Alliance s4: “I don’t really view myself as a veteran—I just see myself as I always have been, trying to improve”

Third time's the charm for the newest Alliance captain.

Photo via DreamHack

Alliance serve as one of the pillars of competitive Dota 2 and are almost always competing at the top level in any variation of the competitive scene. Last year, however, the team went through two distinct roster iterations with very different styles of playing the game and leadership. 

The organization’s International 2019 roster left to join Team Liquid after the event. The original rebuild with Adrian “Fata” Trinks as the captain didn’t yield the results that Alliance was aiming for, despite the team finishing in the top eight of both Dota Pro Circuit Majors before the season was postponed due to COVID-19. 

In March, the team called up an old friend, former TI Champion Gustav “s4” Magnusson who played for Alliance during their TI3 run and again in 2015-16 before spending the last two seasons with Evil Geniuses. Though he hasn’t spent a lot of time as a captain, he stepped in and the team have found their groove, finishing in the top cut of each event they have played in since making the change. 

The team recently finished fourth in the biggest Dota tournament of the year, Omega League, and signed Artsiom “fng” Barshak to complete the five-man roster. During the event, s4 spoke with Dot Esports about competing online, tier-two Dota, and stepping into the captain’s role. 

How does bootcamp feel now during these online events since it is kind of the first senses of normality that the team gets to experience with everything else going on? Is there anything drastically different between bootcamps now and during LAN? 

S4: To be honest, it’s just easier to work with each other when you’re close; you can see their body reactions and when things are going wrong you can sense stuff that’s wrong and what’s good. 

When you play online you just play the game, but you don’t get that after-the-match value which you get at bootcamp. It has also been nice getting to the bootcamp. Because of the pandemic now, I have been pretty much living alone and never seeing anyone so it is really nice seeing your teammates. 

In regards to teammates, how has it been bringing everyone in and getting to know the players that you have only been around for three months? Have you had any trouble implementing yourself into the captain’s role or bringing in someone like fng as a temporary player (prior to the end of Omega League).

To be honest, I kind of went into this team knowing that I was going to take a big place in the team so it has been more about the other four players having to adjust to me a little bit. But of course, I need to adjust to all of my teammates as well when it comes to playstyles and stuff like that. At the beginning, it felt like a bit much, but then we kept playing and getting better together. It is totally different from my previous team.

With fng it has been quite easy overall and he is easy to work with. He doesn’t get emotional with his teammates and you can tell him anything and he will listen. He also brings a lot of good points to each of our games, thinking outside of the box, you know. I like that kind of stuff because it is good to have a second guy like that in a team, someone who can actually see the game a bit different. Because you miss a lot when you are focusing on the captaining and drafting. 

Is there one player on this roster who you think has been key to your success during the pandemic, whether it be in a Dota or personal manner? Maybe more from a chemistry standpoint? 

We have a very yin-yang situation with this team where we have a very controlled and disciplined part with me and fng and then you have Nikobaby with the very aggressive, just-go-for-it attitude. I think if you have too much discipline you are going to look like robots and be unable to see what people can really do in games, like their top performance. 

But if you don’t have any discipline and you only go for the top performance with no control, you’re just going to look silly. So I think Nikobaby has been very good for us, but sometimes we just have to balance things out though, because it can be a bit too much on one side. 

As a team, how have you and Alliance handled the lockdown? How did the team and employees cope with everything, especially with the regional stuff going down in Dota?

Honestly, I think it’s been very nice to be busy doing something at this time. We are pretty lucky, getting to play online and keep ourselves this busy because if we didn’t have these tournaments and practices it would be kind of boring. That’s kind of why I started playing again. 

I was planning to take a break but then corona stuff happened and I was like “I don’t want to be bored so I’m just going to play and get in there.” But yeah, the team has handled it pretty well and in Sweden we didn’t really focus on COVID that much, it has not been a really big point even though it is very serious. 

For yourself, has there been any aspect of your game that you have had to adjust coming from LAN competition to online, outside of stepping into the captain’s role for this team? And is there any area you think your team has excelled at during this online season?

I haven’t really played captain that much before in my previous teams. I have always been a core player, and this has brought me back to the times when I need to focus a lot on my own gameplay if I want to do this, because going into matches you always have to be at the same level or better than the opposing player in your position and I can never compromise that over captaining. Actually having the skill is priority number one as a captain. 

