Back in 2012 when I first stepped foot in the live environment of a TI, there was a small seed planted, a dream of what it’d be like to see an International held in China. 2019 saw that unfold, and in ways that I could have never imagined back then.
I’ve been here for months prior to this TI, working directly on the planning and execution of the event. It’s yet another different way that I’ve had the privilege of experiencing TI. It has been really challenging to say the least – cultural and institutional differences, and then also the fact that this is again the largest TI to date leads expectations to grow accordingly. Interfacing with different interests and entities, working out the logistics of hundreds of different parts, and trying to make sure everyone is taken care of, it’s been exhausting. Still, there’s a magic in combining this mega tournament with the megalopolis that is Shanghai, where even despite the sheer size of the setting, TI9 managed to fully envelop my impressions of 2019 in its purple and violet hues.
I guess I’ll be writing this from a Chinese point of view. Well, I’ve typically leaned in that direction in writing these, simply due to the nature of the scope that I tend to cover during these events, but for TI9 since I’ve been on the ground in Shanghai for months leading up… it becomes even more natural to have that point of view. I mean, even some of my dreams, in between increasingly busy days full of emails, spreadsheets, and early morning cross-Pacific calls, had begun to develop a particular shade of purple.
I won’t burden you with all the details of the hundreds of hours of meetings I sat in on discussing everything from hotel arrangements, to production equipment shipment timings, to helping review Secret Shop merchandise, to testing internet for the event, and more, but by May 2019 it’s clear that the scale of this operation is far beyond any other event I’ve helped with. The closest analog, for me, is DAC 2018 where I also had a very wide scope, but even then I was only in Shanghai for something around 2.5 months. By May of 2019, I’ve been in Shanghai for 5 months purely working on TI9 already, and we’re still a little less than three months out from the event.
Of course, there are many site visits to ground zero itself, the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. I’ve now seen this venue from pretty much every angle possible, including up in the catwalks above the venue seating.
August 7 2019
This is the first day I am on-site at the hotel where group stage will be held, and the first things that need handling are truckloads of shipments for tournament gear. Midnight deliveries. We are expecting five large trucks worth of gear to the hotel. This is the first time I’ve been really involved in pre-production work with TI. We work out new and creative ways to get gear and crates, on pallets, into and through narrow hallways at the hotel. By the end of the night, we have our first batch of gear and equipment on site for TI-sponsored chairs, PCs, monitors, and some other production-related equipment. It’s all starting to feel more real than emails on a screen and diagrams on paper. Since this is the first TI in China, and indeed the first in Asia, some of us had doubts regarding whether we would smoothly get our hands on all of the gear due to customs and other logistical roadblocks. But credit to all those working on various parts of the equation, plus probably some amount of good fortune, and everything has gone succesfully thus far.
August 8 2019
Speaking of luck, most of the PGL crew for TI9 arrive today – and they are most fortunate to have arrived this day, as a typhoon is brewing. Many familiar faces amongst them, my esports allies. I show them around the ballroom floor where they will be mainly operating, where their spaces are, we get them their STAFF t-shirts, and off they go to the 3rd floor outdoor platform at the hotel which at this point I’ve nicknamed “PGL Shanghai Headquarters.” It’s the outdoor patio where people smoke and catch some sunshine, but every night it becomes a lighthearted center of refuge with music and beers. Having just landed in Shanghai that evening, the PGL guys spend a few hours unraveling from their long flights and I spend some time catching up with them as well. I haven’t seen most of them since TI8, almost a year ago, but it really feels like yesterday.
Are we truly about to put on TI9?
August 9 2019
Some other equipment and items for the the tournament arrive, including around midnight the Aegis, in a rather nondescript case. We spend some minutes digging around for it in various crates and locate it, and briefly reflect on how we hold so much power over the entire tournament at this moment. Like, if this Aegis gets lost then this event is probably in trouble. I briefly wonder if there’s a backup Aegis somewhere as we lock it back up in its case after confirming that the contents of the case are, in fact, the venerable Aegis of Champions.
Outside, the typhoon is swirling and its energies grow as the night darkens. Wind and rain, and scores of crew and staff are delayed or otherwise have their flights cancelled. So it’s just PGL, a few of Valve, and some Perfect World staff on-site awaiting the onrush of activity that is the opening days of every TI with its arrivals, check-ins, media days, and so on. But first, a typhoon must pass.
August 10 2019
The typhoon continues all day. Rain is coming down in sheets, literally sideways at times, and though the area around our hotel is mostly fine as it’s a newer part of Shanghai, I see videos of other parts of Shanghai flooding. There’s a citywide alert to shut things down, basically, and the streets are all pretty much empty, as in the background, the Huangpu River flows – and overflows – angrily. The usually bright skyline is dark, and what I typically feel is the calm before TI is already enraptured by the overtures of this summer storm. For the event, this means that some crew are delayed in arriving, some of our logistical preparations are impacted, and stress levels are a bit high. Talking to some of Newbee a few days later, there’s an image emerging of a bare-chested (or was it soaked?) Jack using buckets and towels to try and stay the flow of water leaking into their teamhouse during a past storm. I forget if the storm in question was this particular typhoon, but let’s not get carried away with details. “He comes downstairs and yells, we need more towels!!” CCnC describes.
Indeed, the rain during this typhoon is so torrential that even a few windows at the hotel are leaking drips of water into the rooms, and we also need more towels.
August 11 2019
The morning heralds a bright blue sky; it’s calm outside, the typhoon has passed and we’re ready to really get the show going. PGL are rushing around getting the practice rooms set up, I’m running around helping whereever possible, and teams are slated to arrive the next morning. The PCs have i9-9900k and I think the 2080ti in them, the monitors are Asus 244hz gaming monitors, the chairs are these custom purple Secretlab ones straight from the source, and things are looking good.
(I’ve survived my first ever typhoon, but will we get through the upcoming storm that is TI9? Find out on the next episode of…)
August 12 2019
Teams begin arriving. LaNm sees me at the hospitality desk area where I’m chilling on a couch and comes over… “Waow, you’re getting younger!” he exclaims. It’s like the kind of greeting that two old friends share when they see each other again after a while, and aren’t yet quite sure what to say to each other in that moment. LaNm is hitting the gym a bit these days and somehow he’s gotten even skinnier, but looks a bit more vibrant. Various other teams arrive, then check-in, then are off to their practice rooms. It’s all routine at this point, except for the teams with players that have never been to TI before. In general, the atmosphere is pretty laid-back, which somehow feels in contrast to TI8 and other TIs prior.
August 13 2019
Downstairs I run into RNG waiting for their media day, and their coach, Super of former VG and LGD fame, notices me first. We start chatting, him, flyby, Nicolas… at one point Super starts talking about what it’s like to try and fall asleep with certain players. Specifically, the ones that snore. “You have to fall asleep before them, otherwise you’re fucked. Like teamfights, it’s all about initiation. If they fall asleep before you then you just got initiated on,” he concludes. The sleep meta.
The topic of past TIs comes up, and everyone is in agreement that finishing second is so painful at TI that probably finishing anywhere else is preferable in terms of how you remember it. In an interview sometime before TI, I recall someone saying the same, that at TI9 as long as they don’t finish second, they can accept pretty much anything else. I don’t know if that’s a way of taking pressure off oneself, but looking back now, it’s like if our world is a storybook, then that was some foreshadowing.
Around the hotel, I run into various other familiar faces: Liquid, the Secret guys, LGD, and so on. It’s such a busy day that it seems no one has any time or energy to really stop and talk, and as is my general policy I don’t really engage anyone in conversation beyond the basic greetings.
Tonight is the welcome dinner, and perhaps the one with the most players present that I’ve seen. Almost everyone comes down and grabs food at some point, and I just sit to the side and allow conversations to wash around me – I’m too tired to really engage in anything, but I’m happy to see that people are enjoying themselves before things really begin.
August 14 2019
It’s the second day of media days. This year they’ve done a lot more of the ‘funny poses’ thing with players at their respective photo shoots. After so many years, it’s nice to see that almost all players are pretty much on board with loosening up and expressing themselves somewhat. I’m suddenly reminded of moments back to TI4, where I’d literally have to stand next to the players to show them how to pose for media day shots. Nowadays, these are almost self-executing and pretty much every team and player is able to handle themselves with minimal guidance from the rest of us.
