Interview with Clement “Puppey” Ivanov about his team, preparations, pubs, favorite anime, and more.
Clement "Puppey" Ivanov is one of the oldest players in the Dota 2 esports scene. He is 31 years old, and at the highest level of play, there are only three active players older than Puppey: Danil "Dendi" Ishutin, Clinton "Fear" Loomis, and Zhang "LaNm" Zhicheng. The latter two have even retired in the past, but have returned to activity since then.
But Clement stands out among all the players “over 30” by one feature: he plays in one of the world's leading teams, does it on a fantastic level, and manages to win tournaments in huge numbers. Sure, Team Secret couldn’t reach the top-3 at the Singapore Major or the AniMajor, but they performed very well in the regional leagues (without mentioning how they totally dominated EU throughout the whole of 2020), which secured them an invite to TI10 in Stockholm this August.
Team Secret players do not give interviews very often, but we managed to chat a little with Clement and ask him some important (and some not very important) questions.
The interview includes:
Hello, Puppey, and welcome to the AniMajor. We're very excited to have you here. Let’s start with a simple one: do you like themed tournaments?
I don't really have an opinion about it. Maybe people love it. I frankly don't really care about anime that much, but, you know, do what people like. I think themed tournaments are a good approach to make things more lively, so it doesn't get boring. So for sure, I think it's a good approach towards making a tournament.
If you could be any character from any anime or movie, who would you be?
I'd be Tom from “Tom and Jerry”. That's the type of anime I'm going for. Because Tom is a cool guy, he is shown many times in many episodes.
But don't you think that he suffers a lot?
Yeah, Tom does suffer, but, you know, it does take what it takes to be cool. Tom tries to do a lot of things and Jerry ruins it all for him, but, you know, at the same time, Tom wants to eat Jerry. So it's, kinda, like in life, you know, it's a good circle of what needs to happen or what doesn't. Even though Jerry, I think, is much more of an asshole than Tom, but, you know, people have their own sights.
Ok, let's get to Dota. You've been playing for a long time and the game is constantly changing. This might even be the most difficult version of Dota to date. How do you keep tabs on all of the meta changes?
I'm sure that I pay attention to the patches more than other people. But at the same time, even if I take a glance at the patches, think statistically, and see how much the numbers have changed, it really doesn't matter in comparison to how much you play.
So the only real way to actually figure things out is to put your head into practice and see what happens afterwards, because your own feeling will influence you better than any thoughts or numbers. So when the patch happens, you just have to start over again, the same way you did 15 years ago, the same way you did 10 years ago, the same way you did 5 years ago. Just get it over with and...
Figure it out, basically.
During the dawn of the Dota 2 days, you once said that you're the “numbers guy” and you study those attack statistics, etc. Is it true? Were you really spending that much time on that?
Perhaps when Dota 2 was a new game. I remember very clearly that back in the TI1 times, it was very important to figure everything out now, like, NOW.
But, you don’t have time to figure it out. So, I remember basically just choosing heroes by the way they felt, in a way.
Well, you're diving into the statistics and what's going on, but things changed a lot of times. So basically, you changed the game platform from Dota 1 to Dota 2, then to Source Engine Dota 2, so basically everything is different. Even though the numbers seem the same, I don't think they are. Even though they say everything is the same, I don't believe it whatsoever, because it felt so different. I needed to dig deeper about what is actually happening. Just because a hero felt stronger, it doesn't mean that was really the case.
It was quite a mess at the time. It wasn't really anything major, looking back at it now, but at the time, you needed to find something different that perhaps nobody else had looked at.
Having played so much, do you still allow yourself to have fun with the game or has it become more like a job?
I think pubs are a job. Real matches aren't.
The emotional burden that happens when you're losing is really hardcore, I think every team knows that it's just practically unbearable. But actually playing in a team and striving for success doesn't really like much of a job honestly. Playing pubs, on the other hand, just feels like... just get me out of those games, basically. Sometimes it goes well, but sometimes it's just going shit even though it's not your fault: some people just don't wanna play or maybe they have other reasons for not trying. But it's not the same as if, let's say, a footballer gets to practice against another good team or against themselves.
