71 talks history, winning, team building

Source: http://www.imbatv.cn/special/xinsheng/10/

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.

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The International 2015 in my view

The International 2015 (TI5) took place from late July 2015 through August 8 2015. Like previous TIs before it, it broke existing records for being the largest tournament in esports history. Once again, I had the unparalleled privilege of being behind the scenes and involved in many ways. I’d like to share the experience, or at least slivers of the experience as I can remember and write down.

This is TI5 from my point of view…

July 22 (Weds)

The entirety of TI5 group stages and media days took place at the Westin Seattle this year. In previous years it had been a combination of either moving from Westin Bellevue to Seattle after group stage, or simply shuttling teams from Bellevue to Seattle each day (as was the case at TI3). The pros of this were that it was easier logistically, and it also seemed that more

Info booklet for 2015

space was available at Westin Seattle as we took over practically three entire floors during the group stage. The cons were that it seemed like most players I spoke to preferred Bellevue a little more – either due to closer proximity to what they deemed to be better shopping (Bellevue Square, etc), or somewhat quieter surroundings.

Walking into the hotel building that morning a wave of familiarity washed over me – hotels tend to have a distinct smell and ‘feel’ and having spent much time at the Westin Seattle last year for TI4, I was immediately brought back to some of those moments. Running into BurNIng in the lobby, talking to rOtK late at night… but this was 2015 and as much as things felt the same all of a sudden, things would be different.

July 23 (Thurs)

Equipment set up day. LaNm has spilled coffee on one of his keyboards, but Helen, I think, has manged to fix it with some canned air. EHOME’s carry YJ (zyf), in his rush to get his settings straight for recording onto the SSDs that Valve uses, speaks in Chinese to a

non-Chinese speaking Valve staff. Not just a bit either, but a couple full sentences, and then he pauses waiting for a response before his team makes fun of him “This guy is real talent” “I bet when he sleeptalks tonight, he’ll be wondering why the guy didn’t understand him”

The other part of the story being that YJ is a prolific sleeptalker, and his topics are quite specific as well: He’s playing Dota in his dreams and his sleeptalking is making shot calls in game. According to their coach 71, once he shouted, “I’ve ulted them! I’ve got 4 of them in my ult! 5 actually!!!! I have Mask of madness, I’m going in!!” 71 then told me that the next morning he asked YJ whether he was playing Void in his dreams, and YJ incredulously asked how?? How did you know?!

Very helpful schedules in the booklet

And that’s when it became apparent to him that he’s got a sleeptalking problem.

Anyway, the EHOME team policy since then has been to room the member of the team least likely to be affected by a loss of sleep with YJ – and at TI that meant their poor team manager.

The rest of the day went similarly, as teams got around their jetlag, became settled in their settings, and went for their scheduled equipment setup times. In between, people ran around asking each other for scrims – I helped Newbee and a few other teams coordinate a couple times, but at the same time teams declining scrims were nearly as common as teams working to set them up. I won’t pretend to understand the reasoning/logic behind all this though; I only tried to help as an intermediary on occasion.

Being someone who’s lived in Seattle for quite some years, I’ve become a ‘local expert’ as people are asking me where they can buy certain things, where they can find X type of food, how to get to places, etc. Through the event, two places in particular in Chinatown became heavy favorites with the Chinese players: Hong Kong Bistro, and a Sichuanese restaurant called Seven Star Pepper that was praised as being ‘very authentic’.

Having had their visas slightly delayed, iG only arrived this morning. Yet by the evening, two of them had still yet to get a room arranged at the hotel. BurNIng appears in the lobby alongside ChuaN, who quickly spots me and shouts out “Hi!” I figure out their purpose for being downstairs, and we finally get BurNIng his room and room cards, he’s obviously a bit tired and walks back off to the elevator with a thanks and a “I’ll be heading upstairs, then.” The Westin Seattle is beyond booked out for most of the duration of TI5 so I suppose the room that had been assigned to BurNIng hadn’t yet been cleared when they first arrived in the morning.

July 24 (Friday)

Newbee having some fun before the serious business begins

This is the first day of real TI5-related stuff happening for Chinese teams: media day. Interview material is filmed in bulk today, with Kaci doing the interviews with Western teams, while long-time Chinese commentator BBC handles the Chinese side of things. For each player profile video or interview that was aired during the main event, there was probably 5-10 times more in terms of raw footage shot and worked with, maybe more.