August 15 2019
First day of group stage. The matches are delayed by an hour, but overall everything goes smoothly. Once games begin, it’s like every other recent TI – a massive din of noise, teamfights, and hero abilities mashing together into an orchestra of action down on the hotel 3rd floor where there are TVs set up so that talents and teams can track every stream all simultaneously. It all happens on the same floor as the actual production for the group stage, and so casters come in and out of the area in between games as well. This year’s Chinese talent lineup is the flashiest it has ever been, and the largest contingent for any TI as well. In some ways, it holds more weight than the actual players competing – something like six or more TI winners on the Chinese talent lineup, along with various other big names and stalwarts. It’s in stark contrast to the Western scene who field the only remaining all-TI veterans in Puppey and Kuroky, as well as multiple past TI winners still fighting on the battlefield for their next shot at the Aegis. It’s not that I want to debate the merits and health of the Chinese scene as a whole here, but it is some kind of indicator, I think, that while the rest of the world continues, the Chinese scene increasingly sees its past winners burning out or chosing other paths, losing in terms of both longevity and competitiveness.
At night, after the first day’s matches conclude, somewhere in the background, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia is playing. I don’t need no moneeyyyyy, as long as I can feel the beeaaat… Some of the casters are debating where to go for dinner.
It’s been three years since a China TI winner, and it is in that context that TI9 has kicked off.
August 16 2019
It’s day two of group stage. VG and LGD lead the pack for Chinese teams, in a way that maybe simultaneously adds to and subtracts from the formidable amount of pressure that is on them. From the moment TI8 ended, the calls for LGD to redeem themselves, to win back what they should’ve had (with that 17k gold lead in game 4 of TI8 Grand Finals), and to keep the Aegis in China this year have been deafening. In every piece of social media, every promotional activity, every step throughout the DPC that LGD took in the past year, the underlying current has always been in a steady march onwards to that ultimate goal here at TI9. And so their group stage performances, just short of dominant but exceptionally solid, serve to both vindicate the expectations that fans and the community at large have held for them, as well as perhaps show themselves that they do have it within themselves to once again truly challenge on this stage.
As many players always say, it’s TI and you never know until you’re playing, but having a good start can go a long way towards calming nerves.
As for KG and RNG, they’re struggling a bit in results, but their team atmospheres seem decent. LaNm still walks around with a smile, calmly, perhaps only possible after being a veteran of so many high pressure tournaments. A true veteran presence, and the type of presence that is getting increasingly rare on Chinese teams… Old chicken and eLeVeN are practically inseperable, coming down in between series to smoke, talking only strategy for the next series or reviewing what happened in their last series. Sometimes they nod in greeting, other times too engrossed in discussion to notice even the outside world, which still flutters on-and-off with drizzling rain; such are summers in Shanghai.
August 17 2019
Having touched on the planning of most TI9 elements, I was aware there was still an undercurrent of worry for progress at the arena. Those worries, after a few visits over there throughout group stage, gradually went away as progress came along. Being stationed at the hotel throughout group stage to ensure the success of the group stage production and the experience of teams, here I salute the crews working tirelessly to put things together on the Arena side in preparation for the main event. This was one aspect in which I learned the most this event, and the one aspect where there is no chance it could’ve happened without the massive team efforts that took place. The processes and work that went into any one element of the production at the Mercedes-Benz Arena were all massive, from the player booths (newly custom-built), to the stage design (lots of iterations), to the sound and lighting design, to all the hand-detailed and hand-painted elements decorating the stage itself – this was a cross-cultural, international effort more than perhaps any International has ever been.
Downstairs after the day’s matches, all of VG are gathering to go out of the hotel for a dinner. Everyone’s there, except rOtK. Yang is exasperated, “Of course he’s late again, when is he not late?” Shortly afterwards, the big man shows up, the rest of the team gives him some shit for being late, and they head out to dinner.
In the days immediately before, during, and after the 17th, there are multiple TI birthdays. Popular Chinese caster AMS, Sccc, and Purge’s, along with production leads at ImbaTV as well as PGL. So there’s a giant cake, with a similarly giant knife for cutting it. A sword, really. A note is sent out on the talent chats for both English and Chinese to come down and have cake, everyone sings happy birthday, we all have cake… and the night ends. It’s a simple moment, but one that stands out for me this TI. At this point it really begins to feel like a family; a slightly dysfunctional one that changes a bit every year, one that even after seven years I still sometimes wonder how to fit in with. Faith_bian helps cut some cake and also helps distribute a bit. For Sccc, he’s just coming off his final cast of the night, dressed impeccably with his hair crisp and sharp, but a bit tired. I wave him over, tell him happy birthday, and that there are quite a few birthdays to celebrate so he should join in and have some cake too. “This is the first time this many people have celebrated my birthday with me,” he says. I don’t know how that can be true for such a popular and incandescent person like Sccc, but I hand him a piece of cake and we eat cake for a few minutes before he goes up to bed.
Thinking about it now, I suppose I can understand why Sccc wouldn’t have had tons of opportunity to celebrate his birthday with many people in the past: being a ‘TI birthday’, in recent years he would’ve been in the midst of preparing or competing at TI, which leaves no room or time for actual celebrating.
August 18 2019
There’s a LAN room this year, with gaming laptops provided by Asus. It’s free for anyone to use to just play games, hang out, or otherwise, and through the period of the event it becomes just that – a hangout room. Late one night, I’m walking by so I poke my head in and notice none other than Dendi. So I go and say hi. I say hey, you’re here! Like it’s meant to be. But Dendi at TI does indeed feel right, and he smiles in that warm way that he has. I ask him a few questions, how his flight was (not too bad, he says), and how he’s feeling (a bit cold! The air conditioning in Shanghai summer can get insanely powerful indoors). He asks me how I’m doing, and I’m tired, but things are going well – so far anyway – so it’s all good.
August 19 2019
Press day again. This year, the space is a lot tighter, and there are far more press organizations present. Perhaps it’s the China effect, or perhaps it’s just the fact that TI is growing every year. Probably, it’s a combination of the two factors. I’m not really on deck to help with interviews this year at press day, but I hang around to help make sure things go smoothly for part of the day anyway before I have to head to the Arena for rehearsals in the afternoon.
At the Arena, the orchestra and dance troupe are running through their full rehearsal process for the next day as we are explaining to the team managers gathered what will be needed of their teams for the TI9 opening ceremony. Some people are taking pictures while others are just looking around, but for everyone it’s evident that the spectacle of the TI9 stage is starting to become a reality.
In the Chinese talent green room, ZSMJ and 430 are messing about with their latest Secret Shop hauls. First, 430 is taking a picture of ZSMJ at his request, and then ZSMJ thinks about it a bit and decides “I think you’ll look better with this stuff,” takes the phone, and has 430 pose for him with some of the merchandise.
August 20 2019
Back when ticket sales were first on-going, I wasn’t sure of what my actual involvement at the event itself would look like in August. So I managed to buy two tickets via Damai with my own access code. My original plan was to give these tickets to friends and family – especially family, as they’d never really understood what I do (though in recent years, after a period of being opposed to gaming in general, they have typically been either indifferent or supportive). In the end, those plans fell through as they visited me in Shanghai a week prior to TI9, and I had an extra ticket on my hands. I ended up giving my day 1 ticket away via Weibo – before going to bed for all of two hours before day 1 of the main event, I posted a thing at 4am asking for fans to attach a picture and some text about why I should choose them, then at 6am chose a guy that wrote he’d flown in from across the country to Shanghai just to be able to watch TI in the same city. He didn’t have any tickets; he’d planned on going to the VG official pubstomp, and he’d never been to any TI before. So I met him at the front gate around 9am, gave him the ticket, practically begged him to not resell it, and asked that he take lots of pictures and experience TI9 for me from the perspective of a normal fan.
It’s a perspective I haven’t really been able to have at a TI for years now – and I’m not complaining, but once in a while I do wish I could just sit in the stands with a friend or two, plan out which series to watch, when to go to the Secret Shop, fiend social media a bit, and well… actually watch a full series at a TI. The last time I’ve watched a full series at TI was TI3, when all Chinese teams had been knocked out before the final day. This year, I didn’t even get to watch a single game in a series in full from draft to the throne falling. And yet it all swirls around, leaving me to pick up the pieces after the fact. Perhaps this is part of the magic that is TI, where no matter what your experience of it is, or how complete it may be, it’s still more than worth it. Maybe this is what drives those people without tickets to still come forth, and so I can relate with those people – because if it were me, I’d probably be doing the same.
