013
Friday started off slowly as only half of DK had gotten up by the time I got down to the venue around 11am. The ones that had gotten down there, however, apparently had woken up at 6am — even after that late night and all the travel. I found LaNm, iceiceice, and BurNIng I think it was at the off-stage area. We were soon joined by Mushi and MMY, and the five of them had some fun playing a few pubs together. At lunchtime, we ventured over to the nearby North Market, where everyone got pho except iceiceice, who got Indian food. LaNm however became distracted by a Thai place and promised that he’d come get that next time… though there wasn’t another opportunity for him to do so over the weekend. As noon passed, they wanted to head back up to their rooms to rest a bit more, as most of them had woken up early due to jet lag and needed some more sleep. Unfortunately this meant that they missed their 4pm autograph session, but hopefully DK were generally available enough over the next few days for any fans to meet and greet with them. Around 5pm they came back down, bleary-eyed but with a bit more bounce in their step, and went back-stage to warm up prior to their on-stage matches against Alliance and Liquid. First they played a pub or two together, then did some analysis and discussion to their upcoming games.
And then they were up on stage to play — Alliance, followed by Liquid. Honestly I hardly even remember these games themselves, but DK came out of the games 2-0 victors, showing impressive form. After the games, some passionate local Chinese fans (students from surrounding universities, mostly) came and offered to take us all out to eat. The offer seemed to be well-received by the Chinese contingent of DK, while iceiceice and Mushi apparently had been planning on going to get a burger nearby. Either way, everyone ended up piling onto a couple cars and off we went, about ten minutes away, to a Chinese restaurant.
In the words of iceiceice, “I don’t like Chinese food, I don’t know why they come out here and still want to eat Chinese food.” It wasn’t too bad though, and when Mushi and iceiceice indicated that they wanted a bit of Peking roast duck, our gracious local hosts ordered an entire duck… By the time dinner was over, it was 11pm and at least BurNIng looked tired and ready to head back. Apparently the restaurant’s boss lady is a Dota fan as well, or at least feigned to look like she knew who DK were (maybe she just saw team uniforms and thought they must be important), so everyone gathered up to take a group picture at the end. The only one of these photos I have is the one where no one was looking at the camera…
It had gotten quite cold by nighttime, and BurNIng was shivering at the doorway of the restaurant as we left. I gave him a mini-hug to warm him up a little bit and he was like, “Aren’t you cold? Or you’ve gotten used to it…” Yeah, I guess the difference in weather from Shanghai to the American Midwest in winter is pretty drastic; in a lot of buildings in Shanghai they don’t even have heating, such are the mild winters. It had been snowing a little bit on and off that evening and night, and iceiceice was especially excited about it — he had never seen snow before in his life, this was his first time. So, in between shivering breaths, he’d be exclaiming how exciting it was, and asking whether his breath would frost up in the chilled air, and how he enjoys cold weather more than hot weather, because you can always put more clothes on, but can’t necessarily take more clothes off, and oh my goodness it’s so cold right now, and how he imagined snow might be fluffier…
Saturday Nov 23, 2013
DK’s next match would be their first off-stage match, against Fnatic. I had them down at the venue by around 10:30am so they could have some time to warm up and get used to the setting, and they had some fun playing more pubs together. They started their last pub pretty late before the 11:30am start time against Fnatic, with just around 20 minutes time. LaNm declared, “Pick fast push!” and off they went, with the likes of Shadow Shaman, Leshrac… for an 11 minute victory.
The rest of the day, DK mostly cruised. Right before the DK and Navi went on stage, they were informed of the question that would be asked of each of them. Iceiceice and Puppey quickly decided that they would coordinate an answer between themselves, and hence came the hot chocolate answer. After their off-stage match against Sigma, they had around 2 hours for dinner or a break, or whatever. All of them except iceiceice chose to head up to their rooms to get some sleep, while iceiceice went with us to Five Guys at my suggestion, as he had been wanting a burger. It was snowing again as we made our way by car to the Five Guys a mile away, near Ohio State University campus. I ordered for iceiceice at his request, and got him a bacon cheeseburger with everything, plus extra mushrooms and onions, with A-1 sauce on top. “This is quite good,” he said through big mouthfuls. I’m glad you liked it.
The light snow continued on our way back to the hotel. “Snow makes everything look nicer,” iceiceice remarked. Yeah, it does. But it was still cold, and iceiceice quickly forgot about his plans to make frosty clouds of air with his breath outside as we rushed back inside the hotel from the car. For the remaining hour, he went up to his room to relax for a bit as well, and so I waited downstairs for the rest of the players to appear at 8pm, half an hour before their scheduled match against Pretty Boy Swag.
