“After TI9 I have seriously thought about retirement” — an exclusive interview with Topson about the way he sees Dota and motivation after two TI wins
Midlaner for OG Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen took a vacation in the first half of the season, came back for ESL One Los Angeles 2020 qualifications, and then got left behind again because of the coronavirus pandemic. Cybersport.ru talked to the player to learn about his form approaching the new Dota 2 tournaments after quarantine, and what keeps him competing after two The International wins.
“Hi, Topias! I’m glad you’re finally back to Finland and we got a chance to talk. Tell us, is your self-isolation at home a lot different from what you’ve seen in Malaysia?”
Hello! It’s different, and a lot. How it all happened: we qualified for ESL One Los Angeles 2020, and we came already to the tournament, but a couple of days before it started we got news it got canceled due to coronavirus. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, everybody immediately went home in case borders get closed indeed — but I’ve decided to stop by Malaysia to see my girlfriend… And two days after my arrival the country cancelled all the international flights (laughs).
It all lasted two weeks, and in the most severe form: we really have been sitting at home and haven’t gone anywhere. There was a small restaurant in front of our house where we could go or order food from — that’s all the entertainment. After living this way for some time, we started to look for any way to get back to Finland together. It turned out not to be so simple: we had to consider a lot of things to make such a flight safe for us and for for everyone around us, but in the end we managed, and we’re very happy now!
“Are you glad you had to live through the quarantine in Malaysia?”
Honestly, no — I would have been much more comfortable in Finland. Oulu, my hometown, had only 120 cases of COVID-19 so far. So life went on as usual here even during the worst days of the pandemic: there was simply no virus here.
I like the local atmosphere, and I’d prefer this place to any other city on the planet. This is my homeland — can it really be better somewhere else?
“Were two months in isolation hard for you? Or it didn’t affect your rhythm of life that much?”
Yeah, it was hard, of course. I love to get out of the house, actually: not to the clubs, but somewhere outside, to the nature, where you can breathe fresh air, walk around the forest. It has always helped me to relax and freshen up my head. But it was impossible to do in Malaysia: we lived near lively Kuala Lumpur, a very loud place. I’m not used to living in a big city, and I felt out of place.
However, I can’t say anything bad about the city itself — it is beautiful and all that. But I prefer more secluded places.
“Did Dota 2 help to cope with boredom?”
Well… I played SEA pubs, and it was very… (laughs) Can’t say it was a positive experience, so I didn’t spend much time in game. I have tried to kill time playing Dota at first, but at some point I stopped trying and didn’t open Steam at all for like three weeks. Because of that I felt like I lost touch with the game right after I came back to Finland.
“Lost touch or just took a break?”
Both, I guess. But I got used already, and the game seems incredibly interesting to me — I didn’t follow it lately, so I’m studying the current meta with great pleasure. The current patch is quite good, I think, but a small update wouldn’t hurt: some strats are way too strong.
“Did you follow the online leagues while you were in quarantine?”
No, I almost didn’t turn on the streams. To be honest, I can hardly make myself watch tournaments I don’t take part in — I think that’s quite useless.
Maybe that’s why the game seems so fresh to me: I’ve only managed to play two tournaments after coming back, and I like studying heroes and items. But some are playing this Dota 2 for quite a long time already, so I can understand the discontent.
“It’s interesting, that all these leagues are basically a mini-preview of the next season, because Valve was going to do just that, regional leagues. Are you fine with this format in the context of DPC season?”
Specifically for me this format is optimal, because it means I will be able to spend more time at home and not travel the world every month. If I understood Valve’s idea correctly, we will be able to play all the games online, gathering for LAN only during play-offs.
I’m happy about it, because this way I can not be focused 100% on Dota. Here, in Finland, I’ve got other things that also require my attention. So I’ll be happy, if there will be less LAN tournaments.
“Are you saying you’re already thinking about quitting Dota 2?”
No, not really. I would have finished my career indeed the very next season if I kept going to all the tournaments and living with only Dota. That’s how it was before, and it was a hard time for me. Now I have other things in my life that don’t let me get stuck in esports routine, and this, in turn, allows me to still be passionate about the game.
I found some sort of balance in life, and I enjoy it. I plunged head-first in Dota 2 in the previous seasons, and that’s why I burnt out quickly. I felt like something’s lacking in life.
