Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bulba: "I do think the current patch has a huge emphasis on drafts."

GIH: Hello BuLba! You've recently completed a bo5 against for the 3rd/4th playoff for the dota 2 champions league in which you lost 3-1. Obviously this is a disappointing result. What do you think went wrong in this match?

BuLba: I think the game went the way of who had the better drafts. The first game I think we out picked them and the next 3 games I think they had a combination of better picks and play. But Sigma definitely has a better grasp of the game than us at the moment and they have some strong players.

GIH: Interesting - I noticed that your comment at the end of MLG was also about drafts. I think there you said the entire tournament had been about the drafts. Do you think the current patch puts more emphasis on drafts in general? Is it harder to win with a weaker draft than it used to be?

BuLba: I do think the current patch has a huge emphasis on drafts. Even more so than the old one. If you have a weak draft that the enemy can abuse early on, they just snowball faster with the new gold increase and it's hard to stage comebacks unless you have Elder Titan or a hero that can win u team fights even with a gold deficit.

GIH: Is there anything in particular that your team does to make an extra effort to have better drafts, then? Do you plan a lot of drafts in advance - or specific picks to beat other specific picks? Surely if drafting is becoming more important, it should be prioritized more as a team. Does your team draft together or does TC do most of it on his own?

BuLba: We do it together. The responsibility is not solely on TC. We have a mixture of ideas sometimes though and I think that hurts us. But we are all learning the game as we go. We obviously still have a long way to go. Better picks will come while we gain a better understanding of the game. Also we have to work on our execution. Its been pretty poor and we just are lacking a lot of synergy lately.

GIH: I'm glad you used the word 'lately' here because I want to press you a bit on that. What's changed? A few months ago Liquid looked like one of the top teams to beat, easily a top contender for strongest team in the West. It does feel like you guys are going through a bit of a slump, lately. I know sometimes it's very hard to diagnose exactly what's going on - but if you have any insights at all into what's changed for you guys lately, I'd be very interested to hear.

BuLba: Well once the new patch came out we just had no idea what to do. We had a general playstyle on the old patch and we knew what to do but there was a lot of chaos and I guess we were slow in adapting. Its still hard to find an answer to this because we still aren't as good as we can be. I guess we just have to practice more as a team and build ourselves up and learn along the way

GIH: Well, I think it's definitely an important test for any pro team to see how they deal with not doing as well as they know they can do. I'm sure you guys can find your old form though if you keep working hard. Best of luck with that!

On the subject of form, I have a more specific question about your recent form. In the semi-finals of the Dota 2 Champions League, you lost 3-0 against Alliance. It seems that your team has a very big Alliance problem at the moment. Of the 8 matches you have played versus them since TI3, you've won 1, drawn 1 and lost 6. In terms of games the score is 3-13.

Compare this to your record versus some other teams since TI3 and you notice something interesting. You've also played 8 matches versus Na'Vi and Fnatic since TI3. Against Na'Vi, you've won 3 and lost 5. 8-10 on game score. Against Fnatic, you're 4-4 and 7-7 on games.

It's interesting to me that you are achieving especially bad results versus Alliance since TI3 given that post-TI3 Alliance are/were clearly the 'team to beat'. Which is to say, I'd have expected all the top teams to study Alliance more than anybody else at that point and thus improve their results against them. What do you think the problem is here? Why has your team struggled so much to beat Alliance in particular?

BuLba: Hmm I don't know what we can get from the Alliance games. To be honest most of the games versus them we play poorly and they play well. I guess we draft and value similar heroes to each other and they out execute us? I don't know for sure. We definitely have had some rough games versus them though and they are still a strong team that can take a mistake and capitalize on it. And it isn't really people studying Alliance that is making them lose games lately. I think more so it's their similar struggle with the patch and what heroes got nerfed as well as how the pull system got changed.

GIH: Okay, interesting. As an outsider, it's easy for me to read significance into things that don't have any or don't have as much - so it's very useful to hear your thoughts here. You don't worry more about matches vs Alliance at the moment, then?

BuLba: No. I don't think any pro team should worry about matches. You should be confident regardless of who you play but again that's better said than done. There are definite times where you play worse because you play a certain team because you fear them. It's better to focus on your own play and the mistakes you made regardless of the enemy team.

