In the second part of BLIX.GG’s interview with Nicolas “Gunnar” Lopez, he explains how he managed to resolve his mental issues before the Summer Tour, his view on the scrutiny revolving around 4 Zoomers’ string of disappointing results before joining Nouns, how his team was close to disbanding after TI10, and the current state of North American Dota.
Emerging out of a mental hole
BLIX: If only past negotiations would have happened as smoothly as that. In a past post-game interview, you mentioned how you felt that you were under immense stress before the move. I'd like for you to like to elaborate on how you were able to emerge out of that mental hole.
Gunnar: I wouldn't say I was under immense stress. It's more so if you don't really know about it until you're not stressed anymore if that makes sense. We were playing Dota, and pretty much the only thing you'd get is whatever prize money you made. When you're not sponsored, you have to do well at this tournament because that's all you're going to make, especially if you're not a streamer or anything. And then, once you get sponsored, you have a monthly salary. You'll have people who can support you or give you a boot camp if you want to get better. It's more so that you don't need to actively worry about winning or that kind of thing. The more important thing is that you just have to get better and kind of go win TI, right? That's all you got to worry about. When the only thing you have to think about is just getting better, it just makes everything a lot easier to do.
BLIX: Another factor that's considered is the fact that up until then, 4Z hasn't been able to attain plenty of success that you would have liked to have since its formation. It has even developed into a meme about 4Z being the perennial fourth-place team in NA and not being able to qualify for TI10 due to losing to Undying. Regarding that scrutiny surrounding 4Z, did you pay plenty of attention to that?
Gunnar: I try not to. Any time you lose, if you go on Reddit, it's going to make you feel worse about yourself. The thing we try to say is if you're going to look at when people flame you on social media, you have to make sure you're looking at it 24/7 so that you can see when people praise you at the same time. Still, it's generally just healthier to not worry about it and just focus on yourself because I think what's really hard, especially in a game like Dota, is that a lot of things become results-oriented.
Gunnar: If you win, everyone would be like: "Wow, what you did was a really good idea," and then if you lose, it's like: "Wow, that's such a terrible idea." In my opinion, I don't think it's that simple at all. You can win with the worst idea or lose with a better idea, and you might have just missed executing it, or something happened, and I don't think it's necessarily right or wrong. You can't worry about the results. You just have to trust yourself, trust your teammates, and just trust that as long as you're working and you feel that you're getting better, that's kind of all that matters.
BLIX: I can only imagine, though. As someone looking in from the outside, being subjected to continued fourth place finishes and being unable to break that glass ceiling of qualifying for TI and Majors, it must have taken a heavy toll on you.
Gunnar: Yes. I mean, it sucked. From our perspective, we would be really close to beating them. We would take them to 2-1 series, or we actually had close games, and versus the other teams, they were just always stomped by the top three teams, so in our eyes, we were like: "We're actually relatively close. We can beat them." We're obviously not beating them because they're playing better than us, but we're not 30 steps behind. The only thing that I remember is every time during those DPC seasons, you'd always just hear people talk about the top three teams, and then it's just a massive drop. You just think to yourself, and it's not that simple. If you watch the games, and it's always hard to just watch every game, I always thought that there's not as much difference. I think a lot of the time, there's actually not too big of a difference sometimes between teams in Dota, but you can't tell. You'll just see that the team got 2-0'd, and you'll expect that that team is way better than the other, but they might just be very close, and it just ended up that one team was 55-45 for two games in a row and they won instead of going back one way for the second game.
Possible 4Z disbandment?
BLIX: Fortunately, you were able to get out of that with this Summer Tour. Nevertheless, I'd like to point toward after TI 10 was finished. You posted an LFT tweet in mid-October, hinting that 4Z might have disbanded. What was that situation like? Were you actually looking for another team?
