The International 2011 was a key moment in the development of esports. It became the impetus that the industry needed to reach a new level.
It is thanks to gamers around the world, those in their late 20s or in their 30s, that The International became a reality. If it weren’t for your passion and dedication to the games, we wouldn’t have esports such as it is now. For many, games became a hobby, for some — a burden, but for the lucky few, those who managed to become esportsmen — games turned into a profession.
Today, I want to tell you the story of the only TI champion from Russia — Dmitriy LighTofHeaveN Kupriyanov. All facts, no BiaS.
I was a stubborn kid who loved competing and the feeling of victory. I played chess and checkers, and was also pretty good at sports. For example, I was one of the best in my school at the 100- and 250-meter dashes. With my schoolmates, I often participated in football tournaments in a different Moscow district. We’d always finish second, because we couldn’t beat School No. 244, if I recall correctly. I did play sports a lot and with great success, but I was also quite good at maths, even participated in some competitions.
I became serious about gaming when I got tired of football. You have to work out every day to get better at it, and I didn’t feel like doing it at all. You may ask, but what about chess? Well, I was the best player in our district, but that was only because everyone else was bad. I once went to a tournament on the other side of Moscow and got rekt by a ten-year-old kid who was literally half my size. I realized that there were smart opponents out there, but they were further away and online chess was not a thing yet (not for me, at least), so I just gave up on chess and switched to computer games.
Starcraft was one of the first ones, which I played it on a decent level. Even had a B+ rank on one of the EU servers. Then Warcraft III came out and I switched to that. Loved both the original game and custom maps — Footman Frenzy, for example — which I played to relax when I was tired of everything else.
One day I discovered a map called Three Corridors and immediately fell in love with its concept: three lines, a lot of heroes, and they all fight each other. A bit later, Dota got released. It had the same rules but with more options and variations. Naturally, I played the heck out of it on Battle. net.
During my last year in school, I completely lost interest in studying. We were supposed to remember tons of information, and I just felt like some kind of hard drive. We were never told how to apply the information in real life, and to me that was the most important part.
I also hated when math teachers made us write down the detailed path we took to solve equations. I could do it in five minutes in my head, but putting it all on paper took me about an hour. Studying just became rote to me. I thought there was no point in it, so I switched to what I loved — competing.
That decision made my life much harder. Obviously, grades went down, which became the main reason for constant fights with my mom. We argued a lot. Back then, we lived in a one-room flat. My mom didn’t have a university education, so she had to slave away at work to feed us. Her job was hard, and she didn’t want me to follow in her footsteps. Plus, we lived in a bad part of town and my mom was afraid I would get into dodgy company. Lots of bad shit was happening in that place — my father was even killed there in the 90s.
She and other relatives were constantly putting pressure on me, saying I had everything I needed to study well and enter a good university. They told me a lot of “interesting” stuff, but I was opinionated and stubborn, so I kept playing games. That war lasted for quite a while.
When my mom got tired of it, she tried another method of motivating me. She told me that if I wanted to keep playing, I had to earn my living myself. So she cut off my allowance, save for extremely rare and tiny amounts. Without her money, I couldn’t upgrade my PC, and it needed upgrading because there was big lag in Dota. I also needed money to pay for the internet, and that’s not even getting into personal expenses.
I had no choice but to get a job. I didn’t have higher education so I worked as a courier, loader, made some T-shirts at the factory, even tried McDonald’s. The latter was the most difficult of all. For example, when I worked as a loader, I would unload a truck and then have a small break, 15 minutes or so. I could sit outside, relax and breathe some fresh air.
At McDonald’s, the rules were strict, and there were no breaks. It felt like it was wartime and I was working at a bullet factory. We had to work non-stop, and if we paused even for a second, it would be the end, we would run out of ammo and lose to the enemy.
During that time, I almost didn’t play Dota due to my bad PC. But then I discovered the Playground internet cafe.
(Playground was one of the most popular internet cafes in Moscow, where many future pro gamers went to play in the 2000s. It also hosted many professional tournaments, for example, the WCG preliminaries. — Wallhack Journal)
Internet cafes were not cheap — a nightlong session at Playground cost around 90 roubles, or 120 roubles for the VIP section (the exchange rate at the time was about 30 roubles per dollar — Wallhack Journal). I spent almost all my money there. I tried to make my paycheck last through 20 nights at the internet cafe plus pastry and tea we’d have there.
At some point, I realized that the job took up too much of my time and the money I made from it wasn’t enough. I gave it some thought. Back then, despite all our arguments, my mother cooked for me, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that. I decided that I would cut down on my food spending and only eat my mom’s cooking. Therefore, I only needed to find money for the internet and to save for a PC upgrade. It was something around 300–400 roubles.
I quit my job and started saving money from gifts for birthday and Defender of the Fatherland Day (a national holiday in CIS countries that is celebrated on February 23; originally, it was called Red Army Day — Wallhack Journal). Also, my grannies would sometimes just throw some cash my way. You know grandmothers — they love their grandchildren unconditionally, and I really appreciate that. With all of these changes in my income, my approach to spending didn’t change much: I made each rouble count so I could visit Playground once or twice a week.
