Zai talks Liquid, Secret, the DPC, the meta & Matu
Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg could very well have been the next Mark Wahlberg, but he chose to ply his trade in Dota 2 instead of the talkies. A versatile and reliable player, Zai made his mark on the Dota 2 professional scene through a number of teams, but most recently and prominently through his three-year run with Team Secret. As Zai begins the next phase of his Dota 2 journey with Team Liquid, we caught up with the Swede to talk about his run with Team Secret, TI10, the decision to join Team Liquid and what he hopes to achieve in the upcoming year.
Along the way, we also got his takes on Marci, the upcoming meta, how Matu won’t leave him alone, and how he would improve the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) system.
Hello Zai! How’s it going? How are you settling in with your new team?
It has been going really smooth, so far. I’ve been in Utrecht with the team for the last two weeks. Everyone from the Team Liquid organization and the team have been really good, and things are going well gameplay wise, so I’m enjoying myself.
That’s really good to hear! So as I understand it, Team Liquid will be bootcamping for the start of the first DPC season?
That is correct. We’re definitely planning to stay together for the first couple of EU DPC League games. After that, we’ll take a call on how often we want to be in the same room to play the matches.
Let’s take a quick trip to the past before we talk about the future. Your second stint in Team Secret was a long one – three years! How was the overall experience? What was the high point of your time with Secret?
It was an amazing three years with Team Secret. I played some of the best Dota 2 of my career and have the best achievements in that time. The high point was probably during the 2018-2019 season, playing in the Kuala Lumpur Major, the Chongqing Major and the MDL Disneyland® Paris Major. We did well in all three of those Majors; it was a good time for us!
Zai on Matumbaman: Matu came into the picture a little bit later, and wasn’t really a part of my decision making process. It seems that I can’t escape him. He just follows me!
What made you decide it was time for a new challenge? Especially after a pretty decent finish at TI10.
It’s tough to start over with people with whom you’ve been playing for a while. For me, the appeal to do things differently with Team Secret wasn’t as high as trying something completely new. The change in environment and people felt like a nice concept. That being said, there is absolutely no bad blood between me and anyone at Team Secret. It was an amicable split. I’m looking forward to seeing them perform well again this year and I’ll be cheering for them.
Who had the biggest influence on you in your three years at Team Secret? Who will you miss the most from your old team?
In game, it’s hard not to say Clement “Puppey” Ivanov. He’s amazing at the game of Dota 2 and has a lot to offer. Whatever I learned from him will surely prove to be extremely beneficial for me.
Outside the game, I have Matu with me again at Team Liquid, who’s okay! But I think Yazied “Yapzor” Jaradat is a very funny person, and I’ll miss being around him.
What made you decide Team Liquid was the right place for your next challenge? Did Matumbaman coming to TL have anything to do with it?
Right after TI10, I spoke with Puppey and the others at Team Secret that I wanted to leave. I had a few offers on the table, but was quick to finalize Team Liquid. Matu came into the picture a little bit later, and wasn’t really a part of my decision making process. It seems that I can’t escape him. He just follows me!
You’ve been playing offlane for Team Secret for the past three years, but you did play position 4 for EG and Optic Gaming before that. Are you back to position 4 with the new Team Liquid roster?
No, I will continue to play position 3 (offlane). The idea was floated that I could possibly play position 4, but ultimately, we decided on me being in the position 3 role. Samuel “Boxi” Svahn will be shifting to position 4.
Do you have a preference in position? Do you enjoy playing one more than the other?
I don’t have a preference as such, but it has been a while since I played position 4 professionally and a lot of things have changed since then. For me, it’s all about the dynamic. When I played with Optic Gaming, we had a rotation of a few players before we stuck with a roster. We ended up playing a majority of the season with Neta “33” Shapira (who’s playing for Tundra Esports right now). Originally, he came in as a position 4 player, but we realized pretty quickly that the team dynamic would be a lot better if we switched positions. The decision depends on the players on the team, what’s needed and what will work best. If the situation arises, I don’t mind playing position 4. But at this point in time, playing as an offlaner feels more intuitive and natural.
