An interview with Pakistan's 'Sh1zzY': "If you work hard enough, the universe will make a way."
We had a chance to have a chat with one of Pakistan's best Dota players - Shiraz 'Sh1zzY' Akhtar - about his professional eSports career and the Dota scene in a developing country like Pakistan.
We discussed how Sh1zzY has gone from working in a call center to making a living from playing video games, his views on the Dota scene in developing Pakistan and about the time he was invited to Malaysia to play with the then-newly formed Power Gaming.
For those of you who don’t know him, Shiraz 'Sh1zzY' Akhtar is a Dota prodigy based in Pakistan, widely acclaimed as one of the subcontinent’s best, if not the best, midlaners. His Invoker, his Storm Spirit and basically any hero that you put him on are super kick-ass. Today, we’ll get to talk with him about his eSports career and generally about the Dota scene here in Pakistan.
The interview was conducted by Muhammad 'TheHague' Ammar.
Hey Shizzy, can you introduce yourself a bit to our readers?
My name is Shiraz. I go by the in game nickname 'Sh1zzY'. I’m studying A-Levels right now, I’m in my final year but I decided to freeze it for a while. So for now, I’m just gaming entirely, fully gaming and that’s pretty much it. I just play Dota.
Can you tell us about your journey to where you are today. What’s the first memory related to Dota that you have, or of gaming in general?
Well, I started off in Dota 2 when I was like 3.8k. I calibrated at 4.1k and I dropped to around 3k. I wasn’t serious back then. My first memory that hooked me up onto this game was when I played versus Cecidit. We used to get beaten really hard and it wasn’t the best, but that’s how I got hooked and sooner or later, I really got into the scene pretty quick.
How many years ago was this?
Around two years ago.
What was your age back then?
I got hooked up when I was 16, but I started playing seriously when I was 18. I was independent and I could take this step forward, like I could take a decision for myself.
What was the point at which you decided that you’re going to pursue a career in eSports and freeze your studies for a bit? The point at which you knew you were going to go pro.
It was the point where I started thinking that I want to do something which makes me happy rather than the people surrounding me. A lot of people, like my family, discouraged me for this decision but at the end I want to feel happy for myself and I’m as happy as I can be. I’m just looking forward now. I was 18 when I made this decision and I have no regrets at all.
"Making money isn't everything. You need to do something that makes you happy."
Ok, that’s great. Was there any person that inspired you to take this path?
There was nobody that inspired me to take this decision; it was entirely based on me and just my judgement. Basically, I was doing a part-time job in a call center and you know, at that point I realized that making money isn’t everything. You need to do something that makes you happy, and you need to pursue something that makes you happy when you grow up and look back at it. And working in a call centre or something, I just don’t look back at it. So seeing my gaming career, I look back at it, I look back when I was 3k, I look back when I played all these tournaments, I keep thinking about it and I’m happy about my career right now. Nobody inspired me, I took this decision on my own and I think I get a lot of discouragement for it but I’m just looking forward.
So you’re happy with it.
I’m really happy about it.
Do you have a role model right now? Like many Pakistani players look up to Syed Sumail 'SumaiL' Hassan or Abed ‘Abed’ Yusop or some people like that. Anyone who inspires you as a player and who you look up to?
I think you’ve taken the names yourself - Abed and SumaiL - these are the two people I really look up to. They’re of my age group, they’re just a bit younger, and I just really look up to them. SumaiL being a competitor with me here in Pakistan at a time, I look up to him a lot. When I see him and I see his confidence, it inspires me a lot.
So Sh1zzY, tell me a little about your stint with Power Gaming. I understand you joined Power Gaming in Malaysia some months back, but left shortly afterwards. What happened there, and what became of it?
Basically when we joined Power Gaming, there was a lot of miscommunications because we were in Pakistan and visas and everything were done by them, from the tickets to the visa. When we were in Pakistan, we were performing really well in our scrims so we were looking really good. But once we reached Malaysia, there was a bit of a change in the roster. Our captain was changed and everything just collapsed after the roster change. After that, it just went downhill, from our scrims to our tournaments to our qualifiers, so it wasn’t looking very good. And sooner or later, everyone got replaced one by one. But in the end, I got to play and scrim with Kok Yi "ddz" Liong, so I learned a lot that I want to try out here in Pakistan.
Was it your decision to leave Power Gaming or was it a general team decision or an administrative decision?
If I’m being honest, after all that pressure I wanted to leave myself but I had a contract for a year and I had to be professional so I couldn’t quit. When they replaced me with ddz, they told me that "the only person we see fit to replace you is ddz. If you work on your attitude, we will get you back in a team too". I was living in the bootcamp again, because I was having visa issues. While I was in the bootcamp, I started working on my attitude and everything and soon enough, I got to a higher MMR.
Have you gotten any other offers from teams outside of Pakistan?
