It’s been a long journey for nouns to reach Top 8 in The International 12. After the 4 Zoomers stack joined the nouns organization in the summer of 2022, the team experienced a gradual rise within the pro Dota scene not just in North America but on the international level as well.
They made the TI 11 Last Chance Qualifier and while they didn’t obtain a spot in the main event, it did provide plenty of experience for players like Nicolas “Gunnar” Lopez who competed under the nouns banner. Following a few additional tweaks to the lineup, in 2023, nouns maintained their position as one of the best teams in NA while also qualifying for the Bali Major and TI 12 itself, where they then made the final weekend against all expectations, surprising many in the process
But of all the people that watched the evolution of nouns from the start all the way to the TI 12 main event, none were as prouder over their achievements as Gunnar’s own parents. Having seen the development of their son and his subsequent improvement to becoming NA’s best representative in the event, they relished in seeing his labor finally give fruit in the greatest way.
Following nouns’ participation in TI 12, BLIX talked to Gunnar’s parents for an interview on what it was like watching their son compete in the event, how he grew up, how they look back at the 2019 Disneyland Paris Major incident, how they view the future for their son and much more.
Watching their son compete in TI
Pedro Romero, BLIX: To start off, I'd like for you both to give a quick introduction of yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Gunnar's Mom: My name is Lisa and I am Gunnar's mom. He also has two sisters. I'm a Spanish language interpreter and this is my husband Fernando.
Gunnar's Dad: I'm Fernando Lopez. I'm Gunnar's dad. I work in television. I work now at CBS Sports and I'm very proud of my son since he started playing Dota.
BLIX: Of course, this TI marked Gunar's first go around in TI. I know he appeared in the event last year but it was for the Last Chance Qualifier so he wasn't able to make it to the main stage. But still, for him to finally be here to play in front of a large group of people in this arena, what was that like for you both emotionally?
Gunnar's Mom: I'm just so proud that all his hard work has paid off. I really see him being more confident. He's very happy with his team and the resources that nouns provide them to have a sports psychologist has been really good for all of them. And just seeing him achieve this part of his dream of actually being at TI on the main stage is beautiful. It's something he said he would do and we said, "when you do that, we will be there" and that's why we're here.
Gunnar's Dad: The first major that he went to was in Boston. He was a very young kid and I drove him over there and I told him, "If you make it to TI, I'll be there for you." And actually, he wanted to be here. The last year TI was here in Seattle, I brought him as a fan and I'll never forget that one because he had a ticket for that and I did not so I was his chauffeur. I was the guy who picked him up from the event but I told him, "I'll be there for the time that you make it" and I'm very proud of him and his team members for making it all the way to the final round.
Gunnar growing up
BLIX: I'm curious as to what Gunnar was like as a kid and how he grew up and how he got to know Dota and the esports scene. What was he like as a young kid?
Gunnar's Mom: I'm not really sure when he started playing Dota. It was sometime when he was in high school because we didn't pay much attention to it then. And he did sports and other activities but he was always on the computer doing something and playing some game or another since he was very small. It would be different games but we didn't think of it as anything more than a game, just entertainment, but when he was in high school, he told us, "Hey, this is something I want to do and I want to do it seriously."
And it was a little surprising at first because we had just never thought of it that way and didn't know anything about the game or anything about what being a professional esports player was. And I kind of warmed up to the idea much sooner than my husband did because he's the one that used to hide the computer cables and take them with him to work so Nico wouldn't play late into the night. Basically, there was a lot of conflict between Gunnar and his dad in the beginning over the amount of time that he needed to spend playing a video game. My husband was like, "it's just a video game. Why is he spending so much time? He has school and he has to focus on school."
Gunnar's Dad: Those were very good conversations. You want your best for your family and you want your best for your kids. I know he spent a lot of time in the computer and he did well in school, but there were times that I worked late at that time—I would do a show that ended at two o'clock in the morning and I'd be home at 2:33 in the morning and he'd still be playing while knowing they needed to go to school at seven o'clock in the morning. So there were a lot of different moments that I was saying what he was gonna do with his life in that situation.
We did have those big discussions about it and he did say this is what he liked doing and it was one of those moments you had to step back as a dad and say, "You know what? Okay." I did say that he had to graduate from high school, which he did, and for him to get into college, which he did, but then it was a moment that he said this was his dream and this is what he wanted to do.
I always look back to when you're a kid and your dreams and you don't want anybody to say no to you and I didn't want him to feel, down the line, that I could have, would have, should have because that's not what you want for your family. And that was it. That's why I took them to the Boston Major and took him to Montreal in the middle of a storm. I'll never forget that one. Then little by little, you can see he was gaining the confidence and the experience.
And my wife was a big supporter from the beginning. It wasn't that I wasn't, but she knew, and every so often, I will say, "How's he doing," and he's doing well. He's coming up through the ranks and the next thing you know, he's flying all over the world going to Korea, Japan, India, Singapore and Bali. You step back and you say how many kids who at that age are doing all this traveling. And he's a good kid on top of that, you know?
He's one of those very good at home [people] and takes care of himself and is very polite. It's just one of those things that at the end, you say, "Look, you put them in the right direction and you want them to do it" and this weekend is all about him and his teammates and I'm very proud of him and I wasn't not going to miss this for the world. She knows that when I told my bosses I was going [to see my son], it wasn't that I was asking permission. I was just telling them that I was going, and if they would have said no, I would've been like "okay, the decision is not hard. I'll be there." Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned but it's all about experiences. I deal with that from my job where you cover a lot of teams. Sometimes you don't have it the first time but then they come back stronger and I think that's what they're going to do.
BLIX: I know that there was a moment in time in which you started going from "this is what my son wants to do and I'm going to support him," but what was that moment in time in which you started believing that your son could be more than just a pro Dota player and he could do much bigger things?
