Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. THIS WEEK, however, she will be chatting to Dota 2 caster Capitalist about the upcoming ESL One competition!
I went to the inaugural ESL One Frankfurt event last year. It featured one of the best games of pro Dota 2 I've ever watched (Alliance v Cloud9) and, as it took place shortly before Valve's mega-tournament The International, it was an interesting opportunity to size up some of the competitors before Seattle. This year's event will offer similar fare – big-name teams and a chance to see how they perform on LAN in front of a massive audience – but a lot has changed over the past year. Teams have undergone massive shakeups and enchanted mangoes, octarine cores and glimmer capes abound on the battlefield. In case you've lost track of competitive Dota 2, here's caster Austin 'Capitalist' Walsh on the current meta, the teams to watch, and the relationship between casters and players.
Hi Austin! First up, how did you get into casting?
I got into casting as a fun thing. A friend was interested in doing it back in Heroes of Newerth and he asked me if I wanted to do it so I tried out. We ended up casting for this site called GameReplays which was big in the Heroes of Newerth scene. My friend contacted the admin to say he wanted to try casting and asked me to be his co-caster. He didn't show up because he had some work and so I ended up doing it with another friend of mine. I found I really enjoyed it and got some great feedback.
Eventually I tried to put more time into it but I split myself too much trying to be a player and a caster at the same time. That changed when I started casting with Toby ['Tobiwan' Dawson]. He was really my way into casting. I became a co-caster with him – it didn't go very well our first time but he was gracious enough to let me do it again. Had a lot better time that second or third time. I was used to doing play-by-plays so I took over his role a lot of the time because I wasn't used to doing co-casting.
We ended up clicking and casting a lot and he told me it would be perfect if I joined him in Berlin and offered me a job straight up. I was incredibly surprised and super excited, I said 'Yes, of course BUT I'm actually in the military right now so I can't just pack up and leave America, I have these duties'. It took me about nine months and I got out of the military with an early discharge and flew out to Berlin.
Did your military experience help you in any ways with your casting or are they two totally separate parts of your life?
No! It's very much helped me. One of the biggest things about bootcamp is they're there to break you down both physically and mentally. They're there to mess with you so it turns out that basically drill instructors are the meanest most in-your-face trolls you will ever get so when it came to actually dealing with trolls in real life I was like, 'I know how to deal with this, I've been in the military!' I have really thick skin in that regard. I was able to deal with that a lot better because of my experience of the military. [Other than that], discipline is the biggest thing that helped me from the military and that, of course, transcends to all parts of my life, whether it's casting or doing other kinds of work.
How do you see the current meta, post-6.84?
The meta going into TI4 was very deathball status. People had a lot to say about that - we saw a lot of Razors and Vipers and these very early 15-25 minute heroes and games were won and lost in the first 15 minutes and no-one could really stop it. If you were playing against a professional team at the top of their game, if they didn't make mistakes and you were behind there was little chance at coming back.
The current meta has actually gone back a little bit. People are afraid we're going back to a deathball status but I don't think that's true. We're more teamfight oriented with the latest patch but at the same time it's much more evened out than for TI4. There are still some minor comeback mechanics in play but they've been mitigated enough that it's not too turtle-y. We also have all these new later items. Basically all intelligence heroes got a big buff thanks to things like the octarine core. That's allowed carries to be able to do so much. Leshrac is one of the biggest core heroes that's gotten a buff out of the octarine core - it makes him so much more viable as a carry than before. On top of that he fits the meta very well. He's very teamfight oriented and he's able to have a significant lane presence as well.
The games I've had recently have been a lot more fun, I'd say.
I think as a spectator sport it's gotten way better. This new patch is so much fun to watch. The elements of play and counter-play, especially with supports being able to have many more options when it comes to items. For example, the glimmer cape I think is a whole new element for supports and even utility roles to pick up which give you another option beyond the typical blink dagger/force staff.
What are you expecting going into ESL One – which are your top teams?
I think everyone is looking to Vici as well as Team Secret as the most dominant forces. EG [Evil Geniuses] are up there as well. Those are the primary three. Then the second place lot who can provide upsets - IG is one of the big ones, Cloud9 from the West. Those are your main five.
It'll be interesting as we get closer to TI and ESL how teams make more improvements to their game and if they're able to step up to the point where they can contest EG, Vici and Secret. For now those are the biggies.
(One of Team Secret's recent tournament performances)
What is it about those teams that's working so well at the moment do you think?
I'd say mostly it comes down to execution. These teams are by far some of the best out there when it comes to raw talent. They surpass pretty much everyone. Other than that, drafting-wise it seems like it definitely favours more aggressive teams. I'd say Vici Gaming are by far some of the best talent coming out of China but they're all players who work very well with early aggression - iceiceice, Super - these guys are mid-game dominators. It works out so well that this latest patch is so teamfight oriented.
So what are the matchups you're most looking forward to?
I'd say EG versus Vici Gaming is by far my favourite matchup to watch. I think it has so many different elements to it. Those are top class teams but they also have very fun games to cast. Both teams can be very aggressive but are also known for amazing mid to late game play. That's by far my favourite matchup to watch. Of course, any game with Secret is going to be fun as well, but mainly the two G teams - EG and Vici Gaming.