Mushi came down first, followed by MMY, but then the rest of them were nowhere to be seen. 8:15 went by, then 8:20, then 8:25. By then I’d knocked on their doors and had begun calling their rooms. Sleepy voices echoed out from the other end of the phone, at least alleviating my fears that they’d somehow gone out and gotten lost somewhere. Instead in its place was a mystifying wait, as it was only 15 minutes later that iceiceice finally appeared downstairs, by which time it was already 8:40. So I went to room 520, where BurNIng and LaNm were staying, and knocked on their door — LaNm came to the door, putting on his jacket, and BurNIng was just climbing out of bed. He looked groggily to me, “We’re late, aren’t we?” I looked back at him… “Yeah, yeah you’re late,” with an exasperated but amused feeling inside.
BurNIng gets up, puts his shoes on, and looks at his phone and bursts out laughing. “I know why we never woke up!” he looks around at LaNm and me, “It’s because I set the alarm for 8 in the morning, when it should’ve been for night.” I laughed, LaNm laughed… Yeah, that’ll do it… that’ll make you late indeed. We rushed down to the venue, a mere 25 minutes late for Pretty Boy Swag. DK was clearly still tired, as their play and drafts were sloppy in both games against PBS and later Speed.
Afterwards, we discussed with MLG briefly the logistics of the next day’s semifinals matches, upon which DK eventually decided on playing second, and they went back up to work together on discussing their next challenge against NaVi. BurNIng started discussions that night by saying to his team, “This is one of our great opportunities to win a title… we’ve come so far already…” Even though they were fine with me being there, I didn’t want to intrude any further, and after helping them get a late dinner, I said my goodnights, made sure they knew their schedule for the next day, and left them to their preparations.
Sunday Nov 24, 2013
The next morning, iceiceice, BurNIng, and LaNm were up bright and early as I found them around 9:30am finishing up breakfast at the restaurant on the second floor. After breakfast, BurNIng went back up to get some more sleep, and iceiceice, LaNm and I headed to the venue. We went backstage, and LaNm excitedly exclaimed, “Time to pub!!” I love playing pubs!” and then invited me to play with the two of them. That was pretty fun. During one of the pub games, the other team was convinced they were fakes, but by the end, were wishing DK luck at MLG.
A bit later, MMY, BurNIng, and Mushi showed up, and DK gathered to do some last minute analysis and whatnot.
With about an hour to go before their semifinals match against NaVi, NaVi themselves showed up, and the two teams hung out a bit backstage. Iceiceice challenged Kuroky to an arm-wrestling match, and upon beginning the match, iceiceice immediately took both hands to KKY’s one hand, ‘won’ the match illegitimately, and raised his arms in triumph while Kuroky looked on with a mixture of bemusement and non-acceptance of having just lost the arm wrestling match. The rest of the time went similarly lightheartedly, with chattering and trolling and joking amongst the two teams.
I think it was before the NaVi match here that Mushi ended up being the one who had an on-stage question directed at him, thanks to iceiceice volunteering him for it while Mushi was in the bathroom. Mushi came back, heard that he was going to be questioned, and immediately shrank back trying to decline. In the end, I coached him on his answer a little bit after Mushi kicked iceiceice for signing him up in absentia, and Mushi went on-stage with his answers ready.
Then came the semifinals match. The actual games were a blur in my mind, but DK ended up with the win after a game 3 in which BurNIng, perhaps uncharacteristically, took the risk of building a Divine Rapier when he wasn’t absolutely pressed to do so (in fact, not at all needed).
Of course, his Rapier came after they lost a close game against NaVi in game two, where XBOCT built a dominating two Divine Rapiers. After game three ended with a Rapier of his own, BurNIng then said something I’ll never forget:
“How am I worthy of our fans if I don’t build Rapier there?”
Throughout the weekend, DK were regularly mobbed by fans looking to get pictures and autographs, perhaps because DK were unable to make their session. Hopefully they were available enough throughout the event to make up for their absence at the session. On finals day, they had far less time to pause for signings and photos, and even still, they tried their best and often I had to play the bad guy to ‘drag’ them out of a crowd of fans in order to keep them on schedule. Hopefully no one was let down, and hopefully everyone understands the scheduling… BurNIng always had a conflicted look on his face whenever he had to decline.