Gunnar's Mom: Well, I think it was when he took him to a very small tournament in Montreal and he even had to bring his own computer. It was very bare bones. It was with "Veni Vidi Vici," that being the name of the team. They drove to Montreal for this tournament and the organizer of the tournament said, "Hey, your son is very good. Would you let him do this professionally?" And I think that, because he went and approached my husband directly, as opposed to me saying the same thing, it wouldn't have felt the same.
Gunnar's Dad: I'll never forget that one because the reason I talked about that was more about watching people watch Nico, or Gunnar—I can't say that. For me, it's my son Nico. It's obvious that I'm older so they knew I was attached and they asked me if he was my son and I said yeah so they were saying he was good at what he was doing. And you can see it within the team he was the person leading the team. There was that moment that you realized, "You know what? All we can do is help support him and then see where he goes." And so far, I don't think he's yet at his peak. I think he's still learning.
I was telling her earlier today you're seeing a lot of the players who have been here for a long time. Compared to them, he's still very young in that situation and all we can say is just do your best and that's what we do. He does his thing. And the only thing I always say to him is to make sure his mom knows where he's at, make sure he checks in with her and make sure he takes care of himself and so far has been doing that consistently.
Looking back at Paris Major Incident
BLIX: Probably the first event that came into my mind (and the rest of the community) about knowing who Gunnar was as a player was in 2019 in which he was a part of TEAM TEAM, who qualified for the Disneyland Paris Major, and after competing in ESL One Mumbai, he was let go. He mentioned during the broadcast in the latter event about how you guys booked tickets for Paris with the full intention of watching your son play. I want to know, from your perspective, how did that go about?
Gunnar's Dad: For me in that situation, it was hard to watch my son go through that process. It wasn't just the trip to Paris, it was more about being part of the team and how things happen. But on the other hand, it was also an experience for him as this is life and this is being an adult. What I was proud of him is how he handled himself afterward. He was not a petulant person. He was not doing things nor throwing things around. It was more like, "Alright, lesson learned. This is what happens."
Sometimes, I think he has a good heart, and if you go back into the whole situation, he believed in the person and the person did something that they shouldn't be doing. And we had a heart to heart conversation about it and that's life. Sometimes there's always a person who you want to give him a chance, but although they ended up biting you in the back, he grew from that and he became a better person. For us, it was mostly my wife and daughter who were looking forward to going into Paris, but it wasn't about that. It was about him growing up as a player, as a professional and as a person that, at the end, you kind of go like, "Alright, good experience. Move forward."
Gunnar's Mom: I would just say I was impressed with how resilient he was and it just really cemented the idea that this was what he wanted to do. That's because if you can get through something hard like that and come out with a good attitude and actually grow from it and become stronger, then this is what you're meant to be doing. He's happy doing what he's doing. I can't imagine that there's anything else he'd rather be doing right now and as parents, that's what you want for your kids.
You want them to find something they're passionate about and work hard at it and find some success. And so I couldn't be happier for where he is now and I see so much potential for where he can go if he continues on that road of being a good person, working hard and having that resilience to always want to come back stronger.
Looking ahead to the future
BLIX: And where can he go? If you could pinpoint an ultimate goal that you see for your son, what would that be and how close-slash-far would that be?
Gunnar's Dad: His goal is obviously to win TI. That's the goal for every single kid out there who plays Dota 2. For me, it's more about just him having fun and doing what he loves to do. That's it. Whatever happens, I'm proud of him; whatever happens, he's always gonna be my son; and whatever it happens, I'm always gonna love him with all my heart. That's it.
As far as anything else, whatever he can do, I'm still going to be the same person. I'm still going to be dad and he's still going to be my son and I don't think there's a situation where you can say "if he doesn't do that, he's a failure." It's not about that. Right now, he's doing what he loves to do and whatever he accomplishes right now, we're always gonna be proud of that. And if he stops today, if he decides to walk away, I'm still gonna be proud of him the same way and whatever he does in the future.
Gunnar's Mom: For me, I'm just proud of the man he's become. He's really grown into himself and I see him being more confident, focused and clear and, for me, that's already winning. He's already accomplished what we want for him and something I've always thought about with all three of my kids is that you're not raising children, you're raising adults and I feel I've raised kind and hard working adults. And so that part of my job is done and the rest is up to them and now I just get to support them. That's what I see for Nico.
Like Fernando said, if tomorrow he decided, for whatever reason, he was done then that would be fine because I know whatever came after that would be just as good or better. Today's results, I know, are disappointing for him but he already went further than anyone expected their team to go and that is winning. To me, would I have loved to see them continue to play? Yes because he loves to compete and I would love to see him continue to compete because that's what we love, but he's just going to use this experience to come back stronger and he'll be back at TI if that's what he wants.
BLIX: That's a beautiful perspective to have for your son. One final question: do you have a final message to give to your son and also to the rest nouns for their participation in TI?
Gunnar's Mom: Just congratulations to nouns for making this run to TI that no one saw coming, for proving that they're not just the third best team in North America and that they have a lot more to bring to the table. I think they're only getting started so I'm very proud of Nico, I'm proud of his team and all the support that they've created around the team. And I see that a lot of the players on his team have very good support systems at home. I think we have some of the best Dota parents, I'd have to say, and I love that because that's what brings me joy: it's to see these young men giving it their best and working really hard to get to where they have but also having the support systems at home that keep them up.
Gunnar's Dad: I'm very proud of them. I'm proud of each one of them. I will say that we love him. They're getting stronger and I can hardly wait until the next season to start because I know they're gonna do well. I just wish them all the luck of the world but I'm very proud of what they accomplished. For the rest of the kids out there, it's to follow your dream and that's what the kids are doing.