Although it is only the first Valve event he's attended, Mihai "canceL^^" Antonio was a key factor in compLexity's twin upsets over Evil Geniuses in The Boston Major 2016 Group Stage. Thanks to his Outworld Devourer play in the group opener, coL were able to turn around a difficult series and take down NA's top squad, and then beat them again in the decider to finish second in their group.
The Romanian rookie — who got his American visa less than a month ago — took the time to speak with theScore esports ahead of coL's opening match in the bracket stage. He talked about what it's been like playing on his first professional team, and how his history in boxing has helped him become a better player.
How do you guys feel about your group stage performance? Obviously there were some pretty great upsets for you.
We're not afraid of anyone, we're just super confident, even though EG is probably the top-tier team in the world right now, and they're favorites by every single Dota player.
We're feeling pretty confident, even though we're considered underdogs. We just prepared ourselves, we scrimmed a lot and we just beat EG. We tried something different against LGD, the Chinese team — we don't really play against Chinese teams, they're pretty different than the European or NA teams.
In what way are they different?
They have different strategies. Like we played against Rubick mid, and we didn't really expect that, and it worked pretty well.
So they're really different, but that doesn't mean that...
It doesn't mean they're unbeatable.
Have you guys been able to practice for the main stage? I know some teams have been having power outages.
Everyone had power issues. We've been trying to scrim yesterday against Team NP, it didn't really work out because we played five minutes then the power turned off and then the power came up. Once again we tried to play a scrim one more time, five minutes, then it went down.
We gave up, watched some shows, I tried to stream, the internet sucks so I couldn't stream either, so I just tried to play some Dotes on some NA pubs.
Was it just yesterday or has it been hitting you a lot?
I think it wasn't just yesterday. I think we had many days with problems, but yesterday it was many times, like three, fives times, I don't know how many times.
You mentioned your multiple series against EG, that's a long-standing rivalry, for swindlezz especially. Do you feel that rivalry even though you're a newer player, or is it his thing?
I think it's his thing, but I can feel it. Whenever I'm just close to him, I can just feel the pressure, I can feel the rivalry.
Do you like being part of that? Stepping into something that has history?
I just like to be humble and don't really care about it. Just play as good as we can and move on. We don't have to stop there and be super cocky, we just have to move on.
If you want to become the best player in the world and the best team in the world, you can't just stop after you beat EG twice, you have to move on, be humble, get over it.
You seemed to transition into compLexity really well, but we haven't really seen much hero diversity from you yet. Is that something that you guys are saving for a different tournament or the main stage here? Or are you right now still in the stage of, "compLexity's learning how to run your heroes"?
We're just playing heroes. If it's a Rubick mid game, then I'm going to play Rubick mid. We didn't really prepare anything special for the tournament, we just play Dota. We just play whatever we learned in our past three weeks.
How does playing with compLexity, and these players specifically, differ from your past experiences and expectations?
I've never had a professional team with an organization, I've been only playing online or in national or Romanian LANs, but it's a really big difference playing in Romanian LANs with their headsets, mice and keyboards.
It feels amazing to have a team house to practice, to be in the same house to talk, to get criticized, to criticize everything and learn every single day. To have a chef cook healthy food and whatever, it feels really amazing.
I didn't really think this is how it was going to be. I thought it was going to be simple, but it's even better than how I expected. I like it and I'm looking forward to find more... time with compLexity and new things with them as well.
Let's talk a little bit about meta. There have been some pretty big winrate shifts toward Radiant in this group stage. You only played Dire — is that because you prefer Dire? Or was it because you prefer first pick and other teams picked Radiant?
I don't know, to be honest. I have never really spoke with my team about that. We just choose first pick, and they're choosing Radiant. Or I'm not really sure. Or we choose Dire. I don't really know.
For your role, do you have a preference?
No, I don't have a preference. I'm just playing whatever fits best for my team.
What are the differences for your role between Radiant and Dire in the current meta?
I don't think there's difference.
The next Major is going to have a South American qualifier. How do you guys feel about that?
