“Now we’re coming back refreshed,” says Shopify Rebellion’s Fly after what seemed like never-ending Dota 2 tournaments across the DPC season.
Shopify Rebellion, captained by Tal "Fly" Aizik, has cemented themselves as one of the best teams in North America. Despite the stack featuring iconic players who have been around since the dawn of Dota 2, as of late, the team hasn't been performing up to standards. However, Fly and the rest of Shopify Rebellion has taken the time to reset and now they are back and stronger than ever.
Esports.gg had the opportunity to sit down with Shopify Rebellion's Fly to talk about his Dota 2 journey, current team, and DreamLeague Season 21.
Interview conducted by Devin Soetjipto, questions and transcription by Noah Pather
Fly on Shopify Rebellion, Dreamleague Season 21, and the DPC
You've been with the Shopify Rebellion squad for a while now. There was a brief hiatus with Talon in between, but it's pretty much been about five years. In your opinion, what makes a team work so well together? And how do you think you've evolved not only as a player, but as a person joining up with the squad?
Fly: "Yeah, I think it's been about that much time with the squad. And I think over the years, I think it's important for everybody to first look at themselves and reflect. You have to be able to constantly improve, evolve, adapt — especially in a game like Dota where there's always going to be somebody who's going to play more than you or try harder than you.
I think the people on this team have shown that they can continue improving, continue adapting. And I think that's first and foremost the most important thing because [that's] gonna matter when you come together as a team: Your outlook is as an individual. I think that's part of why a lot of us decided to stick together. It's because we have faith in each other to continue improving and being great players."
To follow up on that, over the past couple of tournaments, Shopify has been underperforming. And there's still a lot of room for improvement. What are some of the challenges that the team has to still overcome? What does it take for Shopify Rebellion to reach their peak, the standards that we expect from the team? And how have you guys prepared for DreamLeague?
Fly: "There’s no denying it. The past couple of months have been pretty bad. We've had very bad placements and we haven't played well. That's the truth. And it's a strange situation because at the start of the year, when SabeRLight- joined, we did well. Not incredible, but we ended up getting top four at the Lima major. Then we got top three at DreamLeague Season 19 with Mikey who was a stand-in. So the potential was there for sure.
In terms of preparation for DreamLeague, everybody has just been grinding at home, just playing a ton of pubs. And I think that's going to make a big difference — just having this time to decompress.
However, it's hard to exactly pinpoint what happened. I think personally, in part it was because of the schedule this year. It's been so non-stop that when we started losing and [had] back-to-back poor performances. It sort of just snowballed because there were no breaks, no time to actually decompress and refresh.
But this is just speculation on my part. It may not have been the case. Maybe we'll still perform poorly now at Season 20 of DreamLeague, but I feel like the snowballing had a big part in it. We just weren't able to recover. We were snowballing like this for months. So now we had this break after Riyadh, everybody went their separate ways. For the first time this year, we had more than a week to rest, and now we're coming back refreshed. And I think that's important."
You've already seen the news about the DPC being dissolved. So obviously, the nature of how competitive Dota 2 is going to be is very uncertain. At this point. We don't know what's gonna happen. But personally, what do you think of this dissolution of the DPC? And what are you expecting for the future of Dota 2 tournaments?
Fly: "So personally, I am not a fan of the DPC. And it's even crazy to think that we had two-month long DPC tours. I feel like it was insanity. I think that dissolving it was a good decision. I think there's always gonna be problems with that Dota system because of the whole tier-two, tier-three scene. I don't think that the DPC really solved it, either. But I think overall, it's something that I'm happy about because there is potential for it to be a little more similar to how it used to be.
It's uncertain what they're doing with the system, but I hope they bring back majors or supporting majors. Like when the Frankfurt Major when it was first announced. Those big majors which were incredibly hype. I think all the teams were excited to play at those majors. And Valve would put on a show. They always did an incredible job.
That's what I'm hoping for, and that you're gonna have all this time in between majors for third-party tournaments, whether it's ESL Pro League or whatever it is. Maybe bring back BTS. I’m looking at you, LD. So anything in between the majors, you have all these different and fun events that could happen. I think that would be the ideal — similar to how it used to be. However, it's uncertain because a lot of it does still fall on Valve to sort of lead the way. But that's what I'm hoping for."
Now heading back a little bit to DreamLeague here. So are you considering DreamLeague as a precursor to The International (TI) to see how everybody's doing? Do you think strategies are going to be saved? Or Shopify Rebellion planning to go all out here for DreamLeague?
Fly: "Something I’d like to say to viewers and chat who say that teams are saving strats when they are losing — that isn’t ever really the case. — Especially in high stakes games. I don't think anyone's going to be saving strats because everybody's going to be trying their best. I think the one small disadvantage we have is that we were not able to scrim as a team. So we only have one or two days before DreamLeague to scrim, but we're going to do try our best. As I think every team does. If we end up doing poorly, at least we have time until TI to hopefully learn from this tournament. It's not the end of the world, but we want to do well, of course. It's a big tournament."
Fly on his Dota 2 journey from HoN
You played Heroes of Newerth (HoN) before starting your journey in Dota 2. As a former HoN player who transitioned to Dota 2, did you think that had an influence in the way you played the game? Do you think that HoN players that transition to Dota 2 were built differently?
Fly: "I think IceFrog worked on HoN originally. There are a lot of similarities between Dota and HoN — at least with some core mechanics. There are also a lot of similarities between the heroes. In a lot of ways, I think the groundwork for switching games was already there.
