In today’s interview, we focus on one of the best solo mid and Invoker players in the world; LGD Gaming’s Yao “Yao” Zhengzheng. Earlier this month, the 21-year-old Chinese player returned from Seattle, U.S. with a $150,000 check after taking third in the second edition of The International.
In this interview, one of the revelations of The International goes back to his early career and explains how he made it into LGD-Gaming. He then goes on to talk about the team, the game and his thoughts on their performance at the biggest DotA event of the year.
Hello Yao. On behalf of It’s Gosu and the DotA community, we thank you for taking the time to answer our questions as well as giving the community the opportunity to know more about you. Before starting off this interview, why don’t you take the time to introduce yourself to our readers and tell them more about your gaming background?
Hello everyone, I am Zhengzheng Yao, from Changsha, Hunan providence, China. I’m currently in LGD Gaming; ingame ID is “Yao”, or you can also call me XiaoD.
A lot of players started with DotA-like games such as Zhensan before transitioning to the original game. As far as you are concerned, how did you get into the most popular Blizzard Warcraft III custom map?
At first I was playing Warcraft III, and then my classmate recommended this DotA map. The first version I played was 6.43, and until now it’s been about 5 years. I like this game a lot.
Your first competitive team was Dream where you were the captain. Could you please remind us who the members of the team were and how did you got into it?
I’ve always longed to be a world champion, so I try my best to become a pro-gamer. After entering college I tried to contact some sponsors and finally through friends I met Dream’s manager; we both had the same intentions to establish a pro-gaming team. I gathered my good friends “DD”, “xiao8”, “Li” to join the team, after that the four of us decided together that “SJQ” would be the last member.
You placed well in a few tournaments with Dream and Nirvana.cn but we can convincingly affirm that since your arrival at LGD-Gaming, you have enjoyed a very successful spell of titles and podium finishes. In a few sentences, how would you summarize your DotA career? What titels are you most proud to have won?
In September of 2010 I joined Dream and began my gaming career. In early 2011 I took a break due to schooling, and for a short period of time I was in Nirvana.cn after that. Along with ex-Dream members, we joined LGD-Gaming in September, 2011 until now.
After the first edition of The International, which marked the inauguration of Valve’s Dota 2, Chinese teams slowly transitioned to the game while still playing DotA. Most of Chinese teams have been doing this until the second edition of The International. Was it an inconvenience for the team to put that much energy into both games?
At first it was hard to adjust; practicing DotA would lower our proficiency in Dota 2, and practicing Dota 2 would cause our strategies to fall behind in DotA. However, Chinese teams finally adapted to both games, after all we had plenty of preparation time.
Some major tournaments such as G-League and ACE happened during your preparation for The International 2. Some people may not understand why the team actually focused on these tournaments having “only” $84,500 in prize money (both combined) while The International 2 had a prize pool of $1,600,000. Can you explain the reasoning behind why LGD, as well as the other Chinese teams, focused more on these tournaments than The International?
The Association of China ESports decides that we attend these tournaments, and since the schedules do not conflict we don’t have any reason to give up on these competitions. We can’t be positive that we can take home any of the $1,600,000, so we have to strive for every tournament.
The International 2 marked the first anniversary of Valve’s Dota 2. What are your thoughts about the game, its progress and features?
I think Dota 2 is great, and hope it will be released in China soon. I also hope that there will be more LAN events besides The International.
The hero pool has doubled since the first edition of The International. Considering that Chinese teams tend to play with the same heroes, would you say that this large hero pool was a problem for you?
From the games we can see, the increase in hero pool doesn’t affect Chinese teams’ styles. CM mode takes value in line ups’ stability and fault tolerance. We still like to use hard carries, and the result shows that Chinese teams did well.
In June and July, thirteen heroes were released but LGD-Gaming only actively used three heroes namely Chaos Knight, Naga Siren and Rubick. Why was the team hesitant to use the other heroes that were hot picks at The International such as Disruptor, Luna and Templar Assassin?
Hero picks all depend on the team’s playing style. Our team prefers solo heroes with a stun or AOE skill, carries with escape mechanism or push power; and so we rarely use Luna and TA.
Naga Siren was never a priority at The International as you only picked her when Sylar’s best heroes, Anti-Mage and Morphling, were picked. Do you not consider Naga Siren as a valuable primary carry? What are your thoughts about this hero as a whole?