“Thousands of players that are dreaming about getting into cybersports are playing pubs right now. It’s not even about huge prize money, they just believe that playing professionally is cool. And you got tired in two super successful years. Why? Let’s lay out cons of a pro-gamer’s life for everyone.”
You mean, besides the fact that you can get here only by giving up everything else? (laughs) To become a professional esports player you’ll have to forget about walks with friends, studies, any other pursuits in life. But the problem is that once you get into esports, you can’t just praise yourself and relax: you will have to work even harder to stay competitive.
Most often, in-game success is related to how much time you spend practicing. People are different, of course, but most need to spend at least 8 hours a day in Dota 2 to stay in shape. I loved the game very much, but it somewhat lost its charm when it became a job that I kinda have to do.
You’ll say, you can just take a break in this case, and that’s true. But when I’m resting, I’m slowly going crazy thinking that somebody’s practising while I’m chilling away from the computer. I get choked on guilt, stress level goes up… So I come back to the game, start spending more time in it, and the cycle begins again…
Oof, I kinda got carried away (laughs). The biggest downside in the life of a professional player is the need to spend that much time in game. You will have to spend 8-10 hours a day every day in Dota 2, and that’s not that easy.
“How do you think n0tail manages to keep up this tempo for almost ten years?”
Oh, I have no idea! (laughs) I have no idea how he manages it. He just has some inside fire that never goes out. Because of that Johan is still ready to fight hard for the right to call himself the best. He’s very competitive, he adores taking part in tournaments and fighting the strongest opponents. And he just loves Dota 2 so much that he’s ready to put everything on it.
“I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, and he said then, that even after retirement as a player he will try to find himself a new role in esports — become a coach, maybe. What about you? Will you stay with us after you get tired of practicing?”
Maybe. I’d be interested to try myself as a coach, but after I build a life in other areas. On the other side, I’ve just realised that coaches also need to travel the world all the time… And I hate travelling! So it’s possible I’ll disappear right after retiring as a player.
“And what keeps you in game now? You’ve finished Dota twice already, winning TI’s. What’s your motivation now?”
I asked myself the very same question right after The International 2019, and, honestly, spent a couple of months thinking. I took a break from Dota right after the tournament and seriously considered retirement; I tried to analyse, what my life is going to be if I quit everything here and now.
But time went, and little by little I realised I still love Dota 2 — the game itself. I like analysing it, finding new builds, testing out heroes… And I like competing too, and Dota allows me to do it on the highest level. So I decided to keep going — yeah, just because I love playing Dota.
I will quit when the game stops bringing me pleasure or if we’ll get problems in the team: if some discord happens, we won’t be able to find common ground with the teammates, or if I lose passion for the competition. But right now I feel I am ready to keep fighting.
“Your new roster — what’s the difference with the previous one?”
It’s a completely different team. All the newbies are very different from those whom they have replaced. For example, ana was a much, much quieter player than SumaiL. The new roster gathered people with completely different characters. SumaiL speaks more during the game, constantly suggesting new ideas. And Saksa, on the contrary, behaves much quieter than JerAx — Jesse always had something to say to us.
Because of this, the overall dynamics of the team has changed. Now I have to speak more often during the games, it’s interesting. But it’s a strong roster, and I see its potential — we just need to work together, and we’ll become the strongest team on the scene.
“You said that when you first came to OG you were asked how would you like to change the team’s play. What did newbies bring to your playstyle?”
First of all, they helped us to look at the game in a new light. We have been playing with the same roster for a couple of years, so we’ve been perceiving Dota somewhat one-sided. iLTW has been playing for us too, but he was a young, unexperienced player back then, so he couldn’t bring anything new — vice versa, we have been teaching him everything… Well, not “we”, but Johan and Séb (laughs).
But MidOne, SumaiL, and Saksa — they are all very experienced players, who have seen a lot on the esports scene. With them we got an opportunity to see how other teams view Dota 2 and this is, of course, a very useful experience. Roughly speaking, now we have more in-game tools — what remains is to incorporate them in our playstyle.
“People often criticise the DPC format because it ‘killed’ the majors — compared to TI, they look like qualifiers. You have won two Aegides already — can you say you’re not that interested in playing majors anymore?”
