Of all the teams taking part in DreamLeague Season 21, OG have one characteristic that distinguishes itself from the rest. By way of losing in the Western Europe regional qualifying tournament for The International 12, they are the only team to not make the event, thus making it the first time ever that the org will miss the tournament entirely.
Such a result didn’t happen out of the blue, however, a stretch of instability plagued the roster as they weathered various shuffles; such as Tommy "Taiga" Le stepping away during Tour 3, Evgenii "Chu" Makarov and Mikhail "Misha" Agatov exchanging the Position 5 role throughout the year, Ivan "MinD_ContRoL" Ivanov being a stand-in during the Berlin Major and both Kartik "Kitrak" Rathi and Sébastien "Ceb" Debs stepping in for the qualifiers.
All this amounted to a year in which OG’s highest placement in all the events they competed was fourth, which happened in Tour 2 where they went from last place to attaining a slot for the Berlin Major by way of tiebreakers. As such, the team will look ahead to DreamLeague with the aim of identifying their mistakes from 2023 and correcting them for 2024 and beyond.
Prior to DreamLeague Season 21, BLIX caught up with Ceb for an interview to talk about the team’s struggles in this past DPC season and what caused it, what are his takeaways he’ll put to use for next season, bringing in MinD_ContRoL as a stand-in for the event and more.
Looking at OG’s struggles in 2023
Pedro Romero, BLIX: OG is in a pretty different position compared to the majority of other teams in DreamLeague given that it didn't qualify for TI12. And so for you, as a member of the team, how are you taking this approach to DreamLeague given what happened in the TI qualifiers and such?
Sébastien "Ceb" Debs: As you mentioned, we didn't qualify to TI12 so that was a huge blunder. The way we see it as OG is the OG Dota team doesn't belong anywhere besides competing at the top for titles and whenever we're far from that, then there is a lot of self-reflection that has to be made and all of that. We're in the process of doing all these things so in that sense, DreamLeague is a great opportunity to assess things to help us understand what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong, the changes that we need to make or that the things that we need to keep because we'll get the opportunity to compete against some of the best teams in the world.
The next TI winner is probably in DreamLeague. I think that's fair to say so in that sense, it's a great opportunity for us to keep building so that's how we go into DreamLeague: focused on preparing for the next season and this is the first step for that.
BLIX: Going into how the season transpired for this team, what did you think were the biggest issues that the team faced that inevitably put them in this sort of position?
Ceb: Last season was one of the most challenging ones. I can't remember from any team I've seen or been part of for the OG team in the sense that there was a player change to start the season off with Ammar [Ammar Al-Assaf; ATF] being removed from the roster and DM [Dmitry Dorokhin] getting in. That's obviously a big change and then this was just the first step.
We thought the rest would be smooth sailing and we would building up to the season, but actually, what ended up happening is the war in Ukraine led to a lot of visa issues because we have Ukrainian and Russian citizens on the team and that led to us being unable to put the roster together and full for any bootcamp and for any tournament and that really led to a lot of instability and a lot of changes.
The team had to play with stand-ins and attend tournaments with stand-ins and different people for the entirety of the year. It's an understatement to say that it's uncomfortable. It's really, really hard to build a project and build up a team when you don't have stability and you don't have the same people throughout the season, and on top of that, there were problems with some individuals, I would say. It was mental health issues that happened with a few of them and I think it could also have been triggered by this whole instability that I'm describing.
So everything put together, I think this last season was like hell on earth for the boys because it's very depressing to put in a lot of effort and when you're ready to show what you've worked on, something that's not related to Dota stops you, but at the at the same time, it is what it is. I'm sure a lot of other teams have been affected by the situation who have had COVID and now this. Life brings you a lot of challenges and you just have to deal with them. I'm just hoping that next season is going to be more stable, and as for us, we'll just keep our head down and work hard until we get back to where OG belongs, which is winning tournaments.
