Graphics by shiroiusagi. Art by Valve
We've gone through the entire team; ixmike88, BuLba, TC, and Korok. Except for one; our fearless leader, Liquid`Fluff. He of the wise blogs and clever picking. We spoke with him about his past in Dota, his philosophy of how he wants the team to play, and all the usual get to know you questions. Check it out below!
Hey, thanks for speaking with us! How's it going?
Liquid`FLUFF: Hi, I’m doing well.
Could you briefly introduce yourself for those who might not know you so well?
FLUFF: My name is Brian “FLUFFNSTUFF” Lee and I’m the captain of Team Liquid’s Dota 2 team. I’ve been playing Dota for about 7 years now and I mainly play support. I’m 20 years old and I live in California. FLUFFNSTUFF was the very first account name I’ve ever created. Since I have curly hair, my friends always called me “Fluff” in school and it’s been with me ever since.
You're the captain of TL, what does that mean?
FLUFF: Being the captain of Team Liquid means that I’ve got a commitment to whole-hearted dedication, respect, and excellence. In my eyes, being the captain means assuming full responsibility.
What first attracted you to Dota?
FLUFF: I was introduced to Dota by some of my high school friends many years back. Everyone seemed to play and though I wasn’t much of a gamer, I eventually gave in. I was instantly enchanted by every aspect of the game and I made it my goal to surpass all of my friends.
When did you first start to settle in to your current role as a hard support?
FLUFF: I would rather call it secondary support (a term I use). Secondary supports generally spot the hard support players in buying wards, but our main focus is on controlling the game and making due with the little resources allocated to us.
It’s been my choice role for about 4 years now. I used to want to play the mid role, but I was heavily influenced by my mentor FinalWorld. Final was the most selfless player I’ve ever met, who taught me patience and many other virtues. He showed me that supports, truly, have the most impact and that I didn’t need flashy items or farm to prove myself.
I believe so strongly in this role. I believe that it is the most impactful and flexible role in the game. By nature, I’m able to adjust to every situation simply through a variety of hero picks and I can control the game immediately. I love to initiate, gank, push and lead. All of which are facilitated in being a support hero. With all of that being said, I implore everyone to consider supportive roles.
How did you first get into being a captain?
FLUFF: Now that I think about it, every person I’ve gravitated towards or labeled as a mentor was a leader. I used to look up to the players who were so seemingly grounded and selfless. I’ll admit that sometimes, even to this day, I question my choice to captain. However, I absolutely believe that it’s where I belong and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I tended to clash opinions with a lot of people in the past, so I’ve always assumed leadership roles (for about 3 years now). I captain because of the examples that I tried live up to and, then, surpass. I captain because I believe in my own ideals and I like going against the grain. It’s a double- edged sword at times though. Often times in pubs I can’t help but tell people what to do and how to do it, making it hard to relax. Winning is definitely very important to me and I do everything it takes to succeed, even if it means barking at defenseless pub players.
Tell us about how you formed FIRE and what your expectations were at the time?
FLUFF: Team FIRE was my very first passion project in Dota 2. The moment that The International was announced for the first time was when I decided that I wanted to go to TI2. I didn’t know how I would do it or who would help me, all I knew was this was my dream. I remember being on a long flight home from Cambodia that summer, where I couldn’t stop thinking about The International. That’s when I thought of my plan for the upcoming year.
It was my goal to create a team on my own terms. I’ve joined several teams through certain forums, whereby “tryouts” were held and people believed in terms like “high skill” and “dedicated”. In fact, those requirements were explicitly stated 90% of the time. To keep a long story short, all of these teams failed outright or disbanded within weeks. I attribute it to the fact that these teams were always judging the tryouts with only short-term goals in mind. Not only that, but they weren’t even friends. These teams were shots in the dark, where random players would assemble and hope to find success, let alone “like” each other.
So how did you do things differently?
FLUFF: My plan was to make my team in the most fluid possible way (explained below). The truth was that I only had several friends who I even considered and most of them hadn’t worked out in the past. The only true friend I had at the time was HANNAH_MONTANA (my former teammate). In the months leading up to the beginning of 2012, I had made it my goal to socially network as much as possible. During that time, I had played an insane amount of pub games in order to add as many talented players as possible. I decided that I didn’t want to add or try to play with any accomplished players. I wanted to find players without egos, who had new perspectives.
