Which single word can be used to accurately describe Admir "lizZard" Salkanović within the world of Dota? For one thing, boring is far and away out of consideration. Some may use “charismatic" or “laidback" in observing his personality whereas others may say "knowledgeable" due to how he surveys each game in close detail. But out of all the candidates, one word term that can be used, it can be argued, to chronicle lizZard’s trajectory is "headstrong".
Way back in the early years of Dota 2, as in 2014, liZzard was a pro player trying to fulfill his major goal of qualifying for a TI. He joined numerous stacks from 2014 to 2017–at one point, he played alongside distinguished players like Neta "33" Shapira (then known as TheCoon) and Vladimir "RodjER" Nikogosian–but was ultimately unable to qualify for the event.
Despite absorbing the sting of not reaching a TI as a player, liZzard made the switch to becoming a talent in 2018 and tried pursuing a career there. Even after working various events from all the way to 2019, it wasn’t until after the COVID pandemic that liZzard emerged as a major talent specifically on the side of an analyst. As a result, he would go on to cover a multitude of Majors on top of three consecutives TI’s including this year’s edition, where he worked primarily in the group stage. All in all, it has been a decade in the making for lizZard and his time in Dota.
Amidst the final weekend of TI 12, BLIX talked to liZzard about his stay in Seattle, how he experienced the growth of his fame in the past two to three years and much more.
liZzard in Seattle
Pedro Romero, BLIX: First off, covering your time in TI 12, you worked in the group stage and now you've been taking it easy as the tournament progressed to the main event, so how have you been taking in this experience so far?
Admir "lizZard" Salkanović: Well, I wasn't taking it easy. They didn't invite me—GabeN—I don't know why but he didn't invite me for the main stage. It's fine though. I did the group stage and it was really nice. It was a really nice hotel that we did it in and the experience was fun. It's my first time in Seattle as well. I have to admit though I didn't try clam chowder yet and, honestly, I was 50/50 between showing up here to do your interview or go eat some clam chowder but I was like, "I told him I'm gonna come" so I had to.
And the weather is nice. I really want to be at the Pike Place Market right now but there's some really nice Dota happening. And it's also my first TI with a crowd. I've done a couple before but they never had a crowd or we did it remotely so it's a bit different but I'm really enjoying it. I love the energy. It's insane and it reminds you how much people actually love this game and how much they care.
BLIX: Did you visit the Space Needle?
lizZard: I have. I didn't go up. It's 35 bucks or some s**t so I was like, "Yeah, that's a bit—I'm kidding. When I'm a tourist, I like doing non-touristy things so the way I ended up at the Space Needle was I didn't even plan it. I just walked around the city and I was like, "Oh okay, I'm here. Cool." And then I saw a bazillion people standing in line and I'm like, "Yeah, I'm not gonna go up there." I took some pictures and walked around. I went to the Museum of Pop Culture though that's right next door because it was empty. And I went to the LAIKA exhibition as well and bought some souvenirs and that's it. I didn't go up the Needle though.
BLIX: You mentioned working in front of a crowd for this occasion compared to back then in which you weren't able to do that. Did that add pressure to how you work and how you prepared for this event?
lizZard: Not necessarily because at this event, I actually didn't work with a crowd because the group stages didn't have it, but I worked with a crowd before. It's just the TIs that I didn't really see because it was COVID and whatnot. Basically the time when I really broke into the scene three to four years ago. Before that, I was on Majors and some of those Majors had a crowd as big as this one—almost, you know? I remember the Stockholm Major and the Moscow Major as well [EPICENTER 2019].
Back then, it did put a lot of pressure on me. Right now, I think I would be able to handle it much better, but back then, I was like, "Holy s**t, there's so many people." Now I understand that they probably don't hear what I'm saying anyway with the audio issues and whatnot in the arenas that are usually there. But not this one, though, and that's what's insane. The acoustics here are excellent. I could hear every single word Cap saying which is exceptional.