Thanks to my grannies, I managed to get a good internet connection, and I started to play on the Say_Plz team on Battle. net. My friend Armageddon_SF, a local esports activist who always created new teams and participated in tournaments, was the one who told me about it. My in-game decisions were smart and creative, so I got spotted by NS, who was already a famous player. We talked a lot over the internet, and then I met him at an internet cafe, I believe it was the very same Playground. When I saw him, he seemed to be a kind person, but also a cunning one — I could feel it in his voice. He was smart and knew how to apply his knowledge in the game. I can say with certainty that to this day he is still one of the most intelligent and craftiest people in RuHub.
By the way, back then almost all local top players were practicing at Playground. There, you could meet Jolie, NS, Zydu, FocusIRE, Alik, GET-LOST, Mirniy and Smile. At first, Smile considered me a very low skill player, even tried to bully me. But once he saw me at the tournament, his opinion of me changed instantly.
Those were my first LAN-tournaments, with teams formed by the above-mentioned Armageddon_SF. If it weren’t for him, I would never have gone to LANs, people wouldn’t have spotted me, and I’d still be a loader or a courier. One of those tournaments was an ASUS Open (a famous series of tournaments in the CIS — Wallhack Journal), which took place at the VikaWeb internet cafe. We didn’t win the tournament, but I will always remember it. We had mixes of Jolie and vigoss in our group. Everybody thought that we wouldn’t be able to put up a fight and wouldn’t last more than 20–25 minutes. However, those turned out to be intensely epic games with divine rapiers and constant fights. The tournament finished at 3 am, and we had to walk home for about two hours because the underground was closed. It was a fun night.
Then there was the Kiber Metel (CyberBlizzard — Wallhack Journal) tournament that was organized by nirvana_sf (nirvana_sf was a prominent player on the CIS esports scene in the 2000s. He also owned the Rush3D team, organized tournaments, etc. — Wallhack Journal). I remember the guys from Say_plz — one of the then-best CIS teams — standing behind my back and watching me play. They were captivated by my play, so they invited me to the team as a replacement for Hoha, who already had a job, a car, and other real-life interests and responsibilities, and only played Dota for fun.
After my transition to Say_plz, a 3×3 tournament in the Marshall club was announced. My teammates TT, Ownage, and PRO registered as a team, and I had no choice but to talk to vigoss and ask him to play with me. He agreed and we ended up winning.
Competitions like that became regular in Moscow, and my team would often triumph. Sometimes prize money would last me a whole month. If I needed more, I could always play with someone in a club for money. I was a skilled player, so it was easy money for me.
I was finally able to earn my living by playing games, though it didn’t sway my mom and other relatives. They all judged me, saying that I was wasting my time and that things would end badly for me. They saw no difference between a casino game and an esports event, and argued that one couldn’t make a living on a casino game.
Of course, Dota is much closer to chess than to gambling, but they didn’t get that. In the end, we just ignored each other. Whenever they would try to push me, I was never at a loss for word to push back. We basically had an unspoken agreement in which they didn’t bother me, and I didn’t ask them for money.
My night play sessions were another stumbling block in my relationship with mom. I was still living with her in the one-room flat, and neither of us had private space. At some point, I don’t know how, I managed to persuade her to go along. I played during nighttime while she used earplugs.
My first online tournament with Say_plz was MYM.Pride, the first international Dota championship with a good prize pool. In the final game, we destroyed the opponents both at our and their server, where our ping was 200. It was my first international title.
There were games where I played on the mid lane and had a level six hero while my opponent still was level one. No one could even imagine that it was possible to last-hit creeps like I did back then. It was challenging because if you wanted to see hit points of a unit, you had to hold the Alt key — such were the mechanics of the game. I spent three days in a row in front of my monitor mastering last hits. That effort paid off, so my opponent came to the middle lane with level one, and left with level one, too. If you think there’s nothing special about it, just try it yourself.
At that MYM.Pride, I loved playing Sniper, the most overpowered hero at the time. He was basically the reason we won that tournament. I also loved Lich, Silencer, Medusa, and Necrophos. Back then, we would dominate a line with intelligence heroes, then purchase level 3 Necronomicons and push the buildings.
By the second MYM.Pride, I was out of Say_plz, and broke to boot. I couldn’t participate in the tournament because I couldn’t scrape together 200 roubles to go to 4Game, a famous internet cafe in Moscow, and play. I lost my title just because of a few hundred roubles, and it wasn’t the only time when I was completely broke.
By the way, money is one of the reasons I didn’t go to any after-parties. I had nothing to buy booze with, so even if I wanted to start smoking or drinking back then, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Another reason is that just like any sportsman, I didn’t want to waste my energy on parties and other things like that. After a game, I just went back to my neighborhood and spent some time with my friends or playing football. Although now I admit that an occasional party can be helpful.
At some point, the number of tournaments jumped up. There was the famous series ASUS Open, internet cafes Ladoga and Marshal organized their own championships, there were online tournaments, and many others.
