Some time after The International 10, after recognizing the lack of options amidst the offseason roster shuffle, Arif "MSS" Anwar found himself in an unlikely situation. Following his departure from Quincy Crew, a stack he had been a part of long before it bared its current name, he offered his services to any side looking to bolster their lineup for the next Dota Pro Circuit. It didn’t matter if that potential suitor was based in either North America or Europe. Given his extensive career that includes numerous TI appearances, MSS felt certain it was only a matter of time before he inevitably found a new home.
But by the end of the shuffle, MSS' expectations fell considerably hard by the wayside. Instead of aligning with a team and beginning to prepare for the upcoming DPC, he was still teamless. And since all rosters were locked, he was consigned to watch from the sidelines and wait for an opportunity to arise.
Though it's unsurprising to see a fair amount of players become disheartened due to them not finding a team, MSS didn't let that hinder his wellbeing. Instead, he took the time he now had available to his advantage. He engaged in self-reflection and made adjustments both in and outside of the game, creating a refined version of himself by the time he rejoined QCY for the Summer Tour of the DPC.
With a rejuvenated mindset, BLIX.GG caught up with MSS to discuss his return to competitive Dota, reuniting with Quincy Crew, how he readjusted his mentality, North America's place in the international scene, and much more.
We caught up with MSS in late May to chat about his return to the scene, expectations for the Tour and more.
Returning to pro play
Pedro Romero: Thanks for doing the interview, MSS. We'll start off with you returning to the DPC after not competing full time since the end of TI10. How did you spend your time away from the competitive Dota scene?
MSS: It was mostly about a mental reset and self-reflection type of thing where there were many thoughts going around in my head, about whether or not I wanted to keep playing. I was thinking of going back to school, but I eventually decided against that. You can say I have been humbled from the past six months and I'm going into this third tour with a very fresh mindset. I'm pretty motivated as well, so I think this break was very good for me.
Can you elaborate on the aspects with regard to how you improved yourself? How exactly did you engage in that state of self-reflection?
It came down to a realization of what position I was in. Initially, I believed I could join a team very easily, but obviously that didn't turn out to be the case. I was just stuck without a team so I thought I'm possibly not as good as I thought I was. Maybe I had to look at myself for a bit and work on the things I know I have issues on. That was more of the mental side of improving myself. As for the Dota side, I did learn a decent amount from the time I stood-in for EG. Even though I was playing offlane, I think it helped me with my Position Four because seeing Dota from another perspective, especially when it's in the same lane, it prompted me to understand what a Four should be doing and what an offlaner needs.
Since you mentioned how hardly any team approached you to join them, did the thought of potentially retiring ever cross your mind?
Of course. I mean, at one point, I was thinking about going back to school. Sometimes, I sat down thinking to myself: "Is this it? If it is, then this is a pretty s****y way to go out." Combined with the whole COVID situation, I was very depressed for a bit, but it's now fair to say I got my s**t together. Now, I'm pretty good.
Which then leads to your subsequent return by joining QCY before the start of the summer tour. Was there a point in time you can clearly identify in which you felt ready to go back to pro Dota?
I don't know if I can say there was one specific moment. It just happened over time after watching all these games. I knew I was still good but I had to wait for the right opportunity to go back on a team. I pretty much had to hope a team contacted me because that was the only way I was gonna be able to compete in the third tour and for TI. Fortunately for me, that did happen. I knew I still had it but I just had to be patient.
MSS in TI10 (Credit: Valve)
When it came time for you to return, was it only QCY who approached you for your contribution or was there any other team within or outside of NA that did the same?
For the third tour, it was mostly QCY and it was kind of a mutual thing. Some of them were talking to me and I was talking to them. For the second tour, I was looking at other regions but it just didn't work out. However, after that, it was essentially only QCY so I thought to myself: "This is probably the best option for me right now."
In an interview made by KBBQ prior to TI10, he described this stack as a bunch of "scrappy, determined underdogs trying to climb the mountaintop against privilege and prestige." Given that this stack consists of experienced and well-regarded players, yourself included, how would you describe this current iteration of QCY at this point in time?
Mmm, that's interesting. I would say it's going to be a fresh reset. I don't think it's going to be something old. I think we're all coming in with a new outlook. We're going to be looking at each other with different perspectives and a fresh mindset, in my opinion.
NA’s current position in pro Dota
And it is with that mindset that the team will take on the rest of a region that has, in recent months, put up an impressive showing compared to the rest of the world. For starters, it saw one of its own (TSM) reach the grand finals of the Stockholm Major. Putting that in conjunction with the usual outlook towards NA in competitive Dota, what do you think of the public sentiment now having seen TSM perform well in Sweden?
I mean I'm sure everyone is gonna keep saying "NA lul." I don't think it's going to change. *laughs* It's just too popular of a joke. But in all seriousness. other than the fans since they're always going to s**t on NA Dota. Let's be real. Hopefully, this makes orgs look at NA and think: "Maybe if we sponsor the scene, they'll go far." That's exactly what happened with TSM (or Team Undying). They've improved so much after attaining the TSM sponsor. It's extremely noticeable to see their improvement over time. That's just the power of being able to boot camp and seeing the rest of your teammates. That's one thing EG and TSM will have over us. It's a very big advantage, but hopefully we can make up for it. It just means we have to work extra hard.
Do you reckon that the same trend will continue for the team (formerly 4 Zoomers) representing Nouns Esports given that they were also signed by a new org?