Next, I started inviting players to ring for scrims (basically stand-ins) instead of playing pubs. I made sure that we all got in some sort of voice program and that no one felt any pressure to succeed or fail. Simply, we were playing for fun in a competitive setting. I never spoke a word about forming a competitive team. All the while I was judging them secretly. I was judging their characters by screening their ambitions, hopes, abilities and most importantly their dedication to the game. It’s kind of funny to me to think that some players could’ve been a part of FIRE or even compLexity had they accepted my invites more often.
So TC and ixmike were the most dedicated?
FLUFF: Players came and went, but some repeatedly said yes; TC was one of these players. I started inviting TC and the others to participate in small weekly tournaments consistently and then I humored the idea of forming a team. It scared some people off, yet several people stuck around. TC was resistant as well, claiming to have a really intense school schedule. However, as time went on, I kept inviting him and things fell into place.
Ixmike88 was my friend for a long time. He had always showed signs of complete dedication and I really valued that. Mike did have a team at the time, but once they disbanded I asked him to join us. Mike is a really special person because he wasn’t a support player originally. He told me that he would make any sacrifice and he would take on any role that our team needed, so I began teaching him everything I knew about support. It was really rough at the start, but I was always thinking long-term and Mike was taking all the right steps.
It’s a very long story, so I’ll leave it at ixmike and TC. As far as expectations went, I never lost sight of TI2. We underwent a couple of downward spirals, but I kept reminding everyone that we would only gain strength by losing and that it wasn’t important in the long run. At a really critical point in our team’s journey, I felt that it was necessary to do a write up. I named this document “The Clockwork Project”, which essentially was a 9,200 word essay about who I am as a person and what my goals were. I wanted to make sure that our team’s ideas were congruent and that everyone could place their faith in me and my ideals. This strengthened our team and quickly reaffirmed our commitment to endure all the hardships of making a successful team.
For whatever reason, I just knew that I was going to the next International event. There were no tell-tale signs, and I wouldn’t have bet on it as an outsider. However, I was just compelled beyond all reason to take off a year from school (against my parents wishes) to pursue this whole-heartedly.
What do you like about ixmike88 and TC? What unique things do they bring to the table?
FLUFF: Like I said earlier, ixmike88 is a special guy. Mike is an open book, what you see is what you get. He’s extremely dedicated and makes sacrifices to see our team succeed. I give him a task and he completes it without any attitude. Mike puts his ego aside 100% of the time. There aren’t many words out there that can justify how much he does for this team.
TC is like the yin to my yang. TC likes to be very logical and scientific, where I like to be abstract and visceral. He keeps me in balance by refuting my wacky ideas with hero picks and strategies. However, he’s open-minded and doesn’t crush my ideas until they fall flat on their face. Maybe one fault with Tyler is that he is very much so a “Mr. Hindsight” type of guy. For the most part he’s incredibly talented and consistent with every hero he plays. TC doesn’t have an ego and if you hate him you probably have some personality disorder because it’s impossible. In a few words: Intelligent, rational, and easy-going.
You were picked up by compLexity and led the team to a breakout performance at TI2, what was that like?
FLUFF: Complexity was our first legitimate sponsor and we were extremely excited to be playing under such a prestigious organization. It was a massive relief because we knew we had all our bases covered. I remember when Hannah had to play Dota with 15 FPS in teamfights and didn’t have proper peripherals. It was horrific seeing him miss spells because of frame skipping. We were extremely naïve back then, but it didn’t affect us much. All I wanted to do was go to TI2 and complexity definitely helped us in several different ways.
Can you explain how you guys prepared for The International? What helped you guys gain an edge, at least over the other non-Chinese teams?
FLUFF: Preparing for TI2, I believe we were one of the only teams who scrimmed every day consistently for months (even before boot camp). We woke up every morning around 7 or 8 a.m. to play against European teams and played until we couldn’t maintain focus. It was extremely grueling practice, but we had shown significant improvement and results up until the event (namely winning The Defense 2). I don’t think anyone could argue that compLexity wasn’t the most dedicated team to practice in the western scene at that time.
We gained our edge in just practicing a ton of the same stuff over and over. On occasion we mixed it up, but our fundamentals were all developed really well. We had really effective communication between Jeyo and I during teamfights, which helped everyone choose the correct focus targets. I always kept certain core items in mind, specifically mek and pipe, so we always had teamfight advantages if our opponents didn’t match us.
Most of all, I was feeling really confident and even though when I look back our efficiency was laughable, it was the emotion that mattered most. I believed in my ideas so much that it didn’t matter what anyone told me or thought. I really do laugh when I look back on those replays and see how foolish we were. There are so many mistakes that make me scratch my head, but it’s also inspiring to see how we’ve improved and that my perspectives changed.
