Our special reporter Taras Bortnik had the chance to talk to Team Liquid’s coach William “Blitz” Lee, ahead of the OMEGA League, and besides the usual questions about how the team is preparing for this event and how they handled the transition to online tournaments, Blitz was open to talking about a lot of other major topics about his career.
The interview covers his transition from coach to caster and back to the coaching seat, his time with Digital Chaos and the sudden ending of that team, his return to Team Liquid and what makes the current roster so special that he felt it was worth putting the microphone aside. We also talked about how not having The International for the first time affects his morale, but also the rivalry developing between Team Liquid- Nigma and Team Secret.
Hi Blitz, I know everyone is busy preparing for the OMEGA League so, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. How are you doing besides the daily training, how are you dealing with the lockdown?
It’s pretty bad, but I would imagine that my situation is easier than most people’s. I still have a full-time job and everything, so it’s hard to complain too much because my life is still pretty good. Dota is still happening, we are still playing all the time, so I would say I am lucky at the most. I would say it’s rough, but not any worse than anybody has it during these times.
I saw you posting on Twitter that you just had your first gym session in a while. How was it?
It was hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done in a while. I felt like I was dying, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but it was pretty necessary. You just kind of have to go and force yourself, even if you don’t want to. And trust me, near the end I did not want to.
Did you try to keep up by training from home or anything like that?
No, I didn’t at all.
Let’s talk about Dota a bit and go back to your early coaching days. You started to coach Team Liquid in 2016, then you moved to Digital Chaos the same year, you stayed with different roster iterations of that team, and then you took a break from doing this. Why did you do that?
We had a lot of issues with Digital Chaos, with the organization. I was under an NDA for two years, but now I’m not anymore so I can talk about it. We had this guy, Tom, who essentially scammed us. He was our previous owner. He didn’t actually have any money, but we were of course, under the impression that this was a rich guy.
When I joined from Liquid, he said he has all this money and that he can take care of us and that he would pay me this much. I was very excited to jump into this project, but then, halfway through the season, we had to leave, we left before the Kiev Major and we became Thunderbirds.
The reason for that was because the guy just did not have the money, he was not paying the players, he was not paying me and so we had to find a new sponsor. Then, that sponsor dropped out at the last second and suddenly it was just all a lot of things to deal with on top of the coaching, and so I felt like I had no time to do anything except deal with that. The experience was so bad that I just didn’t really want to do anything again. It was just too much of a headache trying to deal with all these things at once.
Did you have any other opportunities to join other teams as a coach after that?
Yeah, I had a few, but again I felt like it was such a bad time. I was like “this is terrible, why would I ever do this to myself again?”
Then this question is even more important. Why did you choose to return to coaching at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season?
It’s actually pretty funny. Because a lot of players don’t really do the negotiating part with the organizations, I helped the guys to find the org, Team Liquid. I put them in touch with each other after looking around for a bit and as a thank you, Team Liquid decided to fly me out to their first bootcamp just to make sure everything went ok. I was there for any reason other than to relax. The bootcamp was in Malta and I was like, “oh well, I will sit by the beach, I will go gamble, have a good time, I will relax, enjoy my vacation.” But then, their first few days weren’t going super well and I was watching some games and hanging out with them. We talked about the games and it went pretty well for them after that. So, after two days, iNSaNiA asked me if I want to officially coach them.
At first, I was like, no way, sorry, but I’m not doing this again. After that conversation with him, I had qojqva asking me the same thing like nine times and I kept saying no. But they just kept asking over and over again until I said ok, let’s do this.
picture courtesy of Team Liquid
So, you are taking an important role in the team, and because it wasn’t exactly what you actually wanted, it wasn’t your main decision to be their coach, weren’t you a bit afraid to do it? Did you have any hesitations when you actually started to work with them?
