Interview with Tundra Esports' Saksa and Sneyking
Tundra Esports has made great strides in the past year. A year ago, this team barely created any buzz when its name showed up, but now it is one of the top teams not only in its region, but perhaps globally. The improvement has been so significant both individually and collectively that it has now become a formidable competitor. And when Tundra Esports played its first Major ever at the ESL One Stockholm Major last month, this improvement was demonstrated mighty clearly. The team was a force to be reckoned with throughout the group stage and playoffs of the event before it faltered to finish in third place.
AFK Gaming recently caught up with Tundra Esports’ support duo of Wu "Sneyking" Jingjun and Martin "Saksa" Sazdov who spoke about the team’s run at the Stockholm Major 2022, the Dota 2 patches, The International 11 (TI11), and more.
A look back on Tundra Esports’ run at the Stockholm Major with Saksa and Sneyking
It was a celebration of the competitive side of the game for fans and players alike, as the Stockholm Major saw the return of a live crowd after more than two years. In talking about how the live spectators actually form the essence of a real LAN competition, Sneyking noted how he enjoyed playing in front of them
“It felt great! I really missed and enjoyed playing in front of the crowd!" said Sneyking. "It has been years since I last played in front of one and it was, to be honest, a bit nerve-racking! There is always a difference between playing a LAN without a crowd and with a crowd. Without a crowd, it feels like we are just playing normally in bootcamp. With the crowd, that is what makes a LAN truly a LAN!”
Being able to qualify for this LAN event had proven to be somewhat of a challenge for Tundra in the first place, failing to compete to the best of its potential during the Tour 2 regional league. The team had finished in fourth place despite being touted as one of the top favorites considering its previous performance at the Gamers Galaxy 2022 where it had finished second.
Yet at the Major, the same magic that had prevailed over opponents at the Gamers Galaxy event once again came to the fore.
Saksa stated that there were not a lot of changes made between the Tour 2 regional league and the Stockholm Major 2022 but accredited the superior performance at the Major to better preparations and a more comfortable format. “There wasn't really much of a change or anything like that, we just really underperformed in season 2 of DPC and I think we were capable of doing a lot better. We prepared better for the Major and also think the Major format benefited us better than the DPC format,” said Saksa.
Underperformance in Tour 2 or other outcomes do not have a large influence, as Saksa stated that before a key event, he tends to go with no expectations, even though the aim, like any other team, is to win the entire thing. “As usual, when I go into a tournament I go in with no expectations and just try to play my game. Of course, our goal is to win the tournament, so once we started playing and after the group stage we saw we were capable of that but just came up short," he added.
Tundra Esports dominates the Major but falters towards the end
At the Stockholm Major, Tundra Esports routed its opponents. Although there were two groups, Tundra Esports had proven to be the best throughout the entire group stage, as demonstrated by its final score of 11-1, dropping only one game in six Bo2 series.
With the playoffs approaching, Tundra's wagon was showing no signs of slowing down. By beating Team Spirit and Thunder Awaken, it continued its winning streak and reached the upper bracket finals.
Tundra's gameplay at the event was characterized by its firm grasp of the meta, and an overall understanding of how the draft should be played, which appeared to be better than other teams. Their players with increasing versatility knew just how to play the game and ended it before their opponents could even begin.
It appeared that Tundra was the strongest competitor heading towards the grand final, and whoever faced it would need to put up a strong fight to defeat it. But then came the crowd and Tundra's downfall. In Tundra's first series before the audience, it lost. After falling behind 1-0, TSM recovered to reverse sweep Tundra and move to the grand final.
As Tundra found itself in the lower bracket finals, it faced a crowd-buffed beast - OG which had established its own winning streak in the lower bracket. OG's momentum had outshined 4 teams in a row, and Tundra then became its fifth victim. OG defeated Tundra 2-0 in the lower bracket final. Saksa noted that they were not as prepared from a mental standpoint and were not as hungry as OG and TSM were.
“They were mentally better prepared than us, I think in both of those series we weren't really in the right mindset going into the matches. Also, they had a lot of momentum going into it and they simply were just hungrier/wanted to win more than us, maybe at that moment,” Saksa said.
Saksa noted the emotional aspect of preparation, while Sneyking, the captain, elaborated how the strategy might have been off as the team went in with the same openings during the drafts in the two series against TSM and OG. Tundra is a team that is well known for its innovative strategies, but Sneyking noted that even during the business end of the tournament, the team needed to continue thinking of newer ideas to stay ahead.
“If I were able to go back in time, I would want to pick something new that we haven't really shown in our officials as TSM and OG were very prepared for our openers and drafts because we have played them before. I think in the later stages of a tournament, being able to pull out new strategies that your opponents are not prepared for is very underrated and something I will consider more often in the future,” Sneyking noted.
A glimpse into Tundra’s team dynamics
While Tundra’s climb to the ranks started with the Western Europe (WEU) TI10 qualifiers last year, the team has tended to become a lot more streamlined and consistent since Saksa stepped into the team in February this year to replace the team’s former captain Adrian "Fata" Trinks. At first, this move was widely criticized with two time TI champion Sébastien "Ceb" Debs even saying, “This kick will be remembered as one of the worst in DotA history.” Nevertheless, after better results, critics have become rather lukewarm.
Saksa’s extensive experience brought a lot of positive things to the team, said Sneyking. “Saksa is a very experienced veteran who has played with many of the great players of DOTA. We were able to learn a lot from him about tempo, and communication and he has contributed greatly to our core strategies and understanding of the game.”