Anyway, it’s another relatively light-hearted day as the Chinese teams arrive down at the media room one by one for their scheduled time slots. Compared to previous years, it felt as if the Chinese teams had loosened up somewhat, especially players that had had reputations for being introverted or closed off. Everyone seemed to have a good time in general. Perhaps with so many TIs having gone past already, with many of these players having experienced them, this would be normal – because as for many Chinese players, familiarity breeds a kind of comfort where they feel more at ease loosening up.

In the end, things go so smoothly that I’m able to work with the media people to move the schedule forward by over an hour and a half for the Chinese teams.

Which is all the better, because with the footage shot and ready for processing, one of my biggest projects during group stages was yet to come: subtitling for the videos of the Chinese teams and players. We have a small team of Chinese-English speakers available – one that seems to grow by a little bit each year (but probably not at the same rate that the content increases).

The only hiccup in the day was that xiao8, who was originally scheduled for an in-depth interview with BBC, had run off to grab lunch. I manage to get in touch with their manager Nicholas to reschedule, and it all works out. When he comes back to do his interview, I’m at work on subtitling videos already, and xiao8 sits behind me for some time watching and commentating my work. He’s with some LGD and CDEC players and they take turns trying to pronounce the English words I’m typing out for their subtitles. It’s an interview with BurNIng that they’re watching me work on, and they’re all like “wooo Big BurNIng!!”

Newbee.Banana admires their rings from TI4

Xiao8 asks me if I’ve done the one with him in it, “They came to my house to film! But I want to see it, you have it?” He’s enthusiastically asking about it, but before I’ve shown him it, it’s time for his interview and he’s whisked off to another floor.

At 7pm this night, it’s the traditional player’s dinner Valve holds each year before everything kicks off in earnest. This year it’s at Aqua on the Seattle waterfront. Once again it’s a chill atmosphere, and year-on-year there are more Chinese players coming compared to last year (while last year had more than the year before that), though the larger part of them still do not come, either preferring dinner elsewhere or whatnot. Some of Newbee come, and see their champions’ rings from the previous year. Apparently no one from iG makes it to the dinner, where their player jackets with IDs printed were distributed, and as I learn later, someone has stolen the ones with BurNIng and Ferrari_430 on them…

At the dinner, iceiceice keeps eating ahi tuna crisps, which are admittedly very good. Between him and myself, we probably eat a third of the crisps brought out. I chat with people randomly – Fly, Pyrion, Kotlguy, LD, Winter, Cyborgmatt, Merlini… Kotlguy asks me if I’m

At the player’s dinner, TI5

doing a writeup again, and here it is! They have some really old arcade machines setup at the restaurant set to free play mode: San Francisco Rush, some Simpsons game, some pinball machines.

The sun sets in a glorious blaze of red and orange as sunsets commonly are at this time of year in Seattle, and by 10pm I’m back at the hotel doing more subtitles. This time for a piece shot with CDEC’s shiki, who is decently well-spoken and quite laid-back for a first-timer at TI.

July 25 (Sat)

This is the first of two scheduled media days in which Valve requires every team to show up and make themselves freely available to gathered media outlets for around 1 hour during their timeslot. This year, media access has been very much limited compared to previous years, with media passes not being granted access to any of the areas that players would typically gather. Perhaps this is a reaction to the drama last year, characterized by one infamous incident in which a Chinese media outlet recorded and then posted, without permission, a video of DK’s draft and discussion during the

iG hang around during their media day slot

draft. A worthwhile consideration, if this was indeed what Valve had in mind – and the group stages were cleaner and less crowded/messy with fewer people milling around, I think.

The media day is essentially all day, so I am essentially there all day as well coordinating with the Chinese teams and making myself available to help with interviews as needed. As it turns out, only about a third of the media that would be present at TI5 were there at this media day as it was so early in the event, so things were very quiet with some teams arriving and leaving all within half an hour as there were no interviews to be had. Nonetheless, I had a good time as it was my first real chance to catch up with people – the media day requirement practically brought them all to me one by one, and so I could say hi one by one. 🙂

EHOME interviewed by Chinese media

July 26 (Sun)

It’s Wild Card day, and CDEC prevail as most people thought they would. Chatting with others, though, I went one step further – my predictions for best Chinese teams at this TI were LGD, EHOME, and CDEC, with VG possibly figuring things out and making a good run later on. Not necessarily in that order, but even I was amazed at how the following days would turn

Ramen with Fnatic

out.

