I had a chat with compLexity’s Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman during the Dota Pit LAN Finals, in Split, Croatia. We were supposed to get together for a short, 10-minute interview about himself, his team, the Dota scene. We ended up talking for three hours and a half, on and off camera. For the sake of our readers’ sanity – and our own, we cut it down to 25 minutes of footage. Family, friends, Dota, HoN, his awkward teenage years, College, his door-to-door sales job, Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders, the education system, unemployment rates, psychology, anthropology, relationships, pick up techniques, body language, love, life. You name it, we talked about it.
There’s a bubbly, wide-eyed enthusiasm about swindlezz that is almost infectious. He’s completely upfront, brutally honest – sometimes perhaps too much so for his own good. He’s playful. He’s funny. He’s alert. He’s well anchored in the realities of everyday life. He can be quite serious and pensive in some ways. He can go cold with anger or glow with passion within seconds.
He seems to genuinely like people and, frankly, once you get to know him a bit, there’s something about him that’s almost impossible to dislike – am unfailing confidence and a pronounced sense of purpose you can’t help but wish you had too. He’s a perpetual go-getter by nature and, if he keeps at it, he is going to get whatever he puts his mind to.
swindlemelonzz interview – VIDEO:
swindlemelonzz interview – TRANSCRIPT:
DotaBlast: How’s it going, Kyle?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Ah, life’s good! We won, hopefully we win tomorrow and I’m actually feeling really good right now, to be honest. It’s just a good place to be in life.
DotaBlast: We’re a bit tired, we should probably mention that up front. It’s really late on the first day of the Dota Pit LAN Finals.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah, yeah.
DotaBlast: You moved into the second day.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Something I’ve always stressed is: obviously you want to win, but the first goal is making sure you play on the finals’ day, because otherwise those dead days – at TI5 I think we had like four of them – ah, they’re painful! It just hurts! At least if you make the finals’ day, you probably won some money, you lost to a team that was good, and you’re at the after-party, life’s okay, it’s like whatever, you’re cool. Obviously losing sucks, but normally my guys and me are pretty easy, we can recover quickly enough and, obviously, liquid courage helps.
Everyone says I’m arrogant, because I’m so confident. I had no self-esteem, no confidence, none! I entered my first day of eighth grade in bright orange short shorts. Do you understand how bad of an idea that is?
DotaBlast: Yes, you generally have a great attitude, I’ve noticed that!
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: You gotta have fun with it. Like I’ve just said before: I’m literally playing a video game and being interviewed in a hotel in Croatia, with a view of the Mediterranean, signing autographs and stuff. It’s like not even real life, honestly, it’s weird sometimes. If you went back in time and told me this would be my life, when I was like sophomore in high-school, age 16, I would’ve told you were nuts, there’s no way! Specifically not even about what I’m doing, but just like who I am. Everyone says I’m arrogant, because I’m so confident. I had no self-esteem, no confidence, none! I entered my first day of eighth grade in bright orange short shorts. Do you understand how bad of an idea that is? Don’t do that, boys and girls! Stay home, don’t do that!
DotaBlast: Do you remember when you first realized that gaming might become a career for you, an actual job?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah, it was a specific moment, actually. I still can’t believe the LAN actually happened. It was back in 2010 – probably August, I think, maybe September. We were playing in the Calhon League, for a spot at DreamHack Winter, and we qualified.
Strangely enough, we actually beat Moonmeander’s team back then. People don’t realize that these HoN people go way back. It’s 2016, right?
DotaBlast: Yes, and that happened six years ago.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: It’s crazy! I’ve been playing and living with Zak (note: Zakari “Zfreek” Freedman) for like five years. That’s what I mean, it’s surreal! I’m old now, I’m old! And it’s gotten to the point where it’s not my job, now it’s actually my career. So, we won this tournament. We thought it was a scam. And this guy messages us asking if we want to go to Singapore or Sweden. We’re like: well, Singapore is further away, f*ck it, let’s go! Very bad decision, it was a 44-hour travel time, no bullshit. Leaving my house to entering the hotel: 44 hours. Do not do that!