GIH: Okay, that sounds like good advice.

Moving, away from questions about your team, Speed Gaming, a team that seems to have adjusted quite quickly to the new patch, are currently competing in China in G-League.

In a year where Alliance went to China and won G-1 league, Na'Vi went to China and won the Alienware Cup, DK travelled to the US and narrowly missed winning MLG, and VG conquered EMS in Europe, it would seem there is a trend developing of teams achieving big results away from home. Are these teams doing well despite being away from their comfort zones or in part because of this? Or does it make no difference at all?
[Speed Gaming have since been eliminated from G-league ending in 5th place.]

BuLba: I don't think it matters. Those teams were all the best in the respective patch at the time. Alliance were the best team during G-1 and Na'Vi just adapted the best to the Chinese playstyle at Alienware Cup. VG also played way better than everyone at EMS. Maybe it's cause they feel they have something to prove and are confident going into it.

GIH: That's an interesting suggestion. Some sports teams are said to perform better away from home because they feel less expectations to impress fans and thus focus more on their game without being so nervous - I suppose Dota might not be quite there yet in terms of 'home' and 'away' fans . . ?

BuLba: I doubt it, if anything the G-1 crowd was rooting for Loda more than the Chinese teams lol. And Alienware cup was online. I just think Both Alliance and Na'vi were way better than the Chinese teams before TI3 and the Chinese teams are better than the western teams at the moment. Speed told me their scrims vs the Chinese teams are crazy hard and China feels way more 'do shit' in the current patch.

GIH: Okay, that's very interesting - after losing TI3 to the West, the East is fighting back!

On a related note, in pro Dota, people have always talked of 'the East' and 'the West' but this usually just means China and everybody else. Given the size of the community, number of competitive teams and available existing infrastructure, it's perhaps a bit surprising that North America has never really been able to force a shift in the dominant discourse to one which discusses 'Europe, North America and China'. Why do you think this is? Will North America ever have enough tier 1 teams to justify speaking meaningfully about the scene separately to just 'the West'?

BuLba: Well to be fair, the American community is smaller than Europe and China by far. And the infrastructure from Dota 1 was non existent in North America also. Both Europe and China had infrastructure from Dota 1 while America had a few players. There's just a lack of good players that can commit to a schedule in NA. Playing scrims usually means playing vs European teams and that happens quite early in the day making it hard to both go to work and go to school. Also the way the American economy works makes it hard for you to just go all in on some dream of becoming a Dota pro gamer. Mainly because most of the competitive Dota games are early in the day so you have to be a full-time Dota player and that's just not liveable at the moment in the US except for a few players. MLG is trying to build up a base but there was never another organization that tried that was NA based to focus entirely on NA teams that also gave a big prize pool. I mean most sponsors want to see a lot of viewers on their streams and its hard to get that from American teams besides Liquid or EG.

GIH: Fair enough. I know it's a problem for all aspiring pro Dota players having to work out a way to pay the rent before such time as they do achieve sponsored salary etc. I didn't, however, realize what a factor timezones would play for North Americans, in this regard. It makes a lot of sense, now that you say it, that having to play during the day means it's a lot harder for you to ease your way into being a pro Dota player while doing, say, part-time work. That said, do you think that, in time, the industry will grow in North America to the point that it becomes easier for Americans to commit to Dota?

BuLba: Yea exactly, this past year was really damn busy for me because I juggled both Dota and school . I had days where I'd go for 12 hours straight with no break having to go to class at 7 AM and then being done with matches or scrims by like 8 PM. As for your second question, that eHug team came out of nowhere and is giving a team of 5 Inhouse League American players a contract that most pro teams can't afford. I guess you can say it was an e-miracle. Wish the best of luck to them. I'm good friends with the players in the team. The industry on the other hand is entirely MLG at the moment for NA. With their upcoming plans for NA next year, it should be cool but keep in mind that it definitely wont allow any NA players to play full-time that aren't at the moment.

It's very rare for a new player to come out of nowhere and make his imprint on the scene. Arteezy proved himself at MLG but he had experience playing competitive and had his connections to get a spot on Kaipi in the first place.

GIH: Right, thanks for these insights. If it's any small consolation to you, those outside of the US have to literally invert their days and nights in order to follow The International. But I guess that is only once a year.