So anyway, the guy had a blast, sent me pictures along the way, and I think this ended up being one of the most meaningful things I’ve done at a TI. Not nearly the biggest, or even something I had to put a lot of effort into, but it was nice.
The Opening Ceremony happened, after the traditional red carpet segment. Having been involved in some of the planning of these elements, I both knew what would happen and didn’t have the chance to watch them actually happen. Gabe Newell gave his speech, which was done in his usual understated fashion, but to Chinese fans this was perhaps the most important part of the TI9 opening. If Icefrog is the god of Dota, an unknowable and untouchable presence, somehow Gabe Newell has become the face in making any TI feel ‘official’.
“Welcome to the International!”
I heard fans saying that his presence really cemented the fact that, wow, this is a TI! In China! And I think fans here truly appreciated that he made the long trip out, because to be able to hear those words on their home stage is really something else.
It’s more than emotion I feel I’m never gonna stop
The first day of Main Event went unbelievably smoothly, though if you were backstage you wouldn’t have believed it could’ve been that smooth as stress levels were high. It was a long day, with six series and four teams going home, but a strong start for the Chinese side as both LGD and VG went through in their respective upper bracket matches. Afterwards, LGD looked confident and calm, and you’d almost think that there was no pressure on them here. After all, there are still three other Chinese teams in the tournament for fans to also cheer for. Because expectations, support, and just the general fan sentiment can all become pressure, but if the support is split between various teams then the pressure is also somewhat shared.
August 21 2019
Day 2 of main event. I see BurNIng backstage. He’s eating, I say hello, and he says hello. It is really cold in the venue all day long and hospitality has bought blankets for people to use. I see other people in actual winter jackets while it is August outside in Shanghai. I also meet Mara and his friend Kazu, from the Mara Cup. We exchange contacts, I show them around a bit. They’re here as invites of Valve’s and are basically watching all the games as fans. I ask if they’ll appear on stream and they’re just like, maybe. They are super chill, and I find out they’ll be at Tokyo Game Show which I’m going to after TI as well, so we agree to try and meet up there as well where Mara will be part of a Dota 2 tournament hosted by the Japan Esports Union.
I briefly meet LaNm’s two little daughters at the entrance as they and their accompanying adults needed some help getting into the venue, and later I tell LaNm that now that I’ve finally met them in person, they are every bit as cute as he used to always tell me when he showed me on his phone. This would be back in 2017 or so, when every time he saw me he would show me their newest pictures, and after tournaments in the US, ask me to go with him to buy them baby formula. “When are you gonna have kids?” he asked, and I told him that’s not in my plans. The other day, I also met Fy’s kids who were with their grandparents in support of Fy. With True Sight this year, and looking on stage at the victors this year and last, and even back to 2017, families of players have increasingly showed up at TIs in support of the players. They may not understand what is going on in-game, but it is endearing to see, and such a huge contrast to the stories of parents not supporting what kids are doing. We’ve come a long way from those days.
We’re speaking a language That no one understands
Around the area, various Chinese teams have shown their investment into the scene as they are each hosting pubstomp events. RNG have rented out an entire restaurant next to the Arena, where they are handing out RNG t-shirts, banners, and posters. VG have rented a theatre in downtown Shanghai, and of course LGD have their self-owned arena in Hangzhou.
Outside of the Arena this year, there is a massive plaza that has been taken over by everything TI9 related. There’s a Will Call area for picking up tickets, of course, and the Secret Shop with all kinds of new and exclusive merchandise. But there’s also a team-specific merchandise tent that’s never been done at past TIs, where teams could sign up for timeslots and sell their own team-specific merchandise. Off the top of my head, VG, KG, RNG, LGD, Secret, Alliance, VP, Liquid, and Newbee all took advantage of it and it felt like something that teams have been asking about at tournaments for some period of time already. Additionally on the Plaza, there was a massive wall structure with all team flags in front of it, and paired with purple thematic lighting as well as a large beam next to the Plaza, I think the outdoors element of this TI was one of the most impressive, visually anyway.
August 22 2019
After not really having any opportunity to catch up with anyone thus far or really even seeing people much, I finally see Iceiceice at the venue as he’s come to check out the Secret Shop. I have a few minutes so I walk him over, showing him the route that best avoids outdoors paths as it is seriously hot these couple days. On the way, he asks a random security guy “Are you from Shanghai?” Before the guy really knows what’s going on, “Oh, okay, cool… bye!”
Back at the venue, Sccc faith_bian iceice and blink are coming in for their casting assignment. Jokes are exchanged while iceiceice is backstage waiting for his ride back to the hotel after having gone to the Secret Shop. As the Sccc group heads into the elevator, iceiceice is like “good luck” and “see you next year!”. The Wings guys return the greeting and as the door closes, Sccc jokes “and I’ll keep watching you guys compete!” and everyone just laughs. On social media now, fans are asking Sccc to think about playing carry, or at least carry on competing, and I think he really should keep fighting on.
Halfway into the event now, and things feel like they’ve finally settled a bit. There are some differences but a lot of things are still similar. The silly jokes, the camraderie shared between players who are otherwise competitors, the general laid-back approach to an event that is extremely high stakes…
I at last find some time to hang around in the Chinese casters room, where they watch the games. Chatter ebbs and flows. Sccc looks tired – he’s put his head down on a table in the back to try and catch a nap before his next panel. Faith_bian is attentively learning a new stats system, a kind of successor to the fingerworks of the past, all wrapped up in some integrated stats that I don’t know the first thing about. But it’s a testament to his attitude towards things that he’s always looking to learn and improve. One of the other casters has brought an old Wings t-shirt for Faith_bian to sign: on one side, there are the signatures of the Wings players from back in 2016, and on the other side, their new signatures. Faith_bian remarks that his old autograph wasn’t that good looking, signs a new one that satisfies him much more and admires his work, “That looks much better, eh?”
I’m reminded of Boboka practicing his autographs for nearly half an hour at TI7.
In the Chinese talents chat group for TI9, someone mentions that they came across a fan crying almost hysterically in the hotel elevator. An EG fan apparently, who is devastated that EG lost tonight despite SumaiL’s best efforts. Fandom is an interesting thing, and despite the overwhelming majority of Chinese fans outwardly supporting Chinese teams, I find increasing numbers who latch onto and support major Western teams. EG, Secret, and Liquid are obvious candidates as SumaiL, Puppey, and Miracle- have fanbases rivalling any popular Chinese pro.
August 23 2019
After a panel, Faith_bian again is modest: he remarks that he’s got a lot of improvement to do and points out things that he thinks he could’ve done better. Faith_bian continues his efforts on the new stats system, and in between teamfights he’s scrolling around on a touchscreen and gathering moments and clips for analysis. Always studious, always eager to learn, those are my impressions of the TI6 champion, and this is one player that is not content with just staying still.
Later on, BurNIng and Sylar finish a cast and need to head to the Intercontinental hotel for their Late Game segment, but not before Sylar goes upstairs to suite level to pick up his girlfriend. On the way, of course, the two of them are waylaid by starstruck fans. BurNIng especially, and true to his self he takes pictures and signs autographs for every one of them. For a few of the fans who look intimidated, he looks directly at them and goes “So, want a picture?” It’s not that BurNIng has gotten smoother or more into the life of being a celebrity, but it’s like he’s deceptively down to earth for someone who is amongst the most popular figures for people in this generation in China.
On the way back downstairs, they start talking about the Aegis. “Have you even touched it before?” asks BurNIng. “No, in 2014 they put it right next to us the night before, and some others touched it but I decided not to…” You can’t, it’s superstition. BurNIng laughs a bit, tells him that doesn’t count and that the both of them are officially non-TI winners, and Sylar scoffs, like “At least I’ve gotten near to an Aegis!” “我好歹是近距离见过冠军盾的男人好吧！” TI4 seems like a distant memory, enough that they can joke about it.
I put them on a van to the Intercontinental hotel where their Late Game segment is held, they wave before climbing in, and off they go into the evening. Sometimes it’s hard for me to place together the fact that these are essentially superstars in their realm because the way they are is just so normal. Sometimes, fans are smoother than they are in holding a conversation, at other times they just want to do the things that everyone else wants to do – eat, sleep, hang out, whatever… and yet that fact only serves to add to their allure. In traditional sports there’s a hero-making tendency for fans and media alike, and in esports it’s kind of the same, but also a bit different. Our heroes are the ones that we can most relate to first and foremost, and then we come to love everything else about them. Results matter, but more and more in the Chinese scene, there are fandoms growing around personalities.