Yes, a ton! I think I was worried because I really don’t love to travel, but I had to do it for casting anyway, so it’s part of the job. But you have to travel so much more as a coach. Besides going to the tournaments you also have a lot of bootcamps and all in all, being a coach means to live in a stressful environment. Competition is always very stressful, but I also know that I love competition so I had mixed feelings about the whole thing.
In the end, I would say I was more excited than worried about anything. I really like the guys and that was the main reason for which I decided to join them. Everybody on the team, every single player seems so nice that I could just instantly kind of see it working out.
But, being nice is not a profession. You have to also believe in that roster potential and I’m mentioning this because after TI9 some saw the team as stagnating, struggling to actually be a true tier one contender.
What I really like about this team is that everyone is really open to listening and if I’m honest, I don’t think that my job is really hard because these guys have not played Dota for very long. They only played the game for like 3-4 years and some of the professionals that they are competing against have played Dota for at least twice that time.
Kuro has been playing for what it feels like 20 years if you take into account DotA and Dota 2. So these guys just need to get over that curve, but the skill is definitely there, it’s just a lot of things that they don’t quite understand about Dota 2 yet. However, they improve so fast because they are so willing to listen that I felt it is worth my time.
It’s almost a year since you’ve been with them. What would you say it’s your biggest contribution so far?
Perhaps bringing a little bit of discipline. I want to stress this: I don’t have to do a lot on this team. These guys are all really talented, they think about the game themselves. Boxi and iNSaNiA are both really, really intelligent players and so my job is super easy. A lot of the time I just can chill and let things happen and just poke and prod them in the right directions and it really doesn’t take much. Anybody could coach these guys just because they are so honest and open and really good guys to work with.
They are very professional. You tell them that they need to play more, they will play more. You tell them that they are kind of wrong with something, or a little bit stubborn about something, they will change it. If they don’t show up on time and you talk to them about it, it won’t happen again. All these things make the coaching job so easy. Any coach would want to work with these guys.
The results this season are somewhat inconsistent. Up until May this year, you guys placed sometimes bottom four, sometimes top 6. However, over the past couple of months, Liquid has always been top 4. What triggered this surge in performance?
I will start by saying that for better or worse, we can’t take every single thing seriously. A lot of the times we tried to experiment with our team. We wanted to see how people respond to certain things, we tried to change who leads the games so that for the really important matches we are a good team. I know that it sounds like a bad excuse and if you are a fan and you’ve bet on us you must be very frustrated, but it is what it is. A lot of these, what I would consider lower tier tournaments, we are using them to try to see what it could be better for our team and so we might say ok, this time around we are going to have Boxi trying to lead a bit more, we want qojqva to be more involved, etc. We try to have things mixed up so by the time we get to an important event, like let’s say a Major, we know exactly what worked for us and what did not.
We signed up for any tournament regardless if we were or not ready, just for practice. Sometimes, like for the ONE Esports Singapore event, we didn’t practice at all. We just decided to take a chill, relax, enjoy Singapore a little bit, and then for the Major we were like, ok we need to perform there. We got top 6 at DreamLeague Leipzig, we lost a really close series to Alliance, but I think that every time we need to show up, we do it, every time we need to step up, we do it.
I wasn’t there for the guys at ESL One Los Angeles Online, but then, once they had a little bit of discipline and stuff, we immediately got to top 3 and then we had to play Gamers Without Borders which we should have taken more seriously. After that, we had Dota PIT where we got second and after that, we got another top 6, but I kind of felt bad for that top 6 because iNSaNiA had something come up and we didn’t really get to play the series properly. Right after that, we got fourth in BLAST Bounty Hunt and then we got third in a very stacked BEYOND Epic.
If we look at the last four tournaments or so, where we only really lost to Nigma and to Team Secret, so I would say that we are pretty consistent now. I would say that we are the third or fourth-best team in Europe right now.
