AFK Gaming had the opportunity to talk to TNC Predator’s coach, Heen ahead of TI9. In this interview, he opens up about why he joined TNC Predator, his thoughts on TNC’s players and his time in Liquid amongst other things.
Lee "Heen" Seung Gon was hired as the coach of TNC Predator, one of SEA’s most successful Dota 2 organizations, in April 2019. The move came shortly after a string of poor placements across multiple tournaments for the Filipino team.
His impact was immediate. TNC Predator went from being an afterthought for TI9 and became a genuine contender in a matter of weeks and ended up securing an invite for TI9 after some great performances in the Epicenter Major.
Hi Heen, how are you doing? How has TNC’s Bootcamp for TI9 been?
Heen: We’ve been Bootcamping. It is like every other Bootcamp. It isn’t so good in terms of the quality of Dota we play, but I think we’re getting more comfortable.
Why did you join TNC as a coach? I am sure many teams were after you for this position.
Heen: I’ve known the players of TNC for a long time. They had a lot of raw skill, but I felt that they kind of needed someone like me to help them out, figuring out their strategies and structure in their gameplay. It was the best fit.
The other offers I got before joining TNC, I didn’t see myself clicking with them.
Many coaches have different styles and roles in different teams. What are your responsibilities as TNC’s coach?
Heen: I am in charge of drafting, in a sense that, when we are discussing between multiple choices, whether it’d be a mistake or not, I make the final decisions on what heroes we pick. I have to take responsibility for it.
I also do what most coaches do when we play scrims or even matches, I try to summarize. Because when you go through every replay and try to point out every mistake, it becomes too tedious. So you have to make bullet points about what is the easiest, game-changing problems, to fix.
I don’t think I am that special as a coach in what I do. I presume that most other coaches do similar things: come up with strategies, try to make the team self-aware of what they’re good at, what they could be better at in terms of hero-pool, playstyle, decision-making.
Is it different from what you had to do with Team Liquid?
Heen: In Liquid there was less responsibility. It naturally was like that because Kuroky is a very strong presence in the team. If you were to join Liquid, you’d immediately notice that Kuro is at the centre of the team. He has a lot of ideas, all the time, that you have to uncover one-by-one. I was there to help him further his ideas, compared to TNC, where I feel like I am more of the driving force.
This might be a generalisation but I think it is true to some extent: in the SEA region, players are less innovative and don’t come up with these cool strategies that much. They’re very good at playing but they kind of lack in that captain department.
Is this why the SEA region has struggled to make a big impression in the International scene?
Heen: I think that has to be one of the major reasons. Over the last few years, SEA has become, not one of the strongest regions, but medium-strong depending on how the representing teams are doing.
The tier 2 scene in SEA is competitive for sure, there are a lot of teams that are aiming to break through but it just seems like there aren’t many memorable teams in SEA because the lifespan is too short and the way the teams function, where they rely too much on player skill and not on something unique to a team like strategy and tactics that you develop.
Well, they do, but it is just too short-sighted. There is too much focus on laning. But, what then? What’s next?
What were your first impressions of TNC’s Bootcamp when you stepped in and what were the first changes you implemented?
Heen: The first awkward thing was the silence, people were very shy. I remember the first few days were me talking about my ideas and what I think is good. I’d go on these paragraphs of sharing, then they’d say “Yes”. I felt like a substitute teacher. I knew they weren’t being rude by any means, but it wasn’t a two-way conversation to the full extent.
But in 2 weeks, we got comfortable, we started cracking jokes and now there’s nothing to be shy about.
Most of the EU/NA teams just play a lot of pubs for practice before the Bootcamp. Do you think we should borrow from traditional sports like football or basketball and focus on particular aspects like individual hero mechanics or rotations? What do you think is the best approach to train in a Bootcamp?
Heen: I think mechanics are something that you should be practising in every game of Dota, all the time. When you mention these team effort things like ‘when to smoke’, to a certain extent you can try to do it in pubs. But it will probably be very frustrating because people are all over the place.
I don’t have a really elegant routine for the Bootcamp. It is just playing a lot, but playing productively so that win or lose, you take away something. Even small things like when we win, but we feel: “we had 3 options on the last pick, I suppose this is the problem. We won, but clearly, we had some problems in the early game, so next time we could try this other hero”.
In a way, it is not just about trying to win every game but to take something memorable that you can take and use it tomorrow.
In the drafting phase, is it just you who comes up with ideas or does the whole team contribute? Who is the most vocal player in TNC?
Heen: I don’t draft by myself, I have the final say, but my drafting power is derived from the players with their expertise and hero-pool.
When it comes to whose more vocal, sometimes they take turns depending on what the enemy picks. If they see heroes they enjoy playing against, they’ll pop up. But I’d say that the cores are pretty vocal about what they want to play. Especially on the second pick, that’s the nature of it, you have to blind-pick, you can’t just counter-pick so much, so they have to step up and suggest heroes.
There are certain situations like last-pick for example, to whoever gets the last-pick, I say “I need your blessing to pick this last hero”. Because what I might think as a good game, he might not feel comfortable. Surely there are things that I don’t understand. I know the big picture, but these player’s instincts in-game are much sharper than mine.
Some of the best coaches in the scene are all from Korea. Like Dubu (earlier in the season), Sunbhie, March and yourself. Is there something different about how you Koreans approach the game, that makes you some of the best coaches in the scene.