Well, of course. Getting a game picked up by any org and receiving a salary is always going to be a nice confidence booster. Nouns and Wildcard are both teams that are improving day by day. They're not teams that we should underestimate at all. Everyone says NA is just NA vs QCY vs TSM. But any one of these days, Nouns or Wildcard can just come out of nowhere. It's very important not to underestimate anyone. But yeah, having a sponsor is nice, guys. It's something we hope we can get, so we can bootcamp too.
Development of NA as a region
With the inclusion of more orgs into the scene and the general improvement of the top echelon of the region, we've seen a major difference in the region this season compared to last season seeing as it was basically EG and QCY on top followed closely behind by Undying before getting signed by TSM. How much growth do you think you have seen in this region from last season until now?
To be fair, overall, there was not that much growth if you see it objectively because the same teams are still at the top. They're just switched around right now because the only team that didn't change was TSM, who's constantly getting better. Then EG and QCY made these roster changes which didn't work out so they obviously got worse as a result and while they're getting worse, TSM is just getting better. But the top three is still the same: EG, QCY, and TSM. There is growth in the sense where everyone is still getting better, but there's no growth in the sense where it's the same teams on top.
I guess you could say the same for Tier-2 and Tier-3 tier in NA where there has been no change?
Yeah. It's hard. The player base in NA is small. There's barely any resources and there's no support. It's hard to see that crazy growth without more support, pretty much.
Expectations for summer tour
Quincey Crew at TI10 (Credit: Valve)
With that view, we focus on the summer tour where QCY will take on the rest of the teams to fight for the chance to appear in the Arlington Major. What are your expectations for the team heading into this summer tour?
Personally, I have no expectations. *laughs* If we don't qualify, that's fine. The only expectation I have is we're probably going to have to play the TI qualifiers. I'm not going to have some crazy and unreasonable expectations of us qualifying to the Arlington Major. I'm not going to have those expectations of us qualifying easily. In my opinion, there's no point having crazy expectations like that. I'm gonna take it slow. I think we should probably expect to just play TI qualifiers and hopefully we qualify for TI. If we qualify to the Arlington Major, that would be great, but that will be a bonus in my eyes. I would love to play in an NA Major for sure, but at the same time, I wouldn't be crushed or anything if we end up not qualifying.
It would be nice to QCY reach the Major over in Arlington. This approach of having no expectation, do you think that rings true for the rest of your teammates?
I can't say that for myself because I don't know what they're thinking. But I hope that ends up being the case because I feel that is something that brought us down in the past. Having too many expectations definitely made us worse in the past. When you expect too much and then it doesn't happen, many things tend to happen. You get sad, you play worse, or you end up underestimating a team. It's just bad - in my opinion - to have expectations. There's just no reason to have expectations. It just makes you feel bad if you don't meet them, you know? So just take things game by game. If you place high, that's great.
I wanted to address the fact that you played as a stand-in within the first two tours of the DPC where you helped both QCY and EG. Being a stand-in within those two teams obviously gives you a slight insight as to how they competed within that time. Both teams didn't have a pretty good showing so far in this DPC compared to years past (QCY not qualifying for the second Major and EG finishing last in the same event). Nevertheless - in your point of view - given both teams' performances so far in the DPC, why do you think both of them have been unable to reach the same level that they showed last year?
I think that's just the nature of roster changes. When you change your roster from a point where you've been getting consistent results, there are only two ways you can go, right? You either get better from changing the roster or you get worse by staying the same? Results-wise, both of these teams didn't get better so that's just how it is. Sometimes changing a player or two doesn't work out.
As the team's Position Four who is making his return to pro play, you're going to have to deal with various changes that have happened since leaving such as the new meta and how that will work for the rest of your teammates. What has been the main difference between playing from when you left QCY and now?
Personally, being the Four is more like accepting what kind of hero you have to play and how, during the laning phase, you act similar to a Five in a sense. It's such where both supports have one mission: to make their core farm and get fat. You just have to buy a house for your core, get them fat, and pretty much be as annoying as possible for the enemy. Pretty much, I'm just less greedy, I would say. Before, I was way more greedier as support, but nowadays I'm definitely more sacrificial in the sense.
How would you personally describe the you from now and the you from back then (leaving QCY post-TI10)?
I'm more humble, more motivated, and just more excited. I just want to play. I'm going to still be cocky, but I'm not going to be cocky to the extent where I'll look down on people. I'm not going to make myself play worse. I think it's important to control your ego. Have enough ego to think that you're the best but don't have too much ego where you think you're already the best.
I get the sense that handling your ego was one of the biggest things you had to refine, if that's a proper way to say it.
I think it's very important because your ego is tied into a lot of things. It affects your mentality towards things and it also affects your work ethic. Sometimes, if you have a crazy high ego, you're like, "I don't need to practice. I'm too good. I'm better than these guys. I don't need to practice," so while you're f*****g around, everyone else is just grinding. You know? So it's very important in my opinion to have that in check.
In that case, do you feel that contributed to QCY not doing well last season (i.e. Animajor, TI10)?
It affected me personally. I was very demotivated and I didn't really practice that much. With the ego thing, that was probably something that affected all of us, but for me personally, I was just very demotivated. Not having a sponsor for so long kind of just caught up to me. It just made me very sad all of a sudden towards the end. I didn't play that much and I played like s**t when I did, in my opinion. Dota is a game where if one person is not carrying their weight, it's very hard for the team to look good. You need everyone to be on the same page and everyone to put in the work.
I guess, in retrospect of your general career, what we're seeing is a sort of subdued MSS or a calmer MSS? Or rather a reformed MSS?
I'm #reformed? *laughs* Yeah, I'm reborn in a way.