Mag interview: “Back in the day, when you were going to play in a tournament it felt like your friend invited you to his birthday party”

Natus Vincere’s coach Andrey “Mag” Chipenko was kind enough to take time during his team’s preparation for OMEGA League to sit and talk with our special reporter Taras Bortnik. The conversation started with the latest roster changes, the challenges coming with a new team captain, how his coaching duties change with every new player added to the team, and towards the end of the chat Mag pushed the nostalgia button and talked about the starting days of NAVI, the very first The International, the way it impacted his life and how the old Dota days felt for those aspiring to a competitive career.

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Hi Mag, how is it going? If I am not mistaken, you are supposed to be at the bootcamp?

Exactly. We are at our NAVI house. It’s a beautiful place, the weather is also nice. We’ve just gathered all here, the guys came to the bootcamp on the 8th of August.

Perhaps I’m not the only one wondering why is Immersion the captain since he has zero experience in this capacity. How did you guys get to this decision?

True, he hasn’t been captain before. But I don’t think that this is a problem. When we played with Zayac, he also had minimum experience in coordinating and leading people. The most important thing is to have the will and desire to lead. You don’t have to be afraid of responsibility. Not every player can do that. Immersion is someone with a lot of initiative. Starting from his very first days with the team he had a lot of suggestions and did a lot of the stuff related to our preparation. So, when we asked him if he would also consider starting to draft, he immediately agreed. In addition, we were lacking the guy who would take responsibility in the midgame.

This is a thorny path, because a lot of failures will await you. But at the same time, that’s how you learn things. As the captain, you have to realize that sometimes you can lose because of a wrong call, or a bad draft.

I was the one who was drafting for a long time, but we decided that this was the wrong way. For now, Immersion is drafting and I am just advising him. He tries to pick strong meta-heroes and execute a game plan with them. That’s what we were looking for. When we were looking for the “fourth” position player we were also searching for the captain. Yes, usually the captain role belongs to the five position players, but I consider this as a stereotype.

It’s very important to have someone inside the team who also understands the idea behind the draft and who is able to give a proper explanation to the team during the game, like what’s our goal in the laning stage and what’s the game plan for the midgame or the late stage.

There are a couple of types of in-game leaders in Dota 2. We have the SoNNeiko type, someone who is incredibly dominant and demanding and we have the Zayac type of a captain, someone who, roughly speaking, is making a general game plan and counts on his teammates individual skill to execute it. In which category is Immersion falling?

He’s somewhere in the middle. What I really like Immersion for is that he has his own vision on the game and that he can stand his ground. I think that those qualities are very important for a captain. Irreplaceable.

Generally speaking, we asked Immersion to be a captain simply because he has all the inclinations for such a role. He played for a long time with Misha and although he didn’t do all the captain stuff, he was always interested in it. He is a very serious and hard-working young guy, who is also trying hard as a player. Because of that, he has a huge hero pool. But at the same time, in some moments related to captain’s duties, he will also devote a lot of time to watching replays, thinking about drafts. In this regard, he is very hardworking. This is a person who lives and breaths Dota 2 24/7.

It’s a common opinion that there is a unique chemistry between the captain and the coach. You coached a few leaders in the past,  do you change your attitude depending on the person you are working with or are you always the same Mag?

I switch the approach of course. All people are different. During my time with NAVI, we had two captains, SoNNeiKo and Zayac. These two are completely different guys and each of them requires a unique approach and bond. I can say that we are still in the process of creating the chemistry between us, me and Immersion. Until now, we only got to work and talk online and that wasn’t enough. Here, at the bootcamp, we have the opportunity to get along better, build the chemistry and establish cooperation. The better we understand each other, the easier we will go forward. In some way, the coach and the captain set up the direction for the whole team.

How do you like the progress of the new NAVI, are you satisfied?

Let’s put it in this way. After the break, we found out that we had some issues. In communication, in team ideas, and in the way we cooperate together. That’s what we are trying to fix now. When we decided to play with Immersion and young G in the middle of June, we played a lot of srims and we did great. We felt the meta and everything was smooth and well. We just had to work things out that way.

For now, we lost a bit of that feeling. But I do think that we have enough time to improve and find ourselves on the good side of Omega League.

Do you feel confident with the new patch, how do you like it as a player?

I was surprised a bit. I mean that after 7.27 was released, I read it a couple of times, then I played some pubs and I realized that the patch wasn’t as global as the previous one. Usually, Valve changes the game way more by adding shrines, outposts, etc. But this time there weren’t many innovations.

However, Dota has still changed, we got a new meta, new heroes made their way in the pool, but I don’t think that the game changed as much as we used to. We played right after the patch came out with some of the new meta heroes, but after a while, we noticed that something was wrong. We figured out that plenty of the old heroes are still working well.

