Prior to the start of DreamLeague Season 20, five professional Dota 2 teams have secured a spot in The International 12, set to be held in Seattle, Washington, for the first time in six years: Team Liquid, Gaimin Gladiators, Evil Geniuses, Tundra Esports and North America’s Shopify Rebellion.
After parting ways from EG during the post-TI shuffle, the lineup consisting of Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, Abed “Abed” Yusop, Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen and Tal “Fly” Aizik joined SR for 2023, thus marking the org’s formal entry into the game. Not only that, the team replaced the outgoing Nightfall with Jonáš “SabeRLighT-” Volek, the Czech offlaner who was formerly with Team SoloMid in the 2022 season.
With a new org and offlaner, SR distinguished themselves as one of the top Dota teams in the world by finishing fourth in the Lima Major and third in DreamLeague Season 19. Though the team sputtered recently with a 9-12th showing in the Berlin Major, by finishing first in Tour 3 of the 2023 North American Dota Pro Circuit, SR sealed their spot in TI12 and obtained an opportunity to build themselves up as a contender in DreamLeague Season 20 and the Bali Major ahead of the event in October.
Before DreamLeague Season 20, BLIX talked to SabeRLighT- for an interview about how Shopify navigated NA Tour 3, how he looks at the team’s showing in the Berlin Major, how he has fit in with the team after leaving TSM, his lighthearted personality and more.
*This interview was conducted before SR announced Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi would stand-in for Abed for DreamLeague Season 20.
Tour 3 and board games?
Pedro Romero, BLIX: With Tour 3 wrapped and Shopify already qualified for TI12, how do you view their current state both in and outside of the game?
Jonáš "SabeRLighT-" Volek: Outside of the game, the team is doing pretty well, I would say. The last DPC season was kind of chill because we beat TSM at the very start, so then we felt unless we played super badly, we should make it to Bali, so it's all good. We took the season very lightly. We didn't play that much, but we still played a little [serious]. We focused mainly on team bonding and stuff like that, I guess. We didn't scrim that much in the game, so I think we're not super in form right now, especially me. I just came back from a four-day vacation, and I played 10 pubs and in the first four of them, I absolutely griefed. I wasn't playing that well, but I'm sure it will get better during DreamLeague, so I have high hopes.
BLIX: What were the team-bonding exercises you and the team did during the season given SR breezed past the region in Tour 3?
SabeRLighT-: More than the previous seasons, we would talk more about anything. It's about the small things. We went together to the upper floor of the facility to get popsicles and snacks. We would play some games together too. Cr1t and Artour [Arteezy] were playing Diablo together and stuff like that. For the first season, we played board games together as well, but for this one, we couldn't because Fly was at home for a part of it and he's usually the big board game enjoyer, so there weren't enough people to make the call to play board games.
BLIX: Even so, what's been your favorite board game that you played?
SabeRLighT-: At the facility, we always played Avalon, which is similar to Mafia, but you're to deduce who's the bad guy, which is nice. Other than that, with my family when I was younger, I would play The Settlers of Catan and—I don't know, stuff like that.
BLIX: When you have this laidback demeanor throughout the season, does that thought of it possibly negatively affecting your performance creep into your mound?
SabeRLighT-: Well, that's the disadvantage of playing in NA. Compared to EU teams, who have to keep playing and where every game matters, for the NA teams, the DPC is easy sailing, and there's no challenge, so you don't really improve and grow as a team during the season, but at the same time, fortunately, there are a lot of tournaments. I'm very grateful for DreamLeague because it's basically like the DPC, but it's way higher skilled because only the best teams get there. This is like the real challenge for us and I also think it's really hard to perform all the time in the entire year, so I think it's nice we can relax during the DPC, and when the time comes for DreamLeague, the Major and Riyadh, we had a month break and then it's really time to put in the effort.
SabeRLighT: I just came back from a four-day vacation, and I played 10 pubs and in the first four of them, I absolutely griefed. I wasn't playing that well, but I'm sure it will get better during DreamLeague, so I have high hopes.
Looking back at the Berlin Major
BLIX: SR's domestic form has been flawless domestically and internationally, where it finished 4th in the Lima Major and Top 3 in DL Season 19. However, that form has sputtered a bit by finishing 9-12th in the Berlin Major. How did you view the team's performance? Was it because of the team trying to get used to the new patch?
SabeRLighT-: Team-wise, what hindered us in Berlin was that we didn't have Abed for DreamLeague, which was our boot camp for the Major. He came a day or two before the patch came. We were playing with Mikey the entire time before, so we didn't really sync up with the team that much and I think, overall, the effort and team motivation at the tournament wasn't at its highest compared to other tournaments. We talked about it, and we were going to work for it in the future, and I also feel I personally threw a little bit that tournament. We were doing pretty well in the group stages, but we played against 9 Pandas in the upper bracket and I wasn't playing that good in Game 1, and I feel that's a game we should take easily if I played better, but we didn't, and then it snowballed. After that game, we lost the second one, and then we lost to EG, so we just weren't able to stop the snowball.
BLIX: You mentioned the team talking over things following the Berlin Major. What were the things that the team talked about?
SabeRLighT-: The main thing is that we all agreed that, during that tournament, we weren't really doing the small things. For example, at Lima, we would eat breakfast and lunch all together as a team, whereas for this event, people came in randomly. They weren't playing that many pubs. For example, I was playing pubs but wasn't really focused on them. It wasn't good practice, so it's good that we recognized it and then decided that we needed to do those things in the future. We need to stay on the same page as a team. We used the term "fracture team" during that Major since we weren't really a proper team.
