ppd interview: “Dota audience was missed in North America”

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Photo by: ESL

By Taras Bortnik
Special to VPEsports

Ninjas in Pyjamas are now qualified for the EPICENTER Major. They came to the Minor in Kiev, Ukraine with this objective, they secured it and now they are set for more of a show match with Alliance in a best-of-five grand final in the Cybersport Arena.

Taras Bortnik, our special reporter at the event, was able to have a long talk with NiP’s captain Peter “ppd” Dager at the end of the second group stage day in the arena. The conversation is a bit about the tournament itself, but it visits a lot of other hot topics. The DPC system, the lack of events in North America, the esports bubble, the struggles esports investors face, real-life challenges for pro players and more.

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Hello Peter, how do you enjoy the tournament so far, this was your first play day in the arena.

So far the tournament it’s been ok, we won our series versus Sirius, which was very, very difficult, but it was kind of to be expected [ed.note: the group stage series]. The Chinese and European teams at the Minors are usually the best in the event. The hotel is really nice, although the rooms are really small. Like, there is no room to even open our bags, but we have two beds, so it’s ok.

Speaking about the event itself, my experience on day one at the Cybersport Arena is very similar to my previous times I’ve been here. The stage was ultra hot, so I was sweating constantly during the games, especially during the ones we were losing. I was wearing a long sleeve, so I took it off and swapped it with just my jersey, but it was still very, very warm. Also, we had to use the sound cancelling headsets with the in-ears as well for audio, and to me, this is just really outdated.

No other tournaments I’ve been to this year have used this kind of a system. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for players. I was constantly trying to massage my ears during the game, like when I die or something because my ears were in pain. I’ve been playing tournaments for seven years now and I feel like we should at least be comfortable when we’re playing. I don’t think this is an unreasonable thing to ask. I remember how bad it used to be when I had glasses as well, it was so much worse.

That being said, I’m a big fan of Kiev, I really like it. It’s a cool city, it’s a fun city, but I’m a little tired of playing in the Cybersport Arena. I’ve won like two or three tournaments here, maybe even four, I played probably four events here. I got a good record in this Arena and hopefully, I can keep that up with this tournament. I would love to go to EPICENTER Major. That’s the dream, top 2 here.

Last year when you played in the Cybersport Arena you took the trophy home. You were playing with Pajkatt under the Optic banner. Now Pajkatt is NiP’s coach. Let’s talk a little bit about that. How did your relation with Pajkatt change since last year?

Yeah, me and Pajkatt had a bit of a falling out, I guess you could say. There wasn’t really any bad blood after TI8. We just went our separate ways and didn’t really talk to each other that much. I don’t really know what he was up to and I was just doing my thing. I guess he tried out for OG and then took a break and was just kind of on the back foot for a while, but Saksa brought up the idea of bringing him in as a coach as we were a little bit shaky on whether we want or not to keep Clairvoyance. Everyone else was on board, so we went on and did it.

So far, he’s been really helpful. He really fits in with the team, he’s a fun guy, he’s a good guy to have around and you know, he provides another angle and helps us think about the game in angles that sometimes we miss.

Coaching is a pretty difficult job, everyone kind of does it to the best of their abilities. To me, the coach is always just another person to talk Dota with and Pajkatt is a very experienced player and he is oftentimes very vocal, he is a strategist. He is not at all one of those guys who doesn’t talk and just plays Dota. He’s a leader to some degree and he is pretty good at putting his thoughts on paper or speaking them.  

credits: StarLadder

Did the patch that was added just before the tournament started affect your plans, your strategies?

Well, this was a bit of a smaller patch. It was pretty easy to see what heroes got buffed and what heroes got nerfed. A couple of our favourite heroes got buffed, we already showed our Bristtleback today. He got another buff in this last tiny patch, so we are definitely digging him right now, but we are already qualified to TI, so we are just kind of doing our best and see how far we can go here.

Speaking about being already qualified to TI, Team Liquid are also qualified, yet they surprised everyone this week with the Matumbaman announcement. What is your take on their decision?

Well, It was surprising. I definitely expected them to stick together until TI, especially since they got second place at the previous Major. It’s hard to mess with excellence, but Kuroky is a perfectionist and I think he probably wants to go to TI and win it and maybe he just feels like the current squad that he had, maybe it can’t challenge Team Secret, or maybe things were just getting too stressful, too much internal conflict. Who knows what it was?