What would it have taken to compete with the best Chinese teams then?
FLUFF: It would’ve taken efficiency, method, and mental toughness. There is no doubt in my mind that the disparity in mechanical skill between competitive players isn’t too out of whack.
What lessons did you learn from TI2 that still stick with you?
FLUFF: A ton! I learned so much that it made my head spin for months after the event. I listed efficiency, method and mental toughness, so I owe an explanation.
Efficiency means not wasting time and resources mainly. There are a lot of things we could’ve done to maximize our efficiency, such as letting our core heroes place wards instead of having Mike roam from lane to lane.
Method was the one thing that I couldn’t pinpoint during that event. I remember sitting in the Valve office cafeteria contemplating each and every day about trilanes in specific detail. It was extremely stressful on me and ultimately I never found my answer during the event. I’m really confident that, had I known what I know now, we would’ve been able to reach our top 3 goal.
Mental toughness was another thing I had to learn the hard way. It wasn’t the booming crowds or being on stage. I found myself blanking in and out of thought because I was starting to doubt myself. I wasn’t ready to take control of my team and fully commit to my plans. I opted to listen to my teammates and it amalgamated into mediocre lineups with mediocre concepts. I feel that I’m more prepared now and back then it was one of the first experiences I had with intense doubt.
As the captain of coL how did you first hear that Liquid was interested in forming a team with the core of you, TC, Mike, with BuLba and Korok added?
FLUFF: Bulba reached out to us after it was known that compLexity was taking an indefinite break. Jeyo had also opted out of our team to join EG and Bulba was left homeless. Bulba suggested forming this team and even though I saw the potential immediately, I wasn’t quite confident that I wanted to play just yet. However, as time passed, I slowly regained my motivation to play competitive and we began scrimming together casually.
What did you think at first? How much did you know about Liquid?
FLUFF: Not going to lie, Korok is a North American legend, so I was pretty excited by the idea of having him on my team. The guy kills couriers for no reason, simply because they walk passed him and clutches it out with heroes like Morphling and Storm. He was one of the most frustrating players to play against. Korok admits to focusing ixmike88 every game and made his life hell (haha). I even had a strategy formulated whenever we played against him: “Focus Korok no matter what once you see him, if we kill Korok we win the fight”.
I didn’t know much about Liquid except for the fact that TC would tab out constantly and ignore the drafts to be on the site and that it was a Starcraft community website. Funny story, I actually caught TC red-handed during our boot camp in Seattle. I was drafting for our scrim and I turned to TC to ask him a question. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t even know a thing about the draft because he was tabbed out reading Reddit and TL.
It's been about two months now since the team was formed. What is your take overall on how you guys have done?
FLUFF: It’s been lackluster at best, especially considering how much potential we have. However, understandably, it is an adjustment period for us. We’ve been working on ironing out our synergies with each other as well as friendships. My relationship with Korok and Bulba wasn’t very established before we decided to consider a team together. It’s been a rough patch, but better now than later. I understand how much hype there was surrounding our squad being picked up by TL, so sorry to disappoint. I definitely wanted to come out guns blazing. Recently, we’ve been performing pretty well in practice. Hopefully we’ll get to showcase our improvement as a team soon!
What is most in need of improvement?
FLUFF: Friendships and being comfortable with each other is one important aspect. Another one is getting Korok to log in on time. Bulba needs to stop private messaging everyone and be open with the team. Mike needs to learn how to use utensil and TC needs to play more Lone Druid. No, but seriously, we’re working on improving our method, our efficiency, and our communication. Overall we’re progressing without any signs of stagnating.
What has really been clicking?
FLUFF: Ixmike and Korok as BFF’s. TC’s bear has been rooting since he bought the new Panda skin for Lone Druid, but I don’t draft him nearly as often paradoxically. Mike and I have really made some strides in our effectiveness together. Finally, we are all getting very comfortable with each other.
A number of people have blamed the team's open line-ups, unusual hero picking, and lack of any set-in-stone style for a number of losses. Do you think that is a valid criticism?
FLUFF: I don’t really read much into what people choose to believe or place blame on. At the end of the day we’re the ones making the mistakes. We’re going to be fine, just give us time.
What benefits do you see to switching styles, instead of perfecting one or two lines and running them constantly?
FLUFF: I see the benefit in switching styles effectively. It shouldn’t be random. There should be an idea behind any draft and it should be prepared beforehand. I think there has to be a happy medium between the two ideas in order to effectively and consistently find success.
What's the philosophy behind the way Liquid approaches the game as opposed to how other teams run?