It’s Johnny of Fnatic’s birthday and for dinner I show them a nearby Japanese place. In Asian culture it is really customary for everyone to share everything that is ordered, practically, and they each help themselves to each other’s food as it arrives one by one. Ohaiyo orders an udon and keeps calling it ramen. Since it’s Johnny’s birthday, I put an extra gyoza on his plate and wish him “Happy birthday!” and he eats the gyoza and everyone laughs. Mushi asks for a wireless hotspot, then gets on his phone to play Hearthstone, while the rest of us chatter about random things. Of course, Black^ has tagged along.

It’s the last of the casual atmospheres, as the next day Group Stage for TI5 would officially start and by the time we’re back at the hotel, everyone has more serious faces on as they prepare to pack in for the night and get ready for the most important morning of their year.

July 27 (Mon)

It’s day one of Group Stage. One particularly noteworthy matchup was seeing LGD and Cloud9 play. After long, back and forth games, LGD comes out 2-0. As the teams come out of their respective rooms, EternalEnvy approaches xiao8, and they

Fucker!

shake hands and then hug. Envy shouts “fucker!!” but he has a giant grin on his face, they laugh and then it’s off to the next set of games.

Fnatic drop game one against Secret, but win game two in a convincing fashion. Mushi and the rest of the team come out of their room and head downstairs buoyantly. As they disappear down the escalator to the first floor, Mushi suddenly turns around, smiles at me and flashes a ‘peace’ with his hand.

Newbee plays their games, surprising perhaps some people in that they didn’t actually lose everything and looked like they belonged – but the truth is that they’ve been very hard at work and in the days leading up to TI from what I could tell, were probably in the top third of teams in terms of time and effort spent training.

VP and Newbee awaiting their respective matches

Later at night, EHOME comes to play their match against Empire. They’re early – and LaNm is raring to go even as their match room hasn’t been cleared from the previous round. Pre-game, their coach 71 drills them on key points, and then a team which features two of Chinese Dota’s brighter newcomers is once again on the big stage, carrying one of the most storied names in esports.

Finally, in MVP.Hot6 vs VG, the two coaches of the teams fighting it out come together – or perhaps, back together, as Black^ and 357 sit on the floor watching, at times practically rolling with laughter joking about the game. Even as the VG on-screen was much different, things off-screen felt like they may have just half a year prior – if only for a brief time. Before the match ended, the coaches were back off to their teams.

Old times

July 28 (Tues)

It’s another day of Group Stage, and things get a little more tense each day as results come out and stakes rise with each additional game. Still, after each day’s matches there is that tiny bit of time for loosening up, recharging, and strategizing for the next day.

Tonight I go to dinner with EHOME. In typical fashion – one that is standard to these two who are, and have always been

EHOME

leaders of their teams – LaNm and rOtK are shouting with each other about their latest matches. Note, they are shouting with each other – not against or at each other. The topics they agree on, their opinions largely match, and they are mostly supplementing each other as the other three players listen rather quietly while eating. They are essentially two trains heading in the same direction, but on different tracks, and the EHOME journey is picking up speed. Afterwards, EHOME decides to walk back to the hotel from Chinatown.

After I make absolutely certain they know the way and have people with them that can help if need be, I let them go and then head back to the hotel, as there is more work to be done with subtitling.

July 29 (Weds)

iG lose badly on this day. They leave together, but it is deadly, deadly quiet.

On the interviews and subtitling front, I’ve finished subtitles for all the pieces I’ve been working on and moved to reviewing other subs.

One of the few Chinese interviews with Hot_bid this year, we got Newbee’s Banana around lunchtime. It’s relatively more difficult to get Chinese players for these interviews due to various reasons, but I think a major goal of mine if I’m back next year is to try and work with them beforehand to set up more of these more fun interviews. They’re receptive to them nowadays – at least much more so than, say, in 2013 – but it’s all about actually having someone to work with them on it and make them comfortable, I think.

