In today’s interview, It’s Gosu has the pleasure to sit down with one of the most popular, respected and influent players the Dota history has ever known. Despite retiring in the summer of 2010, Ben ‘Merlini’ Wu left his mark in Dota as his play with Zeus and Silencer earned him the title of “God” from the community.
However, in April 2012, Merlini played official matches in Valve’s masterpiece. What has he been up to the last few months? Will he make a comeback to the competitive scene? What are his thoughts about Dota 2? All these questions will be answered in this interview.
Hello Merlini. Thank you for giving It’sGosu the opportunity to interview you as well as giving the community the chance to know more about the legend behind the nickname Merlini. You retired from competitive Dota in the summer of 2010 and you have been really discreet in Dota 2. Could you please introduce yourself for those who have started playing the game just recently?
Hi, I’m Ben Wu, better known as Merlini to the Dota community. I started playing competitive Dota in 2006. My first major victory came at Dreamhack Summer 2007 with MYM and I have been on several other teams since, including EG and Nirvana.int.
We can convincingly affirm that your Dota career truly started in MeetYourMakers. How did you end up joining this team and who were the members representing it at that time?
I played mostly in American in-house leagues, but after several months I made the leap to play in the well-known European IHCS league. Back then, Americans did not play in European leagues – it was unheard of at the time, because there was no solution to ping/server issues (this was before hosting bots, and of course before client-side hosting).
My first game was an impressive 0-11 Shadow Fiend, but after that I quickly acclimated to the delay and the difference in playstyle. I started playing a lot with the original MYM crew: Maelk, Mania, Levent and Hanni. Loda was their intended fifth at the time, but he preferred playing with the Swedes. They officially asked me to join Meet Your Makers in December of 2006, and I played there for three years, until 2009.
With this roster, you won the most important Dota event, DreamHack. What souvenirs do you have from this event and would you say that this victory is the most significant in your Dota career?
Throughout my Dota career, my teams have always had good performance. But, I’m most proud of our victory in Dreamhack of 2007 because of the way in which we won. I think the current Dota community is very familiar now with odd-jungling heroes in competitive play (such as Puppey’s Storm or Pudge), but back then, experimentation was not very prominent.
When bottle was invented as an item, my imagination took off and I tried jungling every hero possible: Abaddon, Kroebelus… You name it, I’ve tried it. I used to play as a competitive Warcraft Ladder player, so I’ve always been interested in the Warcraft mechanics (like armor and damage types, etc). The hero that I saw with the most potential was Beastmaster – and we incorporated my strategy of jungling him when we won Dreamhack.
It was something that was really unknown and unexpected, to have a Beastmaster completely off the map—coming out of the jungle a couple minutes later with Roar and full level axes! I received a gold trophy for our victory, but I had to pass it along to my teammates, since it was far too large to fit into my suitcases.
Unfortunately, despite showing solid results, you decided to leave the Danish organization. What were the reasons behind your departure?
The company behind MYM went bankrupt in early 2009. The Danish players wanted to find a Danish sponsor quickly so that they could attend the summer Dreamhack tournament, but after talking with the sponsors it was clear that they would not send an American player. We decided to part ways on good terms and I’m friends with some of the old MYM players to this day.
You then joined a few teams such as Evil Geniuses, Blight.Int, Ravens and Nirvana.Int. You have had some success but you never managed to emulate the same results that you had with MeetYourMakers. What do you think were the reasons for your lack of results despite playing along with fantastic players?
I would attribute much of the lack of success to flaky or unprofessional sponsors (namely with Blight & Nirvana). We spent a lot of the time worrying about logistics of how we were going to get to a tournament or when we were going to get our salaries instead of concentrating on practicing and being the best. I think that another factor is immaturity. Some of my new teammates were acting like little children and caused unnecessary drama and team strife.
In your farewell blog that you wrote on MYM, you evoked your deception about not attending DreamHack 2009 due to the lack of money in Dota. However, within two years, the game has evolved a lot and thus, players and teams enjoy the game more than ever. Can this motivate you to make a comeback to competitive Dota and accomplish things that you could not do a couple of years ago?
The increased popularity of the game and strong support by sponsors/developers has fostered a much better environment for competitive Dota players. This, along with a few other reasons, has renewed my interest in competitive Dota.
During your Dota career, you have played along with the best players from North America and Europe. There is a player in particular that marked you the most, Clement ‘Puppey’ Ivanov. What are your thoughts about the captain of one of the best teams in the world?
A few years ago, I stated that he was the best captain that I’ve played with, and I still think that he is one of the best captains in the world as shown by his teams’ spectacular results. He is a great player that knows exactly what needs to be done to win a game, whether it be drafting, being in the right place at the right time, or split-second decision making, his play is top-notch.
If you had to make your best all-time line-up with players you played with, who would you pick and why?
Puppey, Mania, Pusher, and Levent. Mania and Pusher are some of my most-treasured Dota friends. In addition to being great players, they’re great people. Puppey is, as I mentioned, one of the best captains in the world, and he is also drama-free.