FLUFF: I’m not sure that I can give a complete answer to that question, quite yet.
Imagine seven months from now in August at TI3, Liquid has qualified and everything has worked out the best it could possibly work; what is the kind of team you would like to have?
FLUFF: I want a team that can execute perfectly in teamfights. I want to see the correct heroes being focused with the correct spells and all the players being very communicative. I want to see fewer mistakes, efficient sieges and effective mid-late game strategy.
Have you set benchmarks for the team? Do you have an idea of where you'd like to be in one month, or three months, ect?
FLUFF: Yes, of course. I hope to have 3 complete and very different lineups prepared. It is my goal to have all the viable heroes for each strategy to be figured out and mastered.
Liquid was a team built with tremendous upside, but also with the determination to work through any slumps or bad periods. What makes a team, and Liquid specifically, resilient?
FLUFF: Our core has experienced this before and it’s nothing new. I took a lot of lessons from the past and they are all applicable today. We’re not thinking short-term and our goals are defined. Our potential is nowhere near met and it’s motivating to see us cultivate our strengths every day.
Over the next seven months, Liquid will be competing in an increasingly crowded field of Western teams for a spot in TI3. Who do you think has the inside track so far? Which Western teams do you most admire?
FLUFF: There are so many good teams vying for the top positions, but at the moment I suspect that Empire is the favorite. I really admire this team and their captain Goblak. It’s hard to explain but Goblak seems to have a purpose for every move he makes and it’s really great to play against/watch.
How much of what you learn about Dota comes from watching other teams and how much do you come up with yourself?
FLUFF: 15% from other teams, 10% pubs, and the rest is just random.
Ultimately, as the captain, what's the number one most important thing you have learned to do?
FLUFF: The most important thing I’m continuing to learn is to be confident. I also try to act as a model for my teammates and make sure they never grow complacent. I don’t take any bullshit excuses and I keep things serious the majority of the time. I’m not afraid to call people out or have people call me out and I expect us to resolve our issues openly.
Alright, enough of the heavy questions. What's your favorite food?
FLUFF: I love eating all types of Italian food. I enjoy a really nice bowl of clam chowder.
FLUFF: Spirited Away, Waking Life, Django, Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind
If you could be any Dota 2 hero in real life, which would you choose and why?
FLUFF: I’d be Phantom Lancer so I could send illusions of myself to do mundane tasks and chores for me. More specifically I’d use to get me food.
Who's your favorite hero?
FLUFF: Mirana because she’s so versatile and fun. She’s also been my favorite since the very beginning.
FLUFF: Treant Protector because he doesn’t have the glowing eyes of the forest anymore. Those were so fun to litter to forests with.
What is your favorite type of weather?
FLUFF: California weather is perfect
Are you a morning person or an evening person?
FLUFF: I’m a productive morning person but I prefer the evenings when I can slack off
You did about a blog a month for compLexity, and you've kept that up with Liquid. What inspires you to write down your thoughts?
FLUFF: I desperately wanted insight into the minds of competitive players when I was trying to get into competitive. I used to look for archived interviews of players I admired and even went to great lengths to find Chinese blogs and get crappy translations done with google. I would’ve loved to read blogs of players I respected. It’s also pretty therapeutic.
How much do you know about starcraft?
FLUFF: Not really that much!
Who is your favorite Liquid starcraft player?
What is love?
FLUFF: Love is a lot of things. To me, love is caring enough about people to want to see them happy.
Beyond Dota, what would be your ideal job, and what would be a job you would never
want to do?
FLUFF: I used to want to be a teacher, but not so much anymore. I think if cooking didn’t take so much time I’d try my hand at being a pastry chef. If I had an invulnerability suit I’d want to be a deep ocean diver and walk on the ocean floor. I like arguing with people too, so maybe a lawyer. Psychiatry is really intriguing and psychology too. Wow, I didn’t even know I was interested in so many things. I would never want to be a janitor or a customer service rep.
Last one: what's something about someone else on the team that fans don't know?
FLUFF: We were having a lunch break and someone ordered a root beer float. Mike didn't know what it was and asked, "Is that a drink?". Everyone was saying, "What?! You don't know what a root beer float is?". When the waiter brought it into Mike's line of sight he said, "That's not a drink, it has a spoon!".
Alright, thanks so much for speaking with us! Any shoutouts?
FLUFF: Shoutout to my friends, family, and fans. Thank you to our sponsors Twitch, Shinythings, Razer, and Barracuda Networks. Shoutout to Rosy, Whitbeard, Pillo, Billy, Ana and Duds.