I want to write about something that kills me. Every day of my life I feel this aching pain that drives me completely mad and I've had just about enough. I'm not nor have I ever really been the captain of Team Liquid 1.0 or 2.0. I'm angry... I'm sad and I feel isolated. The thing that makes me the angriest is that it's in my head. I'm so controlled by fear that I can't stand up for what I believe and express who I really am as a person. I'm angry that I'm afraid...
Team Liquid has been a joke for as long as I can remember; Nothing but a streak of disappointing results and inconsistent play. Everyone looks at us and says, "Hey they are team that will let me down" and "Hey their team has so much potential, but I wouldn't bet my money on them." We're losers, we just are. And I'm a bigger loser for letting all of this happen. I don't know how many blogs I've put out that stressed the improvement of our team that basically led to empty promises of success. This is one of the biggest reasons why I stopped doing blogs... it's been months since my last one because I'm sick and tired of letting our fans down. And just for the record, I did mean every single word I said in those blogs and I honestly felt like we were improving all along. However, I realize that the root of this problem goes much deeper than experience.
I don't remember the last time that I felt in control of my destiny. It has to be about 2 years ago when Team FIRE hit the scene. Team FIRE was, and forever will be, my favorite team of all time. What that team stood for, what that team embodied and, more importantly, what that team meant to me:
Team FIRE embodies the very first time in my life that I knew who I was and where I was going. It was a team driven by purpose, friendship, trust and hope. I don't want to sound arrogant or self-righteous, but the main reason for our success was because I was the leader... unquestionably. I took a team of players who would never make it on their own and united them under one vision. I showed them what I believed and made them believe those values for themselves. I never forced them to believe, but I taught them by example. I showed that team my heart and, with unashamed vulnerability, they responded back with their own. I knew everyone on my team would do anything for me and I'd do anything for them. We accelerated NA Dota's progress by huge sums by pushing the limits of everything that was known at the time.
I feel like I've fallen far from prominence and that I've lost the respect that I once had... let me explain. Back in the compLexity era, I was the leader and constantly recognized for being a good one. These days, I'm just that one guy who plays support with curly hair (guess what, we have two of those now). I'm a rather negligible character these days and it does honestly damage my ego.
I have an ego, yes, but it's never been such that I've gone out of control. The ego is something that every competitor needs to drive and motivate himself to succeed. My ego was always high because I needed to believe in myself and be a leader... I needed to step up.
How many of you readers know of teams that just have no one out there calling shots or being assertive about the team? Every single team has this problem and I've said in the past that I don't believe there are many true leaders in this world. I believe that most leaders are the ones who rise to the occasion of challenge and adversity.
Not once since the inception of Team Liquid 1.0 have I felt the trust and friendship of the entirety of our team. I'm playing Devil's advocate by admitting that I didn't do anything to deserve the trust of my team. I want to explain:
The formation of Team Liquid came swiftly after the end of TI2. At this point, there was a lot of mental exhaustion of pushing ourselves throughout the year and, on top of that, Jeyo left my team. I was approached during a time that I wasn't willing to play competitive for a while to form a new team with Team Liquid. At that point in time, I was very inexperienced with team dynamics (I just assumed all team atmospheres would be as special as FIRE's, if not only teams that I was in control of). I saw the opportunity to play with players with amazing track records and told myself I'd regret not taking this opportunity while it was available. One of the major problems was that I wasn't really friends with Bulba or Korok before the team. We lacked a connection and some things felt off. However. we rushed into this new team where I still felt like I hadn't had sufficient time to recover and didn't feel inspired. We went into our scrims and matches under my leadership and had highly inconsistent results. I felt that Korok and Bulba's initial impressions of me were negative. During that time I felt a lot of tension and loss of trust from the rest of the team and decided to resign as captain and drafter. I left all of the responsibility to TC, the one who I saw the most potential in.
TC did an amazing job for someone who had to undertake the responsibility so quickly. However, I always felt like something was off. We'd always consistently win games and have more close games when we lost, so at that point I gained a much higher respect for him as a leader. It seemed like TC fit the mold for our team to succeed. As I gained respect for TC I began to doubt myself as a leader because he did a lot of things differently and thought much more differently than me. I felt that he had gained a lot more confidence in himself and we began to start having a mild tension between us and our thoughts.