The biggest difference for me and one of the reasons why, when I first played Dota, I didn’t like the game — was the turn rate. In HoN, the turn rate was very fast. Characters moved really fast and turned around really fast. When I first switched Dota, I was like. "Wow, my character moves so slow and if I want to back, I'm already dead." And I think that was probably the biggest difference between the two games. But I think everything else I felt like I already had the skillset. So if I was good and HoN, chances were I'm going to be good at Dota."
Now let’s talk about your Dota 2 journey, starting with Fnatic back in 2012. Comparing back then to where you are now, how do you feel about the game and its growth since the early days?
Fly: "Oh, man. That's it's been a journey for sure. I think the game changed massively. Looking back at how we used to play, it would have looked like a joke. But I think, just like most esports, people have just been getting better over time and the game continues to develop in a way where it promotes better plays, better decisions, and that stuff.
I think that's the direction we've been going over the years, whether it's map changes or hero changes, I feel like you must stay on top to stay competitive. And I think that's good for any sport. So you always must be playing, you always have to be adapting. And that's Dota."
Fly on the current state of Dota 2
The New Frontiers patch that has been out for quite some time now changed a lot of the Dota 2 landscape. What do you think of the overall changes to the game?
Fly: "Yeah, so with Dota having this massive change with the New Frontiers patch, I think we still haven’t figured it out yet. Because math is so complex. Your decision-making tree is even bigger than before. As a support, you can take the portal to go to the other lane. To help your other lanes, you can portal and go behind the enemy tower, you can attack mid, you can play for wisdom runes, there's so much stuff on the map.
There's so much that you can always make a different decision every single game. It would be interesting to see how open AI tackles this, but I think I can't say if it's good or bad. I think it's different. I’ll say that different is good because it's more interesting as a player to have to keep relearning the game.
When the patch first came out, I think it felt like you had less XP and I think they changed it, which was good. So as a support player, it makes a pretty big difference. And then [for] Tormentors, I think it's sort of a cute idea that I don't think has been figured out yet because a lot of people end up ignoring it. It's in such a remote part of the map that again, like your decision-making tree is so massive, that it's not fully figured out when you should do it or shouldn't [do it].
But it does popularize heroes that have better shards. Because say, for example, you have a moron on your team or support Tiny, and then you're thinking about killing a Tormentor. These shards are worthless. It's gonna change the game again. So all of this is to say that there are so many things to consider in the game right now. It can get kind of overwhelming, but it's also fun because every game can be so different."
Some say the 7.33 patch has empowered support players with the changes. As a support player yourself, how do you feel playing position five in this current patch of Dota 2? Do you think it's good or is it still lacking some things to make the experience as a support player better?
Fly: "I think what the main changes have been with the way XP works. With wisdom runes and everything, there's going to be games where these changes are going to have a massive impact on the game, whether it's from the items you get to buy or simply by being high level. It happens more often now than it used to.
If you go back, seven, eight years ago as a position five, you would just walk around with no items, just some wards, and that's kind of it. You’d have very low contribution sometimes. Nowadays, I think the changes are a good thing because it makes it more fun for people to play that position, because you're going to have a higher impact on the game. So I do like the direction it's been heading. Especially not having to pay for wards is nice."
Which hero do you think is extremely playable right now? And which hero do you think is just niche or you shouldn't be picking up at all?
Fly: "From my position, it would probably be Phoenix. I think Phoenix is in a pretty good state right now. It feels like with the recent buff to sunray and the faster you get XP nowadays. The hero feels pretty good to play. You have different item builds you can go as well. For example, if you look at Quest Esports, this guy has been buying Hex first item, but you can easily go a different route and go for a Veil of Discord build. So the hero feels pretty versatile in what it can do.
On the other side, I'd probably have to say Enigma since he got hit hard with nerfs. Not being able to deny and paying with your own HP really hurts the hero. The hero is kind of a weird state right now, and I don't see anybody playing it in my games. I haven't played it, and I don't want to play it. But part of me hopes he gets something going for him. Or somebody figures out a way to play him."
That's some great observations there. Is there a particular feature in the past that you miss? Something you wish you can come back in the future?
Fly: "There was some time that I personally always enjoyed playing heroes with saving mechanics. I think we haven't had a patch where those kinds of heroes are really valued for a long time. It's not necessarily like the map or specific feature that I miss. It's just certain heroes, and I think some of them deserve buffs.
I think Valve has been light on the hero changes this year because of how big the map changes were. I felt like even when the new frontiers patch came out, the same heroes were still being played. But, Dazzle is finally getting some love, which I like. But here's heroes like Abaddon, like Wyvern, that they’ve been out of the meta for forever now."
Fly on fitness and a message to Shopify Rebellion fans
You've been a big advocate of fitness. Could you speak on the importance of going to the gym or just staying fit in general and how it plays into Dota 2? As well as your life as a whole?
Fly: "Yeah. So fitness, for me, is just a way of life. For me, it's not a question of “Am I going to work out?” It's just part of my routine, a part of my day. I think personally, it helps me have a good routine for myself. So, I always know what to expect of my day and how it's gonna pan out. And that's how I get better practicing, like meaningful practice.
I also think it helps my brain stay sharp cause I’m an older player now. I'm like 30, which is an older player, at least in Dota. And I think being fit has helped me keep my body in shape. Some people I know have wrist or back pain, while I'm doing pretty good for myself. And also mentally, I feel good. Even when I just play pubs. So I cannot advocate enough for how good fitness has been for me, personally. And I would suggest everybody does it."
Finally, is there anything you wish say to your fans out there?
Fly: "I just want to thank the fans, as always. For the people who have cheered for me, my team. It's always nice to see good messages out there from people even when it's been rough the past couple of months. It's not been the best year for us. To fans who stay out there — you always make my day a little better. So thank you guys for that!"