Amidst the post-TI11 roster shuffle, B8 Esports announced its return to the Dota Pro Circuit with a new lineup that they hope would prompt a spark towards finally excelling in the scene, a feat that has long eluded them since its formation.
Under the direction of founder and Dota team captain Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, the team settled on a nearly full Ukrainian roster featuring Funn1k, Lodine, StoneBank, and MoOz, the lone exception who hails from Peru. But besides announcing their return to the game after almost half a year, what caught everyone’s attention was knowing exactly where they will compete next season.
B8 also disclosed they will play in North America for the 2023 season, meaning the team will have to travel thousands of miles away from their Eastern European headquarters to compete in the DPC, thus prompting immediate speculation as to how they will adhere to the immense move.
Not long after B8 announced their entry to the NA DPC, BLIX.GG spoke to Dendi about how the team reloaded from last season, how this new iteration was constructed, how they attained a slot in NA and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I want to start off by rewinding back to the moment when you decided it was time to get B8 back into the DPC. What was that moment in which you decided it was time to return to pro Dota?
Danil “Dendi” Ishutin: It's actually more of how I never left. I always have this insane hunger to compete. Dota is my passion and it has taken an insane part of my life that brought me where I am today. So far, I still feel hungry in many ways even after not qualifying for the DPC with the previous team. I already knew back then that I'm definitely going to do my best to build a strong team and find opportunities for next season. That's how it all built up to this moment. Watching TI also added a bit more fire into me. It's always like this for all the players. It motivates an insane amount of people to play but I didn't feel I needed that motivation since it never actually left. It was just a matter of time, you know?
BLIX: You mentioned in your Twitlonger how you talked to hundreds of players to find the right lineup for this upcoming season and how that took a long time for you to eventually complete. You eventually ended up with this lineup consisting of yourself, Funn1k, MoOz, Lodine, and StoneBank.
How did you reach the decision of selecting these players for the lineup?
Dendi: Well, it was a pretty long and complicated task to build a strong roster. I was doing a lot of research, talked to a lot of people, and did some scouting. I was looking into all the regions except China because I didn't know where we will end up playing in. Some players were waiting for other teams to then jump into their lineup and there were others who were available. Tier-1 lineups are stacked early, but then it's shaking up every lower tier teams else so they're waiting until the last few weeks until the rosters are locked so that's how it was with my team too.
In the end, I'm pretty satisfied with the players I got, and I hope we can show some results. I know it's not going to be easy. I feel NA is probably not the strongest region, but I'm still expecting some high-level competition and I hope we have enough time to build something so that we can then show some good results and not make our fans disappointed. I had some previous rosters I was trying to build in one way and some rosters in another way. I experimented a lot through those years and I gained a lot of experience out of building them from scratch. In my last roster, I took guys who were new to the competitive scene. Of course, it was hard. We were getting beaten at the beginning pretty badly, but I thought it could've worked if we were given more time.
"I feel NA is probably not the strongest region, but I'm still expecting some high-level competition and I hope we have enough time to build something..." - Danil “Dendi” Ishutin
The starting point was pretty low for the team and then the war started in Ukraine. Russia invaded our country and it became really complicated to do this long-term idea with that team. It was hard to play Dota back in the day during the first few months of the war. This time around, I think our starting point is higher and I'm happy about that. I'm happy with my mates. StoneBank is an upcoming guy. He was playing in NA for all of last season in Div. I and II. Lodine is actually, I believe, pretty underrated as Position 5. I know him from real life actually. He's not so far away from my city. He lives near Lviv so he's very close to me. I used to hang out with him one time, a year ago and I never expected we would end up in one team but it happened.
BLIX: What about MoOz? With a team full of Ukrainian players, he's the only one who's not from that country so how did that come about with him?
Dendi: Honestly, I didn't expect for the team to end up with mostly Ukrainians. As I said, I was talking to people from all over the world. I'm just choosing players who I think is going be the best and are available also. MoOz was my first option for Position 4 in my head. I think he's really cool guy and I heard a lot of good feedback about him from different people. Of course, I know him from the competitive scene. He's a pretty experienced player too so that's how it happened.
Competing in NA
BLIX: One of the first questions that popped up about B8's entry to the NA DPC is how it will handle the residency requirements. How will the team be able to handle that residential regulation for the upcoming DPC? Will the entire team live in the entire region or the majority?
Dendi: Before doing this move to compete for the North American DPC, I did some research and asked about rules so I knew three players should be physically located for the entire DPC season in the region, right. Basically, we need to relocate for a boot camp and stay there for the entire DPC season and that was the plan from the beginning.
