When the first Major of the 2021-22 Dota Pro Circuit was suddenly canceled, an air of despondency fluctuated throughout the Dota community. For its players specifically, the unexpected cancellation denied them many opportunities otherwise they would have had. On top of obtaining crucial LAN experience ahead of The International, players could absolve themselves of previous disappointments such as having an underwhelming performance in a past Major.
While it is true this particular facet has simultaneously affected multiple players' careers, it is such that, through this upcoming Major, one particular individual has a realistic chance of resolving.
Since leaving NoPing e-sports following the end of The International 10, Position Five player Pandaboo, alongside his team that plays under the Thunder Awaken banner, has resided at the summit of South America for virtually wire-to-wire. In both the Winter and Spring Tours, TA won every series (14-0) in the DPC with an overall record of 28-2. It is a feat that not even the scene's more established squads like PSG.LGD nor OG has come close to replicating.
Commendable as it is to hold the top spot in SA, Pandaboo is not satisfied solely on that subject. In fact, he hopes to surpass his previous LAN appearance, in which he finished in 9-12th place during the Animajor. Thus, with this surge of momentum Pandaboo and the rest of TA are enjoying, he hopes to maintain for the Stockholm Major once it begins in due time.
With the Stockholm Major right around the corner, BLIX.GG caught up with Thunder Awaken's Position Five player Pandaboo to discuss his team’s recent success in the South American DPC and how he is dealing with the pressure as SA’s representatives compared to when he competed with No Ping e-sports in the Animajor, and much more.
The current state of Thunder Awaken
Thank you so much for accepting this interview, Panda. You are a member of one of the teams that will depart to Stockholm, Sweden, for the second Major of the DPC. That said, I'd like to know how you are doing right now, how is the team doing, and what is its current state before the start of the Major?
“We're currently chilling. We're waiting for the [plane] tickets to be bought so we can go bootcamp in Germany. We are still waiting for ESL's response, but I think they're gonna buy them today if they hadn't done that yet. I'm not sure, but we're going to travel tomorrow and start boot camping.”
How is that Bootcamp going to look? Obviously, you are a part of a team that will compete in the Major, so you can't reveal too much. Regardless, going by how little you can disclose, what is that Bootcamp going to look like?
“We haven't talked about that yet, but I think we're just going to scrimming with the European and Chinese teams and not those from NA. That's because we're pretty tired of playing with EG and TSM. It's always the same for me, so I want to play something new.”
Of course, you'll be facing those NA teams in addition to other teams from other regions such as SEA, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe in the boot camps as well as the proper tournament. In your case, is there anything in particular that is focusing on improving ahead of the Major?
“We want to be tested. We haven't been tested in these SA qualifiers. After playing all these games, we still don't know if we're either really good or if the teams here are not as good, so we want to be tested to improve on the things we are lacking.”
Playing in the South American DPC
Image via (Credit: Thunder Awaken/Instagram)
Throughout this DPC, you touched upon the team's performance in the South American regional league. Compared to all the groups that have performed well, it's fair to say Thunder Awaken has been the absolute best team in its region by almost going perfect with an overall record of 28-2 throughout the season (except for the Regional Finals). How big of a gap do you think your team has displayed compared to the rest of the region in the season?
“It's hard to say because when we were at the Animajor last year, and we played all of the other regions, it wasn't that different. We had good results in the scrims, but we couldn't play well with the NA teams because they already knew us after we played with them for over a year. I do think we are going to do much better this time, though. When we played against Alliance and other teams last year, it wasn't that hard.”
What are your thoughts on taking on the rest of the field in this region throughout the season? Has it been easy? Has it been difficult? I'd like an elaboration on that on that part.
“I think the teams here are not as bad as people like to say. They are usually biased toward their own region. If you're from Europe, then you think Europe is the best, so that's something. I really think some teams are good, and some aren't. It's a rule of thumb. However, I do think that our region is improving through teams like Hokori, who played well [this past tour]. I think they can go to the next Major. I think we went undefeated because we knew most of the Div. I teams. We prepared really hard for each match. We don't really get cocky before playing these matches. We just play as if it's the TI finals.”
