Sean “Swim” Huguenard started off his career with Gwent, transitioned to Artifact and now plays Dota Underlords for Evil Geniuses. Not only is he a really entertaining streamer, but he is also an amazing person to interview. In this interview, we went over the new Dota Underlords patch, the jail system, what needs to change with the underlords and the future of the game as an esport.
Hello Swim! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s just jump into it – a new, big Dota Underlords patch was just released and changed the game quite a bit. What are your thoughts on it?
Swim: The new patch is very ambitious. I like the larger ideas implemented into it. A good example is the jail system, I personally love the idea of jail. I was very firm about that before the patch and I’m very firm about it after the patch as well, but I think the implementation was in need of a tweak, which Valve have done. They have made it better, tweaked the algorithm a bit and I believe they will continue doing it to a point where everyone is happy.
I was going to ask a bit down the line what your favorite part of the patch is, but going on what you just said, I’m guessing jail is your favorite new addition?
Swim: I would say my single favorite part of the new patch was the duos system. Being able to play with friends is really fun. I also like the large steps the patch takes, but a few things just need tweaks along the way. The underlords themselves, I’d say were a bit underwhelming in the way they were developed and designed. I think tweaks need to happen to them as well.
What exactly didn’t you like about the underlords? Personally, I thought they weren’t too bad. You have Hobgen who’s aggressive and Anessix who’s a bit more defensive. What were you expecting and what would you change?
Swim: I don’t think they contribute to what I consider divergent game design. You’re often going to end up picking the underlord which has a slightly higher power level. I would have liked them to be a bit more diverse, basically. At the end of the, there aren’t really situations where you want one or the other, and I’m seeing that! If you look at the last few weeks since the patch was released, at first Anessix was just the better one so everyone was playing her. Then in the next patch, they nerfed her and buffed Hobgen so a majority of the players started using Hobgen. Then they nerfed Hobgen again, so everyone is now playing Anessix. The problem is, when they are not divergent and you can’t capitalize on the situation, no matter how balanced they are, there is always going to be one which you want to pick more over the other. If the underlords were characters which you picked, suppose, at round 10 instead of at the start of the game and their abilities and traits were designed to be more situational, it would make the game a lot better. For example, Anessix doesn’t have the demon that does the DPS and she’s all about just healing and Hobgen is more set on being the aggressive underlord, then depending on the build that you’ve gone for (in the first 10 rounds), you’re more likely to pick one or the other instead of sticking with just one underlord. This creates a lot more divergent scenarios in the game, where the game can go in either direction based on the underlord you pick.
Swim, it’s like you read my mind! I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago and I said the exact same thing. You don’t really know what strat you will be going for when you start the game, so it’s not the best thing to have the underlord selected from the start. It would be better to pick the underlord about 10 rounds into the game, so I completely agree with what you say…
Swim: That’s exactly right! I have a background in game design and I’ve thought about this a lot, and I do think that one of the things that Underlords needs to realize and recognize is that the core philosophy of Underlords as a draft based game should basically be that you want to balance probability or random occurrence with player decision. You have a little bit of randomness happen at the start of the game and you have decisions based off of that randomness: This is what has happened so far, and I have to make my decisions based on this. Your decisions are also based on what you think will happen in the future. The whole point of the complexity is, you as a decision making machine, are caught in the middle. There is probability in the past and the future that you have to both, react to (from the past) and think about or predict (from the future). That’s where the complexity is supposed to be derived from. The idea of making that decision before the game starts (underlord selection), is not the best. You could just do a quick Google search about which is the best underlord right now and pick him/her.
I completely agree with you here. But is adding more complexity to the game the best idea? Valve tried that a few months ago, and it didn’t really turn out too well. I’m talking about Artifact, of course. Don’t you think making it a bit more complex wouldn’t be in their best interests with the possibility of losing their player base?
Swim: That comes down to the type of complexity you have in the game. There are complex games which are successful as well as simple games which are not. At the end of the day, it isn’t about how complex the game is and is more about the type of complexity. There is a distinction between complex and complicated. The idea is you want something elegant that has fairly simple rules that lead to a complex outcome rather than it being something complicated that has a lot of rules and leads to a complex outcome. Complicated is something you have to learn a lot about, and is muddled, and that’s what game developers want to avoid.
I get what you’re saying. We have two underlords which have been released. Going by the images at the start of the game, there are two more coming, so we’ll probably end up with four underlords. What are your thoughts on that number?
Swim: Four is a fine number. It’s a lot better than two, in this case. It depends on how Valve decide on tweaking them. It means you can’t pick them at the beginning. I do think it is important to have some element of randomness. They could even have more underlords. Hearthstone Battlegrounds, which is pretty popular right now, has 24 different characters. What they do is allow you to pick three at the start, which is something you can do if you have a large number of characters. I do think for Dota Underlords, four is a fine number.
