Following the end of the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit season, Shopify Rebellion qualified as one of the 16 teams that will compete in The International 12, taking place in Seattle, Washington, for the first time in six years. The team is one of three squads that will represent North America on Dota 2’s grandest stage and look to claim the Aegis for the hosting region for the first time since Evil Geniuses did it at TI 5.
Of SR’s players well familiar with competing in North America and contending for the top spot in pro Dota is Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen, whose decade-plus-long career has seen him place consistently at the top of the standings in numerous Majors and reach the Top 3 in TI 8. Now with Shopify Rebellion, whose core, including Cr1t-, switched to their current org after parting ways from EG in late 2022. They hope to end their 2023 season on a high in TI 12.
Prior to the start of DreamLeague Season 21, BLIX talked to Cr1t- about how he views the current state of SR, and what the differences are between the EG team of TI 11 and his present team. Plus, his particular relationship with Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, one of his longstanding teammates and more.
Looking at SR before DreamLeague
Pedro Romero, BLIX: It's been around two months since the team last competed in an event, with the previous one being Riyadh Masters, where you guys finished 15-16th. From your perspective, how have you spent this break in the lead-up to DreamLeague?
Andreas "Cr1t-" Nielsen: It's pretty much just been individual practice and getting back in shape for DreamLeague and TI that's coming up. It's been a bit of a grind, and everybody is making sure that we're ready to start the session of tournaments coming up.
BLIX: Was there any sort of individual thing that you focused on during the break or anything like that?
Cr1t-: We didn't play any scrims because we're an international team. We haven't been together, but we were just individually practicing and getting ready for our boot camp.
BLIX: For the past two DreamLeagues, this team has not played with Abed [Abed Yusop] due to various reasons, but for this time, he's going to be with this team for this DreamLeague.
Cr1t-: Everything is fine. He's here with us, so we should be solid for this time around.
BLIX: How have you viewed the team's level and performance with different players standing in for him in past DreamLeagues in relation to having him with the team and competing throughout this past year?
Cr1t-: it's been somewhat easy for us because we've had experience with using stand-ins before in previous iterations of the team. It wasn't super hard for us, but it's obviously always better to have him here. It's better to be a full team, and I'm sure we will be performing better this time.
Comparing 2022 and 2023
BLIX: Another thing that is to be considered with the seam is the fact that you guys brought in SabeRLight- [Jonáš Volek] early on in the year after playing with Nightfall [Egor Grigorenko] through all of 2022 and him having to switch positions for the team. How do you see the current level of the team with SabeRLight- on board in relation to how the team performed with Nightfall?
Cr1t-: The team is a lot better functioning this year than it was last year. We had a lot of issues last year. We had to make a change in the roster halfway through as well, so it wasn't very easy. For this year, there's been a lot of ups and downs. We definitely had some bad performances, but I think we've also shown that we have the potential to compete against the best teams, especially in Peru and in the DreamLeague that we played with Mikey [Kasra Mesbah]. We know that we can get there. It's just been a little bit inconsistent, and I think that's the biggest thing that we have to work on for this DreamLeague and TI.
BLIX: That said, with the inconsistencies that you've mentioned, what do you think was the reason for that from your point of view?
Cr1t-: Sometimes, it's hard to say. It's part of being a Dota pro, you know? It can be patches, or it can be us trying to incorporate Saber into our ideas and making sure that comes together. In some tournaments, we had some confidence issues and a lot of stuff going on this year and it's just not coming together at the right time. We've had some good times during the DPC in NA, which is not really needed, and then once we've hit the LANs, it's been a little bit lackluster, so we kind of have to just hit the timing for TI here, and that's the main goal about DreamLeague. It's for us to get ready for TI.
BLIX: Diving a little bit more into the confidence issues that you mentioned, where did that come from?
Cr1t-: I think it just comes from losing and not performing. We're all players that have high expectations of ourselves and each other, so when it doesn't come together, it's obviously frustrating, right? That's where you're not just losing confidence in yourself, but you're losing confidence in each other, and you have to regain that not only for yourself but also in building trust within the team. That's something that we've been working on and that's still a work in progress coming into TI.
“We know that we can get there. It's just been a little bit inconsistent, and I think that's that's the biggest thing that we have to work on for this DreamLeague and TI.”
Rising to the level of pro Dota’s top contenders
BLIX: When it comes to looking at the current state of the team and the kind of level that you want to reach in time for DreamLeague and TI, what's that gap like for you?
Cr1t-: The thing about top Dota is the difference between being a top team and being one of the teams that are chasing it is not necessarily that big. It doesn't take a lot of stuff to click for you to be up there, and I know we can be there because we've been there before. Even this year, we were able to compete with the top teams like Liquid and Gladiators, so it's just about making sure that we make the most of it and see if we can reach that point now because we're a little bit more in a rush than the other teams because already there and they're fine-tuning their style and we kind of have to get there, so I think that's the biggest thing.
BLIX: It's very understandable, considering the fact that you have been at the top within North America for a very long time and also on the international level by competing for Majors and TIs. Even so, there's a difference between staying within a pack of competing teams, such as what Shopify has shown themselves to be throughout this past DPC, and actually becoming the winners of Majors like Gaimin Gladiators. How difficult has it been for this team to take the next proverbial step towards winning?