Grappling with fame and recognition
BLIX: It's one thing for Dota fans and also Dota talent to look at past editions of TI and seeing it take place here in Seattle, get mesmerized by being here and taking part of the game's history. Did you also feel mesmerized when you stepped foot into the Climate Pledge Arena?
lizZard: Of course, man. It's like history and it's not even that. I told you that I don't visit tourist spots. I was just walking down the street very near to our hotel and I looked around and I read on a sign that said Benaroya Hall and I was like, "This sounds interesting. This is familiar. I know this name." This city obviously is Valve HQ so there's a lot of history here involving Dota. It's definitely something else when you walk inside and see all the fans. I think it's not necessarily about the place as much as it is about the people.
Wherever you go, if you feel the same energy, it's going to mesmerize you no matter where you are. It can be an arena as huge as this one or it can be a field where people are all talking about Dota and sharing the same dream more or less. It's gonna feel different, especially for us because we're a niche group, right? It's not something that everyone in this world follows. So no definitely, it feels like you're a part of a community.
BLIX: I'm pretty sure you must have answered this question many times before but I feel the need to ask again: What's your favorite TI moment?
lizZard: You see this red cap passing us by right now? That guy in a red cap? That's a two-time TI winner [NOTE: At that time, Johan "n0tail" Sundstein walked past lizZard while hiding his face in public]. He is wearing a cap and he's wearing a mask. No one can recognize him but I just did. [laughs] He was just talking about how interesting it is for him to just walk around and no one recognize him. Of course, he's masked up and he has a cap on and everything and it's hard to recognize him, but at the same time, it's very cool to see him here being a part of the thing that he won two times. Sorry, I hijacked your question.
BLIX: No, I wouldn't have noticed but thanks for letting me know.
lizZard: It's kind of cool that he just passed by in this slow walk. If he was five meters to where everyone is going in and if he had that hat off, everyone would recognize him and he wouldn't be able to walk at all.
BLIX: He's that big of a legend, huh?
lizZard: Yeah yeah. I'm popular enough for people to have interviews or to say hi to but I'm not popular enough for my life to be obstructed by it, you know? If he goes out, there's just so much pressure on him. There's just so many "sign this, sign that" and he can't even move? He's, like, paralyzed and I'm not there so get to experience not having to be anonymous to walk around. For most of us, we're not super social Dota players so it's nice to have people come up to you to say what's up because it cracks your shell no matter what. Sorry, I hijacked—
BLIX: Going back, favorite TI moment?
lizZard: Right here seeing Johan pass by casually not giving a f**k. That's my favorite moment. Besides that, Team Spirit winning TI for me. It felt really nice because it was my first TI grand finals that I worked, and also Eastern Europeans won it with the people coming from the area that I'm from. It was nice to see. Besides that, obviously, the fountain hooks and TI 3 as well with NAVI-Alliance basically got me into the game. I've been playing the game since the Dota 1 days but what really reeled me in was TI into Dota 2.
BLIX: You talked about fame and how one handles it. With Johan, I think, there's a paradox, in which, casters and players go about their business to achieve the success that they want to achieve and also, in a way, to gain fame. And it comes with the territory for one to receive more fame as they get more successful and the same principle, I would say, applies to broadcasting talent. That said, would you want to reach that same level of success as some of your peers?
lizZard: The good comes with the bad, right? When it comes to success and fame, I'm extremely happy with where I am alreadyI really don't care about fame. It makes me feel good when people approach and say hi and all that. I'm warm and fuzzy and I like it. That's it. But would I be better or worse off without it? I don't think I'd care. My dream in Dota wasn't to be a broadcaster or to be a panelist. My dream was to be on TI as a player and perhaps win it as well. I failed that but I did reach TI. I got to the grand finals of TI behind the panelist desk, but still, I got there.