And the thing with online is the pressure is significantly lower than a LAN environment. So the team has quite a bit of confidence even when we play against the big boys, the best teams. But when we get to a LAN, it’s going to be a lot more pressure, even though I think stuff like that should be removed, meaning it should be the same feeling for us playing in either scenario. 

Do you think that this has been good practice to get into that mentality? 

Well, we’ll have to see when we get there since everything will change then. 

How do you see the current global situation affecting the grander scheme of Dota and esports? Do you think esports is going to continue to evolve in this setup with the majority of events staying online while the casters are in the studio? 

It is kind of a good thing because esports was stagnant in some ways and people weren’t looking to improve that much. Yeah, there was competition, but I feel like this is a big change and now people are looking to improve their production and everything to actually make people watch their online stuff. I think change can be good sometimes. 

I think they are working to make a new standard when it comes to production, where fans can actually interact with players even though they are at home playing. They get to see them in person thanks to the cameras, and that is kind of nice. And when we talk about Dota itself, the competition is actually getting stronger I think. People are playing constantly at home and there are just a lot of people playing right now to get good, like in the old days. 

How do you feel it has been affecting the lower end of Dota competition? It seems like a lot of tier-two teams have been rapidly improving to the point where they can hold their own against most of the tier-one rosters. 

I think the biggest thing with online now is that all of the tier-two teams are getting very strong and they feel like nothing is holding them back. When there were a lot of LANs they would feel bad because they wouldn’t qualify, but now they are on the same level as all of the other teams and they can just keep grinding. 

I see a lot of new players in PUBs that are actually improving a lot. I just feel like there are more players at that top-level right now compared to before. A lot of tier-two teams are getting more viewers now and I’m kind of hoping that there will be more teams and competition which means seeing new people.

Do you see anything that might pop up as an issue for competitive Dota during this online landscape if it has to hold out without Valve’s help for a long time? What are your biggest hopes for the community coming out of this online scene? 

I guess that comes with the top teams right? They might get tired of not being able to play at LANs and start not taking online play too seriously. But I can see it as a positive thing also that could help newer, younger players get into the scene. 

I think it’s going to build a lot of hype for whenever the next LAN season is later. I think it will build a lot of hype that wasn’t there before with the old system where there were just LANs constantly. I think it is going to be pretty cool when they do release the LANs, at some point. 

What is the thing you miss most about competing at LAN tournaments? 

I guess traveling. It was pretty nice traveling around the world, mostly living in hotels, but I miss traveling and seeing new countries and meeting the fans. 

On that note, what do you think the biggest benefit of playing with your team from this one space for all these tournaments is? And how does it feel being back on your home turf competing for the first time in years after competing in NA for so long?

I think it is important to be together at some point because a team is supposed to win together and lose together. When you are playing online you don’t really feel like you are losing together, but at the bootcamp you are all there. You lose together, you work it out, and then you win together. That is kind of the important thing along with just spending time together. 

Of course, it’s still there when you play online but it’s amplified when you’re on LAN or together. You get to work things out and you don’t get to do that easily online right after a match. That’s pretty important to get those feelings out.

And it has been very nice actually. I haven’t been able to use my mother tongue that much while traveling in NA so it is actually nice to be able to use Swedish sometimes with the boys. Of course now with Niko, he doesn’t understand, but actually being at home and playing is nice for a change. 

What is your personal favorite aspect of playing in an online tournament? 

Using the bathroom while playing. I don’t really get to do that in tournaments, you know, grab a drink fast while you are drafting. Stuff like that is useful as a gamer when you drink a lot and hydrate. 

Also, a lot of focus goes into the game. I haven’t really mentioned that yet, but you really get to focus on the game and get the best out of it. 

You said that you were going to take a break before everything with COVID happened. Do you still feel like coming out of that short break and into a captaining role has changed your perspective on the game? And do you think it is important for everyone to take at least those short breaks to take a step back for a bit since Dota never really has an offseason?

I never really had a break in Dota before this, I just kept playing, playing, playing. So having that small break for a few months really helped me see things differently and made me value my time with the game more. I never really thought about stuff like that before, so it made me more motivated to try harder. 

I don’t really view myself as a veteran—I just see myself as I always have been, trying to improve. I think it is a nice way of thinking, you always want to improve. Maybe veterans are like, too old to improve, and I don’t have that mindset.

You actually forget sometimes how fortunate you are, doing these things. And as you said, it is very important to take a step back and having the opportunity to do that is very important to me.