It’s exactly what I meant because inconsistency is something that a lot of Dota 2 teams have to deal with and you guys seem to be one of the few who overcame this issue. Would you say that because your guys are somewhat fresh from that online grinding, them being in the Dota 2 scene as you said for just 3-4 years, they perform better though these online tournaments?
Oh, for sure. I think we actually joked about it when I first joined them. Back then, they told me, “we are onliners” and they were saying that because they never qualified for LANs so they had to play a lot of these online qualifiers and smaller tournaments just to get the practice and get better. So, they are definitely comfortable playing online. however, we work a lot better when we are in a bootcamp. We are a team that needs to bootcamp although we can get by just fine in an online situation.
I think that we are still a fairly new team and that there are things that we need to get better at. We are still growing and I think we still have a lot to offer.
Have you ever considered changing something with the roster to get a sudden boost in results?
No. What I really like about our team is that we are pretty loyal to each other. I think a lot of us had opportunities to do something else, but I remember I was talking to MiKe once and he was telling me “I love playing with these guys and I wish to play with them for as long as I want because I just have fun”.
Of course, this is a job, but at the end of the day you have to enjoy your co-workers and I think the reason you haven’t seen these guys making any roster change in four years is because they enjoy each other so much.
I remember when qojqva had to take a medical leave and he couldn’t play with the team in an ESL event. So, they had to use a stand-in and even though the stand-in they said it was very nice to play with, it also made them realize how much they missed playing with Max.
What you forget is that all these people bring something unique to the table and I’ve seen so many times situations where a team regrets a roster change right after they make it. Maybe they are a good team but for whatever reason, they kick someone, they pick up somebody new, maybe he is individually better, but you forgot what the other guy brought to the table. Maybe his personality was a little bit easier to work with, maybe his sense of humour defused some situations, maybe his work ethic was what drove the team and stuff like that.
So, that’s why I would say that everybody on our team plays such an important part and I feel like it’s a really delicate ecosystem. I see sometimes a lot of people flaming qojqva, but what people don’t know is that he is one of the hardest working players out there. This dude, you force him to take a break, a day off, you tell him to relax, but the next thing you’re going to see is him waking up at 8 AM the next day grinding in pubs.
picture credits: Beyond the Summit
Because of that, you can’t just sit next to that guy and not work your ass off, because it’s embarrassing. You see this guy training 10 to 12 hours a day, he lives a very good life, he always shows up on time and he is very consistent and if we kick him, we lose all that. If we kick Boxi, we lose our secondary captain, somebody who is very highly individually skilled. if we kick Taiga we would lose someone that’s so clutch. Without him, we would not have beaten VP at Leipzig Major. If we kick Taiga we lose someone with a great attitude, someone with who is very easy to talk with. We always talk shit to him, we flame him and he tanks it. You lose someone like that, the dynamic of your team just completely shifts. All of these guys are so important to the team, I would never change anything.
I know that from outside you are like oh, but you have to kick somebody to get better, but how many times have we seen that? Remember Secret when they kicked Misery and w33? They thought they would get so much better with Universe and Arteezy. Of course, these guys are so good individually, but there are these subtle things that you don’t realise that w33 and Misery brought to the table until you kick them. So, I don’t want to have to look back and say why did we kick this guy?
Right now, the big raid boss for both CIS and Europe regions is Team Secret. But Liquid managed to take them down twice, so can I ask you what’s the “secret” behind your victories against them?
I’d say that our team is probably very unique, unlike most teams, when it comes to drafting and playstyle. So it’s probably a little more difficult to prepare for us. I also think that Secret wants as normal of a game as possible and they thrive under those circumstances. Their team is so individually skilled and it’s built so robustly, they are a super good team, they don’t have a lot of holes, while our team is at times kind of crazy and chaotic and probably that brings up the worst in Secret.
This season Nigma is the team that defeated you the most. What is that something that they do better than Liquid or what is that something that prevents you from winning against them?
I think their drafting is very stable. They also probably have a very good read on us, and If I’m honest, they probably want to beat us very bad, because they are the old Liquid team, right?