I took a gap year after high-school, mostly because I had no clue what the hell I was going to do with my life. It was either go to Community College and, honestly, I just considered myself – I don’t want to say better than that, but I wanted to do more than ‘hmm, I don’t know what to do, so I’ll just go to College for free and take classes I don’t really enjoy’.
DotaBlast: I’ll try not to.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: And definitely don’t wear bright orange short shorts when you take a 44-hour flight! I didn’t do that, but anyway. I remember we won that qualifier, it was like 3 am and my mom was there, she was hyped. I remember just thinking: “Holy shit, I’m f*cking leaving the country! This is insane!” It wasn’t about the game. I took a gap year after high-school, mostly because I had no clue what the hell I was going to do with my life. It was either go to Community College and, honestly, I just considered myself – I don’t want to say better than that, but I wanted to do more than “hmm, I don’t know what to do, so I’ll just go to College for free and take classes I don’t really enjoy”. It just wasn’t really for me.
DotaBlast: So you took a gap year.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah, and it turned into six gap years, but you know, still going strong! And then I had this incredible experience in Singapore and I decided to try to keep this going. I lived with my mom… Geez, I had a really weird life!
DotaBlast: Your mom’s on Twitter, isn’t she?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes, all the time. You’ll notice she tweets at us constantly.
DotaBlast: I figured she was your mom. She’s really, really nice and she’s a hardcore fan.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes, I know. Gavin just got on Twitter too, I’m so thrilled. He’s the youngest one.
DotaBlast: Your youngest brother? How old is he?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Thirteen.
DotaBlast: Does he play video games?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes, of course. He’s going to be a pro Counter-Strike player. My mom’s actually gonna let him get his GED and drop out after sophomore year.
DotaBlast: Your mom sounds pretty cool.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Well, she’s not actually gonna do that, but maybe if she sees the interview.
DotaBlast: Oh, okay. Mom, please! Please do that!
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah, seriously! Look at me, come on!
DotaBlast: Seriously, mom, that would be so cool!
If you lose, you’re bad, your opinions are wrong, you are unattractive, you’re a bad person. Whereas if you start winning or outdoing expectations, then the paradigm shifts.
DotaBlast: You’re in a great place right now. You’re really appreciated by the community, people are going crazy over you, which didn’t really happen two months ago. If you remember, we met in Minsk, at StarLadder, and we did that Proust Questionnaire segment together and you told me: “Don’t submit it on Reddit, because it’s gonna get downvoted into oblivion!” – which actually happened. Now, you’re holding the front page today with three or four posts about you and everyone is crazy about you.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah. I don’t want to turn this momentum around, but that’s honestly just because the community… If you lose, you’re bad, your opinions are wrong, you are unattractive, you’re a bad person. Whereas if you start winning or outdoing expectations, then the paradigm shifts. In reality, there’s always gonna be people who don’t like you, there’s always gonna be people who really like you, and then the people in the middle are the ones you kind of try to win over. The easiest way to do that is winning games of Dota. So, I personally think that’s probably the reason. I would assume it might also be because people actually did some research and realized I never stole money from anybody. Go ask the people, they’ll tell you the same!
DotaBlast: They’re always bringing that up, again and again.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: It’s been like three years! The two players who were slighted were KheZu and SlickZ. They’re still in the scene, you can go ask them – people have. Nothing went down. Taxes are f*cking complicated. You try and tell me how you’re gonna work things out when you’ve got a German, a Swede, and an Australian in Miami, winning money. The irony of all of it is that the f*cking Swedes – the Swedes playing on my team right now – are probably going to work with the accountant whose name was “F*ck you and goodbye”. The whole world goes in a full circle. You don’t get what I’m talking about, because you weren’t around for that.
This has been real for me for a really long time. (…) Before the money was even real, we were taking it seriously, we were doing it for real.
DotaBlast: I certainly wasn’t.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Going back to that question: “when did this become real?” This has been real for me for a really long time. My brother and I incorporated just to take on prize winnings and deal with taxation, I think back in 2012. And that was when we were in HoN. We won maybe like $50,000 in four years playing HoN – most of it was in two years. My point is: before the money was even real, we were taking it seriously, we were doing it for real.
