iG.YYF: "Winning TI2 filled us with self-confidence"
The following is an interview conducted by Dimitri "Mali" Vallette for www.178.com. This is the English version.
The Dota scene is packed with talents, but rare are those who made it to the highest level of competition such as Invictus Gaming’s own Jiang “YYF” Cen. The 26-year-old Chinese superstar has not always been a professional Dota player, and used to work in a gas station before receiving a phone call from Wu “2009” Sheng that completely changed his life.
In this lengthy interview, one of the best players on the planet discusses his career in Dota, the incredible current form of his team, the upcoming G-1 Champions League and last but not least, The International 3.
Hello YYF. It's an immense pleasure to welcome you for this interview. First thing's first, please let me start it by congratulating you and the rest of your team for being invited to Valve’s annual event, The International. Whilst this did not come as a surprise, how did the team find out about the invitation? Did the team celebrate or were you just like “Cool, we will play in a tournament we won before, it will be fun”?
We received an invitation letter through the mail notifying us that we received the first invitation spot. We didn’t celebrate much, but rather got into a state of nervous battle preparations.
While I am curious to know more about your thoughts on this year’s International, let’s discuss that topic later in the interview. You are an exceptional player who has numerous achievements under his belt. However, a few years ago, you were just Jiang Cen, a normal Chinese young man working in a gas station until you received THE call from Wu “2009” Sheng. Can you please share with our readers how 2009 discovered you, and how you ended up playing for LGD-Gaming?
I was recruited to play professionally long ago, but I refused the offer. It was until I worked for about one year or so, worked a few jobs, and discovered that the 9-to-5 working hours life didn’t suit me. At that moment, 2009 got in contact with me. At that moment, my greatest hobby was also gaming, so I said yes to 2009 and then joined LGD. I first met 2009 while I was playing VS and then later at CDEC we got to know each other even better, and then he invited me to play.
Before playing DotA, you played several games such as Red Alert, Age of Empires, StarCraft, Warcraft and Counter-Strike. How did playing this game help you with Dota?
It doesn't help that much, but after playing all of these games, I’ve gathered a bit of experience about playing games in general.
You had an amazing time in LGD-Gaming winning several major titles, but you eventually left the team that revealed you to the general public in order to pursue your career in Invictus Gaming. What were the reasons to leave LGD-Gaming, a team you enjoyed great success with? What in Invictus Gaming caught your attention?
At the time, I felt that iG would help me in future development and so I joined. The old LGD had a very immature management structure, and didn’t have anyone in charge of the logistics, but the current LGD handles these aspects very well now.
This move turned out to be the right decision as it is fair to say that you are now playing for the best team in the world. What do you think would have happened if you had stayed in LGD-Gaming?
I think I would be a bit worse off than now. LGD didn’t have anyone to manage, and life was too lax, while iG is a place of "succeed or be eliminated", where not working hard will get you kicked out. I like this kind of environment.
Last year, a new chapter started for your team as you transitioned to Valve’s Dota 2. How did it feel to abandon a game you enjoyed great success in, for a new but yet similar game? What were the main differences between both titles?
At first, I wasn’t very used to it, because the artwork and ability animation were hugely different. Playing Dota2 gives me a feeling as natural as the floating clouds and flowing waters. It is very comfortable.
Despite not having any major competition in China, your team still successfully won the second edition of The International, a competition that made your team USD$1,000,000 richer. Could you please share with our readers your stay in Seattle, United States? Money aside, what made this event different from the other ones you had the chance to compete in?
They did it very professionally. They would send a person to specifically manage a team, and would also help you store your equipment. Before each match they would help you set up, too. All you had to do was to sit down and the games could begin.
The team then participated in the fourth season of the G-1 Champions League where you only managed to take a fourth place finish. This was quite a shocking result considering how well you performed at The International. What actually happened in this tournament?
It’s because there was a version update at the time, and we didn’t do any research on the newly available Magnus, and that’s how we lost.