Yeah, perhaps. The DPC system is presented in such a way that all tournaments fall flat compared to The International. Even majors are needed first and foremost to get DPC points. However, I can’t complain (laughs), for me the system worked perfectly.
Of course, it’s not that simple — there are upsides, too. In the end, right now we have a clear structure: there’s a long season with a culmination in a form of a grand tournament that the whole world watches, and in this regard a hard road through majors makes TI an even more brilliant spectacle.
“But I’m interested specifically in OG’s opinion: in two tournaments you have become the richest players in history. Do you still have motivation to do your best on the majors, or are we now seeing a team saving energy for TI?”
I suspect this is true not only for OG: any team, playing other tournaments, won’t be treating them as seriously as The International. The final tournament is incomparably bigger — can’t do anything about that.
This doesn’t mean we don’t prepare for the majors. At least, I still play Dota 2 to learn. I come to the tournaments not to play half-heartedly and go home, and it’s not even about the money: I just keep striving to get valuable experience with the strongest opponents. And I just love competing!
But you’re right, the mentality of OG indeed is that TI is the only tournament that matters. All the rest tournaments are a chance to practice and to learn something new before we reach the end of the season. Without such preparation it’s unlikely to perform well at TI.
“But during 2018/2019 season you didn’t really learn anything and still won The International. Isn’t that contradicting your words?”
Yeah, we’ve skipped one or two majors because we felt like we needed a break after TI8. We came back to the game closer to the second half of the season, but we couldn’t immediately reach the level we’re used to. We couldn’t qualify for the majors at first, had to play minors and smaller tournaments…
“So before TI9 you did’t really ‘get experience playing with the strongest opponents’, did you?”
(laughs) Well, we tried! But it didn’t really work out, yeah. Then ana came back, it became easier — we qualified for MDL Paris Major and started to get back in shape, but then EPICENTER happened, where n0tail fell sick, and we had to play with a stand-in… Yeah, it was a weird season, very hard.
“The statement about ana going inactive said that he will be back the next season, but a lot happened since then — TI10 was postponed, majors canceled… So basically you’ve only now started playing with SumaiL. What happens to the team when ana decides to come back?”
I don’t know anything, really. I don’t know whom will ana replace and whether he will want to come back at all. I don’t even know what will happen to OG in a year. We haven’t heard about ana for a long time, so we don’t know yet what we’ll do after his comeback: everything might change, or might stay as it is now — it will depend on the results of the team. Right now I’m not even sure ana plans to come back to the game at some point.
“Soon it will be a year since you’ve surprised everyone by getting Diffusal Blade on Gyrocopter and Radiance on Monkey King in TI9 finals. I’ve always wanted to know, are you getting nervous in the moments you decide to build something unusual?”
I believe that the correct build is the best way to tip the scales in your favour. In the Monkey King game I’ve been playing against Templar Assassin and Enigma: after I bought Radiance, my ulti started to prevent Enigma from breaking into the fight with Blink Dagger, and the same item effect let me quickly knock down Refraction charges. Besides, we were leading a lot then — I felt like Radiance would be the best item to secure the advantage.
In every game I try to analyse the rest of the heroes and the way the game goes. I try to understand, is the risk worth it in this particular moment, or is it better to play more carefully? Will a safe play style allow us to get ahead or will it just keep the balance on the map?
Decisions are hard when I answer these questions. In the game with Gyrocopter I bought Diffusal Blade because I realised a simple thing: the enemy can’t win a fight when Bristleback and Omniknight don’t have mana. And we had Io that guaranteed that I will be able to live longer and keep shooting. Besides, enemy heroes were too thick to try to kill them quickly. So, that’s the logic.
“In the OG documentary you said that during every game you’re trying to get into competitor’s head — to prevent them from playing their game. Did you come to these methods of psychological warfare consciously or did you just realise one day that this is your play style, and now you’re trying to explain it?”
Yeah, I came to this even before coming to OG. I realised at some point that this is the most effective way to play Dota 2: to knock opponents out of their comfort zones and force them to make mistakes. It’s a very logical idea, if you think about it: if the opponent can’t do what they want to do, it will be easier to beat them.
It was much easier to win this way. Once upon a time I’ve tried to play differently: focus on my own game and leave the opponents alone. But then the games were equal, and all the fights were… fair. But why play fair? You can lose like that! Try to play dirty, interfere with your opponents’ plans, and all the games will become a breeze for you.