If one had told the average Dota fan five years ago that renowned pro Dota 2 player Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan would eventually join a Chinese team, they would have laughed it off as "fan logic". However, as it ultimately turned out, SumaiL did make the call to play in China after joining Team Aster on loan from Nigma Galaxy for Tour 3 in the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit season.
Despite facing the obvious challenge of living in an entirely new country, SumaiL, as a member of Aster, who placed fourth in The International 11 as the best team in China, helped the team qualify for the Bali Major and place them in good position to contend for a spot at TI12.
Before the start of DreamLeague Season 20, BLIX talked to SumaiL about how he’s integrated into Aster during Tour 3, living in China, comparing Chinese Dota to Western Dota and more.
Playing in China with Team Aster
Pedro Romero, BLIX: Since you now have a few months with Aster under your belt, how have you seen your stint with the team and your playing in China so far?
Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan: Not much has changed, to be honest. I've been part of a few teams now, but more or less, I'm just playing the game the same way. There's not that much of a difference, to be honest.
BLIX: Following your time as a stand-in for Aster in the Berlin Major, you've made your trip to China and played all of Tour 3 there. How has it been living in China? What has been the biggest shock to you both cultural and game-wise?
SumaiL: We live in Shanghai and I've been there many times. It's kind of similar to most cities, I would say because everything is accessible. At the end of the day, we just play video games in a room so [there's] not much changes no matter where we go and which country I go to. For me, it's pretty much been the same.
BLIX: Such things are critical for a player to continue their form as the season drags on. As to your presence in the country, it has, let's say, revitalized the scene in a very big way because I believe it's the first time someone from the West has played in its DPC under the current format and garnered such a following in such a short amount of time. How have you viewed the immense popularity and following that you have garnered in China in your time there?
SumaiL: In the past, there were some players who played [in China]. There was the LGD.international squad and then Black^ played in Vici Gaming so it's not something that was never done, but for me, I always had a huge following in China. It was, in a way, a homish feeling to go there even though I never played in a team there, but yeah, that's my take on it.
Moving on from the Berlin Major
BLIX: Going more in-depth with the rest of the team, in which you're partners with Monet, Xxs, BoBoKa and 皮球, how has it been getting synergized with the rest of the team compared to how it was in the Berlin Major?
SumaiL: To be honest, you still have to make some telepathic connections because there's not much verbal [communication] going on. I mean, I speak to Mad [Aster's assistant coach] and Xxs since they both speak [English] and the rest is here and there. We just gotta make sense of the context and connect that way.
BLIX: What has been the most difficult part you had to navigate through when it came to communicating with the rest of the team in your eyes?
SumaiL: Usually, I don't know what they are talking about outside of the game and what the issue is. I don't know in-depth [about that]. From my perspective, it could be me and they're not actually addressing it, but I don't know what's going on so I can't really give my point of view. That would be the biggest [thing] for me, I would say.
BLIX: How has the partnership with Monet been like specifically?
SumaiL: It's been really good. I think we are suitable for each other. Hard play style and it matches each other pretty well so it's been good.
BLIX: In what way is it good? What's the biggest positive that you've seen out of playing with him?
SumaiL: He's a very versatile carry player. He can play both ways. He can play slow and fast at the same time. He has a huge hero pool which allows my hero pool to be big as well.
Comparing Chinese Dota and Western Dota
BLIX: With you playing in China, it then begs the question on how it compares to Western Dota. With the state of Chinese Dota as it is right now, with it not performing well internationally this year, how has it compared to Western Europe this year?
SumaiL: For Western Europe, there are three to four teams such as Gaimin Gladiators, Tundra and Team Liquid. They are the top teams and then for everybody else, it's somewhat on the same level more or less, and those teams aren't, like, championship teams, let's say.
If you're not playing in those three teams, I think every other team is on somewhat the same level for me. That's how I see it. And the pace is a bit slower. Even Eastern Dota, it's not just China but Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe too, is kind of slow compared to Western Europe, so that would be the biggest change, I would say.
BLIX: So it's just pace that has made the biggest difference or has there been something else?
SumaiL: Pacing means mindset on how you see the game. It's where the pacing comes from so I guess it's the mindset that takes adjusting, I would say. But other than that, it's Dota. It's pretty much the same game. Everyone plays it the same way, more or less.
BLIX: With the new patch roughly being a month old and seeing its share of changes since the start, how have you viewed it so far? Also, what has been your biggest grip with the new patch?