A football team has a lot of people, there are benched people and people who play, so they're constantly playing with each other and, therefore, they get better. In this field, we don't have that opportunity. We're in a similar type of environment, we're competitors, but the competition doesn't really happen this way. You have to constantly work with strangers and human error will always screw that one up.
Instead of just practicing on yourself and getting better, you feel like you've just worked in retail. “This is not the product that I bought”, like, not my fault, I didn't do anything, I'm just the guy that accepts your money. In retail, you don't really want to deal with shit that people want to throw at you, and basically, pubs feel like that.
But do you think this is connected to failed expectations of your pub games?
That's just the environment of the anonymous world of pub games, to be fair. If people were face to face, I don’t think this problem would exist. It affects everyone, right?
One day someone is mad and then they push that madness onto somebody else. That guy gets mad, it spreads and everybody just becomes toxic. So, everybody has done something stupid in their pubs at some point, because that's just the nature things, it’s like a circle.
The real problem is sometimes you're playing pubs and you just play to practice, you really do, but if something is constantly ruining the flow and it’s not you… It loses its worth, loses its value, so you give up at that point.
Could you please describe your team?
I'd consider my team very calm, just a bunch of calm guys.
They just know what should be happening. If we don't know what's happening, we most likely are gonna laugh at the fact that we just fucked up. The meta overall is more about having a calm environment. I like that too, and therefore I think that's the way our team is.
We’re just sophisticated, all of us. When it comes to our Dota game, we just try to figure things out as a whole and we have a very neat approach towards things, we never really get mad at each other.
Can you please tell me about your role in the team? Not just in Dota, but also outside of the game.
Well, it differs from team to team. I think that in Dota you really need to have a voice that leads the team to victory. Sometimes you have more than one, and sometimes you're the only one, but I've been in many teams where there's at least three. And usually, the teams that have more than two end up in a really bad spot. Even having two can end up being a negative thing. But yea, overall, in this team at least, I do tend to do the majority of the speaking regarding what needs to be happening.
Maybe it's due to the calmness of our team and because we always have pre-set protocols, but overall I've always been ready to adapt to any situation no matter what. I think that any type of combination can work, you just need to be able to adapt to it correctly.
How do you interact with your coach and how does he help your team win?
Our coach Heen just gives a sixth opinion about everything, basically. Usually, he has a clear opinion, because I may not be right on a subject, and his opinion is clearer because he doesn't have anything invested in it, he's just looking at the bigger picture.
He notices this... 'cheese' in Dota. A 'cheesy strategy' is basically a situation where you’ll win because of one last pick. It's like one last pick that happens and “Ok, we just lost.” So it's not just strategic, it is very strategic. It just ruins everything, right?
So he's the safety net, in a way. He's the person that will notice something before it crashes down on you and he's really good at that, he's really good at understanding which teams are capable of doing that. Such things can just win your game out of nowhere and save you from losing your game, so it's a very good trait about him.
In your experience, does the level of play in the tournament rise up as the tournament goes, and does it peak out in the finals?
On a tournament basis, I think it's always hard to begin the tournament. To go further in the tournament feels more natural, when you learn more things, understand the vibe of what's going on. If you adapt fast enough, then you win the tournament and that's basically what has happened with our team at least.
I’d say that roughly half of our tournaments started pretty poorly, and yet we won them in the end. So, I think that's basically our strength. But overall, I'd always love to adapt in a tournament and then win it with pure... not skill. But just the idea that we're just adapting and just constantly progressing.
I like progress. Progressing is just one of the best things that I can wish for. It's very satisfying.
Do you have a special mental preparation process before important matches?
I don't think I have any special mental things. Even though they’re things that I do without thinking, of course, like, mechanically. You know, I wrote myself this note that I learned from the psychiatrist, roughly five years ago, that said, “do this and you'll win all the time”.