The new DPC season starts in less than a week – what are your expectations with the new roster?
I wouldn’t say I’m expecting us to get first place in the League, or else I’ll be upset or anything like that. My approach is to enter the new season with a positive mentality and progress as the season goes on. If we struggle a bit in the beginning, that is fine, as the season is a long process.
Zai on the meta: Let’s see something that’s fun, like just move Roshan somewhere else and see what happens! It doesn’t have to be good.
The meta at TI10 is the same one that we’ll see in the first DPC season. Do you think it is suited for your playstyle?
Overall, the meta suits me well, but the game definitely needs a switch-up. The meta has gotten pretty stale.
At the TI10 media day, you mentioned the meta, as in the objectives of the game haven’t changed in a while. What change would you like to see when patch 7.31 arrives?
In my opinion, the laning stage needs a change. The dynamic between blocking camps, pulling waves, position 5 players spamming Healing Salves on the position 1 players has been going on for a long time. That is an environment that I’d like to see changed.
Map changes are also something we haven’t seen in a long time. Let’s see something that’s fun, like just move Roshan somewhere else and see what happens! It doesn’t have to be good. Maybe it will benefit one side more than the other, but it will be something different. When you play Dota 2 day in and day out, changes are welcome after a while.
Roshan’s position was last changed when Dota 2 7.00 was released (nearly 5 years ago), so that would surely be an intriguing change. What about Outposts? Would you like to see them carry on, or would you like to see a new building in their place?
To be honest, I don’t like Outposts; I don’t know what they do. You click [channel] them and they are yours. Then someone else clicks them, and then they’re theirs. It is uninspiring. I’d surely like to see a change – either in the effect that an Outpost has when you’re owning it or turning it to a different kind of building. But don’t bring Shrines back! They can stay out of the game.
What are your thoughts on Marci? A lot of players have been playing her in the offlane. What position will suit her best?
I haven’t played a single game with Marci. But every game that I have played against her, I’ve been destroyed. It’s safe to say that the hero is strong. Once the hero is stabilized in the patches to come, it will be interesting to see in which lane she lands. But it seems offlane is highly likely for the hero.
The DPC Leagues and Majors this year have a different point system, with points increasing for every subsequent season. Do you think that’s a good idea?
The new system reinforces the idea that even though the initial part of the year is significant, it will be less so than the part towards the end. I don’t know if it was put in place to aid teams that are slacking earlier and come in strong towards the end. But just the fact that we have three DPC Majors instead of two will help alleviate a lot of issues people had with the points distribution last year. I’d say the change is a positive one, as compared to the system from last year.
If you had to make any changes to the current DPC system, what would it be?
The points and Majors have moved in the right direction, but I’d say the DPC Leagues should be shorter with teams playing two games a week instead of just one. That would make space in the year for other things like third party tournaments, which is hard to fit in with the current system. A lot of those events are very well received by players and fans alike. Making sure they are given consideration is important.
We surely missed third party tournaments last year. Hopefully more of them will take place as we go ahead. When did you start playing Dota, and how were you introduced to it?
I was introduced to Dota 1 and Heroes of Newarth because of my elder brother. I started with Dota 1, then migrated to Heroes of Newarth and made the complete switch to Dota 2 after TI3. I was still playing Dota 2 before that (first game was in 2011), but after TI3, Dota 2 had my complete commitment for competitive play.
What do you like doing when you’re not playing Dota 2? There was a photo of you with Team Liquid coach William “Blitz” Lee in which you were at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. Do you like the English Premier League and are you a Spurs fan?
These days, it’s just a lot of Dota 2, lot of eating and working out. That’s mostly what my day is made up of.
Spurs were playing Mancherster United that day, and I’m a United fan! I was infiltrating the arena that day as an away fan. But yes, football [soccer] is definitely something I enjoy watching.
Shoutout to all my fans who followed my journey with Team Secret. Hopefully they’ll keep cheering for me with Team Liquid as well. And I’ll give a shoutout to Artour [Arteezy], maybe he needs one.