Well, I think it's even better because we're getting super motivated to qualify for it. If we do not win the Boston Major, we're going to get directly invited. But, I think we're gonna be motivated just to become the best NA team and get qualified. And afterwards just get invited.
So it doesn't matter to you that there might be one fewer qualifier spot for NA?
No. I really feel like this is gonna help all the teams, like, you shouldn't be pussy. "Oh, two qualifiers, we're gonna get beaten by NP, EG, DC or whatever and we're just gonna get a second qualifier."
No, you're just having one qualifier, and you're training to become the best NA team, qualify for the Major, and then win the Major and become the best team in the world.
You think it helps fight complacency, that there's fewer spots?
Do you think it would also help teams stay motivated if no teams were directly invited?
Yes maybe... yeah, yeah, 100 percent sure. If EG and DC are not gonna get invited, they are gonna be super motivated to win the fucking NA qualifiers. Unless they're gonna be like, "Oh, we're gonna beat compLexity, we're gonna beat NP. ... They're just underdogs ..."
Probably the same thing happened in the group stages. I'm not really sure, but they probably consider it as, because we've been playing against them in the past one month, like at least three times in some online tournaments, and we kind of got owned pretty hard and they underestimated us and we kept learning. We keep moving forward, and we learned and we scrimmed and we trained, and now we beat EG twice in the group stage — because we were super confident and we were not afraid of them.
Does single-elimination benefit you guys because of that confidence?
I think it's gonna be a benefit for us to be honest, just because we're super confident and we're not afraid of anyone. It's gonna be like 50/50 y'know? It's either you're winning or you're losing. Nothing much you can do about that.
Is there anything that you'd like to see in the new patch? Either as a pub player or as a professional?
As a pub player, I really wanted to have Tinker back from 6.83 I think. E-Blade Tinker and Dagon with March going through Magical Immunity, like BKB or Ancients. Everybody wants to see Tinker, but that's not gonna happen probably anymore. I don't really have expectations I'm looking forward to in the new patch.
So, you're not from the Americas region. How is pubbing or scrimming here different from —
Worse. I don't want to be rude or cocky or whatever, but NA region sucks.
Don't have to tell me twice! (laughs)
Like, people are just giving up faster here. They're just losing their lane, and they're just giving up. They're feeding, they're flaming each other, they're flaming the player who's trying to win the game. You can't talk with them.
The difference between NA and Europe is ... NA is on the ground here, and Europe is here above the sky. Europeans are actually the most tryhardest.
But [Europe is] really having behavior issues. They're really toxic people. They're just playing, they're super good, they're super talented people, players, but they're really having issues with their behavior.
I don't know about [NA's] behavior or attitude because most of the players from NA are on teams like EG, DC. These are the top teams. And you don't really know information about the other players, and you don't really care about them too much. But in Europe, there are a lot of players that they've got big potential, but issues with their behavior.
Which of your teammates has taught you the most?
I've learned from many people. Most of them — bOne7 brought me into the professional scene on Kaipi. I learned a lot from Kaipi. I played superbad, we fell from some Majors, for StarLadder tournaments and whatever, and I got kicked afterwards.
And I learned a lot from that time. And he helped me a lot to become a good player. I was inspired a lot by him. And then I tried to play from 7k MMR — I was 7k in March — and then I just went up to 8.6k MMR, because I was super motivated and I had nothing to do but keep playing. So I learned from bOne7 a lot of things, I really want to give him a big shout out.
Right now, I got some help from w33haa as well, and from some other people outside of Dota, and from my teammates right now, because they're helping me to become a better player. All of them — there's not a specific person who says, "Hey you have to do this," who's going into private sessions saying, "Hey, do this, do this." No. Everyone is just criticizing me in face, and just telling me what is better to do for the team and for myself. So my teammates, plus w33haa and bOne7 especially.
So how has your family taken your move to the United States. Do they support you? What is that relationship like?
Well, I'm living only with my mother. They're divorced. My parents are divorced. My dad doesn't really know what I'm doing, I don't know what he's doing either. But my mother is just supporting me. She doesn't really know what I'm doing but she's just supporting me. She really loves that I'm happy.
