Last chance at Aegis: TL coaches gear up for LCQ
For the past few years, Team Liquid has been a prominent name in the professional Dota 2 scene. Currently, they stand on the brink of TI11 qualification—and the brink of an early offseason. The Last Chance Qualifiers make all the difference. Liquid Dota must mount a run through one of the most difficult gauntlets in the game’s history just to get a chance at the Aegis.
Fortunately for this team, they are uniquely prepared for such a run. Liquid Dota has three different coaches—William “Blitz” Lee, Mathis “Jabbz” Friesel and Jesse “Jerax” Vainikka—part of a Dota-wide trend of increased staffing. I caught up with the three of them to talk about Team Liquid’s performance in the Western European TI11 qualifiers, the new Dota 2 meta and how coaching has changed the face of professional Dota 2.
Hello Blitz, Jabbz and Jerax! Thank you for taking the time for the interview. Where is the team right now? Are you guys bootcamping?
Jabbz: Yes, we are bootcamping in Malaysia, in a city called Johor, which is close to Singapore. The team has been here for nearly a week now. We have been practicing a lot, and it has been a good bootcamp so far.
Did the team take a break after the grueling WEU TI11 qualifiers, or head out to bootcamp right away?
Jerax: We had a short break where everyone went home. Honestly, it was one of the rare breaks this season, and it was much needed. For the first couple of days, it was a complete break and then we started practicing from home before leaving for Malaysia.
Hard luck on missing out on first place in the WEU TI11 qualifiers, but congrats on making it through to the Last Chance Qualifiers from a really competitive bunch of teams! On the whole, how content are you guys with the team’s performance?
Blitz: It wasn’t the result that everyone had hoped for, but we are glad that Team Liquid is still in the mix and the season isn’t over yet.
Did you expect Entity to dominate the qualifiers in the manner that they did? What do you think sets them apart?
Blitz: Personally, I thought it would be us or Entity who would make it through the Western European TI11 qualifiers. Entity played really well as a team. They’re smart, consistent and have a lot of good strategies.
Jerax: I had a similar feeling. I would say Entity have a good match-up against Team Secret, as in when it comes to competition, they seem to have something on Team Secret. Like Blitz said, that team has a very unique approach to Dota 2. They had their share of difficulties initially, but now they strive on it. They are quite aligned with the current Dota 2 meta.
The last year or so has seen a lot of the newer or relatively younger teams have a better showing in EU. Is it the changing of the guard, or is it the DPC format that is more favorable for the up and coming teams?
Jabbz: I think it is a combination of the two factors, the DPC format and the fact that during the times of the pandemic, all teams played online. During that period, the newer teams had the opportunity to play tier 1 teams, learn from them and improve. At the same time, the pandemic was rough on players who would typically go to a lot of LANs in a Dota 2 season and some of them struggled with the motivation to continue playing at the level that they used to. Any vacuum that is left by the seasoned players at the major tournaments will be taken up by the younger and hungrier players.
Jerax: Speaking from my experience as a player, younger players are able to better adjust to a tightly packed season, whereas the old guard is used to more breaks and time for reflection. With the current format, fatigue will be an issue for the veteran players.
Even though the Team Liquid lineup has some of the most talented players and coaches the game has to offer, they did fall short of securing an invite to The International 2022 in Singapore. In the Last Chance Qualifiers, where two of the twelve teams will advance ahead in the battle for the Aegis, the experience of the players, and more importantly the coaches, is bound to play a key role.
Let’s talk about the new patch – Dota 2 patch 7.32 – that was released just before the qualifiers. Do you think that had an impact on your performance, and the overall results of the qualifiers?
Jabbz: It’s hard to say, but I think the new patch was good to us. It was one of the bigger updates in the last few years, changing how the map works, how the games are played and what is beneficial or detrimental. Team Liquid, because we have experienced players in our ranks, was able to adopt quickly to the new meta. On the whole, Dota 2 patch 7.32 was good for the game.
What are your favorite changes from the patch?