One of those new championships was a student league, which played a crucial role in my career. The winner received 1,500 dollars, 300 per player. As far as esports championships go, it was a pittance, but for me it was huge. The league rules allowed one player from outside the university per varsity team, so my friends from Say_plz, who were all studying at the department of physics and mathematics of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (“Russian MIT” — Wallhack Journal), invited me to be the fifth player. Our main competitors were Smile’s and Jolie’s stacks, and the latter if I’m not mistaken played with vigoss at the time. The victory at that tournament allowed me to buy a better PC. It wasn’t a high-end, top-of-the-line machine, but at least it gave me more than 5 fps during Crystal Maiden’s ultimate.
I should mention that at that time, I was a pretty toxic person, and only a handful of people could tolerate me. Luckily, Say_plz were among those people. If they were feeding or doing something stupid in-game, I didn’t mince words when pointing out the shortcomings. I thought that everyone had to play flawlessly. Back then, I was just consumed by the game and expected the same level of dedication from people around me. I was truly unbearable, and my behavior was even the reason I didn’t get into a very prestigious school. I fit all criteria except for manners. I could say “go f*ck yourself” even to a teacher. However, I wasn’t a bully or mean for no reason, but an introvert who could be a little too stubborn about his opinions. It can take a while for me to reach a boiling point, but once I do — you know there’s gonna be hell to pay.
After the PC upgrade, money was of no importance to me. All I needed was 400 roubles for the internet and some more for internet cafes. I started practicing even more, my skill skyrocketed, and I became one of the top 1×1 players. Only vigoss, FocusIRE and pgg could compete with me.
In the start of my stint at Say_plz, our team consisted of me, NS, TT, Pro, and Ownage. Shortly before ESL, only two from this roster remained — TT and I. Pro quit Dota because his education was more important to him, he really liked studying. Ownage switched to poker, he saw more opportunities there. Later, when I ran into him in the street, he would always be carrying a computer monitor or something of the sort. He said that he bought it with poker money. NS went on the team with vigoss and Jolie. He believed in them. That meant we had to recruit three more people — Venom, Zydu, and Hoha.
At ESL, we went up against TeamQ that was made up of eljefe, Pinguin, Jesse, Cat, and iMBa. They were the most experienced and smart players in Dota at the time. They knew almost everything there was to know about the game. They could sit on the high ground for two hours because they knew it would make them stronger in the ultra late game. That famous two and a half hour game we played at ESL was against them.
Before that game, we had a big fight with my teammates. I was yelling at them because of their mistakes. It ended with Venom and I saving and leaving the game. I said that I didn’t want to play with him anymore. At that moment, vigoss and Sashka were at the internet cafe, so they finished the game for us. They became our stand-ins despite the rules prohibiting it. After that match, our teammates told us that we wouldn’t get money if didn’t continue playing. Since everyone needed cash back then, we had no choice but to put up with each other and play. The next game was that two and half hour match against TeamQ which I carried with Silencer.
Shortly after ESL, three players left our team, and only Zydu and I remained on the roster. During that time, the legendary Virtus.pro was building up its roster, with Smile and Admiration coming in from the second DOTA line-up. We decided to invite the remaining players of that team, Alik and FocusIRE, to Say_plz. Haron, a player from Siberia, became our fifth. We participated in some tournaments, but the results were not good. At some point, Zydu had enough and left the team. Once again, we had to find a replacement.
Pgg was reshuffling IMHO, and it turned out Zydu left us to join that team. We were good friends with pgg back then, and I saw that his skills were quite impressive. When I met him for the first time, I perceived him as quite impulsive, intense, but at the same time amusing and charismatic. It was fun hanging out with him and playing Dota together, and so I invited him to our team.
In the end, Zydu joined IMHO so he could play with pgg, and pgg ended up joining us — talk about turning the tables. With pgg on the team, we started farming tournaments like they were creeps in the mid-lane.
Despite our multiple victories, pgg’s impulsiveness led to the team disbanding. We won some ASUS competition, and he started trash talking FocusIRE and GET-LOST, saying something like “You’re noobs! I carried you the whole tournament. You are nothing without me.” Well, GET-LOST was not a shy guy himself, so he replied to pgg in the same vein. Two days after that victory, our team fell apart, and Say_plz ceased to exist. The owner lost his interest in it and decided to put more effort in the league of the same name.
Pgg’s impulsiveness was his Achilles heel. It was the reason for constant roster changes in his teams, and it happened almost after every tournament. He was difficult to tolerate: my toxicity was nothing compared to his rage. Nevertheless, I had no problem playing with him, because by that time I had learned to not give a f*ck about what was going on around me and just do what I had to do.
My friends taught me to remain calm in any situation. It was pretty simple. I just had to ask myself the right questions. For example, a person is yelling at me, cursing at me. Does it have any real effect on anything? No, they are just blustering. If it changes nothing, do I need to react? No.
So every time these things happened, I was just sitting there and playing. Of course, at first it wasn’t as easy as it sounds — I had to train myself. In the beginning, there were situations when players tried to kill my self-esteem, they told me that I was a low-skill. And I totally took the bait — I knew I was good, and tough, and I had to prove them wrong. However, in some time I taught myself to stop reacting, even if they called me the worst player ever.
As a result, I could easily play with pgg even despite his extreme impulsiveness. I’ll tell you more: usually, when he yelled at his teammates, they left games, but when he yelled at me, he was the one to rage quit. All because I kept calm, and he couldn’t stand it.
