As the post-TI5 roster shuffles begin to calm down and teams settle in to practice before the tournament season begins, I had the chance to speak with Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling about his team and new organization Digital Chaos, Majors, the drive to be the best and of course, Techies.
You put together this new roster yourself, why did you go with Digital Chaos as your organization?
The reason that we picked Digital Chaos over anyone else is because they sort of have a new model for teams and players in Dota. It’s more of a revenue share model. So how old teams would work in Dota 2 is that teams would give players a salary and that’s all.
So they would get a salary, they would take a cut of prize winnings and they’d be provided support. So if the team grew, say the team started off for a year and they paid them a low salary and the team got really really good, and they got all these new sponsors because the team was doing really really well, then the players wouldn’t actually see any of that money until contracts would be renewed, negotiations came around so players didn’t really know how much they were worth because they don’t know how much the sponsors were paying them.
The biggest thing about Digital Chaos is that they are going to be pretty transparent with us. We’ll know how much money is going in, how much money is coming out and we’ll get a percentage cut — I can’t say how much that is — of the sponsor revenue or stuff like that, and we can grow together as a team so when we do well they do well. It’s not just like we’re doing really well but it’s not reflecting in terms of our salary.
In the old model the players essentially wouldn’t see any of the money from any sponsors coming in after their contracts were locked in?
Yeah, so for example on EG we had T-Mobile come in before TI and the players won’t see any of that money under that model because T-Mobile sponsors them but after EG has paid off their operational budget for the team any extra sponsors are pure profit for them and the players don’t get anything.
How are things going with the new roster? Have you had time to practice much yet?
We actually haven’t played yet. People have been on vacation. I don’t think anyone expected the roster — people sort of knew the roster lock was so soon but people are going on vacations anyways after TI... so we’ve played pubs and we sort of know each other, we watch each other’s games but in terms of playing together as a team, we’re starting tomorrow [Sept. 3].
Why did you choose Biryu to be captain and drafter on the new team?
What I always say about Biryu to people that ask me about him is that he got really good and he didn’t have anyone to teach him. He doesn’t really have any competitive experience and the way he got good and how he got good is he developed as a captain in pubs which I think means that once someone takes the time to teach him, he’ll get really good really fast because he already got so good on his own. He thinks really fast and he comes up with good ideas and he’s concise and clear about what he wants to do in a game.
He’s in England right now for school right?
Yep, he’s currently a Viet national studying in England, we’ll be moving him to Toronto as soon as his visa stuff’s figured out which is already under way.
Toronto? Is there going to be a team house in Toronto?
No. We’ll be five people on North America servers, three in Canada, two in the US.
USW to EUW seems like it would be challenging
Yeah, me and TC are both west and it is hard to play but I think that a lot more tournaments will be region locked just because the NA scene is a lot more developed than last year and tournaments are starting to realize that if you put multiple teams from like North America and EU in the same group it makes online tournaments worthless.
We’ve been hearing that a lot about online tournaments — EG were vocal about it last year
It’s not really Dota when you have to play on that high of a ping.
Do you think online tournaments still have a place in the competitive scene?
I think online tournaments should be region locked. They definitely have a place, especially for newer teams like not every team’s going to be able to afford to go to a LAN, or want to go to a LAN together until they’ve had some success in online tournaments but I don’t think that online qualifiers for every single team should still be a thing like there are teams that have proven themselves to be the best I mean right now that’s only EG. Maybe VP because everyone else had roster shuffles. I think online tournaments still have a place.
I guess for the online tournaments that are region locked and don’t have the huge teams, it’s harder to get a big viewership.
Sure, the thing is that online tournaments should exist where the market sizes them I guess? Like you shouldn’t have some giant 500k online only tournament that’s across two regions and people play it because it’s so much money even though they’re playing Europe from US West or something like that. I think the market demand for online tournaments will reflect how big they are. There might be an exception, like for example the Captain’s Draft tournament or something if that’s happening again. That might be really big, but one exception is probably okay.
Back to the Digital Chaos roster — Jared "Pandaego" Fletcher is joining as coach, how will that work?
I expect pandaego to have to learn a lot in order to be able to coach us. I think that we have the means to assist to him to become a really good coach and from what I’ve heard, his biggest strength is that he’s a really hard worker and if we ask him to do something he’ll do it and he’ll help us.
But we’re a new team and coaches are new to Dota so it’s hard for him to expect him to just come in revolutionize how our team works. It’s going to be sort of a learning process for all of us. We have a benefit because Bulba was by far the best coach in the West so we know exactly what we want from a coach.
Where do you see the team in its first few months, do you have any short term goals as a team?
Yeah, I mean, I expect us to be Top 2 in NA, I expect EG to win the next major and I expect to be able to compete with them for the second major. That’s the timeline I have in my head because I think EG is by far the best in the world so it’s not realistic for a new team, like we have two players that don’t really have competitive experience but I think that we can still get to Top 2 in NA and we’ll still be a strong team, we’ll be able to compete in the majors just not with EG maybe.
It seems like teams that win TI go on to under-perform, why do you think this happens and do you think EG are at risk of this?
I’m sure it’s just on the players. They stop trying as hard as they should be, and I think that winning TI is the pinnacle of the Dota world and it shouldn’t be. Like the pinnacle should be just being the best and maintaining that. I know a lot of teams take really long breaks and then don’t ever catch up in terms of playing their pubs, like in reference to EG I don’t expect them to be like that especially since Arteezy joined and he’s probably really hungry because he left his old team and then his old team won TI.