ESL One's place in competitive schedule puts it right before The International. What does what happens in Frankfurt mean for TI, if anything?
I think ESL determines a lot, mainly because it's basically the last gigantic tournament that goes on and really determines who are the best teams on LAN. There is a difference between playing online and at a LAN event. For example, take Cloud9. Cloud9 is a great team but they had this meme around them - always second place. It's because they choke in finals. It's very well documented by this point that they always seem to screw up finals.
You see a team such as Evil Geniuses, maybe the young talent Suma1L - can he actually take the pressure of 10,000 people watching and screaming right in your face? It's different if you're in your room playing or even at an event like The Summit. It's a big event but doesn't have nearly the gigantic audience watching it live, right there in person. This event will determine who are some of the better teams on LAN and that's important going into TI, another gigantic event with tonnes of people watching.
Do you think ESL One suffers from people holding back ahead of The International?
I think that's really not much of an issue, primarily because the meta moves too quickly for teams to be able to "save strategies". That gets really blown out of proportion. The joke is that - especially Puppey – saves strats for TI but I really don't think that's at all what happens. Generally speaking there's enough time between ESL One Frankfurt and TI that teams will change up what they're going to be running, even just a bit.
We saw it last year. I mentioned the TI4 meta with a lot of Viper and Razor but at a certain point Viper dropped off while Razor continued to be very prevalent in the meta and was one of the most picked-up heroes for TI4. Just that month window does change that meta quite a bit. Also every tournament has its own meta. This is something that some people don't necessarily realise but every tournament is different and has its own meta, essentially.
Given each tournament has its own meta and its own identity, which has been your favourite?
This last D2CL [Dota 2 Champions League] was pretty interesting - mainly because the tournament started off with a very regimented... 'Vici will get first, Empire second, NiP third, Burden 4th'. That was pretty much what everyone would bet on. The most likely upset was Burden would beat NiP. No-one expected Empire to come out swinging so hard and take down Vici Gaming twice.
I think a large part of that comes down to the meta change. 6.84 played heavily into Empire's favour. More than almost any other team in the world right now. Empire's by far one of those teams that is best when they're playing super aggressive. The CIS scene in general actually got a big buff with this patch because both Virtus.Pro and Empire are both very aggressive teams that like to be able to play into those early ganking styles and teamfights.
You made a blog post on Facebook recently about the relationship between casters and pro players – particularly that they needed to talk more. What triggered that post?
I'd wanted to say something for a while but I didn't know how to say it in a positive and constructive way. I didn't want people to think I was whining and saying players should stop picking on casters. I can't' remember exactly what happened - I think the last LAN event I went to I heard a couple of different players say 'I really don't like x caster, blah blah blah' - I hear that a lot from players, honestly and they never say it to that person. Generally speaking, many players, as much as they talk about casters misunderstanding what they're doing, I think there's an equal amount of players not understanding what casters are doing.
We have certain obligations and need to talk about certain things. You may not feel comfortable with it but it's necessary and part of the game. It's something you have to sacrifice if you want this to be a big eSport - to have the kind of criticism being levelled at you or celebrating a victory of a team over another. EternalEnvy has been one of the most outspoken critics, I would say, of commentators and the way they act and their casts. I think he just needs to understand we have a job to do and yes, it can be done better, absolutely. Players should be active in telling commentators to their face what they should do better because then you can have a conversation instead of lobbing off a tweet that isn't even directed at anybody, just thrown out there. That doesn't improve anything. It just feeds into this negative culture we already have in Dota.
If you actually talk to people you gain their perspective, right? If a player comes up to me and says 'I really didn't like how you treated our loss against this' or 'I didn't like your analysis - this is what we were doing, not that', if I'm wrong I'll just be like 'Yeah, I'm so sorry, I was completely wrong, here's what I thought was going on'. You can understand each other's perspective and both sides are made better for having that conversation.
What's the response been like? Have any players taken you up on the offer of discussion?
I haven't had any players talk to me directly about that post. The only player who has actively criticised me, pretty much ever, was EternalEnvy and that was a pretty long time ago. I don't really get that much criticism from players, I feel. I think most of the feedback has been pretty positive. That said, I do see it happen with other commentators a lot and that's why I set it up. I'm able to come to these players at events and they tell me "I don't like x commentator". I try and explain what's going on but at the end of the day it's up to them to talk if they want any sort of improvement in the Dota scene.
Commentating-wise the Dota scene has been improving quite a bit but there's more room for improvement. The more everyone improves, [the more] we drive each other. I'm a competitive person so perhaps that's my own look at it but - BTS for example - the better they get the more I'm driven. I listened to a cast from GoDz recently and that was a really good cast - I feel a little bit nervous, like 'Damn, he's a really good commentator'. I didn't think he was as good at play-by-play as he actually was but he can step up to that role and it pushes me to get better.
And finally, who are you predicting for the top three placements at ESL One?
It's not about what three it's going to be but where they're going to be in the rankings. I'm going to say it's going to be EG first, Vici Gaming second and Secret third.
Thank you for your time.
Images via ESL