Sovann “Skim” Kim, DotaBlast’s liaison at ESL One Frankfurt, sat down for a chat with Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg, shortly before Team Secret’s first games in the main event. zai talked about Team Secret’s TI strategies, his role on the team and impact on drafts. The 17-year-old player singled out the flaws in the current Dota 2 scene and opened up about his post-TI plans.
Skim: How do you like it in Germany thus far?
zai: It’s really fun to be here. I think ESL events are always special, at least their Dota 2 tournaments. They do this thing where they try to create huge events with lots of spectators, to make it more like a sports event. This stadium setup, a huge audience, everything’s professionally done and ESL does a great job of creating this atmosphere. It feels a lot different than playing at The Summit where you’re basically just chilling in a house.
Skim: What do you like more: the calm environment from The Summit or this spectacular atmosphere at ESL?
zai: I think having a good balance between the two is good. The Summit has its own feel to it and the players enjoy it because it’s calm and relaxing. But if you only have that, it might get boring, so a balance between the two is good.
Skim: Have you seen how the players walked onto the stage? It really looks like a football match.
zai: Yeah, that’s why they switched the setup this year as opposed to last year.
Skim: Do you have anything special planned for when you walk up on stage?
zai: No, not really. I really like how they have it at football games, though.
Skim: Oh, you mean how they walk onto the field holding kids’ hands?
zai: Yeah, exactly.
Skim: They should do that for next year, have fans walk alongside of you guys. Anyway, you played seeding brackets in Cologne – how was that?
zai: To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan. I don’t think a lot of players were. It kind of felt like a waste of time to us. First, I had to travel to Frankfurt, then to Cologne, arrived at like midnight, slept, woke up at 6:30, we played our seeding matches and then there was a lot of waiting around because there were a lot of teams and we had to wait until 9 pm. In hindsight, I don’t think it was a good idea and I think ESL realized that.
Skim: How’s everything else aside from that? How are you treated here? I’ve seen your booth/lobby, it looks very fancy.
zai: It is very fancy and that’s what makes ESL so special. It feels very exclusive, you can get massages and stuff, you feel very valued.
Skim: Have you gotten a massage yet?
zai: (laughs) No, but it’s on my personal schedule.
Skim: Vici Gaming got eliminated by Evil Geniuses, did you expect that?
zai: Yeah, VG right now is not so strong, they have some issues they need to resolve, it’s a bit disappointing right now. I think EG is probably the strongest team to face for us.
Skim: Looking at TI, you guys are the favorites. You’ve been in this position with EG last year as well, what do you think about it?
zai: Yeah, we were among the favorites, alongside DK. If you’re the favorites, teams will be looking at you the most, which is quite bad for you as a team. If you’re winning a lot of games and tournaments, people will look at the way you play and they’ll want to counter the way you play. Then you may find yourself not winning any games anymore because every team knows how to play against you. So to go around that, we might see the need to do something entirely new for TI and switch up the game we play. Because if you go in and everyone knows “okay they smoke gank top now” because that’s what we usually do, it could potentially be very destructive for us. It could also work for us if we come up with something new, we’ll see.
Skim: Does this influence the way you behave at tournaments, such as ESL One now, meaning you may even hide strategies?
zai: Say we found out some super good strategy, then we may consider that, but a lot of our strategies aren’t really that complicated, nothing super new, we just play our standard Secret stuff. We play our best, we work as a team, we prepare for the other team, that’s how we win. We don’t win because of some strategy that has never been seen before, that’s not how we win games. ESL One is still a huge tournament with a lot of money, you’d be foolish to not try your best to win.
Skim: You’re now playing the offlane – are you happy?
zai: No, I’m not happy, when I’m playing Carry, maybe I’ll be happy.
Skim: So you want to play Carry at some point?
zai: Nah, I’m just foolin’ around. I think I can play pretty much everything. Offlane is quite fun to play at the moment. I get to play Clockwerk, Dark Seer is fine, Broodmother is fine.
Skim: Wait, you actually like playing Broodmother?
zai: I like playing Broodmother, yeah.
Skim: You’re disgusting, dude.
zai: I am disgusting! (laughs) But, you know, you just sit on the enemy safelane, he can’t really do anything to you. The offlane position is quite open right now. Tusk is also fun to play, Dirge sometimes.
Skim: We’ve also seen a Techies from you. Whose idea was that?
zai: A lot of people ran Techies offlane in pubs, or in offlane dual lanes, because the hero is really strong. Landmines are really strong. Suicide is also very potent against any hero that doesn’t have a lot of armor at level 1. The hero excels against heroes with low armor. I remember for DAC people have been picking Brewmaster safelane a lot and he had 2 armor at the time. So we wanted to pick Techies a lot. But then, when DAC came, nobody played Brewmaster anymore, which was quite depressing.
Skim: In terms of drafting, how much input do you have on your own role?
zai: I probably have the least impact on our draft. I don’t give input as much as others, like Puppey, Artour or s4. But of course, when it comes to the offlane and s4 asks if Dark Seer is okay here and there’s like a Disruptor in the safelane, I just say it’s not that good. Maybe I recommend some other hero that’s good sometimes.
Skim: The Majors system is coming up. Have you already put much thought into it, as to how you think or hope it’s going to change the scene?
zai: What I would like to see is more stability. For now, the biggest flaw of the Dota 2 scene is that every team is built and formed around TI, which happens once a year. Teams either disband or reform every time. Even if things go well, teams may disband after every TI. The current flaw in the scene is that teams barely stick together for a year. If you had these Major tournaments properly spread out, teams would be more excited to stick together and resolve their problems instead of just saying “F*ck it” and start all over.
Skim: How confident are you in Team Secret staying together, regardless of any TI result?
zai: I’m not too confident. It’s hard to say. Even if we play well, we may see some change. I may take a year off after TI. It’s a tough question, as a team you don’t want to face that question until it actually happens.
Skim: So if you do quit for school, is it just until you graduate and then you’ll come back?
zai: Yeah, pretty much. My school career, or my education… well, I barely did anything. In theory, I’ll focus on school for like 9-10 months and then come back to Dota.
Skim: Has it gotten better with Secret, since you’re a European team?
zai: Not really, I think we travel a lot more with Secret than we did with EG, which is the main issue.
Skim: What’s your favorite place you’ve been to? I mean, for a 17-year-old, you’ve gotten around a lot.
zai: I have, yeah. Probably China, I think China is really nice, at least if you’re accompanied by people who know Chinese. Seattle was also nice, Bellevue was one of the nicest places I’ve been to.
Skim: Yeah, me too. But China, wow, I’ve talked to a lot of players before and they did not like China that much. What is it that you like about China?
zai: Not really sure. Maybe it’s because I’m friends with a lot of Chinese players and I get to see them at Chinese tournaments.
Skim: The famous chat logs from you and xiao8. Did you guys actually go clubbing?
zai: (laughs) Yeah, something like that.
Skim: Well, ESL One – how confident are you that you’re going to win? With how much confidence do you go into a tournament?
zai: Inwards confidence is probably higher than outwards. Personally, I’m scared of playing EG, scared of playing C9, VP maybe. We’ll probably go through our side of the bracket rather easily. I definitely see us going to the grand finals, but I’m actually quite scared of EG.
Interview conducted by Sovann “Skim” Kim at ESL One Frankfurt, on June 20