TeaGuvnor: “We lived in Ukraine for two years, I have family there. Why would I not support a country that's under war?”

Олексій Харченко

British Dota 2 analyst and caster Robson TeaGuvnor Merritt found time in his busy schedule during the ESL One Dota 2 Birmingham to discuss the UK Dota scene, the game evolution and support of Ukraine during the war with Players Editor-In-Chief Alex Kharchenko. 

Thank you for your time for the interview. You're working at ESL One Birmingham right now. How are you finding, what can you say about the crowd and overall return of the tournament to Birmingham?

In the five years that we've not had it, it's been the biggest loss for our scene, because the UK crowd, in my opinion, is one of the top two crowds in the world. The sound, the ambience, we just scream for any team.

If there's a good play, we scream for it. It doesn't matter what place you are from, we just care about Dota itself. Because we don't have so many players, right? We don't have many, we have one player, we have Ari. When OG was playing, it was incredible. And now he's eliminated, they're like, who do we support now? So I'm going to convince my lads to probably support Falcons in the finals. 

It's going to get some rallying going, get some chants going, because we're not very good at making new chants, we're good at using old chants. Like “OG, OG or let's go Liquid”. But we'll find some new chants, we'll cheer for the Falcons a little bit in the finals, and we'll see what happens there. But you know, the Falcons are the favourite. 

You mentioned one player, Ari. Can you tell what's happening with the overall UK Dota scene? Because, for example, in Counter-Strike, there is also a lack of players on the professional, Tier 1 level. Why? 

The UK scene is growing up, we have a lot of console gaming. We play a lot of FIFA, and Call of Duty. We used to have a big Halo scene as well. It's just the culture of growing up and having access to more games. Even to this day, a lot of people who don't play PC games have consoles. You have to be part of a little crew to have a PC to play games. 

Dota is so complicated that you need not only a PC and play other games, you have to be keen enough to go deeper into Dota, which is, again, very complicated. Unfortunately, the same situation is with coaches. In regards to playing, we have Ari, TANNER. We had symetricaL. We have four players. We had one coach. We've never really had a lot. Looking at the scene and what I know about, we don't have many up-and-coming players. It's an unfortunate reality. But in regards to fan base and crowd, we are S-tier. In regards to players on the competitive side, no comment. Not very good.

What should change to get more players to the Tier 1 scene in the UK? 

For the UK? Events like Birmingham where you just need that one moment where the 8K MMR players today see the crowd, see the atmosphere, and spark their motivation not just to be 8K players, but to go to 10K, 11K, 12K, right? And for me, back in 2018, I was a top 400 support player. I visited Birmingham, and that sparked my desire to pursue further, to go deeper in the career.

Then I became a coach and got to do majors and stuff like that. For me, it's the event and the community on-site sparked me to go further. I think the easiest answer would be to have events in your country, it’s the best answer. We could talk about grassroots and all this stuff, but it's easy to talk about it. But it takes time to make an impact, we've tried this before. It doesn't really work out, unfortunately. It needs a lot of investment with no real return, and no sponsor's going to be like, hey, let me give you $10,000 and get none of it back because community and grassroots are great, but there's a lot of moving parts for it to succeed. So events are good. 

Right now, are you seeing the evolution of this? I’m talking about potentially more events in the UK that will boost the scene. 

It’s where it gets a bit awkward because we had pre-Brexit, it was easy for events. Then we had COVID and all those shenanigans, so it got a little bit complicated with getting visas and having access to the country during COVID, of course. Now we're in that phase where everyone understands how to use the new system and how the UK stands. I think having Birmingham, having Counter-Strike events in London,  I think there's some League of Legends, MSI type events in London. Big games are back in England. I think it's inevitable that once people realise how good our crowds are, how accessible it is in Europe and the rest of the world to get to here, I think there will be a lot more UK events, or I hope so, being biased, being British. I think it's a very good hub for esports, for the fans.

You mentioned that you've been a coach, now you're a caster and an analyst. What are you enjoying more right now? 

I think nowadays I wish I was a coach again, but of course, I'm happy being a caster, because in Dota, whatever you did in the last year is what people remember you by.  No one really remembers or cares that I coached. I used to coach MISERY, Kingrd, big names, right? We got to Majors, we eliminated KuroKy from some DreamLeague Major, Liquid the other day. We nearly beat rOtK coaching Vici Gaming. 