That said, considering the team is familiar with facing other teams in South America, when it comes to taking on the rest of the world, is there a feeling of worry within yourself when it comes to playing teams you are not familiar with?
“Not really. I think I prefer those because they don't know much about us either. We don't really care about what they play us. We care more about what we're going to pick, and if we can surprise them, it's going to be a lot easier.”
I want to touch upon one part of the season, which was the Regional Finals. It was a tournament that diverged from the traditional DPC format of the present day. Ordinarily, you'd have the Top 2 teams advance to the Major, but for this occasion, with the first Major getting canceled, that necessitated another competition in its place, which turned out to be the Regional Finals. Although TA started off that event as the first seed, the team couldn't translate that success from the regular season to the playoffs. We're approximately a few months since that rough showing, so what do you think went wrong for TA in the Regional Finals, even after doing so well in the DPC?
“I think a few things happened, like the first Major getting canceled. It really left a few players hurt because they were really excited about going there. Also, we didn't practice as much for the Regional Finals. I think we got kind of lazy because we got first place in the DPC. I think when you get too cocky at times, you're not going to be the best.”
So if the team was more focused on doing well in the Regional Finals, do you think TA could have possibly won the tournament?
“Yeah, for sure. I think if we practice like we did in the first and second season of the DPC, we should have been able to win the whole thing.”
Moving on from the divisional finals, you guys went back to business by going undefeated yet again with a 7-0 record. Talking about that, what aspect in the game did the team and yourself work on improving after the Regional Finals?
“After we changed [the lineup by parting ways with] Oscar and started playing with Sacred (the replacement), we needed to figure out how he fits into the way we adapt to the draft, and that's it. We just practiced a lot like we used to do.”
Inclusion of Sacred and Vintage
Image via Thunder Awaken/Instagram
About that substitution, what has been the difference between playing with Sacred as opposed to playing with Oscar?
“I think it's more about the team environment. I think it's a lot more friendlier these days. I think some players are more friendlier with Sacred than they were with Oscar, and that's good. You want to be in a really friendly and good environment when you're playing on a team. For the game aspect, I think Oscar and Sacred are really good, but Sacred has given us some heroes like Weaver and other offlaners that we like to play.”
Another switch that happened to the team during the second tour of the DPC was the arrival of Vintage as its newest head coach. What has it been like to work with Vintage?
“I think he's really good. He's doing a pretty good job. All I can say is he has been doing a lot of good work.”
Is there anything that he has done differently which helped the team compared to the first DPC?
“Before, it was just Matthew and me trying to talk about the draft and bans, and then we talked with the team. And then as Vintage came, I don't do as much research as I did before, so he has helped us with the draft.”
Looking at the entire general season so far for TA, did you expect this team to basically go perfect throughout the DPC's first few tours?
“Yeah, I think so. I'm pretty confident about us. I think we're a really good team. I think we should be undefeated. I think everyone on my team is the best on their own roles in this region, so yeah, I think we're the best here. We just need to prove ourselves internationally.”
Returning to international play
Talking about international tournaments, you played in one international LAN before where you couldn't achieve the same success that was accomplished in regional play. Why has it been difficult for yourself and the rest of the team to translate that Division I success to Major events (in addition to Regional Finals and the like)?
“It was our first LAN event (the Animajor), so I was really nervous. I didn't have as much confidence as I do now, and I think we didn't lose that badly. It was a really close series with Quincy Crew. We almost won at the end. That was our chance to qualify to TI if we won. I don't know if you watched the game. *laughs* It was a really sloppy showing from both teams. We didn't play well, but we did manage to take a game from EG, so I don't think it was that bad. Even though we didn't win a single series in the playoffs, I think we played some good games. As for other tournaments, the first Major when we qualified, so there's not much we can do about that. We didn't go to TI because something happened in the qualifiers, so that's it. We haven't really gotten a chance to play yet.”
How have you managed to improve in dealing with the pressure of performing well between the Animajor and now, with the Stockholm major starting in a few days from now?
“We have a psychologist, and he has helped me a ton. He helped me build a lot of confidence in myself. I was really nervous at that time, but I think I'm going to be a lot better this time.”
