Chaos Esports Club Dota 2 manager Jack “KBBQ” Chen discusses Forward Gaming, Newbee, Quincy Crew, SumaiL’s departure and his current team's chances at the Leipzig Major...
Hey Jack. Thanks for taking out time for an interview. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. I took some time after TI9 to spend time with family (my granny in Shanghai, mostly!) and work on my health a bit to get ready for this season.
The previous DPC season was difficult for you with Forward Gaming. You recruited Universe to the team but despite a strong roster on paper, the team were unable to live up to potential. What was the reason for that?
Having a strong roster on paper never guarantees anything. There are so many high skilled players and teams at the top level, that fit and synergy are also extremely important if not even more so than ever before.
Can you formulate good ideas as a team, and then communicate and execute them unselfishly and with consistency? Individual talent is obviously very important, but so is flexibility and being willing to sacrifice for your teammates when necessary.
We obviously weren’t able to do all of those things to the degree that everyone expected on FG. I think we had major issues with fit, synergy, and communication that we weren’t able to overcome before people lost faith and it fell apart.
Unfortunately, Forward Gaming got shuttered soon after qualifying to TI9. It must have been a difficult phase that the team went through. What kept you going this far? How did you end up signing the deal with Newbee and why didn’t you continue with them post-TI9?
It was unfortunate because they had supported us very generously throughout the majority of the season, but there were some signs down the stretch that something like that was coming.
Players such as Reso and Universe have a lot of sponsorship and viewership value, and so when they’re no longer part of the team that can be a difficult hurdle for ownership to overcome on a startup team, especially in a scene where very few teams are financially sustainable to begin with.
We appreciate that Forward released us into free agency - it gave us the opportunity to open negotiations with everyone on the market at our most valuable time of year.
Newbee ended up offering us the best deal in terms of both compensation but also conditions (a well-stocked bootcamp in Shanghai before TI9) like infrastructure, coverage, reliability, and trust from my previous interactions with their ownership and management.
We only planned to sign with anyone for TI, because in this scene no one knows what happens after TI, and I think few if any of the players would have seriously considered continuing to play in China afterwards for the ensuing season.
How would you rate the team’s performance at TI9?
Initially, quite good, but not up to the standard of our internal expectations, which included how we were doing in practice and scrimmages leading up to it.
After we adjusted for jetlag we won about 70% of our games going into TI, and though raw scrim results often don’t mean much depending on your opponent, quality of play does tell a good story.
If you’re consistently playing quality Dota and putting yourself in winnable situations against very good teams where you’re pretty sure that both sides are taking them quite seriously, then it’s probably a good sign.
We had a great day one in the group stages with a 2-0 against old Liquid, but those two losses from big leads against Secret hurt. It was nice to have those mega creep comebacks and make the winners' bracket, but our main stage run was definitely not up to what we hoped and expected given our preparation for the event.
The pressure I’ve faced personally pales in comparison to what the players experience
You must have faced a lot of pressure in the past year up until now on an individual as well as on a professional level. What kept you going all this while? Also, how important is to have a stable roof over your head in the esports industry
I think the pressure I’ve faced personally pales in comparison to what the players experience. The most down I felt was definitely at Stockholm, where we kind of knew coming in that things were on very shaky ground and then the actual implosion happened and we had to scramble to pick up the pieces and hold what was left of the team together.
I wouldn’t say it was hard to keep going, I made the transition from being talent because I very much wanted to be a part of building and supporting a TI winning team, that goal obviously remains unfulfilled but is a continual source of drive and motivation to help get through losses. When you’re in a dark hotel room with the team falling apart that is a pretty big test, but I’m thankful for the guys we had left and their determination to keep going and rebuild.
Regarding stability, it’s definitely important to have needs and expenses taken care of so people can focus on the game. Especially in regions like North America where costs are pretty high. At the same time, you don’t want people to get too comfortable or they start to slip, you want the mindset or ethos of staying hungry and feeling like you always have something to prove and improve. Maybe some of that seeped into our team culture at the start of last season.
Post-TI9, you retained three of your players, with SVG coming back to the fray. You also got a home in Chaos Esports Club. However, the biggest surprise was the subsequent recruitment and departure of SumaiL from the team. Would you like to shed some light on this?
SumaiL is an incredibly gifted player, and his positive impact on the team remains after his departure. We knew we’d be making some big positional changes and taking risks with fit and synergy in running with him, but when it’s SumaiL, you take that chance.
Copyright: Bart Oerbekke and Helena Kristiansson / ESL
There were some contractual complications that meant he couldn’t sign with an org or fully commit to some things until we were 100% sure that things would work out and everyone would want to proceed, ultimately no one felt comfortable, confident, or maximised in playing the offlane role and so a change was needed.
It wasn’t going to be the guys who had already been there and sacrificed/fought so much already for the team, so SumaiL was the odd man out. He still helped the team and went with us to Hamburg where he stood in admirably, so we very much still respect and appreciate his contribution. Sometimes the stars just don’t align.