As for Saksa, he noted that Sneyking is an essential force within the games as he is generally the one calling the shots. “Mostly it's Sneyking that does most of the talking and depending on the game whoever has a timing/good game and sees a play to be made takes charge. Overall, other than that I would say it's very balanced and it just varies from game to game,” he said.
Saksa on captains and the Dota 2 7.31d patch
Getting a little deeper into the minds of the two players, we were able to ask him about the differences in the leadership styles of three distinguished captains/voices - Peter "ppd" Dager during Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Johan "N0tail" Sundstein and Sébastien "Ceb" Debs during OG - he has played under in the past.
Saksa noted that all three players have the knack for winning games and tournaments but their approaches differ. PPD communicates his ideas and enables the team to implement them while N0tail and Ceb draw up plans and strategies based on the strengths of the players.
“So I guess the common factors are that all of them know what it takes for a team to win a tournament, what tools you need to get there and have a vision of doing so," elaborated Saksa. "For PPD, I think he is looking at his team to enable his ideas and ways to play the game, whereas Ceb and N0tail look to enable the players in the team and play around whatever heroes their teammates see are good for the game and look to make it better.”
Furthermore, Saksa shared what he felt should change in Dota 7.31d patch (this interview was recorded before the patch was rolled out). While most of what Saksa said did not happen, he did wish for map changes, an armor item that could reduce the physical damage taken by heroes, and buffs to Elder Titan.
“I would like to see map changes in general, maybe like move the bounties around and/or add some new element to freshen up the game. Regarding items, it feels like there's an armor item lacking - like something that would maybe give between 5-10 armor and some sort of activity, which could be interesting. For Heroes, I think Elder Titan really needs some buffs as he is extremely fun when he's in the meta. Maybe nerf Timber as well as he is probably a bit broken right now,” said Saksa.
Captain Sneyking on young teams, TI11, and Tundra Esports’ journey to TI11
With the absence of Chinese teams and other household names such as Team Secret and Nigma Galaxy, the Stockholm Major 2022 was dominated by newer teams possessing young players like the new OG roster, Gaimin Gladiators, and BOOM Esports.
This is not a one-off trend because as the DPC progresses and the next Major approaches in a matter of months, Sneyking said young players will continue to be the highlight of the event since they bring fresher and more innovative ideas to the game. “I expect the trend to be similar. Right now, I think many of the teams are very close in strength and younger and newer players have an edge in adapting to the meta with their fresh ideas and takes on the game. Especially with the patch being out recently, I expect the younger players to thrive more in this environment,” said Sneyking.
The rise in young players has been visible since the time of TI10 last year which also had the most number of TI first timers when compared to the past few TIs. Eventually, it was Team Spirit, with four TI first timers, that went on to lift the coveted Aegis of the Champions at TI10.
In addition, Sneyking also weighed in with his thoughts on how the format of TI11 this year will differ from what fans and teams are used to. TI11 will be a 30 team event thanks to the last chance qualifier, which will be held during the event, involving teams that place second and third in their respective regional qualifiers.
This format, according to Sneyking, is much more inclusive, meaning that more teams will be able to participate as well as a far greater amount of hype. Additionally, in the last chance qualifier, he believes China and Europe will have the advantage over the rest.
“I think TI11 is going to be an amazing event! I personally cannot wait to be a part of it (hopefully!) I think the new format offers a lot more opportunities for teams as there are more slots and the last chance qualifier. This has been something I have been wanting as TI can definitely be a bigger event with more teams and hype! I think that the strong regions will benefit the most from this as they are the ones most likely to be taking the slots from the qualifier. With that said, I think China and Europe are the strongest contenders,” said Sneyking.
At TI11, the 30 team breakdown will be as follows: 18 qualified via the DPC points and the regional qualifiers, and the remaining 12 via the last chance qualifier. However, only two teams from the last chance qualifier will be able to proceed to the TI11 group stage.
As for Sneyking and Tundra’s own journey to T11 with a slot nearly secured courtesy of its top performances in the DPC 2021-22 so far, the player remarked that it is essential to keep improving. He also stressed the importance of believing in the process to achieve desired results.
In general, our goal is just to be a better version of ourselves than yesterday. We focus a lot on our own personal improvements as well as team improvements! Our results and performance will be better as a direct result of this! But of course, as competitive DOTA 2 players, we all want to qualify and do well at TI and that is our main target!”Sneyking
He added that TI11 presents two challenges that will particularly be tough to overcome: the pressure of playing on LAN and the ability to stay motivated and on top of everything on a consistent basis. “I think some of the biggest challenges we will face will be ourselves. We will need to overcome a lot of the stresses and problems that come from LAN tournament settings. Secondly, we will need to be able to stay motivated and sharp for an extended duration of time over the course of the year as improvement comes iteratively and slowly. As soon as you relax and take it easy, someone else will be eagerly trying to surpass you,” concluded Sneyking.
The LAN pressure aspect was evident during the Stockholm Major as in a recent DPC interview, Tundra’s carry player Oliver "skiter" Lepko explained that the live crowd’s presence had a negative impact on the team’s performance. Additionally, while Tundra has looked like one of the best teams in the world in the past few months, it has dropped the ball and struggled with inconsistent play in certain events, including the Tour 2 league and the Tour 1 Regional Finals.
So, Sneyking’s two biggest challenges really align with Tundra’s recent history, and it will be very interesting to see the team overcome these problems. Tundra is in superb form, capable of absolutely decimating opponents. If the form persists and the magic of consistency is found, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say the team would head into TI11 as a heavy favorite.