As previously mentioned, Dota has evolved a lot, not only financially but also in popularity as China has a lot of talented teams. What are your thoughts about the current Dota competitive scene?
I’m glad to see that esports and Dota in particular has evolved to the state it’s in today. I think a tremendous part of it has to do with companies and sponsors making esports more spectator friendly. Valve has done a great job with their engine design in making it quick and easy to view any game and replay that you like. Such simple issues such as reconnecting and rewinding in replays plague us no more, and the booming popularity of streaming has made watching games as easy as watching television. It is nice to see that companies are investing tons of money into the competitive Dota scene (namely Valve) and it bodes well for the future.
Since the summer of 2011, people have been paying a particular attention to Valve’s new game, Dota 2. What do you think about this game as a whole?
I have been playing Dota 2 off and on since its early beta phase, and I think that Valve has done an excellent job of recreating the game engine and preserving the exciting gameplay of Dota 1 without adding unnecessary frills. The ‘good’ parts of Dota are still there (Icefrog as developer, core gameplay, same heroes/items) while the ‘bad’ parts have mostly been remedied (reconnection abilities, engine limitations on skills, lack of appropriate matchmaking).
Once again, in your farewell blog, you said the following “When a new Dota map is on the horizon, IceFrog sends out the pre-emptive changelist to a couple of people. I was very honored to have been one of those people. I always enjoyed giving my feedback and suggestions. » Did you help IceFroG with ideas or suggestions for Dota 2?
No, I have not been as active in Dota 2 ideas and suggestions as I was in Dota 1,mostly because I have been inactive in the game. But now that I have returned, I hope to be able to coordinate a little with Icefrog, as he is someone I greatly respect.
A vast majority of heroes from Dota have been implemented to the game the last few months. Are you satisfied with the progress of the game and are there heroes that you would like to see implemented in Dota 2?
After they brought in PA, no other imports necessary! (Smile)
But in all seriousness, enough heroes have already been implemented for me to be satisfied with the size of the hero pool. I feel that there are enough for a wide array of viable strategies and appropriate counters.
You were very popular in Dota for your play with Zeus, Silencer and Tinker. With the exception of Tinker that is played from time to time, the two others arenever played in competitive games. What do you think are the reasons for which teams ignore those heroes?
The efficacy of these heroes has been greatly reduced by a number of things, including the advent of Windrunner, the ubiquity of magic stick, and just the general overall playstyle. Windrunner is simply put, just a much better hero than Zeus. She has a multiple target stun, a long range powerful nuke, a great escape mechanism, and she scales better with items. Her utility and lane presence is just much stronger than a hero who just puts out tons of magic damage. I never felt that Silencer was that strong of a hero to begin with except in certain lineups. He combos well with Enigma and Sand King, but his positioning in teamfights is necessarily awkward because he has to stay far out of the fight to use Global Silence at an opportune time, but he also needs to stay relatively close to damage with Glaives of Wisdom and to apply Last Word.
Zeus became pretty much inefficient since the release of Magic Wand that restores HP and mana depending on the number of charges you have. Knowing this, should IceFroG increase the damage made by Zeus’ spells or nerf Magic Wand in order to make this hero picked again?
I think that buffing Zeus would be the simpler and better solution. Perhaps a range increase to his arc, bolt, and normal attack would be in good order. A big problem with Zeus is that Pipe and Hood severely cripple his damage output, even when Zeus accumulates sufficient items. I think that an item like Spellshards from Heroes of Newerth would be great for a hero like Zeus. Veil is just too clumsy and difficult to use at high level play. And Rod of Atos is just useless.
Zeus is not the only hero suffering a lack of appearances in competitive games. Heroes like Huskar, Bloodseeker, TreantProtoector and many more are also neglected. What should be done to see these heroes in competitive matches?
I think a simple rework of some of the skills would be in good order. Icefrog has already remade many skills on “older” heroes, such as Chaos Knight (Reality Rift), Medusa (Stone Gaze and Mystic Snake), Phantom Assassin (Stifling Dagger), and perhaps a slight buff is all that is needed to push them into the realm of competitive play. I am all for buffs because I’ve always been an advocate of making more heroes competitively viable and I enjoy seeing variety in picks and strategies.
There are a lot of teams playing the game competitively from North America to Europe and Asia. Are there teams that you like or even admire?
I am constantly impressed by team Na`vi’. Their aggressive and calculated playstyle makes for very exciting (albeit short) games. I also like how they used nonstandard heroes in their lineups occasionally (Sunday I watched them use PA vs mouz) and aren’t afraid to experiment outside of the standard 20 or so competitive heroes.
In less than two months, the best teams from all around the world will compete in the most prestigious Dota 2 tournament, The International 2. What do you think about the participating teams and which teams do you think have the most chances to reach the last quarter?