Congrats on qualifying for the Leipzig Major. Being a man down and having to play with try-outs is certainly not a piece of cake. Nonetheless, Chaos did it. How and why did you decide to recruit DM? He must be overwhelmed to attend his first DPC event and that too a Major.
We had an idea of what we wanted from the offlane position and DM was the best candidate both who fit that and wasn’t already 100% tied to a set team for the qualifiers coming up. He’s definitely super excited and looking forward to his first major.
What are your expectations going into the DreamLeague Leipzig Major?
We expect to play as close to our potential as possible, which should be enough to do pretty well. Throughout the qualifier and the Minor we’ve been tested against a number of teams that did some damage at the Major, tells us we’re certainly not lacking in talent but that we also have a lot to work on.
Let’s talk about the slot allocation at Majors. You’ve been very vocal on NA losing a slot to SEA. At present, NA has only two slots while SEA and Europe have three each. Why do you think it is unfair to NA?
Quite simple - everyone knew that EU was going to get an additional slot with the return of Secret and old Liquid, and China did very well.
So it was down to NA or SEA losing a spot to make room for that EU slot. Unlike in years past where you’re wondering how a two-slot region’s third team would do compared to how an actual three-slot region did, we had a direct comparison this time with three teams from each region in the Major, and one from each in the Minor.
SEA’s only results-driven argument based on that sample is that TNC won the first major (as well as Hamburg, incase third-party tournaments matter at all or are used as some sort of extra data point/tiebreaker).
But the direct comparison doesn’t hold up based on DPC results for the second, third and fourth teams from each region at both the Major and Minor. Aren’t you trying to see who is more deserving of the third slot?
I guess the weight of TNC’s win was just decided as being more important to determining the overall strength of the region, which I disagreed with, because I think the direct comparison at number three should matter quite a bit, and then you can also compare how number two and number four did for additional data.
NA’s number three started in the winner bracket and finished the same place as SEA’s number two, while SEA’s three didn’t win a single game. NA four and SEA four played each other directly at the Minor. But I can certainly understand that NA got the benefit of the doubt last season and did not prove itself worthy of it, and that SEA probably has more depth and player base overall, and that I obviously have a horse in this race so I’m going to advocate for it.
Then what solution would you possibly suggest?
Nothing directly, when it comes down to things like these it’s obviously going to be subjective and you just try and trust that the best decision possible is being made.
I have expressed that I really dislike the awful GSL format for Majors as well as the point distribution, those are different structural problems that I think need to be tweaked to improve the circuit.
Isn’t there another chance via Minors for a team to qualify?
That argument can be made for anyone: “If they’re good enough they just need to prove it at the minor”.
What’s really exciting and new about this patch is that there are potentially many more tactical and strategic decisions and adjustments to be made in-game
Let’s talk about the patch. What is your overall view of the patch? How does it change the game?
Icefrog and his team have never been afraid to drastically shake things up, and that usually comes in the form of designing more interesting trade-offs for players to weigh.
What’s really exciting and new about this patch is that there are potentially many more tactical and strategic decisions and adjustments to be made in-game based on what kinds of neutral items drop, in theory requires a lot of on the fly decision-making and flexibility. Power creep of heroes in interesting ways also makes for some very unique situations late-game. Overall I think it’s a cool shakeup.
Which teams do you think are poised to be the strongest contenders this season?
There’s always at least a few surprise teams each season who no one expects on paper or by history to be as dominant as they end up being. We’re definitely going to work towards being that team ourselves.
I think the usual suspects who haven’t made huge changes are going to continue to be stable, consistently powerful forces in competitive Dota.
Would you like to share your thoughts on the current tier 2/3 situation in Dota 2? What can be done to enhance the environment for such teams?
They need to have more regular opportunities to compete and earn. I actually think the first DPC season was by far the best for them, because there were simply so many tournaments and qualifiers that as long as organisers stuck to their guns, it was impossible for the stone cold top tier teams to attend them all.
In the NA region alone, I think that season as many as six different teams qualified for LANs (EG, CoL, old and new VGJ Storm, Immortals, Animal Planet/DC, and Optic).
Obviously that year there were both; more tournaments and prize money floating around in the system. I very much like that all teams now have to qualify for limited DPC events because that in itself gives tier 2 / tier 3 teams guaranteed opportunities and exposure to play against the very best in their regions.
I’m still a fan of larger round-robin formats, particularly for these big combined qualifiers, so that you have more data to sort teams out and more chances to compete and improve.
The other thing is, like it or not, some orgs and teams just have inherent advantages.
Practically speaking teams don’t all play by the same set of rules or restrictions, some have more privileges and favorable treatment. You combine that with the high costs and low profitability of sponsoring a Dota team, and there’s going to be constant instability and churn beneath tier 1, where guys are primarily playing to get a tier 1 shot for themselves.
Alright Jack, that’s a wrap. Anything you’d like to say before we sign off?