"Dota is not a 9-5 job. Dota is a state of being. Dota is Dota. And you are either Dota, or you're not". Arteezy goes deep in our interview from Lima Exclusive
Artour "Arteezy" Babaev is one of the most popular Dota 2 players around. At Lima Major, we talked with Shopify Rebellion carry about many things: the past season and break-up with Evil Geniuses, his friendship with Cr1t and Bulba, and even touched on more subtle things, like motivation, healthy relationships, and some of Arteezy's personal struggles and goals.
The interview was taken after the Group Stage.
— You made it out of the group to the Upper Bracket. How do you evaluate the team's performance and form? Did you expect this result?
— I’m not sure I expected this. We lost a lot of scrims during bootcamp before the Major. We were losing more than winning. But, at the same time, we were learning, and we were challenging each other, resolving a lot of the issues we had Dota-wise. So we had a lot of practice.
At the same time, I can't say I expected to win or get top-4 in the groups. But I also did not expect to end up in the Lower Bracket. So, I guess, we are right where we were supposed to be, not winning the groups, but not losing either.
— From the outside, it seems as if you guys are feeling free and relaxed playing this Major. Do you feel the same?
— We are definitely a lot more interested in trying things out, especially in the groups where we've been testing a lot of theories. We learned a lot of new things playing the groups so far, and every time we learned something, we wanted to see how it goes. So, we try to pick something new against every team we play. Because when we learn things from other teams, we want to test it with another team. It’s kind of a learning process.
We tested some stuff in scrims, but sometimes it’s ok to sorta test things while playing a match. So I think we did a pretty good job doing this here, as opposed to TI, where it was more about refined strategies, things that we practiced before.
— Do you think it stems from the fact that you changed your tag and are now playing with less pressure?
— The idea of starting new makes you feel a lot more motivated, doesn’t matter if we were starting new on EG or somewhere else, like Shopify. You surround yourself with new people. I think it’s always a healthy thing to switch into a new environment. For example, instead of going to bootcamp in America, we bootcamp in Canada. I'm really happy to be there, especially since my home in Toronto is so close. So I have a lot more motivation than I used to. I guess that's not really good, but yeah, I have more motivation in Canada than in the US.
It’s safe to say that having a new environment inspired us a lot. But we were also challenged by new faces in Shopify, we met new people, like Dario [Dario "TLO" Wünsch, Head of Player Development at SR], our manager at this event, he watches us very closely. He is not afraid to tell us what we should do better. So it’s more of a personal connection, because he is here from the start of the team.
"At TI11 we had a really good strategy. But we really underperformed and choked"
— Let's go back to the previous season, which wasn’t easy for EG. You tried a roster with JerAx, brought Fly back, performed well in the group stage at TI but placed only 9-12. Could you now summarize the season, your time in EG?
— It was a confusing year. We had to make changes, and we discussed the future after TI10. How would it look, who needs to go, who thinks what’s the best step forward for each other as individuals, not as a team. What each person on the team wanted to do, because we got many TIs in a row where we didn’t get a good placement. But all of us wanted to keep fighting on.
So, then we tried to make a change for Tal [Fly], tried to get a different outlook on the game, to work on some other aspects. We thought JerAx could bring interesting variable to the team, and could help us where we lack. Because we all respected him as a player greatly at the time. And we still do, but at the time, we were very hyped to play with him.
Didn’t really work out, because we underestimated how much the transition from position 4 to position 5 matters, the different skill set that you need. I think back then we didn't totally understand. We assumed it’s pretty easy, support-support. Obviously, not that simple, but we thought it wouldn’t be as difficult. But it was extremely difficult, we all felt it was really difficult to play our best.
And then with Egor [Nightfall], we just saw that offlane can be played in multiple roles, and we thought he was able to fulfill that. In general, it was a pretty bad start of the year, since JerAx had to put in a lot of work to catch back up. So that kinda screwed up our team chemistry a lot, and it took us a long time to rebuild that.
We eventually found a way to play as a five. Tal came back, and me and Egor got on a good page on how we wanted to play the game. Because in the beginning, it wasn’t so straightforward, we both had different ideas on how we wanted to play.
So it took half of the year to finally figure out how to make each other happy. At some point we figured it out. At TI11 we had a really good fundamental strategy. But when it came down to the matches, we really underperformed, we just played extremely shit. We choked.
I don’t think it was an ending where everyone was unhappy with each other. Egor wanted to do his own thing with his EEU team, and we were like “Okay, that’s fine, we will go our own way“. There are no bad feelings, at least I think so.
The year was really hard, it was really stressful for everybody. Everyone was sacrificing a lot, so at the end of it, we all had a lot of mutual respect for each other. Then we found SabeRLight-. He comes from a different mindset. But he is a lot more open minded for sure.