I really wouldn’t be here without the support of my family and friends. As an example, my dad and stepmom put up me and Zak while we were playing HoN, before we were even good, it was before StayGreen, when we were going through those six months of dark days. We were living with them and they never made us feel slided because we weren’t paying rent. We were just living there, training and that was what we did for a living. They never asked when we were gonna get a real job. I’m sure that conversation might have happened eventually if we didn’t succeed, because there’s a point where you get like three years into it and you’re still living at home and you’re not making any
DotaBlast: Yeah, what are you doing?!
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Exactly. Then it’s maybe because you’re just not good enough. My dad actually paid our security deposit for the apartment we moved into as HoN Tour Season 1 started. It was every two weeks that you would get paid and I think it was $800 a person if we won. Our rent plus utilities and stuff – because we were leaving in a really awesome place in Miami, actually, we had a fantastic view, you can look it up on my Facebook. But to live, food, rent, utilities…
DotaBlast: It was very expensive.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Probably like about $2,000 a month. So, we would need to do well to just live. We got through that, ended up renting another apartment, bringing in three foreigners. We became minor celebrities on our floor, because we were always walking back and forth between the apartments barefoot. I’ll write a book in like 20 years.
DotaBlast: You should, you’ve been through a lot!
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: I quit HoN for a while to do door-to-door sales.
DotaBlast: You did door-to-door sales?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes, for eight months.
DotaBlast: Selling what?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Verizon Fios, it’s an Internet provider.
DotaBlast: You were the Internet guy?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes. I went to your door and I said: “Hey, you see those new cables over there? They’re transmitting a signal made of light! It moves faster than electricity!” And then, boom, sold them better. Verizon, you guys are pretty evil, but Comcast Cable Vision – oh my gosh! And then there were the poor, poor sweet old ladies on Verizon DSL who would be paying – I’ll never forget – $257 a month. This woman was getting a phone, 1 Mbps and like a hundred channels. It took me an hour to convince her. “No! I’m not scamming you, this is real, I will not leave here until you sign up! You will save money, I will check back in in a week.” It ended up working out.
DotaBlast: You’re turning into the son of Nahaz. Someone actually called you “Son of Nahaz” today.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Oh, yeah, I talk way too much! I just can’t believe that my life has been real so far. We had – Malik you’ll never see this – this 27 years old married Pakistani guy and my friend Efren, 19 years old, Portorican dude from the hood – f*cking love you, Efren! They both moved in with me. My house was a four-bedroom town house. My mom, my grandma, Mackenzie – miss you, Shannon and Shawn in the basement – family friends who kind of were there for like eight years, me, my four brothers, and then we had Malik and Efren move in. So we had twelve people, four bedrooms. It was a toxic community, so to speak. The opportunities for my mom were kind of stifled, she was trying to get started with life, and she wanted to go move with her sister in Maryland. I thought that was a great idea, so I was like: “Okay, mom, we’ll take over the mortgage!” We moved in these other co-workers – I forgot to mention those two guys were doing sales, we switched offices further South, so they had to move in, long story. They moved in, we started paying the mortgage, she moves out, the house slowly starts to disintegrate. We replaced a hard working bill paying employee with a somewhat shady street pharmacy guy. It became a poor situation and then all of a sudden my dad called me up and he was like: “You should just come move in and play HoN!” That’s what I started doing once I realized I was in like a pyramid scheme and it doesn’t matter how many sweet old ladies you can save, at the end of the day your product will never be perfect. It hurts you! You can’t keep selling something once you understand that they’re evil. You can’t do that. And they’re not completely evil, I don’t mean that people who work at Verizon are evil, I mean as a conglomerate, pretty much. If you guys sponsor us, I’ll probably take that back! I don’t blame you guys! They have a crazy monopoly – they split the US into little fiefdoms with AT&T, which is why I thank God for Google. I love Google! I’m rambling now.
