Interview with Zyori: “It's a shame that some of those people have to make the hard decision of do I go to college or do I play Dota 2?”

Vignesh Raghuram
13/Aug/2019 05:42 am

Andrew ‘Zyori’ Campbell is one of the most experienced casters in the Dota 2 scene. Having cast in TIs and multiple Majors, he has become a salient part of the Dota 2 scene and is embarking on a whole new endeavour with ‘Jungle Jam’, a first of its kind North American LAN event.

We got the opportunity to speak with him to take an in-depth look at the Jungle Jam, Midas Mode 2.0, TI9 SEA Qualifiers and the Tier 2-3 Dota 2 scene amongst many other things.

Gfreak: Hi Zyori. It's going to be a busy month for you considering that TI9 is right around the corner and you're hosting the Jungle Jam. How are you feeling right now?

Zyori: It's going well, busy times, but good to be busy. We've got two events coming up within a month from each other: The TI9 Jungle Jam and Midas mode 2. It's definitely a lot to work on. We got a good full 40 hours going.

Gfreak: So you covered almost all the games at the TI9 SEA qualifiers. What was your favourite part?

Zyori: The SEA qualifiers were very competitive. That was probably the most exciting part of it. Even in the opens, we got to see some pretty exciting games and series, towards the end of the brackets. Team 496, the Vietnamese squad was a lot of fun to watch and they could definitely be a team that's on the radar in the region now with Vivian on the 1 and 458 there in the mid. 

It was a pretty intense storyline between Jinesbrus and Mineski with Jinesbrus kind of dominating the groups. I think they went to 6-1 or 7-1 and Mineski was kind of in the middle of the pack but then in the playoffs, it was Mineski that knocked them down to the lower bracket, from where Jinesbrus climbed all the way back to get to the finals. But then they kind of tossed it away at Game four when they went all in and then lost it in Game five so it was a pretty intense BO5 finals. 

It might be one of the most hyped TI9 qualifiers I've ever cast in terms of the ups and downs of those two teams. It's pretty wild that they go the stretch in a BO5 after facing so many times before that. It was a lot of fun.

Gfreak: What are your thoughts about the players in the SEA Qualifiers? 23savage, for instance just became a huge name in the SEA scene. Do you think the guy has a bright future? 

Zyori: Yeah sure, he looks pretty good. I think he probably will develop a little bit more and if he can get on a team with an experienced captain and a supporting staff that can work around his playstyle, absolutely. 

He definitely has a specific style that seems pretty farm intensive. He's not a very active carry player in the first ten to twenty minutes and if the opposition isn’t aware of this then he looks really good. However, I think if he faced a team who can play around that, like the old Virtus pro or something, he would probably struggle. So yeah, absolutely, there's room to grow there but no doubt, he had a good showing. It kind of overshadowed some of the performance that Nikobaby had on Mineski perhaps. They actually qualified and he was slightly less stand-outish, but in some ways, I think he really deserves a little bit more attention since he's gonna be the one that's playing for the big money in China.

Gfreak: Speaking of Mineski, Do you think they stand a chance against all those stacked rosters from EU, China and the rest of the 12 invited teams?

Zyori: No, not really. Mineski did not look good in the group stage of the qualifier. They pulled it together in the playoffs but the teams that qualified through DPC points, generally speaking, are looking a little bit more ferocious and probably a bit more polished. 

It's always hard to say because we get to see these qualifier teams but we don’t see any of these big teams that have already qualified. They haven't really done anything since the major and probably won't until TI. So it's hard to assess how good Secret or EG are. If I were a betting man and I had to list out my teams, I would probably not put Mineski in my top eight.

Gfreak: The Jungle Jam is possibly one of the most unique ideas we've seen in the Dota 2 scene. For those who aren't aware, can you elaborate on what it actually is?

Zyori: Yeah so at a basic level, with Moonduck, we're trying to do more live audience stuff. We've done a lot of online tournaments, Captain's Draft, for instance, was our first live event that had a big audience of over a thousand attendees on the last couple days.