And then, without much downtime at all due to scheduling delays, DK were up to play against Speed.int in the Finals of MLG Columbus. They’d come so far, and perhaps this was the closest any of them had been to a title in recent times. It was Mushi’s first final ever, in fact. DK won game one after a gruelling back and forth battle, with LaNm carrying the team on his spectacular Earthshaker play. After that game, backstage, LaNm was exhausted. He looked like he’d run a marathon, and indeed, he probably did the mental equivalent. By this time, DK hadn’t eaten since breakfast around 10am. A lot of players prefer not to eat full meals within a reasonable time of a competitive game, so you can imagine just why guys like LaNm are so skinny.
One more win, one step away.
In the end, DK faltered. LaNm was practically asleep during the game 2 draft, and from a casual fan’s point of view (my point of view, that is), his seating in the center of DK’s five isn’t a coincidence. He’s the beat of the team, the rhythm-keeper, and when he’s tired, the team feels it. (For those that are curious about DK playing the second semifinals, refer to this reddit post to learn more) Some of the drafts were questionable too, perhaps another result of the team, and BurNIng, being really tired. After the loss, Mushi sat quietly for a bit, the rest went without talking, and then they waited for each other to head back to the hotel together. It was nearly midnight already, and MMY, BurNIng, and LaNm all went up pretty quickly and fell asleep. Mushi came back down after a while, he and iceiceice hung out with us on the second floor lobby. We ordered some pizza and pasta delivered and the two of them, with me and my girlfriend, we four sat peacefully, eating and chatting into the night until about 2:30am.
BurNIng, MMY, and LaNm were to leave at 6am in the morning for their flight back to China and I was to go with them to make sure everything went smoothly. Originally iceiceice and Mushi were supposed to come along too, but their flight being only at 11am, they decided to head to the airport later. At nearly 3am, we all headed back up to our respective rooms, said our goodbyes. A few minutes later, iceiceice messages on Wechat (instant messaging service) asking what room I’m in… and appears at the door in his boxers. He insists on giving me the stuff from the bag that MLG gave to each player — a Steelseries mouse and mousepad, and a Turtle Beach headset. So right now I have in my possession the headset that iceiceice used live in his off-stage games at MLG. o_O. Thanks ice. Then we say what we think are our last farewells for the weekend… Hotel fire alarm goes off ten minutes later, and we see iceiceice and Mushi again in the lobby. Evidently, the rest of DK has slept through the alarm.
Sometime during the night, we ran into Dendi. He offered a photo op with him, but then added on that it would be ten dollars. Instead, I offered him the photo op with myself, he accepted, and thus I got a free photo. And he gave me a hug too. That made me feel better about the finals that had just ended… Thanks Dendi, you’re cool. I’ll see you next time too.
In the morning, BurNIng and LaNm are downstairs and checked out on time, and after a slight delay, we have the others who are leaving on the morning flight. Spirits seem to be as high as they can be after losing a major final… or perhaps it just hasn’t sunk in yet. I know it hasn’t for me yet at that point. They’re discussing loudly — boisterously, even, what went right and what went wrong for them the previous night. LaNm is confident in what he says, MMY often offers a different perspective, while BurNIng sometimes agrees, and sometimes disagrees with the both of them. I go with them through security check, and after half an hour in which they never stop discussing, their boarding call is heard, and I herd them over to their boarding gate.
MMY smiles wanly before quickly turning away, the manager nods in appreciation, LaNm waves and simply says “See you next time”. BurNIng lingers a little bit, turns to me, smiles, and says “Give me a hug!” And then DK was gone, as quickly as they’d come.
Perhaps it didn’t sink in for them until they got back. It didn’t sink in for me until the trip home. I only then realized that I had so wanted to be able to send them home that day with the trophy, with a major tournament title. I’m sure they wanted it way more than I ever could have imagined.
All credit to Kaipi/Speed, they played to their style and didn’t let anyone or any external factor (of which there were many — all the more impressive for them) stop them, and that’s what winning is about. As for DK, MLG Columbus weekend has given me an unimaginable chance to be close to them, get to know them, and perhaps even help them. I can only thank MLG and Adam for the opportunity, and my respect and liking for DK and each of their players has only increased, if that was possible at all. DK — BurNIng, LaNm, Mushi, MMY, iceiceice… you guys are great.
shout outs to Cyborgmatt, Xixi, LD, Vykromond, Lumi, DPM, Godz, Merlini, Tangeng, Sun-Tzu, Dendi, Valve Chris, Valve Phil and family, and anyone else I missed but enjoyed the company of, for being fun to chat or hang out with at various times during the weekend. You all helped me keep my sanity while I went through with ~14 hours sleep over 4 days.
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