Banana is a big football (soccer) fan, and his favorite teams are Barca and Bayern. He’s supported Barca since he was little. Back in China in the late 90s and early 2000s, the only things on TV were Italian and Spanish leagues, with some German league games here and there. We chat football a while, as I also follow and play the sport a lot. His idol is Batistuta, has been since childhood, and his Steam profile picture has reflected as much since pretty much forever.

VG

CDEC rising, and I’ve started a mini CDEC fan club as we watch their games. Agressif is impressive, I say, and various pros all agree. EHOME do well, remaining one of the few teams to not have had a Best of 2 defeat yet.

Dinner again with EHOME, as they’ve invited me to come along. Later on, VG appears at the same restaurant and sit at the table next to us. Worker at the restaurant wonders – what are these teams? Upon being told they are Chinese teams playing at an international tournament, he raises his thumb and happily says “Go China!”

I don’t stay long, though, as there’s still work to be done back at the hotel with subtitling stuff. On the way out, I catch coach Mikasa of LGD and say hi. He’s here with just a friend, as LGD and CDEC have opted to simply get burgers from across the street from Westin, as they have matches early in the next day.

July 30 (Thurs)

It’s the last day of Group Stage, and the crunch for finishing player profile videos and content for the main event is here. Having finished making raw subs, I’m on subtitle review duty and spend half the day going through various things.

EHOME confirms upper bracket after an impressive Group Stage showing with a rising trajectory, while VG continue their struggles and barely fail to avoid lower bracket.

iG play early in the day against NaVi, a meaningless match at this point in time, but iG seem more relaxed and to be having more fun. ChuaN does the coin toss, and cheerfully comes back after winning it, announcing that “We won! The coin toss, I mean! But that means we also won the match!”

BurNIng gathers himself before iG vs NaVi

BurNIng sits quietly until suddenly, he exclaims, let’s do a cheer! But the other players point out that it’s not yet time to start the match, so BurNIng instead moves himself in the lobby to the top slot when he’s usually not, declaring “It’s time for a change of scenery.” A brief fight for the other slots ensues before BurNIng quickly rules, “Alphabetical order! Get in line!” Then he carefully counts the letters down in the alphabet, pausing slightly to separate Faith and Ferrari properly, and off they go into the match against NaVi.

This night we have dinner with Fnatic again, all the way off at Din Tai Fung in University Village. It’s an hour-long wait for a table there, so Mushi and Ohaiyo take the opportunity to buy some jewelry for their girlfriends all the way back home in Malaysia. At dinner we realize that 4 out of 5 of their players are the youngest in their families, and the remaining one, Kyxy, is second youngest. An interesting coincidence, I suppose.

July 31 (Fri)

Not much is planned for the day, as Group Stage has ended and the Main Event is a few days away with Valve carefully having planned some days of rest time in between. Some players are raring to go at it, but others appreciate the rest time – and I think all the staff working the event so far do too. I’ve been exhausted thus far with the long days of helping teams before, during, and after matches and then doing subtitling stuff in between (often into the late night) so I appreciate the rest time too.

Newbee Bugattis

After the intense, and somewhat unpredictable, Group Stages, the days in between always feel like an eye of the storm. Still, it’s a reprieve and almost everyone shows up enthusiastically to go to the scheduled Secret Shop early access day today. I’m one of the last to get through the early access Secret Shop line. Heading out, I find rOtK who is mysteriously standing by himself by the streetside, double fisting some Starbucks coffees. He’s got the Dota 2 sunglasses on, with a whimsical look on his face. Seeing me, he shouts “Hey Josh!!” and rushes over and hands me one of the coffees. “For you!!”

I ask him where his team is, and he shrugs casually and takes a sip of the coffee. Then he sits down and declares, “This coffee sucks! It’s bitter!” Apparently he’s ordered some straight up coffee when he was trying to get frappuccinos, and in the process his team has deserted him. Not one to let unfortunate circumstances get the best of him, he stands back up and asks me to take a picture of him on his phone with the coffee and sunglasses against another shining Seattle sunset as backdrop.

“Okay, let’s go then!” he gestures towards the last shuttle bus back to the hotel and the last few of us climb in.

