Dendi: What esports can do to you

Legends never die, but sometimes they get worn down until you can’t tell the difference between a giant and a mortal. If you were to create a list of the people who are responsible for the scale and success of esports today, there would be some guys from Sweden, obviously a few Korean folk, and when it comes to Dota, a compact genius from Lviv, Ukraine.

Dendi, or Danil Ishutin as he is known to his mother, was part of the Na’Vi team that won the first International, back in 2011, and since then he has remained a constant part of the Dota landscape. Na’Vi are no longer a world power to the extent that they were, but Dendi’s name carries weight, so when he released a massive twitlonger this week it made the news.

Sadly for Luckbox, it was all in Russian, but the wonderful folk at Cybersport have put their heads together and come up with a translation, and the details are amazing. Many points are covered, but the most striking aspect is the amount of stress and negativity the man who has been the face of such a popular org has clearly endured.

It was always difficult for me to understand how a person can hate or dislike someone who did nothing wrong to them? Or who they know nothing about? I keep asking myself this. Let’s imagine that you are a hater! Or someone who hates me.

Dendi is a young man, born in Lviv 28 years ago, but his life has been orders of magnitude longer than the average human. At a time in his life when most people are thinking about love, security and the potential for a long-term future that is focused on their happiness, he is questioning why he is a target for hate from huge numbers of strangers.

This is a common factor for public figures, of course, but not something we should accept. Professional footballers are attacked while walking to their cars, sometimes racially abused by the crowd, and told to live with it. The difference there is that players are being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, and the motivation to walk away from the game is far lower than it might be for someone like Dendi, who is already extremely wealthy and possibly past his playing peak.

We have everyone necessary to change things for the better, if only public opinion masters (talent and commentators) weren’t supporting the hate, jumping on the hype train, and promoting themselves through this.

Again, the poison from inside the scene is something that sportspeople have come to accept and live with, often by ignoring it, but for esports it must be harder to compartmentalise. A top footballer has no connection to a journalist or talking head that may have decided to stick the boot in, but in esports the circle is much smaller, and certain names have far more influence. For Dendi to take abuse from people who are totally reliant on the health of Dota 2 must be hard, especially when he weighs his own contribution against theirs.

More than money

I want to break another myth. I am not making and never made any percentage from sponsorship contracts with the organization. My salary during the 2015-2016 season was smaller than the guys from VP had (back when we performed much more confidently). EG and Team Secret guys were probably getting twice as much. If I had left NaVi, then I would’ve easily gotten a much bigger salary.

You can see his annoyance at the way he has been portrayed, and it is true that many in the esports media love to focus on money. Conversations around G2 or VP always seemed to focus on their wages in comparison to their level of performance, as though those players should voluntarily give up their wages in some kind of show of humility. Surprisingly, none of the critics ever voluntarily disclosed their own income, or offered to take a pay cut when they were no longer number one, but again this is a difference between being a public figure, and a private individual.

Again, the pressure this must create on a man who had no real ambition of making the money he has as a kid (as you can see in his appearances even as far back as Free to Play, the Valve doc that made him and his team stars), and who just played the game for the love and comfort it offered in a tough time, is intense. Esports doesn’t have to be this way either, this copy of the worst elements of the sporting press, even if there are elements of the audience that just want the salacious details.

I just get attached to people. That is probably my biggest hindrance. It makes it difficult for me to pass over people, and I think of others more than I think of myself.

This is especially challenging for young esports stars, many of whom come up with a group and enjoy playing because of that group. For every JW/flusha pairing, there are ten stories of childhood friends falling apart as one turns out to be the more talented and surpassed the other, and that level of cutthroat ruthlessness is extremely difficult to learn at any point.

The difference in esports is that players are not trained to get used to see the weak culled, and it makes for some broken friendships, or even hearts at times (Stewie cough). While Messi saw his classmates judged and many cut every year, starting at the age of seven or eight, in esports you can go from playing for fun to being a pro in a matter of months, with no training on how to deal with the losses, pain, elation and instability.

I play Dota because I LOVE this game and I get a ton of joy from it. I’m not doing this for money, fame or anything else. I will continue playing it on the pro level as long as I continue loving this game. I don’t think that anybody else has the right to decide when I should retire or what role should I play. I play mid because I like to! I will continue playing mid as long as I think I should be.
You can’t affect it in any way. You are free to have your opinions and believe that your way will be better for me and my team, but I play on a role that I want to play.

This is perhaps the hardest part to read, where he tells the reader that he plays for love, and cannot be stopped. The reality is that as a press, fan base, media or anything else, we have huge power over the players, in a way the average sports fan does not, and that makes how we act important too. Dendi’s post can be found in full here, and we advise you to read it, and think about the impact the fame and success he has enjoyed have had on his life. Esports has the ability to help certain people like nothing else, but it sadly seems like we’re learning to be just as good at tearing dreams apart.