Prefacing note: Big thank you to the fans in Vegas who helped out in various ways. Getting food for the teams, helping me out, etc. You guys are great. On that note, same goes for the fans at MLG Columbus last year, who I don’t think I thanked enough either. Thank you. Thanks to all the passionate fans that come out to these events to show support in each of your unique ways. Thank you to D2L and EG for the event in Vegas here and letting me be a part. Below is D2L S4 in my view.
It was another early morning flight out of Seattle for D2L in Las Vegas. A quick two hour flight meant that I’d arrive in Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport before noon on Jan 6. Upon arriving at the hotel we’d all been booked at for the event, Harrah’s across the street from Caesar’s Palace, the first thing I saw was all of VG checking in at the front desk. I’d been in contact with their manager JaL beforehand, so I went up to him, introduced myself, and made sure they weren’t having any problems with anything. We chatted a bit about their stay in Vegas so far — they had arrived a day earlier on their own expense in order to be better prepared.
After we got everything checked in, I got a call from the VG manager saying they were gonna go out for lunch, asking if I wanted to come along. With nothing else going on for the time being, and needing to make sure we got VG to the venue at Caesar’s around 3pm for their sponsor interviews (the one where rOtK told someone to kiss his ass), I decided to tag along. Some Chinese fans who had made their way out to Vegas graciously took us to a Yunnan Chinese restaurant a few minutes away by car, and we had a pretty tasty lunch there.
While eating, another completely different group of dudes came into the restaurant to eat, and upon entering, one of them muttered, “Aren’t those Dota pros?? What are they doing here?” To which his friend deduced, “They must be here for a competition!” When we went to get the check for our table, we were told that it had been paid already, with the waitress gesturing towards the back of the room where these guys had earlier gone to sit down. This was after the Chinese fans who took us to this restaurant in the first place were insisting on paying for us all in the first place, and the various camps of fans joked that they were competing for the players’ love at this point. Anyway, Sylar looks to rOtK and suggests that they should send someone over to thank this other group of fans. ROtK agrees, tries to get Sylar to come along, ultimately failing in doing so (Sylar seems to be satisfied at having suggested it), and goes over on his own to meet and greet and pause for a few photos with the fans.
Shortly afterwards, we leave the restaurant and hang around outside for a bit, with the players mingling with the fans and taking a few group photos. I should note here that all of VG were very gracious and approachable with fans. I might be ruining Sylar’s quiet badass image but he’s a nice kid that isn’t afraid to make a joke here and there, and he smiled more than anyone would’ve imagined him to be capable of (if all you see of him is on streams). I’ve liked Sylar since first meeting him at TI3, really, I think he’s misunderstood sometimes. Fy was exchanging cigarettes with a fan (Chinese smokes), rOtK chatting about local attractions, and Super and Fenrir both casually hanging out. 3pm approaches, and loathe as I am to break up what has turned into a pretty relaxed hangout, I herd everyone back onto their respective vehicles, the destination being the Emperor’s Ballroom at Caesar’s Palace.
Caesar’s Palace is freaking huge — most everything in Vegas is freaking huge — and once my vehicle arrives, I know we’ve made a mistake in not clarifying exactly which part of Caesar’s we should gather at. The manager, my girlfriend, and I disembark only to see zero trace of any of the VG players. They could be anywhere, and the only one of them that has local phone service is the manager. We split up in three ways to look for them, and in some dash of luck, everyone is rounded up within minutes. After a fun (as would be seen later), and pretty short and painless, interview session, I make sure VG know their schedule for the next day (room opens at 9AM for early practice, first match at 12PM), they head back to the hotel. Later that night, we would run into all of VG again at the McDonald’s next door, as word got around that this McDonald’s was one of the only places nearby with free wifi. ROtK made plans to go see a David Copperfield show, which it seemed he enjoyed, but the rest of his teammates declined the opportunity.
During the rest of the afternoon on Monday, EG’s Jay Todorow and I have been trying to figure out the time we should go pick up LGD at the airport. Apparently no one had their exact flight info, and some of what we did have ended up being incorrect. Earlier in the morning, I had seen a Weibo post from ddc saying that they’d been delayed six hours in Shanghai, which meant they would ostensibly be at least six hours late getting into Vegas as well. In the end, I confirmed their flight information by way of snooping Yao’s Weibo, where he had posted a boarding pass, and by confirming this information with LGD’s boss Ruru. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to all, the earliest post I’d seen from ddc regarding the six hour delay was the one with the real information we needed — LGD had been delayed taking off in Shanghai, which meant that they were to miss their connecting flight, which meant that there never was any chance of Jay and me finding them at the airport on the two occasions we went and tried. Eventually, I got in touch with a local contact whom LGD had contracted to help with the team. After much waiting and checking on statuses, we were told that LGD would be taking ground transport from Los Angeles to Vegas due to them not being able to be on the original flight out of Shanghai, with an ETA of around 5AM on Tuesday morning. Crazy, but it actually worked. Big thanks to ReborN, the LGD contact for Vegas, for helping me handle this situation and for all the work he did in helping LGD.