Aug 3 (Mon)

The red carpet at TI5

After some peaceful rest days in which I try my best – and fail – at recovering from a pretty bad cold that I’ve caught during the Group Stage, the Main Stage arrives like a storm and the first day is hectic as everyone is getting to know their roles. I’m floating around helping the Chinese teams, not being needed just yet to do interviews with players. It’s a similar story to previous TIs for me, but the sheer scale of this TI means that things are just that much bigger, and I’m binging on vitamin C and cough medicine just to keep from being overwhelmed. Nonetheless, the cold is something I fight for the entirety of TI5.

LGD watching, and making fun of xiao8

LGD beats Empire, and CDEC take down C9. We’ve taken to calling CDEC ‘mini-LGD’, not because of their styles, but because they’ve both been so reliable this TI in results, plus they’re sister clubs. In Chinese they call CDEC ‘xiao-Gan Die’ which is practically the same meaning, but more clever in terms of pronunciations.

VG beats NaVi in a do-or-die situation, one which VG having been early favorites were unexpectedly found in. I’m backstage before the game begins and Fenrir looks back at me, smiles, and says “Come give me some energy!” and hugs me, nods, and a little bit later they’re off to compete with their tournament lives and hopes on the line.

Jeremy Lin is at the venue most of the day, and apart from appearing on stream in various capacities, he’s also just been hanging around watching the games. Towards the end of the day I catch him on the VIP suite level (shared with all the teams) and catch a picture with him – basketball is the most popular sport in China and I played through my middle school and high school years, so it was pretty exciting to meet an actual NBA player like that.

Jeremy Lin

Aug 4 (Tues)

I’m with EHOME while waiting for their match. ROtK is playing some Chinese rock music and singing along, “Let’s rock together~!!” and CTY joins in for a bit. After a while, they get hungry…

EHOME waiting

The delays mean they get to go hang out at the Valve lounge. LaNm and rOtK sleep for a while, the others mess around and try out the yogurt down there. After a while, LaNm wakes up and tells me, “Who can tell IceFrog to hire some Chinese chefs for the main event!??!” in a somewhat joking manner. “The food is always Western!!” Even though the food variety has been vastly improved since TI3, I suppose he means that even the Asian-inspired food is kind of Westernized, and he’s not completely wrong. I tell him he can, and he thinks about this knowledge before going back to making fun of 71 for something or another. The food today is Mediterranean and I suppose not to their tastes. Soon it’s time to head back to the waiting room for them, and back in the room even though the players seem relaxed, the pressure builds as Complexity falls closer to losing game two. Eventually the room becomes more quiet and they’re all gathering their wits and focus, and then they’re ushered to the stage entrance where 71 shouts some last-minute advice and instructions.

rOtK and Kaci

EHOME beats Secret 2-0, convincingly. 71 has been asked to an interview after the win, and he’s clearly emotional – “they asked me, you must’ve heard the EHOME chants? What was it like? when was the last time you heard those chants?” He continues, “three years, I said to the them” and then he pauses and the topic drifts away.

At the end of the day the two strongest Chinese teams seem to be EHOME and LGD, reminiscent of days from half a decade ago.

After the win, rOtK is electric, buzzing with energy. He’s asked to do an interview with Kaci, and I tell him, we’re going to try without me on screen. Just off-screen, I’ll help, but it’s mostly you. And he shakes his head, hesitating, and then he’s like okay! So off he goes. When he’s pausing on camera he’s looking to me to help him out, and I do my best and the interview goes decently, but then at the end I’m told to step in and help out anyway, because it seems like he’s gotten stuck. So I do, and it all ends in fun and laughter. I hope the same came through for those of you watching on stream!

Afterwards, rOtK and I walk back to the EHOME suite, and he’s talking, talking about the games and how he feels. “I am so excited. I am so hyped. This is amazing.” There’s a clear edge to his voice and he is intent on continuing the winning. His team’s hard work has paid off as they’d told me they’d been up to 3am the previous night making preparations…

Back at the EHOME suite, LaNm walks over chewing on something. He’s chewing on a mouthful of ice cubes, very satisfied

Fy God

with himself. “They say old people like to chew ice cubes,” I tell him. He says he knows. I say I like to chew ice cubes too. We laugh.

VG takes C9 down. Fy comes out from the stage, to the backstage area, supremely confident with a grin on his face. It’s a huge burden off their shoulders and VG feels like they’ve found themselves again. Super is wanted for an interview, then he isn’t anymore as they cancel the interview due to the night being very late – then VG is mobbed all over for autographs and pictures, and the night ends in positivity for Chinese teams at a TI where not many of them were predicted to be very successful.

