4 Zoomers shook the North American Dota scene when they announced they were getting signed by Nouns before the 2022 Dota Pro Circuit Summer Tour. Having come to an agreement with an organization whose roots resided in NFTs and experimental projects, aspects that lie far outside the scope of esports, Nouns Esports not only grabbed the attention of fans and but sparked a level of intrigue as well over how they would fare under their new banner.
As it turned out by the end of the Summer Tour, Nouns did more than well in league play. Rather, they finished with a 6-1 record, landing them in firm position towards qualifying for the upcoming Arlington Major. That also meant Nouns were ensured at least third in the league standings, far and away its best placement dating back to the 4Z era.
While the team ultimately couldn’t snag a ticket to Dota’s latest international event, losing to Quincy Crew and Evil Geniuses in the tiebreakers, Nouns hold a renewed sense of confidence towards their play. Following considerable tweaking, communication, patience, and hardship, they are poised towards surpassing their prior limits and finally reaching TI by the end of the DPC.
In the first part of this interview, Nicolas “Gunnar” Lopez explained his team’s turnaround in the DPC Summer Tour after playing subpar in the previous two splits, what went wrong in the postseason tiebreaker matches, and the process surrounding how 4 Zoomers was signed by Nouns.
Nouns’ performance in the Summer Tour
BLIX.GG: Thanks, Gunnar, for the interview. First off, your team put up a great showing in the Summer Tour by finishing with a 6-1 record and were close to qualifying for the Arlington Major. Unfortunately, you guys couldn't make Texas by losing in the tiebreakers. How is your state of mind at this moment in time?
Nicolas “Gunnar” Lopez: Kind of when our team was made, at least when me and Husky (Jacob Fifik) started playing with Moo (David Hull) and ZFreek (Zakari Freedman); something that Moo always said was that the main goal wasn't TI but rather to just get better every day. Realistically, the goal is TI, but he doesn't even like saying that. He likes saying that the goal was just to get better, so I think that was our mentality. I think we're all really sad about how it went down, but it is what it is.
BLIX: Even so, to at least get this point, it's pretty commendable to consider, given the team's past performances as 4 Zoomers. From the start of the summer tour, what do you think enabled this team's sudden turnaround in form?
Gunnar: I think us getting a sponsor helped us a lot, especially with the Bootcamp. I think we got a lot better at the end of Bootcamp and that kind of showed in our TSM series. I would say that series showed our peak performance from the entire Bootcamp. We actually beat EG before we went boot camping, so I think we all went in with really good expectations, and it was just unfortunate that, with the way the schedule was lined up, we weren't able to be at Bootcamp for the tiebreakers.
BLIX: Regarding the tiebreakers, was that the biggest factor that prohibited Nouns from qualifying for the Major?
Gunnar: In our tiebreaker day, we had a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes, and I think it's because it was probably the worst we were mentally prepared; Just to talk about myself, I wasn't feeling bad or worried about the games. It was hard to go from waiting and rooting for Quincy Crew to win and qualify for the Major to now being required to play. Two days later, you have to play some best-of-one round robin for the Major and it kind of felt like the six weeks of the tour were not important. We played six weeks of games, and it didn't really matter. All that mattered was you having to play well on one day, and if you played bad on that one day, those six weeks ultimately didn't matter.
BLIX: Then I guess it was due to the drastic change of direction in terms of mentality/focus with what little time you had at your disposal?
Gunnar: Yeah, I think so. We had a process of how we work and how we talk, and we kind of chilled out on that after the boot camp because we worked really hard by that point. We needed to take a little breather, but then it's not over. We have an extra week. It gets hard. At the same time, for the QCY series, that was probably our lowest point as a team during the season. I think we have some regrets on that series. If we played better versus QCY in the actual season, then there might not have been tiebreakers. We could've been 7-0.
Reason for Nouns’ summer improvement
BLIX: Nevertheless, to actually reach the point where you're fighting with the other top teams in the region does necessitate some praise, however way you take it. I'd now like to dive into more of the team's improvement in the Summer Tour. Obviously, gaining a sponsor was a major reason for the team's turnaround, but what internal aspect of that change? Can you elaborate on exactly what adjustments you guys made outside of just gaining a sponsor that enabled the team to perform well?
Gunnar: We've been talking a lot outside of the game to each other. This covers making sure we have plans or strategies like "this is what we should do if this happens" and "on average, this is what we'll do." Something that we also talked about a lot is our communication in the game. Something we've been working really hard on is making sure we're always on the same page in the game and actually talking so that we communicate better because I think communication is one of the biggest things that makes good teams good and bad teams not as good. This was probably the season where our communication started clicking, and we were on the same page a lot of the time and talking about the proper things.
BLIX: And I think one must mention the fact that the team actually participated in a Bootcamp because I must assume that this is the first time your team, in its history, actually participated in any Bootcamp.
Gunnar: Yes, it's the first time this team has boot camped. It's probably the first time I met ZFreek and Costabile (Guilherme Silva Costábile). I think I met Moo one time very briefly. He was at some TI, and I was just a spectator. I don't even think he knew who I was. I've met Husky before, but it was the first time we actually boot camped as teammates.
BLIX: I guess it's a testament to the necessity of working as a team in person because it adds a greater level of improvement when it comes to putting that into use for matches.
Gunnar: Yeah. The biggest thing at Bootcamp was we were kind of talking about Dota for 18 hours a day.
BLIX: Oh, really?
