SunBhie, also known as Jeong-jae Lee or simply Pete, is an ex-pro gamer turned coach that has been with Team Secret for quite some time. The Korean player who previously played for MVP.Hot6ix before taking on the mantle of a coach was kind enough to provide an exclusive to EsportsHeaven amidst all the roster shuffle post TI8.
In this interview, SunBhie explains the process behind the selection of Ludwig "Zai
" Wahlberg and Michal "Nisha
" Jankowski in Team Secret post TI8, Team Secret's run throughout the inaugural DPC season leading up to TI8, their strength and weakness that led to mixed performances from the team, thoughts on the upcoming DPC season and why he isn't in favour of the new system, reasons as to Dota 2's lack of growth in South Korea, his contributions as a coach, expectations from Team Secret in the near future and much more.
Hey Pete. Thanks for agreeing to the interview. You're on vacation in South Korea right now, your homeland. How is it going?
Ah, it's going well. It was really hot here a month ago, record-breaking heat, but most of that has passed and it's nice here. Korea and I have a love-hate relationship, but I've been warming up to this place more in the recent years. [I] hung out with Heen. Meeting some friends whom I have crossed path within the past through Dota. Good times.
Love-hate relationship. Please don't hold back ... I'm curious to know more about this.
Immigrants are often called a fossil of the time they left. I am a Korean of the year 1999. And Korea of 2018 is vastly different from when I left. I'm a remnant of a past that Korea once was, and I feel foreign and a little upset about how some things have changed for the worse. Not that Korea was a paradise back then. Things are clearly better now in many aspects. But along the way, I can't help but feel that they have lost something valuable.
Also, my recent experience in Korea was ridden [by] hardship and struggle. And that has left a bit of bitter taste. Still, there is a lot to admire about Korea compared to my boring little city of 30,000 that seemed to be frozen in time.
What kind of hardships are we talking about?
Well, I did suffer over two years of losing, if not more, in poor working conditions. People seem to expect because Korea is a developed nation, things are flowery and wonderful here. It could not be further from the truth.
That's awful. Hopefully, you're in a better place now. Heen and you have two things in common; coaching and being friends. Heen coaches Team Liquid while you coach Team Secret -- two of the best western teams. As friends and former team-mates, besides being coaches, do you both discuss with each other about strategy and the game? Kindly provide some insight on this topic.
We often joke that we each work for Professor X and Magneto. We are just underlings of these two great mutants ... like some spin-off sitcom of the henchmen of two evil masterminds, we tend to come together and shoot the shit about our daily lives at after parties.
We have great respect for each other and our jobs. Our professional integrity is unmatched and we never share any information that is not ours to share. We do not talk to each other during a tournament, and only talk once it's over, at an after party.
I used to love talking Dota with him. But I remember when taking this job in Secret, I messaged him and said, "I guess we can't do this anymore" and he said "yeah..".
Who is Professor X and Magneto in this case? I assume Kuroky and Puppey, respectively? (smiles)
Puppey likes metal. Do the math (sic). Also, we are the bad guys, we all wear black and Liquid is classic white jersey.
Hahaha, I love this friendly banter. Let's talk about Secret a bit. You've been coaching Secret since 2017 and the team has seen tremendous success. However, [the] public is of the opinion that Secret peaks at the wrong time and ends up performing below-par at crux tournaments; such as TI on every iteration of Secret except TI8 where the team had a respectable 5-6th place finish. What do you make of it?
I think we did okay in this TI. Not too
upset over it. Obviously, losing is losing. I don't know. No amount of pro-Dota could have prepared you for Season 1 of DPC and I think we did well. We went to 16 tournaments and still showed up to TI and did okay. Can't be too upset given the tough journey we had.
Doesn't it bother that from starting off winning the Major and Minor, the team fumbles down slowly? My point being related to the performance of the team in general. Starting off on a high note and then struggling during the remainder of DPC season.
It is frustrating. I'm not sure what to make of it. I learned a lot in DPC season 1. But I don't know. Knowing what I know now, if I were to go back in time I could fix what was broken then. Winning and losing is part of the game and we all must learn to get better at losing I suppose.
What was broken?
Probably [the] team chemistry.
That brings me to my next question. From the perspective of a coach, what were Secret's strength and weakness in the previous DPC season that led to mixed results?
Secret's strength and weakness was the versatility, which at times was only an attempt at versatility, and not truly versatile. We did not want to confine themselves to certain play-styles or heroes. We wanted to play what was good
. It's ambitious, perhaps even unrealistic, and our results reflect that. When it worked however, it was beautiful.
In short, it was the volatility or instability in terms of play-style? Am I correct?
Volatility came as a side effect. It certainly wasn't a play-style we were aiming for. Chaos wasn't what we wanted. We wanted to play uncompromising good
Dota that had no restrictions of play-style or heroes.
Nisha and Zai are replacing Ace and Fata, respectively in the new iteration for the upcoming season. The latter has been a part of Team Secret before, however, the former's recruitment is kind of a surprise. Nisha played mid for Kinguin and I presume he'll take on the mantle of Ace's role. What was the reasoning behind recruiting those two?