— Is it because how super-confident Egor is in himself and his vision of Dota?
— I think he just needed some things that we weren’t able to provide in the team. Was it communication-wise or gameplay-wise, we didn’t totally understand, so we struggled for a while. I’m not sure if it’s something on him. I think he just missed playing with a EEU team, he feels more comfortable this way. So I think it’s best for him to be with them. Maybe it’s language, how he communicates, I’m not sure.
— What did you feel when Evil Geniuses told you about their decision? You played for them for many years, was it hard for you?
— It wasn’t that hard. EG has been a home for me for a long time, but I completely understand where they were coming from. It’s good for them to invest in another scene. And it’s good for us to get a change of environment, both sides have benefited quite a bit. They did a lot for us when we were on EG, they supported us a lot, and I’m happy for the time I spent there, it was a great time.
— Did you get more motivation and a desire to prove yourselves after it?
— As bad as it sounds, I think I did. I tried a lot harder this year. After TI’s in previous years, I didn’t put in as much effort as I did now in comparison. This year I wanted to start on a decent footing. And as much as I dislike this patch, I think it’s the last patch like this. So I feel like: “Okay, I will try my best on this last patch, hopefully next patch changes a lot of things”. So if I look back, I could say that I tried my best on this patch. I put a lot more effort, and possibly that could be because of the change of org and environment. I feel a lot more comfortable, maybe it was Canada related.
"I wanted to do something lame, like SADBOYS, but no one else wanted to do it"
— Did you get invited to another team after TI11?
— Yeah, I had a few.
— Why did you stay?
— I just believe in every member of the team. We worked together for so long, we all understand each other's weaknesses and strengths. We know how to pick each other up, what's wrong, the good way to communicate, and I feel there are a lot of benefits from being on the same team for a long time that people in general overlook.
I feel the need for change is not always a great thing. Even though things haven't always worked in the past, if you believe it can work, there is nothing wrong with sustaining yourself through the hardships to get to the hopeful result.
There were a lot of times we were close to winning Majors, moments where I felt: “Wow, we are so good”. And there obviously were moments where I felt: “Wow, we are dogshit”. It’s the process, and I respect the process. I think all of us can do it, and I feel way more inclined to keep believing than to start over.
— You didn’t stay without the team for long after parting ways with EG, and ended up with Shopify. How did you find each other?
— My friend told me about the org a while ago. They were signing a Dota team with one of my friends a long time ago, maybe 1-2 years ago. But it didn’t work out. And I thought about it after TI, after all the news about EG. So, then my agent contacted them. And since they are like 15 minutes away from my home in Toronto, I just drove and met with the owner, we had a long chat. I met with Jeremy, general manager at Shopify Rebellion, and, later at some point, Dario.
After I spoke with Jeremy, I felt like: “Wow, this is awesome. Let’s do some big shit together”. It was a great talk, it felt really organic, and I think we both felt like this is something we want to commit to. So, after all the business stuff and contracts and everything, everyone was really excited we are working together.
— Why was your stack called Alameda 2018 when you registered at first? It was related to old bootcamp or something, right?
— At TI8, us four — me, Fly, Cr1t, and Bulba — bootcamped in San Francisco. It was one of our best bootcamps, one of the more fun but insightful ones. It was probably the best bootcamp the four of us ever had. Back then, I think it was Sumail and s4 on the team. So it was just a good memory.
But it was just a random name, because we knew we were going to work with Shopify, so we just needed some name so we could register. I wanted to do something lame, like SADBOYS, but no one else wanted to do it. I heard there was some drama with the stock market, but it was completely random for us, we didn’t know. [Alameda Research is a name of crypto trading firm of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of crypto exchange FTX, suspected of fraud]
"I’m not going to keep Cr1t attached to me while I’m sucking"
— On stream Blitz mentioned one interesting phrase of Cr1t. Quoting Blitz, “he said that if his career was to be attached to Artour, he is perfectly happy to play the rest of his career with him”. Has Cr1t ever said this to you personally? Do you feel the same?
— No, he never said that kind of shit to me. But I’m happy to do it as well. I don’t think we are done soon. It’s not fair to say it will be short, we can play for a long time. I’m just going to keep playing Dota until I’m bad, or until I feel I don’t care. Basically, until I feel I don’t want to give it the effort. And if that’s the case, I’m going to quit. I’m not going to keep him attached to me while I’m sucking.
I guess that’s the way we mutually feel. We both are going to give it all to Dota, and if one of us starts being lazy, we call each other out, and we make sure we keep up the standard. But he’s never said that to me. This is news to me!
— It looks almost like a brotherhood, you are so devoted to each other. It’s pretty unusual in Dota. What’s the secret? You match so well in terms of chemistry?
