TeaGuvnor interview: “I'd argue that we don't need Minors, we just need healthier Majors"
On the day off at the WePlay AniMajor, between the group stage and playoffs action, we caught with Robson "TeaGuvnor" Merritt, who is making his grand debut at a Major Valve sponsored tournament on the analyst desk and we took full advantage of his knowledge on the European Dota 2 scene to better understand why this region is somewhat struggling to meet the fans’ expectations.
We’ve delved into what might be the issues for the teams that have been already eliminated from the AniMajor, we even went back to the league season for a full picture of the situation, we talked about why and how some heroes rose as meta staples and what should be addressed in the next patch, but we also took a leap of fate and dared to talk about what might happen in the upcoming Europe closed qualifier for The International 10.
First of all congrats on your first Major, first Valve sponsored tournament appearance. Would you have pictured yourself here one year ago?
Not really, no. It's kind of surreal. I'm the new guy in regards to talent, so being able to work on a Major is a great opportunity and it's really fun. You keep pinching yourself every day to make sure you are actually doing it, that it is actually real.
Being an ex pro coach that was unable to reach the top of the competition but still was able to compete at majors, I worry sometimes that the viewers will judge my analysis and this self doubt is something I've learned to accept and work on.
Would you have prefered to be at this Major as a coach?
Oh, that's a good question. I did coach Hellbear Smashers in the previous season and helped them to get from the lower division to upper division, but doing coaching for them and the analyst job for the broadcast at the same time, I was able to compare them and I guess I enjoyed the analyst work a little bit more. It's less emotionally straining. If you think about the amount of teams at this Major who have fallen short, it's an emotional rollercoaster that I've come to love and hate.
Short answer: do I miss coaching? Yes, but technically no.
You've been observing the Europe and CIS scenes very closely this year, be it through your coaching for Smashers or from the analyst desk at both DreamLeague and ESL regional leagues. So, let me ask you what seems to be the big issue for the European region? Before the first Major everyone thought China and EU were the strongest regions, but both Majors have shown something else.
Yes, we are falling short, for sure. I think the problems are separate from Season 1 to Season 2. I think in the first season we had the fool's confidence of how good we were in regards to Team Secret, Alliance, Team Liquid, etc. We kind of put them on a pedestal as being the best.
That's from a viewer perspective. Of course, the teams will think about it completely differently.
But, I think the first Major format was very high octane, very quick, very snappy, and it put a lot of emphasis on teams being able to adapt on the fly. And I think that's kind of the biggest weakness of our region. We feel very comfortable with our own meta and we are used to everyone trying to emulate what we do and this season has shown us that we need to be able to adapt to everyone else's meta quite quickly, compared to them copying what we do.
In the first season, Liquid had those issues, Alliance had the same, where their ideas were not that good compared to everyone else and they didn't have time to adapt. Coming into this season, we are very good at what we do, but again, it is the same type of thing happening again.
You can't just be good at what you do when you go to a Major. You need to be able to understand everything else that's going around you.
To continue your trail of thought, would you say that for example, at this Major, Templar Assassin was Team Liquid's nemesis, or even Team Secret's if we look at the wild card matches.
Going to the Team Secret idea really quickly, they are already at TI10, and after their first two series, I actually said on the panel that they will do different openings every game moving forward, just to test the waters.
There was nothing really to lose for them and they took this as an opportunity to try things out?
Exactly. They had the luxury to just play around with stuff. But, to go on the Templar Assassin question, Europe did play it during the league season, but it was only a couple of times and what the Major really shows is that the things that are good are very quickly pushed to the top of the meta.
During the league season it is hard to actually know what is good because you are playing just one series per week, but at the Major, you are on a different pace, everything happens quickly and the heroes that are strong are immediately put under the spotlight. So, did TA put some European teams in difficulty? Yes, for sure. Team Liquid especially did try to play it, they tried to get it into the mix, but it just didn't really work out for them.
I also think Liquid are in a different position than others because, outside the draft, their performance was just a little bit less than the other teams. The quality of Dota played at this Major is so high, and if you are not executing that well and you have off days, you will get completely slaughtered and removed from the competition. That's what kind of happened to Liquid. They bounced back too late.
But to add to this discussion about EU Dota, I think Alliance is the unsung hero of this Major. Looking at which heroes have risen to the top, my speculation is that this is potentially Alliance's kind of concept. These are very much their heroes and they are becoming the meta staples even before Alliance start their matches in the playoffs. So, I have a slight suspicion that this is due to the Alliance scrimming with everyone for more than a week now and they are giving their competitors some ideas.
This, of course, can result in the undoing of the Alliance at the AniMajor or it can be their greatest strength because they know how to play against it to perfection.
Talking about how the meta seems to have been decided in the wild card and group stage, do you expect to actually witness a slight shift from it in the playoffs?