Later, when I became a streamer, commentator and analyst, I realized that being absolutely calm all the time is wrong. If we are talking about hype and media, it is a total disaster from a PR standpoint to not show any emotion, even though it is one of the best qualities when it comes to productivity. That is why sometimes I get into an arrogant mindset and brag about my victory at The International. By the way, it was AdmiralBulldog who taught me that, and I really appreciate it.
After one tournament, I received an offer to join Virtus.pro. At the moment, the salary was 200 or 300 dollars, which was huge money for me.
Probably I could’ve joined Virtus.pro earlier, since the team was formed from the mix of NS, Jolie, and vigoss who wanted me from the very beginning. However, I needed the money that only big organizations could provide back then. I could not afford to lose $150 that Say_plz were paying me back then.
I got the offer to join because Smile and Admiration left Virtus.pro. Smile went to SK to play with Loda, which was definitely an excellent opportunity for him. Admiration switched to poker. He was a smart guy and realized that Dota was too small for him. Blowyourbrain became our fifth player because he was really good at 3×3 tournaments and was really diligent.
When I joined Virtus.pro, we started winning titles straight away. For example, we won MYM.Pride, leaving no chances to Maelk and Merlini in the final. For six months, we dominated the Dota scene. Many considered NS, vigoss, Jolie and I the best team-up in the world. Then all of a sudden VP decided that the organization didn’t need a Dota roster anymore. I never found out why — we were an outstanding team that won almost every tournament. I remember Groove, manager of the team who is currently a CEO of Gambit, telling us that if Virtus.pro fails to find money to send us to Dreamhack, he would personally find a sponsor, but he never followed through on his promise. At first, we tried to find another sponsor, and during that period we replaced blowyourbrain with Puppey. Clement was one of the best players at the time, he had a really good micro and the potential to become the captain.
The search for a sponsor produced two options. I could join Jolie and Puppey. The owner of nirvana teams in Asia Erick promised them a sponsorship, because he wanted to create a new team in the West. Alternatively, I could join Begrip, a team formed by nirvana_sf. Because Erick’s support was not a guarantee, I decided to join Begrip, which had pgg and a salary of around 8,000 roubles. We also had a bootcamp and were allowed to play for free at 4Game.
My decision was also dictated by my dental problems. My teeth were practically decaying due to my poor nutrition and lack of care. I had no money for a dentist, and I needed about 40,000 roubles to save my teeth, fast. Taking that into account, I joined Begrip, which later became Rush3D. At first, we had a verbal agreement, but when we won an ASUS tournament under the Begrip name, we formalized it on paper.
That kicked off an era of our domination at the ASUS Open series. I remember how in the middle of a game against vigoss, Smile and Puppey at one of the ASUSes, where we were losing 10–20, pgg got disconnected. We had to play without him. I took his Beastmaster under my control, and pgg sat behind our backs giving us advice. We won that game.
There was a team called Walk3r Gaming at that same ASUS. It consisted of Goblak, Dendi, and Axura. Upon arrival in Moscow, they found out two of their teammates decided to drop out of the tournament. The poor guys had to find two players right in the internet cafe. But it all worked out in the end and they made top-3. Dendi was a god-tier player back then, he had just become a mid-laner and was doing some incredible feats in-game.
The first roster of DTS was created at that ASUS tournament. It consisted of Dendi, Goblak, Axura, Jolie, and Puppey who was really tilted after he had lost to us that game 5×4. The team did pretty well for a while, but Goblak and Clement didn’t get along. After some time, Puppey and Jolie left the team despite dominating the scene, and created CS.int. DTS tried to make a full Ukranian roster, but nothing good came out of it.
After a while, nirvana_sf decided to close Rush3D. According to our contracts, if we were to leave the organization, we had to pay him $10,000, and if nirvana_sf were to terminate the agreements, then he had to pay us a few of our monthly salaries. As you may have already guessed, he paid me nothing. He still owes me that money. Today, I’m making enough, so I can forgive that debt because I’m really grateful for what he did for us. The money that he was paying us helped me save part of my teeth. I say “part” because the dentist who was working on them initially made a lot of mistakes, and I had to re-do a lot of stuff later.
One of the reasons for his decision to close Rush3D was probably that three of our players were going to China for quite a long time. Smile’s friend had a business idea, he wanted to make money on Dota in China, but for that, he needed a good team. So Smile made him one. It was made up of Smile, NS, pgg, vigoss, and vein. I could’ve been there too, as one of them told me later. They had a choice between me — a quiet and boring guy — and pgg. For the guys, the trip was, first of all, a chance to party and have a good time, so they chose him. Vigoss said something like “Why should we chose Lost if he is not into parties?” That was the main reason. They didn’t need one of the best CIS players of the time, they needed a fun guy to spend time with. I was ok with that because I knew that it wasn’t my place to be there anyway. I’m still a stranger to parties and feel utterly lost there, so I never go. Instead, I just go home to my wife and kid.
My relationship with my mom were still pretty bad. She knew that I made a living playing Dota, but thought that it was temporary. All my relatives were thinking the same thing. Moreover, they all despised and hated me. Even my peers who were getting a higher education thought I was an idiot. Sometimes, even other players felt the same. I came off as a weirdo, wearing the same sweatpants all the time. It didn’t even enter their minds that I just didn’t have money for new clothes. My mom bought them for me, so I wore those clothes for five years or so. I had to give up on a lot of my basic needs to save money for tournaments and internet cafes.