Our team started to see some success barriers and I began almost co-captaining TC's drafts. Which, I feel, undermined his ideas and created an even more dense tension between us. After all, he was the drafter and I have no place telling him things when I'm not doing it myself. Things were just not working out and people started to get scapegoated for a lack of leadership. Ixmike and Korok were two of the biggest targets for our blameless failures as a team. Some of the things were valid, but many of the things were on my back. When things were rough I tried to draft and lead again but I felt distrust and an unwillingness to fail, so I backed down once more. I noticed I had failed as leader, I had failed to garner my confidence and my teams trust, and at the end of the day I could never return to captain the team. TC was never meant to be our permanent leader, it was just a technique for me to recuperate myself and I never did.
I started to take a much more back-foot approach to the team. I sat back, watched things happen and even let a lot of slip ups occur because I didn't raise my voice. I became less motivated to play, to talk, and to work hard. As the days went by I got angrier and angrier. Things always appeared to be fine and by that logic I seemed to find a bit of solace. These habits linger on to this day and I'm just at the limit essentially. They say, in regards to the brain, "if you don't use it, you lose it", and that's certainly true to how I feel right now. I make bad calls in game, I say weird things and I make hypocritical statements. I will need a lot of time to regenerate the leadership muscles that lay dormant for months.
I always get asked why Team Liquid players don't play together on stream that often and a lot of it has to do with the fact that we aren't great friends. We are all decent friends, but I can't tell you that I know much about Bulba's life or anybody else's for that matter because we don't spend much time together outside of scrims. Part of the reason for that is that we spend the majority of our days together already for practice and tournaments. 8am/9am to the afternoon is when we scrim and we find that afterwards we really had enough of each other and would rather talk to our other friends and play with them. We simply cease conversation after scrims except for a couple of messages here and there regarding Dota. When we go to LANs I feel like there's more of a disconnect between our team than any other. We walk together, but mainly in silence and when we laugh it's mostly because someone's making a fool of themselves.
I'm an introvert, period. It's really difficult for me to get into a group of people and not get physically and mentally tired. Yes, I'm a quiet guy and I like to be alone sometimes and do some reflection, however if you knew me then you'd know what I was really like. Sadly, hardly anyone on the team knows my true nature. I remember when I appeared on one of my friend's streams and Korok/Ixmike tuned in and heard me yelling and having a lot of fun. Afterwards they started asking why I never acted like that around them or how I would never play pubs with them. Part of the fact is #1 pubs are way too easy with other really great players, #2 the people I talk to and hang out with really understand me. As a team I never felt like we made a connection and I've tried... I've tried to ask each and every one of you about your lives and make a concerted effort to understand your lives. It's very hard for me to do that when it's not reciprocated and I lose motivation to continue (which has happened). I don't think this is even the most major issue regarding friendship, so much as I don't feel like I'm understood.
As a result of that, I don't feel confident leading any of you in the game or making controversial decisions. I just try to remain as neutral with everyone as possible to avoid any negative backlash. One thing that FIRE had was an understanding of its leader. I wrote to my team a 9 thousand word summary of my life and my goals and what I aimed to do. I labeled it "The Clockwork Project" and it enabled our team to put full faith into my decisions (I was always embarrassed to put it out there, but I really do not care right now so I'll link it at the bottom and show everyone for the first time). I felt completely free to pursue every interest and innovation my mind could think of and it was the most liberating feeling. I felt truly happy playing with this team and worked my ass off to make sure we succeeded.
As some of you know I've played certain local LANs with our team 4 Asians + 1. Back in August we attended a LAN together and by the end of it I expressed "Drafting yesterday at that LAN was so refreshing. Often times I look at drafts as art and being able to express myself is true happiness." Screenshot By that point I hadn't been drafting for Liquid for a long time and have since never felt entirely happy. Playing those LANs gives me glimpses of the triumphant feelings that I used to experience. Every player on the team trusted me and had a reason to. No matter what happened in the games people believed in me and I felt that energy which gave me so much confidence. I know that these LANs aren't like The International finals or anything but I always see parallels in everything.
I'm going to be real because I don't feel like I've got anything to lose. I don't feel like our team deserves an International invite right now, meaning we'd probably have to play the qualifiers. Think about it, the one thing that I've devoted years of my life to and feel so strongly about is nearly out of my grasp. There's a level of heartbreak attached to this. Many times throughout these two incarnations of Liquid, I've felt like I hit rock bottom and that changes needed to be made: heartbreak. The emotions that course through my veins when I think about failing to achieve my dreams cannot be explained in words. Yes, I've thought about leaving the team multiple times but I still believe that we can be the team that everyone knows we can be.
