Although the professional players are one of the reasons Valve’s Dota 2 is both popular and successful, the community tends to forget that there are some people that contribute enormously in the growth of the game, who sadly have little to no recognition. This is the case of former EHOME superstar, Zou “820” Yitian, a two-time SMM and G-League winner, who now shares his knowledge of the game to the community through casting.
In this lengthy interview, the 23 year-old DotA veteran goes back on his career as a player, then explains his transition to Valve’s Dota 2. He will then discuss The International, an event that he attended as a player and then caster, and continue by talking about the domination of the Chinese teams in the second edition. Last but not least, he will share his thoughts about the current controversies surrounding the team he became successful with, EHOME.
Hello 820. On behalf of It’s Gosu and the DotA community, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. Although you have the status of legend in China due to your history in DotA, Dota 2 welcomes players from different backgrounds, and they may not know a whole lot about you. Could you please start off this interview by introducing yourself and tell us more about your gaming background?
Hello everyone, my name is Zou Yitian, gaming ID is 820 and I am from Shanghai, China. I have played this game for about five years; I am now a retired player, and engaged in Dota casting related activities.
Before discussing current events, I would like to look back on your early career with EHOME. Before joining EHOME back in September 2008, you were already considered a successful player within the Chinese community. Why did you decide to leave CaNt, a team that you were successful with, for EHOME, and how did this move happen?
Back then the club had major operational issues, and 71 happened to recruit me. I saw that it was a good chance, so I just went to EHOME.
Your early career with EHOME was unfortunately not as great as you would have hoped as several players departed from the team or even retired due to poor performances. How can you explain the lack of results despite having a relatively solid line-up? (NOTE: The line-up at that time consisted of 820, 357, DC, GK and Snoy.)
Actually it was only one tournament where we didn’t perform well. Main reason being we were recently teamed up; roles were not distributed cleared enough yet. Everyone had a lot of ideas, and we had not synchronized as a team.
After several line-up changes, the team eventually had a stable roster after signing KingJ and BurNIng (NOTE: The final roster was composed of 820, 357, Dai, BurNIng and KingJ.).However, both players were heavily criticized at that time and were said to be second class players. What were the reasons for signing them up? What caught your attention in these players?
At first, they might have not been that famous, but I felt that they had a lot of potential, and perfectly replaced the roles that were open.
The Electronic Sports World Cup China was quickly approaching and the team was far from being the favorite for taking the gold. However, before the tournament, everyone changed role within the team and the biggest change was you going from carry to support. Who brought up the idea to change roles and why did you go from carry to support considering that you were seen as one of the best carry players, if not the best, in the world?
The reason why I invited BurNIng was to let him play carry so I can change to support role; it’s more efficient to direct the team as a support. Observations as a carry and supports are completely different.
You were not the only player to change role as BurNIng changed from gank/support to carry. Today, BurNIng is considered the best farmer and carrier in the world. Would you say that he owes you his success? Do you think he could have become the player he is right now if he had stuck with the gank/support role?
I really think that has nothing to do with me. Of course I believe that he would still succeed, it’s only a matter of time. BurNIng as a pro-gamer is very hardworking and willing to train. That’s his strength.
Players swapping roles turned out to be a very judicious move as you went undefeated at ESWC China as well as in the main event. Switching from support to carry or vice versa and being successful is not something every player can do. How did the players of the team adapt to their new roles? Did you teach BurNIng how to play well in the carry role and did 357 teach you how to play the support role?
Everything is self-learned. I like to think upon myself when it comes to games. At first I watched a lot of replays, took note of ward spots, and tried to get use to the game momentum as a support. After a while, practice makes perfect.
After a series of success, BurNIng and KingJ, who were the last to join EHOME, departed from the team as they received a better offer from Team DK. How did the team react to their departure despite being the most successful team at that time?
The team didn’t know, but there was nothing we could do about it. EHOME’s offers were in fact not that great, so it wasn’t surprising that good players would leave. 71’s ways of operation were problematic.
After the departure of these players, the team was in a slump until the first edition of The International for Valve’s Dota 2. The team unexpectedly took the silver medal after losing to Natus Vincere in the final. What do you think are the reasons for their success at this event?
Honestly, before the event we never thought we would do so well. I still think the main reason is that everyone worked together. In addition the other Chinese teams then all faced roster issues, so their overall mentality weren’t at the best.
Shortly after the conclusion of this event, you announced your retirement from competitive DotA. Knowing that The International marked the beginning of Valve’s Dota 2, why did you decide to retire?
It’s too tiring. After so many years of pro-gaming, it’s become weary; I really needed to take a rest. Now that I’ve become a caster, it’s more of just purely enjoying the games.
A lot of things have happened since your retirement as a player. More and more tournaments have been hosted with a large prizepool and you became a shoutcaster. In retrospect, do you regret your decision to have retired as a player?
Not really. I knew about these type of tournaments before I retired.