We wanted Zai last year. He had made commitments then and he sticks to them. He's a strong player and his character is admired within the team. I am sure we will have our own slew of problems as a team always does. But we have a hopeful outlook with Zai in addition to our team.
As for carry, we were discussing our options, and when Puppey mentioned Nisha, "oh right, this guy exists, what the hell?" To be fair, we don't know what he's really like. So I don't know what to expect from him far as chemistry goes. But I trust Puppey in ironing out a strong teammate out of anyone long as they listen and are skilled. And Nisha is undoubtedly a skilled player.
As you previously mentioned on Secret attending so many tournaments and yet performing on the biggest stage of all, must have been exhausting. This year, it's completely the opposite. Total number of Valve supported tournaments amount to only 10; 5 Majors and 5 Minors. Also, details on the new DPC season were made public. What are your thoughts?
In the coming season, I do not know how many non-DPC tournaments there will be, but I think it sucks that there is half the tournaments thus half the prize-pool. It's actually less, since [teams attending the majors] cannot go to minors. Well, I suppose the total money is still half of the first season. I dislike it more that no players are talking about this and there is no collective player body to address this.
If in any industry if the revenue is cut by half, there would be some resistance. But in Dota, no one seems to care. Or even if they do, there is no proper outlet for voice.
I think season 1 DPC's travelling was too much so I welcome the reduced number of tournaments. But I wish they had increased the prize-pool of these events to compensate. They don't have to match last season's prize-pool completely, but not a hard 50% cut. Perhaps I appear greedy when talking about this, but hey, our scene's prize-pool just got smaller by half. This is a topic to be discussed in my opinion. Ded gaem??
I am not a fan of zero invites. I understand where they are coming from, but could there not have been a better solution? I think consistency should
A player union similar to what CSGO has? What about ACE and China? How will a union help Dota 2 considering how ACE progressively hindered China's success?
I have no idea what sort of power ACE has in China. I can't speak on their behalf, but a player union of CSGO in Dota equivalent would be great. It's harder to do than it sounds however due to politics involved between teams and players. But it's something the scene needs. I'm not going to sit here and cry about how difficult our lives are, but it would help smooth out the rough edges that are often overlooked.
Fair enough. What do you make of TI8 in general and what can we expect out of Secret in the upcoming season?
The International. To be granted an opportunity to compete in such a tournament is the most amazing thing. Then to experience defeat in the said tournament is also the most terrible thing. In the end, one winner and seventeen losers. I have mixed feelings. But I wish to return each year and compete in my own ways and I hope the tradition of the greatest esports event in the world will continue.
For the season ahead, we hope to deliver our fans a stronger and more mature version of Team Secret. A team that can push the limits of this game and make viewers feel like they are witnessing something truly special.
First and foremost you're a pro player before assuming the mantle of a coach. Have you ever considered going pro again? After all, we do have a success story in 7ckngMad winning a TI after being OG's coach for a considerable amount of time.
I think most coaches want to play than to coach, and perhaps I'm not much different. But I enjoy my job immensely and realistically speaking, it would be far too hard to play again to reach a level of my desire. I think Ceb's story is inspiring but we should not only look at the end result of his journey.
OG was a struggling team with many hardship before they were able to score a TI. His path was treacherous and it's really nothing but short of a miracle that they got there. Not to say that they did not deserve it, but it would not have surprised anyone if they haven't.
It's quite a journey to put myself through and am I really strong enough? I don't know.
Does this mean you've hung up your boots for good as a pro?
How do you contribute to the team as a coach?
I'm not sure. I mean, I can say the basics like I help with draft preparation and other standard coach-y things. But usually, I try to contribute in subtle ways that is hopefully effective. I am sometimes a secondary manager to the team. Sometimes a secondary captain, sometimes just a friend, sometimes an analyst. I just do what I am needed to do, whatever that may be
As a Korean, how do you feel about Dota 2's development in the country? Why is it lacking behind other game titles like LoL and SC despite having one of the biggest esports industry in the world?
Dota 2 is indeed not very successful in Korea. But in my opinion, if you have the fire to be the best as we all did when we were young, it should not stop you from chasing your dream. It did not stop us in the days of Warcraft 3 with poor infrastructure and replay system. It's not stopping this 14 year old boy in Mineski/TNC net cafe in plastic chairs playing with 50fps. In a world where you literally have everything at your fingertips, why should you fail to at least give an honest attempt at chasing your dream?
There are plenty of top Korean gamer's in games that are not popular in Korea. Dota just does not have it for whatever reason. I must believe the problem lies in the player, not the community or the environment.
Alright, Pete. This concludes the two hour long interview .. and it's been interesting to say the least. Anything you'd like to say?
Shout-outs to all our fans and sponsors. To John our CEO and Cyborgmatt our manager who work tirelessly to make our daily lives less stressful. To everyone who share the passion for this game that make everything possible. Love you all.
And thanks for having me, KarY.
If you would like to know more about my work, you can follow me at KarY.