Aug 5 (Weds)

I meet Kunkka again, along with some other workshop artists – T_vidotto, Yi, ike_ike, Danidem, etc. I forget some names but everyone was, and always is, really nice and in a lull for my duties some of us catch one of the matches today together. It’s one of my few experiences as a ‘fan’ at TI where I can just sit back and watch, and it was the BurNIng Anti-mage game.

Prior to going on stage, BurNIng had been watching games backstage in the waiting room. Remarking on Anti-mage play at the event thus far, he said “The AMs here have brought shame for all AMs!” So, the biggest impression I have of this day was watching BurNIng’s Anti-mage against Secret. A nearly flawless game, it was classic 1v9 from BurNIng and I think half the venue hoped for another Anti-mage in game two. It was not meant to be, however, and iG ultimately lost and ended their TI run.

CDEC win again, continuing the greatest fairytale run in recent sports, electronic or not. The team has maintained a

Agressif and CDEC

composure and calm, almost aloofness that belies their age and experience. Others say that the lack of any expectations has boosted them, and I think it’s some of both for this team – they have a confidence that cannot come from a team with zero expectations for themselves, but also a lack of overwhelming pressure weighing on their shoulders. Agressif has a habit of swinging his player badge around his finger whenever he’s excited or happy about something, and coming out from backstage he’s again chattering loudly with his teammates while making a virtual windmill with his badge.

EHOME finally meet their match as they fall 1-2 against EG into the lower bracket. It’s a close series, and rOtK doesn’t accept the loss lightly. Walking with him while heading back to the hotel, he’s again brimming with energy, but this time anger as well. He wants to win, and he doesn’t want to lose – but more so he just wants another shot and can hardly wait until tomorrow. He jumps and swats at a tree overhead to release some of that energy, and that seems to calm his emotions somewhat. The moon is close to full and the night is a cool, breezy one – a refreshing change from the hot days of Seattle this summer.

Aug 6 (Thurs)

VG continue their run in the lower bracket today, getting the 2-0 result against MVP.Phoenix, who were on their own run of sorts. Iceiceice and Nutz are good friends, and we could all see this in their interactions on stage. On Facebook, the two of them had been talking shit to each other in the lead up to their clash and it was kinda funny.

Some of us watched Secret lose to VP and thus end their TI5 campaign, and the air surrounding the happenings were mostly of a faint sense of disbelief mixed with some inevitability: after seeing DK lose last year, everyone understood that being favored doesn’t mean being strongest come TI time, and there was nothing to be said against VP’s win; they earned it.

After losing against VG, EHOME were mostly calm. The 6th place result seemed acceptable to them, and I heard them talking: LaNm and 71 reflected “If we’d beaten EG then I think we could have made it to the finals. Don’t know what would happen in the finals, but we could have made it there this year. Once we had to face VG in the lower bracket it all became that much harder.” They agreed and it seemed they were at peace with the loss, though one of them remarked that they hadn’t seen rOtK since coming off the stage, suggesting that he was a bit more upset about it than the others.

Regarding the lower bracket, teams this year agreed that it was a treacherous place to be: “Indeed, the waters in the lower bracket are much deeper and murkier. It’s full of sharks waiting to eat whoever drops down!”

It’s the All-star game tonight, another ever so brief ‘eye of the storm’ moment within the blistering intensity that is an International. Backstage: Mushi and BurNIng chat around after the game. BurNIng tells Mushi they played on the same team in a pub game the other day. “Really?!” Mushi is surprised, but

Old friends reunite briefly

BurNIng shares the details and Mushi recalls. “Ah, yes!”

TI5 all-star night

“You were quite good on Alchemist that game,” BurNIng continues. Mushi wants to know which player BurNIng was, as he says he wasn’t paying attention. “I was the one who said I’m your fan!!” Mushi laughs, hearing this. BurNIng goes on, “But I also said that BurNIng is better.” Mushi laughs even louder as he remembers the scenario.