BLIX: So, it'll be the entire team.
Dendi: Oh yeah. I don't know if everyone will be able to physically make it but that's the plan. It's very complicated right now for men to leave Ukraine so I hope it's going to work out. And within the DPC, you're going to face up against teams such as TSM. Nouns, Shopify, which used to be EG, and also other teams.
BLIX: Who is the team that you're looking forward to facing the most?
Dendi: Personally, I don't think I have a choice of one team. I think I would really like to go team by team and try to beat everybody and play the best game for myself and my team too. I would say it's going to be interesting to play TSM and the old EG roster. For everybody else, there's going to be some cool teams to fight like 5RATFORCESTAFF, since MoOz was playing for them for a time, and Nouns. I believe for this year NA is going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope I can get to play some cool heroes and entertain fans.
Evil Geniuses during TI11. This team would eventually be released by the org shortly after the tournament. (Credit: Valve)
BLIX: It might not be the best region out there but all I can say is that it's the most exciting.
Dendi: We just choose the best opportunity for us, obviously. Hopefully we can get to the bootcamp because everything is on the line for the team, for everybody. It's tough especially with the war going on here in Ukraine, it's not easy.
Dota then became a place to help me get distracted from the pain that's going around you. I guess many people find that sense of respite in other games too. - Danil “Dendi” Ishutin
BLIX: And it's about the war that I want to cover in the context of B8's showing last DPC season. For you, how much did the war in Ukraine affect your team's performance last season?
Dendi: It was a horrible, horrible time.It wasn’t possible to play the first few months for me and my Ukrainian teammates. Mentally, it was tough and it was just hard to do anything. Definitely, if there was no war, our organization would feel amazing and we would make our team stronger, but when that started, everything cracked apart for everybody, not just us. What's happening to us is not comparable to people who lose their families and need to leave their homes.
If you're asking exactly about work and players, we stopped working with many sponsors. We turned our organization into a more global-oriented one and started doing a lot of things in English.
BLIX: I talked to Watson some time ago and he mentioned how little Dota the team played amidst the DPC due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Exactly how many hours did you play on the daily or did you hardly play the game at all?
Dendi: At first, I was just trying to play Dota because I felt it's something where I can get away from the constant news that covered what was going on outside. It was a way for me to get away from stress, but it was not working, so I stopped playing by a lot. It's mentally hard to work on the game because, over time, your thoughts drfit to what's going on in your country. You cannot think about the game. It was hard about what you need to fix by talking with your teammates and all these things.
I don't remember exactly how many hours I played, but after some time, my mental health adapted to what was going on, which is a sad thing all around. Dota then became a place to help me get distracted from the pain that's going around you. I guess many people find that sense of respite in other games too. Later on, I started playing a lot again, but with the team, things went darker. We lost some DPC qualifiers and then we split because we couldn't really keep it working.
Entering the NA DPC
BLIX: I want to cover how B8 actually got their slot for the NA DPC because it's another thing that people pointed out. How was it possible for your org to get a slot in NA DPC despite being based in Eastern Europe?
Dendi: By DPC rules, anyone can either give or sell a slot to anybody. As I said, when I started searching for players, I was already searching for opportunities for where I'm going to play. I was sure I didn't want to play in Eastern Europe for many different reasons, so I was looking into other regions. I was looking into Europe, NA, and SA. I was trying to talk with people and see what opportunities were available and I found this opportunity in NA Div. 1. I talked to a person, they were interested, and that's how it happened.
BLIX: Valve has been known to have this 'hands-off' approach where teams decide how to transfer slots amongst themselves. On that aspect, do you think it is beneficial or detrimental to the scene in general?
Dendi: I don't see anything bad with it because I think this allows new teams to appear and they don't need to go through many things. Some strong team can instantly be somewhere instead of rolling the dice in open qualifier. I don't see anything bad about this. But at the same time, if a team is weak and they somehow get a slot, they will just drop out of the division... It's hard to answer your question. I think rules are protecting everyone. Not only players but also organizations.
BLIX: There have been situations in which orgs switched to different regions such as yours. For example, EG went from NA to SA and it prompted people to believe they would have to play in open qualifying to gain a spot in that region's DPC. Instead, they ended up acquiring a Div. I slot from one of the departing teams.
Another situation happened in which an NA team, Thiuth Gaming, acquired their slot from what was then Quincy Crew. This then begs the question as to whether it's a good or bad thing that these transfers are permitted.