Do you think that having four Majors during the year will help keep the drive up as opposed to having one “pinnacle” per year?
Yeah, I guess the Majors system will make players more hungry for winning, it will make the year more balanced. It’s hard after you win TI to be like — “Hey, these next tournaments for the next 9 months add up to about 1/10 of what we got at TI, why are we even playing them” and then you try again at TI but it’s too late by then so yeah, the majors will really help with that.
I don’t think people should be satisfied just winning one TI. That’s what sort of happened I guess. Teams won one TI and got complacent.
It can’t be the case that no one wants to be a two time winner though.
I mean, there’s been five TIs and no one has been a two time winner and that’s pretty ridiculous.
You said that you expected every team to pick up a Techies during TI, do you think more teams are likely to start playing the hero now?
I don’t think people realize how good the hero is, and I’m only saying stuff like this because I fully expect him to get patched out but that hero breaks the game in a way that like, if a team plays him properly they really shouldn’t be losing unless the other team has like a Naga or Lesh and like that’s basically the only thing. So people should pick up Techies but... like everyone knew he was [imbalanced] at TI but no one bothered trying to learn how to play him, even the teams that play him they sort of played him a bit poorly.
Why do you think no one bothered?
I don’t know, It’s sort of weird. I guess it’s also like Dota has 110 heroes and you have to learn all of them and maybe you lose to something in a pub but when you lose to Techies I think most people’s reaction is like “Oh, that’s bulls**t” not “Hey, that hero is actually strong. It’s killing me, I should learn this”. So the way that Techies beats people in pubs isn’t conducive to making people want to learn him for the competitive scene I guess.
If I played a pub coming into the patch against a Leshrac mid and the Leshrac just completely s**t on me mid, I’d be like “Wow, that’s a really strong hero” but if I run into mines six times in a game I’m not gonna be like “Wow that’s a really strong hero” I’m gonna say “I want to quit this game”.
Say he doesn’t get nerfed into oblivion in the next patch — then do you think people will start playing him?
I think they’ll have to. The thing is… this doesn’t reveal anything so like I didn’t even get to use any of my Techies strats at TI. Like we picked the hero but I didn’t do anything that I wanted to. So like that hero still has a lot of potential and no one even tried to explore it… and they just first banned it which really annoyed me.
Do you think that a big patch is due before the first Major?
What kinds of changes do you expect (other than Techies nerfs)?
It’s hard to predict balance patches because I don’t know what direction they’re going to go. They might want a stable patch for the first major because they have two more majors to test more explosive stuff on, so that might mean just some smaller nerfs to like Leshrac, Naga, Techies, Tuskar, Gyro etc and then some small buffs to heroes that are a bit underpowered but you know like the patch before they just added eight items out of nowhere and just completely changed the game so I don’t really know what direction they’re going to go at all.
There seems to be a lot of hate and flame online for the pro scene, or tournaments. How do you think that could be improved? Is there some way that the public could be more informed about how the Dota pro scene works?
I don’t think that’s a Dota-specific thing, I think that when you take anonymous identity on the internet and you just let people say whatever they want you’re just going to get a community like that. It’s not any different for pretty much any forum or sport I’ve seen, like any news article with anonymous comments, the comments are terrible so I don’t really see a way of changing that and I think compared to all those things like sports and stuff, Dota is inherently more complicated. Not inherently better, just more complicated, so it makes it even harder to do something like that, where you have general understanding of the game, like how teams function and stuff. Teams don’t really want other teams to know how they function too because part of some team’s strengths is how they function.
But in terms of things like you told me earlier, about how DC is handling player payment. I feel like not enough of players or organizations talk enough about that kind of thing.
It’s just eSports in general is such a new industry and it’s not at a point where you want… Salaries aren’t impressive enough to make them public. Like in sports you say “That guy’s making 10 million dollars, wow I want to be a sports player” and in eSports.. in Dota specifically the prize pools are sorta like that, so it’s really cool that we can do that in Dota but I don’t think we can do that for salaries. I mean it’s not like we make no money. Our top tier players all make a good living but it’s not something that like if a parent sees it they’ll be like “Wow hey I want my son to be a player” like they do with a sports athlete, even though they’re equally unlikely.
Do you think that the success of teams with newer players like CDEC and EHOME changed the way people think about having new players on a roster?
I don’t really know. The new players are all like in general superior mechanically to the older players. It’s mostly true, not really a rule. But you sort of want one of those players on your team. I think that the biggest thing is seeing what SumaiL could do at like DAC and TI and stuff like that, that said “Hey we want someone who’s mechanically as strong as that” and also I think a lot of the old players don’t particularly want to play with other old players as much too.
I don’t know after this TI there’s too many teams that factioned off, you can’t have a team with just old players because there’s additional teams… I don’t know what it is. I don’t think it’s specifically CDEC and EHOME even though that might have played a part in how people thought about like how they should interact with their team maybe. But I don’t people say like “Oh CDEC was relatively new, I want to grab four new players” I don’t think anyone did that.
Well not four new players, necessarily…
Yeah, like everyone wants some new because new blood will always bring new ideas and... it makes it easy to learn when you have to learn together I guess?
It certainly feels during this shuffle more teams have brought on new players than in past years.
They are. It’s also like the mmr leaderboards that really helps because if someone is 8k mmr I can objectively say they’re really good at Dota. I don’t care what hero you’re picking, if you got to 8k mmr you’re very good at the game. So I might know more than that person about the game but there’s no way I’m mechanically better than them. So stuff like that makes it easier to pick up new players.
One last very important question, what’s your favorite cheese?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore eSports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.