Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TI3, eSports, Generations

Wow, what an amazing event that was. Valve once again managed to outdo themselves from last year, and by a huge margin. Seeing the prize-pool being increased by a massive 1.2 million dollars just from compendiums bought by the community was indescribable. The games were great, I could do lots of analysis but that's not what I want to talk about right now - although I have to say I can't believe I used to overlook Orange before.

Over-all, seeing the event invoked polar feelings in me. I really enjoyed it and was happy about what was going on, but somehow the many amazing parts made it all the harder to swallow the fact that I wasn't there. I had had my eyes set on TI4 even before watching TI3, but seeing the fantastic event just made the fire burn that much brighter.

Something specific - Dendi's Pudge made a great appearance and got the appraisal of nearly everyone. However it pained me especially because Pudge is my best hero and I consider myself one of the best Pudge players. This may sound weird - why would someone else being good with Pudge make me uncomfortable? Well, I guess it's the feeling of wanting to prove myself but not being able to, yet. Dendi is obviously an amazing player, no doubt about it, but I can't help but feel that his Pudge is good simply because he is a good Pudge player. He does know the hero well, he hooks well, but he is not the best Pudge in the world. People have not yet seen a pro that is specialized in Pudge - they will, soon enough. It's really something else.

I made a bet the other day with a friend. The bet was on whether I would make it into TI4 or not, and we bet 20 keys on it. I bet him I'd make it, he bet I wouldn't. His choice was obviously the more logical one - 5 unknowns on a team making a name for themselves and getting invited to the most prestigious tournament in but a year? Does not seem very likely. Yet in my mind it's almost... inevitable. I simply know we can do it. I've managed to gather up players that consistently impress me in all aspects of their gameplay, players that can match pro players easily. Once the new dota season starts and we start entering some tournaments... Well, I simply can't wait.

Then there are always still the struggles with family. How can parents possibly understand that this game could potentially earn me hundreds of thousands in the near future, before I've even finished my education, and is not simply something I do to pass the time? The generational differences are simply getting out of hand... As technology's advance rate increases exponentially, the gap between each generation widens. Right now it's already massive, with all electronics and digital devices. Can't imagine what it will be like between my children and me.

But, I suppose that's the downside of starting to seriously try and get involved with the competitive scene at the young age of 16. A great advantage, though, is that I still have a very long time to go. Assuming the average DotA career ends at around the age of 23-24, I've at least 6 years to go. TI9 seems like a pretty realistic goal. And can anyone even imagine how amazing TI8 or TI9 will be, judging by the amount of improvements every consecutive International has had so far? Games generally don't last very long, usually it would be too optimistic to assume it's going to still be around for a TI9. But this game has already been out for 3 years and it still feels brand new, it still feels like we've only seen the tip of the iceberg and there are huge amounts of untapped potential.

This is not simply about DotA as a game, it's about eSports and their place in society. How come if you're an football player looking to go pro everyone is very impressed? How come basketball practice with your semi-pro team is a perfectly legitimate reason to miss a wedding, whereas saying you have to practice with your semi-pro team for an eSport, or 'just a computer game', would be considered a ridiculous excuse?

This will change eventually, society's perception will adapt and people will start recognizing eSports. And all this will happen right as I hit the competitive scene full-stride! At least, that's the plan. But I'm confident it will work out. And hey, if it doesn't, I can always fall back on traditional methods like education. There's no reason why both couldn't be done.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

To My Fellow Aspiring Stars

This post will be about giving advice to others in a position similar to mine, explaining why I’m doing this whole blog thing, and talking about some key characteristics a potentially pro player needs.

The reason I am doing this is fairly simple. I thought of it this way – who wouldn’t want to read about what was going on in Puppey’s mind before he made it big and started bringing home the millions? Yeah, I must have a huge ego for thinking I’ll become as successful as someone like Puppey. Maybe. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I will. What’s important is what I believe and want, and that is not to become as famous as Puppey. What I want is to become even more known.

I believe that what you can achieve is directly proportional to how much you want it. All you are given is a body, a life and a mind. What you do with them is up to you – the only one that can tell you what you can and cannot is you, and the only one that can achieve something for yourself is you. 