Back at the venue break room, I sit down for a sip of water by myself. Dendi walks in, also by himself, and begins to make some coffee. He turns to me after a moment of silence and says hi, how are you? We chat a bit, and I ask him what’s up for him next year? “I am going to play!” he declares. Making a fist, he says “I’m going to find some new guys, and I’m going to destroy everyone!” in that whimsical Dendi way. “Good,” I respond, “My favorite version of Dendi is player Dendi!” His coffee is ready, he cups it in his hands and blows on it lightly to cool it off, winks, and heads off.
The night ends with the All-star match and raucous cheers of for Dendi and his cheese-stealing antics.
Back at the main hotel where players and casters are staying, and it is a scene. Probably a hundred or so fans have gathered in the lobby and swarm around anyone known. It’s a bit disorganized, the sudden crush of action is a bit troubling to some teams, but such is the situation in China: esports is exceptionally mainstream and those involved in esports are essentially mainstream public figures, and with a TI9 magnifying glass applied to the scene during these few days, some teams and talents are finding it hard to handle. I think this is the future if we truly develop as an esport, and it would behoove teams, players, and talents alike to become more prepared for these things – actively avoiding fan interaction isn’t the way forward, but rather being able to expect and manage such situations is.
In the morning, I wake to people sending me screenshots of me making it into the compendium. It’s the most different TI experience I’ve had thus far, but at that moment it begins to again resemble TIs of past, at least for me. On stage and on stream, the results are also strikingly similar to one other TI, that one from 2018, and I find myself adding on-screen interviews to my mental book of things to think about for these last two days of TI.
Here I am, there you are Don’t wanna stop I know you know it, I can feel it
VG lose and it is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever personally experienced. My strongest memory from TI is still DK losing at 2014, but DK losing wasn’t a personal experience. Today, I was on deck for an exit interview with VG and it’s Fade who comes. Before acknowledging the camera, or Sheever (who was amazingly understanding), he walks straight to me and says hey Josh. I ask him if he wants to do this in English as the broadcast hopes he would be able to, he nods and he’s barely keeping it together. I tell him, look, I’m here if you need any help with this.
It’s a one answer interview and once it cuts, Fade glances around, then comes straight to me, grabs me and breaks down. I tried my best to give him a brief refuge from the bright lights, the cameras, and the growing crowds gathering around the spot on the suite level where that interview took place. I don’t think he came to me because it was me, but because he was looking for anyone familiar in that sea of faces in this moment. So I’ll be that familiar presence, if nothing else.
I’m reminded of his sad “Josh, we lost” from TI8, but it’s even more poignant. Waiting for the elevator to take him back to his team, he tries to brighten the atmosphere a bit: “I wanted to keep fighting. But… that’s Dota.” As if to cheer himself up a bit, he adds “That’s life.” And a small smile.
Well… that’s Dota, and today, it was painful. I glance outside the window – It’s raining again.
It always rains during the last two days of TI.
‘Cause I’m falling deep I guess the pressure’s built right up
In the upper bracket finals, in a mirror result from 2018, OG beat LGD and an interview with Ceb shows that they are ultimately confident. Perhaps one of the best – and rarest – traits in Dota: true confidence. Or perhaps, an ability to ignore any outside doubts. They are similar, but not quite the same, I think. And then, Liquid defeat Secret and there’s an interview with Miracle, who has become much more well-spoken over the years in comparison to the version of his self back when he’d just made his debut. As time passes, I’ve literally watched players grow from teenagers into adults. I’ve spent more time with some of these people than members of my own family in recent years, and I guess it’s no wonder when a TI starts feeling like a family reunion of sorts. I mean, it’s not that, because I barely have time to talk with anyone or hang out anymore, but at least knowing everyone is in the same place, doing the same things for a period of time, it feels like a reunion.
Later at the hotel I run into Fade again in the lobby. I give him a hug, and he’s saying thanks for giving me a shoulder back at the venue. “I just saw all the fans there, and I…” his smile belied the obviously still fresh sadness of the day’s events. In view of recent events post-TI, I fail to believe that this is someone who doesn’t care, or doesn’t truly want to compete. This is someone who cares, perhaps too much, but that’s not an indictment. That’s just how this game is sometimes, and I think giving people room to grow and make mistakes is one of the best things a community can do for its players.
Going upstairs after finishing dinner, all of Secret invade what was previously an empty elevator. “This is our elevator now,” someone declares. I exchange greetings with the Secret guys. “An elevator for losers,” one of them jokes. But they seem to be in decent spirits despite what must be a somewhat disappointing end to TI.
August 25 2019
Once VG finally lost, there was only one Chinese team remaining. Having been the most successful Chinese DPC team this year, expectations were strong for VG, and them losing shifted another wave of support – and pressure – onto LGD. History seemed to be repeating itself, and on social media there is a narrative of changing fates. Dueling timelines. Reversing history.
In a coach interview after the draft, 357 answered how he felt about the draft the same way as he had been asked last year, and his answer was the same as last year: “50/50”. In my mind, a little voice said that if you want to change a timeline, if you want a different result, you should take a different process. Well, I’m superstitious too. If you do the same thing, you’ll get the same result, generally. So in that corner of my mind, I thought maybe 357 should’ve said “We will crush them”. Maybe do some jumping jacks, punch the air a few times on stream.
With all this desire I’ve been carrying around I’m feeling elated I don’t wanna come back down
Amidst the hopes and dreams, the thundering cheers of “LGD” from thousands of home fans, LGD made it to the final day of TI9, but their stay on the grand stage this day was short and ultimately ill-fated. The venue was lightning, booming, and then… it wasn’t as much anymore. Was it the pressure of expectations, their own desires, the hopes and dreams of so many others that they couldn’t bear anymore? Or were their opponents just too strong? Nonetheless, as LGD leave the stage for the last time at TI9, there are still cheers of “LGD, LGD” – or am I just imagining it? Last year and this year echo together, and reluctantly, the energies of the crowd dissipate with LGD’s hopes.
Despite stating in past interviews that any placement apart from 2nd place would be acceptable at TI9, LGD’s third place finish seems to cast a cloud over the entire venue and the entire event. As if on cue, after LGD lost and Liquid were confirmed as the other Grand Finalists, denying LGD a chance at changing their timelines, the skies opened up. In that hour in between lower bracket finals and the TI9 Grand Finals, I took a few minutes to walk around outside the venue. A final feel of this TI9 atmosphere, and the masses of LGD jerseys out in the crowds – quiet.
All the tension rising up So much it hurts
I hear fans lamenting Fy. One more TI, one more legendary Rubick performance. Second, second, third. His TI is over, and for many Chinese fans, theirs is as well. I see tears in some fans’ eyes, but I can only imagine what Fy is feeling.
It’s not about nationalistic pride, and it’s not about disrespecting the other teams. A year of expectations, built on hopes, built on dreams of redeeming that disappointing ending – for them – at TI8, dreams of seeing their heroes stand on that stage.
It’s more than emotion I feel I’m never gonna stop
It’s about what fans can best relate to. These players are the ones that they watch the most, they’re the ones that they can understand, and relate to. Yes, it’s also about what they represent – LGD being the last Chinese team, but is it so wrong to have a hometown affinity in competitive sport? So some people left the Mercedes-Benz Arena, and some never came back. If social media is to be believed, some may never come back to Dota. The Dota playerbase is an aging one, and the beauty and danger of this game is that it truly drives people to the very extremes of emotional investment – either you love it, or you hate everything about it. The investment has been there from the fans and community into this long-awaited China TI; to want to see their own home heroes hoist the Aegis in the end was a dream, and when reality clashes with dreams, often the result is detachment. We are all only but human.
Backstage, it’s quiet, calm. It’s cold. People are beginning to take down non-essential equipment to get ready for the overnight operations of vacating the venue. Even as the Grand Finals are taking place, the event is winding down. Having finished their panel, Sccc and Faith_bian are gathering their belongings, ready to head home. “What happened?” is a question that rings in the room. “What happened?” the question repeats. But the answer is probably a simple one, and it’s one that the community perhaps already expected, even before today: this year, the other teams are too strong.
