After two weeks of skillful dodging on both sides, I finally managed to set up an interview with Code S quarter-finalist, Quantic.NaNiwa. NaNiwa's trademark honesty was on display, and we had a candid talk on wide range of topics: his GSL run, the under-appreciated but extremely important mental game in the GSL, Mvp vs Squirtle, foreigners, and the state of Protoss. I'd like to say that we left no stone unturned, but the interview was already getting dangerously close to "TL;DR" territory (and we'd hate to ban any more of you). I hope you enjoy this interview!
TeamLiquid: Alright, so it’s been a few weeks since your quarterfinal loss to Mvp. How are you feeling, just in general?
NaNiwa: I feel really bored. If you go out in the round of 8, you have like a month where you don’t do anything. But if you go out in like the round of 16, you play code A, so it’s like, I’m kinda just practicing in general – I don’t have any specific thing I can prepare for.
Practicing in general, is it hard to get motivated for that in comparison to practicing for a tournament?
Yeah, well… I played for a long time, and if I don’t have any tournament, I can’t practice as efficiently I guess. So, I prefer to have tournaments.
I saw you after TSL3, you took that loss pretty hard. How are you feeling after the GSL loss?
It wasn’t the same, though. Like TSL, I still remember, it was 3-1 in my favor, I was winning the game 5, on Crossfire. I had a build planned there and I took the victory out in advance, like way before. Well, I don’t think I should say too much that will disrupt other things, but I felt that I should have won that final 4-1, right then, or at worst I should have won at Tal’darim [in game seven] where I had a huge advantage, then I choked again.
It’s extremely painful, but to lose in GSL… it’s like, I was too nervous to do the proper reactions, and that’s what really really made me angry afterwards. It’s not that I got cheesed or whatever, people might say that I play greedy or whatever, but it’s not true. Like, I made 3 cannons [on Entombed Valley] and he just got lucky. He made a random all-in on Entombed Valley that worked, and that’s it, basically. On Daybreak, I think it was, I just reacted very very bad. I should have just put down a forge, and I would have probably been fine.
So on Entombed, you didn’t know he was coming until he was right there, and your probes were too late, and it’s game over?
Yeah, basically. I couldn’t know if he had a in-base command, or if he had 2 barracks, 3 barracks, 4 barracks, and he couldn’t know if I had more than 1 cannon or whatever because he didn’t scout it. So basically he prepared that all-in way before he saw anything.
So he flipped…
He flipped a coin, but that’s part of the game. It was a tense situation, and in pressured situations, it’s good to throw in the all-ins sometimes for mind games and so on.
Did you expect him to do, like he did 2 base tank builds twice. Did you expect that kind of strategy from him?
I expected it once, yeah. But I think, the first game I was really really nervous, but then it got a bit better, but still, once you get nervous, like really nervous, and you lose, it’s really hard to recover. On Antiga, I felt I was playing normal though again, and it went exactly as I thought it would.
How should have the Cloud Kingdom game have gone, if you had played it better?
I made some really bad decisions, like I saw vikings and tanks, I should have just made a 3rd base, immortal, and immediately switched to archon and a forge. I would have defended his attack very easily if I just played it properly. It’s easy to see it afterwards and say what you should have done and how it would have played out, but I know what I did wrong and all I can do is think about the future, right? There’s not much else I can do.
So after your lost the series to MVP, that was the furthest you ever got in the GSL. So would you say, that even before you played that match, you were kind of satisfied with your run, so you didn’t feel as bad about going out?
No, no no no. I won both of my groups pretty convincingly, I think. So it would be stupid to not aim even further, at least try to. It’s always the same, it’s like, you come to the semifinal of MLG or whatever, and you think, “wow, that’s pretty good.” And then you lose, you’re like, “f***, I could have done so much better. Why did I get satisfied?”
So once you get there, even if you start off with low expectations, they grow as you get further in a tournament.
Yeah, basically, you should have the kind of mindset that even if things have gone well, you still need to go further. So while round of 8 is obviously good, I still feel that I could have done better.
But you said your first goal was to win 1 game.
Yeah, I did not expect to go this far. But, my thoughts about myself were always that I’m a good player, I can beat anybody, and so on. But then I lost in Code A like 3 times in a row, round 1, so I’m like, “perhaps I’m not as good as I thought I was.” But then when everything just fell together, and I could play without getting nervous and so on, suddenly I just kept winning. Perhaps I was right all along with being good.
But you don’t know for sure, it’s hard to tell?