Actually, Naga was our primary carry. I don’t think Naga can be easily countered; in fact, she can initiate or leave a team fight due to her ultimate, as well as ensure her safety while pushing out lanes. But it’s obvious that Naga relies heavily on items, otherwise it’s hard to deal damage during team fights. So after taking Naga, we normally pick Dragon Knight or Morphling for a dual-core line up, along with nuke/stun supports for a high burst of damage.
I mentioned The International a lot of times in my previous questions; it may be time to talk about it. On May 25th, you received your invitation to play in the biggest event of the year. How did the team prepare for this event?
After receiving the invitation the whole team was rejoiced; we went out for dinner that very night to celebrate. To prepare for TI2, we trained intensely; we faced almost every team invited to TI2 in scrims, as well as analyzed the teams’ styles through replays. The month before TI2 we trained over 10 hours daily.
A lot of tournaments were hosted for North American and European teams while only a few were hosted for Asians. How much do you think it affected your preparation? On the other hand, did it help you to get more information from Western teams as you could watch streams and/or replays from their official matches?
Not having many Dota 2 tournaments in China didn’t affect us, because we attended quite a few Asian tournaments. Moreover, IceFrog gifted us tickets for European tournaments, so that we could familiarize ourselves with our opponents and study their strategies.
You entered the tournament as one of the top favorites, and you confirmed it by taking first in group A in a convincing fashion as the only team to win all your matches. However, you took the risk to reveal your strong heroes namely Anti-Mage, Chaos Knight, Invoker, Morphling and Shadow Shaman. Why did you not opt for the other heroes and save the core ones for the later stages of the tournament?
Those heroes were quite commonly picked, as other teams had also used them before. We didn’t prepare any “secret weapons” up our sleeves so there was nothing to hide. I believe we would do great just through skilled tactics and steady plays.
In the winner’s bracket, you continued your good run as you sent Orange eSports and Team Zenith to the loser bracket, but things got more complicated in your match versus Natus Vincere. They intelligently banned some of your core heroes namely Chaos Knight, Invoker, Morphling and Nature’s Prophet. By doing so, they forced you to pick Naga Siren as well as AOE heroes which worked out well for them as they had a counter to this strategy, Rubick. What are your thoughts about this series and do you think that Rubick is one the reasons of your loss?
Navi is an amazing opponent, in terms of mentality and experience, things we need to work on. Their bans purposely countered our style, but Naga was let through; for us this was a hero with very high win rate, so we picked it three games in a row. In the first two games Rubick didn’t play a big part due to our high burst damage combo of Naga and DK. However, we were unable to pick up DK in the third game, so our lineup was relatively worse. Rubick indeed is a good counter against team fight heroes such as Queen of Pain and Tide Hunter.
You unfortunately lost the series 2 to 1 and were thus sent to the loser bracket where you faced a team you are more familiar with, Invictus Gaming. In this series, Invictus Gaming let you play all your best heroes but it was not enough to win as you eventually lost the match. How would you summarize the series and what do you think were the reasons of your defeat?
The game schedule that day was very tight and intense. We didn’t eat all day, and after losing to Navi we didn’t have the time to adjust ourselves. All of us were in bad shape physically and mentally. In the first game against IG we almost won, but at the end unfortunately lost the game. Continuing to the third game, everyone was so exhausted. We made some serious mistakes in terms of strategy and lineup; didn’t get Invoker, picked Chaos Knight and sent him to the sacrifice lane was a foolish mistake.
This second defeat marked the end of your run. You earned a convincing third place and a check for %150,000. Overall, what does the team think about this result?
Feeling a bit regretful, since I believe we have what it takes to win, but unfortunately we didn’t adjust ourselves as well as Navi and iG did. Before the tournament our goal was top three, so we’re satisfied with third place.
In an interview with Leong “ddc” Fat-meng at The International, he mentioned that he was disappointed by the lack of female fans. Would the team’s overall performance be better if the female audience was higher?
Haha, if there was more female audience support, I think we would do a lot better. I wish more female players will join Dota 2. This is a great game and a lot of handsome guys play DotA.
This tournament was regarded as one of the best in terms of production. As a player, did you enjoy playing in it? Where you well pampered by Valve?
I think TI2 is the best tournament hosted in history. It’s all impeccable; whether it is the location, staff, competing teams, or the prize pool. Thanks to Valve, players can enjoy the competition to its fullest without having to worry about other things.
It is rumored that The International 3 will be hosted once again in Seattle. If this rumor proves to be true, would you be satisfied to compete once against at this venue or would you have preferred the tournament to be played in Asia?
I’m very satisfied with Seattle; but it would be even better if it’s hosted in my native land China.