Ending the day earlier than usual, we go to dinner. I’m with a SEA contingent again, as most of Fnatic along with ChuaN have come along. It’s jokes and laughter all around. At one point the talk goes to the little stars next to players’ names. Chuan loudly declares that even though he has no star, he has an Aegis next to his, suggesting that he is the pride of SEA. The others point out that, what if iceiceice wins TI this year? Then he’ll have a star and an Aegis. The talk rotates around the table many times, and the SEA boys all seem to genuinely enjoy each others’ company as food is shared, plans are made to gather again back in Malaysia after the tournament. They talk about CDEC vs EG in the upper bracket briefly, and everyone thinks CDEC can win. “CDEC, CDEC, CDEC” the answer rings out repeatedly around the table. Later, on the topic of Agressif, Kyxy puts his thumb up, saying “He’s so fucking good.” The rest of the evening goes quickly with food and loud, boisterous jokes, Ohaiyo being the butt of many from ChuaN. I even catch the reserved iG.Xi, who has come along for dinner, grinning at some of the jokes, though most of the time he’s absorbed in his phone, mostly watching old-school Starcraft Brood War streams.

Aug 7 (Fri)

CDEC after making it to the finals

After CDEC beat EG to make it to the grand finals, LGD are readying up for their upcoming match against VG. xiao8 shouts to CDEC, “See you in the finals!!” and the hallway briefly erupts in cheers from the two teams. They’re under the same organization and management and the players share a pretty close connection as a result.

After LGD follows suit in victory and takes one more step to the stated goal of meeting CDEC in the grand finals, the two teams again come together at the end of the day, chattering and laughing loudly. First during the rehearsal for finals day, then in the afternoon sun as they waited for the bus back to the

Agressif on CCTV

hotel. Garder and Maybe are at one point talking some friendly trash at each other: Garder says to Maybe, “I hope you make it to the finals so I can beat you into a pulp!” Maybe responds with fake shock, eyes wide open.

Garder continues, “I can’t even count how many times I’ve been hammered by you. You’ve been beating me for years, since the fucking Dota 1 days damnit! It’s about time I hammer you back once!” and they laugh.

Fans are approaching them for pictures, Agressif for one seems to be enjoying his success and strikes various poses in pictures after openly agreeing to every single person who approaches him. Asked earlier by a Chinese reporter if he’d ever won an event before, he asks “Does a local internet cafe tournament count?” with a big laugh. Then he says, “Nope!” happily and walks off with the rest of his team, who are getting ready to leave after a series of interviews, including one from CCTV, the Chinese national media.

Last thing of the day at Key Arena was a rehearsal of the finals day for each of the three teams that were in the final or may make it to the final: LGD, EG, and CDEC. In the evening after a relatively early end to the day, I hang around at the Westin for a little while. There are many fans milling around hoping to catch their favorite players for autographs and photos. At one moment I see zai going into the elevator, and when he turns around as the doors are closing he sees me, waves, and I wave back too because zai is chill and I think I’m chill too and chill people just do that kind of thing, I guess.

LGD and CDEC on the day before last, TI5

Aug 8 (Sat)

In the end, the storyline of LGD and CDEC meeting back in the finals was not meant to be, but in its place was another storyline – one perhaps far more favored by the live crowd – of EG getting their rematch against CDEC in the match to end TI5. In defeat, some of LGD’s players looked crushed: Sylar was quiet as he often is; Yao just looked tired, but in an emotionally drained way; Maybe looked plain upset, and MMY looked like the saddest duck ever. Xiao8 took on the captain’s role and went about consoling each of them, telling Maybe, “Hey, look! Your first TI and you’ve got third place already. Not bad!” The thunderous roars of applause coming from the stage just on the other side of the curtains felt like a world away at that moment… Spirits weren’t high, but the team spirit was strong and after some reflective minutes backstage, they left together.

Then I watched the finals, and in the games we saw a CDEC that fought their absolute hardest but came up just short against an impressive, organized, resourceful, and prepared EG.

After losing, CDEC were remarkably unfazed, or at least not outwardly. After all, they’d just made it to second place in the finals of the greatest tournament in Dota 2 when originally, according to their mid player Shiki, their goal was to simply make it to the main event so they could experience Key Arena once. Or according to Agressif, to even get to play at a TI at all.