We really want to do in-person activations and build up that hype of having a real audience that we can interact with and integrate into the show. This year, the International is not going to be in North America and will be on a completely different time zone. It seemed like there was a gap in the market and I think North America is an underserved region for Dota right now. There's definitely demand for events here, so this kind of fits the bill for that. 

The nature of TI is that it tends to be very celebratory right? It's a very open event, it's covered in basically every language that you can imagine, there are no real sponsors. Valve just kind of opens it up and says: “Hey man, this is what Dota is all about”. So we wanted to be a part of that. Some of the Moonduck crew, we assumed, might not be invited to TI, so we thought of what we could do instead and here we are.

Jungle Jam is basically a LAN with the rebroadcast of the main event, not the group stage, so this starts on August 19th. We'll be doing coverage, basically, twelve hours delayed from when it starts. The broadcast from China will start somewhere around midnight, so when it wraps up we'll be starting our broadcast around 9:00 am and we'll be casting off of the replays. 

There isn't really a great name for it, but we're live casting 'the replays of the International' with live casters on-site that we're flying in. So it will be a live rebroadcast, but it'll be delayed for North American viewers that would otherwise have to watch just the rebroadcast of the event so it's definitely a little bit different. 

It's very experimental but we're excited to see what happens and you know to add our piece to the TI celebration at this time of the year.

Gfreak: Hosting a LAN event like this with pre-recorded matches comes with its own set of issues. How are you going to deal with the people who try to spoil the event at the LAN or on Twitch chat?

Zyori: Well Twitch chat is Twitch chat. We're not really gonna put any focus on that. I think people are pretty wise enough to understand that it's nearly impossible to moderate and if they don't want to be spoiled then they just need to close the chat. 

Live audience wise, I mean if people are yelling out spoilers and stuff we can certainly reserve the right to warn them and then eventually eject them if they don't stop. I don't think our intention is to make it '100% spoiler-free' just 'mostly spoiler-free'. 

The coverage is gonna be kind of couch style, funny, casual and will be heavy on analysis. So the idea is that we're gonna cast it in kind of a different style. It's not gonna be the same traditional play-by-play caster - commentator duo. We're gonna be doing more of almost that Summit style coverage where we're gonna be able to talk about the games and since they're replays we will have the advantage of being able to pause, rewind, and do various other things like that as part of our live coverage. 

We're not only trying to compete with the rebroadcast but we want to be an alternative to it. So that you can get value, even if a match is spoiled. It is interesting to listen to three analysts break down the game and talk about the nuances of decisions that were made.

Gfreak: So who are the talents we can expect at the LAN event. As far as we know, TI9 invites are not public yet. Are Zyori and Sunsfan going to be at the Jungle Jam for sure?

Zyori: Yes. The two of us for sure. You're right, nothing has been publicly posted about who's gonna be invited to TI9, but there are some safe assumptions that we can make.

We started reaching out to people under that kind of guise of like "Hey, you know you can kind of trust me. If you've been invited and you don't want to tell me that's fine. But, if you don't get invited, you're on our shortlist and we'd be interested to have you." So we've done a lot of outreach and talked to a lot of different talents and have a working list. 

Getting into it, we knew that our talent decisions would be heavily based on Valve's invites. So we're covering our bases and we're waiting for that big announcement and then we'll make some final decisions. But we're trying to angle everything so that the stage is already set and then depending on who is invited and who isn't, we can move very quickly and get our announcement rolling shortly after. 

I don't really want to say specifically any names at this time, just because I don't want them to pressurize them.

Gfreak: So you are saying that you would decline a TI9 invite if it came to it?

Zyori: I mean, I guess technically. I can tell you that I have not received one. So you know take that for what you will. I don't know if other people have. I thought last year, if I was ever gonna be invited to another TI that would be it, because Trent and I did so much stuff in terms of coverage, like the Supermajor, the Bucharest major and some of the stuff leading up to that. So I cast more last season than I did this season. The main event that I did this season was the KL major, which as you know, was very early on and almost feels like ancient history at this point. 