There are no fortunate or unfortunate circumstances – there are the circumstances, and what you make of them. A situation is as good as you make it to be. This is why all successful people (and this does not necessarily mean rich or famous, just people that are happy and satisfied with what they have achieved) have one thing in common – strong will. The ability to recognize what it is that they truly want, to be able to surround themselves with positive energy, and to then direct that energy towards their goal.

Yeah, I sound like some sort of spiritual guide using terms such as spiritual energy and whatnot, but what I’m saying is that there is no point to have negative people around you. Now I don’t mean that anyone who isn’t fully behind your every single decision is bad – there’s a difference between negative discouragement and experienced advice.

Anyway, back to DotA. I’m doing this because I know it will be very valuable one day. When I do become known and successful in the DotA scene, I hope that the availability of this blog will help other aspiring stars. Even if it only gives a slight confidence boost to one guy or girl, it will be worth it.

I have doubts now, of course. Uncertainties trouble me every day – what if I really should focus more on school and studying, what if this dota career never works out and I end up just having invested tons of time into nothing but a hobby? I can spot many mistakes pros make when watching games, but they are playing under massive pressure, I’m just pubbing. Will I be able to keep my cool when I know half a million people are watching?

The answers to all those are relatively simple. Everything comes with practice and experience. While it is sure nice to think of the future, of getting interviewed and signing for fans, it’s important to not lose track of where you are now and what path you are going to take. Know your final goal, but visualize all the small steps you have to take and set mini-goals in between.

For me, right now, since I’m not yet in Bulgaria and cannot play past 11, my goal is to create as many contacts and know as many people as possible – potential candidates for my future team. I’m in two teams, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take every opportunity to stand in for friends. Building connections – they are important. Keep helping people out, and let the positive feeling you get after doing someone a big favor be the only thing you expect in return.

What to look for in potential team members is a lot, naturally. Do not expect to find suitable individuals easily, however, do not exclude the possibility of having them on your team during any given public match. Pubs are great for this – apart from focusing on improving your own play, take a look around you. Judging how good someone is at dota after occasionally glancing at what they’re doing a few times throughout one game is probably harder than beating navi without killing XBOCT. Might as well not even try then, right? Nope. A misled, prejudiced idea of someone’s skill is better than no idea. Get into a pub. See someone make a play that impresses you? Offer some sharp insight about the game you didn’t think of? Generally show signs of being a good, consistent player that rarely fucks up? Time to add that person. 

Talk to them a bit. A few lines back and forth should be enough to tell you whether they have any communicational skills. Add them on Skype, play some more games later, speak a bit on voice chat. You should easily have an idea of whether this person is someone you could see yourself on the same team with by now. If you can’t stand them, just don’t play with them anymore. You can either string them along constantly saying you’re busy or outright tell them you don’t want to be friends - that depends on you as a person.

With some luck, the person is not obnoxious and you’ve made a new dota buddy. Next step, get to know their circle of friends. See if you can get in and make more friends – chances are, if you like this guy, you will like his friends. So now you’re 5 man stacking every pub, that’s it, you can’t meet anyone anymore in pubs, right? Wrong, yet again! The enemy team also exists. Just because someone’s playing against you doesn’t mean you cannot notice whether they are good or not – in fact, it may even be easier sometimes. Next time you get outplayed, don’t resent that person – salute them, admit your mistake, and add them. Try to get as many people that are better than you around you (within a certain range, of course, not talking about adding s4 when you just learned how to play SF)

Keep expanding. The more people you know, the more of their friends you might play with, etc. – it’s an exponential increase of contacts. This should be relatively easy if you’re not yet on a very high level. If you’re at the level on which the only thing differentiating you and a pro is the fact that they’re on a team, then it may be a bit more difficult. But still, not impossible. However, at this point, when you are all at a relatively similar skill level, it’s time to start looking at other qualities. In order for these to become apparent, you will need to form a team and start playing scrims, team matchmaking or small cups.

Let’s start with the most important one – motivation. It’s simple. You can’t win scrims because your teammates don’t improve, can’t admit their mistakes, don’t take advice, and can’t keep a calm attitude about the game? Drop them. That’s really all there is to it. If they don’t have the necessary motivation, they do not want to get where you want to get. If they don’t want to, they won’t, and if you’re on their team, well, that means you won’t. Talk individually with them – where do they see themselves in the future? Do they share the same goals? Do they see themselves standing on the stage at The International X? If the answer is yes, congratulations, chances are very high that you’ve found yourself a potential (the same goes for them concerning you, so it’s a win-win). If no, you can still be friends of course, but you now know they are not a potential.

