The International 2017 is on its way, and with it comes the world’s largest esports prize pool, currently sitting at more than US$20 million with over a month to go. And, of course, everyone wants a share. We caught up with Ryan “Chidowi” Lancaster about White Rabbit Gaming’s attempt to claim a slice of that very, very juicy pie.
With WRG’s current local dominance, if any South African team was going to make it to the Main Event it was them. Their route would have taken them through one of the two Europe Open Qualifiers, both of which started with 1024 teams. The winners from each of the two Open Qualifiers would then go through to the 10-team Main Qualifiers to fight for only two spots at the TI7 Main Event. Definitely not an easy road to travel.
Sadly, WRG’s progress was halted in the round of 64 in the first qualifier, and the round of 32 in the second qualifier, bringing their TI dream crashing down. But Chidowi and the team are managing to take the positives out of the experience.
“All in all I think it went okay. We can’t say any of us are happy about the results, but it’s not the end of the world. The second team we lost to, Planet Dog or whatever their name was, won the whole qualifier and are going to TI. So I guess they are pretty good at this game.
I do feel like we could have done a lot better. Top 32 is not where we should end, I think we could make it to top eight if we put in enough practice and effort (and some kind seeding :P).”
Starting at the bottom with 1023 other teams is by no means an easy task, and the WRG lads deserve a high five, a beer and a couple Arcanas for their time, to say the least. In such a large playing field, you can never be too sure about the quality of team you’re going to face, but that didn’t phase the guys much – until the later rounds.
“The games we won were all pretty one-sided versus lower ranked teams. And the ones we lost were pretty one-sided as well. In all honesty I don’t think we learnt much from the games. We just made some very basic errors which we have already addressed and improved on.
I would love to just put it on the ping or something like that, but it was mainly just a lack of practice. Our team took a bit of a break after Mega8 and Starladder Pro League to relax, focus on exams a bit and just be refreshed. So we went into these qualifiers with close to zero practice beforehand.”
So, all you TI hopefuls out there looking to get your hands on some of that sweet Volvo dollar, don’t go skimping on your practice. But practice isn’t beneficial if it’s not against the best of the best. And, given our physical distance from the massive European scene, finding top-quality opposition to play against could be a challenge for some, but not for the WRG boys.
“I don’t think finding teams to practice against is an issue at all. We have always looked to the European region for scrims, and we have made our way into some very high-level scrim groups by working our way up and getting noticed, so we have played against 7k+ MMR teams quite often before.
The manager of Doni’s team, Clavis Aurea, also recently set up another scrim group on Discord, arranged into different tiers. Some of the other South African teams have joined in already, which is a step in the right direction.”
More on Doni’s team in a bit (Spoiler alert: they knocked out our local stars in the round of 64 in the first Open Qualifier). But first, let’s bring it back to the issue of latency.
A touchy subject for many SA gamers, our 200ms handicap could be used as an excuse for many losses on EU servers. But Chidowi knows there are other things that need work first before they start blaming latency for their losses.
“It’s not that I don’t think it’s a big factor. It’s massive. It’s one of the reasons holding us back.
But in the same breath, we try and focus on the things we can control, and the latency isn’t one of those. Also the fact that Cool Ideas stepped up and helped us out with some good internet helps, going from 220 ping to 180 makes a huge difference to some of us. (GLHF: Probably the smoothest sponsor name drop we’ve ever had on the site. Well played.)
I think the day we can play entire games perfectly and without mistakes, and still lose, then we can start blaming the ping. Until then we try work on the things we can control, our movements, decision making and so forth.”
Another lesson for all the aspiring Tier 1 tournament contenders reading this: Don’t blame your shortcomings on your high ping, rather focus on what you can control and improve.
Right, back to Doni’s team, Clavis Aurea. They knocked out White Rabbit in the round of 64, and made it to the round of 16 before getting knocked out by Elements Pro Gaming themselves.
Unfortunately all of the Open Qualifier games were best of one , meaning there was little room for error, while also limiting teams ability to quickly learn and adapt from their mistakes. But what did Chidowi and his teammates take out of the experience of playing against Doni and his team of internationals?
“It was alright, the game wasn’t really close so it’s hard to analyze it. They ran a set draft that they have done some times before with the Io and we just had no response. Would be interesting if it were to be a bo3, maybe in the future.
On that note, from that game onwards whenever we are playing a good team we just take out Io first phase, haha.”
Yet another lesson for competitive esports hopefuls: Ban Wisp. Or pick Wisp. But do one of them, don’t let the opposition get the glowing ball of irritation.
Doni is known for his quick-witted chirps, so it goes without saying that there were some choice words thrown around before the game started.
“There’s always a bit of banter in the pre-game chat, we all had a laugh and it’s in good spirit. I remember asking them how many games were left for the day or something like that and they said we don’t need to care this is our last one. Had a good laugh. They weren’t wrong though.”
Well Doni seems to have found a good team fit over in Europe, in terms of wit at least.
With the Open Qualifiers concluded and the final teams attending The International confirmed, the White Rabbit Gaming guys will have to wait another year before they get the chance to try again. Thankfully, they don’t plan on just sitting around.
“I know we will continue to try improve, both individually and as a team. We have a lot of weak points that we need to work on, weak points that only the top teams exploit as much. Once that is sorted out, we try again. Whether it’s possible or not from down here doesn’t matter to us, we will keep trying until it becomes a reality.
We need to start winning. Winning is the easiest way to get recognised by others. Winning in anything basically, not necessarily the tournament itself, but just beating certain teams we should be beating.
More consistently beating the higher skilled teams will make it easier to place higher/qualify. We took part in the Starladder Pro League right after the Masters LAN, went undefeated in the open qualifiers and got tied first in the closed qualifiers making it into groups. Which was much further than we ever came before, which was a big deal for us. I’m not entirely sure if there was even a post about this.
We faced some really strong teams in the actual group and got knocked out, we had an especially close game with 4 Protect Five (who placed 7th in the EU Main Qualifiers) where they eventually knocked us out.
But just qualifying for Pro League itself got us into one of the really high-skilled scrim groups. In the future we might enter some ESL cups, and basically any open qualifier there is.”
The European scene is a tad more established than ours, with Tier 1 teams aplenty compared to our burgeoning local heroes. This consistent exposure to the highest level of competitive Dota is certainly an advantage they have over our players, making it harder for our boys and girls to qualify for overseas tournaments like TI. But Chidowi is hopeful.
“It is really hard to say if it’s possible to qualify. Some of those teams are extremely good and have been playing at the highest level for a really long time, with nothing holding them back, but the fact that we still practise and participate means it’s not entirely impossible.
I feel that if it were to happen, South Africa as a whole would get recognised from the outside, and it’s our responsibility to try make that happen. On the other hand, if there were to be a qualifier slot for South Africa, we could truly see how it goes with LAN latency. That is why we are excited and hoping for WESG to announce something again this year.”
There you have it folks. Our best hope for The International fame got pretty close, to be fair. Knocked out by a fellow South African in the one qualifier, and a team known as Planet Dog in the other – who is now part of the world’s greatest esports underdog story.
Planet Dog was literally formed on June 14th, with the sole purpose of qualifying for TI7. Their total winnings as a team today sit at $500. By qualifying for TI7 Main Event, they will receive a guaranteed $100,000, even if they lose all their games.
Now you see why White Rabbit Gaming and Chidowi were so keen to get involved. Heck, we’re keen get involved. Anyone want to be our position 1, 2 ,3, 4 and 5. And split the winnings eight ways? Anyone?