We do know which heroes are good for us and we are trying hard to play with them during scrims. But I have to admit that we are still not completely confident in the new patch. I played a lot, mostly to try something new for 9pasha. I like how Valve refreshed the hero pool for offlane and now we have way more heroes which were forgotten in previous patches. Darkseer, Magnus, Brewmaster to name just a few. Pubs are way more interesting to play.

All the games I watched with Venomancer in the offlane were lost. I just don’t get the idea of that hero in the hard lane. Can you please explain to me why people favor this hero in this position?

Well, when the patch just came out and teams picked Venomancer against us a couple of times, it was very hard to play against such a nasty hero. We tried to play with it too. We had a high win rate with it during practice, but failed to execute Veno properly in the officials. We played our lanes poorly and we picked the wrong support with it.

I don’t think that Venomancer is this imba hero of the patch. It’s very situational. For example, Veno is good against Faceless Void, which is a meta hero right now. Other than that, he is pretty average. What’s the idea behind the Veno pick? As I can see it now, the laning stage is crucially important and Veno is a lane dominator. Plus, you can leave that hero alone when he gets his snakes to level 3. The key to success with Venom is to get a good support for him and win the lane.

You and 9pasha have an interesting background. You started your story by being teammates in Vega Squadron and reunited in NAVI at the beginning of this season. How do you see your relationship with Pasha, are you just two colleagues or are you also good friends?

We talk a lot, and here at bootcamp we share the room. Also, we like to discuss offlane stuff: builds, lanning stage etc. Sometimes it happens that I annoy him with some ideas and I make him try them. Anyway, I think that he’s one of the best players in the world in his position. Pasha had a long road to prove that he is one of the best. He has a deep understanding of his role in connection to a huge hero pool. I also try to play and find some stuff that can be useful and he often agrees. So we always have something to discuss.

I’d like to think that we could spend more time together if we’d live in the same city. But since we are separated by distance, we mainly spend a lot of time together on the bootcamp. And we have one more common thing in common. Pasha got me addicted to Mortal Kombat. Usually, he kills me without a chance, but I try to show my best. We usually play it before we go to sleep, to have better dreams (laughs).

You are 30 years old. Has the community forced you to become a coach or did you decide so yourself?

One of the reasons why I became a coach is because people were sceptical about me as a player, precisely because of my age. That made it much more difficult for me to find a team. I think that all depends on the person, but a player can perform at the top level, in one of the best teams in the world even after 30. Just look at Puppey. I am sure he will continue to play for a long time and not once he amazed us with his drafts and high level of play.

Another reason for which I switched to coaching is Ceb. He inspired me to do that. I decided that I was stagnant. As a player, I felt for a while that I wasn’t making any kind of progress and I  realized that I just need to move forward. I felt that my experience could be put into something different and that I can establish myself as a coach. At that time, I wanted to work with SoNNeiKo, because I had played with him before, so I knew that we would be on the same page. This is how I joined NAVI.

Now I understand that I want to develop myself in this direction. I want to take the team to a new level. I believe that we have not reached the level that we deserve, but I will not rest until we succeed. I have to admit that coaching has its own buzz. I tried to do a lot for the team. I’ve been drafting from time to time. This has, in any case, a huge impact on the game, on the result. In addition, there are many more duties that the coach performs. I like it. This is something interesting, something new. I found out that when I watched the game from the sidelines, I started to understand the game better.

Of course, I had to develop some qualities. At the beginning I had no clear understanding of what would be the right thing to do from the coach position. Sometimes you need to talk face to face with a player. Sometimes, when you see some kind of decline in performance you have to talk to almost everyone. You need to choose the right words after a defeat or before the game. I haven’t even tried this before. As an example, in football it’s absolutely normal for coaches to give a  motivational speech before the game. As a player, I never even thought about that. And only when I became a coach, I realized that there are other things that need to be done. Like Ceb, who is both a player and a coach. If you look at the True Sight, you see how Ceb is inspiring, motivating his players. For the most part, he performs a lot of functions that a coach should perform, in my understanding.

Plus, we’ve had a psychologist for over a year. His name is Andrey, and I was pleased that we found such a person, who, to some extent, “pumps” me, teaches me how to be a good coach.

One of the most impressive highlights of Ceb as coach was the moment from True Sight of Kyiv Major, when he helped Ana to recover his morale. Did you have such a moment in your career?

Well, I had a bit of a different situation since we weren’t playing in such tournaments. The TI9 qualifier was a tense experience for us, but at the same time, it was a significant achievement. I managed to handle it. SoNNeiKo put his trust in me.

