DotaBlast met Dota 2 statistician and panelist, Alan “Nahaz” Bester, for an interview, at The Frankfurt Major.
Alan Bester is a Professor of Economics at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. He seems like one of those professors who can easily inspire students to stand on their desks in scholar rapture. His speech is learned, but accessible, often showcasing a slight touch of an unapologetic braininess, his tone – passionate, to say the least.
Bester’s doctoral thesis was a study of the MCMC Methods for Random Field and Latent Factor Models in Finance. He has won several awards for Excellence in Teaching and has had numerous scientific papers featured in a couple of prestigious Economics Journals. (I tried to read through one of the papers he co-authored, called “Fixed-b Asymptotics for Spatially Dependent Robust Nonparametric Covariance Matrix Estimators”. I got disheartened from the second line of its introductory chapter, when I stumbled across the word “heteroskedasticity”.)
Bester’s academic matters have kept him busy for quite some time. But in recent years, and somewhat to everyone’s surprise – including Bester’s, he found himself thrown in the spotlight, as a Dota 2 statistician and panelist nicknamed “Nahaz”.
Why would a Professor of Economics get so emerged into Dota 2? There really are no whys and wherefores, anymore than there are to why we like to travel, take pictures, listen to music or cuddle up with a good book. “I happen to love Dota and I want to continue working with this game as long as I can. (…) And, hey, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Bester explains.
The Nahaz interview was conducted on November 20, at the Frankfurt Major.
Nahaz interview (VIDEO):
Nahaz interview (transcript):
DotaBlast: How was the Frankfurt Major for you?
Nahaz: It’s been a little bit weird for me personally, because I had to come to the event a little bit late – I taught a class on Monday afternoon, hopped on a plane and then was here on Tuesday, and then of course I lost my voice – all of Twitch chat thought I was dead. But I’m back today, feeling really good and watching some great Dota.
DotaBlast: You’re a University professor. What are you teaching exactly?
Nahaz: This term I teach Financial Economics and Applied Econometrics – which is basically economics statistics. I teach some really, really good students at University of Western Ontario, where I moved from Chicago a couple of years ago to run a Masters program in Finance. Great school and great people, it’s a lot of fun!
DotaBlast: Are your students familiar with Dota 2 and your activities within the scene?
Nahaz: Increasingly yes. This term, this is the third LAN I’ve traveled to, and I am on Twitter, so they know where I am and what I’m doing. Some care and some don’t, but it’s kind of fun – there’s an increasing number of students that are into esports now, unsurprisingly, and a couple of them told me “Oh, you gotta start doing CS:GO”. So, it’s kind of a cool thing back and forth.
DotaBlast: Can you take a lot of time off and travel to LAN events or is it getting increasingly difficult to do so?
Nahaz: I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing next term, because this teaching term has been by far the busiest that I’ve ever had in my career, trying to fit three LANs in and maybe even planning some in December, as well. My poor wife is dealing with it very well, she’s very tolerant of my little hobby here. It helps that we’re both academics. She teaches at the Business School across the street from me, so her schedule is a little flexible, as well, but it’s hard to find time.
DotaBlast: You should introduce her to the scene and you should travel to LANs together.
Nahaz: We’ve talked about doing that and we actually may at some point. We have a two-year-old daughter right now and my wife’s idea of fun is not chasing a two-year-old around this place while I’m up there at the panel. I can’t really blame her for that.
DotaBlast: Can you see your daughter getting into an esports career?
Nahaz: I hope so! I think as esports grows, one of the big things that I hope we’ll see is the community expanding. It’s obviously dominated primarily by men right now.
DotaBlast: Why do you think that is?
Nahaz: I just think there are particular aspects of the gaming culture that have always been male oriented and this goes back before video games – Dungeons and Dragons, all the way back, you’d go to Gen Con when I was a kid and it would be primarily men, as well. It’s a part of the culture. Culture norms take time to change and I think we’re working in that direction and hopefully we’ll get there soon.
DotaBlast: Theoretically, women should be perfectly capable of playing Dota 2 well.
Nahaz: And they are! This is the important thing that I say to everybody is that there’s no reason why women can’t succeed at all aspects of this industry that men have. I think it’s really just a matter of time. There are a lot of things that are changing and maturing about this industry as we grow. I’m an economist by training. This is one of the things that you see with all kinds of growing industries: they start off very nichey and they become more mainstream. People would say: “Oh, you guys are selling out!” It’s not about selling out! It’s about: “We believe in the potential of esports and we want Dota to be all it can be.”
DotaBlast: Do you think it’s going to continue to grow from now on or has it already reached its peak around The International 5?
Nahaz: Why wouldn’t it? I’ve had this discussion with Toby and others around TI4 who honestly thought: “Look, TI4 is great, but that’s it, we can maybe do this again next year but we just don’t have that much more room to grow.” And now you hear people talking about gaming life cycles, is Dota reaching the end of its gaming life cycle or are we kind of in the tail end? I’m a data guy, I’ll believe it when I see it and to me the scene continues to grow; the compendium for Frankfurt was huge again. I will believe in the decline of Dota when I see it and I have seen zero signs so far.
DotaBlast: You’ve said something about data and it reminded me that the first time I saw you I thought you bear a striking resemblance to Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek.
Nahaz: (laughs) Does it help if I take my glasses off? That’s one of my favorite memes. If I’m going to be confused with somebody, it might as well be somebody nerdy, right?
DotaBlast: You really do look like him physically and not only that, because you’re actually able to memorize and interpret all that data.
Nahaz: There are far worse people that I’ve been compared to.
DotaBlast: Like who?
Nahaz: Reddit and Twitter have as much fodder as they need already, I’m not going to feed them more.
DotaBlast: How did you get into the scene? Did you start playing pub games, casually?
Nahaz: It was completely a sequence of accidents. I’ve told this story before, but long story short, I have a brother-in-law who’s 14 years younger than me, I was looking for a way to relate to him and it happened to be that I spent a week on vacation with my in-laws – a week after I heard Toby cast the first International. So, I happened to bring up Dota with him and he was a Warcraft Dota player. We got our beta keys together and he sort of taught me the game. That was around the same time I had done baseball and college basketball statistics as a hobby, but I was getting bored, and when I started watching pro Dota, I saw the same kind of strategic principles, a lot of the same potential for the use of data, in a completely new environment. I happen to love Dota and I want to continue working with this game as long as I can, but I think there’s tremendous potential in other esports, as well.
DotaBlast: Do you play Dota, though?
Nahaz: I do. I get hardly any time to play these days. This term, I have hardly played at all – which kills me, but there’s only so much time. When you prep for events like this and you’re me, you play a few pub games, just to try out some of the balance changes in different patches, so that you have hands-on experiences with all the heroes. But I don’t have time to grind MMR anymore.
DotaBlast: How does your wife feel about all your Dota activities?
Nahaz: I think one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to anybody is: “Marry a woman who’s way too good for you!” Because she is not threatened by anything. She’s like: “You know what? I just want you to be happy, go do your own thing!” There’s no way I’m ever going to do better than her, it’s not like I’m gonna hook up with anybody at these LANs, so she’s cool with it. And it’s fortunate that we’re both in academia – so we have the flexible schedules, we’re both Professors of Economics, not Art History, so we have some financial security, and I’m able to do this and have fun. And, hey, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!