It's cool shit, but it doesn't really matter, because it's 2019. So nowadays, I wish I could go back to coaching, because I think I'm still up to date, still keen, play at a high enough level. Casting is great and fun, but coaching, again, the crowd.

It's simple, the crowd. If you're coaching and you're influencing the team, getting the cheers, that's hype. Talking about it, it's also very hype, but being able to say, like, I picked that hero that made everyone go, yeah, that's a whole other level of energy. I'd like to feel it again before eventually Dota makes its way. But Dota's got five, ten, whatever, however many years left on it. At some point, I'll probably return to coaching. 

Following Dota, there was a new patch. How are you finding it? What are your thoughts about it? 

I'm not too opposed to it. People expected Crownfall to be everything on day one. When the patch dropped, all realised it was a four-stage patch. I'm happy that we have the communication of “Hey, Crownfall will be in four things”. First was a very detailed kind of cavern crawl-style activity. Act two could be gameplay, and act three could be gameplay, right? 

So for me, I don't mind it being staggered. I'm not expecting everything to be day one, and they spent so much time on it that I would expect each act to have some level of flair. Maybe act one was for the casual player base, right? Maybe act two is tailored towards the competitive player base. So I'm going to sit back and just enjoy what Valve's cooking. I have no idea how they operate in that regard, and I'm not going to sit here and just throw random judgments. I like to see it first before I really get too analytical on it.

You have been in the scene for a long time, what should be changed in Dota? Any improvements for a casual player and professional players? 

In regards to?

Like mechanics, maybe heroes. Overall, what do you think about it? 

I like the fact that DOTA is complicated, and Valve is not shy of adding new features at the expense of making the game easier. They might make the UI easier for people to understand, but I like the fact that we have a complicated game. I would enjoy that path being taken, continued, and then just having nice supporting stuff within the game, the HUD.

If we install some crazy new mechanic, complement it by having a good system to teach the player about it. I think just for Dota to be good, they should continue the same shit they've been doing for many years. Millions of people still play the game. There's nothing wrong. Just make sure that we keep up to date with the quality of features. Valve is implementing them every other month. Maybe they don't announce it, but they're in the game. I just think if we keep the quality of features at the same level as our game and how deep it is, our game will survive for so, so long.

No question.

No, exactly. When you load up the game, you don't want to be going, oh, how do I do this? I need to do some research. It should be in the game. Everything should be there and available. Valve's getting closer to it, but we're still not there yet. But once they get there, this game will be as good as it's been forever.

I noticed that you have a Ukrainian flag pin. 

Of course, yes. 

I also know that you lived in Ukraine for some time, and I think your girlfriend is Ukrainian, and you're supporting Ukraine a lot. Can you tell me more about your support? Why are you doing it as a person from the UK? 

I lived in Ukraine from 2020 to 2022. I moved out of Ukraine about a week or so before the war started. Because, again, we kind of expected something to potentially happen.

So you did some analysis. You saw that something was happening. 

I hadn’t seen my family as well who lived in England because of COVID. So we decided that if there was a time to go back to England, it should be now because it syncs up to potentially avoid my girlfriend being in that position, myself as well. We went back to England, and unfortunately, the war broke out, and her family still is in Ukraine. We did go back in 2023. We took the flight to Poland. The coach to Ukraine, we met up. But yeah, I mean, her family is Ukrainian. She's Ukrainian. We lived there for two years, and it's kind of common sense. I have family there. Why would I not support a country that's, you know, under war? 

So from your point of view, it's important that Western casters, analytics, interviews as you are supporting Ukraine during this heavy war.

Yes, I think it's easy for me to support Ukraine openly due to my history with it. But I think with any of these events, it's like the way media works - an event occurs, a new event occurs. Oh, it's now popular. Let's now push it on top of the other one, right? 

The main thing for me is just to remind people that these things are occurring and keep supporting Ukraine because, at some point, they will win. Russia will then get, you know, kicked out back to their little place, and we'll be back into a good position. But again, I can't do a lot, but just nodding the tip of my hat, wearing my pin might remind someone, oh, yeah, Ukraine is still under war, that they need to win the war. We can't let them just go even. That's not how it works. It's just my little bit, as much as I can do.

Thank you for that. 

No worries.

We would like to thank our friends from FAVBET for their support of the project, as they actively support esports and make it closer to Ukrainian fans.

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