Basically, I placed well and beat good enough players to claim that I am pretty good. And if I don’t have confidence in myself, then no one else will either, so I have to at least, even if I do suck – which I hope I don’t – I have to believe that I’m good at least.
Do you think you got unlucky playing Lucky in Code A that many times, that being around the time that he was one of the best at ZvP?
Hrm, no… Sure he was good, but he wasn’t the best player in Code A. So, as long as you don’t play the best player in Code A, it’s like, I wouldn’t have been able to reach code S anyway, if I played like that. It was hard for me, really hard, but clearly, I have not been as strong against Zerg as I have against Terran and Protoss, so that’s more the reason I think. It’s nerves, and PvZ.
Do you think, in this Code S run, you learned more than you did in the previous 6 months?
Yes, for sure. I learned how to prepare for a game mentally much better, and I just realized a lot of things that I never would have in foreign tournaments or whatever. And I understand why some players do better in the GSL format, and what it takes to win, is basically what I mean that I have learned more about.
What it takes to win?
Like, the kind of dedication, the kind of thought you have to put into it, certain mind games, and just things you need to think about. It’s not the same as playing a MLG or whatever, where you can just play game after game after game after game, and if you get lucky you get further, or whatever. It’s not the same.
So you think Mvp, objectively, in terms of skill, you’re better than him, but he’s a player who knows how to win more than you?
Mmm…. I don’t know if I’m better, if I could make that statement, but… Well, obviously, it would turn out bad for me if I say something like that. I do know how the community reacts.
Let’s just say, the fact that he’s a guy who has experience, and knows how to win, was a bigger factor than his straight up skill at Starcraft?
Yes. I think the real, real top players, like MC and Mvp and so on, they all have that in common. Like, they know how to prepare really, really well for like a best of 5, best of 7, or whatever. And they’re extremely familiar with the mind games that go on. If you’re a player who hasn’t played on that kind of stage – I had never ever come even close to that far in a GSL or whatever before this season – it's not as obvious to me as it is to them how to react, and how to think about everything.
Is it very different in GSL compared to the MLG format? Cause in GSL you have a lot of time to think between matches whereas in MLG you can ride momentum match to match.
Yeah, it’s momentum, but also it’s, there’s a huge audience, and there’s different adrenaline going on and so on. In GSL, it’s more like a battle against yourself. Like, sure you know everybody’s watching, but once you’re there, it’s not such a big audience. It’s just, you can feel that this is the place of the best players in the world, and if you want to prove yourself you have to play your best. But at MLG, it’s like, you can get unlucky in pool play, and there’s extended series and shit like that, it’s just that it’s the premiere league that makes it different I guess.
But you would say the crowd at MLG is an advantage for you? It makes you play better?
Yeah. When there are a lot more people seeing my games, I focus a lot better. It’s like, I know I can’t f*** up when there are so many who are seeing my game, so I have to play as good as I can. Whereas GSL, it was like, eventually it hit me how big it was. It’s like, “wow, the entire StarCraft world is seeing this.” And beforehand, I got emails from my parents and such cheering me on. So the pressure just became too much, I think, for me to handle.
So going into the finals, you said Mvp knows how to win and Squirtle’s a guy who is really good and he only kinda figured out how to win this season. So you would say objectively, Squirtle’s a better player, right?
Yeah, I think so. No, I know so, by far.
But, would you say it’s even, just because you know Mvp has... whatever, the mindgames, the experience…
Even? I don’t know. It’s impossible to tell, just because recently Squirtle has done sooooo well. He owned it up at IPL, he went... I don’t know how many games in a row he won. And then he won at GSL, he’s now at the final. So we can’t know where his peak is, or where he’s at. It’s impossible to say. It could be that he reached his best and then maybe it’s an even game, or maybe he’s going to be much better than everyone expected. So, it’s impossible to call right now.
You talk to Squirtle, he’s your teammate and stuff. Do you see him preparing – I’ve heard in recent interviews guys saying they’re preparing for the 'external' part of the game. Not the skill, the mind games, being calm. Do you see that from Squirtle at all?
Well, I know that when he was practicing for playing Hero, he basically didn’t play any games. Like, he was sick a lot of the time, and then when he wasn’t sick, he just focused on the mind game part. Cause, he seems, to be honest, really really confident in the basic skills. I don’t think I should reveal too much of what he said, but he was extremely confident going in to the match, and he won 3-0 so apparently he had it right.
I think a while back TheWind said something like StarCraft 2 or Brood War, skill is less than 50%, “mental” is 50% or more. In Korea, they say this thing, “mental” a lot, which means like confidence, calmness, etc., they always talk about it. Do you agree it’s that big?