Dendi: But what's the other option then if it's not like this? What should happen? Let's say somebody don't want to play anymore or a team disbands. What will those people do instead?
BLIX: One option is to have a Div. 2 team fill that spot. For example, you already have the first and second-placed teams of Div. 2 qualifying to Div. 1 automatically, so as a result of a Div. 1 team disbanding, then the logical thing would be to move the third-place team up.
Dendi: Yep. It sounds like a reasonable idea. It could work. But it doesn’t protect organizations behind those teams who disband.
BLIX: Are you okay with that sort of approach of teams transferring slots within each other in this sort of fashion as it is right now?
Dendi: I'm fine with it.
Comparing NA and SA
BLIX: Taking the focus back to NA, given you're entering this region for this upcoming season, do you think it has the potential to return into a somewhat respectable region from years past in its current state?
Dendi: There's potential for sure but I believe it will take some time. competition is rising every year. Every team is getting closer to each other in terms of power. The game itself has not changed for so long, right? It's been three years of not really big patches. These patches are not such huge patches that we used to have back in the day. This has not happened for a long time so far o that's why everybody is catching up on everybody, right? That's why I feel the competition is also getting tougher in a way.
BLIX: What do you think NA lacks in comparison to SA with regard to its success in recent years?
Dendi: I guess it's most likely the player base because Dota is extremely popular especially in Peru, and in NA, Dota is not that popular as opposed to other games. If you ask me what's lacking, maybe it's marketing and more stuff being done in the community such as holding more tournaments to make people understand the game is one of if not the best ever. I really wish there was some time available for me to share my experience in what I'm getting off of competitive Dota such as how fun it is. Through this, I'm pretty sure we're gonna get more players, and if we get more players, we're definitely going to have more incredibly skilled guys who can join teams. The competition would rise and they're gonna do well too. Something like this can happen in my head at least. SA have an insane amount of passion and players playing the game so it's time for SA to shine too, you know?
BLIX: As a veteran within the scene, taking a look at the young players, which player within NA or SA has given you the biggest impression?
Dendi: That's a hard question because I don't follow players that closely to give an answer. I will be a bit unfair to voice because I saw a lot of talented players out there. It would be a bit unfair if I call names. I don't want to make somebody disappointed or something but I definitely see a lot of young talented people coming up. I hope one day I can compete in that same region too. I think it could be really cool to gain this experience. There's three regions where people are super passionate about Dota: SEA, SA, and EEU.
"If you ask me what's lacking, maybe it's marketing and more stuff being done in the community such as holding more tournaments..." - Danil “Dendi” Ishutin
BLIX: Not in China?
Dendi: Of course. I'm not sure about now though because all those restrictions in playing the game for the younger population where they play a few hours per day, which is crazy. I'm not sure what's going to happen for the next few years for Chinese Dota. I hope it's still gonna be as huge and inspiring as it usually is.
Also, for regions like SA, what is cool is seeing issues like ping getting fixed and being improved each year. I can see a lot of SA players playing in European servers nowadays. When the ping gets to be very low among all the regions, that's gonna be POG. You're going to battle each other on the same ground and maybe we don't need to have this region split. Everybody is going to play against everybody and then people won't get mad seeing four Ukrainians in North America, because they're going to be able to play each other everywhere.
Beastcoast at TI11 (Credit: Valve)
BLIX: It could be a possibility to combine the Americas and just have one huge region. Also, we've seen Alliance form their own SA Dota team playing in Div. 1 as well. You could just create another team in another region. Alliance has done it so why not?
Dendi: Maybe someday. We are getting bigger slowly. We are kind of growing from the start. It's pretty complicated. We are trying our best. So far, I'm super focused on Dota so I hope things work out for us. I'm really hungry and itching to play. Hopefully, we have enough time to prepare as I feel like there's not so much time.
BLIX: Especially since we have less than three weeks before the start of the DPC.
Dendi: Exactly. We need to have to travel and fix all those travel questions. Hopefully we still can make it because I'm not 100% sure yet. It's a bit scary, I would even say.
BLIX: With B8 moving from EEU to North America. will the team eventually return to competing in EEU or is the team going to stay in NA for the foreseeable future?
Dendi: I don't know if we're going to compete in EEU. I have no idea. As I said, we're trying to become more international as a brand. We have a Ukrainian Counter Strike team. I don't know if you heard about the guys but they're doing pretty well. They almost qualified to the Major in Rio de Janeiro. We're also going to have a Valorant team here. About Dota, I think we are going to be in NA for sure. I don't know for how long but hopefully things do work well for us. I mean, it's hard to predict because so many things are happening.