Cr1t-: I mean, that's a hard question because if I knew, we probably would be there, and we would be playing in the finals and then at least having a chance to win it. I think it's mostly just about consistency. What everyone's taken away from Gladiators is they're able to just consistently do it and stay there. Everyone knows that once in a while, you can get lucky and make it to the grand final. You can be a good team, but making it to the grand finals and actually winning is not always about who's the best team. Gladiators have shown a way to make it consistent and that's what everyone's striving for. We used to be that team as well. We used to be in grand finals consistently, but it's been a while now and we just want to get back to that level where we know we can make it there. At the end of the day, if you win or not, it's not always in your power. Stuff can happen, but you just want to put yourself in a position where you can win, so that's the goal for us.
BLIX: Looking back at this past year, besides placing fourth in the Lima Major, in recent times, you've not been able to reach that same sort of standard that you previously set on the international level (9-12th in Bali). What do you think is the reason for the team's shaky form in recent months? Was it the inconsistency that you mentioned the main thing, or was there anything else that contributed to said inconsistency?
Cr1t-: While a lot of it is very complex and stuff that I can't really talk about on intuitive, the biggest thing is that we were on different pages regarding how to play the game and the heroes we were supposed to be playing. With the stuff that is detrimental to the team, I think we were just not really there compared to the other top teams, so I think that was the difference between why we placed where we did recently and why we were able to make it further in Peru and also in the first DreamLeague.
It's just a fine balance of getting to that stage where you're confident in each other and you're on the same page in terms of drafting, the heroes you're playing, your own role and making sure that everyone understands what everyone else is doing in the game. I think that's been our biggest problem this year, so I think we just want to make sure we can get to that stage again where we're in a position where we can perform as a team. And then if we're not better than the other teams, then that's it, but I feel we have not performed to our maximum potential and if we can at least do that for this DreamLeague and TI, then that's the most you can ask.
Cr1t-: “We used to be in grand finals consistently but it's been a while now, and we just want to get back to that level where we know we can make it there. At the end of the day, if you win or not, it's not always in your power.”
Returning to Seattle for TI and his relationship with Arteezy
BLIX: And it's with that mindset that you'll carry forward into TI12, which is going to take place in Seattle, a very familiar setting for you specifically. Of all the times that you've played in Seattle for TI, what's the most profound memory that you've had playing there with regard to your career?
Cr1t-: Oh, that's hard. I played there twice, but it's been a lot of years at this point. I think just experiencing the whole TI atmosphere and the way Valve handles it. When I was a new player and I played my first couple of TIs in Seattle, just experiencing everything about it--the player meetings with Valve and all this stuff--was very special and going on stage with Gabe Newell and all that. That was probably my biggest memory from those TIs.
BLIX: Another thing that serves as a connotation to your career is the fact that you and Arteezy [Artour Babaev] have been playing together for a good while. I remember this one tweet by ESL that mentioned how you and he have attended the most Majors out of every other duo in the scene. It speaks to the longevity that you've had with him in particular. What about having Arteezy as your teammate has made it possible for you both to have stayed teammates for a long time and how has that partnership been able to evolve?
Cr1t-: Oh, I think it's pretty simple because, first of all, we're good friends that helps. Secondly, we both work hard. I think we never have to doubt that the other person is putting in effort. You always know that we're trying to win and, for me, I've always been happy with the way he tries to win all the time. I appreciate his effort, and as long as I'm happy with his effort and the work he puts in for the team, that's why we've been together for this long. It's because I don't think there's anyone that is better than him in his role. Obviously, we haven't been winning a lot recently and that's how Dota is, you know? It's a team game and we've had a lot of inconsistencies, but I've never really doubted Artour, and it makes a lot of sense for us to play together because we're good friends, we trust each other and we're both hard workers.
BLIX: Changing topics, I want to ask about the recent announcement Valve made about there not being any more DPC for next year. Everyone has been giving their their opinion about what they feel about the change and what the future might hold, so what are your thoughts on the announcement of there being no more DPC and will that affect the future of the pro scene post-TI12?
Cr1t-: It depends on what's going to replace it because I'm guessing there will be an ESL Pro League next year as well. I think the biggest thing is that it's going to be really good for top Dota teams and that's why I think it's a good change. I think it will be a bit scary for tier two teams and it will probably also be a bit sus for for some talent in terms of how much consistency they get in work, but for me personally, I think it's a good change. I think DPC was a bit stale and I think there were teams, like ourselves, who played in weaker regions and have had some easier roads to big tournaments, so going back to making it like it was before the DPC is interesting. At least I'm not sure if it's going to work out, but I think it's going to be a better system than what the DPC has been.
BLIX: How would you like the DPC to go about it? Would you like to see a mixture of the pre-COVID era, which had open qualifiers and Majors/Minors, and the regional leagues?
Cr1t-: I'm not sure what they're gonna do. The biggest question for me is how they're going to do regional stuff and make sure how every region is represented because if Valve doesn't support it, then I don't think third-party organizers have any incentive to include tier-two teams or make sure every region has equal representation, so we'll see. Maybe they'll put in some rules and make sure that it's still somewhat stable and I think that's going to be the biggest question mark.