I do wonder what it would’ve been like if LGD, or VG perhaps, had been the ones standing up there at the end of TI9 in Shanghai.
For me, I would’ve been on the English panel instead, giving a simultaneous interpretation for the English audience of a home-language stage winners’ interview. It would’ve been a lot more difficult for me than finding and briefly interviewing an exuberant NOtail ended up being at the close of TI9. Perhaps that did happen on a different timeline, but in this one despite the short – and somewhat chaotic – final interview sequence, the scene was there for all to see. It didn’t need explaining, or more words than necessary, really. The first ever two-time TI winners, successfully defending their title: unprecedented, nearly unimaginable, but by the last two days, not unexpected.
We’re saying more than words More than words
August 26 2019
I only get to the Afterparty around midnight, so it’s technically the 26th already. I finally get a chance to say hi, and really, bye, to a bunch of people that I’d been meaning to greet this entire TI. This TI has gone by way too quickly, and too slowly at the same time. Puppey, Ramzes666, Bulba, I catch Jerax and congratulate him on the second win. Unbelievable, and the guy looks like he’s still in a bit of shock. Various people at Valve, some of whom I’ve been working with more closely than at any other TI ever. “We made it!” is the shared sentiment. Drinks, handshakes, and laughs are shared, but like me, everyone has their goodbyes to say and time just isn’t enough.
They’re belting out karaoke in a room at the Afterparty, there’s a dj playing slightly too loud music, some of the Chinese talents are hanging out. I meet xiao8’s kid for the first time. He’s two years old and though it’s midnight, he’s still full of energy, and xiao8 really looks like a dad with his somewhat exasperated yet proud face while watching his son bounce around. A far cry from the xiao8 I watched go undefeated on-stage at TI2, the one that raised the Aegis at TI4, but somehow it all feels like a natural progression in the TI timeline. Stoic and stalwart Dota captain becomes a responsible and steady father to his own child.
After the Afterparty, I go and find some other people who are doing their own karaoke downstairs: iceiceice, xNova, some of their friends, Helen, and then a bunch of English talents show up right around when Zai, Misery and a few others poke their heads in. There’s a questionable rendition of something by Eminem. I can’t say I enjoyed the level of musical ability on display that night, but the company was excellent, and Fade and I lounged in a corner chattering about random things – life overseas, healthy approaches to competing in esport, and just general talk as it gets to 3am, then 4am. In conversation, there are questions about the wisdom in essentially locking players in for pre-TI bootcamps by taking away their phones and forcing long daily practice schedules. Are we burning the players out before they’re even set to compete? Later in a separate conversation, I hear that LGD and VG were nearly immaculate in pre-TI scrims. Did they peak too early?
Not quite ready for the night to end though the karaoke place has closed up, the night lingers on. Before leaving, Zai questions who’s going to pay for the karaoke room? Like, we can’t just leave the bill with someone, right? He’s thoughtful. Someone declares that xNova has got it covered, and iceiceice goes “TI third place!” Indeed, he’s the highest placing and has made the most money out of this TI, and with that settled, we all trickle out.
It’s carefree, and topics range from going to find some food to what are people’s next steps after TI (xNova’s family is in Shanghai so he’ll be spending some time with them, iceiceice and I have made plans to meet up in Tokyo in September). After a while, Zai heads up to bed, but at the same time we see Puppey and Kuroky walking through the lobby, and they join us shortly. These are some of my favorite moments at TI, after all the action has settled, but before everyone’s gone their separate ways.
In the afternoon, after finally getting some sleep, I’m back on the practice room floor at the hotel. As I’m helping clear out some gear, Dendi shows up off the elevator and hands a small gift to each of our hospitality staff at the hospitality table. Some chocolates that he’s brought from Ukraine, and it’s such a thoughtful gesture that no one would’ve known about had I not been there at that same exact moment as well. It’s fifteen seconds at most before he’s waving goodbye at us as he steps back onto the elevator.
I come across Kuroky, Miracle, and Liquid’s manager Morad one last time before they’re also all headed home. Handshakes, goodbyes. Kuro is jokingly accusing me of not talking to him at all during the event, and I’m acting hurt and saying come on man, you know I have a policy of trying not to disturb anyone who is still competing. And you made it to the final day! “This TI went a bit better than I expected,” he says with that light smile of his.
August 27 2019
As everyone leaves the hotel, I am amongst the last, just as I was amongst the first there in the beginning of August. There’s a quietness about the lobby, yet in the shadows there’s still some lingering energy. This has been an extraordinarily difficult, challenging, yet rewarding experience. Looking back, I can basically say that I gave my entire year to TI9, and I hope it has been a fulfilling and enjoyable experience for everyone watching and participating.
Far from the surface I know this will never end
This year, especially to those teams and partners that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and collaborate deeply with, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for just how much goes into an event like this. Thank you to everyone for being a part of this experience and these memories. As always, to fans, players, everyone behind the scenes, crews and staff, and definitely Perfect World – thank you. Lastly, to Valve, thank you for the understandings and strides you guys made in bridging this gap in bringing a TI to China. From that little dream I had back in 2012 to standing on an actual TI stage in 2019 in Shanghai, it’s been unreal. This was, undoubtedly, hard-fought and the success of this event hard-earned, but from my single point of view hopefully worth all the literal sweat and tears that went into it. Thank you.
My dreams have been colored purple for months, and perhaps my entire 2019 will be remembered in that light. Farewell, TI9.
In a recent piece with ImbaTV, current EHOME coach and manager 71 looks back on defining moments and memories in his esports journey thus far.
71: Previously I’d always been a coach, there wasn’t any role where I needed to manage the club. Now that I’m a manager of the club as well I’ve taken on this role. I’ve just begun with this work, so right now I can’t speak much about any experience, and additionally I don’t really feel that we’re doing any particular thing very well yet, it’s just that I’ve got some things that I can share with everyone
Recently I just held a meeting with our team leads for our various squads, noting that we need to establish a team captain within each team, whose purpose is to be a connection between team leads, coaches, and the team itself and thus make it easier and smoother for management to do their work. Because I’ve been coach and team lead before, I feel that I was really lucky to have in the past DC and 820. These were two amazing captains – within the hundreds of players I’ve had, there are nearly none that come close to those two. 820 went from player to captain, it was kind of like he was DC’s successor at the time. So our management format is to establish a captain, and to have him play a role in connecting team leads and coaches within the management ladder.
Right now comparing international and Chinese clubs, there is still a massive gap. In terms of management, on one side it’s managing, and on the other side it’s organizing. So in our big team meetings I always say, if you need to organize something then you really need to organize it clearly. Including things like the situation for individual players, like what shirt size they wear, their height, weight, birthday, health, personal problems, any issues at home, etc, you’ve got to be clear on everything. Even their goals for playing professionally, their personal goals, so I always say you have to be really clear on the details and have depth to it all.
From our beginnings, with just one or two squads, we’ve now got eight or nine. We can no longer manage based on individual situations, we have to have a system. First you establish a team captain, and then the captain and team lead work together in accordance with the system to manage things. Once the system’s in place what you need is to establish the instinct behind it – down to details like penalties if the lights and computers are left on after a day’s training. The point is to raise their awareness, to establish the feeling that this is their home and they should care about it.
A few days ago the team lead for our Dota main squad went to get the players up from bed. We had scrims at 2pm, so by 12pm people should really be getting out of bed already. Our team lead and the players aren’t in the same house, so the team lead came over from the other house to wake them up. Old Eleven wouldn’t get out of bed, and our team lead couldn’t get him out so he just left and came back ten minutes later to try again. Eleven, in bed, then said “What do I need to get out of bed for”, the team lead stayed for another few minutes to try and get him out and then gave up. I was in the neighboring room during this and heard it all, originally I thought I might just go over there and drag him out of bed myself, but then I thought that this wouldn’t really have any long term effect. So I went downstairs and sent LaNm an email, telling him to gently but officially speak to this issue in the training room later. Because otherwise, stuff like this makes the team lead’s job too hard to do. In the afternooon I went down to watch them scrim. After they finished the scrim, I asked Eleven to go out for a smoke with me, and he immediately said “I know what the problem is,” and the other players were just sat there laughing at him. In actuality I was only asking him so I’d have a smoke buddy.