Yeah. For sure. In practice, it’s very different. I think if you’re better at controlling it than the other player, it’s like practice skill like this, and if you’re calm, if you get better by the crowd, your skill can go up, even from like your practice level or whatever. But if you’re expecting you can’t handle the pressure, it would be like MarineKing basically, before he won everything. It’s like his practice level was so high, and then he came to a tournament, he’s like only half of what he could be. And everyone still knew he was extremely, extremely good in practice.
Do you think that’s a natural part of the game, the difference between just playing games and doing eSports?
Yeah, I guess you could say that. It makes sense.
Well in terms of competition, some competitions accentuate the mind games part, like GSL. Whereas some tournaments, where you play open bracket in a LAN environment at IPL4 or whatever, are more practice-y. Do you prefer an environment like that?
I prefer the GSL way, because once the pressure is the highest, you can see who’s the best player. It’s not just about knowing the best about the game, it’s everything else too, like handling your emotions, the pressure, all the expectations, and just living up to your own standards and controlling yourself. I think it’s more about the battle against yourself than your opponent.
And you think, a lot of foreigners don’t understand this yet because they haven’t played in Korea at that level? Playing in MLGs all the time, maybe they don’t understand that fully?
You don’t have to understand it to be good at it. Stephano’s personality is really good, because if you don’t give a s***, you won’t get nervous, so he can still play good. But, let’s say that he would suddenly start to care a lot more, then perhaps he would play worse. It’s like, if you spend every single waking moment thinking about the game, practicing the game, then you put these demands on yourself that you have to win, then there are very many players who just crumble.
But you would say that a player who cares, and cares correctly, and doesn’t get nervous, compared to a player who doesn’t give a s***, the player who case is going to do a better job?
Yeah, if he can control it correctly. It’s like, I feel that when I play my best, everything is perfect in my mind, then I know I have to win, but it’s to the extent where I can handle it. Like, my hands aren’t shaking, it’s just my mind is very very clear.
Well Stephano is almost certainly going to get a seed if he wants it. How do you think he’ll do?
Well, everyone said when I got my seed, that I would drop out 0-2, 0-2, so I’m not going to predict his group, I’ll just leave that up to him.
But just pure skill, outside of the mind part, you think he can play in Code S?
Pure skill, Stephano is a good player. He is not worse than many of the Code S players. In pure skill, but that’s not what it’s all about. When you have time to prepare for your opponent, it’s a way different game. And Stephano’s style is extremely easy to counter. If he gets the wrong opponents, he will lose for sure. If he gets the right opponent, I still think he will lose, but… I will probably get hated for it, but whatever, that’s just my honest opinion, and I would love to see him prove me wrong, because it’s always nice when another foreigner does well too.
Up to now, you haven’t really seen the side of him that prepares in this GSL way at all.
Well, all I’m seeing is the guy who sits on, playing his ladder games, looking at the timer, making the perfect timings, but what if you just disrupt all his timings? Then you have an average zerg player who sits there and does everything else that the other zerg players do. It’s not like a player like DongRaeGu who knows, “OK, that happens, then *snap* that *snap* that *snap* that *snap* that *snap* that.” It’s a continuous flow of great decision making, and just the correct things to do.
Let’s talk about another foreigner, ThorZaIN, who recently won Dreamhack Stockholm, and everyone made a big deal about it. Now, he’s set to, he mentioned in his EG announcement that he might want to come to Korea and play with SlayerS. How do you think he would do, if he came here?
I don’t know. We went here before and he did pretty well, I think. Like, he didn’t do bad. He certainly did better than me, he won 1 map I think in Code A, against YuGiOh. But, that was a long time ago, and I think ThorZaIN’s skill has dropped compared to other people’s skill going up. That’s just what I see when I see him play. But, clearly he proved me wrong. I would never ever had dreamed that he would ever win Dreamhack. Maybe I’m oblivious about his skill, but when I played him recently, at Red Bull LAN, it felt really easy for me. But, I think TvP is just his worst, and maybe if he gets a TvT he can do something, but then again Polt is Code A too, and ThorZaIN will probably start in Code S, so it will be hard. But, he is good at preparing, so I think he has a good chance.
Yeah, you think he’s one of those guys that knows how to win?
Thorzain? He’s not a born winner like that.
Yeah, I think there are some players who will always rise to the top no matter what, eventually.
But he obviously has the technique down.