I'm not trying to be a star or anything, and I'm not one. I'm just doing my job and enjoying Dota, watching the game that I love and chilling with the people that I truly like. It's a very nice living. And we travel the world as well so I really couldn't ask for much more. I think I've already achieved what I wanted to achieve from Dota. Like, I'm good. When it comes to fame or no fame, I really don't care.
Looking back at the past
BLIX: It's interesting to hear you have that kind of perspective. You also mentioned earlier in the conversation about how you made it big during COVID time and was able to get in the position that you're currently in. How do you look back at that time with a different perspective now?
lizZard: I would say I became a completely different person as well. A lot of things have changed for me and have happened to me in life besides Dota. Everything changed and the perspectives are massively different. I was very hungry back then as well, you know? I had the chip on my shoulder for not making it as a player so I really wanted to make it to TI somehow and I was grinding hard for it. I don't think that the grind is as hard right now for me—or maybe it should be I'm not sure—but I feel that my perspective is one filled with much more love and compassion to everyone in the scene and the community. And back then, it was more self-centered, perhaps, in a way. Yeah, I don't know. I honestly think the biggest difference might be that.
BLIX: Earlier in the year, Valve celebrated the 10th anniversary of Dota 2. I'm curious to know what you think is the most unfair thing that you experienced?
lizZard: When I was a kid, me and my brother went on a vacation and when we came back, my PC was broken and he blamed me. I'm like "Bro, we went to the vacation together. The f**k?" And then I got my ass kicked because he's five years older so that's probably the worst thing in life that I still remember. It's not but I remember it with a smile on my face. When it comes to Dota? Meepo being nerfed to the f*****g ground. It's unfair what they did to my boy.
When it comes to the games themselves, I've had some unfair experiences with teammates and players. People cheating you out of tournament slots or just taking advantage of you in this game of politics that the teams are sometimes, especially when you're starting off and everyone is trying to make it big and find their footing in the world. And I get it. It's a game, you know? When you're in that position it just happens a lot so I'm not going to go into details but yeah, s**t happens and what can you do? You continue grinding and that's it. It's part of the game not just Dota but in life, I would say.
BLIX: In making sure that you maintain focus while also having that drive to succeed, what was the one thing that you focused on to make that possible?
lizZard: In Bosnia, it was not that easy to make a decent living. I was studying electrical engineering and it wasn't really that simple with that engineering degree to make a good living or make something change for yourself and the people around you. So it was one of those things that motivated me a lot. I wanted to either win TI or become big in some way in Dota so that materialistic aspect of life becomes easier for you. But besides that, when you're a player, I don't think that you can play unless you have this fire that just keeps burning and keeps pushing you forward no matter what. You want to prove to everyone that you're the best. I feel, when I was a player, reaching rank one and s**t, it doesn't really matter a lot but reaching that—
BLIX: But then again, you did post that a lot of times on your social media, right?
lizZard: There's one screenshot of me reaching rank one and I posted it five or six years after reaching it. I posted it more like a meme because I was a panelist at that time and I did it to stand out. I never bragged about it before, but I think that that competitive urge just keeps you going as long as you have it. I don't think that I have it as much as I used to but it's still there a little bit like a small fire. Mostly right now, it's just the love for the game more than anything else. A love for the community and the game and seeing the people that you're seeing that are literally my life right now so that's what's keeping me on the right path.
Is lizZard satisfied?
BLIX: For you two to have made TI as a broadcast talent, does it give you that sense of satisfaction? Or do you still have that sense of maybe you can do a little bit more from that point?
lizZard: I think I can do a s**t ton more and a s**t ton better, to be honest. When it comes to the way that I panel and the way that I cast, especially in the last couple of years, I think that I can do better. I have the will as well to do the same thing, but at the same time, I'm extremely satisfied with what I have accomplished so far and I'm happy. And at times it feels like—you know how it is in life. Sometimes you feel good about yourself, sometimes you feel like shit no matter what you do and I think it's the same for me. Sometimes I'm like, "Oh s**t, I made TI" and sometimes I'm like, "You didn't make it as a player. You're a f*****g caster." It is what it is and you can't change it, it all comes and goes, ebbs and flows.