"I think this last season was like hell on earth for the boys because it's very depressing to put in a lot of effort and when you're ready to show what you've worked on, something that's not related to Dota stops you, but at the at the same time, it is what it is."
BLIX: Unfortunately, it's a recurring theme revolving around OG with having different rosters at different times and it's such an issue that unfortunately happened in the way that for you guys. That said, as the veteran of the team, what kind of things did you try to do in order to fix those issues throughout this past year?
Ceb: Unfortunately, nothing that was as meaningful as I wish it was because, in these situations, you're kind of running around like a fireman, you know? You're in there extinguishing fires that just keep lighting up again. For every change that you make within a Dota team, it brings something and it removes something. It creates opportunities but it also creates issues. And I don't mean this as a bad way. This is like the normal and healthy flow of building team dynamics. You bring an individual, he has strengths and he has weaknesses, he has pros and he has cons and what's really tricky about Dota is that you're not allowed to have subs that are part of the team.
If you had subs and you could include them in the building process, you would be allowed to switch them in and out like in sports, basically. Then these people would be happy practicing with the team and committing to the project and you wouldn't have all these issues.
Now what happens in Dota is when the player is not available because he's sick or he didn't get his visa or whatever, it just damages the team a lot. You just have to bring somebody that's completely new to the project, to the team, to the playstyle and whatnot and you just have to start building from scratch because when you change one player out of five, it just changes everything. Even though it sounds like it changes 20%, it doesn't.
I think anyone that has been part of a team has made that experience for himself. You change one player then you change the entire team so you have to build it up again. So in that sense, we've tried to help as much as we could in working on the play style, team dynamics, helping people understand what works and what doesn't and what the meta is, but as I said, it kind of feels like how, in French, we talk about hitting a sword into the water.
It doesn't really do much so you get that feeling a little bit in the long haul so I think we're just focusing now on making sure stability is going to be there for next season. And obviously, everything that happened didn't happen for nothing. A lot of key learnings were made throughout the season so I'm very confident going into next season and I'm very excited for it.
BLIX: I'm curious to know what are those positive takeaways that you've seen in spite of the failures at the late stretch of this past DPC season?
Ceb: Funnily enough, it's in the hardship that people learn the most about themselves, you know? What are their limits? What pushes them over the edge? I'm sure the individuals, first of all, got a lot of experience at knowing themselves better as competitors. "What hurts my confidence and what doesn't? How do I feel when the results are bad? What helps me bounce back" You also learn that about your own teammates, you know? What puts them in the right mindset and what doesn't? What pushes them out of it? How can I help them? How can I not? All these learnings were made throughout the season because when you're winning, everything is kind of smooth sailing.
You don't really need to overthink things, and when you're losing a lot, the opposite happens. You need to come up with solutions, you need to get creative, you need to get supportive of your teammates and yourself, etc, etc. Obviously, we have very experienced people in OG around the team so, in that sense, we're there to accompany them to make these learnings and to help them understand what's happening because you can also go through all of that and not understand.
But when you do, and you do get these learnings and you do analyze what's going on, it's very fruitful. Every win I've gotten in Dota, I could always relate it to losses and hard moments where I'm like, "Yeah, I remember. I've made that mistake before and I'm not gonna make it today." This is like the cycle of competition. It always happens.
Focusing on DreamLeague and Ceb’s longevity
BLIX: It's with that in mind in which OG is going to bring in MinD_ContRoL as a sub for this competition for DM. How did that come together? Was it his past experience and familiarity with the team from the Berlin Major that made it a major factor in bringing him over for DreamLeague?
Ceb: I mean, that played [a factor into it], of course. Prior to Berlin, there was always a lot of respect. We've always looked at MinD_ContRoL as a very potent offlaner in particular so in that sense there was that. There was also the Berlin experience that confirmed what we thought whe's great. He's actually a very nice teammate and a nice guy to have around and he was also available to stand-in.