In this tournament, you probably noticed that North American and European teams play a wider range of heroes than the Chinese, and this is probably one of the reasons you lost to Natus Vincere as they picked unusual heroes such as Juggernaut and Faceless Void. Knowing this, do you think that Chinese teams will play a wider range of heroes in order to be more prepared for situations like this?
I think Chinese teams will still be biased in favor of traditional carries, because we are more skilled and proficient with those heroes. As long as we minimize our mistakes, communicate with each other, and don’t give any chances to our opponents.
A couple of weeks later, you and your teammates took on Invictus Gaming in the ACE grand-finals that you lost 2-0. After winning G-League, The Internal and ACE, do you think that Invictus Gaming is arguably the best team in the world, be it at DotA or Dota 2?
No doubt that Invictus Gaming is currently the strongest team. They have the world’s top player in every position, and their teamwork skill is very frightening.
A lot of teams from North America and Europe are currently changing their line-up. However, there is a lot of speculations regarding the Chinese teams. As regards LGD-Gaming, will there be changes in the near future?
Let’s now talk a bit more about the game and its future. Not all of the heroes have been implemented into Dota 2. Is there a hero in particular that you are looking forward to playing?
I really look forward to Tauren Chieftain; he’s a hot pick in tournaments. Phoenix and Goblin Shredder too, they are much overpowered in pub games.
Some heroes such as Luna seem to have an impact on the competitive scene, and Invictus Gaming’s Zhou proved it by having a successful record with this hero. Is it the kind of hero that we are going to see more often in the future along with Juggernaut?
Of course more heroes will be added to the competitive scene; every hero has its special features and functions, key point is how the teams develop their strategies.
A lot of heroes have not been used at The International and not a lot of new strategies were used. What do you think Valve should do to make certain heroes more efficient in competitive matches?
I think we need to give the players more time to develop strategies. For example Darer uses a range of different heroes; if they become more proficient, I think other teams will learn from them.
As you may know, Chinese teams are the only ones who can make a living from playing Dota 2. Nevertheless, Valve are doing their very best to find ways to support teams financially by having the community purchase pennants and whatnot. Do you think that in the future, players and the teams outside of China will be able to play the game full-time thanks to this method?
I think this method definitely helps a bit, but to play full-time mainly needs support from tournaments with higher prize pools and bigger sponsors. More exposure of the players will help to attract sponsors.
The game is unfortunately not free-to-play yet, and it is Valve’s competitors, RIOT, that benefit from it. Considering that League of Legends gains in popularity in China, do you think that the Chinese will favor League of Legends over Dota 2 if Valve tarry too much?
I think if Valve tarry too much, some new players will favor toward League of Legends, since game choices depend on social circles more than the games’ quality. However experienced gamers will probably support Dota 2.
Some StarCraft II and League of Legends teams appropriated the services of a coach in order to improve their results. However, most of the Dota 2 teams do not have a coach. What do you think are the reasons and would a coach actually be efficient?
I think teams should not hire a coach, because DotA is particular about strategies and execution of the game; and teamwork between the players is also important. Every great player should have his independent decisions and superb communication with teammates instead of relying on someone outside of the game.
I have a couple of questions about your personal life. You are only 21-years-old and yet, you are a full-time pro-gamer. Did you manage to finish your studies before turning pro-gamer? What are you studying?
I am still in college, but I think I will have a harder time to finish my studies compared to my classmates.
Parents are usually reticent to see their little kids playing video games instead of having a “real” job. What do your parents think about your gaming career? Was it hard for them at some point to understand your choice?
My parents were very against of me becoming a pro-gamer. They were afraid that I would give up on my studies or break down under the pressure. They now respect my decisions; participating in tournaments brings me a sizeable income and doesn’t interfere with my normal life. I have enough time to exercise, travel, read, and make friends.
Some players release educational videos and are paid to do it. Do you have in mind to follow the steps of Wu “2009” Sheng or Zou “820” Yitian once you retire?
I have no interest in becoming a caster. I love being a pro-gamer; I love this game solely because of the excitement. The satisfaction after winning and regret after losing are all worthy of remembrance.
Speaking of retirement, is this something that you often think about?
I haven’t thought about it yet. All I want right now is to focus on competitions; I will think about it after becoming the world champion.
Thank you very much for your time and is there something you would like to say to your fans? Any word for the female community?
Very grateful to the fans for your support. Because of you, I have someone to share the joy with after winning; and you comfort me after losing. Also thanks to It’s Gosu for the interview, as well as all the readers who want to get to know me. (smiley face)