Heen: I don’t think so. I think it is just natural selection. Think about it this way. Korea had no more than 10 players that were viable to compete internationally and ever since they decided to split up, they need to find a way to stay relevant.
Immediately after they broke up, they split into these smaller groups like Immortals, etc. But as they split up more and more to the individual level, some cultural boundaries prevent them from joining every region. I don’t see a Korean team joining a CIS team or something like that.
So coaching became a prospect for some of these players.
As a coach, which team or player is the hardest to draft against?
Heen: There are two ways to interpret that, the first is where you find it the hardest to feel like you’re winning in the draft and the other is you don’t know how to respond to their drafts.
Puppey is one of the most memorable ones. The way he views the game is very unique, Secret’s drafts are unpredictable. If you check Secret’s history, sometimes they draft their mid and carry in the first two picks, second pick, they’re just like “BOOM. Here’s Morph-Lone Druid” and that’s something that I personally would try to avoid unless there is a really strong idea about that, but he has a way of looking at the game that looks random from the outside eye but surely there are some logical chains for the decisions.
Secret at various points was very versatile. Last season, the Fata-Ace Secret in the Middle of the season, felt like they could play all kinds of heroes. They also had a lot of cheese heroes as well. Team Liquid is no stranger to cheese heroes, but they had these heroes that we didn’t play like Meepo and Arc Warden. So Team Secret aside from Puppey is still very difficult to deal with.
I think Chinese teams are often more predictable than Western teams. But LGD probably has the most non-chinese way of drafting, at least in terms of hero pool they seem quite versatile.
When you take the Chinese scene, they don’t play these Cheese heroes. You rarely see them pick up Broodmother or Meepo. Do you think this has something to the ‘Random Draft’ which seems to be the default ranked mode for Chinese pubs?
Heen: I think so. From what I’ve heard, the Chinese players have started realizing the limitations of Random Draft and its effectiveness for pro players who don’t want to randomly play and hope they might get to play their hero. So I’ve been noticing a lot of Chinese players migrating to the SEA server and practise All-Pick. However, I think it is half and half. Random Draft still has half the hero pool available. So if they have a hero in mind, they should be able to play it in half their games.
I don’t want to make these blanket statements that might not be true, but I think that the Cheese heroes are less popular in China because they don’t like taking these kinds of risks. There is a connotation for Cheese heroes: “If you pick it in the right game, you’re either going to win super easily or you make mistakes and lost”. I get the impression that they want to play the long and steady game and win by virtue of being better and not just win with these surprise picks.
That said, at least in this TI, you should never assume that they don’t play these cheese heroes. I’ve seen it happen here and there. Last year, it was China’s tournament to win but they didn’t and I am sure that Chinese teams are probably thinking about what they can learn from the West.
Can you tell us a little bit about each player of TNC?
Gabbi: Gabbi is a very joking, easy-going guy but in the game, he is quite mature and serious. In a way, he reminds me of MATUMBAMAN, outside the game he is kind of a goof but in the game he is quite serious and makes a lot of mature calls. He tells the team a lot about the state of the game, and if we need to wait and not too many emotional calls.
Armel: Armel is a classic mid player. Both his strength and weakness are the same: he loves farming. I always joke that he is just a classic, selfish mid player that you see in pubs. But he is very good at it. He is very receptive to my criticisms. He is a clean type of player, if TNC win a match and someone went 25-0, you’d expect it to be Armel because he doesn’t like mistakes. He doesn’t like killing someone at the cost of dying, he is more of an “I have to kill you without dying” type of player.
Kuku: Kuku is very fiery. He either explodes in a good way or a bad way. There’s a lot of both maturity and immaturity in him. He is the veteran of the team, but at the same time, he is the most emotional in terms of how he can get affected by bad games. But he has been getting better at it since I joined TNC. It is kind of pointless to have these low-energy broodings after the game, or even during the game.
Tims: Tims is the mother of the team lol. It is kind of funny. He backseats people in the game. He tells them: “You need to press BKB”, he tells people: “BKB BKB”, but it's very good-intentioned. He doesn’t mean to insult them. He wants people to pay attention to small details like if you’re smoking and someone’s using courier while we are smoking, which is a big no-no, he’s like: “Hey! Hey! WTF? Send it back.” He is that kind of guy.
Eyyou: Eyyou is a quiet position 5. He doesn’t talk that much. He talks when he is needed to talk. But he is not a captain figure. For a lot of teams, the position 5 is often the captain but I’d say eyyou is a pure player. He does his best to play that everything that captain’s do, without making the calls. I think he reads the game and chips in but ultimately in this team, people take turns in captaining, as they should. I think a singular captain has a hard time. You have to be such a monster at Dota to single-handedly captain a team from start to finish, to tell them where to go, what to do, it is too hard.
What do you have planned after TI9? Will you continue coaching TNC or have you not decided yet?
Heen: The contract is until TI9. It is hard to say, I will have to see. It is the same for most players, coaches, etc. You go to TI and the tournament is about to end, people talk to each other and see if their interests align, however briefly. It is like a honeymoon phase for everyone to start their new journey at TI.
Thank you for the interview. Do you have any shoutouts?
Heen: Not really, I am super focused on this team and our performance at TI.