While it's not hard to recognize Gaimin Gladiators' unparalleled level of dominance throughout the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit, it's just as easy to forget Team Liquid's simultaneous performance amidst the former's success. Of the three Major grand finals that took place this year, they were the only team that appeared in all of them alongside GG, and even when TL would eventually falter to GG, they would nonetheless mount another impressive run in the ensuing Tour to maintain their position as one of the world's best Dota teams.
Even if TL would fall in two other grand finals besides the Majors, such as Riyadh Masters (1-3 to Team Spirit) and DreamLeague Season 19 (2-3 to GG), they remained on top of their game regardless of the fact. Such a trajectory carries them forward to The International 12, where they are seen as one of the favorites to win the tournament for the second time in the organization's history.
Prior to the start of DreamLeague Season 21, BLIX interviewed TL's head coach William "Blitz" Lee to talk about the team's state following Riyadh Masters, how the succession of second place finishes this year has affected the team, his thoughts on returning to Seattle for TI12, how he looks ahead to life beyond Dota and more.
Returning from the break
Pedro Romero, BLIX: With the DPC already finished and you and the team are now looking towards DreamLeague and TI12, how do you view the current state of the team from the coach's perspective?
William "Blitz" Lee: We've taken quite a long break so preparation-wise, we are pretty unprepared right now. It's probably the time in our team, at least in this iteration with Nisha [Michał Jankowski], that we've taken the longest time off so I'll be just as curious as everybody to see how good we are.
BLIX: Rest varies for each team depending on how they take it and how they work to catch up to the rest of the competing field. For your case in particular, do you feel the break was a positive or negative given how long it had been?
Blitz: It remains to be seen, I think it probably went a little bit too long, but unfortunately, in this year, you don't get redos so you just learn. That's because last year, we had the Last Chance Qualifier and it felt like you were constantly in Dota and that was really beneficial to us, whereas nowadays, it feels as though I haven't seen my team in a really long time and it has just felt kind of chaotic.
BLIX: And it feels like, in a way, that you guys are starting all over again in terms of catching up to speed with each other and having the same coordination from the DPC?
Blitz: Yeah. We scrimmed six games so far. The first three were terrible but then the next three were kind of okay. It's like muscle memory, it doesn't ever really go away. Your feet will kind of come back underneath you really quickly.
Looking back at the 2023 DPC season
BLIX: Taking a look at the current whereabouts of TL, you guys are coming off of consecutive runner-up placements in many international events this year. It's sort of similar to how we've seen Gaimin Gladiators' dominance but in terms of consistency. Even so, for you guys to finish in second countless times this past year, how has that affected the team's mentality including yourself as the coach?
Blitz: It's definitely stressful for sure. Every finals is hard. Everybody is good at this level and everything just feels tough and so I try not to take it for granted. It's tough to pull yourself out of the hole every single time and be like, "Ugh another second," but we're blessed to be in this position anyways. if I only got second for the rest of my life, then yeah, the competitor in me would hurt a little bit, but I'd say that would have been a pretty good career too in terms of prize money and having relatively good levels of success.
From my perspective, it's not the worst thing in the world, and ultimately, everybody still has the drive to win so maybe in the moment, it feels a little bit shit, but you felt better than 18 other teams so you just get back on the horse and keep riding.
BLIX: With that thought in mind, GG has been the biggest thorn in this team's side throughout this past year for obvious reasons. You touched on taking down that team in a recent podcast episode you did with Cap in which, following the Bali Major finals, you sat down with the team to work on how they can be stopped in the next series. Flipping that perspective, what do you think is the biggest thing that makes this TL team so good this year from your perspective?
Blitz: I think our team is very flexible as both people and players. Our team is pretty understanding about everybody's situation and about whoever is going through anything. We don't really blame, we just adjust, and similarly inside of the game, we don't really have a pre ordained style. It's more like we go with the flow, and in doing so, then yeah, it's gonna get hard sometimes because you run against a team that is very confident in their style and you're the one that always has to adjust, but at the same time, it's pretty fun being able to be that kind of team that always has to move on the fly and make adjustments.
So it's kind of like our gift and our curse. It's what makes us really good but also kind of what hamstrings us a little bit and it makes it so that we'll have a little bit of a harder time than some other teams.
BLIX: Speaking of those other teams, in addition to GG, what other teams have caught your attention that necessitates the same level of attention as them?
Blitz: Spirit is obviously really annoying. I think Spirit is a team that--I just hate these guys. I thought once we beat Gladiators it was good and then we haven't played these guys, but yeah, Spirit is incredible. I have a lot of respect for their team, their organization and their management. I just think they're amazing people and an amazing group so tons of respect for them.
Our team loves that team personally. It feels like, with a lot of them, we've come up from the trenches with those guys so we're a big fan of them. I think Talon is another team that has now gotten top three at two different international LANs this year which is super impressive. They also had to beat Gladiators to do so. I felt that team has a lot to prove and they're just way better than most people give them credit for or expect.
Returning to Seattle for TI12
BLIX: And of course, this year will culminate in Seattle for TI12. It's a well known place in the Dota pro scene's consciousness. In returning to Seattle, given that you've been there a few times in the past, what does it mean to you to return to that city and just get back to where you were in the past?
Blitz: I love Seattle. I'm obviously American so I personally love the town and there's, like, a certain nostalgia that I have. The beginning with Seattle for me, how do I say this in a more succinct way? I don't know, I get really nostalgic when I think about Seattle. I have so many good memories around that city. It's where I met so many of my best friends and so many people that I really enjoy being around. I get super emotional thinking about Seattle because it was the epicenter of where I felt like my life began.