It really sucks for Matumbaman. Everybody is talking about all this legacy, everyone is like “we will miss you Matumbaman,” all these little nice things, but  Liquid is the first team qualified to TI to kick one of their players. That could happen to more teams, but I don’t think so. It just really sucks. Matumbaman played for Liquid all year and prize money this year, honestly, is much smaller than it has been in the previous season, but TI will once again have its biggest prize pool ever, and Matumbaman is just probably not going to participate unless he finds a team, but to me that seems pretty unrealistic.

There is nothing wrong with changing a roster, but the fact is that they were qualified to TI, they removed him, he will most probably not getting another chance to play this year’s TI, they bring in their new player and that new player gets to go to TI with them.  

Do you think that Liquid’s decision might start a domino effect and that more teams will be now thinking to make a similar move?

It may look like that, but I think that every team has to take a decision like that on their own, not just because of what Liquid did. If anything, people are encouraged to do it now because I don’t know, I feel like everybody is just giving them like positive PR. Everyone is a big fan of them and they’re talking about how much they loved that roster and that they gonna miss it. To me, it feels like Matumbaman got really f**ed over and nobody is really talking about that.

Let’s talk about NiP. Your season had many ups and downs, where do you see your team standing now, how do you guys feel a couple of months before TI9?

I feel like we’ve been shaky and inconsistent and not playing the highest quality of Dota throughout the year. That being said, I think we’ve always been like a top12 to top 8 team which is pretty good, we’re just having a hard time breaking into that upper six. I mean, it’s unfortunate, but we still had a really successful year, we made a ton of money and we qualified to TI9. And hey, a top 4, top 6 even a top 8 at TI it’s big money and that’s what we are after. I think this roster is definitely capable of that, it’s just all about us coming together and playing well on those important days.

From the teams left in the competition here at the Minor, which one would you say is the toughest opponent for NiP?

I thought EHOME would beat Alliance, but I was wrong. I’m definitely not afraid of Alliance at all. I’m more afraid of Team Sirius.

But you defeated Sirius in the group stage matches.

Yeah, but barely.

credits: StarLadder

What’s your take on the big 7.22 patch and the current meta, are there too many heroes that became OP or too many that are obsolete?

Let’s see…I definitely think Chen is still really good. He got a bit of a nerf, they switched his spells around, but I still think that he is really, really good. I also feel like Enigma can be quite strong. I already mentioned Bristtleback, he is doing very well. A lot of people have been picking Ancient Apparition which I haven’t been picking myself, but he seems decently strong. And I think Leshrak is probably overpowered.

So, this year you kind of moved to Europe, right? Do you miss your family, do you have trouble adapting on another continent, when was the last time you went back home to America?

Yes, I moved to Europe, but I got myself an apartment with my brother back home, in Indiana. That’s my hometown, where my parents live and everything. I had intentions to go back more, but every tournament this year has been in Europe or Eastern-Europe, well except for the KL and CQ Majors. So, the last time I went back home was in February for my mom’s Birthday and I haven’t been back since. The flights over the ocean are super draining.

So, you miss your family and all the personal connections you have back home.

Yes, I miss my family, but I lived with them for 22 years, you know I’ve been there I’ve done that. People don’t always want to be around their parents. I definitely isolated myself, living this pro gamer life. I wasn’t that kind of a person to go out and make friends in my hometown. It wasn’t my thing. I was in my room playing video games with my online friends.

So, I don’t really have super strong personal connections. I’m kind of a free spirit, I lived in different cities almost every single year and now I’m planning to stay one more year in Stockholm. I’m starting to build my own little European life here.

I like Europe quite a lot, Stockholm especially is a very, very nice city. But I’d say that for a foreigner it is very difficult to meet people that speak English. Everybody in Sweden wants to speak Swedish, they are proud to be Swedish, that’s kind of how it is and to them, I’m just some random guy. So, when I engage with somebody and we have a one on one conversation they will go English, of course, but when they turn to their friends or to somebody else, it’s all Swedish and I’m out.

I want to ask you about your relations with Valve, and I want to talk about it because it seems like every time you tweet something they kind of listen to you or at least they take into consideration the aspects you are pointing out. Do you feel responsible for what you say publicly, for what you write on Twitter?

Of course, I feel responsible for the words that I say. I mean I don’t just go on Twitter and type anything without thinking about it first. I try not to make myself look like an idiot as much as I can, but when you speak so out-right like I have in the past, you are bound to make some mistakes. But I also feel like I said a lot of things that have created a lot of conversation that had led to a lot of positive things. You have to take the good with the bad, I think it’s really cool that Valve is willing to listen to its players and even look to me for some guidance about how to run their DPC.

That being said, I don’t really communicate with Valve. It’s all one way. I just present my opinions and ideas and sometimes they make it to the front page of Reddit and I feel like Valve reads Reddit, so they see it and they take note.