Obviously, most teams are preparing for TI right now and they're at boot camps or on their way there. Unfortunately for him, he's not a TI this year so I guess that left him available for us to ask him to stand-in and he kindly agreed. I'm personally very excited to finally play with him. I've competed against him so much and enough to know how good of a player so I'm excited to have him on my side for once.
BLIX: At this moment in time, we've been seeing a new influx of people come in and make their names for themselves while also playing alongside or against the veterans of the scene such as yourself and MinD_ContRoL. How do you view this new-slash-current generation of Dota players compared to the time in which you came in?
Ceb: First of all, I think it's very positive . The fresher the blood, the better for Dota as a whole and as a game, so I only look at it through a positive lens. With that being said, there are big differences, for sure. The major difference is probably that veterans are not always on top of their game. For some of them, it's due to the fact that they've won so much and have been to so many tournaments that their motivation level is not as high as the motivation of somebody that just came into the scene.
I mean, that's kind of normal and natural and that can lead to them practicing less and sometimes to them getting outplayed by these young people that play so much and come in so ready and that can be intimidating sometimes. When you get outplayed in Dota, you have this tendency of thinking that the guy that beat you is right on what he does. It's like a self-defense mechanism where you're like, "what he does is better than what I do. He's not better than me. It's just what he does is better" so then you copy that, right? I think younger players have influenced the game more than what it deserved because I don't believe that their ideas are often better.
I think that, actually, the veterans' ideas are almost every time much better. They understand the game in a much more depth. Yeah, the meta changes, but the Dota meta goes in cycles and we've seen it all, basically. There's more to see but our minds are really open to what the game offers in general, so I would say that the macro game should be on the veteran side and the micro game should be on the youngsters' side.
That has always been the case, but in the last few months and maybe a couple of years, this has changed a bit where youngsters are actually influencing the meta a lot more than it should, but I was trying to explain where it's coming from and I don't think it's coming from the right place. And at the same time, we make a lot of noise about how new players are taking over. Well, I don't know.
I'm looking at Tundra. They're the TI winners and their average age is, I think, 27 or something. Sneyking [Jingjun Wu], the captain of Tundra, has been competing for as long as I have and he's the title defender. So yeah, a lot of fuss has been happening during the year, but what actually happened last year in the TI finals was Sneyking versus Puppey [Clement Ivanov].
You cannot name harder veterans than these two, you know? They've been around for more than a decade at the highest level so we'll see about this year, but do not count veterans out is what I'm trying to say. And welcome to the young blood. The more the merrier. That's a long way to say these two sentences, basically.
BLIX: I'm going to add in one more question before we wrap this up. We've been seeing you come back and forth between returning to pro Dota and retiring like a roller coaster. For you to still be at it with your pro career for more than 10 years, what about the game this makes you refuse to step away permanently given that you have basically done it all?
Ceb: I've done it all. In a way I did. In a way I didn't. There's always more to do but I did reach what most people dream of when they compete in Dota, but to be fair, I've never competed in order to win a tournament, make money, get recognition or you name it. When I started competing in Dota, there was none of that. There were no audiences. There were no prizes. There was just Dota and this is a game I'm still very passionate about and I just wanted to get better. I wanted to try to be the best at this game and I think the beauty of Dota is that you're never the best.
You can be the best today, you can be the best for a year, you can be the best for two years, you can win TI twice and then the next day you wake up and you you're back to being bad or you're back to getting outplayed by somebody that brings you back to the work lab where you have to figure out a way to beat them. In that sense, this brings me a lot of fulfillment and that's what I enjoy about the game.
It's a great game. It's extremely challenging and it keeps challenging me so I just keep picking up the call. It's just the love of the game that's keeping me going, honestly. Nothing else will draw me away from it unless something more important comes up or unless Dota becomes a bad game, which I don't think it ever will, so in that sense, I keep going.