But those unnatural things feel very weird for me. It needs to be natural in order to actually matter. Unnatural things can never really work in high pressure situations because if there's a real problem that needs to be dealt with, you do what comes naturally. And naturally, you should enjoy the fact that you're doing all the right things anyway. So, I think mostly the mental part of what I do is that I try to make the team function and win. I do whatever needs to be done, whatever needs to be tackled until it's too late and then we perceive to do the good things to ourselves and make ourselves feel better naturally.
Which replays do you usually prioritize watching? Do you focus more on your own mistakes and try fixing them? Or do you mostly watch your opponents and see what they're trying to do?
It depends, because usually when you're doing everything right, it's most apparent to examine other teams, to analyze them constantly and to figure out if we can abuse them in some ways in the game. But if you're in some limbo or you're not at your best, it really differs, because a lot of the time you know exactly what the process should be. Sometimes it's all about yourself and you just watch a lot of replays of yourself to see what you could have done better.
You can't really do that for so long, because it's hard to look at your own mistakes constantly, so it's easier to look at other people in order to learn because you're not involved. But at the end of the day, we watch a lot of matches. We watch a lot of matches from other people, which is the same thing as watching replays, at the end of the day.
You can pause, you can look over things. It’s a similar process, but it’s also different at the same time. Sometimes it’s not super efficient, because, when you watch a stream, you are having fun at the same time. It’s like you're watching a YouTube video or a movie. It's really important to distinguish what you're doing sometimes, but overall yea, it's like fifty-fifty. It's hard to say.
Do you watch these replays together?
I mostly watch them on my own, because collectively watching replays takes a lot of time. Everybody needs to invest time into it and it's usually harder to do. It’s better to do it with people that want to do it, to be fair. If a player from our team wants to watch something over with me and the coach, then we watch, come up with new ideas, and then we present them to the team, rather than shackling everybody in there to watch it. But it doesn't feel natural, perhaps, for most people.
Everybody is different, but I like to do it because I know it’s progress for me, and the team gets better and, perhaps, it's easier for me to do it than for other people, so therefore I do it.
Do you think about your legacy? I mean, after Dota?
I don't really care about my legacy.
To be fair, I don't really care what people think. I know what I am, I know what my friends think of me, and that's more important to me than some *** saying “Yeah, you're a freak, you're fucked up” or something like that. Shit happens to everyone and whatever. So, a legacy is also the same thing.
Plenty of people crave to be admired. I don't care about you admiring me. Just let me play my Dota and let me have fun with the people around me. So basically that legacy thing is a bit too egotistic in my opinion.
What's the biggest driving force for you right now?
Nothing related to fame at least.
It's more about what I chose to do with myself. And basically, we all thrive for the same thing. We won TIs as many times as possible, so it really isn't about the money.
It's more of a “Yo, I've been playing this game for so long, I'd better be the best or else what the hell am I doing with my life?” type of thing. But it's very hard to achieve it, so it's a battle nonetheless. But isn't it a legacy in of itself to be a TI winner?
So, you're the best in the world and it is what it is.
True, but I'm doing it for myself, not for anyone else. I mean, I'm doing it for the people that also want to do it with me. So, it's just a combination of a lot of things, once again, the same thought process. Everybody around your circle that wants to do it with you and that helps you. So you just do it for the people that actually matter.
Do you know about all that Twitter drama?
I know, but I'm not signed up on Instagram or Twitter for Secret and I kinda noticed that every time OG loses there's a very mean tweet about it.
What do you think about it?
Man, we let our dude, the Twitter dude do whatever he wants, because he's a fun guy. He likes poking fun at everyone and sometimes at us, a bit too much sometimes, but who cares?
Maybe he's just targeting OG too much.
So it’s like, “Just deal with it”?
I don't know. If he was memeing with you too much or whatever, just fight back with him or something. To me, it seems a bit too contradictory from OG's perspective. Because, you know, they changed their avatars in a TI game and won it. They're pretty provocative, you know? So I guess it was a little bit thrown back at them even though they called us cocky for doing nothing. Ceb was offended by us thinking we're good. It's just a funny drama.
I don't know what's going on, honestly, I'm not dealing with it, I don't care about it. Just do your things, boys.
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