No Favorites: iNSaNiA Talks the Stockholm Major
Aydin "iNSaNiA" Sarkohi has captained the Team Liquid Dota 2 team for nearly three years, since joining the organization in 2019. After a couple of years with mixed results, the Team Liquid roster underwent a change after The International 2021 (TI10), and ever since then, they’ve become a dominant force in Europe. As the team heads to Sweden to try and stake their claim on the ESL One Stockholm Major, we caught up with Insania to talk about the last DPC Season, the upcoming Major, how the new roster is shaping up and what changes he hopes to see in the next big Dota 2 patch.
Hello Insania! Thank you for taking the time to do the interview. Is the team in Sweden right now for the Stockholm Major?
No, we’re actually still in the Netherlands. We’re flying to Sweden [on May 10th], but right now we’re doing a photoshoot for Team Liquid.
Was the team bootcamping for the entire Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) Season or did you just get together before the Major?
We bootcamped for the first two weeks of the 2021-2022 DPC Spring Tour, but unfortunately two of our players and a couple of staff members tested positive for Covid. It didn’t quite work out and everyone went home to play the rest of the season. The team came back together around a week ago, at the beginning of May.
How has your DPC experience been for this second season of the year? Team Liquid dominated the league in Season 1. Season 2 was a bit more of a challenge – what changed? Do you think it was the meta, or was it more that opponents began to figure Team Liquid out, or was it the situation with players testing positive for Covid as you just mentioned?
I think it is a mix of things; very rarely is it just one factor. The new OG roster found their footing in Season 2. But also, we weren’t as sharp this season as we were in Season 1. The first season (DPC Winter Tour) had the same patch as TI10, and Matumbaman and Zai had a lot of ideas and concepts that still applied to the game. They got third place at TI10 with Team Secret, so we were kind of on a cheat code playing with them.
In Season 2, Covid was definitely a factor, but another reason was the fact that we didn’t attend the GAMERS GALAXY Invitational Series in Dubai, which was played on the new patch (patch 7.31). That was where a lot of the meta was figured out. The teams that played there had a better idea of the meta going into the DPC Spring Tour, and Team Liquid had to play a bit of catch up.
Team Liquid just won Gamers Without Borders. Congratulations on that! Do you think that gives you a bit of an advantage going into the ESL One Stockholm Major, as you have a few games on the new balance patch (patch 7.31c) under your belt?
There are advantages and disadvantages to that. The advantage is that we got to play a few professional games and got to figure out what is good and what isn’t. But on the flip side, Team Liquid and Tundra Esports are the only two teams on whom there is information so close to the Stockholm Major. Ultimately, it comes down to whether we are good enough to adapt based on what we learned or are other teams better at making use of the information that they can elicit from our games. Personally, I feel playing is always better than not playing!
The EU Dota 2 scene has undergone a significant change in the past few DPC seasons. Teams like Secret and Nigma that were contenders for the top spot are finding it a challenge to make it to the Majors, while Gaimin Gladiators and Tundra, who weren’t in the picture a year ago, are dominating. What do you think brought about this change?
The reasons differ depending on the team in question. Talking about Team Nigma, they’ve always been a LAN team. Usually they would be invited to LANs; they would play some of their games online, but a vast majority of their games would be played on LAN. The current [DPC] format is a bit too exhausting for the older players who usually wouldn’t grind for two months. It benefits the younger players, who have a habit of grinding to play catch up. In that regard, I think the system hasn’t necessarily been designed to reward the teams that would perform the best on LAN. Whether that’s right or wrong isn’t for me to decide. But it definitely is a part of the reason Nigma didn’t do well this season and even the old OG roster struggled a bit.
In the case of Team Secret, it’s a bit different. I think they still haven’t found their footing and are yet to figure out how to make this group of five players work together, because Secret typically have been a pretty strong team in the online setting.
Are you surprised Nigma Galaxy were relegated to Division II?
Definitely. Even with how the last few seasons have gone, I will be more scared of Nigma than most other teams at an event like a DPC Major. They know how to play Dota 2 in a way that can be extremely punishing for the opposition. I never would have thought they would get relegated, and it would be sad not to see them back in Division I and fighting for a play at the DPC Majors and The International, because that is truly where they shine.
Insania on Team Nigma: “it would be sad not to see them back in Division I and fighting for a play at the DPC Majors and The International, because that is truly where they shine.”
Let’s come to the Team Liquid roster – how is the general atmosphere within the team since the roster change? The old roster was together for an extremely long time, so was it a bit of a challenge to bring in two new players? What do Matumbaman and Zai bring to the table?
It was probably the hardest for me to adapt to the change. Even though miCKe and Boxi had to change their positions for the new roster, they adjusted to their new roles quickly. There was surely an emotional aspect to it, because we [the old roster] had been playing together for a long time. Perhaps in that regard, I’m getting older and change is hard to except! It took time and effort to make things work with the new roster, but we have two great talents in Zai and Matu. Not only are they amazing players, but they are also easy to work with. It’s only when you play with players of their caliber that you realize why they have had such a successful career. Overall, I’m ecstatic having them onboard. The team is in a good place mentally, and I don’t think you can get through qualifiers without being there.
Insania on Zai and Matumbaman: “Not only are they amazing players, but they are also easy to work with. It’s only when you play with players of their caliber that you realize why they have had such a successful career.”
Who does the majority of the shot calling in the team? Is it just you, or do you also rely on the experience of Zai and Matumbaman?
In modern Dota 2, it is always a mix of players in every team. Some games, I’ll have more of an input; in others, not so much. In this team, we have a lot of vocal players. The source of the shot calling depends on the situation. If there are too many voices with a lot of different ideas, we typically follow what Matumbaman wants to do as he is the carry, regardless of whether it is good or bad! That also gives the carry a bit of confidence.
