Though Alliance's lineup may change, Jonathan "Loda" Berg remains.
The 28-year-old captain of Alliance is one of two players, alongside Jerry "EGM" Lundkvist, to remain on the team's active roster following The International 2016. Keeping an all-Swedish lineup, Loda and Alliance are far removed from the team's TI3 winning era as they look to keep motivated heading into 2017.
In an interview with theScore esports, Loda opened up about rebuilding Alliance, the team's recent performance and whether he considered retirement.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Alliance lost to Team NP at the Nothern Arena BEAT Invitational in Montreal.
How have you been doing since TI6? Alliance placed 9th-12th, outside of the Top 8, and broke up shortly after — well, "broke up." AdmiralBulldog, Akke and s4 left.
Yeah, I don't know if I would call it left, but yeah. I've been doing good I think. Honestly, I think after TI our break was quite natural. Nobody really wanted to... I mean a few of us wanted to stick together. I wasn't super sold on the idea personally, but me and s4 had some discussions regarding it after TI, then we reached a point where we... I mean we're very open about it and he said that he got an offer from OG, was considering it and I felt that it was a better to get a clean start pretty much and break up the team. I think so.
I mean, it was really fun and I was really happy to have that lineup, but it's very difficult to play and progress as a team that's... I don't know if I would use the word "stuck," but we all have these weird roles that we are playing on a team and it's very hard to break out of those roles.
You couldn't adapt?
I don't know if I would say adapt... maybe adapt is a good word, but at the same time it feels like a lot of our players were kinda locked in their roles, in their positions and that creates a lot of frustrations when it comes to playing in-game. As I said, it wasn't really that people left that team, as some people know Akke and Bulldog are still with the organization, it's just that we all needed a new start pretty much.
I decided to take it a little bit easier these past six months. It's been a long and intense couple of years and I'm pretty much back to the point where I'd rather build a team from the bottom up and be able to more strongly control that change or push for that progress. So I actually feel good playing with these guys and I'm happy playing with all of them.
So with building from the ground up, you recruited Limmp, Handsken, jonassomfan. How did that come about?
It was quite a smooth road to build that team. First of all, I was quite interested in playing with jonas, actually, as well as another younger Swedish player, but then we were also interested in playing with Handsken, so we had some talks there. Handsken had pretty much decided to play with Limmp and I had no personal experience playing with Limmp before.
I've played a little bit with Handsken, not in any team, but I've played some pubs and whatnot. With Limmp I haven't actually many games with him at all previously, so we had some different ideas, but that's pretty much the lineup we ended up with.
A lot of people were shocked that me and Akke broke up... heh, "broke up," but it was more like... I think Akke has kinda been standing in my shadow for quite a long time, I mean, shadow and shadow, but it's still like that in a way where he gets a lot of credit but... how to say... he's been very controlled by me, in a lot of ways. I love playing with him, and it's not impossible that we play with each other again, but I really really think that we needed a break.
Do you mean controlling his play?
No, not at all controlling his play, but how to say. Let's compare with another duo that was quite strong in the past, let's say KuroKy and Puppey. Puppey was still always the guy who was in the limelight, Kuro was there, but they were that kind of duo as players where Puppey was the one who...
He was the one that was known, he was at the front.
Yeah, exactly. Kuro got a lot of credit as well for some plays and etc., but Puppey was always getting the cred for the strats and whatnot. And often when it comes to these players playing with each other for a very long time, it's a, in my experience at least, most of the time those players are quite central to the whole team.
I think Akke needs to take more space in a team. I think if he wants to play more, he needs to take more space to be able to grow a bit by himself in a new environment. And me too as well, I need it as well.
Did you plan to make an all-Swedish team again with Alliance?
Well honestly, there were some other plans that I had, but those plans would probably have meant that I would have left Alliance.
You were thinking of joining another team?
Which team were you thinking of joining?
Well I can't say, I don't want to share, but it was one of the better teams.
But you thought about it.
Yeah, I did consider it, for sure, to play with someone who I think people would have been surprised if we played together. But yeah, I still felt like doing that would mean that I wouldn't have as much control as I wanted, so it wouldn't really be my team, in that sense. So I felt more comfortable building an all-Swedish lineup. We were considering some other players, but personally, I'm more at ease with an all-Swedish lineup.
Did you always want to be captain when you joined a team?
Not at all. I'm not really the captain... I mean, I'm not a drafter, but I am kind of the captain I guess, but I'm not the drafter on the team. Both yes and no. I think that I'm a strong personality. I can follow, but it has to be someone that is a strong leader that actually controls the team.
I mean, there are some captains that you can feel that they are a lot more in control of everything in the team, you know what I mean. Not only in-game, but it's just very clear and I'd rather play with that kind of captain than in a team where everyone pretty much helps out themselves.
Who's drafting for Alliance currently?
Currently it's Handsken, he's been drafting for us since the beginning of this lineup.
Are you happy with how the team's been playing in the past few months?
I mean, obviously I would have liked it to have gone better. For example, the qualifier for the Major could have gone better for sure, but at the same time I do think we had some stellar performances. I saw a lot of strength in those games, in comparison to some lineups that I've had in the past.