Anything specific you’d like to see in those new underlords?
Swim: Again, a level of divergent gameplay. Something that forces variation of choice. I’d like the four underlords to be as different as possible and not generalized. Right now, I would say each underlord is such that they can do anything. Both underlords can be played in a lot of different ways, in different roles. You can play Anessix as a healer or a DPS underlord based on her talent tree. You can even use her to break things. I would say each of the two underlords now can be played in three distinct ways and I don’t like that. I would rather have that to be one or two ways – like for Anessix, let’s say one way is the healer and the talent trees have ways to heal differently. The other could be DPS and all the talents will go towards DPS. That will force you to pick the one you want and the talents on top of that will add a lot of options.
The Underlords team recently made a change to the jail system from what it was when the new update was released. With the new system, certain alliances are completely taken out for a day. I’m not sure I like that a lot. What are your thoughts?
Swim: I think it’s actually a step in the right direction. In the old system, it was a bit too even. With the new system, when a few alliances are taken out for the day, it creates a lot more variance from day to day. Some alliances have to be sacrificed to have that. When you just take a little bit from all alliances, some alliances are just going to get more hurt than others, no matter what. The point of jail is that it makes the game different every day, and that job can’t be done effectively if certain alliances are not made weaker.
But then you have alliances like Hunters and Assassins, who are never really punished because of how many of them there are in the game, whereas an alliance like Knights, you take out one and it’s a bad alliance…
Swim: I absolutely agree with that, but the new jail system should be better for an alliance like Knights. With the old system, it would never take two knights out of the seven, but it would always (lot of days) take out one knight. In the new system, there will be days when two Knights are banned and those will be the days when Knights will suck. But then there will also be more days when all seven Knights are available…
And you need all seven to be available to be have a good success rate with the strat…
Swim: Exactly! If just one Knight is banned, you may think you can still play Knights with the remaining six, but it really hurts the timing of a lot of things. You can’t get six without Sven, and then you have to run Sven…
I was going to ask you about Sven – what do you think of that hero? I really don’t like him. He just takes away the best thing about Knights – the damage mitigation!
Swim: When Valve released the details of Sven before the patch, we had a segment about it on the podcast with Sunsfan and I said that even though his ability isn’t great, he’s a Knight who also forms a human Alliance (with Omniknight) and gets the Scaled Alliance with Viper and there’s no way he will be bad. But Sven’s ability is actually the worst thing ever! You’re right, that hero is just super underwhelming…
He is, and the Underlords team really needs to change that, because like we discussed, there are just seven Knights and you need all of them to be good! I hope that change comes soon enough. Let’s talk about Dota Underlords as an esport – do you think there is a good future for this game on the horizon?
Swim: These days, I am a bit worried. I want the game to do well. There was one big tournament that happened three months ago, the WePlay Dota Underlords tournament which was played on the new patch that was released back then. I loved that update – it introduced a free reroll for round losers. There was a lot of complexity there; I liked a lot of the balance changes they did in that update as well. Something about the last update feels like it will be difficult for Valve to correct the minor things here. The thing to understand about game design is it’s always one step backwards and two steps forwards. It’s seeming a little awkward right now, to be perfectly honest. I really hope the game can get it together…
So do I. And it’s probably a bit more difficult for Underlords with Team Fight Tactics (TFT) drawing a lot of attention to it, right?
Swim: I don’t think TFT is sustainable. A lot of people talk about TFT as a competitor to Underlords. Underlords is a standalone game while Team Fight Tactics isn’t. I don’t dislike TFT, I do like it. I’m not even saying it is worse than Underlords, but in the long term, I don’t think Riot Games cares too much about TFT. It doesn’t have its own client, it doesn’t have different game modes whereas Underlords is its own project.
But even Underlords started as a custom game – Dota Autochess. And when Valve saw it was doing well, they made it a standalone game. Don’t you think Riot will do the same with TFT when they see it doing well?
Swim: Maybe. I don’t know too much about TFT or the plans on it. Part of the reason I feel Underlords has a lot of potential is because of all the new modes and the features. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
I hope in a few months we’ll be talking about a big Underlords tournament where you’ll be competing…
Swim: I hope so!
I’ve always wondered, how you’ve gotten your in-game name, Swim. What’s the story behind that?
Swim: It’s an acronym, and I’m sure some of the people reading this might know. It (SWIM) stands for (S)omeone (W)ho (I)sn’t (M)e. It’s usually used in the context like “I know a guy who…”, when you actually mean it for yourself.
I just thought you were into swimming!
Swim: No, I actually I barely know how to swim. I just know to do the doggie paddle.
Any shoutouts before we go?
Swim: That’s a question I’ve always been bad at! Big shoutout to Evil Geniuses. They’re very supportive.
Thank you so much for your time Swim!