Yes, Thorzain is a very good preparer. But, he is not alone. I think Korea is a very big place, where there are a lot of players. It just feels wrong for me to talk down on him or whatever, but we’ll see. I certainly think he has the good playstyle to fit in Korea. Maybe he can do something good if he gets to practice first. In his current state, I wouldn’t say he is good enough, but he has the potential.
Do you care a lot about this best foreigner s***? It’s a thing that goes on, people always want to talk about it. Is it something you care about, or do you just care about playing your game.
I wish I could say I only care about playing my game, but clearly I play this game not for the money, I think I’ve told everyone that several times. I only play to prove that I am the best, or whatever. So of course, if people say that someone is the best foreigner, then I want to prove them wrong. Unless it’s me, obviously. I hope eventually I will play Stephano, and ThorZaIN, and so on, and we can all decide once and for all.
Well, do you think you’re the best foreigner right now?
I don’t know. We’ll see, when Stephano plays Code S I guess.
I see. Let me ask you a few balance questions, just to end it up. So, you say your best matchup right now, PvT?
You think balance, imbalance?
I think super-super lategame, Terran is overpowered, when they have planetary fortresses and like 10 SCVs and lots of orbitals and so on, you can’t really win.
That’s like super-late though, like Daybreak 5 bases.
Yeah, once you max and you have like 3-3 against 2-2, then I think it’s advantageous for Protoss, but only for a while, until they sacrifice SCVs and so on. I will say, it’s probably easier to play Terran. Like, it’s very obvious what you have to do: you have to upgrade, expand, do this at that timing, but I think Protoss has more potential.
Still, even now?
Even now, I think Protoss has way more potential than Zerg or Terran. But, it won’t be displayed yet, it will take a lot of time before it’s perfect, obviously.
You talked about the super late game, does it even matter though? You barely see any games, like no GSL games have gone that phase, I think.
Yes, but it’s a very big factor why people focus on the early game, and the mid game, though.
So that’s why Protoss has to do the timings at whatever.
That’s why they do timings. That’s why MC all ins a lot, cause he knows once it gets to that stage, it’s very hard. But, there is one player who can win there obviously – Parting.
So, PvZ, you said it’s been your worst for a while even though you had your very good run at Providence, and at Winter Arena 1. Up to now, most of the top Koreans you've beat have been Zerg.
NesTea and me are just very similar players. Like, we’re both focusing very much on strategies, like the mental part of the game, but there are a lot of Zergs who are faster than him, they do things better than him, but he has the best game plan. But I am also the same kind of person who has game plans. So eventually, we just cancel each other out, and then sometimes I win, and sometimes he wins. But I seem to be reading him a bit better than he reads me.
You also beat Leenock and DRG.
Um, I lost to DongRaeGu. Oh yeah, at Providence. Yeah, Leenock… I pretty much just had the momentum there. Like, I beat NesTea, and then I played another Zerg, it was like, “OK, I know what to do.”
Outside yourself, what do you think about the matchup?
There are some things I don’t like, like it’s kinda too random, some things. There is some point in the game where you can’t know if they make too many drones and you should commit and punish them, or they don’t make too many drones, and they make units, and they kill you instead. It’s some flaws in the game design I think, but overall it comes down to the maps most though. I think it’s fine, but like Entombed Valley is too good for Protoss, Tal’Darim or whatever is very hard for Protoss lategame cause it’s so big you can’t really do a lot.
But a lot of Zerg players would say the same, like the scouting is hard for them to know what Protoss is doing either.
Not any more.
Oh yeah, that’s true. What do you think of the patch?
It’s f***ing bulls***, haha. It’s like, it removes any possibility of any all in ever working, and that’s not the way it should be. You should have to see signs for it, and now it’s not even possible to mind game it like making a certain amount of gas, or probes, or whatever. They can just fly it straight in, and see everything.
So it’s just 9-minute expansion every game?
That doesn’t really work, you can obviously make a lot more drones than you can make probes. But it’s not… there is recently a lot of new things discovered by Protoss. A lot of sentry/immortal timing and then taking your expansion later, and you force them to make roaches or whatever, and it seems pretty good. So I think I’m too bad at PvZ right now to judge it, but I can beat some really good Zergs right now even, when I play a lot.
And lastly, PvP. It’s the one people have been saying has the most variance, involves the most luck for a long time. But then, I guess recently, Oz was doing pretty well for a while, and now Squirtle’s coming up with a ridiculous record. So do you think certain players having super-high winrates is just them riding variance? Or at a truly high level, the game changes again and it’s not so much luck any more?
