Ponlo : “I believe SEA has proven that we’re not all about early game aggression anymore” cover image

Ponlo : “I believe SEA has proven that we’re not all about early game aggression anymore”

Ponlo reflects on going from scarily accurate predictions on Twitter to TI10 Qualifier analyst for SEA and CN, and his plans beyond

From Top 100 ranked grinding to intrinsic understanding

There has been much discussion about the hierarchical and insular nature of the Dota world. Top teams, naturally, drawing much of the younger talent before they have a chance to nourish smaller competitors. However, this is in tandem with a roster of broadcast talent who's ranks sometimes shuffle but rarely swell. The discontent about this situation came to a crescendo, culminating in a raft of new talent being given a spotlight.

One of those talents is Ponlo, someone who is immersed in the pro scene but in a different context. A professional player in his own right who has played on teams with many of the SEA region's finest. It's not his talent as a support player that was what got him noticed though. It would be his on-point predictions about upcoming games during the WePlay AniMajor, that would bring him international interest.

Ponlo goes global after BTS take notice

His clairvoyance caught the attention of the larger Dota 2 world, and in turn the BeyondTheSummit tea. He found himself placed before a microphone to share his insights in real time. Ponlo was announced as talent for the SEA qualifiers, and for the Chinese qualifiers shortly after.

Esports.gg had the chance to speak to Ponlo in between the two qualifiers about his unique journey. He goes into detail about how he found himself in his current position, and the lessons within it.

"From casting the past week, I find myself being able to plan certain supportive movements better, especially towards the opponent's triangle."

ponlo on how casting can improve playing

Snare: You have been and up-and-coming player for a while now but this is your first time participating in an event as talent. What was your preparation process like to be talent versus to play?

Ponlo: I prepared in sort of a similar way:
1. Watch replays of the particular teams
2. Watch replays of other notable teams that I have an interest in
3. Look through every region's meta generally
4. Make notes on how individual teams did the past two seasons, the last time the 2 teams matched up
5. Find certain strengths & weaknesses I want to highlight about certain players

Ponlo (far right) at a tournament playing mid in what feels like a lfietime ago (via Ponlo's Twitter)
Ponlo (far right) at a tournament playing mid in what feels like a lfietime ago (via Ponlo's Twitter)

Snare: Being a player, what are some of the most common things you feel casters miss when discussing the game?

Ponlo: 1. Status quo of the map, where each hero needs to position around the map to hold a favourable status quo
2. Pre-thinking before fights. The difference in mentality between the roles before they reach a fight and what conditions they need to set in their mind to make happen in the fights.

Snare: What do you think the biggest change in mentality from viewing the game as a caster versus player is?

Ponlo: From casting the past week, I find myself being able to plan certain supportive movements better. Especially towards the opponent's triangle. I have a lot more awareness in preparing Observers, Sentries and smoke for said move. Also, communicating to my carry & mid about the move I'm trying to make to gain a big advantage in a macro sense.

"I honestly don't feel like I had to adapt much."

PONLO on how he's fitting into a casting pair

Snare: Synergy is an integral part of both playing and casting. How did you find yourself adapting to the teamwork of casting versus playing?

Ponlo: I honestly don't feel like I had to adapt much, GoDz pretty much carries me and leads me by asking good questions about the game, where I'm often able to give good answers.

Snare: You recently made a role swap, moving from the 4 position to 5, could you tell us more about why you felt you needed to make this change?

Ponlo: I went into it a bit on the TwitLonger I posted on my Twitter, but basically it's been an ongoing theme in SEA for the past decade that we don't have enough captains. Most support players here are just core players that weren't good enough. They don't really spend that much time in thinking about the big picture of the game and how their teammates need to be used. No one is handling the emotional well-being of the team, no one is consistently responsible for making the big map-related calls in the midgame. I've always felt like I'd eventually try to do it, but I've never been confident enough to do it, but that changed after pulling Team D together with my bare hands and seeing what I could do if I really try.

Snare: What aspects of the game do you find that changing roles made you appreciate more?

Ponlo: I definitely appreciate drafting a lot more now as I'm not just trying to pick Mirana & Earth Spirit every game and run around trying to look like a superstar. I've always felt like even at the top level, there are many drafting mistakes being made every single day but people in general are just too lazy to think about those things. However with that being said - I'm going to have to win some tournaments before anything I say is considered valid...

Snare: Being a player comes with some major ups and downs, what have been some of your biggest challenges as a player?

Ponlo: I had a period of my career where I was stuck 6k-7k for about 3 years and I also dropped out of school during that time. I think being stagnant and fearing that you'll never find a way out of this endless maze of playing solo-q every day & not climbing even though you're so sure that you're trying hard every day.

"When it comes to mentality and attitude in the game, don't be too easy on yourself. Be better, behave better, encourage others."

ponlo on the tools of improvement

Ponlo's personal tips from climbing MMR

Snare: Many players have difficulty improving and climbing up the MMR ladder in those situations, could you share any tips about the game or about your approach to it that helped you?

Ponlo: I can only share what I did to climb from 7.5k to 9k in the span of 1-2 months.