DotaBlast: You’re quite business oriented, aren’t you?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: I guess, but that’s just mostly a result of reading and having parents who know stuff. You just ask a bunch of questions, I guess. But a lot of it is common sense, in my opinion. You just won $50,000. What happens next? I’ve known since age 11. Do you know the two inevitable things in life? Death and taxes! Everyone knows that!
DotaBlast: Do you get involved in the business side of things at compLexity?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Purely out of curiosity. I don’t actually really offer much input – I’m a Dota player. I hope one day to get involved in that aspect, because it’s more my style, I think. You pretty much just drink, socialize, and everyone dresses up. It’s professional bullshitting! And then if they like you, they give you millions of dollars. And you’re like: “Ah, thanks! Now you owe me millions!”
DotaBlast: Don’t you need to have the millions to begin with?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: That’s where you come in, you’re my investor!
DotaBlast: I think you’re one of those players who seems to understand the scene at a macro level. What do you think are the issues competitive Dota is facing?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: What do you mean by that? As far as in-game tactics? Or as an esport?
The problem is that there’s a significant portion that treat fans, production, talent, assistants, volunteers like they’re lesser than players. I experienced that first-hand at TI5, where we were just shit. People wouldn’t scrim us. Maybe that’s why I have an innate bias against some of the Chinese teams. I’d wave hello and they’d f*cking snicker and keep walking.
DotaBlast: As an esport.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Potentially in all esports, but specifically in Dota and Counter-Strike, players are prima donnas. They’re awful, they’re genuinely mostly unpleasant people. Production’s fantastic and I don’t want to… You know what? I take that back! I really enjoy a lot of Dota players! The problem is that there’s a significant portion that treat fans, production, talent, assistants, volunteers like they’re lesser than players. I experienced that first-hand at TI5, where we were just shit. People wouldn’t scrim us. Maybe that’s why I have an innate bias against some of the Chinese teams. I’d wave hello and they’d f*cking snicker and keep walking.
DotaBlast: The Chinese teams?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yeah.
DotaBlast: But they’re the most polite players, people…
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Maybe they didn’t notice. I was wearing my uniform, I don’t know.
People just need to get out of this concept that they’re owed something. That goes forward towards just being good at the game. Do you wanna get f*cking good? Get a team of five people who all really want to be better and play every day together for months, and you’ll be good! It’s that simple: you work hard. There are no good players, just good teams. You don’t win by saying: ‘Oh, these guys are good on paper, great team. Alright, well, we didn’t win that tournament, two weeks later. So, f*ck it, we’re kicking you two!’
DotaBlast: Definitely not my experience.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: It happened two or three times, I vividly remember. People just need to get out of this concept that they’re owed something. That goes forward towards just being good at the game. Do you wanna get f*cking good? Get a team of five people who all really want to be better and play every day together for months, and you’ll be good! It’s that simple: you work hard. There are no good players, just good teams. You don’t win by saying: “Oh, these guys are good on paper, great team. Alright, well, we didn’t win that tournament, two weeks later. So, f*ck it, we’re kicking you two!” NA Dota specifically. There was a team that got invited to the regional qualifier for I think TI. And then they tried to replace a player. What are you doing?! And it wasn’t even an upgrade. They get relegated to the open qualifier and they lose it. Are you guys complete f*cking buffoons? And I’m sorry to call you guys out, but what were you thinking? That sort of thinking is a cancer in pretty much all of the Dota scene right now. If you look at the teams that placed well at this last Major: Alliance – they’ve been together forever, they won TI3 together, obviously there have been mix-ups, but they’re friends, they’re a team. OG – they like sleep together and take weird selfies, I think they probably spoon – I mean, we do that too, it’s cool – but they’re obviously tight. MVP are obviously tight and they’ve been together for quite some time. Fnatic, same deal, Mushi going back to his home country, making a team and trying to get good. Us, reuniting, actually friends, a team working together. EG – the same. Team Secret – the same.
DotaBlast: And it’s starting to pay off.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Exactly. And what do you know? We’re all not bad! Same with Liquid. Oh, they’re gonna make roster changes, they didn’t make it to Frankfurt. They stuck together, they got better, and now they placed second.