I'm just, I've never done that before. I've never traveled around the world to play the game that I love. And she is just happy. She might cry, she might miss me, I know I miss her too, but... I think she is just very happy for what I'm doing.
What were your expectations before you were invited here to play with compLexity?
I really felt like that was a really big opportunity for me to prove myself, because I learned a lot from my mistakes that I've done in the past. I had some expectations to play some tournaments. I didn't really expect for us to qualify to the Major, and it's really nice. And the big goal is to go to TI. We just have to keep moving.
And those were my expectations, just to qualify for small events, try to play hard, try to prove myself. But right now I don't have to prove myself anymore, because everyone trusts me. We trust in each other, that's what matters I think.
If you don't trust in one of your teammates I think the game goes wrong. The team goes in some wrong way. So we all trust in each other, and we just play, train and get better day by day.
What about you personally? Before you were looking at Dota as a career, was there something else that you were thinking about doing as a job?
No, like, this was not my job. I just loved to play Dota. When I'm coming from movie, from hanging out with my friends, from a club, from whatever, I just want to go stream and play Dota.
I used to be a boxer for like two and a half years before I joined the Dota scene, the gaming scene. But then I stopped because of some fighting issues — blah, blah, blah — and then high school issues. Then I just got into Dota by some sort of depression after I got kicked from a Counter-Strike team.
That's a really big story, but that's how I got into Dota, and I just didn't really expect... like, I didn't play it for a career. I was just playing and I wanted to become the best. I wanted to beat everyone. I wanted to stream-snipe big players, EternalEnvy, Dendi, everyone. I just wanted to stream-snipe them, beat them. I was getting super hot, super motivated to play against them.
Playing as a 5k player against 7k players, professional players, they had 20k viewers on the stream and I had like five viewers, ten viewers. And then I beat them super hard with Tinker because that was a Tinker meta. And suddenly I'm having 1k viewers on my stream. That was really hot. And from that moment, I just wanted to become like them.
I wanted to be pro. I wanted to compete, I wanted to be on the stage. Now this is a really big opportunity for me, because here I am. I worked really hard for that. I'm really proud of myself and I'm not gonna stop here.
Did your boxing history, did that instill in you any character traits or attitudes that help you in Dota?
As a Dota player, you actually become a really lazy person. Like, you're lazy to go to gym, "Ah, I don't want to go to gym, I'm just gonna play some Dota and stream 12 hours a day. I don't want to go outside with my friends." Boxing helps you to become a very disciplined person. You have a really good routine.
You want to eat healthy food — but since you're a Dota player, this is a really big issue for most of us. I mean, at least for me, I'm a super lazy person. I mean, not a lazy person, but comfortable, y'know? You're just feeling super comfortable sitting at a computer and playing. And that's pretty much it.
Boxing helped me, but just in my mind, telling me I can do that, I can go to gym, I can start running, I can eat healthy food. I can just play 8 hours a day. But then, the other mind says, like the same mind, says "Fuck it. I'm just going to play."
The boxing helped me a lot being a very disciplined person in those times where... Like when I used to be a boxer, I had a really healthy life. I used to look very good, now I'm a big fat pig! Okay, I'm not a pig, but I used to be really skinny, but super having muscles and whatever, like 50 kilograms. I felt really good. Now I don't really feel the same good as I used to feel.
Are you ever worried that your lifestyle might have effects on your body long-term?
I don't know. I think the only reason it actually affects my lifestyle is just because I want to do that... If I want to play Dota 12 hours a day, there are going to be consequences. I'm going to eat all day and then I'm going to become a bit fat, I'm gonna have an unhealthy life. But at the same time, I can just play 10 hours a day and two hours I can just go run, go to the gym.
It's pretty weird, I just feel super comfortable. Sometimes you don't want to do that. But you have to do it, because you have to find the balance in your life.
Ryan "Gorgon the Wonder Cow" Jurado writes about esports and freelances for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.