Would you say it’s a rivalry between you two because of that?
Probably. I think they always try really hard when they get to play against us. But they are also a very, very good team. Hopefully, we will start to figure them out as well and we will make it a little bit more even.
So, what’s the key to beat Nigma?
Probably you have to be very good at researching.
What do you think about the hero changes in the 7.27 patch?
It’s really interesting because every single time I think about a patch I’m like “God, I hate this patch.” There’s never a perfect patch, there’s always something that turns out to be very annoying. Right now is Spectre. I hear the Haunt noise in my head and I go insane. but other than that, I actually think this patch is ok, it’s probably very core, carry heavy. In the past, even five years ago, it was mid all the time, if you won the mid lane, you won the game. We previously had the position 4 that was broken, now we have a carry patch and that’s ok.
What do you think about Vennomancer or Doom? They seem to be always present, they became either first ban or first pick material.
Yeah, Venom is pretty obnoxious, really annoying. I don’t know how else to put it. He is very versatile, you put him in a lot of roles. He is just annoying no matter what. Nobody really likes playing against Venomancer and he is a pretty good anti-carry too because of his item build and stuff like that. The hero is just annoying to play against. no one is having a good time playing against Venomancer. Doom is pretty good, I have to see it, I’m not sure. I think you still work around Doom.
The drafting phase has also changed in the 7.27 patch. How has the ban change from 4-1-1 to 2-3-2 affected the gameplay?
It’s actually pretty interesting. It’s kind of wonky right now, it’s hard for me to say. I would say it’s become harder to get cheesed right now, so a lot of teams will probably enjoy playing against us because we are the Broodmother team.
One thing that the entire community is missing badly this year is The international. I can only imagine that for the pro players not having a TI is even harder than for the fans. How has this situation affected your motivation?
It’s so sad to not have it this year because TI has always been this huge opportunity and missing just one is such a big swing, but it is what it is. Life goes on, you have to handle it. It’s not the end of the world, we are still getting paid to play Dota 2, we still have a good life. Not having it this year, it gave me a little bit more appreciation of TI because you don’t really know what you had until it’s gone. I definitely miss TI this year. I just miss the atmosphere because there’s nothing quite like it. TI is this kind of crazy, exciting thing that no one can really understand, they just know that there is a lot of money in play, but the environment and how hyped it is, how stressful it is and all that, I really wish it would come back.
Let’s talk a bit about OMEGA League and first of all let me ask you what do you think about your group (Secret, OG, NiP, Vikin.gg, FlyToMoon)?
It feels like every single tournament we are with Secret in the group and for some reason, we always play them first. That’s some crazy coincidence, they are always our first opponent. I think it was like that for the last three tournaments now.
At the end of our interview, I have a round of blitz questions for Blitz
Sure, fire them out.
Money or love?
Love, I guess. My girlfriend will kill me if I answer differently.
Can Cola or glass bottle Cola?
Probably glass bottle.
Korean or Thai food?
I’m Korean, so Korean food.
TI is tomorrow, where the Aegis will go East or West?
Definitely West, it’s going to us.
Top 3 most promising players in Dota 2 right now.
There is this guy in China right now, he is playing carry for Sparking Arrow Gaming, God King, I’m a big fan of that guy. Does MiKe still count? And the third one should be gpk.
You can delete a hero from Dota 2, which one do you go for?
I would delete Naga Siren. I think Naga is a very boring hero, you get some illusions, you split them, what a gameplay!
Caster or coach?
That’s a really hard one to answer. I guess I’ll say coach right now but I really do miss casting. Capitalist is one of my best friends, he is one of the best people that I’ve ever known, so it’s hard for me to say, coach. But, my team is like seven people and he is one so, I guess he is outnumbered and I will say coach.
Thanks a lot for this interview, I appreciate your time and I wish you and the boys the best of luck at OMEGA League.