Speaking of captains, on the one hand they need to have the prestige and respect to focus the team around him, this is required. But only this is not nearly enough. On the other hand they need to have the ability to develop, and play things to their players’ strengths. For LaNm, in this latter aspect he cannot be considered to be excellent, though he does hold absolute respect.
Over all these years in China, from my point of view, from what I’ve understood there are only two people that meet these requirements in terms of captaining: xiao8 and rOtK. No matter how much people flame them, their results can be seen. Compared to the international scene though, perhaps it’s because Chinese players tend to be more reserved so there are fewer great captains. Internationally there are the likes of Misery, Fly, Puppey, Kuroky, etc. A good team basically will always have a decent captain. As for LaNm, when it comes major tournament time, he’s thinking a bit more about how to allow himself to play to 100% of his ability in order to have 120% of an effect on the team’s play. He can’t really do things like help the team and teammates adjust from a 50% status to a 70-80% status, so compared to some other more established captains he’s still lacking in various ways, though I’ve seriously seen him thinking and improving on these things.
I recall talking with LaNm prior to TI once. I said to him, “LaNm, we’ve been working together for a while up to now, and honestly there’ve been a lot of things that were kind of rough,” I listed them all out one by one. Previously during Manila I’d also spoken with him before, compared to working with you it was a lot easier for me to work with rOtK. ROtK communicates a lot, he uses a lot of affirmative language, and he has a clear sense of direction. This is actually a really important thing, because a lot of details really need you to go and figure them out. No matter how good the things in a person’s mind are, it’s all useless to a team because they’re only in his mind. But even if someone has bullshit on their mind but they manage to convey it to five people and get them to act uniformly on it, that is invaluable. ROtK does really well in this regard.
Talking on the point of good coaches, it depends on what your thoughts and requirements are. Some people just do their job, while others go above and beyond, there’s a difference between the two. Of course, there are also coaches that are just along for the ride. I’ve got my origins as a coach, I’ve led quite a few different teams in my day. I’ve got my own style and understandings, but I also change and adjust based on what I have available to me. For example, when I was coaching DK, no matter the results, I would always ask them to play and strategize extremely aggressively. Yet when I tried to apply this same school of thought to the team with Mushi and Inflame, the results were really poor. When that happened I needed to rethink things. The reason the original style no longer worked might not be because of the patch version, it was because my personnel and what their strengths and weaknesses were had changed, for example in terms of their on-the-fly decision making. And they were yet to fully understand the big picture: when you’re speaking with them about one set of things, and they think they’ve already fully understood and achieved it, yet from my observer’s point of view they’ve obviously done very poorly… so I can’t just complain, I have to find change starting from myself. I think about what changes I can make based on the personnel available, or from some other angle.
The things that a coach can learn are plentiful. Any competitive sport is one that I am interested in. Every good coach is one that I can learn something from, like Phil Jackson with the Bulls, and then achieving the same things with the Lakers later on. How he would manage those superstars. He’d be pretty lackadaisical during the regular season, but once it was postseason he’d have all kinds of defensive schemes, fully utilizing and displaying the effect of every single timeout. On key plays he’d have the team approaching things nearly perfectly. This is what a top tier coach can achieve, he can grasp the team’s current level of performance, he knows when it’s time to save effort and when it’s time to explode, he can control the timing of when the team gets hot. Another example is Mourinho in football, those who love him really love him, and those who hate him despise him to their core. Yet both sides see him as arrogant and loud, but what not everyone sees is that he attracts all the attention after matches because he is redirecting the pressure and criticism away from his players. There’s also Lippi who previously managed Guangzhou Evergrande, his autobiography I’ve read parts of as wll. And then there was the Beijing team in CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), who won the title a few years back. During the finals, no matter whether a game was won or lost, their star player Stephon Marbury’s interviews I watched all of them — he was really honest, the things he said were of value, showed his goals, showed that he took responsibility. They were things that every captain and coach can learn from.
In all my years as coach my deepest memories come from the time I was leading a Counterstrike team. Back in those days the conditions were exceedingly tough. To go to offline events we had to pay our own way, and forget about going overseas to compete. For players in that era, to go overseas to compete was an incomparable honor, it’s not like nowadays with so many international tournaments. My team back then had no sponsor, the team name was one I’d come up with: teAmart. In 2005 we were based in an abandoned elementary school on the outskirts on Nanjing. Within a radius of 500 acres there were just the six of us people. Every day we’d walk 30 minutes in the hills before getting a 40 minute ride on an illegal taxi (read: random guy with a car). Then at the internet cafe we’d play for some ten hours and head back in the same manner. There’d often be no running water, so we would go in pairs to the nearby well to get water so we could bathe. It would be in the open air in the village, bathing in front of other villagers and their cows. That cold, and the scenes, but there was friendship and there was fun. If you had me do that again today, I would still do it. But today’s players wouldn’t. Nowadays if there isn’t fruit in the training room they already want to murder the team lead, forget about having them wash next to a well… just think about how much time could have gone to streaming instead!
For Dota, my most memorable times come with EHOME in 2010, but those memories aren’t of the 10 championship titles. That year we were playing in the WCG Beijing regionals, Zhou and DGC with their team came to compete for a spot too, saying “We’re here to fuck that strongest team (implying us)”. So anyway, their team and ours got dragged into a rivalry, and we even put our money on the line by wagering 5000 RMB, with my players putting in half and me putting in the other half. In the winners bracket when we met, I remember that we got stomped. In those days tournaments were played with the two teams facing each other in a row, their team’s mid player would be flaming us while playing. A youngster, didn’t really understand things nor decorum, and he trash talked me a bunch too. I wasn’t really too fussed about it, but my players were really burning with shame, they looked really out of it while eating later. I said to them, just let me pay the money owed in the wager. KingJ and them wouldn’t accept that, saying that they needed to get their honor back. Things were spoken in that way, but honestly in our hearts we weren’t sure about it. The story afterwards is a comeback story. We ended up winning the regional there, and honestly this title was really important — it established trust and friendship, and it also established a neverending belief of not giving up, it was great. The team thus gained an underlying culture and purpose, so improvement was quick, and communication was easy. I would just say the things I see, and what I want to say in terms of strategy, and the players would go based on that to try and achieve those things. If someone performed poorly individually, I wouldn’t even need to say anything before 820 was already on their case. Players nowadays, you have to baby them, you have to leave them room to save face, it’s tiring.
And then there’s EHOME in 2015, a time when we had peaks and valleys alike. The peak would have been the end of the year. At that time the other teams were all not strong, while simultaneously LaNm had found some understandings of the patch. I remember we won, consecutively, Radiant and Dire Cup, SDO, and MDL. In terms of both form and mentality we were pretty much in the right place. But in reality I knew, these results were temporary, because previously I’d already mentioned that CTY’s style is one that likes to farm, the tempo in that version really suited him. Kaka’s Earth Spirit, Eleven’s Void and Lone Druid, these were all signature heroes for us. You couldn’t really ban us out so it was expected to be able to achieve some results on that. In the ensuing Chinese New Year break, with a new patch version in place it would be expected for our results to get worse.
The most difficult thing was probably TI6 this year. With Old Eleven’s grandfather in bad health, he went home to take care of things, and we moved FaN up to our main team to replace him. But the chemistry wasn’t good. Prior to the open qualifiers we scrimmed with fellow qualifiers teams, and there were at least six different teams where we couldn’t even hit a 60% win rate in training. So I calculated a bit, and at the time I thought our changes of making it through were less than 3%. This meant that we wouldn’t even make it to the main qualifiers, we would only get to watch TI at home, which would be a pretty big problem. The team atmosphere at the time was really bad, emotions were really low. Then in the end we made the decision to make another change, we asked Eleven to have someone else take care of his grandfather, we got him to come back and we had iceiceice go play carry. After this change honestly, it wasn’t really solving our problems either. We trained a few days in this way and then off we went to the qualifiers, and even during the qualifiers we were in a lot of danger. Really, our team has always been kind of interesting that way: oftentimes when the team is not very favored, it can find life in the most difficult of situations and bounce back from the bottom all the way up to a very good spot. But once they’re in that spot, they suddenly can’t do it anymore. TI was like that too, so many people were saying that EHOME were headed for the title, to the point that even I got a little bit embarrassed. Forget about our bans, just looking at our pick stats, our drafts didn’t look at all like a team that could win the title. Against EG we indeed should not have lost. People were saying how in game one we lost after having megacreeps, how that was an epic, legendary game. If you ask me, it was dogshit. At that time EG was noob, we were even more noob, I can’t see what part of that is epic or legendary at all. Mentally overall we couldn’t really get in a good spot either, the team stopped improving in-game, we just put our tactics out there for others to counter. It’s like you play cards with your hand open while the others are playing with their hands hidden, can you possibly not lose? Wings winning the whole thing was really commendable, their tactics and style have a lot of layers to it all. It was varied to the point that you couldn’t counter it at all, and they had such great mentally — playing TI like it was a giant pub, so they truly deserved the title.