Considering all those factors, my personal analysis was that I was unlikely to be invited this year and that chance was low enough that I felt like it was worth committing to this event. So if somehow, I do get invited, I think I will be forced to turn it down, because this event is locked in and agreements have been signed. 

Gfreak: Following the Jungle Jam, you have Midas Mode 2 right around the corner. Tell me, is Midas Mode 2.0 a brainchild of Slacks or is the whole Moonduck team involved in it?

Zyori: Moonduck is an elective of contractors. We don't have any employees. I'm the only person that gets paid like a recurring kind of salary for management as the managing director. It's a sort of collective, in the sense that all of us have ideas, all of us work on other projects outside of Moonduck and have our own brands and there's a varying degree of crossover at any given time depending on what we're all working on and what the potential overlap looks like. So there's always cross-collaboration with these ideas. 

The basic concept and how to execute it, I would call Slacks like the 'Creative Director', if we used official titles like that. In the context of Midas Mode, it's very much his vision. The team trusts his instincts when it comes to how to set these things up. But that doesn't mean that he has all these ideas fleshed out. It's more like "Hey, this was sort of my idea. What do you guys think? Is it possible? Okay, let's loop in the programmers. Okay, let's loop in our art team. Okay, let's loop in our sales team" and we just sort of keep drawing these circles until we have that overlap, all the way until it is complete and we get a concept here for a tournament, a business model, and some people that are willing to sponsor it/fund it. 

We have a concept to market it and Slacks is gonna kind of own the workflow and the project. So he's definitely the project leader, but it is also very much a collaborative team effort for the execution. It takes a lot of resources to make these things happen, especially with all the customization that Midas Mode has. Right now, we have a team of 15 people or so working on it so it's a pretty substantial undertaking.

Gfreak: Why are traditional Tournament Organizers like ESL and PGL moving away from hosting tournaments in NA? Is Moonduck trying to fill that void?

Zyori: So there's a lot of factors. I think America is one of the more expensive places to operate in. Doing stuff in Southeast Asia, China, parts of Europe especially like Eastern Europe (CIS); there's just a difference in spending money and purchasing power and all that kind of stuff. The second aspect is that America is fuckin big and even though we have a lot of esports fans, they're not very concentrated. I think a lot of people have experimented but there aren't many spots that are ideal. 

For running a big scale, ESL level tournament, Los Angeles is pretty high up there. Thanks to TI, Seattle is too but it's tough. The events that ESL did in New York in Manhattan and Madison Square Garden were probably not very cost-effective. This is pure conjecture but I would imagine that the rental and all this stuff with that kind of space and just Manhattan prices to do an event like that makes it so much more difficult compared to doing an event in Kuala Lumpur for example. 

On top of that, I think many of those big organisations feel like "Hey we've done some market research we've played around in North America, we haven't figured out the magic solution. Let's look towards other opportunities". Then you start evaluating places like India that have all these people and is growing in terms of technology and infrastructure and you're like "If we could be the first movers to really capture this huge market that would be massive for us". So for ESL it just makes logical sense that they're starting to explore those new territories and put resources there, where they can also benefit from the fact that the Euro or USD translates well to purchasing power in places like India. 

It's a multi-faceted problem, as somewhat an economy of scale type thing and I don't know if there's a super easy solution. So we're just trying to carve out our niche here in Denver and in Colorado, where there aren't too many other players, but there is a lot of technology here, a lot of startup culture and a lot of gamers in general. So it's tough. 

Gfreak: Since you spoke about India, many of your colleagues attended ESL One: Mumbai as talent. What were your thoughts about the tournament as an outside party?

