It's been a long road for Alliance, from winning The International 3 to a disappointing 11th-12th at TI4, and completely missing out on TI5. Now the band is finally back together — with the same roster than won TI3 — and with a couple of pretty big tournament wins under their belt at StarLadder i-League Season 1 and WCA 2015, Alliance are determined to make their way back to the top.
Joakim "Akke" Akterhall is a support player and one of the original members of No Tidehunter, the team that would become Alliance in early 2013. Ahead of the main event this week, he took time out of Alliance's busy bootcamp schedule to talk to theScore esports about the team's difficult times, his bond with his teammates and their expectations for TI6.
When you were headed to TI4, the last TI you attended, you had been through a minor slump, but you seemed confident that you could finish Top 6 when you talked to Ken "Hot_Bid" Chen about it. What’s different this year?
I think we are a lot more hungry to win now than we were back in 2014. The gap between the top teams is getting smaller and smaller each year though, so it's very hard to predict any results, in my opinion.
I guess when I spoke to Hot_Bid back then, I was just confident we would be able to adjust and perform and we did the year before that, but it was easier said than done.
What do you think has been behind Alliance’s performance in the past few months?
We have continuously been trying to work on our flaws and tried to not get demotivated by losses, but instead looked at the games and tried to learn from them.
Throughout the whole year I have had TI as a main goal, but at the same time tried to do my absolute best at all the tournaments we have played in. I really want to finish this year's TI knowing I did my best and hopefully also be happy with the results we get compared to the early exit at TI4, and last year where we didn't qualify at all.
Do you feel confident that your performance at TI will be a step up from the first half of this year?
It's impossible to say for sure, but obviously I hope and think so. In the end it all comes down to how we play at the group stage and the playoffs.
Tell us about your bootcamp. Is it all Dota, all the time?
It's mostly Dota, but we try to do some other things as well to mix practice with fun, like movies and such. Kelly brought a badminton net, so we played some badminton as well to exercise a bit, and we have also played some old retro games between breaks when we are done with looking through replays and talking about draft and such.
It seems like you’ve decided to work through things rather than change rosters, and that strategy seems to be working for other top tier teams as well, like OG and Liquid. What do you see as the benefits of sticking together?
The benefits are that you know each other very well. You know what flaws every person has and what they excel at — there are no random surprises that pop up out of nowhere that you didn't know of before.
The problem with new teams is that it usually is all nice and good in the beginning, but after a while when you have gotten through the "friendship phase" and need to bring up problems (both inside and outside of the game) is where it can be very problematic in a team if you can't handle that well. We went through that phase a long time ago, so I'd say we have a very healthy relationship as a team.
Do you feel that you’ve improved your ability to work through personal problems together since the team broke up post-TI4?
For sure! Even though I can only speak for myself, I feel that the break we had was good for us in the long run, since we got to miss and appreciate each other more. In the end we all know that the reason we split up was so we could send s4 on a mission to infiltrate Puppey's team to get information from them, and so EGM could roam around to master the roaming role.
With syndereN headed to the Wild Cards, have you found a new coach for TI6?
Unfortunately not, but I'm very happy he was able to join us at The Manila Major. He was able to point out a lot of mistakes and faults we had, not only inside the game but also outside. I still think about some of the things he said, so I feel he made a big difference for us, even though our performance there wasn't the best.
In your blog after the TI qualifiers, you wrote that when you’re in a position where you “need” to win a game there’s a potential to overthink or play too carefully. What kinds of things do you do as a team to make sure this doesn’t happen?
We have been trying to work on that ever since after TI4, where we had a bad start in the group stage and thought we most likely were out, but in the end it all came down to one game. We talk and remind each other that it's not over until it's over, to make sure we don't come into a bad mindset.
Your blog posts give fans a rare insight into the day-to-day life and thoughts of a big Dota 2 team. Why do you think there aren’t more players that do this kind of thing for their fans?
I guess a big reason is that the players are't the kind of people who like to write blogs or want to spend time doing it. When I started to do it, my goal was to write at least two posts a week, but I haven't been able to keep that up. When I've played a lot of games, practice or officials, it's hard to sit down and write a blog straight after when I get some time, instead of spending time with my girlfriend or doing something else.
I like to blog though, so I will try to work on it in the future! But for example, during our bootcamp the last two weeks, I haven't been writing anything at all and barely posted anything on Twitter or Instagram either. All the focus has just been on practice and TI.
As someone who’s competed in three Internationals and three Majors, do you still get excited about TI? What are you most looking forward to?
I'm definitely excited for this year's TI. After not being able to attend the one last year, I really wanted to be able to play there again, and I'm proud of myself for being able to achieve that goal — even though I won't be satisfied unless we also manage to perform there. Qualifying was only a small step of the dream to win again.
I can't believe it's only two years ago we were at TI4 though. It feels like it has been ages since then.
Are there any heroes in the meta, or starting to get popular in the meta, that you particularly enjoy playing?
I really enjoy playing Phoenix, but unfortunately we haven't had the best results with that hero so far. Other than that, I enjoy playing most heroes that we need to pick as a team. At one point quite some time ago I really hated to play Bane, but after playing him in a lot of pubs I started to like it instead.
What do you feel about the current patch compared to past Major/TI patches? Does it feel fairly balanced?
I feel that the meta has been in a good spot for a couple of months now. There isn't any strategy that is superior to the others, so everyone kinda plays what they like and it works. It's also fun when you get to switch around from early-, mid- and lategame-oriented lineups!
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her adventures at TI6 on Twitter.