What else is there to say about Gaimin Gladiators and their 2023 Dota Pro Circuit? Well, one quick look at their victories serves as a quick indicator of their era of dominance over the rest of the scene. Three-time Major winners, two-time DreamLeague winners, first place in BetBoom Dacha and fourth place in Riyadh Masters. Although there have been other teams in the past that have flexed their superiority for a time, none have been able to do so, as GG has done so far this year. Is there no surprise then that people are looking to them as a favorite for winning DreamLeague Season 21 and The International 12?
While people look to the players as those chiefly responsible for GG’s success in 2023, some recognition must be relayed to their head coach as well, namely Aske “Cy’-” Larsen. Despite being a coach for the first time in his Dota career with GG and getting tasked with leading a cast of veterans like Quinn “Quinn” Callahan, Marcus "Ace" Christensen, Erik “tOfu” Engel, Melchior “Seleri” Hillenkamp and Anton “dyrachyo” Shkredov, Cy- has held his own while also guiding them to unparalleled levels of glory.
Before the start of DreamLeague Season 21, BLIX talked to Gaimin Gladiators head coach Aske “Cy-” Larsen for an interview about the team’s form throughout the 2023 season, how he has fit into the team since joining late last year, whether he feels pressure as the anticipation builds for TI12, how he looks back at his brief pro player career and more.
Diving into GG’s success
Pedro Romero, BLIX: At the time of the recording, you're still competing in the BetBoom Dacha tournament and have just reached the grand finals, so how are you viewing the team's form in light of their current participation in the event during the lead up to DreamLeague?
Aske "Cy-" Larsen: I'm obviously happy that we're in the finals now. Our performance is good although I will say that there's actually a lot of things for us to still learn. Progress-wise, it's not like we think we are invincible. We still feel we have a lot of stuff to learn, but I think it's been good so far.
BLIX: What exactly are those things that you guys are trying to learn?
Cy-: Well, there are things like specific hero matchups. We have all the strong heroes now where, as you see, for most games, they are banned in the first ban phase. I honestly think there's still a lot of things you can discover about [these heroes]. I don't think everything is completely set in stone yet, but it's more related to those kinds of things and perhaps it's also related to how you play the map and things like that.
BLIX: If you can share and not reveal too much, exactly what kind of heroes have been gaining prominence within this team during this time between BetBoom and DreamLeague?
Cy-: For example, some of the more consistent heroes you can see, not just from our team but in other teams, are Gyrocopter, Sven, Brewmaster and Pango, and then there are the supports like Nature's Prophet, Treant Protector and Vengeful Spirit so there's a lot of strong heroes right now. They all interact in certain ways with each other, but there might be more heroes that are maybe untouched and not played that often or played in a specific way against any of these other heroes, but it might be good. Even so, it's mostly been those heroes and some other ones.
BLIX: Since you're the coach of GG and you guys have been able to stay at the top for the entire year, how do you collaborate with the rest of the team in trying to find the right strategies and heroes for each person for the many matches and tournaments?
Cy-: The way I see it, you need to be involved in Dota as much as possible to find things. For example, most people have their own role, right? Some people will have some ideas from pubs, and we can kind of go from there. I will also try some things--we all would try things from pubs that seems very strong. I think it's more about just being around each other and talking Dota and playing Dota together, and naturally, it will just lead to you finding out new things and finding strong hero combinations to figure things out. At least that's how it works for us. On a side note, you also have to be able to be with your team a lot. If you don't like your team, then it's pretty very hard.
BLIX: It's with that in mind that we can go back to the start of the year in which you were coming into a team that has been together for roughly one year, save for when Quinn came in at the same time as yourself. Also, I believe this is your first stint as a coach in the pro scene so how has that dynamic and familiarity between yourself and GG evolved and progressed from the time you joined up until now?
Cy-: Well, I did know one of two days beforehand, so basically, it has kind of stayed the same. Of course, we've gotten close which is nice, but for Quinn and me, we had to pick up the dynamic of the team, and you're also involved with it, but nowadays, I feel everybody speaks their mind whenever they feel about something. No one's really holding back on anything. We just say what we think, and that goes for everybody on the team. So I think it's super nice now that we've been working closely with everybody on the team. I feel good with everybody and Quinn does too, so we're all pretty happy.