The thing is, Secret’s kind of an anomaly, because Puppey is always going to be able to attract his choice of the scene, so his teams will always be good in that sense, because people will always want to play with Puppey.
DotaBlast: It doesn’t really apply to Secret, does it?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes and no. The thing is, Secret’s kind of an anomaly, because Puppey is always going to be able to attract his choice of the scene, so his teams will always be good in that sense, because people will always want to play with Puppey. He’s probably one of the few people – probably the only person right now in the scene that can do that. PPD might have that sort of flack, but a lot of his power I think comes from the fact that he’s had the f*cking best players ever play with him. Maybe you’d say no to PPD, but to say no to PPD, Fear, UniVeRsE. Come on! When they wanted SumaiL, they got him. He was on a team, but you leave for EG! The end. We were trying to play with Chessie, back when we first switched over. He was like: “I’m gonna try out for Alliance and EG.” Obviously, he would’ve loved to play with us, but if EG offers you a tryout, you f*cking try out. My main point is: as a player, you’re not owed anything. This game is hard, people take this seriously. You need to put more of yourself into this game than just a few pubs, a couple of scrims and a tournament. You need to put in the work. I wish we could insert a couple of motivational YouTube videos and a really good quote by Charles Bukowski.
You need three things to succeed in life: you need a positive attitude, the ability to self motivate and interpersonal skills. Pretty much, don’t be a d*ck, learn to f*cking socialize and be happy, be in a good place!
DotaBlast: We can do that, but it would be a bit weird.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: It’s literally just: do the f*cking work! DO THE F*CKING WORK! That’s it! You do the f*cking work! The point is, that is what success is. I actually picked this up on that shitty door-to-door sales job, but I still think it’s pretty relevant even for me now. You need three things to succeed in life: you need a positive attitude, the ability to self motivate and interpersonal skills. Pretty much, don’t be a d*ck, learn to f*cking socialize and be happy, be in a good place!
I get into downward spirals and wonder about how life might not have meaning, so we must make our own. It turns into rampant cynicism about how I’m just gonna die and why does it even matter if you win at Dota?
DotaBlast: You have all those things!
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: I appreciate that, thanks, I try! I don’t sometimes, though. I’m working on it. I get into downward spirals and wonder about how life might not have meaning, so we must make our own. It turns into rampant cynicism about how I’m just gonna die and why does it even matter if you win at Dota? – but let’s just not talk about that stuff.
DotaBlast: Does that affect your gameplay?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Yes, definitely. The way I would describe it, it’s sort of like the imaginary monster in the closet, when you’re a kid. There are some nights when you just go to sleep, no big deal. And then there are other nights when you’re sure it was there and the door was cracking just a little bit, and it’s scuttling under your bed.
That’s what I see Dota as for me in a sense. Actually, you know what? It is art, it really is. (…) it’s a craft, you want to perfect it, you want it to be masterful. Otherwise why do it?
DotaBlast: You can keep it under control, though.
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: Exactly. It’s just the whole beauty of life and it translates to Dota. If you want it, then go get it! Ah, I wanted to say this on the panel, but I can say it now. There’s this great quote by Picasso and he says: “My mother told me if I was a catholic, I’d be the Pope, if I was in the government, I’d be the King, but instead I became an artist and I was Picasso.” I paraphrased it and butchered it, but I just love it! He made himself an icon. Picasso is a noun now, that means something. That’s what I see Dota as for me in a sense. Actually, you know what? It is art, it really is. Anything you try, even wood working, playing a recorder, a flute, making chairs, creating dresses, getting watches repaired, doing hair-styling, boom operating, camera operating, it’s all an art. Everyone who does this sort of profession – waiting tables, it’s a craft, you want to perfect it, you want it to be masterful. Otherwise why do it?
DotaBlast: Thank you so much for the interview, best of luck from now on! Any shoutouts?
Kyle “swindlemelonzz” Freedman: To the friends and family – I’m sure you’re all gonna be watching – to the fans, old and new, thanks for your support, and to everyone watching, just keep fighting the good fight!