BLIX: Since Berlin, do you think all those issues from that time have been completely patched up? Or is there a wait-and-see kind of approach with DreamLeague and TI coming up?
SabeRLighT-: I would hope they're patched up, but it is still kind of "wait and see." We'll test it out at Bali, and then we need to get ready for Riyadh and TI.
On new patch
BLIX: How have you accommodated and viewed the new patch with it already existing for roughly one month?
SabeRLighT-: I personally don't see that many differences from the last one as far as hero pools are concerned. There are a few changes; for example, I can't play my Engima, which I enjoyed very much, and some other heroes, but there are still some OP heroes. They were OP before, and they are still OP now. The main thing is you play the map differently, and that's something that's hard to work on because you need to play a lot of games to figure out what is the perfect map movement and stuff like that.
I also feel the early-game kills matter more, which is something so many teams have capitalized on already. When you look at the pro matches, so many teams are smoking and fighting level one and stuff like that. Those are the main changes for me. I don't see that many other changes. The laning is still the same. Fighting is still the same. Itemizing is very similar. They nerfed Auras, so I like that. I can appreciate that.
BLIX: Which hero has gained more prominence with this patch that you are appreciative of?
SabeRLighT-: I think Magnus is pretty fun. I think that is the main one. I'm glad that some of the initiators are in the meta again. I'm a Collapse fan, and that man also like initiator-type heroes like Axe and Magnus and stuff like that. I'm also that kind of player, so I'm glad I don't have to go to a zoo and insta-Q free Auras and do that every single game.
BLIX: As the new member of this team after being with TSM last season, what's the biggest thing that progressed that you were surprised about in playing with Shopify?
SabeRLighT-: I think I improved a lot as a player based on what they taught me. I think the biggest improvement I can see, and that is coming mainly from Bulba and Artour, is just to be more stable to know the heroes that I'm playing and play them well and get far in tournaments with those heroes. My laning improved a little bit, but at the same time, Cr1t is just a beast in lane, and he just carries me during the laning. As a team, I would hope that what I brought to the team was a better atmosphere compared to when Nightfall was there, so hopefully, we're able to work together better and take feedback well.
On SabeRLighT-’s comedic personality
BLIX: And that team atmosphere has been highlighted plenty of times, not just during matches but outside of it too. I've seen the video vlog Shopify put up about their time in Peru and Germany and how you acted as a tour guide, which I found entertaining. About the comedic aspect of your personality, where does that come from?
SabeRLighT-: I don't know. I'm the funny guy, I guess.
BLIX: So there is no inspiration behind it? You popped out of nowhere like how the Bing Bang did with the universe?
SabeRLighT-: I don't know. My mindset is that I am a pro player because I enjoy playing Dota, and for that reason, I want to keep enjoying it. If I'm on a team, I would like to have a good time on the team. If it's just for money and results, I would take it. If I could win TI on a team that I hate, I would take it [still], but I would not like it, so I would much rather be on a team where we're all having a good time, like each other and goofing off because that's what it's all about. It's about having a job that you love.
BLIX: Was there a moment in time in which you really started taking that lighthearted side of being a pro player? Or has that always been present for you?
SabeRLighT-: I think I've always been like that. I'm like that on stream as well, and, as far as I remember, I was the class clown as well in school. I've just been a funny guy since I was born.
BLIX: What's an example of prime comedic SabeRLighT-?
SabeRLighT-: That's a hard question. I'm proud of some of the videos I posted. The one video that I get a lot of praise for is my announcement about joining Shopify when it's basically the parody of the Nigma video [where it announced ATF was joining the team]. I think that one is a good one.
BLIX: I talked to Slacks during the Arlington Major and he highlighted you as a leading example of a player trying to build an audience outside of being serious and competing for trophies. How does that make you feel to be regarded as such by someone like him within Dota?
SabeRLighT-: I think that's very sweet of Slacks. I like him too. I think we're very similar in this regard that, in a certain extent, I'm just copying what he's doing because he's a big goofball. I just go in his footsteps, and I think we're alike in that sense where we both enjoy making people laugh and have a good time. It's nice to have other options, I guess. Maybe if I wasn't a pro player, I would still have a great time being a caster, analyst or entertainer like Slacks, but that's in the far future. Once I'm washed up and fall below 10k MMR, I'll do that.
BLIX: Hopefully, that doesn't happen, at least this year. We have to have at least one team from NA do well in TI. Taking the focus back to you and Shopify this year, what do you think separates this team at its current form and the level that enables them to contend for high placements at TI?
SabeRLighT-: We still have some work to do to be on the same page as a team, and all of us need to work on our personal flaws so we can be the best version of ourselves. If those two things are met, we will be the best. As long as we're the best version of ourselves and we are able to make it work as a team, then I think this team, with so many high-skilled players, have enough to be the best.
BLIX: What's your personal flaw?
SabeRLighT-: For example, in Berlin, I just made silly mistakes. These are things I know I'm not supposed to do but I do them anyway. Once I eliminate that and play really clean, then--I think that's the biggest [issue].
BLIX: With you being a part of DreamLeague and getting surrounded by the top players and teams in the world, which player has given you the biggest impression with their individual play and contribution to their team?
SabeRLighT-: I usually look at the other offlaners, so I watch a lot of Ace, 33, and zai's replays. I think zai, overall, is someone I admire a lot as a person and as a player. I guess that's my idol.