— Maybe it is chemistry-related. I don't really think about these things that much. Sometimes, maybe two years ago I remember I was like, "Oh wow, I've been playing Dota for nine years!" Time just goes by really fast. This year is my 11th year of playing. I've been playing competitively for at least ten years, and I feel like I'm still young.
The only thing that I feel is that there's definitely some kids around here. Some very young people, and I'm like, "Who are these guys?" That's the only thing I'm noticing. I feel like I'm young but people around me are people I've never seen before.
— So you don't consider yourself a Dota veteran?
— Yeah, I don't feel like it. It's weird. I don't feel like a veteran, but I guess I am.
— You and Bulba are kinda an iconic duo. What does he mean for a team and you personally?
— Well, he was one of my best friends even before we won MLG Columbus as Speed Gaming. Before that, I practiced with him 1v1 sometimes. I was always practicing with s4, Bulba, and Scandal. That’s how I built my relationship with him from the start.
I knew him back when he was kind of an idiot, and obviously now both of us are a lot more mature. We made an early connection in Dota, and it built into a strong friendship outside the game at some point. We had a lot of talks, shared a lot of wins and losses.
— You played with different players during your career. Who influenced you the most as a person and as a player?
— In the beginning, before I was ever a pro, when I was a kid trying to get there, Dendi influenced me a lot. I watched his Dota 1 replays. Early on in my Dota 2 career, it was probably EternaLEnVy. Him, pieliedie and Aui_2000, the original Kaipi and Speed Gaming team, those guys shaped a lot of how I thought about the game. And then eventually, after I separated from them over the years, I built my own way.
Then, I started to feel inspired by how MATUMBAMAN played in the last couple of years of his career. Nowadays, the person I draw inspiration from the most is probably Matu and the next one is “little Matu”, which is miCKe. I’m sure how Matu played influenced his team, so I like how miCKe plays too.
"I felt the direction the mid was going was very low skill, so I didn't want to play it anymore"
— Back to the early years of your career, there were a lot of opinions, especially in EEU, that you were the best midlaner in the world. What do you think about it?
— Well, back then I only switched because I was teaming with Sumail. Back then I had a very high ego and was a very cocky kid, and I thought if there was one person who could be better than me on mid, it's probably this guy. So my idea was: "I will join this team, and me and him would swap roles or figure out our own dynamic as 1 and 2, it will be very OP and broken”.
I wanted to build some kind of a super-team, like Team DK in some ways. So I thought the best way to do that is to play as a carry for this guy. I think I was definitely a top-3 midlaner at that time, in 2015. It’s just at some point I got bored of mid because they kept changing stuff. The hill was different, runes were different, some patches were even a duo lane mid. At Frankfurt Major I remember 2x2 mid or some stuff.
There were a lot of patches when I thought this role was trash. Denies got changed, I felt like there was no consistency in the midlane. My perception was that the direction the mid is going is very low skill, so I didn't want to play it anymore, I wanted to play at higher skill. So I thought carry was a “high skill” thing.
It actually took a long time for mid to be “high skill” again. Nowadays I feel like mid is back to its glory days a bit. Even with those water runes I still think mid matchups, mechanics and understanding matters a lot. Back then I just hated the patch, I hated where Dota was going, so I wanted to find something else to do. I wanted to be the best in something else.
— Do you think it paid off?
— I think so, we won a lot of tournaments from 2015 to 2018. Recently it hasn't been that great for me, but I like the role, there is a lot of versatility in it. I also like laning in the safe lane a lot better. I like side lanes a lot more at the moment. Even when I play mid in pubs, it doesn't feel that great. I like how the mechanics of the side lane are, because it's a completely different set of skills, it’s not only about last hitting. There are a lot of different skills that I learned over the last 6 years. So I feel like I'm very good at the safe lane.
— Every time EEU teams were eliminated and your team was still in the tournament, this joking expression was emerging again: "Arteezy is the last hope of CIS". Do you feel this connection to the region, or for you it’s more of a joke that has gone too far?
— Isn’t Team Spirit the last hope of EEU, no?
— Usually it's Spirit, and if they are done, you are next.
— I think it’s awesome that some EEU guys want to cheer for me. I’m always happy about that. I guess it’s cool. I feel like I carry the NA burden and EEU burden now, counting after Spirit. NA and EEU, I can do it.
— You played with different EEU players like RAMZES and Nightfall in EG. From your experience, is there something that makes EEU players different from others?
— They are really dedicated to the game. Those kinds of players put a lot of time and effort into small things of the game. And eventually it shows in their rank and in how they play. They play a lot of Dota and put a lot of time into the game. That’s why these players in general are considered high skill.