There are teams that don’t have a name yet but they are slowly gowing into something. A lot of people representing these teams came to me saying "we have a sponsor, let’s make a team". I've tried several times with teams like these, we practiced, we scrimmed but it never works out, and if it doesn’t work out, it just ends. The SEA Scene is pretty unstable right now. There are only two or three teams that are stable, the rest are just changing, replacing. I’ve been in teams which I can’t even name, I’ve played scrims with them but either way, the team just breaks down, some guy just leaves.
What are the unique challenges of playing pro esports in Pakistan versus playing elsewhere?
When I was in Malaysia, I learned that the internet over there is perfect for gaming. Right now, when I’m playing over here, I have to play on a different ping everyday. Sometimes it’s 120, sometimes it’s 100, sometimes it’s 90, sometimes it’s 150. When I wake up, I have a stress in my mind that is the ping okay? In Malaysia there was no stress about ping or the lights going out. Like we have backups over here that stay for around two or three hours but over there you don’t have to worry about light outages. There’s two things that you have to keep in mind over here - internet and light outages.
You spoke of Malaysia, now can you tell me a bit about how the Dota scene in Pakistan compares to neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh?
It’s totally different. The mentality of a player over here is completely different to the mentality of a player in India. There, people take this as a profession, people wanna try for it, they’re proud of it. Right now, if somebody asks me what do I do for a living, I’ll tell them I play games for a living but I don’t think there’s any Pakistani player that would say he plays Dota for a living. So the passion is just not there in Pakistan for the players. One way or the other, be it family pressure, be it financial pressure, I just don’t see any passion in the players.
People think that Pakistan is so behind that we can’t even afford computers or we can’t even afford internet
What misconceptions about Pakistan are you accustomed to hearing, but aren’t true? Like about the Dota scene or generally when you play in SEA, you’ve played internationally as well. So what common misconceptions are there about Pakistan?
A common misconception is that gaming doesn’t exist. It does exist but it’s on a very low level. People think that Pakistan is so behind that we can’t even afford computers or we can’t even afford internet. So there’s a misconception that people think we’re playing in a village or something, it’s not like that. It’s just that our media is too focused on other sports than eSports and that’s what’s keeping us behind.
So now we’ll come to your current team which is Team EnvY?
My current team is not Team EnvY, it’s just a random gig. We disbanded quite some time ago, for now we just play randomly, it’s just Ali ‘KonvicT’ Khan, Zohaib ‘ColdFire’ Liaquat and we just grab two random players and play with them. We’re not practicing, nor are we in the same team, nor do we take wins or losses the way that we took them in EnvY. So I’m not in a team right now, it’s just a random thing for me to play with those guys.
Speaking of when you go to tournaments, I mean I’ve beenone of those guys, but whenever we Pakistani Dota players hear that Team EnvY or Shiraz is coming to a tournament, many teams refuse to play. How do you feel about that? How do you feel that so many people believe that there’s no chance in winning against you?
I feel very shattered when I think about this. I’ve faced losses, one way or the other I’ve faced a lot of losses. I faced a loss just recently as well. I’ve always been motivated by losses over wins, so I just can’t swallow that mentality that if a player is coming and I don’t want to play against him because of this mentality Pakistan is so behind in eSports. Most of the players, they don’t want to work for it and they don’t even think that they’re good. They believe in the fact that I’m on this stage, or some other guy like SumaiL is on this stage, because of raw talent. Most Pakistanis believe that there’s no hard work in gaming; it’s just raw talent. They just don’t understand how much work, and how much discipline, and how much studying you have to do about the game to be this good. They don’t believe in work and they think it’s just a game.
So it’s just for fun?
Yeah it’s just for fun. They take it pretty non-seriously.
There’s nothing good about gaming in Pakistan
What’s in your opinion the best thing about gaming in Pakistan?
Nothing. There’s nothing good about gaming in Pakistan. When I was in Malaysia and I used to go to events and seminars, you know I felt like I was someone. People looked up to me and said "this guy is 6k MMR, this guy is on the leaderboard". Here, if you’re high MMR you’re envied by other players and if you’re low MMR, people just don’t like you. In Pakistan, there’s nothing I like about gaming apart from maybe gaming with friends, but I think you can make friends in Malaysia as well. I didn’t, because I was there just forthree months, but if I was living in Malaysia entirely I think I’d have friends there too.
You might have answered this before too, but what’s the worst thing about gaming in Pakistan if you had to choose between power outages and internet?
Bad internet. There’s literally no solution for it. I’ve worked with people, I’ve been self-sponsored as well and it came to the point where somebody was getting me a corporate internet just for gaming, and that costs around Rs.40,000-50,000 ($380-480), and even that didn’t help. So there is nothing to do about internet in Pakistan, literally nothing. You have to play on this ping, no matter what.