The ESL One Stockholm Major was poised to be the second DPC Major of the year. But as the first DPC Major was canceled due to Covid, this will be the first time where the global elite will compete against each other. The Chinese teams will be missing from the Major due to Covid, and their absence, especially that of PSG.LGD, will be felt. The Stockholm Major will be one of the rare Dota 2 Majors which has no clear favorites to take all the plaudits.
Going into the Stockholm Major, Team Liquid are one of the favorites. What teams do you think are the biggest obstacles standing in your way?
I can’t say who our biggest obstacles might end up being, but I believe Evil Geniuses should have a strong showing at this Major. People underestimate them, but they have strong players who perform well on LAN. Besides that, the patch favors them. I am intrigued to see how OG performs on LAN, because in Dubai, they were playing with a stand-in. You can’t ignore the fact that BOOM Esports won the LAN event in Dubai. But there are a lot of questions going into the Major, because for teams like OG and Gaimin Gladiators who dominated their region in the online DPC Leagues, there is no LAN data from before, so it hard to say what they will look like. All in all, there aren’t any clear favorites for the Stockholm Major.
That should make for a pretty interesting Major! What would you change about the current DPC system?
Right now, there just isn’t enough Dota 2 played [in the DPC Leagues]. If Valve wants to keep the current six week DPC system, each team needs to play two or three times a week. Maybe every team plays every other team twice in the groups. Basically, there needs to be more games of Dota 2. Also for a tournament that goes on for six weeks, the prize pool is too small. There isn’t a significant difference between placing first and second or third outside of DPC points. It isn’t sustainable for a lot of teams.
But I must say that from a viewership point of view, the current DPC system has its merits as there is always a Dota 2 stream live. It increases viewership for the regions that typically don’t get too many viewers. It is important to consider that too, because we want the fans to have a good time as well. But there is a middle ground that needs to be attained.
A lot of professional players have echoed these thoughts. There definitely needs to be a change from next season or next year. But looking at the positive aspects of the DPC Leagues, do you think it has helped tier 2 and tier 3 teams gain visibility?
Absolutely! Two seasons ago, I had no idea who the tier 2 teams in Europe were. But with the current system, I care more about them and know the teams. I love watching Dota 2, and I am going to watch when they play. For Division 2, the DPC Leagues have been great.
Let’s talk about Dota 2 patch 7.31. Do you like the latest patch? Specifically, what changes did you like and what didn’t you?
I was expecting map changes when patch 7.31 was released, because the map has gotten stale. The high grounds where wards can be placed are extremely defining of how the game is played. At the moment, the way the game is played has become too scripted. With that said, there isn’t anything wrong with the patch. The recent 7.31c patch addressed some other things that were being abused. On the whole, the patch has been in a pretty good place since TI10. Of course, there are a few heroes that can be tweaked. But the meta is such that you can have past paced strats as well as slow paced strats.
What changes would you like to see when the next major patch (patch 7.32) is released?
Map changes is one thing, but also how regen pooling works. Every game, I’m buying Healing Salves worth 800 gold for Matumbaman! That affects the way position 4s play as well, because they need to match the opposition position 5s by healing their offlaner. All of sudden, you find yourself in a place where the three cores are doing well but the two supports don’t have a lot of net worth. Supports have received significant buffs in the last few patches to have a decent net worth, but it is not necessarily translating to the game the way Valve intended.
How does the position 5 role feel right now? Do you play any other roles in pubs?
The position 5 heroes being played in the current meta aren’t my favorites, but on the whole, if I look at it without a bias, I’d say the position 5 role is in a good place.
I’m a position 5 enthusiast! Playing core roles can get boring [for me]. Sometimes, it can get hard to pressure the opposition in the right way from a position 5 role. One of the bigger amusements of Dota 2 is being abusive with your hero!
What are your thoughts on Primal Beast? Do you like the latest hero added to Dota 2?
Let me reveal a secret that the world needs to know – Oracle is the biggest counter to Primal Beast. As an Oracle spammer, I don’t mind having Primal Beast in my pubs.
You traveled to TI10 as a talent, and everyone loved you! How was your personal experience being a talent at The International instead of a player? Is being an analyst something you would love doing after your playing days are over?
It is always scary to think about the end of my playing days, so I haven’t put too much thought into it! I enjoyed being at TI10, but I’m aware of the fact that there is a massive difference between being an analyst for one event and doing it as a full time job. I remember when Kyle “Kyle” Freedman first made the transition from player to analyst, there was an overwhelmingly loving reception for him, which can make it seem attractive. Who doesn’t love having positive Reddit threads created about them?! But that’s not what the job entails in the long run. Maybe I will do it, but as of right now, it is a thought for the future.
We’ll circle back to that question in five years! What does Insania like to do when he is not playing Dota 2?
Recently, there hasn’t been a lot of time away from Dota 2. But most of my free time these days is spent on whatever my girlfriend wants to do! We recently moved, so things like buying new furniture have taken up my time.
Other than that, I love reading books – I’m a fan of The Stormlight Archive. I tend to have one game that I play besides Dota 2. Recently, that has been Lost Ark, but RPGs are time consuming, so you put them aside when the Dota 2 suffers.
Shoutout to all the Team Liquid sponsors and shoutout to my team for putting in a lot of effort to make it to the DPC Major. Special shoutout to the two Team Liquid Dota 2 coaches, William “Blitz” Lee and Mathis “Jabbz” Friesel, who have stepped up their game this season. We might not have made the Major if it wasn’t for all their hard work.