It was a tough time for me, so I had no choice but to shut myself off from them. That’s why I started to play the IHCS league 24/7. I made top-2 in the end. IHCS had the most skilled players with best administrators who immediately kicked unmannered or overly aggressive players. Usually, the game lobby looked like this: Puppey, vigoss, NS, pgg, Loda, Misery, etc. We learned a lot from each other. It was the best league full of top players. Nowadays, nothing even comes close to it, and there’s definitely nothing better.
Today, it’s impossible to create something like IHCS. Back then, we were in it because we loved playing with the strongest opponents, but today players need a huge prize pool. Moreover, they play a lot of scrims or try to raise their MMR. There’s just not enough players for a league. There was an attempt to create one, but it lasted for only two months and died with the start of a new tournament season. Let’s face it — it’s just much easier to run Dota and press “find a match”.
Our last tournament as Rush3D was another ASUS. After that, my teammates went to China, and I received an offer from DTS. During that ASUS, the fully Ukrainian roster of DTS completely failed, making either top-16 or top-8, don’t remember exactly. The team consisted of Goblak, Dendi, Travka, DKPhobos, and Axura. After the defeat, they got rid of Axura and Travka. The rest asked me and Arstyle, who played for HR at the time, to join them. Artstyle was really good back then, and he seemed to be the only one on the team capable of actually “pressing the buttons”. Still, HR managed to take third and fourth places.
After a while, it became apparent that we didn’t get along with Goblak. As it turned out later, I wasn’t the only one who had issues with him. The situation was similar to that with RAMZES666. Roman was already one of the best carries, but Goblak said in an interview that he was doing everything wrong. In the end, they went their separate ways. Goblak and I disagreed on much the same issues, we had different views on the game. Eventually, we kicked him. DKPhobos decided to leave the team too, so it was down to the three of us: Dendi, Artstyle and I. It was hard to find two more good players to complete the team.
Meanwhile, I received an offer to join NS and three players from Rox.Kis (Dread, SanTa and Beast) on a month-long trip to China for a tournament. I discussed that with my teammates and they said I should go, they were really supportive. They said they will wait for me.
Our trip to China coincided with the rise of the Chinese Dota scene. We played with teams who destroyed Kuroky, Puppey, and others. Chinese players just plain rekt them. There was a team called 7L that defeated vigoss, leaving him no chance to win. The rise of Chinese Dota happened practically overnight. In just one year, they reached the level that took Europe more than five. China became the number one country in Dota. I remember a funny situation when at one of the tournaments Kuroky was showing off in front of girls playing with one hand against tier-3 teams from China, but then he had to play against a tier-2 team and got wiped out.
Knowing all of that, I didn’t even think about getting to the top, but that tournament with that mix was my best shot back then. I decided to follow rule number one: if something goes wrong, try elsewhere.
When we arrived in China, the first 20 days went pretty much as I expected: we lost constantly. If I recall correctly, we didn’t win a single scrim against Chinese teams, and we played like 7–8 a day. They were better at macro, they were better at micro, they were just better. During those 20 days, I managed to play every role from core to support. We were switching roles thinking that it would help us. After every game, my teammates argued a lot, criticizing each other’s skill. I told them “Relax guys, here we’re all a bunch of low skills.”
I remember how SanTa, while playing support, wanted to go to the mid-lane because he thought I was bad and he would do better there. I gave him that chance in one of the games. He went to the mid to play against Crystal, who would later become take second place at The International 2011. In 15 minutes, SanTa didn’t manage to find a single weakness in his opponent. After the game, Sasha said: “Damn, what a nerd!” That was the last time he went to the mid-lane. I usually managed to hold the line against Chinese players, sometimes even managed to win it.
The best mid-laners in China at that time were Crystal, one of the best 1×1 players, BurNing, the famous players who was in his prime then, and LongDD. We also managed to play against Hao, who was at his zenith, and Banana. Later in 2014, as you might know, they won TI.
So for 20 days, we were getting our asses kicked, but on day 21 we began to understand what they were doing, so we started to adjust. Chinese were playing super safe. For example, if I hid in trees with a scroll of teleportation and BurNing didn’t see me for a second on the line, he would instantly cry out “miss, miss, tp, tp!” to the other players.
That was our strategy back then: we would pick the Queen of Pain in mid-lane, then at some point we would hide into the fog of war and teleport on one of the lines, where we would kill a few opponents. For Chinese players, QoP was not a hero at all. As soon as you disappeared from the mini-map, they gave info, and people on the other lanes just went under the towers. We realized that we shouldn’t bet on the gang or try to surprise them — we had to learn to play safely, we had to learn to play Chinese Dota. Basically, we had to pick good late heroes and make no mistakes. That is why we started playing Medusa, Zeus, and others. They were extremely powerful at 5×5.
We became more serious about our preparation for the games, while Chinese teams did the opposite. Why would they prepare for trash teams? You wouldn’t analyze tier-3 teams. By the way, a few European teams with Loda and Misery were there with us. We didn’t prepare for the games against them, because we knew how to play against them. As for Chinese, we knew which heroes were a no-go and had a lot of strategies.