The next morning, I headed over to the venue around 10am and caught up with VG on the way, who were making their way over a few hours early in order to get set up and warmup before their match against Alliance at noon. The machines provided for the event seemed to have just been used at another event in China, and some of them were loaded with random Chinese software that caused compatability issues all through the event. Additionally, there was no shortage of crashes, lockups, and lag spikes, which hopefully is an explanation for the too many pauses that occurred during the two days. VG get setup, and around noon LGD shows up at the venue to watch the match and get ready for their later match against Fnatic. Accompanying the LGD squad is none other than legendary captain and heart of 2010 EHOME, 820 himself. In the LGD interviews later on, I would get 820 to answer a question as a part of LGD here. Xiao8, as has always been, took the lead for his team in arranging the interviews. Upon first seeing me at the venue, DD waved happily, and I waved back. For the rest of LGD’s interviews, they were professional and down to earth, as has been the norm for this old school team.
After VG’s match, LGD were up, so I helped them get setup just as I helped VG. Once LGD were on stage, I went and sat next to 820 for a brief while and chatted randomly with him for a bit. Asked about him returning to the scene, his words were, “There’s not really any chance of me coming back as a player, I never said I would, that must’ve been something some editor made up somewhere. It’s definitely possible for me to continue being a coach, but no guarantees yet which team it will be in the future.” We chatted a little bit more about the drafts and games as LGD played, but I was soon called away on some other duty. 820 is a chill, approachable person who isn’t afraid to chatter, very down to earth guy.
While LGD were playing, Twitch.tv’s Eleine came and asked me to invite VG to a dinner paid for by her, so I did, and VG decided they would go back and take a nap so as to be more awake in the evening. Only Fenrir stayed behind, watching the LGD vs Fnatic match. By the time LGD were done playing, I was leaving the venue as no more Chinese teams would be involved for the night, yet Fenrir was still staying behind. I guess he wanted to watch Fnatic vs Alliance as well, and he didn’t come for dinner, instead just going straight to bed afterwards.
Dinner was originally scheduled for 8pm, but got pushed back to 9:30pm due to everyone being passed the hell out and me not being able to get anyone up until then. By then, the original planned destination of Caesar’s Palace buffet was closing up, so we just went to the buffet in Harrah’s. Out of VG, only rOtK seemed to eat much. He looked at my clam chowder and asked what it was, then resolved to go get a bowl of it for himself as well. The rest of the players just sat around after one plate of food and chatted. Sylar ate all of a few pieces of fruit, and then announced that he’d go straight back to sleep after dinner.
The atmosphere was lighthearted and laid back, and we slowly meandered from one topic to another. We asked rOtK if he knew about what ‘DK’ stood for, and he said he had no idea, though theories were thrown out, including ‘Dota Kings’, ‘Donkey Kong’, ‘Dragon Knight’, and ‘Da kuan’ (pinyin for rich guy). We prodded fun at Super, who had just turned 21, and on his first day in Vegas had spent over $300 gambling only to have lost it “within two minutes”. I joked that it was a birthday gift to himself, and we all laughed. Super elaborated, “Manager and I went to the gambling floor and we observed for over half an hour trying to find an easy table (blackjack). We singled out one that we felt was the most noob, I went in, and came out two minutes later $300 poorer.” At one point, Sylar noticed that rOtK and I were amongst the last ones eating, and noted the fact. I said to him, “I haven’t really eaten all day, not even breakfast,” and he was like, “Wow, that bad?” with a look of compassion. Like I said, Sylar’s a good kid.
We wrap up at dinner and the players head back up to their rooms. ROtK and the VG manager take up our offer to come up to the executive suite which Twitch.tv’s Eleine has rented out for the event, one of the only places within the hotel that has wifi, and they come up to get their fix of internet for a while. We chat a bit more about random things, amongst which is the current meta-trend on the Chinese servers. “Alchemist, Slark, Earth Spirit, Doom, and Broodmother,” they explain, are the most imba heroes that are seen in every single game. Looks about the same elsewhere too, I guess. ROtK is playing some games on his iPad, including Clash of Clans, if there’s anyone out there that plays that game (I know it’s popular).
The next day it’s LGD vs VG in the upper bracket finals. VG gets knocked down while LGD continues looking strong, and everyone is surprised that Fnatic has taken out Alliance. In the words of Fenrir regarding the last game in Fnatic vs Alliance, “Don’t even know how to lose, yet Alliance lost”. Of course he went on to add, “We have those games too, where we think we don’t even know how we can possibly lose, then we lose anyway.” The day is strewn with technical issues as lag, update problems, hardware issues, and more abound. Between doing interviews (both on stage for the event and off stage for Kingston), helping resolve technical issues, and running after players to make sure they’re on time, I don’t eat nor rest much for the entire day.