An empty Key Arena marks the end of another TI

This is a team whose attitudes throughout, from the Group Stage when I first came in contact with them, all the way through the finals, maintained a calmness that suggested they were simply playing another LAN game, another ladder game. Leaving the noise and cheering of the main stage, Agressif was again swinging his player badge around his finger, and some of the CDEC players joked around a bit on the way back to their team suite. Shiki was quiet and contemplative, while Garder was the only one that looked in a way one could describe as ‘sad’. Perhaps it’s because he’s the oldest on the team, and perhaps because of that he alone really felt the pure magnitude of it all in the kind of way that only age can bring – after all, it’s not every day you make it to the TI finals and losing means you may not get another chance, young as you may be with the world of Dota ahead of

At the afterparty

you.

And then amidst the din of deadmau5 and the smoke of pyrotechnics on the stage, TI5 was over, and the wait for the majors, or TI6, or whatever comes next in life for everyone began.

Of course, there was still the afterparty. We went with iceiceice and EHOME coach 71, and we quickly found LaNm at the venue – somewhat unexpectedly as it is rare for Chinese players to make appearances at the afterparty at all. LaNm was having fun, however, and danced somewhat haphazardly to the loud music and at times mused on how the accompanying light

Me and Kuro

show was just so damn awesome.

Later in the night, I find Kuroky who is always someone I look to at least say hi to at events. He wonders if I’m writing another one of these for TI5. I say yes, and he responds “Good. I read all of them! I see myself mentioned and I’m like, awesome, he remembers me.” Of course I remember you, Kuro. And we got another picture taken together, and it seems it’s becoming a tradition to take pictures together after events, even though Kuro has a policy on not taking many pictures at events.

Post-TI

Then it’s all over, the group stage, the main event, the afterparty… and everyone is floating back off to the four corners of the world. In the last day or two before everyone has left – some have left early already having changed their flights – we have some final get togethers. Iceiceice, Nutz, Black, and Eric and Kecik from Fnatic go to have some ramen, another seemingly emerging TI tradition, before they leave the next morning. The next night, some of EHOME have dinner with us, hot pot, and during that time Black^ has taught LaNm some insults in German, which the two of them are chanting nonstop for the next two hours at anyone that will listen. Then we decide to emulate Earthshaker’s abilities, complete with sound effects and we establish the Earthshaker Fan Club in which we talk about Earthshaker’s qualities as one of the best heroes in Dota 2.

Hot pot for dinner was exceptionally filling, and the very last of the last things for my TI5 experience was a long midnight walk with 71 and Black^ down along the Seattle waterfront. LaNm originally was going to come, but then he needs to duck out at the last minute because he’s on a video call with his newborn daughter, and of course that’s important for any parent, much less one that has been halfway across the world for half a month.

Ramen team

“The waters in the darkness have a scary quality about them,” 71 says. We muse wanderingly just as we wander through the streets of Seattle, but before we know it it’s 2am and we’re back at the hotel and it’s time to bid our final farewells, until next time they all say, until next time. “It’s fucking rained in Seattle the last two years we’ve been eliminated from TI,” he says with a smirk, “See you next time.”

I attended TI2 as a spectator, then TI3, 4, and 5 as translator, or whatever it is that I do. I guess I don’t only simply translate, at least not anymore. In that time it’s been four years, and in that time I’ve gotten to meet people from all over the world, all walks of life, in various stages of their careers and lives and involvement in Dota 2. People have come and gone just as in anything else in this world – it’s all transient. One of these days there will be no more TI, or perhaps there will no longer be me at TI, or perhaps the people I’ve come to know and build relationships fade out of the picture… People are getting married, having kids, thinking about life after competition.

TI5 was probably the most exhausting one I’ve been a part of. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe it’s something else, but at the same time it went by the fastest of any. I’d looked forward to it for months – and then, it’s past. I’ve made some great friends, met again old friends, been a part of some amazing – no, historical – happenings, yet it’s the great and the small things alike that make it all worthwhile. This is the kind of thing you tell younger generations about when you’re old, or at least it’s what you might imagine. “Ahhh yes, in the old days of Dota 2…”

Congrats to EG. Shoutouts to everyone who said hi, fans, teams, players. Thank you to all at Valve, the venue and other production staff, and everyone involved in making it happen. Thank you to every single person that cheers, laughs, cries, and watches alongside the rest of us.

The gears are in motion for teams and tournaments in the next months and years. Let’s see together what time will bring to us!

The Dota 2 logo on a cupcake represents the temporary nature of all that we have in this world… Nom nom nom.

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