The veteran SEA Dota casting duo MLP and johnxfire chimed in on their expectations for Fnatic and T1 going into TI10
When it comes to SEA Dota, there are none quite well-versed as Mike "MLP" Le Phoenix and John "johnxfire" Nathan Fernandez. The casting tag-team has had a breakout year, casting almost every SEA event. Most notably, they brought off-site casting to the Singapore Major, and the unforgettable SEA TI10 Qualifiers. With The International just weeks away, we had the duo weigh in on the two TI10 representatives from SEA: T1 and Fnatic.
After 1,300 duo casts MLP and Johnxfire are ready: “I want us on LAN, I want us to be able to show off what we have. It feels like it’s just been so close yet so far.”
Esports.gg had the chance to chat with the long-time duo to talk about their journey as professional casters. The duo have had a breakthrough year, but are still waiting for the opportunity to bring their energy to a big offline event.
Gabe "TCGDota" Phillips
It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a SEA team at the top during TI, if at all. Do you have much hope for this year to be any different?
johnxfire: It’s been quite some time since the region’s looked as hot as it does now. This year is probably the best shot for the region in getting back up in TI placing, but it feels like a lot of heavyweights are going to be keeping a close eye to them this time around.
MLP: I’m personally pretty confident we’ll see a decent improvement from past TI’s in terms of placing for the SEA teams. I can’t necessarily say a SEA team will place first, but I’d sure as hell be happy with a Top 4 run. The way I see it, SEA teams are heavily momentum based. If they get off to a good start, they can go anywhere really.
It's been quite some time since [SEA] has looked as hot as it does now. This year is probably the best shot for the region in getting back up in TI placing...
Out of the 10 players on both teams, this will be a first time at TI for six of them. Do you think this will affect the level of play they bring?
MLP: Some players really thrive off the crowd’s energy, even if it’s their first time. Though admittedly most will falter due to nerves. I think T1 is more resistant to feeling too nervous on the big stage. Kuku is known to create a very relaxed, fun kind of atmosphere, even in high stress environments. You’ll see him making the team laugh and smile constantly, which I think is part of why they’ve found so much success under his leadership. Fnatic could definitely struggle with the nerves though, as they tend to have a more serious attitude as a team; though I’m confident they’ll be taught to withstand the nerves prior to TI.
johnxfire: I think it could weigh on Fnatic a bit more. The team has always carried that burning torch of hope for SEA every year at TI, with a lot more eyes for them for the region vis-a-vis TNC usually garnering mostly PH fans on them. We’ve seen DJ and Jabz on this same stage multiple times, so they can be great anchors for the rest of the team. Hopefully the pressure of being on the biggest stage of Dota will be much easier on them as a whole.
The TI10 Qualifiers for SEA was one of the most epic qualifiers we’ve seen in a while. Prior to that though, the region hasn’t brought on that type of firepower in a while. What do you attribute this to?
johnxfire: There are a few things that happened that catapulted SEA to this point - it’s the result of the steady build up in the region when we saw captains coming in to certain teams like TNC and Fnatic. I think the direction players like Theeban (1437) brought to the region has certainly helped develop the players to think more as a team, and that is coming to fruition now.
There was also the prolonged period of back-to-back online tournaments pre-DPC - right at the start of the pandemic, we had no word for DPC until late 2020, and it kicked off in 2021. So throughout 2020, a lot of the teams were playing insane amounts of games - likely more than during DPC itself, as a lot of teams outside DPC are also playing anywhere between 3-5 tournaments running concurrently. Teams like Motivate.Trust have been playing a huge amount since 2020 with pretty much the same roster for most of it. We’ve seen steady improvements to newer lineups such as SMG and Nigma Galaxy SEA (Galaxy Racer) because of this environment.
There was also the factor of both GeekFam and Reality Rift leaving Dota 2. That left a lot of talented players as free agents, and GeekFam’s split eventually led to what T1 is today.
MLP: The DPC certainly helped in bringing a lot more competition to the region, which is known to be less financially well off than say the west. Competition naturally breeds more competition. We’ve seen tournaments now either increase the rate at which they host events, or raise their prize pools; or both! Naturally, this inspires the players and teams to try to aim higher.
I think the SEA fan base has skyrocketed since the pandemic as well. The fans are certainly being a lot more vocal, and the energy they send out certainly gives the teams that big push they need.
The [SEA] fans are certainly being a lot more vocal, and the energy they send out certainly gives the teams that big push they need.
In the end, the reality is SEA probably could’ve taken 3-4 spots at TI comfortably, but the region was way too competitive. This meant with so many teams left behind to go through qualifiers, the qualifier was an absolute banger; and one thing I can promise you is, they’re only going to get better with time.