Now there is a huge list of other qualities, but everything can be worked on and improved given that the person has the motivation for it. Still, there are some things that simply cannot be changed, such as character. Some people are simply too arrogant or have too much of an ego to work well in a team. Some people have conflicting personalities. Some people simply have radically different views of the game, and this can be problematic, but is again not something that cannot be resolved, given the motivation. If this is the case that’s very sad but look at the situation analytically, and ask yourself whether you can afford to have these individuals on your team.

Once again there are many qualities, and I will list them below, but this is the last one I will expand on as I deem it to be one of the most important ones – positivity. During a game, being positive is easy if you’re winning. It’s not if you’re losing. Being positive is extremely important, because if you are not, you deprive yourself of many victories and comebacks. There are people that being complaining as soon as the enemy is leading – this leads to worse team morale, worse play and therefore an increased lead for the enemy, etc. The downward spiral basically secures the win for the enemy. Yes, there are games that are blatantly lost, and it does happen that pro teams call gg before even losing a set of barracks. This does not mean that as a practicing team you should give up as soon as things don’t seem to be going your way.

What exactly is a situation that one cannot come back from is borderline impossible to determine, because of the fact that the game is not solely in your hands. The enemies are not robots. Slip-ups are possible even in pro games, but especially in lower level games. For a long time I considered the enemy getting mega creeps being the only time I can legitimately give up, but then I came back from mega creeps while the enemies had all tier 2’s up as well as a 60,000 gold advantage, so that just further proved my point. To be fair, it was a pub, and yes of course the enemies threw it due to stupid item choices on some heroes, but the point still stands.

In pro games especially, if you do not practice playing from a losing situation, you are digging yourself a grave in the long run. The only thing teams will have to do to beat you is gain a significant advantage. Why can a team like EG be known for throwing? Because good teams understand how the game works and how the enemy’s mentality works, and how to work their way back into a leading position. You do not farm wherever you want to, you do not dive for kills, you do not take 5 on 5 engagements, etc. Playing from behind is not some impossible highskill+++ feat, it’s simply another mode of dota, one that you can shift in and out of multiple times during one game. Not learning how to play it is like refusing to play with or against 50% of the hero pool.

Now, let’s get back to the step-by-step guide to becoming a pro dota player. You’ve made many contacts, and you’ve formed a decent-sized list of around 10-15 potentials. They all have the following qualities, sorted by importance:

1.     Motivation

2.     Time (if they can’t invest several hours a day it’s not going to work, this usually depends on motivation)

3.     Skill (is ok if lacking at first, can be quickly made up for granted there is enough motivation)

4.     Communication skills (if they cannot communicate any thoughts, ideas, or problems they have, you’re going to end up with bottled up feelings brewing like a ticking disband-bomb)

5.     Game sense (they need to have a decent understanding of the game, of what makes heroes strong picks and why pro teams do the things they do)

Now that you have your potentials, pick 4 of the most promising and form a team. Feel free to swap people around as you see fit, within certain limits of course, you are friends after all.

After playing together for a while, keep trying stronger and stronger teams, and don’t be afraid to join as many cups and tournaments as you can. The key is to get your name known. Once you place well in some decent cups or tournaments, your hard work will finally start paying off.

From there on, to become the absolute best, well, there’s no secret formula. To achieve what no one has achieved before, you have to do what no one has done before. Think outside the box.

Introducing Myself

It’s nearly 2 am on a Sunday night, and I’ve got school tomorrow. Even though it’s the 10th of June, I don’t start my exams until next week. I’m still up because I’m writing a lab report. I procrastinated all day, and even though it would only have taken me 2 hours tops, I didn’t do it and chose to play some bad pubs, watch some live games between Kaipi vs EG and zRage vs 4FC, and read theories crafted by inexperienced players in the dota2 subreddit.
Right now I’m actually not completely done with the lab, but I decided to start writing this instead because on Sunday nights my thoughts always start flowing and perhaps writing them down will ease my mind. It’s warm as fuck, and I’m attentive because I think I just heard my mom walking outside my room, probably on one of her numerous midnight toilet visits. I’m 16 yet she’s still angry when I’m not in bed on time. I’m listening to Eminem; my favorite artist at the moment, and the song ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ comes on. Heh. Fitting. 