You are now a well-known Chinese shoutcaster and you attended the second edition of The International as such. How did it feel to be the one commentating on the matches? Did you have the same sensations than when you were on the stage as a player?
I was still very excited, and wanted to cast many of my favorite teams. Compared to last year, there was just less stress and pressure. Pure enjoyment of the games, appreciation of the top teams’ teamwork and strategies; feels great.
Being a world-class player probably helped you a lot to become a talented caster. Nevertheless, was it difficult for you to share your knowledge and express yourself to the community through casting?
Yes. To be honest, my language organization skills aren’t the strongest, so I need a lot of extra practice. Even though everything is clear in my head, I don’t know how to express those ideas to the audience efficiently. That’s something I need to work on.
As mentioned above, you were one of the several Chinese casters at The International 2. What were the main differences between the first edition and the second in terms of quality of the games, production and whatnot?
This year’s International is way better than last year’s; no matter the location or operations are all flawless. Everything was smooth. I think there are no tournaments that can compare to TI2.
A lot of players and fans admitted that the second edition was by far the best tournament in the history of eSports. What are your thoughts on the subject? Did Valve host the perfect tournament or are there things that they could have done better?
I feel that the pace can slow down a bit, instead of being so intense. From what I heard from the players, they play until exhausted every day, and then having to wake up early the next day really overexerts their strength. If possible, hopefully Valve can add in an extra play day next tournament. That will be so much better.
The best teams in the world competed at the event, but at the end, Chinese teams were the strongest. The five invited teams finished in the top eight and Invictus Gaming claimed the title. Do you think that the Chinese have already conquered the Dota 2 scene?
The statement is completely legit. Out of top 8 there was one Na`vi, two Southeast Asian teams, and all other five are Chinese teams.
The only team that managed to compete with them is the Ukrainian powerhouse of Natus Vincere. They were the only team to defeat the Chinese such as Invictus Gaming, TongFu, Team DK and LGD Gaming. What do you think are the reasons Na`Vi are on par with the finest Chinese teams?
Na`vi’s mentality and experience with LAN events are incredibly amazing. And Na`vi’s growth during LANs is crucial. If everyone paid attention to Na`vi’s performance as the play days progress, we all can see that they are indeed improving throughout the competition.
Chinese teams went far in the tournament using the same heroes/strategy in most of their games. The best example is LGD Gaming that went undefeated until the final of the winner’s bracket using Anti-Mage, Chaos Knight, Invoker, Leschrac, Morphling or even Shadow Shaman most of the time. Do you think that Chinese’s lack of innovation and creativity is their biggest weakness?
Lack of creativity has always been a weakness of all Chinese teams, but there’s nothing anyone can do, especially in a tournament with such big prize pool. No Chinese teams would risk that for new ideas. Chinese teams are more concerned with defeating opponents with solid skills; not secret strategies.
LGD Gaming was a little disoriented when they had to face Juggernaut or Faceless Void, heroes that we rarely see in today’s matches. Do you think that Chinese teams need to play a wider range of heroes in order to be better prepared to face unusual heroes like these?
Faceless Void used to be a top pick, but as a game momentum sped up, fewer teams incorporate it into strategies. But LAN events are different from online ones; the games can easily be procrastinated since everyone plays so defensively, and not risking to initiate. That’s why Antimage became much more popular later on in the tournament, and Faceless Void was sort of a replacement for Antimage. In terms of Juggernaut, it was a strategy Na`vi developed to counter Chinese teams’ Naga Siren picks. It was relatively effective, but of course I had always thought Juggernaut was a good hero, especially in pubs. Hopefully teams will develop strategies involving this hero in the future.
After The International, a lot of things changed; teams started to revamp their roster and a major patch came up. I would like to continue with the strategic part by asking you questions on the 6.75 patch. First of all, what are your thoughts about the patch? What do you think are the biggest changes? Which ones will have a big impact on the competitive game?
Obviously IceFrog is encouraging small-scale ganks with the new version. The new Roshan is interesting, and a lot of reworked heroes will affect the competitive scene. I think the biggest change is still Roshan Aegis lasting 6 minutes; this will surely speed up the game process.
You were by far one of the best strategists the DotA scene has ever known. Could you please tell us what impact the new bans/picks phase will have in competitive games? Will the bans/picks become more decisive than before?
Of course there will be effects. The new ban/pick system makes it harder to target opponents’ best heroes, which really encourages all the teams to take much more in consideration and improve as a whole.
A lot of heroes have been reworked; is there one in particular that caught your attention after the patch? Are there heroes that will be played more in competitive games?
Twin Headed Dragon’s reworked Ice Path will definitely guarantee his spot on the competitive scene. THD has always been liked by many teams, and after Ice Path was improved, the hero can be played more aggressively and perhaps be an initiator. Key point is that THD can play support, with high burst skills, I am very optimistic about the hero.
It will take a lot of time for the players to understand all the changes from this patch and it will take them even more time to identify which heroes are good or bad to play with. However, this patch is also very important for the casters as they need to memorize the changes as soon as possible. How does a caster like you deal with a major patch like this one? In other words, how do you stay up-to-date?