Zyori: I mean, I'm pretty disconnected from ESL stuff. I watched a little bit of the coverage and it seemed fine. They did a good job trying to make the event memorable by utilizing Slacks and the other talent in a way that kind of played homage to Indian culture and made the location part of the show and really tried to build up the idea that you can sell a venue in India and that it's a cool spot. I would imagine part of that goal is signalling to other organizers, "Hey, we did it, you can do it too, this wasn't a bust, projecting that level of success."

It looked good, from where I'm sitting. I would imagine it was a cost-effective endeavour. I bet they were pretty happy with the hype and turnout. No idea about how expensive the tickets were, venues or anything like the economics in that region but the numbers looked good from what I saw. 

Gfreak: Let's talk about TI9, Did you expect this edition to go past the $30 million mark? Last year, it barely got past the TI7 mark. What factors did you do you think played a part in ballooning this TI prize pool compared the previous one?

Zyori: Hats. Mostly just hats, a good battle pass, a good timeline and a marketing strategy of releasing new content that got people excited. Shit like Axeless Axe. 

Valve is just very much on the pulse of what the Dota community likes, for the most part. When it comes to cosmetics and hats and that kind of stuff, I think they're very good at coming up with concepts. Like what would be a memey that's not too memey, but memey enough, that people go 'OMG is this real?'. The Axeless Axe hits that to a tee and I think they have very successfully, strategically placed those key items in the battle pass to just make it a good value proposition for people that collect digital in-game goods. It's just all about the battle pass, it is the fundamental aspect of it. I don't know the right way to say it, but people definitely buy stuff around TI time because they know it supports the prize pool so it gives them a better feeling of making those spends. 

But at the end of the day, it does mostly come down to the quality of the battle pass, what's in it and giving people that reason to grind, play different heroes and play different games and clear the jungle. It's just very well-designed. It's fun, it makes you want to play Dota, it makes you want to collect more battle points and unlock shit and roll Rylai's wheel. 

Zyori at the Boston Major

Gfreak: Do you think Valve should start capping the prizepool at some point and use some of that extra money to support the tier 2, tier 3 teams?

Zyori: Yeah, so I mean I probably wouldn't put it in those terms of like capping the prize pool and then reallocating money. I don't know exactly what Valve's highest priority is, but I think they want that big number right? They want that "Hey, this is the prize pool of the whole thing.” So you want to just reallocate part of the percentage of it towards your TI qualifier teams or something like that. 

I don't pretend to have the magic solution. I don't know exactly the best way to fix the problem because if you just say "well we just need a challenger league under the minors or something", it introduces this whole additional level of logistics and payments and moving pieces so somebody has to manage all that. It's not impossible but it's not as easy as people say. When you're talking about things at this scale it needs to be of a certain quality or else it loses its relevance and importance. Trying to keep it as simple as possible and as close to what we have now is key. 

But absolutely, I think the prize pool is way too hot top-heavy and it needs to trickle down because if we don't find a way to support some of these teams…

Jinesbrus is a perfect example. I mean just look at some of the Tweets of the players that didn't qualify. Regarding the argument of "so we're just gonna give people money for trying now", I get where they're coming from logically, but they're applying it in a way where it doesn't take the degree of the argument into account. Taking 1% of the prize pool from first place is a negligible difference. Those players won't even notice the difference at the end of the day, compared to where that 1% would help the teams that are struggling on the cusp. 

You want to have a competitive system that rewards people for taking the risk, performing well and just straight up being better than their opponents. However, you want the floor to be high enough so that everyone who have the skills or the potential skills to compete, can do it without having to worry about financial stress to the point of "how am I gonna fucking pay the bills to keep the internet on, so that I can keep practising this game". 

If you think about traditional sports there's a lot of built-in infrastructures that people take for granted. High school sports that lead into college sports, that lead to professional sports. There is a track that you can go through, where when you're in high school you can say: "Hey, I'm really into basketball, I'm putting everything I have into being a star athlete." But you're still in school, you're still learning, you're still developing a back-up plan. That backup plan is, I can go to college right? When you get to college you can decide: do I care about basketball? Or do I care about what I'm studying? Or do I want to try to do both? You have all these options, and that again gives you the ability to play in the NCAA and move your way up and see if you're actually ever gonna be good enough to make that 1% that actually go pro! And if you don't, well, you still have a college degree. You are still in this system that was sort of taking care of you. When you're in college you might win scholarships, so that financial burden is gone and for those four years of your life or whatever it is, you're just focused on studying, playing sports and existing. That's it. 

