For South Koreans playing Starcraft and other games, what began in after-school PC bangs eventually blossomed into periods of untouchable eSports dominance. For Peruvians playing DotA, such a bright future is currently difficult to imagine. But a foundation is slowly growing.
The places are called cabinas, and the people who go to play are called cabineros. When you play on USEast and one of your teammates sounds like he’s playing from a goblin’s den, it’s most likely because he’s at the local PC cafe. “In other countries it’s common for people to have PCs, but not in Peru,” explained Carlos Casaverde, one of Team Unknown’s managers (through a translator, my Spanish-speaking counterpart Alex). So if you’ve got nothing to do after school in Peru, you’re likely headed to a cabina. It’s where your current and future friends are, and where talent occasionally receives just enough nourishment and opportunity to find daylight. The cabinas are where players like Ztok, Unknown’s Captain, and Atun, the player now infamous for antics like double blinkdagger QoP, spent their childhoods and forged a deep friendship – and professional partnership – that survived the latter’s episodes of immaturity. It is where the members of Team Unknown competed and grew up, moving from one cabina to another for tournaments.
Captain Ztok himself has played DotA for 8 of his 20 years of life. If he did not play DotA full-time, already an extremely rare profession in a country which does not really support or look upon eSports with any kind of reverence or enthusiasm, he says he would pursue his other passion: music. He is a piano player, loves salsa, and would try for the orchestra. Like many eSports competitors, Ztok’s parents weren’t happy when he told them he was going to play DotA full-time after high school. In Korea, eSports stars are often idolized; in China, a contracted DotA pro can often make twice as much as an entry-level white collar worker on base salary alone, not including streaming contracts and prize pools. “Money talks”, Ztok said, in noting that his parents began to come around once he started winning tournaments in other countries like Brazil. Frankfurt 2015 awards $30,000 in prize money to the last-place finishers, which would be roughly $100,000 Peruvian nuevo soles. That’s a solid amount in a country where you can get a Coke for as little as 15 US cents. Even if Unknown lose to Newbee and finish winless, making it this far is a solid haul for them. The managers joked about how much compensation recycling offers in Germany for cans and bottles, and that maybe we should go around to all of the practice rooms collecting them at day’s end.
Item dropping and other antics (about which some players talking to Unknown have expressed indifference or even amused approval) is, quite simply in Unknown’s words, psychological warfare. It’s taunting to try and cause tilt. There are pub players who go well beyond taunting and actually ruin ranked matches on a regular basis, but according to team managers this is mostly young kids at the cabinas. “We don’t like them either,” they said. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, but imagine a 10 year-old with his friends at the PC cafe. He may not have much time to play, doesn’t want to spend it in a match that isn’t fun or interesting, and has a short attention span. And until the Peruvian servers no longer have twice the ping of USEast, he’s going to continue ruining some of our pubs.
Atun’s double blink dagger QoP is a different story. According to Casaverde and Ztok, the incident happened in a game which they very much cared about and wanted to win. Casaverde said there are two sides to Atun, one in which he is supremely confident and motivated and doesn’t care in the slightest who his opposition is, and another in which he is frustratingly volatile. Smash is, by the way, not their pastor: that would be carry player Kotaro Hoyama (much of Unknown loves anime), who Unknown says can lane with the best of them and is sometimes so bored by his competition that he stops using his keyboard in matches. So their players are described as unpredictable and occasionally quite selfish, but Atun’s QoP shenanigans crossed the line. The team confronted him and politely informed him that he should take some time off to deal with personal issues. “Reflect on what you did, and when you are ready, come back and be a part of the team,” they told him. If not for the two teammates to whom he was family, who lived in the same neighborhood and competed with him since they were little kids, that might have been the last of Atun with Unknown.
In Frankfurt, the team has performed exactly according to most people’s expectations. They hung in a bit with VG in game 1, but haven’t looked good since. Unknown managers say that team members accustomed to playing by their own rhythm and pace are beginning to understand that team play is what matters for success at this level of DotA. They’ve been humbled, and if they beat former TI champion Newbee tomorrow, it will easily be the biggest win of their careers, according to Ztok (everyone else probably agrees). “What drives us is belief, and our players had the balls to not just dream, but pull through and do it,” Casaverde said. “Regardless of how things go, they’ve worked so hard and they deserve to be here.”