When I was a kid and stuff like that, I was— I know this is a cliche thing—but I was a loser. I was bullied because I played video games and stuff like that and going to Seattle for TI and seeing how big this game that I loved when I was in college, I wasn't going to parties and s**t like that. I was just grinding Dota 24/7 and seeing the grandiose-ness of it all really meant something for me as a kid.
It really represented what I'm doing is correct and I can make this into something bigger than what it is currently as long as I stick to it, so for me, Seattle is just an awesome and where I have fantastic memories and I'm super excited to go back there. It's been so long. It's been, like, five years since I've been back for TI so I'm very excited to be back there.
BLIX: What is one memory from your days covering Dota in Seattle that sticks to you the most?
Blitz: Back then, and we don't really talk so much anymore nowadays which is a shame, I was really good friends with a guy named EGM [Jerry Lundkvist] who played on Alliance. Watching him win TI3 in person was truly special. I felt like that was an incredible moment that will always live with me.
BLIX: And with TI12 in mind, I want to talk a little bit about the prize pool because, as of now, there's not been any word as to exactly what that amount is going to be. What are your thoughts on the prize pool of TI12 relative to past years?
Blitz: I have no idea. Just like you said, there's been no information released. I think I'm blessed to play a video game for a living so there's worse things in the world than for me to figure out what the range of what it's going to be like. Obviously, I'd like to play for more money. It'd be a lie if I said that I didn't care so much. At the end of the day though, it's going to be what it's going to be and I have to live with that.
It's like are we going to play for a ton of millions or just a little bit of millions, you know? I'm sure that anybody reading this will to think to themselves, "What a spoiled problem to have to worry about stuff like that," so in my life, I try to have some level of perspective that what we're doing at the end of the day, while it's cool and we're providing entertainment, the prize pool is what it is.
BLIX: Comparing this version of the team with last year, the only difference has been Nisha instead of MATUMBAMAN [Lasse Urpalainen]. How do you view the difference in the evolution of this team from the end of last season where you guys finished third in TI11 to now with you guys being seen as one of the major contenders for the Aegis of Champions?
Blitz: It's really scary because when you're bad and you're s**t, nobody has expectations of you. It feels bad, if I'm honest. I liked the world where I could just walk into a tournament and everyone thought we were going to be s**t. That was pretty nice and nowadays everyone thinks you're going to be good so there's pressure and people are waiting for you to fail. That's just kind of how people work. And I don't blame anybody. There's plenty of f*****g people I root against.
I'm petty as s**t so I can't really have a high horse or anything like that. So from my perspective, it's a s****y position to be in, but at the same time, it probably means you're doing something right just because you're in this position to begin with. Being the favorite sucks, man. You have no idea what people will prepare for you and you always have to have something special just to get far in tournaments. It just makes what Gladiators has done even more impressive, in my opinion, that they've been able to maintain this kind of success with all the stuff that they have to deal with.
The future beyond Dota
BLIX: And it sort of does come with territory with being seen as one of the best regardless if you were not able to win any silverware throughout this year. Moving on, back in July, you alluded to how you were close to the end of your career in Dota. What's the timetable for that post-TI12?
Blitz: I mean, we'll see. For me, I try to take things one step at a time. I'm just getting old now. And yeah, I don't know. I kind of want to spend more time with my family. It's not that I want to, but at some point, I have to also understand what else is there for me in the world, right? And this game won't always be here. I love it to death but I also have to move on at some point and figure out what else I want to do in this world. I don't want to look at my world and think I've only ever done Dota. I'm very blessed to have done so, but I kind of want to see the other things that I could fail at, if I'm being blunt.
I know Dota so well that I haven't really had to have a lot of anxiety around it for the most part. A lot of it is just self-developed, but forcing myself to do something different and get good at another task, that'll be fun and interesting. As far as exact timeline, I have no idea. I told these guys that I would have been done like two years ago and then Aydin [Aydin "Insania" Sarkohi] convinced me to stay on and it's just been indefinite since then. I guess as soon as it stops being really fun and really entertaining is probably when I would call it quits. When I stop seeing a future for myself in this game, I'd probably say, "Yeah, I'm done," but for now, I do enjoy it still and it does bring me a lot of joy.
And, you know, I'm so f*****g lucky to be able to do it in the first place. Sometimes I think to myself these questions like, "Is this really all I was meant to do in this world?" I feel society builds you into thinking to yourself that you have to do [sic] these great contributions, but it's enough for me to be happy. Life's too short to worry about all the other small details, so for me anyways, being able to do something that doesn't change the world but just changes my world is enough for me.
BLIX: Do you have any game that you feel you want to touch upon when that time comes for your Dota chapter to close?
Blitz: I probably won't do another game because nothing's really captured my imagination in the same way as Dota has. I might still do something in esports but almost certainly not for a different game. I'm old as s**t. What am I going to do, learn how to play Valorant with a bunch of 14-year-olds? There's no shot.
BLIX: I mean, there is a 30-year-old that has been able to play in Tier 1 but that's neither here nor there but still, it's just a little nugget to add.
Blitz: After this year, I'll take some time off. I really like powerlifting even though it doesn't physically show because I have the worst genetics of all time, but there's some stuff I want to do. I want to hit a three-plate bench and stuff like that. I'll work on those goals and then we'll see what happens from there.