This year’s post TI player transfers, I think domestically everyone has just done okay. In comparison I think the big Western teams, like EG, have done excellently in this regard. They’ll definitely be a strong team when the time comes. In China I somewhat favor VG, adding a new player on the original VG.R foundation. The other teams, well, it is what it is. In the very beginning we wanted to go get Maybe to play position one for us. We discussed it with Maybe, but at that time he kind of wanted to go to VGP. Sylar approached LaNm himself, and we felt it was pretty good so we just decided on him. In terms of four position we considered ChuaN. ChuaN plus LaNm we felt would be a pretty good combination, but it didn’t work out. And then Wings were rumored to be disbanding due to players wanting to continue their schooling, with iceice even dropping his team registration for a while, so we went to try and recruit him and have Fenrir and iceice be our support duo with LaNm transitioning to coach, but then Wings decided to not be making any changes anymore. Fenrir spoke to us himself about wanting to leave the team, we really really wanted to keep him, and we communicated many times afterwards to that effect. But in the end Fenrir felt that he couldn’t take back the words that he’d already spoken, so he went to VG.J. As for iceiceice, after TI he’d already told us that he wanted to go back to Singapore to play, and we respected his wish. I feel that the outside world is quite unfair to him, he is originally an offlaner, but in an emergency time of need he took up the responsibility of playing carry. This was a huge challenge for him, and it was a result of our team having no other options. Iceiceice practiced the most out of the team, he is actually really hard working, so no matter how poorly he might play I don’t think the blame can go to him! From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate iceiceice, I respect him.
Why would Wings’ TI6 win affect our methodology for team building? And if you say they are a brand new team I really can’t agree with that. I’ve been in the business of youth training and development for esports for so long, I’m fully aware of just how difficult it is for newcomers to get results. In the very beginning for Wings, they were SPG. That picture that you’ve all seen only of them being subs for DK, that was because I called them there. At the time DK had three people on break, yet there was still WPC that needed to be played. I felt that these three kids from SPG were pretty decent, so I grabbed them over to standin for us. I remember after winning, I specifically sent a note up to Zhou in the analyst room, asking him to choose the MVP for the match out of these three kids, and not from BurNIng or MMY. Afterwards, iceice went to this team and since then has played with them for over a year, so they can’t really be considered to be a new team. Prior to TI they’d won against top international teams, they’d won titles before, and they’d also been eliminated in the first round before. Teams have these kinds of fluctuations. They’ve experienced the things that they needed to experience along the way, their strategy and drafts are really unique yet calculated. Honestly, their style is really similar to that DK team, so perhaps you could say they are an improved and stronger version of DK.
In the end, I hope that EHOME can continue to improve, and continue to learn from the top clubs domestically and internationally in order to become a leading force in the next generation of this industry.
According to this weibo from Haitao (海涛), he is the first to get an invite this year for TI5. It’s kind of hard to visualize, but next month will see the TI5 group stages with the main event to follow closely behind that in early August.
This is part 1 of “The International 3 from my view”. Stay tuned for part 2, describing thoughts and events from the elimination stages at Benaroya Hall, in the next day or two!
This is a semi-diary, semi post-competition gathering of thoughts and recollections, from group stages at the Westin Bellevue to the elimination stages at Benaroya Hall. I’ve tried to focus on giving a view into what the players are like, as well as some of the casual, random events that happened that I saw or was a part of, that can serve to bring behind-the-scenes stuff closer to normal fans. It’s a long read but worth it, I think, if you’re a fan at all of Chinese teams and players. I’ve not only written about Chinese teams and players, however, and there’s some other stuff too.
I have to apologize in advance, because I am not the type of fan to take a lot of pictures with players, or to really intrude at all. I’ll chat with them if they make themselves available, and offer myself up to assist if it looks like someone needs it, but that’s about it — no autographs, no photos, basically nothing else. So, apart from my words and descriptions, I generally lack stuff to share with fellow fans. Hopefully you’re up for some reading, because there are a lot of words below!
Day by day recollections
7/31/2013 to 8/1/2013 – pre group stage prep time
My first day involved was July 31. Met Hippovic, who showed me around. Then I just hung around at the Westin Bellevue while teams did their photo shoots and promotional stuff. Met various players.
The next morning, Puppey sat down at the table during breakfast where Erik Johnson and I were sitting, and Puppey talked briefly with Erik Johnson about the infamous all-chat incident between xiao8 and Dendi… Then after breakfast, they had me translate for the players’ meeting that outlined some rules, expectations, and a general idea of how the event would go. That went… okay. I am not good in front of large groups of people. A camera is different because even though there are lots of people on the other end, I don’t actually see them.
At the players’ meeting. So much talent in one room.
Later on during the day, Dendi sat down next to a fellow translator, Tracy, and began watching her play, as she was playing a pub match on a laptop. Tracy dismisses this, thinking it was Mouz Black, who had been hanging out with us earlier. Then I tell her to look over, and then she’s like, “omg it’s Dendi”. And Dendi sits there with an innocent look on his face. Then she got a kill, made another nice play, and both were met with Dendi getting up and dancing about nearby. Shortly afterwards, the meeting room internet at the Westin cut out (as it often did), Tracy got an abandon, and Dendi strolled off to entertain (or be entertained) elsewhere.
Speaking of Mouz Black, who had made fast friends with a couple of us: We had taught him a few phrases in Chinese. He wanted to meet some of the LGD people, including LGD’s manager Ruru, but was apparently too shy to do so on his own. We taught him how to ask for a team jersey in Chinese (since he wanted an LGD set), and later on I taught him how to say the name of his favorite hero, Anti-mage, in Chinese. Much later on, some other Chinese kids must’ve taught him some not so savory words, because by the last day of the main event at Benaroya Hall, he was slinging them around until we told him that he should save it for when he really hates someone or something. Below, Black is saying 我想要一套队服, which means “I would like a team uniform”.
8/2/2013 – Group stage first day (Wild card)
RattleSnake: LaNm is one of my favorite players. He was the one that I chose as my favorite player in my compendium. He’s a funny guy, brilliant player, and casually approachable in person. After their wild card win, I waited behind with Kabu, who was waiting for the rest of his team to go to the players’ dinner. I knew where the dinner was, they didn’t, so I wanted to make sure people weren’t getting lost on the way (these players had missed the Valve-led delegation over earlier). Incidentally, Quantic were also late and so I told them to follow us too. Was that a bit awkward? Maybe… Quantic looked a bit low energy and hardly ever appeared downstairs for the rest of the group stages afterwards…
Anyway, I tell LaNm, “When I saw you guys pick Storm Spirit, I knew you’d already won. LaNm responds curiously, “Why? I think it was because they didn’t have much in terms of disables.” But my opinion was simpler, “I just think you’re awesome on Storm, haha.” And he grinned.
RattleSnake team interview after Wild Card win
iG: Ferrari_430 was up to play the solo mid matches, so during the players’ dinner at El Gaucho, Erik Johnson grabbed me over to translate to get his picks for heroes, and to make sure he knew the rules. He hadn’t checked the rules before and was surprised that runes were allowed. This revelation in part caused him to change his initial pick from Lone Druid to Templar Assassin. He was sitting with his team and chatted a bit with them before deciding on his hero picks. Ferrari is a really friendly person in a really unassuming manner. I already admired his play and style, and after meeting him, I like him as a person too.
After his and Mu’s first solo match, the TA match, which took over 40 minutes, they looked to me to ask if they could simply do the SF match next. When told that SF had to be third game, they decided to do Shadow Demon instead (whereas originally it was going to be OD as second match) to save some time. When I went downstairs to grab some water for 430 and Mu, I ran into XBOCT at the bar. He was seated, looked over to me, said “I like you”. I don’t think he really knew who I was then (or if he even really knows, now), but his friendliness had me asking him which of the Dota-themed drinks he’d had. He looks at the drinks menu and starts pointing. “All of them?” I ask. “Yes,” is his reply. Cool guy.