Judging by the Dreamhack 2012 results and from watching recent strams, I believe that Navi has the best chance out of the non-Asian teams. I know almost nothing about the 8 Asian teams, but I’ll be excited to watch them
Even though Dota 2 is already very popular, it does not compete yet with the success of League of Legends. What do you think should be done to catch up with RIOT’s game?
Dota 2 has technically not been released to the general public yet so it’s hard to directly compare the success of the two games. Valve realizes that League of Legends is currently one of the hottest games out there, so they are smart enough to piggyback on some of the more popular aspects of LoL (e.g. free-to-play model) while not alienating casual players (e.g. bought items do not affect gameplay). However, the two games are dissimilar enough that Valve doesn’t need to ‘mimic’ LoL per se – as long as Valve concentrates on a strong, balanced, and spectator-friendly competitive scene, I am sure the game will thrive.
Let’s now focus more about you. You made a small comeback in Dota as you partly represented the Dota 2 section of SK-Gaming. Does this mean that you will try to play the game competitively again?
Yes, we just announced our new team. I can’t really go into sponsorship details, as we have not officially signed contracts yet, but I’m really excited to be playing with our current roster.
Unless I am mistaken, you are now in a team. Could you please introduce each member?
Emily (aka sayuri) is our team captain. She is devoted, knowledgeable, and skilled and without her our team couldn’t function. Her role is supporter/ganker (as most captains are) because she possesses great map and game awareness and makes decisions essential to our victories.
Miggel (aka miggel) is our solo player. He is a versatile and experienced veteran who can play almost any hero. Laid back, easy-going, and humorous, it is near impossible to NOT get along with him.
Hector (aka demise) is our designated farmer / late game impact. Although he is relatively new to the competitive scene, he is an open-minded and growing player who has great potential and is dedicated to improving his game.
Mathias (aka bonzajajaj) is our support player / jungler. He is already known to most players as captain of the now-disbanded team Keita. He moves around the map fluidly and establishes our early game presence. The last pickup to our team, he fit in quite easily because he knows what needs to be done to win the game.
What are your goals with this team?
My goal is the same that it’s always been: to be one of the best teams, and compete at a top level. I’m especially pleased because I’ve found some players on this team that are great to play with.
What role are you going to play?
Solo off-laner, occasional solo mid or safe lane, and even rarer carry.
DreamHack just ended but will you try to qualify for the next DreamHack since you did not manage to travel to Sweden in 2009?
I’m getting to Sweden, one way or another! (Laugh)
Do you currently have a sponsor that could actually help you achieve this goal if you manage to qualify for this event?
We’ve been in sponsor-talks and negotiations for awhile. We have an idea of whom we would ideally like as our sponsor, but nothing has been finalized.
One of the members of the team is Emily ‘Sayuri’ Weiss, a person that you are very fond of. What does she represent to you?
Emily is a great friend to me, and she’s really reignited my interest in competitive Dota. I was pretty rusty and unaware of the scene, when I made the decision to return, and she’s been the one to really help me catch back up to speed.
She has been often criticized by the community for being a girl. What do you think about her as a player?
I think that Emily is a great player, and the fact that she is a girl is irrelevant to my opinion of her as a player. I have been playing Dota with her for over two years now and I’ve seen her grow from a flaming pub stomper to a skilled Dota veteran who knows the intricacies of competitive Dota. She definitely belongs in the competitive scene, and were she a guy she would be performing well on a competitive team without all the negative publicity.
Let’s now talk a bit more about the person behind the nickname Merlini. First of all, how did you come up with this nickname?
I’ve had this alias ever since I started playing PC games, the first major one of which was Everquest I (7th grade for me). I don’t quite remember the origin of the name, but I’ve been using the nick for well over a dozen years now.
You are 23 year-old. Are you still a student or do you have a job?
Previously my plans after undergrad were to attend medical school and become a surgeon, but I put those plans on the backburner and I have a job now. I currently work as a prop trader in Chicago, IL.
Most of parents are worried about their child playing video games. What do yourparents think?
As typical Asian parents, my parents despise anything that gets in the way of academia and schoolwork. Now that I’m out of school, they don’t really mind, but while I was in college they would’ve been extremely upset if they were aware of how much Dota I played.
If Dota 2 continues to grow and that the players are more supported financially, would you consider playing the game full-time or will it just be a hobby?
If the salary and/or prize pools were large enough, I would consider playing the game full-time. Until then, it’s just a hobby that I enjoy.
Besides Dota 2, do you have other activities?
Mostly just other video games – Starcraft II, Diablo 3, Guild Wars 2 (when it comes out).
Thank you very much for the interview, you have the last word.
Special shoutout to Emily for being patient with me and for being a generally awesome person. Shoutout to my other team members Miggel, Hector, and Mathias for being great teammates and reminding me that competitive Dota can be fun! Much thanks to Jo for being the best friend one can ask for. And lastly, my gratitude towards Icefrog for unwavering dedication to the development of Dota and a damn good job at that.