Apart from the TI10 Qualifiers, we’ve really only seen this iteration of Fnatic during ESL One Fall where they bombed out. Do you think this roster is ready for TI yet?
johnxfire: I believe they are TI ready, considering how stacked those qualifiers were. There’s still a bit of a settling period for them as a roster. They’ve played much less compared to a lot of the teams heading in, especially compared to T1 who have held that roster pretty much since GeekFam. There’s still a ton of potential for them to work out together, and hopefully TI will bring out even more from the players.
MLP: Since TI6, Fnatic’s highest placing at TI has been 13th. Unfortunately they’re kind of known to bomb out during the first or second round of playoffs at TI. However, this year feels different. I haven’t felt this confident in a Fnatic roster for years. The team seems revitalized with the roster changes. While they may not go too far, I can at least see them getting through the first few rounds of playoffs. They’ll have an element of surprise to their advantage, and fresh ideas with the likes of Deth joining the team. Never say never!
Since TI6, Fnatic's highest placing at TI has been 13th. However, this year feels different. I haven't felt this confident in a Fnatic roster for years. The team seems revitalized with the roster changes.
T1 were on a hot streak between the AniMajor and ESL One Summer, but have been faltering as of late. What are your thoughts on their recent dip - is there anything you attribute it to?
MLP: I think the meta change heavily affected T1 throughout the recent tournaments, though to be fair they still placed 4th place in both OGA and ESL One Fall, which I don’t think is too bad. Keep in mind ESL One Summer (which T1 came first in) didn’t include teams like LGD, who I think are the strongest in the world right now, so the more recent results are understandable. Another thing to add is the players in T1 openly admitted they were playing Valorant instead of practicing, so I’m sure that had something to do with the less impressive results.
johnxfire: Yeah, there was some hot talk about them playing certain games outside of Dota for a bit of time. Likely some burnout from the frenetic schedule of the past year - they used to all chat after matches against TNC as Among Us last year, asking for CS matches right after. There’s also a bit of adjustment towards the latest meta, but I’m sure that’s something a lot of teams are going to have to contend with as well.
Where do you think each of the two squads needs to brush up to go toe-to-toe with the other regions?
MLP: For T1, I think it’s mostly adjusting to the new meta/patch. I think their synergy as a team is already top tier, but my concern would lie with not adapting to the new patch fast enough. As an example, Karl seemed to struggle when heroes like Doom aren’t in meta. If T1 can secure more comfort picks in the new meta, I’m confident they’ll compete at TI level. For Fnatic, it’s the opposite. Last time we saw them, it felt like the synergy was lacking. To be fair to Fnatic, they had only recently acquired their new roster, so as time goes on, I’m sure they’ve worked it out.
If T1 can secure more comfort picks in the new meta, I'm confident they'll compete at TI level.
johnxfire: Definitely agree on adapting to the meta. There’s been a steady shift for a lot of teams as you’d find in the recent online tournaments, and I think T1 in particular has to be ready to have Karl take different heroes on to the mid lane, and adjust their timings accordingly. Fnatic, as mentioned, still have a lot of untapped potential as they work to each others limits as a team, and hopefully their bootcamping has helped them get a better sense of what each player wants to achieve in the game.
What gives SEA Dota 2 teams an edge over others?
Following up on that, what is something special that each of these teams brings - or perhaps even SEA as a whole brings to the table that might give them an edge?
johnxfire: Likely just the camaraderie and frenetic pace a lot of teams in SEA love to bring out - the region as a whole is quite interconnected with each other, so there’s a ton of blending of approaches to the game that players pick up on each other. SEA tends to play pretty fast as well, for the most part - lanes tend to be very aggressive, and the focus is mostly on snowballing as 4 and creating space for the Pos 1 to steadily build up, which is something T1 in particular enjoy doing with 23savage. That said, after recent performances, I think a lot of people have their eyes on SEA, so the surprise factor that SEA used to hold is probably a bit lower than previous years - that’ll probably be SA now.
The camaraderie and frenetic pace a lot of teams in SEA love to bring out...
MLP: I think there’s a couple of things that could help. SEA, in my opinion, has the player base with the highest mechanical skill, which I think is always a positive. Additionally, SEA teams tend to be a lot more, for lack of a better word, cheeky with the way they play the game. They can turn what should be a very serious game into something very clowney very quickly; and I think they thrive in that environment. On top of all that, while I’ve said this before, I think other teams will still underestimate SEA teams, which is always an advantage.
We have only two more weeks before the long awaited TI10 is upon us. For the SEA region, all hopes rest on the shoulders of T1 and Fnatic. This year is likely the region's best shot at reliving the past glory of TI6's success - or perhaps even more.