April 3, 2019
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Back in Black^

Meet Dominik “Black^“ Reitmeier ― one of the world’s most underestimated players today. Not only can he play a decent carry, being familiar with both European and Chinese Dota play styles, he can also bring a lot of expertise to the team. The only player to have played in Asian teams for a lengthy period of time, successfully most of the time.

”I’ve always been a hard working person,“ admits Dominik. “That is why it was difficult for me to be in Western teams ― I’ve constantly asked more than they could do. I was not satisfied with just playing practice games, I wanted more. That was one of the biggest reason why I went to China.”

Black^ followed a rule, which dictated that ”the only way to get smarter is to play a smarter opponent“. His desire was to be the best in the world, so he went to a region known to be strongest at that time.

”I think my attitude definitely helped me a lot. I didn’t have anything to lose, that is why I could just focus on Dota. Because of my discipline, I studied Chinese and exercised every day, just to stay healthy and to be able to play the best Dota I could. It helped me in that regard“, shared Black^.

Nevertheless, the first Dominik’s Chinese team was not quite Chinese; LGD. int was only based in China, but the roster was formed out of Western players. Unfortunately for Black^, the team did not last long enough to show aimed results and was disbanded a few months later.

“LGD didn’t work out because of the visa issues. One of the players had to go home. Then people weren’t happy about staying in China. In the end, they all left,” explained Black^. “After that, I joined team CIS, and we managed to win TI open qualifier. Then I joined Vici Gaming.“

That happened shortly after VG finished second at the International, while Dominik was not even able to make it to the main event. It was an excellent opportunity for him, he says, but at the same time, there was a lot of pressure, too. He had to live up to the expectations.

Black^ remembered his early days at Vici Gaming: ”At first, my new teammates didn’t trust me because I was a new guy and they didn’t know me well. Moreover, they didn’t trust me, because I was bad in the game, I had a lot of weaknesses. But it was all in the game, outside of it we got along well. In a couple of months I grew better, they got used to me and even started to respect me as a player, and that led us to winning tournaments.”

Despite the good relationship outside of the game, they did not spend much time together. Most of the time at the end of the day players would not stay at a team house, opting to go home to their families instead.

Those were dark lonely evenings. Dominik was constantly haunted by a promise he made to his father, who had died of cancer not long before Dominik moved to China, that he would become the best player and make a great career in the esports industry.

Furthermore, less than a year prior he had a bone marrow transplantation himself. Six months after his father’s death Dominik was diagnosed with a Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, with bone-marrow transplantation the only way to survive. The disease was in advanced stages, so he needed a donor fast. According to a doctor, Dominik had a year, otherwise it would be too late.

The bone marrow transplantation is an extremely dangerous procedure. The doctors extract bone marrow from a healthy person and then put it inside the sick one. Prior to surgery, however, the patient undergoes chemotherapy that kills his own bone marrow. Moreover, the donor’s tissue type must match the patient’s as closely as possible; otherwise, instead of healing the body it will destroy it, slowly and painfully. The newly transplanted blood cells will attack recipients cells. In other words, the body of a recipient will turn into a free for all deathmatch server for transplanted bone marrow cells.

“Nobody except the doctor and staff knew about my disease. No friends or family. I decided to go through it alone. It was not too hard to keep it away from them because I was never at home much. I always traveled to the events, so they never suspected anything”, opened up Dominik. “So I managed to go through the surgery and other necessary procedures without them knowing about it. Even though it was a hard time, it was the only solution I had if I wanted to live a good life again. That was my motivation to go through it.“

Black^ decided not to even share the news with his mother and brother, until after everything was already behind him. And they discovered it like the rest of the world, through the video at Kiev Major. While upset, Dominik was quickly forgiven when he sat down with them, explained and talked about it. He was alive and kicking, and that’s all that mattered.

All that ― just 6 months before the big move to China.