Gunnar: At the time, it was me, Husky, Moo, ZFreek, and EnvY. Right before that, EnvY randomly went in our Discord while TI10 was going and was like: "Yatoro is too good of a player. I don't think I'm good enough," and he basically quit the team. And so it was just the four of us, and Husky and I weren't really getting a response as to what Moo and ZFreek wanted to do with the team. It was more like us not knowing what's happening with the current situation. We don't know if we're sticking as a team or whatever and we just wanted to figure out where we were going. and after we did that, I think Moo and ZFreek were like: "Oh, are you guys leaving the team?" and we're both like: "No, we just wanted to make sure we're all on the same page on what we're doing." We then talked and eventually decided to stick together.
BLIX: So that was a test then?
Gunnar: Not really a test. I think Husky and I was worried that we didn't know what was happening. It's like we didn't know whether we were disbanding or sticking together. We didn't want not to have options, I guess. At the same time, we never left the team, or the team never disbanded or anything; it was more like we didn't know what was happening because we had to wait until everyone figured out what was happening.
BLIX: From the start of the DPC, you already mentioned about how you guys we've been able to communicate, which then led to you guys improving drastically, but I'd like to know how the dynamics of the team have progressed from the Winter Tour to now. After all, you had to shift your roster from playing with people like Sammyboy and Ocean to playing with veterans such as Costabile, ZFreek, and Moo.
Gunnar: Before we made our team, Husky and Moo were really good friends and they wanted to play together for some time, so after TI10 when our team was shuffled, Moo was Husky's first choice. Our team as a whole is a very emotional team. If we feel good, we're going to own. I think we're a really good team any day when we're feeling the vibe. Even so, that also comes with a low because there's always going to be a bad day or something, but something I especially have been working on with our team as a whole is that we don't have to go much higher with our ceiling. Our ceiling is really good. It's more so you have to raise the floor so that your bad days are still good, and personally, there's something I've been working on.
It especially goes for communication in the game to ensure that you're still talking even when it's a low day. You're not just kind of silent playing the game and simply existing. I'm making sure you talk in the game, you communicate with your teammates, and say what you want to do. A lot of the time, the most important thing is just making sure that people feel there's a game plan or know what you're thinking about what you want to do because the hardest thing in competitive Dota is you don't really know what's happening. That's because you then start to get stressed out, and that's when the game gets hard. But anytime you kind of have a game plan, the games will feel easy.
BLIX: Taking the team's history into account, 4Z is basically your baby since you've formed this team from the literal early days. You, alongside Husky, are the only OG members left on the squad. How has your role as a leader changed from when the team first started up until now?
Gunnar: There was a phase where I was drafting. I don't remember if it was at the starter or kind of in the middle with the original squad. It was more like I was trying to be captain at the very beginning, and then when we got Brax, it was Husky who ended up as the captain--but he is the captain more so during the drafting sense since he really liked drafting. But nowadays, Moo's our drafter, and he's also the "out of game" captain, which is something people would try to do, but it was kind of hard to pull off sometimes. He'll be the first to talk after games and give his thoughts and opinions on what happened. People will disagree or agree or whatever, but it'll end up generally being his job as the captain. And then Husky is probably the quote-unquote "co-captain." They'll talk about drafting for like hours. They'll just be sitting in discord there would be a three-hour conversation about some heroes or something they watched in a pub or a program. Right now, Moo is our captain, and I have--I don't know if it's like a less major role, but I don't do any of the drafting or anything anymore.
BLIX: For Moo to be such a major contributor to the team's general layout, it's pretty great to hear. You've basically given the full reins to Moo and Husky, but what about Costabile and ZFreek? How have they integrated into the team?