There have been several occasions that I can recall: MLG Columbus, Dreamhack Winter and, more recently, the Monster Invitational. I was sitting in my chair throughout all of these events waiting, HOPING that we would fail. I know that's a terrible thing to say, but that was the only way that I could see us realizing a change needed to be made. I wanted to, in each event, take control over the team and seize leadership. I wanted my team to explode, I wanted everybody to feel so much frustration that there would be nothing to lose. I excel in these situations because, when there's pressure on my back I work harder and think quicker.
At the Monster Invitational I rolled in bed all night, the day before the finals, thinking of 3 or 4 different strategies I was prepared to break out as an emergency captain. Some time around 4 or 5 am was when I could finally close my eyes after laying in bed with my body aching for answers. One of the problems with my solution was a lack of confidence to overtake the team and, moreso the fact that I didn't have any chances to fail in those situations. A lot of the situations where I wanted to grasp onto a leadership role, we were facing elimination match or series and I understand, in myself, that I need room to fail in order to be successful. I couldn't guarantee that I would be able to win our final matches as opposed to letting us do what we practiced with the same leadership structure that we've always had.
I'm a strong person, but I'm also someone who demands respect and trust. I'm a leader who is extremely empathetic, due do the experiences I've had in life. I do not rule with an iron fist and I certainly do not ignore people's feelings. I'm someone who will react to the people I work with and not just shut them out. I draw a lot of my strength and motivation from the people working with me. I think that many people who don't understand me mistake empathy for weakness. I get very frustrated when people try to label me as a radical, "emo", or weak-hearted. I'm a dynamic person and I can be whatever I feel like so stop trying to put me into one of your idiotic categories.
It used to be the case that I would just ignore, remove or disassociate with anyone who disrespected me. I firmly believe that as a person, in whatever you do, you want to surround yourself with people that build you up and things that benefit your goals. These past two years have felt like I was trapped a box of disrespect, stuck with people because of an ideal that involves staying committed to each other. Like a bad marriage, sometimes vows need to be broken for the health of all parties concerned. Yet, I persevered because I believed in the ability to work anything out with time, hard work and an open mind.
One of my biggest regrets is taking a step on a different path other than my own. Whatever the results of another person's leadership may bring, success or failure, I wander farther from my path.
If I had to go into the future and look back at myself and the legacy I left behind, I would've wanted to see myself in control. I would've wanted to see myself take control of the team and lead with the burning passion that drives me to compete in Dota 2. I would've wanted to see that it all worked out in the end because I stood for values that meant something and my team would stand behind me. I would've wanted to see myself traveling all over the world with my friends having a blast. Even if I failed I would've wanted to see that I was stupid enough to try to do something as remarkable as winning 1 million dollars doing something I love. Playing a game of Dota 2 with 4 other players isn't a team. A team is a group of 5 players who trust and respect each other and work hard to reach universal goals set by the leader.
Even if I fail, even if it means I have to restart from the ground up, I'm going to try and be the person that I would've wanted to see. If that means leaving everything I have behind me and building from the ground up, I'll do it. If it means that I have to disqualify myself from this years International, then I'll chance it. I've done it before and I can do it again. You follow me or you get out of my way. I'm going to fall on my own terms and I hope that the team I take to the International can expect me to fail and understand all of the principles behind growing from it. I just cannot accept failure without giving it my everything.
By the end of this blog I've gotten extremely tired and even a little less motivated. This is something that means a lot to me. I'm even now hesitating to release this because of this cyclical problem that I have where I believe something will change. We have Wayto doing drafts now and he hasn't really had a chance to prove his ability as a captain, however It didn't take me long to see that history will repeat itself again after our last LAN. I'm going to fail and I'm going to fail hard, you're going my way or the high way and at some point we will realize our true potential as a team. Time is short and I don't know if I'll be able to make it count, but at the very least we would've gone out fighting. This has been haunting me since the very second I told TC to draft last year and I think it's time to face my fears. I ask you to put your sincere faith in my leadership.
I have to thank Blitz for talking with me.
This is for my team, as always.
The Clockwork Project
Keep in mind this was 3-4 years ago. A lot of things have changed since then.