Following this underperformance, the team has triumphed in both the World Cyber Games and G-League, and is now looking good in the fifth edition of the G-1 Champions League as you easily qualified for the main event. Your team has been undefeated in an official match since November 18th, where you lost against Orange eSports. This is quite an achievement. What do you think are the reasons for your domination? What makes your team far ahead than LGD-Gaming and Team DK?
Winning TI2 filled us with self-confidence and belief that we could comeback from positions of disadvantage. I believe that our advantage over the other teams is just in our mental states and in our high team morale.
In the finals of G-League, you faced the international squad of LGD-Gaming who was the only team to take a game from you. Could you please share with us your thoughts on the finals as well as LGD-Gaming International? Why do you think they performed that well in the event despite being relatively new?
After coming to China, they learned some Chinese play styles and fixed the common habit in the foreign scene of getting caught out in the middle game. Their play is much more prudent and that’s how they’ve performed well.
You are soon going to travel to Shanghai in order to compete in the main tournament of the G-1 Champions League, the only major event in China that you have yet to win. What are your thoughts about the qualifying teams?
I haven’t thought about them much. I only think about playing my own game well and winning this edition of G-1. It is after all the one competition that we haven’t won yet, and we really do want to win this championship.
The organizers have opted for an unorthodox but yet interesting format where each match has its importance. What do you think about this format considering that the winner of the groupstage will directly advance to the finals? What do you think are the pros and cons of this format?
I believe that this format is very nice. It allows stronger teams to have more of a chance, and won’t be immediately eliminated because of one single loss.
The western qualifiers saw the victory of Alliance and Team Liquid. These two teams play quite differently than your team as they play heroes that you rarely see in China such as Spectre, Ogre Magi, Nature’s Prophet, Wisp, Chaos Knight or even Phantom Assassin. How is the team going to deal with both these teams in the draft stage considering they play a wide range of heroes?
We will examine their replays, and ban their strongest lineups, or we may let they play what they like to play and select a lineup that counters theirs.
LGD-Gaming China and Team DK have perfected their play style following a series of changes. What do you think about these recent changes, and do you think they became stronger? If yes, in which aspects of the game do you think they have improved?
They are stronger now. Often times when I am playing around, I discover that they are looking over replays, fixing their faults and looking to research and counter other players.
Perfect World and Gamefy have joined forced to host the biggest tournament since the conclusion of last year’s International, the Dota 2 Star League. Ten teams will be competing over a period of two months for 1million RMB. What do you think about this tournament? What kind of impact, if any, will this tournament have on your preparation for Valve’s event?
I don't think so. This competition will help us enter a competitive mindset earlier and will help Chinese teams polish their form to the best that it will be, and perform well at Ti3 at the end.
The Chinese scene now has three major events the teams can compete in with the G-1 Champions League, G-League and the Super League. While the game has yet to be officially released in the middle kingdom, what are your thoughts about the growth of the game in the country be it at a competitive or amateur level?
I didn’t understand the question. I believe holding more competitions will help trigger the growth of Dota2 in China.
For this year’s International, there will be three invited Chinese teams compared to four last year. What do you think about the competitive scene in China? Is the scene as strong as people say it is?
Chinese LAN performances are very solid and reliable. Of course, these foreign teams will also have made ample preparations. TI3 will be even more fierce than Ti2.
Your former teammate, Wu “2009” Sheng, discovered many talents including you, Gong “ZSMJ” Jian and Liu “Sylar” Jiajun. Now that 2009 has retired as a player, it is very difficult to find top-notch players who are new to the scene at the exception of ViCi Gaming. What do you think should be done to improve in this area? What do we have to do to find new talents like 2009 did?
Hold more competitions, to have big tournaments and little tournaments alike. This way, there will be more teams participating, and often times the teams that win the smaller competitions will have some strong rookie. After a bit of training and development, it’s very possible that they will become the new generation of superstars.