But also most of them have some sort of an attitude issue, like tilt or something like that. Which is weird, because I remember gpk~ when he stood in for us [at OMEGA League in 2020], he was a very chill guy. He never raged or anything. But later I realized that he is known as big rager or something — I guess, he was just shy at the time.
I feel they work hard. That’s the first step to be a really good Dota player, and they got that step down pretty well. It’s just that they probably need to be good teammates and work on their attitude. Those things are harder to learn for them, I guess.
— Were you shocked by Nightfall’s team performance at the Major? What are your thoughts on the BetBoom elimination?
— I think they thought they had a lot of things down well, and probably got a little bit too cocky. Well, it's easy to say because they lost, but they probably needed a reality check at some point. Probably, once they beat Spirit [BetBoom’s last match in DPC], they assumed it would be an easy Major or something.
They're definitely very skilled players, all of them individually. And they probably think that since they are high skill, that they are a very high-skilled team. But a lot of Dota is about sacrifices. They are going to have to learn that over time: doing things for each other as for themselves. I was surprised to see them bomb out of the groups but I did not expect them to do that well. I don't think that a team like BetBoom in its early stages can win a Major. They need a lot of time.
— Just to prepare themselves mentally?
— I think in the game itself. It's not even about choking or mental pressure. I think they don't play well as a team Dota-wise.
"You are either Dota, or you're not"
— You’ve been playing for 11 years, were there moments during that time when you were ready to leave Dota?
— I didn't feel that strong to ever retire. The times when I felt bored of the game, I took a break by not playing as much during a season. So I'd probably play worse than usual for half a season or one season. I'd be technically resting even though I'm actively playing. That's why I haven't needed to take a break.
On some seasons I felt lazier than others. Over the years, there were definitely times after TI when I've been lazy, and that's kinda my break. But nowadays I feel way more motivated to play. It feels like I'm starting over. For me, there's a lot more interest in playing than it used to. Even though it's been 11 years.
— What are the causes? New page?
— It has to be that because I can't think of anything that changed that much. My mindset has probably changed in some ways. I feel more challenged to do better. I feel the biggest motivation is usually from yourself.
For me, I do a lot of things differently. For example, I'm quitting smoking right now. It's been eight weeks, and my Dota suffered for a while. I've been even feeding like crazy in some of the scrims I've been playing. But I'm trying to get some willpower to push myself. There's a lot of things that I'm trying to do to make myself a better player.
— At TI11 I talked to Puppey and he said "You need to be a degenerate to win this game”, and sacrifice personal life, hobbies, and self-improvement. Can you relate? What sacrifices have you had to make?
— There's some truth to what he's saying. I wouldn't say you need to be a complete degenerate. But the message he's trying to send is probably an acceptable one. I'm lucky, because I have a very supportive girlfriend at home. She always pushes me if she feels that I'm being content or lazy. She kinda yells at me sometimes. It's nice that I feel a certain person keeping me standing up. Sometimes I fall down and she helps me up. So I think there are healthy dynamics where being in a relationship can help you to focus.
But it’s true that you do sacrifice a lot of time. And time can be anything you wanted to be, like you could be watching shows, chilling, hanging out with friends. But when you play Dota, you have to choose Dota over those things. All the time. Dota is not a 9-5 job. Dota is a state of being. Dota is Dota. And you are either Dota, or you're not.
Let's say TI ends, and many people just play the game. They've just finished Dota matches but they're gonna go home, and they are gonna play or stream some Dota. Others will play online tournaments that are available. It's just a state: you are Dota. But there are still people who are just going to take breaks.
For me the hardest part about Dota is, I don't like taking breaks because I don't like feeling that I'm behind. Even if I take two days off, I feel that I play badly. I don’t want to feel this, so I want to keep playing every day at least a little bit. When I don’t play pubs, I at least go watch replays, to put my hands on the keyboard. I need to feel that I still play Dota, otherwise I feel weird. I just feel that I’m not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.
That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m still a good player. I think I constantly have this feeling telling me: “What are you doing? Go play. Think about this or do this”. I think that is a healthy thing. But Dota in itself is quite unhealthy, because you lose everything else around you. You don't have much time for it.
— You said you are quitting smoking, any other personal growth goals?
— I have a personal goal, once I quit smoking, I will go to the gym. Because one thing bad about quitting smoking, I feel that I'm eating a lot of food and getting fat. I gained a lot of weight in this process, so after that I’m going to go to the gym.
I think most of the things I've done over the years were pretty healthy. I quit social media pretty much. I don’t really waste my time on the phone. Now I’m working on smoking and going to work at the gym as well.
I feel all these things are contributing to the one main thing in my life, which is Dota. Having a clearer head will make my Dota better. I’m basically placing Dota in the center and finding things around to amplify it. Once I finish Dota, I don’t know what I'm going to do.