For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Cptn.Canuck. I’m a product manager with Dotabuff, and a pro-amateur Dota player. I wanted to write a bit of a rambling blog to encapsulate my thoughts on my recent experience qualifying for my first ever LAN, and the weekend in Toronto that followed it. I've always been a pretty reflective person, and this was a weekend that left me with a mix of conflicting emotions, and a sense of direction that could only accurately be described as a compass resting on top of a magnet.
Just over a year ago, I set out to go pro in Dota. I set some highly aggressive MMR goals for myself, adjusted my diet, sleep, and training schedules, and tracked my progress in every way I could possibly measure. My short term goal was to achieve 6k MMR, build a team, and compete in the WESG Canada qualifiers. I chose WESG because it was a tournament I thought I'd realistically have a shot at qualifying to since the international pro teams would not be competing. I completed each item on that checklist, hitting 6k months before my goal, and began forming what I thought to be a strong all-Canadian roster for the event. Sadly, at the eleventh hour, that squad fell apart with a player dropping out, and on the day of the qualifiers when I considered playing with a last minute stack, my girlfriend was robbed at gunpoint, and I dropped the tournament to be with her.
One year later, after having a significantly tough time with the patch, I'm still a similar MMR, but this year I decided to make WESG happen. I put together a team of local players who I knew well and made sure that we were prepared in advance to scrim and practice for the qualifiers ahead. We were the Kaolin Monks. As the qualifiers drew near, we saw some scary teams sign up. Tiny Herb with Arteezy, Moon, 1437, Bryle, and Brink. BigBadBosses with Lettuce-san, B, Boris, Jubei, and iAnnihilate, and Potm Bottom with TC, Jeyo, WaytoSexy, Aui, and Envy (Aui and Envy were later replaced by Raylalisa and God__Z).
Those rosters were daunting, but thankfully the qualifier format was double elimination, and offered two qualifier days where your results could place you in an online playoff to make the event. With all of those opportunities to struggle back against rough one-off games we made it through and took the 4th and final qualifying spot to my very first LAN in a 71 minute slugfest in the 3rd game of a series. That glorious moment captured here (headphone and nsfw language warning).
We were the 4th best team in Canada.
I thought on that for a while, and as it sunk in that I was going to compete with these three monster teams, the comments started rolling in from both my teammates and friends.
"Hey, at least it's a free trip to Toronto!"
"The 3rd/4th place prize is still pretty good!"
"It'll be great experience playing against such good players."
Each comment made me twinge. Even though they were all true, and valid points for a lower ranked team attending their first LAN, the competitor inside me knew that sowing those seeds was a recipe for apathy. You can't go into any game, no matter the odds, and expect to lose. You can't treat the game as "just a learning experience". I wanted to win, and I needed my team to buy into that as well.
Over the next few weeks, the team ramped up our practice schedule, scrimming as many days a week as we could afford. The weekend before we left, we all met up in Vancouver, and spent two days practicing together in person at a LAN cafe. We rounded both nights of that weekend off with team meals, and on the sunday, went laser tagging to blow off some of the practice stress and do a bit of team building.
As the event closed in, I wanted something a little extra to get the team fired up, and decided to take the logo I’d been working on to a local t-shirt shop where I got five shirts made, each with our usernames printed on the back. I wanted all of us walking onto that stage feeling like we had each other’s backs, and that we were a unit who knew each other better than any of the stacks that arrived to face us.
Upon arriving in Toronto, we wasted no time prepping for the games the following day. The first order of business after dumping our bags in our rooms was to order a couple large pizzas, then settle in to watch replays together. We spent the night reviewing our most recent scrims, and also analysing the pubs of the players we were facing. We all headed to bed that night feeling like whatever happened the next day, was going to be the best possible effort we could put forth.
Finally, the day had arrived. We all got up early, got breakfast together, and went to the convention center hours ahead of our game to use the practice rooms. We ran a couple scrims and some lobbies to warm ourselves up, then got the call to be escorted to the stage. This was it, the moment we had prepared for. There were jitters, but as a team we were comfortable together, and had something to prove. Once our hardware was set up, I pulled the team together for a huddle, and tried to give us all one last burst of motivation and confidence before the draft.
I can’t remember my exact words in that huddle, but my main point was that we were the team that came prepared. The other stacks all had other teams and responsibilities, but we were the team that put it all on this weekend. We were the ones who scrimmed, we were the ones who watched replays, and we were the team with nothing to lose. I rounded it out with a fists-in-the-middle cheer, 1-2-3-MONKS, and we were off into the draft.
The results of what happened next are best left to the stream itself which you can find here.
The wave of feelings that hit me after calling GG in game 2 were intense. Although I had a realistic idea of the skill difference, we had put so much energy into making ourselves the best possible version of our team that we could be. To leave the stage without taking even a game left me feeling empty.
I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I almost feel like I worked so hard on our confidence that I fooled myself into thinking we were better than we were. There were many mistakes on our end, and Potm Bottom simply outplayed us. As I walked off the stage, I couldn’t help but feel inadequate. My brain instantly began fixating on never letting that happen again. I began to internally schedule my night, and that schedule only amounted to getting food, then locking myself in my hotel room and playing dota until I literally collapsed on my keyboard from exhaustion. It was a self destructive impulse, fueled by a hit to my ego as I was metaphorically punched in the face and told “Sit back down kid, you’re not ready for the big leagues yet.”
I played it as cool as I could for the team though. I want to be a leader, and to be a leader you can’t unravel. I stayed mostly silent, but walked with my head up and shoulders back, and the team left the building together to go find dinner.
As the hours went by in the night, my head began to cool and I started thinking more clearly, though the self destructive impulse was still lingering. As we were searching for a restaurant, I was quietly hoping that wherever we wound up would serve beer so I could drink my dissatisfaction away. When we finally arrived though, I realized that my plan was going to conflict with my other idea of playing Dota all night, and opted instead to just drink water in preparation for an all night binge.
An hour or so later we were back at the hotel, and the team gathered in my room. With no other plans for the night, we turned on the stream VOD and decided to watch it for ourselves. I think we were all reluctant to reopen the wound so soon, but as it ran in the background, we all settled in and let it play. As the drafts and games played out, discussion began to flow and we pointed out all the opportunities we missed, and places we didn’t perform. Internally I remained the slightest bit grumpy, wishing this embarrassment would just go away, but as the five of us slowly accepted it together, it got easier. I started to feel like we were all in the same boat, disappointed yet understanding of our shortcomings.
I didn’t end up playing Dota until I collapsed. We finished the stream, and then I got some Jackbox Party Pack games going on the TV and we played those for the rest of the night. The next day, we all slept in, and got together early in the afternoon, planning to go walk the convention floor then watch the grand finals. As we roamed the show floor, I lost the team briefly while chatting with a friend. I caught up with them moments later, and found them at a booth, all four of them grabbing white t-shirts from the salesman. As they slid on the new shirts, I saw what they said… “0-2”. I couldn’t help but crack a smile as I realized that in all of my grief and disappointment, I was going to have to walk around with a giant L on my forehead for the rest of the day. I pulled out my wallet and forked over the cash for the fifth and final shirt, knowing that despite the failure we were embracing it as a team.
I’m not sure what’s next for me and the Kaolin Monks, but what I do know is that ever since I started playing Dota in 2012, I’ve come last in a lot of tournaments. Every tournament I’ve lost, I entered again and did better in the next time, until I outgrew that level of play and played in better events. This weekend I got to travel across my country and play on a stage. Next year, I hope that won’t be such a big deal.