My mom’s put a timer on the Internet. Every school night at 10, a little device turns off the router by blocking its power source. At least not on weekends and holidays, right? Nope. It’s simply 11 then - wooptiedoo, an extra hour. What a simple little mechanism, what a life-changing impact it has on me.

I’m SlashStrike, a 16-year-old DotA player aiming to go competitive. I’ve got the skill. Anyone I play with for a few games tells me I’m good. I’ve started to believe it, and am trying to gain confidence from it, without letting the notion affect my play. I have the attitude still, I know I’m not flawless, and despite many years of experience I continue to learn every day, every game. I know what it takes to go pro, and am willing to sacrifice. Yet I cannot. What team could possibly have any potential if they lose one of their players every evening at 10? How can they find enough time to practice, let stand participate in any tournaments or cups?

I’m a 16-year-old student at the International School of - in -. Classic case of blessed with a sharp mind, praised throughout childhood, afraid to take any risks due to fear of not living up to smart reputation despite being a fucking kid, and ultimately achieving and spending the bare minimum amount of time I can on school. Still, I’m at the top of the class of the boys. There are some girls with better grades than me. Fuck ‘em, they’ve too much time on their hands.

There are millions of dota players. There are only about a hundred professional dota players, those on top. Many of the casuals are around their twenties, not working yet, some not even studying, but many studying with still tons of spare time on their hands. Time – the most invaluable resource. They have lots of it. But they don’t have the potential, dedication, motivation, mentality, positivity, teamwork spirit and general character, to be part of a professional dota team.

I do have those. I’m not being cocky, I simply feel the most important one, motivation, very strongly, and am certain it will allow me to improve anywhere else I might need to. Yet I don’t have the time. I’ve tried many conversations with my mom – it simply doesn’t work, her stance is too firm. But I’m not gonna let these years pass by. I’ve two years of high school left, two easy years that will leave me with plenty of free time. After that, I will go on to study in a possibly prestigious university, and I may not have the time to pursue my dream. I’m not going to let a little device and an outdated mindset prevent me from reaching out when the time is right. Now is the moment, and I’m going to make the jump.

I’m going to move to my father back in -. My parents are divorced. He will not restrict my shot at big money, at making a career out of what I love doing most. The school will be different, albeit from the same international baccalaureate system, the environment will be different, the people will be different. But there is one thing that matters most – I will be able to join and dedicate myself to a team. I will hate myself forever if I don’t take this shot. I will stay up sleeplessly countless nights before going into whatever job I may have, thinking what if. What if I wasn’t too scared to pursue my dream? Where would I have been?

That’s how I rationalize my decision. It’s better to regret doing something, than to regret not doing something. However I am still anxious. I’ve about a month left before I move. What’s going to happen? What’s awaiting me? Will I really be able to go pro? Will I never make it past being a tier 2 team, like 4FC, baguette, TCM, el Pride, and the likes? No offense to them, but I want to go beyond that. I want to be part of the next Na’Vi. I want to be part of the team whose name will be chanted through the halls of whatever grand venue Valve has chosen for The Internationals 4 and beyond when we step up on the podium right after defeating the second place runner-ups, I want to be able to look at the crowd as they gleefully regard my teammates and me, and to see their excitement as the new dota champions of the world have emerged.

I want to prove my mother wrong, to show her the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’m earning through ‘a video game’, and to give her what she didn’t help me to get, because despite anything, she is the one who brought me into this world. 

Now I realize I’m coming off as incredibly entitled and selfish, saying ‘I want’ many times in a row. I understand that it won’t happen overnight – nothing ever came out of thin air but regret. But I’m merely spilling my thoughts here. Maybe I won’t get anywhere, and after a while this will just be the tragic hopeful ignorant rambling of a delusional 16 year old.
But maybe I will succeed. Maybe in a year or two from now, you will see my name on the scoreboard, part of whatever team wins The International 4 or 5. And perhaps someone in my current situation will read this – the new young blood, someone who will be, like I am currently, troubled with doubts and uncertainties. And maybe, just maybe, it will give them the inspiration and confidence they need to go for it, and to pursue their dream. That is my hope.

Don’t hold back, don’t miss your chance – go for it.