Looking at the Stockholm major, you guys won't be the only South American team competing there. You will be accompanied by Beastcoast, a team everyone outside of South America recognizes due to their past success. With them pairing up with TA, what do you think are South America's chances of performing well and achieving success in the Stockholm Major?
“I'm not sure. I feel my team can do Top 8 for sure, but my goal is to go make at least Top 4.”
What do you think the SA fans' expectations are for their representatives in the Stockholm Major?
“I've seen a lot of memes about them not wanting us to go 0-16 like the old roster at TI10, so that's kind of funny because we're not the same roster from before. I don't really care about what they did at TI. It's us now. We don't have anything to do with them. Those memes are so funny. That's all I've seen. It's things like we're going to get smashed, and we're going to look like the old roster. That's whatever.”
You mentioned the difference between your current team, which serves as the current representation of Thunder Awaken, and the previous one that participated in TI10. Prior to the start of this DPC season, you left NoPing e-sports to join TA alongside the rest of your team, so what has that transition been like to go from NoPing to TA?
“There's not much to say. We were looking for an organization based in Peru because I didn't really like going to Brazil every three months, staying there, and not really knowing anyone. I was kind of getting homesick because I'm really close to my family. I just preferred to be here. Also, the food wasn't the same. Don't get me wrong, I can live there just fine, but it's not the same. Thunder gave us what we need, and I'm really happy to be here.”
Last season, NoPing was doing pretty well in the DPC by finishing within the Top 3 in the upper-division for both splits. From then, you guys moved to Thunder Awaken, and I must assume the expectations were high for this team to continue performing well. Did you feel that sort of pressure to continue that trend of success after moving from NoPing e-sports to Thunder Awaken?
“Not really. A lot of people didn't think we're going to do anything; They kind of forgot about us because we didn't go to TI, and if you don't make TI, no one talks about you. At this point of the DPC, we could now say to those people that we're a strong team and for them look at us now. That's how I felt. I didn't get any pressure because I knew we're really good, and we wanted to win.”
Looking forward to Stockholm
Whatever the case may be, TA will do their best to succeed in the Stockholm Major. Looking at the rest of the field, each region will certainly field their best teams. At this time, with the Major a few weeks away, where do you think SA ranks in competitive Dota as of now?
“We're last for sure. There's no question about that. We just need to change it, right? We need to get a good placement so that we can stop being lost.”
Although the majority know South America of the Dota community as the worst region in the world, one can't help but notice its results in recent years. That includes Infamous Gaming finishing in the Top 8 in TI9 and other South American teams doing pretty well in subsequent LANs (which includes NoPing finishing 9-12th in the Animajor). Normally other teams would strive to Top 13-16th, which is basically last place, but we're kind of seeing more South American teams putting up a bigger fight in international LANs (barring TP's winless streak in the TI10 group stage). Nevertheless, how do you think SA has grown in terms of its competitive scene in relation to the rest of the world?
“It's hard to say. I think there are only a few teams that are really competitive. That's my take. I think SA is improving a lot. I know it's hard to say this, though, because we haven't gotten any results yet, but we need to make something in this upcoming Major. I really want to go to TI this year, so I want to get a really good placement now.”
With the Major just a few weeks away, there are going to be a lot of fans who will most likely see TA play for the first time this season. What should those fans who don't know much about TA and its playstyle expect to see when fans expect to see when the Stockholm Major eventually comes?
“I say to look out for Pakazs. I think he's our best player. He's really good. He's always making the plays. He does some fancy stuff so look out for him. That's all I can say.”
What kind of playstyle should fans expect to also see from the rest of TA without revealing too much?
“We can sometimes play the farm game, and we can also play really aggressive. It's hard to say. It depends on the draft.”
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Panda. I believe that about wraps up all of my questions. Do you have any final words to give?
“Thank you for the interview. I'm sorry for my English. I couldn't express as much as I would in Spanish. It's hard for me because I don't really practice much. If I ever get to do another interview with you, I will try to be much better. Thank you for the support we're getting towards this Major.”