Anyway, you've linked very neatly to my next question. What is your relationship with Arteezy and MSS? It seems like new talent in the NA scene is always heralded in by you. Is there anyone up-and-coming that we should be looking out for?

BuLba: I knew Arteezy a bit before TI2 but I started playing with him a lot after I came back. There was an IHL called NA-DL at the time and he was a regular there. I used to play occasionally and obsed a few games and saw that he had very strong laning. He then messaged me one day and asked me if I wanted to 1v1 practice and I said sure. We played quite a bit at the time since I wasn't on a team and just went to class.

At first he was pretty good and you could see he knew what to do but he had a lot of work to do. He was a classic pub stomper but over the next few weeks and months, he improved exponentially. At the time (not now) he had a small ego and was willing to learn and get better and often asked Envy and I to criticize his play. Another reason he improved a lot was confidence I think. He gained a lot of confidence in himself and his capabilities. I started trolling him as well as hyping him up on that show MAAD because he would get embarrassed and it eventually became a meme.
MSS was another pub player that I thought was good and asked to ring for our match because ixmike had an exam and he played Rubick and owned. He got a lot of praise off ringing for us. As for upcoming talent, I'd say Zai has a lot of potential even if he isn't American. He plays mostly with American players. As for specifically American, I think Mason is pretty good but he has a long ways to go if he wants to play on a team. Maybe RyuUboruZ at some times.

GIH: Okay, I'm sure that's more than enough people for us to look out for - and thanks for such a detailed answer! This next question is probably the one question I am most interested in knowing the answer to, even if it turns out to not be that interesting.

You are well known as one of the most creative innovators the pro Dota scene has ever had. Firstly, thanks! Secondly, is there a creative process you deliberately or consciously follow? Where do your new ideas come from?

BuLba: I don't think I have a conscious creative process per se. I just pick random stuff in pubs or Inhouse Leagues and test them out. Then if I think something is fun or cool I play it a bunch. That's kind of where the 0-4-4 ET build came from as well as Tinker going march.

GIH: So just, you know, science. Cool. So then, what's your favourite hero that you don't get to play in official matches at the moment?

BuLba: Probably Tinker or Disruptor. They are so fun to play.

GIH: Do you think Disruptor has potential in the mid lane since it got a pretty huge Aghanims Scepter effect?

BuLba: Yes I think it's cool but farming an Aghs on that hero takes so long - you need to snowball usually. But The hero has a pretty amazing skillset and I love it mid.

GIH: Would you ever buy a Midas on it? What do you think of the whole Midas Gaming trend? Will the extra 150 gold be the end of it?

BuLba: Uhh I guess if the circumstance arises - probably not in real games. And I disliked Midas overall so . . . I understand why people got it but it made games so damn boring and slow. As for the 150 gold, I'm sure the people going it in pubs will keep going it.

GIH: Haha, yeah, pubbers need more convincing than professionals, sometimes.

A trend that is more recent than Midas is Bristleback, which has seen an enormous rise in popularity [albeit more so in China] in the last month. Do you think this hero is legitimately first-pick material or is it being over-valued because it's trending at the moment?

BuLba: It's a strong hero. He has his counters though but if the hero does well early on, he's a pain to deal with. His damage is just so high and he's so damn tanky.

GIH: When I interviewed bOne7, he also mentioned that if Bristleback does well early on then it becomes pretty insane. If a good early game is such a big deal for the hero, why is it mostly being picked as an offlaner?

BuLba: Well early game meaning 10-20 minutes, not just laning phase. He needs few items and he is so tanky.

GIH: Okay, fair enough. Last question. Recently you've tweeted a lot of praise for Fy, most notably that:

Is there anything in particular you are impressed with when it comes to Fy? Have you learnt anything from watching him play?

BuLba: He has amazing movement and game sense. He has a similar playstyle to Chuan if you compare.

GIH: So Chuan went to ground and someone else had to step up! Haha, Okay, thanks a lot for this interview, BuLba! It's been a pleasure speaking to you. Do you have any shoutouts?

BuLba: Shoutout to my team and its sponsors, Shiny things, need for seat, barracuda, twitch and razer.

You can follow BuLba on twitter at

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