”Moving to China was a win-win situation for me. I was trying to figure out how to become better at Dota, and China was the best Dota country at that time. Also, it was quite nice to be able to get away from the problems,“ he admitted.

Now, shifting back to early days with Vici Gaming, not only did Black^ have to prove his teammates that he was a worthy addition to the team, he carried on the pressure of a promise made to his father.

“Until I win the International, I primarily haven’t fulfilled my promise. It will always be my goal, and this is the reason why I’m working so hard,” shared Black^. ”At first, it was tough for me, but over the years I managed to make it my strength rather than weakness. It’s all about pressure. With growing older, I learned to deal with it. At some point, you get used to it and from that time on it empowers you rather than weakens.“

It made the case for China more so relevant in pursuing his long-term objective, as it enabled him to grow and develop both personally and professionally. Despite a rough start with VG, the team rallied to improve his skills; especially QQQ, or Shiny ball, as they call him in China. They would watch demos with Black^ and point out the mistakes. For example, QQQ would pay particular attention to Dominik’s positioning and item build after the game.

”I believe that words don’t mean anything if you can’t put them into action. If someone says I’m bad when I’m playing better than him, I won’t take it seriously. I only listen to constructive criticism. For me, the best critics were my teammates and coaches. Whatever they said I take it too hard," he said.

The analysis of players’ performance was just a part of their work. Normally, Vici Gaming would spend about 16 hours a day practicing before tournaments. VG played 3-4 best-of-threes every day, followed by long discussions. Back then, says Black^, Chinese teams mostly discussed team fights, while Western teams preferred to talk about efficiency and precise movement around the map.

Hard work paid off. With VG, Black^ won ESL One New York 2014, i-League Season 1, the Summit 2 and finished 2nd at DAC 2015. Vici Gaming became Dominik’s most successful team. Unfortunately, despite the good results, the team decided to replace him with the TI4 champion Hao. According to his ex-teammates, a language barrier was the primary factor behind the decision.

Black^ cites this as the only bad memory from China: “It was a bad situation. They kicked me after a roster lock, and I was not ready for that. But I moved on. Sometimes things do not work out. No hard feelings now, it’s all just a business. The way it was done was not correct, but we all are not very good at these things, and we all want the best for us. So I can understand them. S*t just happens.”

Today Black^ is a free agent. If not for a broken arm, he says he would have already been in a pro team.

“I fell out of a small mountain. Got way too competitive and overwhelmed. Though it’s all my fault, I hate that situation,“ reflected Dominik. ”I want to go back to tier one, and once I get my chance, people will be surprised with me. They will be very impressed because many of them think I’m not good anymore. But they haven’t seen me play yet.”

Recent changes in the reshuffle rules may make Dominik’s way back to the top both easier and harder. On one hand, there will be a lot of changes in teams this year, which might come in handy. On the other hand, players might be less serious about teams. They might be continuously leaving and joining rosters, trying to find the right one, so they can get to the top without breaking a sweat.

“These changes are important for smaller teams, as big ones won’t change their rosters. I mean top 8 of the International would not want to do that. If a team doesn’t place like top 6 or 8, players eventually will start disliking each other, blaming each other for the losses. It’s natural. Everyone wants to win, though not all of the players are ready to work hard for it”, he shared. "Moreover, if you keep losing it’s a bad sign for a team. It’s very rare when a team doesn’t do well for a few months and then suddenly nails it. Most of the time roster change has to happen, just because people are not happy with each other. And when it happens it’s time for a change. Things don’t magically get better."

As it goes in a team game such as Dota, you always rely on your teammates. Finding the right ones happens to be a lot about synergy and luck: you have to be in the right place in the right time with the right people.

Black^ has already had a few offers by the time of our conversation from teams he was not ready to disclose, for obvious reasons. It is difficult to say if he is able to find the right people to achieve his life’s mission with or not. One thing is clear, however ― giving up is not in Black^s blood.