Looking back at the 2023 DPC
BLIX: As someone who is coaching this particular team at this particular moment in this particular year, to win three Majors and two DreamLeagues, which is unlike anything that we've seen in the DPC, did you ever think that this team would reach to the heights that they are in right now?
Cy-: I can easily say it in hindsight like I knew it and stuff like this, but I didn't know it, of course. I did have talks with Ace a lot last year. We are very competitive so we would want to win everything. We were just talking about how there was no reason why those teams that win a tournament would then not play that well in the next tournament because we've seen it happen so many times with Major winners playing in TI. I don't know how we're going to play in TI, but I mean, there's no logic to it, really. It's more like a psychological thing, I guess, and we're just making sure to avoid that because losing is no fun.
BLIX: Out of curiosity, which competition (either Major or DreamLeague) was the toughest event that you guys had to win from your point of view and why?
Cy-: Probably the second DreamLeague, to be honest. I think that was the toughest one. We struggled quite a bit there. We were playing in the lower bracket in that tournament. Of course, it's not a long bracket like in the Majors. We lost the first game in that series, and then we somehow still won one. It was very intense, actually. I never felt that intense before in tournaments, so it made it feel very satisfying to win.
BLIX: There's been plenty of scrutiny about what makes this GG team team so dominant throughout this year. One would say that they would rely on one thing within the game and they're just so good at it that they can't be stopped. For you, what do you think makes this team so dominant this year?
Cy-: I think our players are insanely skilled, and it's not only that. They also can adapt. Our players play almost anything. Our cores can play any core heroes. Whenever something gets worse or something gets buffed, we're kind of ready to play already. We're very logical in thinking about dynamics with people and can figure stuff out very fast. When there's a new patch, you have to figure some stuff out and you can't know about it for sure, but I feel in every major or DreamLeague we play in, for the most part, we play well. I also think we are a very confident team.
BLIX: With this success in mind, there's obviously going to be an expectation and pressure regarding this team's position in TI12. It's something that all the other dominant teams in the past have had to go through. Have you been feeling that increase of pressure as the clock winds down towards DreamLeague and TI12?
Cy-: They don't seem to have pressure to me. I feel I'm pretty good at picking up on how people feel and that doesn't strike me as such. And for me personally, it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks, because I'm here because it's fun to be with the team and it's fun to try our best to win stuff and play good Dota. It doesn't really matter what anyone thinks about that, so for me, I don't really care if we bomb out of TI, let's say. Yeah, it would suck for sure. I would be more sad about not making much effort or seeing that we weren't smart enough to figure things out faster or perform well.
Covering his brief player career and the 2024 season
BLIX: Taking the focus back to you, you were a pro player in 2014, and not much has been talked about regarding that period in your life. How do you look back on your pro player days, however long it lasted?
Cy-: It was quite short. I played in some different stacks with people who ended up going pro. Back then, and this was when the leaderboards came out it was also different, I was young. I was maybe 17,18 or 19 years old and everything was new and exciting in that regard, so I looked back at that as nice days. I think I had two small LANs, one in Germany and the other somewhere else. Comparing today with Majors and stuff, it was all small and unorganized, in a way. It was just fun, I guess, but I enjoy today way more, for sure.
BLIX: To wrap up, quickly moving from the past over to the present, there's been news about the change in the pro-Dota schedule for 2024 and how there's going to be no more DPC. What are your thoughts about that and how will that affect the competitive aspect for you and your team and the rest of the scene?
Cy-: Actually, I haven't had much time to give it any thought, but I hope it will be better. I always hope that whatever changes that are to be made will make the game better. Obviously, I can't complain about this year because it's been great, but if it gets better, I'm going to be happy, but I also don't really speculate much about things I don't have control over. And I don't really decide much with this stuff. We will adapt to any situation, but my job is to help with that.