BLIX: How much of that drive from when you were a player have you been able to translate now as a broadcaster? If you could give a numerical value as to what that change was, what would that be?
lizZard: It was very high at the beginning. I would say the player was a 10 out of 10 and the talent was like a nine or 8.5 for sure. Also, it was much much easier than being a player, right? Being a player and playing every f*****g day for 12 hours a day (10 hours of playing and two hours of watching random replays) with your teammates that don't even care about Dota anymore. They just want to 322 or some s**t. F**k that!
No, for me, the talent work was very natural. I felt like I'm in the right place. The last couple of years of playing just didn't feel like I'm in the right spot anymore and that's why I stopped. As a talent, it just made itself the best f*****g excuse to do that. There is Liquid by the way. [NOTE: lizZard notices Aydin "iNSaNiA" Sarkohi walking outside of the arena following TL's elimination from TI 12.] There's iNSaNiA just passing by. That's his family, I believe. Unfortunately, he got eliminated but a lot of them came to be with him.
BLIX: Has there been any family members that have been supporting you for your career?
lizZard: No, no, no. My fam hated what I was doing and no one supported me. I would be happy to play for any team back in the day just to make some money. I wasn't broke. They supported—well, I should correct myself. They supported me very much because they supported me financially. I wasn't kicked to the streets or anything like that. I was in a good home with very nice parents and my brother as well. Let's just say that, materialistically, they were there for me so they didn't ask a lot. I helped out where I could. When it comes to moral support, they were like, "What the f**k are you doing? Shut that down." Because I was a student at the same time they would be messing with me that way as well.
[NOTE: Plenty of people begin to meet lizZard at this time including PGL production people and fellow talent-slash-former players including Arsenii "ArsZeeqq" Usov.]
BLIX: What was the biggest thing that stood out to you with ArsZeeqq?
lizZard: We played together a long time ago. It was me, him and RodjER as well. There were some other players in that team. I think Neta [Neta "33" Shapira] played with us for a bit as well. It's fun seeing people that you grew up playing with and started in the scene with become talent and start working the same shit that you're doing. He used to play and coach until recently. He was a coach of Virtus.pro and now he's here casting the grand finals for the Russian cast. He's on the Russian cast and I'm on the English cast so it's interesting.
BLIX: What's the funniest story that you can remember from both your playing and talent days?
lizZard: I don't know. I had a lot of funny stuff happening on my stream. My stream was a joke, basically, so it was fun. When it comes to playing, some bootcamps had a lot of weird s**t. Players walking around naked, players leaving their food on the table for a month, stuff like that. It's funny and weird. When it comes to casting, I helped a guy propose to his girlfriend. They broke up since then, I heard that. Yeah, but it was still a funny moment. It was on a Major as well like three or four years ago. That's probably the most interesting. I don't know if that's funny. I don't know, there's a lot of cool s**t that's happening in casting that's sort of similar.
BLIX: Now that you've made TI a few times, what do you view as as your goal going forward into 2024 and beyond?
lizZard: I was on TikTok recently and I had one of these motivational TikToks pop up. You know who Hunter S Thompson is? It's some dude that's always on drugs and LSD and whatnot. I'm kidding by the way. He has this really nice quote in which he says that we shouldn't hold goals as something static and as something that's always standing there. They should be fluid and they should be moving together with us. you shouldn't hold yourself a slave to a certain goal and I think I'm like that at the moment.
I think I've been like that my whole life. My goal was TI, but I didn't do it [as a player]. I went into talent so I kind of made it as a talent. If I held a grudge and if I held that goal strongly to make it as a player, maybe I would never be there. And right now, do I have a certain goal? My goal is to stay in this and continue working in esports for as long as possible. As talent, maybe it's something else. I'm not sure. It's just to keep on living this dream, basically. That's very soft but just keep on doing this pretty much.