That does not exist in Dota 2, right? So we need to find a way to compensate for that. We need to find a way to make up, what people call the tier 2/tier 3 scene. It almost paints the wrong picture, because people go "Oh tier 3, you're just not good enough" but sometimes it's not that simple. Maybe this guy could be good enough if he had the infrastructure to play on a level playing field. If you look at South America, they are not playing on a level playing field. A lot of those folks don't have proper hardware or internet connections, they have rolling blackouts. All of these sorts of things prevent them from being able to practice on the same level as tier one players from other regions. Those things can be excuses and crutches, but we have to take all of that into account when we're formulating this system.

How do we create mobility for people such that at the end of the day it benefits our entire ecosystem and everyone that's a part of it? Perhaps some basic infrastructure or system to move people up. What if there's a 15-year-old now that is a top 1,000 rated player that doesn't know if he wants to go pro or if he's good enough, what to do or how to handle that? It's shame that some of those people have to make this hard decision of do I go to college or do I fucking play Dota 2? I've seen a lot of people stuck in that scenario and it's a very complicated one. There's a lot of variables but the money is there right? That is the one thing that we can't deny. The money exists and we have an audience that is willing to put it up every year. So yeah dude, let's fucking reallocate some 5% life-changing money to people at the bottom.

Gfreak: Do you think China with all their youth teams or League of Legends have got it right?

Zyori: I wouldn't go so far as to say they've got it right. But I think they're further along in the spectrum than we are in the context of Western Dota. The Chinese Dota scene has some drawbacks to having those control structures. There have been times in the past where ACE overstepped their jurisdiction right? They've done some things that the community didn't agree with, but as things grow there's good and bad. It probably is overall a system that provides more opportunities for younger players. The Chinese organizations and the community, in general, are just a little bit more in tune with understanding that they want young players to come up. 

Eventually, some really popular players are gonna get old and retire or become coaches or whatever. You need new players to replace them. It's a very straightforward kind of logical flow. It does seem like that region is just more aware of that than those of us in the West. A lot of that is conjecture, I don't speak Chinese.

Gfreak: So who are you rooting for to take it all at TI9?

Zyori: I'm gonna say the South American boys that were majestic two minors ago. They were Anvorgesa in the last one and now they are Team Infamous. That's the Hector, Wisper, Scofield team. Yeah, Infamous is who I'm really cheering for this time around. Big fan of their manager, a big fan of these guys. 

I know that they've faced pretty serious hardships to get to where they are and it would be an awesome storyline to see this team just get top eight, honestly like there's no way they're gonna win. I think they're outclassed by a lot of these teams, but not all of them. I don't think they're gonna bomb out and I would love to see them even get top 12. It would be really exciting for that team.

Gfreak: You are working so much these days considering that two LANs are coming up, are you still gaming? What games are you playing now?

Zyori: I'm trying to get in gaming when I can, it's still good to blow off some steam. I was playing Underlords a lot when it dropped but I've been slowing down on the Underlords train a little bit. My stress-relief game is Path of Exile, I've been really enjoying this league that's out right now. Yeah, that's my jam atm. Let's fucking hack, slash and clear some maps. Path of Exile, it's a really well-done game. It's up there on my list for sure.

Gfreak: That concludes our interview. Thank you so much for the Interview Zyori.

Zyori: Sweet. Thank you.


Vignesh Raghuramtwitter_link


Vignesh has been covering the esports industry for nearly 5 years starting with the early days of the DPC. His industry expertise includes experience in Dota 2, CS:GO and Mobile Esports coverage.