The current DPC season is coming to an end very soon. I suppose we will see some changes in the system with the new season, do you have any suggestions?

Yeah, I have a ton of suggestions. I think that we should probably just cut away the minor qualifiers, I mean for example give three slots to EU for the Major and just add the 4th and fifth-placed teams to the Minor. You gonna cut down 4 to 5 days of people’s time and money (bootcamp, food, hotels, accommodation, you name it). It’s going to cut down costs for the teams, for the tournament organisers. I also think that tournaments themselves should probably really rethink the whole idea of running the group stages. We haven’t used the DPC ranking system throughout the entire year. The only tournament that actually utilizes the DPC rankings is TI and all that is just getting top 12 and you are invited. So, it doesn’t really matter if you are 1st or 12th. I think you can just eliminate the group stage in general and just run a double elimination bracket based on the seeding in the DPC rankings. That way you can cut down tournaments from nine days to 4-5 days.

I also think that we don’t have to run tournaments in stadiums. Every tournament I’ve gone to has been in a stadium and the only places that managed to have a decent crowd are Kuala Lumpur, due to the massive fan base in Malaysia and the ESL events. The Minors and all the Majors I’ve been to have been a complete disaster in terms of spectators. I mostly believe that’s because people are forcing this parallel between esports and professional sports. And the fact is that esports is a phenomenon created by the internet, it’s a totally different beast. The monetization for third parties just really isn’t there. The only people who actually make money on esports are the game developers. That’s Valve, that’s TI. Sure, they help third-party organisers with half of the prize money, but the other half of the prize money and all the other costs to run a tournament, those are hard to recoup.

So, let’s just bring our standards down. Let’s stop putting up a stadium, let’s get like a small studio, maybe a couple of hundred seats if we want and really take care of the players, really do a good job on the broadcast, let’s put up a great show for the 99.9% of the audience who is watching online.

This year the NA community had no tournament held on the continent, why do you think Valve decided to not go there. I mean this is going to be the second year in a  row when even TI will be hosted outside America.

It’s definitely unfortunate, however, I think that North America Dota audience is very small. The NA esports audience is very invested in other games, like Overwatch, Lol, Call of Duty, CS:GO even. To some extent, FPS is much more popular than Dota in America.

So America is lost for Dota?

Yes, I think that the Dota audience was missed in North America. I think that there was a generation of console gamers and FPS players and sports games especially got a ton of attention in the US. Fifa, NHL, NBA, those games are huge there and Dota just wasn’t on everybody’s radar, unless you were a really hardcore PC gamer. And I think that the investment in trying to advertise Dota to a new audience is probably a waste of time. Younger generations of people who get into esports will join Fortnite or the next popular game. To them, that will be the cool thing to do, that will be everything that their friends are doing. Dota is this titanic esports that has this audience of people my age, my generation who will love and cherish this game probably for the rest of their lives. People will play Dota in their 30s and 40s and TI will continue to have multimillion Dollar events. The scene outside TI may shrink but TI will always be there and will kind of create shadows which will allow us to hold on the tournaments throughout the year.

There is a lot of talk recently about the esports bubble, do you think it is really like that, do we live in a bubble that might very well one day stop existing?

It’s definitely real. When I think of the average esports consumer, I think of myself. How do I actually spend money? It’s not really on video games, it’s not really on watching tournaments, it’s not on team merchandise, it’s not on products that esports teams are advertising. So, I don’t think that the monetization is really there for these third-party companies that have taken this phenomenon of esports and tried to make a business out of it.

There is a lot of old very rich, you know multi-millionaires, billionaires even, who hire these young guys who convinced them that they know what they are doing to go start businesses in esports because it’s gonna blow up. The people at the very top, on the other hand, like ESL will always be around, Team Liquid, Cloud 9 are examples of very successful esports organisations that will survive that burst. But I think that everybody will take a hit across the board at some point when they realize that what we are doing here is absolutely crazy and there is no money actually made except for the people that are able to access the actual revenue, which are the people spending money on microtransactions because they are playing the game. That’s what it all was from the very beginning. People are spending their money in-game not outside of the game.

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More interviews from the StarLadder ImbaTV Minor:

iNSaNiA: “Our biggest rivals, for the whole season, not only at this Minor, are NiP”

ASD:“To me personally, Alliance’s playstyle is somewhat incomprehensible”

K1:“In Peru, the organizations ask for big prize money cuts. Something around 70%.”

Y: “Looking back, I feel sad because I understand that we could have performed much better”



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