Jabbz: I like the removal of the small camp near the mid lane. That change makes the game a lot more dynamic, and reminds me of the Dota that I grew up playing, where the mid player would be an active hero and not a farming bot.
Blitz: I too liked that the small camp was removed. The mid lane is now a lot more skill based, and players cannot resort to jungling if they lose their lane. I hated that!
Jerax: The Glyph of Fortification change was something the game needed. There was a problem where teams had a clear advantage and went to push a tower, there was always a Glyph available, and it slowed down the game for them. Now, it is a little more challenging to go into the enemy base, because taking down the first tier 3 tower refreshes the Glyph. The team that does well in the laning stage seems to be able to push their advantage with towers, if their lineup is meant to do so.
Let’s get to the coaching aspect of the game. How much do you guys think coaching has changed over the past 5-7 years? And how much of an impact has it had on the professional game?
Blitz: I actually have no idea!
Jerax: I have a similar feeling about it, and it comes from the fact that every coach is unique. I’ve played under a lot of different coaches, and all of them have had an aspect of the game on which they focused more–like draft or gameplay. We will see coaching evolve as the years go by, but it is hard to gauge what kind of impact it has had on the professional game.
Jabbz: After speaking with players about the value of a coach, I’ve come to the conclusion that every player wants something different. Like Jerax said, every coach focuses on an aspect, and every player wants the focus to be a particular aspect. Depending on the coach, it is very specific where the difference will be felt for a team, so it is hard to generalize it. In theory, it is always good to have more members in a team, as long as they are able to help the team.
Team Liquid has three coaches right now – Blitz, Jabbz and Jerax. What are the roles each of you play?
Blitz: I handle most of the stuff regarding drafting. Jerax is in charge of the gameplay aspect of things, like general map movement. Jabbz does all of Team Liquid’s stats; the busy work looking up the opponent teams’ hero trends.
All of you deal with three different aspects of coaching. Are there any scenarios where the three coaches would come to an impasse?
Blitz: No, not really. We typically try to see each other’s points.
Jerax: In case we are working on the same thing, there is a conversation about what we expect from the other two and how can each of us help the team the best.
Along with the rise to prominence of coaching in Dota 2, the last few years have also seen an increase in the data available on opposition teams. With multiple coaches and a plethora of data, is there ever a possibility of overpreparation for certain games such that the team could lose its natural flow?
Jabbz: Definitely. But considering the fact that we have been working as a group for a while now, there have been a lot of learnings to avoid that. There were times when I felt like there can be an excess of information on the opposition, where the players end up thinking about how to play against them and forget their own identity. But I don’t [think] that is the case for Team Liquid anymore. We changed our approach on this, as in we do prepare for the team we are about to face, but don’t change our entire game based on it. To be able to do that successfully against every opponent, you would have to be the perfect team, and in reality, there are no perfect teams. You have to focus on being the best version of yourself.
Jerax: That is quite accurate. It is a balance between preparing for an opponent and doing what you do best as a team.
In the Last Chance Qualifiers (LCQ), who do you guys think are Team Liquid’s biggest competitors?
Jerax: I would say that has been the story of the season, where we have been our own opponents.
Jabbz: Team Secret, Extreme Gaming and Outsiders [Virtus.pro] are the major competitors to us for one of the two LCQ slots, but I believe we are better than all of them. The ones I am unsure of are Infamous, T1 and perhaps Polaris, because we haven’t seen a lot of them on the international stage. But like we spoke about before, thinking too much about the other teams can be detrimental.
On to lighter stuff now – what do you enjoy doing in your free time, when you are away from Dota 2?
Jerax: All of us love going to the gym! Personally, I enjoy reading, talking to my girlfriend and trying out good food.
Jabbz: My life is pretty much just Dota 2 and working out. But when I am at home and have some time on my hands, I like the simple things like learning to cook and going for a bike ride.
Blitz: I love to travel and hang out with my girlfriend. Simple lifestyle.
Blitz: Shoutout to Blazemon and Bash.
Jabbz: I’ll give a shoutout to Section 80 and the Squirtle Squad.
Jerax: No one comes to my mind!