In the end, VG crash out at the hands of a Fnatic team that no one rated highly, yet noticeably grew in stature with the event. VG quietly filter out to the side room, where they sit in contemplation for a good half hour, then they all come back into the venue to watch LGD play against Fnatic in the Finals. ROtK sits next to 820, and on and off through the games, they chat about what’s happening on screen. Sylar and Super go back to bantering about things, Fy mostly sticks to his phone screen, while Fenrir eventually heads backstage to get on a computer back there and chat and watch the games himself. During one of the finals games, I corner him in this setting and we have a really nice chat just about random things. Life, what brought us to this spot at this point in time, EMS One, etc. “It’s been really nice having you here this time, in Poland for EMS One it felt as if we were on a different planet. It was like we were back in the Stone Age, we could only communicate by hand gestures,” he offered, after I explained to him why I’d be here and how someone like me might be fluent in both Chinese and English. EMS One was his first time overseas, and Vegas was his first time in the US. “Keep qualifying for international events and you’ll eventually learn plenty of English too!” I suggested cheerfully. He chuckled. He told me about how their team owner gets really happy whenever they win anything, and after their successive first place finishes in the Sina Cup 2 and EMS One, they were all given bonuses and gifts, but their third place finish here might mean they get less Chinese New Year bonuses.
On stage, LGD are playing the Finals against Fnatic. During this event, between every game, they went off-stage with their coach 820 to discuss tactics and approaches. After this first loss against Fnatic, 820 is forcefully stating his thoughts, “Just take each game one at a time, don’t worry about anything else!” He addresses each player individually, giving them a sentence or two on what he wants them to improve or focus on in the next game. “Xiaotuji, you’re a more fighting-focused carry, remember that for next game!” he says to the carry, then he reiterates to the whole team, “Fnatic are indeed aggressive, but that doesn’t mean you can shrink back in the face of it! You need to increase your own tempo, dictate the pace!” Xiao8 answers this with a shout, “Let’s go! Anyone that still feels drowsy, go splash some water on your face and let’s do it!” LGD head back on stage, 820 shouts one last time at them from below the stage, “Get excited! Get into it!” and as the horns sound across the speaker system, first xiao8, then Yao, answer back, both to their coach and to themselves “Let’s do this! Add oil!” Yao and xiao8 are making calls, shouting, and just generally moving their team along. The rest is history, as LGD takes the series 3-1.
The ‘gg’ comes scrolling across the screen, and the LGD team huddles on stage for a quick team celebration. One of them shouts to go grab the coach, 820, and the six of them, ever so briefly, and perhaps for the last time ever, do a team hug. Then, also as a team, shoulder to shoulder, they bow to the live crowd in appreciation, and begin to pack their gear up. After the award ceremony, the team seems a bit muted (though LGD are generally a more reserved group). Twitch’s Eleine offers to buy them dinner as well, but after some debate, they decline and say they’re heading back to the hotel to rest. We end up finding them at the hotel cafe downstairs, and Eleine buys their tab anyway. As LGD are leaving, they find out their tab has been paid for, and they all come back to our table. Yao is saying “How can we accept this kindness, this is too much.” It’s okay, we explain, Eleine wants to do this. They all look at us, and soundly voice their appreciation. Xiao8 looks straight at us in his unique fashion and says the most determined “Thank you!!” I’ve ever heard from anyone.
It’s nearing 2am at this time and after saying our goodbyes with LGD, the rest of us head back up to Eleine’s room for an afterparty of sorts. Everyone shows up, DeMoN, Fnatic, Aui, Merlini, Ayesee, even Alex Garfield. By this point I’m too drained to do anything much but listen. Thundertoss of SC2 fame has come along too, he’s a cool dude, along with a few other esports friends that we’ve picked up. Fnatic are some funny guys and Aui seems like fun to hang around with. Speaking of Aui, the Chinese scene thinks he’s pretty good. Anyway, it was nice seeing everyone again even though I’m 99% occupied with the Chinese teams during these events, one day I’ll do better with really getting to know the Western players and personalities, etc.
That was that for the D2L S4 Finals in Vegas. VG would head back to China on their own after scheduling an additional half day to spend recreationally in Vegas. The next morning as I’m leaving the hotel, I come across LGD waiting outside the lobby to head to the airport as well. Taking the opportunity, I go to them to say my goodbyes one last time. Yao looks at me goofily and says “Good morning!” enthusiastically, a greeting which I return to him and the team probably even more goofily. I make sure with them that all is okay, that they’re ready to head home, then I turn to leave for my own ride… but not before I turn back again. I sit down briefly next to xiao8; I look at him and he looks at me… “You’re leaving?” His reply, eyes unwavering, “Yes.” I’m not sure he hasn’t misinterpreted my question as asking whether they’re leaving Vegas at that moment, so I ask again, “You’re going to a new team?” This time his gaze shifts a bit, but his voice remains steady and straight, and even louder and more determinedly responds, “Yes!”
I pause for half a second, then I reach over and hug him, “Thank you. And good luck.” Standing up, I repeat the gesture, a light hug and a wish for them, with each of the other LGD players. Yao offers his thanks, and ddc offers to give me an Ursa micro-plushie, which I turn down and ask him to keep for himself. Lastly, I put a hand on 820’s shoulder, “Bye!” and that was that.
Out of the three events I’ve been involved with backstage, TI3, MLG, and D2L… D2L has been the only one where the players I’m helping have won the event. Even if for different reasons, this last bit means that D2L may be another bittersweet memory……