1. Choose someone to look up to & mimic everything that they do. For me it was Destrice. He was rank 2 at the time on the SEA leaderboards playing mainly Pos 4, sometimes mid with Pos 4 heroes. I would religiously watch his Twitch VOD while I ate for 30mins every day before I started playing scrims & solo queue. From him, I learnt how to play much cleaner, itemize faster & more efficiently. Most importantly I mimicked his emotions when bad things were happening in the game. He's really calm and open-minded even when he's playing pubs, and he'd make good calls throughout the game regardless of how many monkeys he's playing with.

2. If everyone around you always seems like an asshole, you are the asshole. When it comes to mentality and attitude in the game, don't be too easy on yourself. Be better, behave better, encourage others. Especially as a support player, these are going to be valuable skills when you go to bootcamps etc.

3. Think of the long con, you don't have to win 3 out of your next 5 games. You need to win 13 out of your next 20 games. That's how you climb. Everyone that rises fast, drops fast.

4. For 8k+ support players, snipe games. Make friends with high MMR core players and queue when they're queueing. Build a good rapport with them and it's going to be a lot easier to work together in future pubs. Good team communication is also infectious, chances are your other teammates will feel positive and join it to work together to solve the game of Dota 2.

"It does get a little annoying to hear everyone calling every SEA tournament or qualifier a B L O O D B A T H without actually watching and analyzing the games."

Ponlo on the perceptions of the sea region

Snare: For the longest time, the perception of the SEA region has been that it’s all about just early aggression and chaotic games. What do you think about this perception?

Ponlo: It's old. It does get a little annoying to hear everyone calling every SEA tournament or qualifier a B L O O D B A T H without actually watching and analyzing the games. However with that being said, I believe we've proven with this recent TI qualifiers that we're not all about early game aggression anymore.

Snare: Do you think that there’s a defined character to how the region plays Dota now? Or is it much more team specific now?

Ponlo: I don't think that regional meta matters that much as long as Majors keep happening. The top teams are mostly still influencing each other & everyone else is sort of following suit. The team that everyone is looking at right now is LGD for sure, but teams like EG and T1 have their specialties that no one really seems to be copying as it's not believed to be "definitely the best way to play Dota" it seems.

Snare: Coming into the SEA qualifiers, did you have a favourite team to win and why? 

Ponlo: I really wanted to see GXR do well. I have a lot of faith in their current roster & team dynamics. I also just want to see my fellow Singaporeans do well :D

"Kappa. I'm joking"

Ponlo on ponlo

Snare: You have had a long-time friendship with Deth from Fnatic, and often had him as a teammate. What do you think he brought to Fnatic that they wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Ponlo: I can't reveal too much about what I know as it's not my information to disclose. Perhaps his input in the draft has been quite useful, and also he contributes to shotcalling the game a lot, while the two supports cosplay as a Pos 5. Kappa. I'm joking. I think there is still much to discover with this roster as it has only been a month since Deth started playing with them.

Snare: We will likely have a patch coming in between the qualifiers and the beginning of TI, what changes do you want to see?

Ponlo: Perhaps make Aeon Disk a single item without components so it can't be "unlock combining"-ed.

Ponlo and his Predictions

Snare: You gained a lot of notoriety for your predictions and specific moment recaps during the last Major, will you be continuing this for TI?

Ponlo: Probably! I enjoy analysing dota behaviour & predicting how those behaviours would change when met with obstacles. That's essentially how I make predictions, I predict what drafts would be made, what outcome we would have, how the drafts would adjust because of the outcome, etc. It's really interesting because I also consider the psychological side of the players and captains when I think about these things, so it's a bottomless pit of theorycrafting. Eventually I'm going to be wrong a lot though, so when that happens my tweets are going to be a lot less interesting xD

"I truly believe if TI happened right now LGD would sweep the floor easily."

ponlo giving a prediction for ti

Snare: Speaking of TI, do you have a favourite Team from the Chinese and Western European qualifiers?

Ponlo: The CN teams I'm most interested in are Elephant, LBZS and Aster.Aries. Elephant for obvious reasons. LBZS because two of the players (Irving and QYQX) are my ex teammates from IG.V. Aster.Aries because they've been looking better and better in the last few months. Their offlane player also bought a 13min Heart as a Centaur 2 months ago against Magma. He bought another Heart later in the game. Fun stuff.

As for WEU, my pick was Tundra, and judging from the Nigma & OG games today, I'm feeling pretty confident of my pick. I love supporting hardcore grinders that are low profile, thus Tundra.

Snare: Lastly, give us an early prediction on who you think will win TI?

Ponlo: I hope LGD. I truly believe if TI happened right now LGD would sweep the floor easily. However with their travel issues and stuff, their mentality might have taken quite a big hit.

Snare: Thank you so much for your time, is there anything else you would like to tell your fans?

Ponlo: Thanks for all the support on my stream & in the twitch chat when I was casting, I have a bunch of ponlo warriors in there & it really helps me to know that not everyone disliked my first time casting. I'm probably going to cast more in the future, but my focus will definitely be on my pro playing career. Might even coach! We'll see :)