SumaiL: Initially, when it came out, it was way more exciting than it is now, but as time has passed, it has gotten slower again. Yeah, I don't like that much anymore.
BLIX: Can you dive in as to why that's the case? Is it because of the new features or specific buffs to heroes or something like that?
SumaiL: Nothing game related. When [it’s] a new patch, Dota usually becomes fast-paced. Every team plays really fast and stuff, and as time progresses, people start getting a better idea and the play starts slowing down. You play these long games every game and that goes 40 to 50 minutes.
BLIX: Do you prefer for it to always be as chaotic and fast-paced as it usually is in the start of a given patch since there's no concrete idea as to how to go about a match?
SumaiL: Ideally, I would rather have every game end at minute 25 instead of having 50-minute games.
BLIX: Looking at your career in a general sense, you started as a prodigy who developed into a star in Evil Geniuses for nearly half a decade, and from then on, you bounced around teams such as OG, Liquid, Secret and Nigma before joining Aster.
With Aster, people are talking about how it might have revitalized your career and breathed new life into the player that is SumaiL. Do you feel the same? Do you feel that your time in Aster has revitalized your career in Dota?
SumaiL: No. I hear this about me playing on many teams but it's actually kind of not true. With Liquid, I never really joined them. One of the players had a personal problem and I just stood in. There was no joining them. Then it was just OG. In a way, I only played for OG and then I played with Nigma and Secret so that's three teams in a period of three years, which is a few teams but it's not like I was changing among 20 teams or something. As for the revitalization of my career with Aster, I don't see it that way.
BLIX: How do you view your stint with Aster in your eyes in the brighter picture of your career?
SumaiL: Like something to explore. That would be one way to put it. I've been in the U.S. and NA for five years and then Europe for two to three years. Why not try some other region since Europe is actually really hard to get to LANs for a lot of players. To be honest, the system we have here is something I really enjoy. That's why I kind of, in a way, enjoy not being too strategically involved in the game.
I like to be involved more on a personal side and just playing side and not so much on talking about the game itself. Of course, you have to do it, but it's not [by] a lot which we do here and it's really good for me so I actually enjoy it a lot. It's been different from the teams in the past because, initially, when I first started playing, it was like that and that was the time when I enjoyed playing the most so I kind of had the same feeling from when I started playing professionally.
BLIX: So it's like Aster lets you do as you please to an extent and then, when the time comes for you to get involved with a certain play, that's when they fill you in on what you need to do? Is it like that?
SumaiL: Yeah pretty much. That would be a good summary of it.
Reflecting on SumaiL’s past teams
BLIX: I want to turn the clock and to get your input on your time in Nigma Galaxy since it has not done well so far this year in WEU. They got relegated to Div. 2 at the end of the Tour 2. How do you look back at your time in Nigma and what went wrong for the team?
SumaiL: The time itself was fun, but Dota and us losing kind of washed everything away. At the end of day, you connect together through the game and if the game is not going as preferred, then at some point the mood doesn't help. Nothing helps. But all in all, I would say it was an okay time there. It would have been great if they did good Dota-wise, but for that reason alone, it was okay.
BLIX: Even so, why do you think the team didn't perform well as you had hoped?
SumaiL: For the last two seasons I played, we had role issues. We tried Ammar [ATF] on carry for the first season and it didn't work. Then we tried MC [MinD_ControL] on carry and then I ended up playing carry. It was never actually a team. We were just trying to fix stuff and then it ended up being two seasons of fixing stuff instead of actually improving and then everyone else was improving. For example, every team in Europe improved but we were figuring out which position a player was going to play, so how can we actually win, you know?
BLIX: With Aster looking to contend in DreamLeague and the Bali Major, what do you think will be the biggest thing you and the team will focus on in order to secure a direct invite to TI12?
SumaiL: Since it's TI on the line for Bali, I feel, obviously, we're going to treat DreamLeague seriously. In a way, for my mindset, I haven't talked to my team about how their mindset is, but for me, it's like a build-up to the Major. Obviously, we're going to try 100 percent.
We're bootcamping now in Serbia, but the focus should be to get better in these two weeks before the Major. It's going to be a very exciting Major, you know? The SEA crowd is always one to play for so I'm looking forward to the Major. And LAN is different from online so that also plays a huge part in how much fire comes out from within you.
BLIX: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your team right now?
SumaiL: Eight, I would say. Eight.