One hundred percent yes. I think the playoffs will have quite a shift. Of course, Brood, Nyx, AA, Snapfire, Enchantress, these kinds of heroes will always be present, but I'm expecting the regional flare to really come out because the big reminder is that in the playoffs you got six of the best teams in the world. They came first in their regional leagues and they did it because their understanding was at the highest of levels.
Is there a team that has already pleasantly surprised you with their performance in the wild card and/or group stage at the AniMajor?
For the biggest surprise, I would go with AS Monaco Gambit just because they got completely thrown out into the wilderness when their captain and their mid lane all-star players from the Eastern Europe region decided to leave the team, a week before the Major. But, the fact that they managed to get draw scores against Secret, Invictus Gaming and Execration is very commendable and it just proves that the wild card is so good and so hype and that we should also include SA and NA in the feature in this leg of the competition in the future.
I'm excited to watch them in the closed qualifiers for TI10 after the Major and see how it will all unfold, especially with all this storyline going between them and NAVI, who will also be playing for that TI10 ticket.
But, going back a bit to the wild card portion of the Major, I think many see it as the replacement of the Minors we had in the previous years. Do you feel like perhaps the DPC format where we had Minors leading up to Majors should be brought back?
I think the question about bringing the Minors back or not goes far deeper. You need the tournament organizers to be able to do it, you need the schedule to be reworked, so, the easiest way to answer it right now would be with the Majors wild card to also include the South and North America regions. And there should be funding from top to bottom, through all stages of the Majors to reward the teams. The fact that players travelled in from all around the world to play, there should be some kind of reward, be it financial, be it DPC points, and there should be more emphasis on the Major itself.
I'd argue that we don't need Minors, we just need a more healthy, more substantial Majors in regards to everyone getting rewarded for attending. The way it is now is actually kind of funny. Think of a team like beastcoast who can get first and second in their regional league, but then they, unfortunately, can't attend the first major, they drop out of the second major early, but they potentially might get to go to the TI over the likes of Thunder Predator who did as good as beastcoast in the group stage or in their local division, but they crushed out of one of the Majors. It's an unfortunate storyline that occurs.
Yeah, Thunder Predator as well as OB.Neon from SEA, were two of the biggest surprises of the Singapore Major, actually and they might not be safe for a TI invite at this point.
I'm not going to ask you for AniMajor playoffs predictions just because the tournament is so stacked and so hard to foretell the outcome of all of it, but a penny for your thoughts regarding the upcoming Europe TI qualifiers.
We already know that we will have OG and Team Liquid fighting for the one ticket to TI10 and many of the teams that for the past year and a half have worked so hard for this moment. I'm thinking Vikin.gg, Hellbear Smashers, Brame, Tundra etc. With that in mind, it's very hard for me to see OG as the main favourites right now, but what do you think about their chances of them doing another "OG special qualifiers to grand finals run?"
Yeah, OG is a bit of a loose cannon where if they are able to understand the patch at the OG level, then they will be out to kind of show up and dominate. But, they kind of lacked that for the whole previous year until now pretty much. So yeah, it is really hard as an analyst to predict their performance because you don't really know what's happening in the practice room. OG's thoughts might be just so wild, and you also have the big question mark around: "is ana still paying for OG," because in their final league tiebreaker they and Madara and was that because ana was already checked out, was already booking his flight back home, or was he just sitting out that one. Nobody really knows the true story, so when talking about OG I think roster stability needs to be confirmed first before we can speculate on their ability to qualify.
In regards to the likelihood of a lower division team making the run, I think that OG and Liquid will actually be these massive gatekeepers. But I will argue that these European TI10 qualifiers are as unpredictable as the AniMajor playoffs. Who knows if Tundra is gonna make a historical run, who knows if Vikin.gg will wake up on the right side of the bed and completely obliterate the likes of OG and Liquid? That's why it is going to be so fun to watch.
We've already seen a couple of items being extremely powerful, thus often utilized at the AniMajor so far, and a few heroes that clearly stand out on their own, so let me ask what do you think is the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed in the next patch?
First of all, as a Spirit Breaker enthusiast, the fact that the hero is not viable in the pro Dota upsets me and I would like the cow to be able to moo in the pro scene.
For more of a serious answer, I know that a lot of the talent and the players have been pushing Aeon Disk as a little bit of an OP item. This Major alone has already proven the busted nature of the item. The cost-effectiveness is a little bit bonkers. 3000 gold for 105 seconds cooldown that allows you to completely mitigate any surprise jump and catch, is crazy.
Broodmother can get into the bin, I'm bored with the spider by now. And for more of a boring answer, I would like the draft to include more bans in the first phase. I like the chess part of the draft and the complexity of it, but having only two bans in the beginning, you can see at the Major now, it's always, Nyx, Ancient Apparition, Broodmother. So, yeah please, four bans in the first phase.
Alright, I guess we will have to wait and see how and when a new patch will change everything and thanks a lot for taking a little bit of your time to chat with us. Any final thoughts you might want to add?
Thanks for having me and I hope people like what I say on the broadcast. Thanks for watching and cheers for reading this interview.