Our first opponent in the play-off was the above-mentioned 7L, a team who won 95% of our scrims. We defeated them 3:2, and those were the hardest five maps in my life. After that victory, we thought we were already champions, though we still had to play against a team half of which would later win TI. But back then, it was a weak team that evolved during the tournament, just like us. After the victory over 7L, for two days none of us were playing Dota at all. We were watching the anime Baki the Grappler. Despite the slack that we cut ourselves, we still had a few special strategies up our sleeves against the Chinese teams. In the first game, we decided to try one of them. It was a push strategy, but they just destroyed us. The other two maps we tried to play with default strategies, but it didn’t help. The easiest 3:0 for Hao and Banana — we got completely rekt. It was like they were playing against people who saw Dota for the first time.
Upon my return to Moscow, I told Dendi and Artstyle that I might’ve found the last two players we needed. They were Dread and NS. That’s how we formed the famous DTS roster that was top-1 or top-2 at almost every tournament.
I also told them how the Chinese had become extremely good at Dota, and Smile with NS backed me up on that. The results of international tournaments confirmed it: if a strong Chinese team came there, the first place was theirs, no one could beat them.
At that time, ESWC announced a Dota tournament. To get a slot for the main event, we again had to win ASUS Open. Among our main rivals was a team of pgg, Puppey, Smile, Kuroky, and blowyourbrain. I knew that they would not last long, because pgg and Puppey would have the same problems that Puppey and Goblak had. They lost to us, and I think that was the tournament where Clement said that he would never play in a team with a Russian captain again. He went on to form his own international team GG.net with Pajkatt, Kuroky, and Azen, who became our main opponents later on.
On our way to ESWC, I told my teammates: “Guys, be ready. You think you’re the best at Dota, but you’re mistaken. Our opponents here are going to show you real Dota.” Dendi and Artstyle didn’t believe me, they thought I was exaggerating.
Well, competing in that championship was the best Dota team of all time — EHOME with BurNing and 820. When Puppey played against them, he lost 4–25, and even those four frags came at the very end of the game, when Storm went for them to the fountain. At that ESWC, China plain humiliated Europe.
I knew we weren’t ready for that tournament, so I wasn’t broken up about our loss. We had like 1-2% chance tops of winning against EHOME. I mean, the only way for us to defeat them would’ve been for them to throw a game. Dendi and Artstyle were pretty surprised by the level of Chinese Dota players. They finally realized that there was a vast gap between Europeans and Chinese.
From then on, Dendi became a huge fan of Chinese Dota, and especially of Yaphets. He learned a lot from him. Yaphets was just monstrous with his Shadow Fiend. Back then, the controls were much more difficult. For example, to use an item in your inventory, you had to use your mouse or the num lock panel, there were no hotkeys. Yaphets pulled it off pretty easily, or at least made it look so. It was like his hand was flying over the keyboard.
After ESWC, along with the other top teams, we were invited to WDC, an extremely prestigious tournament where the prizes for the first place were laptops and money. EHOME were in the group with us. By that moment, as far as I remember, they had not lost a single map. We concocted a strategy that would have us push them in 20 minutes. However, if the game were to go on for another five minutes, we would lose without even a chance for a comeback. We decided to pick Lone Druid, Dazzle, Vengeful Spirit, Brewmaster and Enchantress. We won that game, we were able to use their mistakes against them.
During the group stage both we, EHOME and one of the Asian teams lost to each other, and there were no tie-breakers back then. Therefore, the organizers decided to compare the time of our matches, and the almighty EHOME had to leave the tournament because they had lost to us in 20 minutes. After that, we became the idols for other Chinese teams, because all of them could never beat BurNing. We were their heroes.
In the play-off, our first opponent was LGD. We won that match, and our next adversary was nirvana.ch with Yaphets on mid. It was tough to play against them because Dendi, who sat right beside me, kept saying: “Oh my god, it’s Yaphets! He is flawless, he’s the best player in the world!” Our mid-laner was totally fanboying over him. Moreover, there was a funny moment right before the match.
Dendi was freaking out because we were playing against Yaphets, so we decided to cheer him up. We suggested a Shadow Fiend 1×1 with Dread who didn’t play this hero at all. Well... Something went wrong. I don’t know how, but Dread just destroyed Dendi. Cheered him up alright.
Nirvana.ch defeated us, they were really good. After that, there was a match for the third place where we played against some Asian team. It was a really long game, but we had Medusa and that pulled us through.
After WDC, we started having problems again. Artstyle had been against going to WDC in the first place due to some personal reasons. After the tournament, he said that he needed a break to work them out. We were waiting. Meanwhile, ZeroGravity made him a solid offer. NaVi was just taking shape, but everyone already knew that they were going to be stronger economically and have a better management. Artstyle took that offer, and then lured away Dendi, too.
Those were tough times for DTS. Smile and God joined our team, and we proceeded to fail at an ASUS and lose DTS sponsorship. Luckily, NS found a new sponsor in one day — it was Moscow5. However, Dima Smeliy, the owner of the organization, didn’t sign us straight away. He asked us to play under his tag at DTS.Cup, and we agreed. Our main rival was NaVi with Dendi, Artstyle, Goblak, Axura, and XBOCT. It was a carnage, because that victory was vital for us, we needed sponsorship and needed it badly. We won that tournament, even though three of my teammates were drunk.