It’s not about luck or variance, it’s like, once a player is on fire, it doesn’t matter if it’s PvT PvP PvZ. Like Squirtle is just winning at the moment, whether it’s PvT, PvP is not important. He’s just the best player at the moment, that’s the way it is. But I think PvP, you can choose your own approach to it. You can either just throw the dice every game, sometimes you win sometimes you lose, and then it’s just luck based. But, you can also do it like Oz does, like you choose certain maps, that build will work, that build will work. But a lot of players just choose 4gate – it might work, or I lose. So you can just choose your own way in it, I think.
Do you think Oz’s way is better and people will start playing that way more?
It depends, like Oz’s way will get the most win percentage, by far, and that’s what it’s all about. You can’t win every game.
Why don’t people play his way more? They aren’t confident, so they just want to flip instead?
It’s easier to flip, for one. And if you play the same style against the same player, then it will boil down to more things. Like, Oz has played the style a lot longer than other players, so I think they’re just not, well a lot of players just have the mindset like PvP is luck, why practice it?
Well, you have a very good PvP record. What do you think about yourself?
Uhh, I think I’m extremely good at reading my opponent, as I said like NesTea and so on. I prepare very well, when I played Genius and Puzzle in GSL, I watched every VOD they had played ever in GSL in PvP. And then I saw their traits, like how they scout, and what builds they like to use on certain maps and so on, and then I made my own builds. That’s one way that’s only going to work in the GSL.
It wouldn’t work on like a tournament, or whatever. It was a bit harder for me in Dreamhack, when I beat Genius 2-1. I lost a map, so it was way closer. But for first, I think they underestimated me a lot. I don’t think they prepared at all. For some reason, Genius thought it was a great idea to pick me.
I think the way it was working was, he wanted Maru, but MC convinced him to let him take Maru instead, and I think you’re probably like his top 3 pick maybe, and then he talked to other guys and it ended up that he couldn’t take his #1 pick and you were the highest pick he had left.
I don’t know. You can talk to him someday I hope, and you can ask him about it. I would love to know, haha.
Everyone said they wanted Maru, that’s all I know.
What I think is that he just wanted a foreigner, that’s what I think.
Back to PvP. What I did was basically make counter-strategies to both players, their styles. Not like their builds, but their styles. I knew that Puzzle, he doesn’t expand. He plays a certain way, so I will do that instead, and it worked out. He did exactly what I thought he would. I was a bit nervous so I still dropped a game, but Genius I had no nerves. It was like, I want to prove myself because he picked me, obviously. I prepared extra for him. It’s like, I saw every VOD of him on Antiga Shipyard (that was our first map), and I saw that he always makes blink stalkers on Antiga, and he did here too. And he attacked me, and he lost his army. I kinda expected him to do that build. And, game 2, I made 4gate, he made 4gate. I started my gas quicker than him, I realized what was going on, and I made probes quicker. Basically, I just played the game that was the best way. He expanded, he took a bit of a risk, and he died, that’s it.
Alright, let's wrap up. Anything you want to say?
Sure, congrats to Sase for finally winning something [NASL Sunday Showdown vs PuMa]. I want to say exactly that, too. Good job beating Puma.
Oh, I had something I wanted to ask you. What’s up with the socks theft thing, with Parting?
Yeah, Parting. OK, so came to the Startale house, and then like apparently, some of the Koreans stole my socks when I was having them washed.
Why did they steal your socks?
I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. We have like a laundry box, and apparently they got mixed in with the Korean players’ laundry. And then I just took some random socks, and apparently they were his. So when I went to the GSL studio, he saw it, and he’s like, “what? You, socks steal!” And he got really angry, haha.
Socks are like the worst thing to steal. They’re like the last thing you care about.
Yeah, not for Parting man.
Sase, good job winning something. Thanks to my mom and dad for seeing my games. I want to say that I’m sorry for not living up to my own hopes.
Oh, it’s Mother’s Day today.
I don’t know if that’s in Sweden though. I don’t think so.
Oh, that’s American? Ok, whatever.
I’m not sure. But if it is, then shoutout to my mom, haha.
Happy Mother’s Day, Naniwa’s mom!
And my father.
Also, thanks my team Quantic, and Razer for sponsoring us.
Finally, thanks to all the Swedes that support me. When I was playing this GSL, there were a lot of Swedes there. In the studio, in Korea. I want to say sorry for getting angry at one of them when I lost, haha. He came up to me, and he was like telling me it’s ok, but, obviously it’s not ok for me. But obviously, it’s not his fault. I want to still thank him for his support coming there, cheering me on and so forth. I hope I can do better the next time.