Compared to most professional Chinese players, you play a lot of public games. You rarely play heroes that you usually play in official matches. Do public games help you become a more complete player? When playing certain heroes, do you sometimes tell yourself “This hero seems to have a lot of potential; I should try to incorporate it into our line-up next time”?
Playing public games is part of maintaining the joy of playing the game, so I will definitely not be playing the heroes that I usually play in competition. After all I am training every single day and playing every single day. Plus, I am also able to study up on new ideas and play styles from pubs and use it in competitive matches.
A lot of people have discussed the possibility of seeing Slark in competitive games. What do you think about this hero? In your opinion, is there any chance to see him in competitive games?
I think there will definitely be teams trying to incorporate into competitive play. The exact role that the hero occupies is still up for debate.
Alright, let’s now discuss a topic that is in the news, The International 3. Valve has released some information about their event, and it will be played once again in Seattle, United States. Considering that Valve secured a partnership with Perfect World last year, did you expect their event to be hosted in China? What do you think about returning to the United States?
I think here or there is all the same to me; as long as they do the best job in hosting the tournament, that is enough for me. After going there once, this time I will give my best effort to fix the jet lag in US. My first time there I was really not used to the time zone.
A lot of players praised Valve for hosting a fantastic event. Besides you winning the whole event and travelling back to China with a USD$1,000,000 check, what made this event that fantastic?
I’ve discussed this before. They do a very professional job and give you the assured feeling that anything that you need has already been prepared for you, so all you can focus everything on breaking down your opponent and playing the game.
In which areas do you think Valve should improve in order to make this year’s event not fantastic, but perfect?
I hope this time, the tournament schedule won’t be as tight as last year. Last year, we had a day where we played 10 games. I’m hoping that this year, the schedule will be a bit more reasonable.
This year’s event will be much harder than last year, and everyone will be expecting you to retain your title following your amazing results in the last months. How are you going to prepare for this event?
We’re going to work on some new strategies, because only the strategies that you’ve never used before are the ones that other teams won’t be able to counter.
Among the western teams, which one(s) do you think will be the hardest to take down?
While Natus Vincere gave you a hard time last year, Alliance, fnatic and Team Liquid are the fan’s favorite to compete with the Chinese. Do you think that these teams have any chance to stand up against you, and expect a positive outcome? What do you think western teams have to do to be able to compete with Chinese’s finest teams? Give food before the match starts?
I believe that these teams are exceptionally strong. Western teams generally emphasis individual ability. If they are a bit more team-oriented, I believe that Chinese teams will have some trouble.
Speaking of Natus Vincere, they will soon move to China, and practice there. What do you think about them moving to China in order to prepare to face Chinese teams at The International 3? Which party do you think it will benefit the most?
It’s Na`vi. Because Chinese professional Dota environment is very good. They can learn some things that they won’t be able to learn outside the country.
Let’s now talk a little about yourself. You mentioned in a video made by Gamefy that working from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM is not the type of life that you would enjoy. However, you said that you sometimes did not have time to call your mother due to your busy schedule. What does playing Dota 2 professionally for Invictus Gaming entail? Everyone thinks that playing at top level is just playing public and official games. Can you tell us more about your life as a professional player?
We schedule teams to scrim with everyday; when it gets business, life is basically three things, eat, sleep, train. That’s why sometimes, I get so completely immersed in training that I forget to contact my family. However, every time I go abroad for competitions, I always will give my family a call.
It does not take a genius to realize that you live for Dota 2. However, you are a 26-year-old, and you will not be playing the game until you are 60 (even if you would still do well). What will your life be like once you retire from the game? Have you thought about it?
I think after retirement, I will be working on something to do with gaming.
Thank you very much for taking the time to make this interview with us. You have the last word!
I am very happy to be part of this interview. I would like to thank everyone that has supported iG all this time, and to thank our sponsor, Steelseries.