Many Pakistani players who’ve made it big have done so by going to USA or other countries where they overcome these problems. Have you ever considered such an option for your career?
I have, actually. That would be the last straw. I would do that when I think I’m ready, I’m disciplined enough. Right now, I have to work on myself, I’m still working on myself. Basically, when I used to play with SumaiL over here, I saw a difference in him than the rest of the Pakistanis. While he was here, I used to tell people that this kid’s going to make it big. Back then, when he was really bad, he was so bad that he would lose a lane against me and he had the confidence of saying “I’m gonna win versus Dendi”. I used to see him and sooner or later, he started beating me and then he started beating other Pakistani players …
And eventually, he won a TI.So, I understand you’ve worked very hard on your career, but what would your reaction be if you wake up tomorrow and Donald Trump has issued a new travel ban in which Pakistan was also included. How do you think would that affect you as a player?
I personally think that if you’re working hard enough, somehow the universe will make a way. For me, even living in Pakistan, a lot of people told me that SumaiL went outside and that’s how he won a TI. I just tell myself and I tell them, you know even when he was living in Pakistan, he was different than the other players. I just want to have that difference, I’m just trying to get onto that level. So I think even if there’s a travel ban, if I’m good enough to play a TI, I’ll play a TI. Some way or the other, I don’t know.
If I'm good enough to play a TI, I'll play a TI.
That’s nice! Coming to Dota in general, what do you think about the current meta? How do you think the meta affects you as a player. We just got 7.03 very recently, so what’s your general opinion starting from the New Journey Update?
It’s pretty good honestly. It buffed a lot of my heroes. It buffed Ember a lot. I’ve been playing Ember a lot, Invoker is also okay-ish. There is a lot of fighting in this meta and I think that’s my playstyle - I don’t like to farm a lot, I like to fight, and I like to outplay the other teams in fights. So, I just love this patch and it’s really good, I like playing it. I think it’s the best patch until now. Though, when the patch came out, I did think about quitting Dota, it was so bad. As time passed by and they patched it a little more, it surely got good.
If you could change one thing about Dota in its current state, what would it be? Like matchmaking, or a hero, or map changes, anything.
This is a tough one.
The low priority system maybe?
No, I think communication. What I face in Southeast Asia is people communicating in a different language. I think the only language that people should speak in Dota is English. Because it’s a standard language and everybody knows it. I don’t know how somebody can not speak the simple words like “Go”, “No”, “Yes”, and stuff like that. So it’s pretty annoying for me when I’m playing high average MMR games and there are three people that are talking in their language and I can’t understand what they’re saying, and I feel at times that we’re losing because of that. It happens in Europe, it happens in SEA, it happens everywhere. I think it would stop if everybody would speak in English, and everybody would get along way better compared to speaking in their own languages. It’s just a barrier.
I think the only language that people should speak in Dota is English.
So you wanna get rid of the “Cyka Blyat” and “Putang ina Mo”?
Coming to your last question - assume for a minute that all Chinese players somehow speak English, what would be your all-star lineup and what would be your role in that lineup? You have a chance to create a team with any four other players from around the world, who would they be?
I would love to play under Peter ‘ppd’ Dager. I think he is the best captain and visionary in Dota. After that, there is Clement ‘Puppey’ Ivanov. But for me, it’s ppd because his vision for this game is unreal. Even if I get to play under him for a week, I would take it as a blessing from God, it would just be amazing!
I would love to have JerAx. I love his playstyle, the way he fights. Even without items, he’s just going YOLO into fights and he’s already doing something. I think he has the same mentality towards Dota that I have. I also love to fight a lot, even without items. I think he has the same mentality when I see his Earth Spirit.
I personally played with MinD_ContRoL and Universe in pubs and I like Universe’s gameplay a lot. I think he is the most stable offlaner right now. I’ve never seen him die for no reason. Iceiceice as well, I’ve been playing with iceiceice in my SEA pubs and I think it would be either iceiceice or Universe. But I think iceiceice, because he’s such a great person to play with, he’s so funny even after a loss. So I think I would go with iceiceice.
I think I would love to play with Artour, I think he is a great guy. Actually no, I would love to play with MATUMBAMAN. I prefer Arteezy as a person and as a personality but I prefer MATUMBAMAN as a player. His mechanical skills are so good that it is unreal how good he is. I would love to have him.
Ok, so your team is now ready. MATUMBAMAN, Sh1zzY, iceiceice, JerAx, and ppd. Seems pretty good to me! Thank you for doing this interview Sh1zzY! Any shoutouts or callouts?
Shoutout to my boy Ali ‘KonvicT’ Khan. He has always kept me motivated. Shoutout to Haider ‘hss’ Butt, Zohaib 'ColdFire' Liaquat and my other boys from EnvY. They’ve always kept me motivated and when I’m with them, they motivate me and that just keeps me going. It helps a lot.
picture source: Iron Gaming Café
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