When we came to DTS.Cup, we met a fan who helped us a lot during the event. He invited us for shashlik (Russian style shish kebab — Wallhack Journal) and then there was a party. God and I didn’t drink, so we refused the invitation — unlike our teammates. Naturally, they felt pretty bad in the morning. On the one hand, we were extremely motivated to win the tournament, but at the same time we couldn’t refuse such hospitality. But I want to stress that despite their “ailment” my teammates gave it their best.
After that tournament, Dima Smeliy signed us. We received a sponsorship and got soft again. We became a completely different team after signing the contracts. We stopped it with the religious practice and started goofing around. Why try hard when we have a millionaire like Dima Smeliy? Yes, we still always made top-3, but I didn’t like all the stagnation and complacency. At that point, ZeroGravity offered me to join NaVi. By the way, I did not know about The International at that time. He basically wrote me: “Hey. I can offer you 200–300 dollars a month. Can’t give you more because we are a young organization. I know that Dima Smeliy will give you more, but I can offer you a team that will work their asses off.” I knew Dendi and Artstyle, I was confident in them, and I knew that XBOCT was one of the hardest working players of that time, and there was Puppey who had been in my blacklist for a year.
EternalEnvy once wrote a blog where he spoke about how Puppey behaved in a team. He once did the same at the IHCS league, but it was ten times worse, that’s why I put him in a blacklist. Despite that, I accepted NaVi’s offer and joined them. I asked him to mind his manners, and for two years we were getting along swimmingly, he was one of the best teammates.
I told my teammates about my decision after a match. I just said that NaVi suited me better and left. Dima Smeliy went off on v1lat for that because he thought it was Vitaliy who lured me away. In one of his interviews, he tried to humiliate me too, saying something like: “It was easy for us to say goodbye to Lost because he had a bad influence on the microclimate in the team. With him leaving, we will become stronger.” After multiple defeats, he shifted gears and said it was of utmost importance to bring me back, because the team was falling apart. But by that point I already got a pay rise at NaVi, we were winning, and I didn’t need M5 at all. He had nothing to offer me and he knew that, so didn’t even try.
When I joined NaVi, no one knew about TI. Dendi was the first to tell us. He joined our conversation in Skype and said: “Guys, I have to tell you something important, so, please, take it seriously. There will be a tournament with a one million dollar prize pool.” We went off, in a few minutes Artstyle made about 30 jokes that made us laugh to tears.
Many think that I was spending all of my time in Dota 2 in preparation for TI, but what I was really doing was raiding Firelands in World of Warcraft. We were all playing CS, Warcraft, anything but Dota 2, because it was still in an alpha stage, and it was horrible. I didn’t like anything about it. Dendi was the exception, he believed IceFrog. Everyone else was skeptical about the money. Well, I conceded that it might be true, that a company known around the world wouldn’t scam us, but we were had been lied to many times by all kinds of people. That’s why I decided to play the game fresh at the TI and adapt, proceeding to spend my time in WoW.
Of course, ZeroGravity tried to make me practice, but unsuccessfully. I won’t lie, sometimes I did play Dota, but it was mostly the first one.
All TI participants received keys at about the same time, four weeks before the tournament. Only two Chinese teams saw Dota 2 right at TI for the first time, but they came as substitutes for the other two Chinese teams so it made sense. Before TI, we played with all the teams, but we did it just a few times because we didn’t like the game.
When I came to Cologne, it didn’t impress me much — it was just a city, albeit a very clean one with very expensive cafes. The thing that really surprised me though was that in every corner of Cologne there were banners pointing to Gamescom.
For me, The International was just another tournament. I wasn’t fascinated by it, and even our victory didn’t change my attitude. I went there just to compete. On the one hand, we became world champions who defeated the legendary EHOME, on the other, I knew that they switched out two players. It wasn’t the famous unstoppable roster anymore. If I won against EHOME in 2010, I would have been on Cloud9 (#sorrynotsorry — Wallhack Journal), because I would have destroyed Dota gods. So The International became just another title.
By that time, my mom and I had made up. She managed to accept my passion for games when I started traveling the world and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. She realized that I was doing the right thing and began to support me.
After TI, ZeroGravity told us: “I know that we didn’t have an agreement for that, but I think it would be right if you gave the organization 10% of the prize money.” Four of us readily agreed to it. There were a lot of rumors about Artstyle, but I’m not ready to comment on any of them since I don’t know the truth myself.
In a few days before a new Starladder, we went to Kiev where ZeroGravity told us that Artstyle wouldn’t come. That shocked us. We went to McDonald’s to grab something to eat and think it over. Smile was there with us — he came to Kiev to work as a commentator for Starladder — and since we were friends, he was hanging out with us. We were sitting there and thinking about what we should do. At some point, we found ourselves staring at him. We asked him: “Hey, would you like to play with us?” So that’s basically the story of him joining us.