Gunnar: When we woke up--there'd be like a living room, and we put whatever games of the DPC that was on. Most of the European games would be playing at that hour, and we just watched and commented on the games while everyone's getting ready. And then we'd all walk to breakfast, and people would be like: "Last night when I was falling asleep, I was thinking about, 'what if we pick these heroes or we do this?'" And then we'd go and scrim. Before scrims, we play and talk; during the scrims, we talk; and then we go out to dinner, and we talk more about what happened in our games and what we could have changed and done better. It was kind of playing Dota all day.
The benefit that makes it even better to prepare in person is when you're online, you generally have to do stuff as a team for better or for worse because you'll all be at a Discord call. Someone's like: "I want to talk to this person, and it's hard to separate the conversation when there's like a really big conversation happening." But in person, you can just be on the opposite side of the room, and two people can be talking, but you're all in the same room, and you can join the conversation. It just makes everything happen a lot faster-talking wise, and you can get a lot more done--sometimes too much. Sometimes, we over-talk, and we go too far in trying to plan stuff out, but for the most part, it was very helpful.
BLIX: I guess talking too much can be a good thing most of the time. Has there been any particular team that you've been looking at outside of NA?
Gunnar: Yes and no. We watch all these games pretty much anytime we're not doing stuff, and whenever someone picks a hero you thought about, you're like: "Look at how they utilize this hero." Obviously, you're going to try to find examples of other teams doing it. Something we think is really important is making sure you're not doing something because another team did it. I don't want to just copy a different team.
Not that copying is bad, it's more so that if you try to do exactly what another team is doing often, you won't know the exact reasons why they do stuff, and so it's better that if you end up doing the same stuff as they do, you'll end up that way, but it's because you both came to your own conclusions about certain heroes and strategies or whatever. You want to only do stuff that you actually understand and make your own twist on it. Otherwise, you're never going to be as good as the other teams because you'll just be kind of falling in their shadows.
BLIX: It's just taking one thing and making it your own is how you're getting at it.
Gunnar: Yeah. If you're going to copy something or look for inspiration from other teams, you're going to make sure that's all it is and that you follow the steps that give you that answer, you know? You can't just take the answer and make it your own.
(Credit: Jaron "monkeys-forever" Clinton/Twitter)
BLIX: Can you give an example of you taking one strategy and refining it to suit your team?
Gunnar: I can give an example with two other teams. For this tournament that just finished yesterday (Riyadh Masters), I think Team Secret was doing pretty well. Still, something I thought was interesting was the way they drafted was similar to how Tundra was drafting, especially with the Zeus that both really like. But I thought that the way Secret was using Zeus was a better version of what Tundra has been doing for the last couple weeks in the DPC.
It's kind of like that where they'll end up doing similar things, and they'll have similar reasons why they're doing it, but it just turns out that you need to make sure you're doing it for the reasons that make your team good. That's because I think Dota right now is very player-based and synergistic; if you want to make sure that you're making your players play their best--and it's not so much like doing the exact 100% best play in the world--you got to do it that makes everything good.
Becoming Nouns Esports
BLIX: Heading into the Summer Tour, one of the biggest stories was 4 Zoomers being signed by Nouns, and that generated a lot of attention regarding the transformation of this team. In a podcast that the org made around the time in which that announcement was made, they mentioned how a few of their members approached some players in 4Z, so I'd like to know from your perspective what the process was like in 4Z being signed by Nouns for the DPC.
Gunnar: Ever since we made 4 Zoomers, we were always hoping for a sponsor. It's always been one of the number one things and it kind of started with one of our old teammates Brax. He was talking to Husky and I and said: "There's this sponsor that I know that might be interested in you guys because they want to get a Dota team because I guess some of the people at Nouns play the game." He was the one who got us into contact with them, and then everything moves really quickly soon thereafter. They wanted to help a lot, so we got in contact with them, and I think within a week or two, we started finalizing everything, and we got everything. And then, at the last minute, one of the important things for our team was that we really wanted to Bootcamp because we thought it was really important, and it ended up being very important. I think it was very helpful that we actually got one, so that was the two biggest things behind the signing. It all happened pretty fast, and it's been really nice to work with them so far.
BLIX: Were you surprised as to how quick it went?
Gunnar: Yeah, because a lot of the time, we've been in talks with orgs from time to time, and that would take months for you to figure out different sponsorships or teams, and it'll end up not working out for whatever reason, but this felt like it all kind of worked out. We never really had to worry about it.
BLIX: Then again, when it comes to Nouns, the first thing people thought of when they heard that 4Z became Nouns was a collective "What?" given that not much is known about the org aside from it being an NFT experimental project. What did you make of the reaction of the fans over this move which was made by an org that hasn't really dipped its toes into Dota or esports until then?
Gunnar: I was somewhat expecting the reaction based on what they were, but I also knew that people would eventually be more happy for us than anything. Even with where we are now, people are just happy that teams are getting sponsored and the players they like are getting support, and that everyone's getting better in Dota as a whole. In terms of the org itself, we asked them about that, and they pretty much told us their brand is just a 'meme' quote-unquote. All they asked of us when we asked them what we needed to do was just like: "You actually need to get better at Dota. Whatever you need to do, we'll figure it out because the only thing we want you guys to do is just get better at Dota and become a better team." That was one of the easiest things, right? If you ask a Dota player that all they have to do is play Dota and get better, everyone's going to be happy with that.