Pro Breakdown: Talon Esports and the SEA Dota Pro Circuit

Talon Esports entered the Dota 2 competitive scene with a star-studded international line-up headlined by Israeli-Canadian captain Tal
Talon Esports entered the Dota 2 competitive scene with a star-studded international line-up headlined by Israeli-Canadian captain Tal "Fly" Aizik (middle), star Filipino carry Kim "Gabbi" Villafuerte (right), and Australian offlaner Damien "kpii" Chok (left). (Illustration by Yahoo Esports SEA, Photos: TNC Predator, Evil Geniuses, Talon Esports)

This is Pro Breakdown, a series by Yahoo Esports Southeast Asia where we talk with pro players, coaches, experts, and other personalities about anything and everything in the region's esports scene.

For the first entry in this series, we spoke with Singaporean Dota 2 veteran and Nigma Galaxy SEA coach Nicholas "xFreedom" Kelvin Ileto Lim (@xfreedom on Twitter) about the recent entry of Talon Esports into the Dota 2 scene as well as the upcoming 2021-2022 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) season.

One of the biggest pieces of news in the Southeast Asian Dota 2 scene recently was the entry of Talon Esports with a star-studded lineup headlined by Tal "Fly" Aizik, Kim "Gabbi" Villafuerte, and Damien "kpii" Chok. While they were to qualify for Division II as expected, I think many were surprised that they lost the first open qualifier to Ragdoll.

What can you say about Talon's first showing as a team? Was that loss to Ragdoll just a fluke or more of a sign of things to come?

xFreedom: I wouldn't take away from how good Ragdoll is, I think they are also an up-and-coming team. Personally, I knew they were the team that could challenge Talon and take them down.

Ragdoll functions like a Chinese team that's just playing in the SEA region. I would add they have a different playstyle compared to other SEA teams that Talon may not be as used to playing against.xFreedom

With that said, I think Talon still has an all-star roster and that eventually they will be a team to look out for. They didn't really do well in the first open qualifier because, after all, they were a fresh team.

What do you think was the biggest reason why Talon lost in the first open qualifier?

xFreedom: Talon is a new team so they've only played one set of drafts for two or three series, they're still trying to figure out their identity as a team. From what I've heard, they haven't played any scrims at all (prior to the open qualifiers) and are playing apart from each other. Safe to say that, at the time, they haven't gotten together as a team yet.

You can say that Talon is walking in the shadow of Evil Geniuses (EG). Talon's players play similar heroes to EG's players, it's just that they're in a different region.

But they're still in this adjustment period and they still need to transform themselves, figure out what works and what doesn't for them. I think eventually what Fly can bring to the team is that he knows how to utilize his players really well to their strengths.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Talon's roster is whether a Western captain in Fly will be able to adjust to playing with four players from all across SEA and lead them effectively. How do you think that process will turn out?

xFreedom: Things are mostly gonna go like, "Let's play what this guy is good at and see how it works," so it's like trial and error. It also depends a bit on the drafter's knowledge, on if he knows what works and what synergizes well with what his players are strong at.

Apart from the game, I think you just have to understand how this player wants to play the game, you either adapt to that guy or that guy adapts to you.

Singaporean Dota 2 veteran Nicholas
Singaporean Dota 2 veteran Nicholas "xFreedom" Kelvin Ileto Lim. (Photo: xFreedom)

You have some experience when it comes to this kind of situation since you were with Team Zenith when Jonathan "Loda" Berg moved to SEA to play with you guys back in 2012. What do you think will be the biggest adjustment Fly has to make in his move to SEA to play with Talon?

xFreedom: I think the issue mainly would be communication. For example, the way people pronounce certain words depends on where they're from. When I was with Loda, he pronounced certain words very differently and we misunderstood what he meant. But that's just for starters, along the way you just kinda sort everything out. The longer you stay with a player, the more you'll know how they communicate. A team just needs time to gel together.

What can you say about the level of competition in the Southeast Asian regional league now that Talon is set to join Division II while Division I feature powerhouses like T1, Fnatic, and BOOM Esports?

xFreedom: I'd say it's anyone's game and it will be a very fair fight.

It really depends on the momentum, the schedule, and how much information is out there because you actually have a lot of time to study your opponents.

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With the introduction of the regional league system in the previous season, the schedule has been much more important compared to past competitive formats. What do you make of this new development in how the Dota 2 regular season, so to speak, will be played out?

xFreedom: The time to prepare for a team is, I think, way too much. Usually when you play a tournament, it's all about riding your momentum. You know, you play the Group Stage where everyone sees what everyone else plays and then once you enter the Playoffs it's just do-or-die.

But in the new DPC, every week you just play one opponent and then everyone studies how you play. In Week 2 everyone brings out their cards, and then in Week 3 everyone studies from Week 1 and Week 2 how you reacted to certain situations.

Eventually you get to figure out what a team is good at and what they're not good at. And I feel like the team that plays in Week 6, the most crucial point, will have all these crucial information and that really impacts where you'll be in the final standings. So, for me, the schedule really plays a part in how you do in the groups.

From a competitive standpoint, do you think this new format is better or worse than before? With the competition so spread out, is there more or less pressure in certain points of the league?

xFreedom: I think the pressure is really high since every point matters in the end. You can do well in Week 1 and Week 2, but suddenly in Week 3 if you crumble then you have to scramble for a way to do well in Weeks 4, 5, and 6. In that way, it becomes like a survival-of-the-fittest kind of format.

Personally, I like the old format better where you just play the Group Stage straight into Playoffs. Because back then it really showed how fast a team can adjust, right?

In this new format, it's who prepares more that does better. In LANs you only have a day to prepare, so it really depends on your mentality and your stamina. You don't really have the time there, you play game after game and you only have the time to study your opponents at the end of the day.

For the 2021-2022 season, the DPC format has been changed to include three Tours for the Fall, Winter, and Spring as well as having more prize money and DPC points awarded with each successive Tour. What do you make of these changes as a competitor in the DPC?

xFreedom: It's a good step that they added an extra Tour this time, so that even if you miss the first Tour you can still make it if you do well in the second and third ones. Usually the first Tour is where the roster shuffles begin and people are trying to build new teams, so those new teams have better chances to prove themselves in the next tours.

I think the system just rewards the team that sticks together and does really well for that season, instead of the usual where you play one season and just switch around teams. I think it's building this stability in the Dota ecosystem, which is always a good thing.

As a viewer it's a good thing too, it's either you follow a certain organisation or a certain roster of players.

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