Gunnar: We don't really have a captain or a guy who makes every single call, and everyone listens to exactly what they say. A lot of the time, it will just end up being whoever's the strongest in the game or whoever just hit an item or level timing, or anyone who sees a situation that we should take advantage of. It'll be their job to make the calls. A lot of the time, it'll end up being one of the cores because they generally have the actual strong heroes; the supports would generally be the ones, like Husky and Zach, who, if nothing's happening, they'll try to figure out a way to make stuff happen because it'll generally feel bad for them. I think everyone's pretty equal in bringing ideas and communicating outside of the game. In the game, it's equal, but it might be like 50% on one player, and that would just happen because that was their game, you know? They were in control of the game. They were talking for 50-70% of the game, and everyone just listened to them. But in the next game, everyone just might be 20%, so it kind of varies a lot of the time.
State of NA in pro Dota
BLIX: Since our last conversation, the region has grown in terms of receiving support from orgs. Nowadays, it's not just EG or QCY representing the region. We've seen more orgs sign teams within Division I, such as Wildcard Gaming, TSM, and you guys, so it brings forth the notion that the region is finally growing out of its shell. But as I talked to players in the past, their sentiment has been 50/50 on whether there's progress in the region. On one hand, you'd have more orgs supporting more teams, and on the other hand, you'd have players view the region as a top-heavy kind with those orgs supporting only the best crop of players whereas the rest essentially fights for scraps. From your perspective, how do you view the general state of a region?
Gunnar: Yeah. Generally, most regions in the globe are pretty similar in strength. I don't think regions as a whole are significantly stronger than others. You also have to take into account us. In this DPC season, NA has been in the last four grand finals of the last four Majors. We had to beat those two second-place Major teams, and it still wasn't good enough for us to go to the major, you know? The other thing is I think having two slots kind of sucks for NA right now especially because I think the regional talk gets too much these days. I think a lot of the teams and players are becoming equal in skill. And if anything, it's maybe that some regions have more players, but I don't think the actual players that exist are better than others.
BLIX: In that regard, you'd say that the region has progressed on a positive note compared to how it was before?
Gunnar: Yeah, I think we've progressed a lot. Just as the whole region, I think it is pretty strong, right? Our region has done good internationally in the last four Majors. We've always reached Top 2 as a region, so I think it's kind of hard just to say that we're weak as a region.
BLIX: Are you calling for more slots for the region than in subsequent Majors following TI?
Gunnar: I think one of two things should happen, personally speaking. I think they should either just add two extra slots total and just probably give NA and SA three slots or they should just give every region globally three slots if they're going to do it that way. I think NA deserves three slots based on how we've been performing. I think now that the teams are getting better wherever they are, I find it hard to argue for us to still have two slots.
Heading into TI11 qualifiers
BLIX: Looking towards the future, Nouns, as a result of not acquiring sufficient DPC points in the season, you guys will have to play in the TI11 qualifiers. I have two parts for this next question: 1) What do you think of the new format of the TI qualifiers for this year's edition? 2) What do you think of the pressure of being thrown at Nouns as they're expected to attain one of those two slots at the LCQ?
Gunnar: First off, it's time to be Quincy Crew fans part two. We were QCY fans when they had to play EG (during the Summer Tour) and maybe we didn't give them enough support at the time because they ended up losing to them. I guess it's time to be their fans again because I think if either team gets Top 6 or Top 8 at the Major, both could also get invited to TI DPC point-wise, which would then mean we'd be in a good position for qualifying. But as of right now, I don't really feel any stress for TI. I'm more excited to just play. I think we're going to be really good for these qualifiers. I think we're going to be ready.
BLIX: As expected, you guys are regarded as the front runners by going 6-1 in the DPC on the last tour. By this point, it's basically TI or bust. What do you think of the transition or change in expectations from this point last year, where you lost the TI10 qualifying grand finals to Undying, to this year?
Gunnar: I don't really have any personal change in expectations. I think the biggest change has been saying from "I think we have the ability to beat them" to "we can beat them." We don't need to have a really good day to beat these teams. We just have to have a good day or an OK day. We just can't have a bad day. If we play good as a team, we will beat them because I think the only difference for us last year was that we had to play good Dota to beat them. But now, as a team, I think we're good enough to beat them.