During Mu’s solo match against Ferrari, Hao stood behind his chair for much of the time, joking and making suggestions. Hao even brought Mu a drink of some sort. He had two of the same drink, one for himself, one he gave to Mu. Aww. TongFu’s players seem to be the friendliest with each other (this is not to say that the other teams aren’t all quite friendly with each other). While the Ferrari and Mu match went on, several other matches came and went. Iceiceice versus s4 was funny in that iceiceice giggled whenever something happened, especially whenever he used his coal.
The solo mid competition room at El Gaucho. Ferrari_430 vs Mu, Mushi vs xiao8
8/4/2013 – Group stage day 3
DK: rOtK is just as fierce in person and out of game as he is in-game (and at LAN events). He also seems like a very sincere person, and he’s got an amazing sense of humor and quick wit, more than once causing uproarious laughter in the Chinese section of the viewing lounge at Westin. He wears his heart on his sleeve, a rare specimen amongst your average Chinese player.
Here we see DK’s rOtk, in green, animatedly discussing something with the other players
iG: The iG players tend to be more quiet, though YYF can really talk, and talks quite fast, when he has something to talk about. Ferrari is very thorough whenever you ask him about something; in the mini-series with Soe where we asked players for their ID and what it came from, Ferrari_430 was by far the most thorough in explaining. He also likes to hold the mic himself when he’s talking (he was the only player with this preference). I’m not sure why his part was cut out from the final player ID video that was posted online, though. But his ID is pretty self-explanatory anyway: he likes that car, and the name of it was what he went with when registering himself on a gaming platform in the past, and it stuck.
Speaking of player IDs, I wish we could’ve gotten more, especially more of the Chinese players, but unfortunately it was not to be. In the final two days, I did some interviews with Perfect World, helping to translate Chinese questions to Western players, then translating their answers back. Additionally, I worked on the final versions of all the subtitles for team intro clips that they played before each team’s first appearance at Benaroya Hall this year. That took a while, because I needed to fix up the translations, the grammar, and then the timing of the subtitles as well. A lot of fun seeing my work up on the big stage later on, though. Anyway, player IDs. The teams and players were in and out as well, playing matches, going out for dinner, etc. Maybe there’ll be more chances in the future for this.
The player ID vid, as posted, is below. Whenever I’m not on camera, I was the one running the camera! ;P The Orange players were all so polite, and seemed a little bit shocked that anyone would want to ask them anything.
LGD: I think it was on this day that xiao8 was recognized in the lobby of the Westin Bellevue by a visiting group of Chinese tourists. An older Chinese man and his wife are walking out of the elevators while xiao8, his friend, and a few of us are waiting to go up, and the man turns around, peers at xiao8 and goes, “Aren’t you that guy on the TV? The dating show? Were the scenes in the show real or staged? Xiao8? …You’re here to compete!” Xiao8 confirms that the show and its result were not staged, and then just nods a bit, not sure how to respond. The man and his wife grin widely and wish him luck as we walk into the elevator. In the elevator, I remark that he’s a superstar now. Xiao8 smiles lightly in a way that suggests he doesn’t necessarily embrace it, and goes back to whatever he was doing on his phone.
I don’t remember which exact day this is from, but here is xiao8 with two bananas during the group stages. Sorry it’s blurry, camera derped
8/5/2013 – Group stage final day
RattleSnake: LaNm needs glasses. He had trouble seeing the screen while watching matches on the screens in the players’ lounge at Westin and constantly had to squint. So I told him to go get some glasses. “Yeah, it’s indeed time to get glasses,” he replied.
You can sort of see LaNm straining himself to get a clear view of the screen from where he’s sitting. He’s leaning forward with his arms folded underneath his head in the center of the picture.
As seen in some of the panoramic photos so far, the teams and players mostly mix pretty freely. There’s a pretty clear divide between Western and Eastern, and then within that there’s another less clear divide between Chinese and SEA, and between Russian and non-Russian. But by and large, the players are friendly and cordial with each other, and most every player is willing to meet and get to know another player. A rare few players have the talent of slipping almost seemlessly between all the different groups (though they still have their own preferences). The Chinese teams seem to especially be friendly with one another, and when they weren’t competing, there would be intermingling to the degree that, to an untrained eye, you wouldn’t be able to pick out which players were on which teams at all.
Also, Black^ and Bulba partook in an activity they called ‘Ghost Ship’, in which they would ambush unsuspecting fellow players, pick them up, then put them down unceremoniously whilst shouting “ghost ship!!!” I saw them do this to two or three different people, and I don’t think anyone much enjoyed it. I am also wondering if they meant ‘Torrent’, as in Kunkka’s Torrent, which gushes someone up then drops them down.
LGD.cn and Dignitas played a tiebreaker, a close one. Afterwards, the two teams seemed to be pretty cheerful, even gathering together briefly to chat a bit.
After the tiebreaker: Aui_2000, DD, xiao8’s back, Yao, Waytosexy, Sneyking, Universe, Sylar
TongFu: I’d earlier offered to help the Chinese teams arrange for some Chinese delivery from a local Sichuanese Chinese restaurant located in Bellevue. On the last day of group stages, after everyone had finished playing their matches, there was some time, and TongFu’s manager CuZn came to get my help. We got some menus printed out and I had them go around and mark down what they wanted, then we ordered the food. They got nearly $200 of food, and TongFu’s manager paid for it. When it all arrived, it came in a large cardboard box, and word spread quickly amongst the Chinese teams. Pretty soon, members of every team were gathered in a big circle around a table, eating. Quite a happy sight. With the normal hotel food, the Chinese players would hardly ever look excited about the food, nor would they rush to it. In contrast, this time, they all rushed over eagerly. These players are amongst the best in the world, but in the end they’re all kids and young adults, far away from home, and I was truly happy to be able to bring them a little bit of that comfort…
The players descended upon the delivery Chinese food like… hungry Chinese players
Throughout the group stages, there was an on-going joke amongst the Chinese players that whenever someone stepped out for a smoke break, the Chinese team currently playing would lose. Hao in particular would come back inside after a break outside, and exclaim, “What? Lost again???” This is another reason to not smoke, kids. It was just a joke, but later on in the group stages I did hear comments at least once or twice about waiting to go smoke until after the game had ended. Haha. Either way, the Chinese teams in general seemed pretty loose and relaxed, joking amongst each other, chatting about the games going on and other things. It was cool to see the players in a more casual environment.
In the afternoon, with the group stages finished, there were Valve tours scheduled. A group of 13 of us got stuck in the elevator going up for nearly an hour. Amongst us were Black and Synderen from Mouz. Both of them can be pretty funny. The PC Games reporter that was stuck with us in there was also a funny dude. I think they contributed to keeping morale high in there. It took an hour of rising temperatures in the elevator, and a call to the fire department after the original elevator tech never showed up, for us to finally escape. When we ended the Valve tour, Synderen and I both, on two separate occasions, actually joked to one of the Valve people that “some of the guys got stuck in another elevator”, which brought a momentary look of shock and worry. Sorry to the Valve lady, it was probably not the best joke to make again given the earlier events.
Stuck in the elevator
They did give us some extra stuff in our goodie bags at the end of the tour. It was probably worth getting stuck in the elevator. I won’t bother posting pictures from Valve offices because, well, I didn’t bother taking any, and other people have posted plenty of pictures already anyway.
All in all, the group stage at Westin Bellevue was quite an intimate, low-key kind of event. Players would just sit and hang out in the lounge with the games on screen for hours on end. Food would come and go, Valve admins would come in and shout for the next team up, the team that just finished would come back in and sit down and grab some food and drinks… It would be such a huge contrast to the high pressure, high energy atmosphere at Benaroya Hall and the elimination stages.
This was part 1 of “The International 3 from my view”. Stay tuned for part 2, describing thoughts and events from the elimination stages at Benaroya Hall, in the next few days!
With this interview, where RisingStars manager Cc mentioned former Noah’s Ark player Li had gone to join ZSMJ, we now have the complete roster of ZSMJ’s new team confirmed in words/writing for the first time.
And those that have been paying attention will notice that ZSMJ has been playing with this team in Dota2 pub matches for a few weeks now.