When Artstyle left us, there was no question about who was going to become the next captain. From the very beginning, there were two leaders in our team — Artstyle and Puppey. Ivan didn’t mind a little anarchy in the team, so he was OK with Puppey or someone else taking the lead sometimes. Even I could go on and say this in the grand final of the TI: “Look, Artstyle, I know you’re a good carry, but pick Tidehunter and play support. Dendi, you go in hard-lane on Enigma, I’ll go mid, and XBOCT will play Specter. That’ll win us The International.”
When Puppey became our captain, it was absolute monarchy in our team. He didn’t even consider a lot of our ideas, which was pretty annoying, but in general, everyone was OK with it.
What I really loved about NaVi was that for all the fooling around and casual attitude towards practice, in critical moments we knew how to pull ourselves together and show excellent results. Yes, there were a few tournaments where we failed, but it was OK.
Before TI2, our general attitude was “We are the champions, and everybody else is a low-skill.” Then we played scrims against Darer and lost to them, with Pajkatt and lost to him too, to Synderen as well. We lost EVERY scrim before TI2. That definitely knocked us down a couple of pegs. We were terrified and started training overtime because we realized how out of shape we were.
After the group stage, we saw that even our intensive scrims weren’t helping us, we still sucked compared to other teams, so we decided to improvise. I suggested Enigma. I saw that Chinese teams were playing as a well-choreographed team of five the whole game. They did everything together. I said: “Clement, pick me Enigma, I’ll cast the Blackhole, and we will win.” I had a feeling that Enigma was the best hero against China. Then we decided to try Juggernaut, who would heal us all. Rubic was good too, because Chinese teams picked a lot of super ultimates. It was one of Dendi’s best plays. Basically, we had a plan how to beat China. To test it, we asked iceiceice with his team to play a few scrims against us.
The biggest problem for us was that we had to ban Invoker, Morph, and Naga against them, and there were only two bans. We kept thinking about which hero we should give them. Invoker could disable, damage, and cast, so we decided to ban him constantly. We gave them Morph once at the group stage and decided that we would not do that again — they had really good Morphs in their teams. So we mostly banned Invoker and Morph.
We started learning to play against Naga Siren. To counter her, we needed Juggernaut who used Bladefury after sleep, Enigma who in most situations managed to use BKB, and super tanky heroes who were not afraid to wake up surrounded by the enemy, for example Lycan. Moreover, we knew that the only way to win was to push them. That’s why we added Shadow Shaman to our pick.
I remember how Chinese teams were shocked that we gave them Naga. In the video from TI2, you can see how we were laughing out loud because of it with Puppey. I send my best regards to those who think that we have to sit there with serious faces and be super concentrated on winning. We gave them Tide and Darkseer, whom they used in combination with Naga. Enigma was our first pick and our savior — my idea. By the way, you should keep in mind that China had been mastering those strategies for months, Chuan told me that, while we lost to Darer, who didn’t even make it to TI.
Basically, we did the thing we were always best at — we adapted. In the group stage, IG won against us 22:3 or something like that. It was like I just received the game key and had to think of something. We won all play-off games 2:1, and all of them were quite memorable.
We lost the first game, but then we made a comeback. It was unforgettable. We came back in a series after losing the first map in 15 minutes 0:5. We decided to give Morph and to counter it with Anti-Mage, just to see if our theory checked out. Morph shifted fully into agility, and it was unreal to outfarm him. They won all three lanes. After that, we tried not to give them Morph, and if we did — we tried to see which was worse, Morph or Naga, and then we improvised again.
We had terrific games against DK and LGD. The latter had a win streak of 18 games. We lost our first game to LGD and then destroyed them. We had Void and Phantom Assassin, we even thought of Riki, but many on the team said:"Guys, let’s do it at some other tournament." All of our picks were consistent.
In the finals, they banned Enigma, and that was basically it for us. They also started banning Lycan, and even Juggernaut in the second phase of picks and bans. We were out of ideas. We lost the final, but it was still nice to be the only European team in the top-8.
After TI2, we were in a good mood. We went there in a terrible shape and ended up as top-2. That’s just classic NaVi — come in a bad shape and win a tournament.
At that point, I started losing my interest in Dota. We were winning tournaments, but it wasn’t fun anymore. I began to play less, 10 or 20 times less than in the beginning of my career.
First, I went inactive, and then left NaVi altogether. I played in other teams for a while, then finally quit Dota. I started to go to job interviews, thought of getting into some other field. I remember trying to become a salesman, but I knew nothing about it, plus my speech skills were terrible. I decided to work on it and went to some speaking courses. Back then, I didn’t have a girlfriend, so I went to group sessions where people who had good families with 4–5 kids shared their experience. Those were really helpful, and that was one of my best investments. I managed to find a girlfriend in no time. Back in the day, I was afraid to even speak to a girl, and now it’s as easy as pie.
Then I felt like working with audiences, so I decided to return, this time in the capacity of a streamer and an analyst. At first, I was awful at it, but with a time I learned and became better. When IceFrog suggested I should work at TI as an analyst and commentator, I agreed. I was surprised to find out it was actually a paid job. I didn’t know about that, I just went to TI, did the commenting and got home, so the money that came afterwards was a nice cherry on top.
As for the rest of my story, you can see it unfold in real time, online.