Sometimes when you lose, you don't really feel that you can win, that's how it is with some teams and lineups, but with this team I felt like we could actually win. I think we knew what were our weaknesses, but those weaknesses are something that takes quite a long time to change.
I think we had some very good games in the qualifier. Against Escape we should have won, but then especially in the game against Liquid, where we had a really good defense and were playing from behind, then we were able to change it to a 30K lead, then we kinda threw it away. After that game we were quite morally down, at the same time, I think if we won that game I'm quite certain we could have gone all the way.
How do you recover from failing to qualify for a Major?
It's hard to say. You need to chill a bit, put things in perspective I guess. A positive thing is that we have this tournament coming up, WESG coming up in January, so it's easier when you have LAN tournaments to prepare for.
And then again in Dota, the first six months of the season doesn't really matter, it sucks to say that but that's pretty much the feeling most players and teams felt last year, from the way Valve seems to think about their invites for the Majors, but especially TI. We did all we could to win, but what I mean is that, you don't really feel that... I don't really feel that stressed, where you have to perform now. I mean we can just as well perform in six months and that's right before TI and then we get an invite.
That's what I'm saying, it's really not the end of the world. But you really need something to be able to look forward to and aim for, because without a goal, it's quite hard. If you sit down and the next big tournament is qualifier for the next Major and that's in a couple of months, I don't think that really works so well.
You've played Dota for so long, both the original and Dota 2. Have you ever given any thought to retirement?
Of course, I mean, I think every Dota player gives thought to retirement, even if they are not as old as me. It's just how it is, especially if you don't perform at the top level. I think every year after TI, I do consider it, for different reasons, but personally it's harder to be as — I wouldn't say as motivated, but as seamlessly motivated perhaps.
Especially after winning TI, there's been a long road where, not only me personally, but where everyone had a hard time getting back that same kind of motivation and drive to really excel. And even when you're winning tournaments, you keep striving to improve a lot, so that you're ahead. I feel that we didn't really do that with our past lineup.
When we made the lineup we went to tournaments quite quickly and after that we kind of went back to maybe a bit of mindset that we had after winning TI3, where... it's so hard to put a word on it, but we were a bit more relaxed, people were not willing to fight with each other to move forward. There were a lot a of situations where you don't take those hard discussions or hard talks with each other because maybe we're very good friends, or various reasons.
I just feel like we didn't have that drive and it really kills your motivation as a Dota player and that's not just only me personally, it's not like I was motivated and then the rest were not, but I feel like we were not motivated in the same direction and I could just notice that other people on the team were not getting along inside the game. Most of my players were introverts as people, s4, EGM, though Bulldog I wouldn't really call an introvert, but he's not as vocal as he is on his stream, so to speak.
My biggest frustration was that I felt that I had to get other people to clear up their differences, and I was quite unhappy playing that role, so it was a very natural split-up I feel. We did consider sticking together, but it felt, for sure, the best choice. I don't regret it at all, even though we didn't qualify for this Major.
The teams right now, everyone is very even. And even if I take us out of the equation, look at the Europe qualifiers, there were a lot of good teams and all the teams could have taken games off of each other. When you didn't show up with 110 percent, you got kicked out, look at Secret, who looked very dominating during the qualifier. We beat them when we were already out of the tournament and they lost their top seed, then they lost two series and they're out of the tournament.
I think a lot of people expected them to be first, but then Ad Finem got first and VP second.
That surprised a lot of people.
Yeah, it was a big surprise. To pro players it was a little bit of a surprise, but at the same time, the pro players especially know and feel that most teams can really beat each other and it's especially that thing, if you show up and you're not as ready as they are, you're going to lose. Everyone really wants to win and that's just how it is.
Ad Finem, I'm very happy for them, both them and VP for winning. Ad Finem have stuck together for a long time, they've changed a few players over the years, but still they have really, really been working very long, I would even say a year or more, just to be where they are right now. And it just shows that not every team can perform overnight, there's a lot of players that need to build that confidence, not only in themselves, but in each other, to be able to play in those top games.
I think it's a lot about fear. Some teams are scared of playing other teams, even though they're actually on the same level, just because they fear the other players on that team.
They have a fear of losing?
Yeah maybe, but I feel like Ad Finem felt like that before, where they were super strong against a lot of teams, but as long as they played one of the Tier 1 teams, they would play worse. I mean, maybe they wouldn't have won in the end anyways, but I mean, they would play worse than they would versus Tier 2 teams that they were confident against. While some of those Tier 2 teams would beat the Tier 1 teams.
It's something that people don't discuss at all in Dota is these specific matchups. It's weird that no one considers this thing. Look at CIS: I feel a top CIS team like VP, every time they play another CIS team, I feel like they, in some cases, have a harder time beating them perhaps because they've played in the same scene together and they know each other as people and players inside and outside the game. So they might have a harder time against a team like FlipSid3 or Fantastic Five than they would have against Secret.
It's the same thing in every region. I feel like there's teams in SEA that you would never expect this team... look at Faceless, they pretty much never lost a game, then the other day they played in ProDota cup and they lost a game against this local Singaporean team that I haven't really seen so much of. They face each other in pubs and all these things, and that gives them a small edge. Teams are less afraid of them, because they play them all the time.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Preston Dosza is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.