I always try to lift the mood of the team, but I also can set the direction, the strategy or the draft. When the team is losing the key to the victory, I try to maximize all that I can do.

I haven’t had such talks as Ceb had with Ana, but I am sure that it awaits me in the future.

SoNNeiKo is an enigma to me. He is obviously talented. He can gather a group of average players into a team which will get invited to tournaments. But at some point, he always parts ways with his team. You know him better than me, what do you think, why does that happen?

Tough question. I have no idea about what happened between him and NiP, but from the outside, it looks like the same story repeats every year.

I have a good attitude towards Akbar. He is a peculiar kind of person. He needs to feel that the team completely trusts him and that everyone is ready to follow him to the very end. And when eventually that mutual trust is challenged or the players start to doubt him, then the problems start to appear.

But again, I have no idea why he left NiP. Maybe because the team made a long way to a certain level and then struggled to take the next step. Maybe there were some arguments between players within the team, or between him and management.

Let’s talk about you. Many people don’t know, but you were one of the initial members of the 2010 NAVI roster.

It’s good to know that someone still remembers it. Yeah, me, XBOCT and Deff, we were the trio core of the 2010 roster. XBOCT was invited first and he asked us to join him. Back in those days there weren’t many serious organizations and Natus Vincere was my first one. You may know that their CS players were superstars already so I was pleased to play under that tag. Of course, no one knew that TI1 was going to happen and that NAVI would claim the very first Aegis.

The fact that my friends won The International highly motivated me. One of the very first things I did after they won TI was to switch on distance learning at the university and save money to buy a PC by working in a gaming club as admin. After half a year I bought a new computer which definitely gave me a huge boost.

Can you remember that roster, how did it feel to play together?

We were together only for two months and, obviously, this is not enough to become a team. Me and XBOCT were playing together for 1.5 years in different stacks and leagues. Those are very warm and pleasant memories. Golden times (laughs). I miss those times, I miss tournaments in Kyiv, in internet cafes (clubs) where we were a lot of players. When we were playing in my club, Iceberg, Pikachu and others who were just starting to play Dota, constantly watched how we played, they followed us and enjoyed every game we played together. 

With esports expanding into a huge industry, do you miss something from those old times?

Definitely. Players were much more open and communicative. Back in the day, when you were going to play in a tournament it felt like your friend invited you to his birthday party. There would be a lot of people, it would be fun and regardless of the result you’d enjoy it. It’s hard to explain, but everything is so different now. Many young players are not that friendly and that’s a part of the problem.

Back in the days, we had this cozy atmosphere at LANs. The players were much more active in terms of communication between each other. It’s hard to explain. Now everything is more spectacular, with hype and huge prize money at stake. But back then, matches could be just for a box of beer in a club. We played for an idea, it was cool.

Absence of TI put a void into the heart of the community. Do you think that it also affects the players’ motivation?

I totally agree with you. But anyway, I think that we have to be happy with what we have: tournaments, games, fans. We can continue to do what we all love. Sports have been paralyzed because of the COVID-19. I just hope that TI will happen next year. Because, yeah, it hurts. For everyone, TI is the most important tournament; it’s the only goal. But again, we have to appreciate what we have.

Fng recently said that tier 1 teams don’t play screams at all due to the lack of LAN tournaments. As far as I can see, this makes it way harder for lower tier teams to improve since they have no real challenge in scrims. How much does this affect the preparation?

This is a sore subject now because this thing affects us. Imagine that right before the Major all top teams are scrimming all the time to get in shape, and that’s a chance for lower teams to make a lot of progress. When the hunt for DPC points begins in the fall, I’m sure a lot of teams will try hard again.

But at the moment the tier 1 teams play little, train little. Tier 2 teams find it harder to progress. I am glad that we have the Omega League, where many strong teams are participating because it is a great practice for us.

Does the Omega League format work well for your team? 

I think this is the ideal format in the current circumstances. We are at bootcamp now, we will not play officials all the time, every day. We will have gaps between games. In this format, we can spend this time very productively, and it will give a huge boost for the team.

The main thing is not to tilt.

We have no problems with tilt.

Something you might want to say to the NAVI fans at the end of our interview?

Many people may be unhappy with some of the roster changes we made. But I want to say that these changes were balanced, they were made in order to get us to another level in the future. Our goal is the next TI and with the new players we will be able to reach Tier 1 level. Please be patient. We will try very hard because we want to meet the expectations of the fans and the organization.
 

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More interviews from OMEGA League:

Liquid – Blitz: “Any coach would want to work with these guys”
Alliance – Handsken : “The beauty with this game is that there is always so much to learn”
NiP – Era: “The problem with competing from home is that you are surrounded with possible distractions”

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