Playing more pub games is still the way to do so. I try to get to know more about the heroes I’m interested in, and during the process, I will discover other heroes that are equally interesting.
Being a caster forces you to know the game inside and out. You also get to cast the best teams in the world and you can analyze them. Knowing this, does it tempt you to return to the competitive scene as a player and captain since you are probably ahead as far as knowledge goes?
As of now I haven’t thought about that; I want to find stability after retiring, and am perfectly happy with just enjoying the game. After all, returning to pro-gaming means more pressure and stress. As I grow in age, confidence is also a concern.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of teams changed their roster including your former team, EHOME. Only one player represents the team right now, LaNm. What led to this disaster?
The main reason is still because EHOME’s poor performance during TI2 and coincidentally other teams are trying to acquire players from EHOME. The salary and other conditions are all better than what EHOME can offer; if it was me, I think I could consider the offer as well. It’s normal.
EHOME is sadly banned by ACE and this put them in a delicate situation. Do you think that this situation could have been avoided? What do you think EHOME should do to be once again accepted by ACE?
Yes, I believe the situation could have been avoided. After all it’s not a very big community. We can all talk things out calmly; no need to make it such a sensitive situation.
A while ago, you stressed that EHOME should have tried their best to sign former LGD star, ZSMJ into their ranks instead of PCT. Considering the current status of the team, do you think that it would be possible to ask some former legends to make a comeback for Dota 2 and reform EHOME? Is it realistic to think that players like 2009, Snoy, DC, GK, dgc, YaphetS and ZSMJ can come back to the game with or without EHOME?
I think you’re talking about DC and your idea is unrealistic. Even if I have to chance to do so, I will not. It’s pointless and there is no way to out-play the current players.
EHOME is not the only team to have roster changes as TongFu and Team DK made some changes too. What do you think of their new line-ups?
The player rosters look very good; role distribution is also clear. We will have to wait and see what their chemistry will do. Best wishes to all of them!
KingJ unfortunately mentioned that he may take a break from Dota 2. What are your thoughts on this player considering that you played with him before during “The Golden Era”? Should he have tried his best to join Team DK and team-up with former teammates, BurNIng, 357 and Dai?
KingJ is a Dota-Geek. He has a lot of ideas for the game; I think he needs to work harder to improve his team presence. It’s not as simple as him trying to join DK and he will make it. Reality is harsh. He needs to improve upon himself to let others see that. Good luck to him.
LaNm is now the remaining player of EHOME. If you had any advice to give him, what would it be?
Find new players to join? Change teams? Become a caster? That’s probably all the options he has; he can choose one.
It is rumored that Chan from World Elite may join TongFu. Do you have any comment?
I haven’t heard about the rumor. Chan is a player with potentials; he needs a leader to bring the best out of him. That’s what WE lacked.
World Elite is not looking extremely good right now, where do you think the current players will go? Fnty is a very solid carry player, does he have a future in a top-class team?
I feel the team needs to unite as one, to set a proper mentality, and then start from zero. FNTY’s gaming mentality needs work. In terms of his future in top-class teams, I don’t know; but from what I do know right now that’s not possible for him.
G1-League is the first major tournament in China since the “release” of Dota 2. Do you think we will see more major tournaments like this one in the future? Will ACE and G-League transition to Dota 2 very soon?
Of course there will be more of these tournaments. Dota 2 will be a trend for sure. ACE and G League can make the transition next round, or maybe later; hard to say.
Do you have any information about SJQ coming back to the competitive scene as a player? (NOTE: SJQ also known as Crystal is one of the Chinese casters of G1 League and former top player)
No. But I feel that he will go back if he finds likeable teammates. That’s how he is.
You are now a 23 year-old; this is still a relatively young age for a gamer. Are you still studying?
I’m already 23 and discontinued my studies, because I feel that’s not very useful in China.
I suppose that DotA and Dota 2 take up much of your time. What do you usually do when you are not playing or casting the game?
I go out with friends once in a while. Watch movies and anime, that’s pretty much all my hobbies.
eSports is not a very respected industry in China; what do your parents and friends think about your passion for the game?
Perseverance! Ever since I’ve debuted as a pro-gamer, my parents weren’t that supportive. They wanted me to find a stable job, but that kind of life means nothing to me; that’s not what I want for my life. Now I have accomplished enough for them to approve with this career.
In real life, you are Zou Yitian while in DotA, you are 820. What does 820 actually mean? How did you come up with this nickname?
“Don’t Love You”. This goes way back, when I played a RPG game called “Zhen San Guo Wu Shuang” I used the ID. It’s very nostalgic so in Dota I used the same ID.
Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything you would like to add before we conclude this interview?
Thanks It’s Gosu for the interview and I hope It’s Gosu will be better and better. Also many thanks to my fans who have supported me all along; your support is my motivation. Lastly I want to say, Diaoyu Islands belong to China!