Straddled by the familiar yet unforgiving wave of roster shuffles in his early career, Nico “Gunnar” Lopez, a 21-year-old professional Dota 2 player, has overcome immense adversity and eventually came onto his own as the team captain for 4 Zoomers.
Despite holding a hefty role at the fresh age of 21, Gunnar led his squad, founded in March 2020 as an unprecedented mixture of rookies, veterans, and friends, to become a grade-a unit, placing near the top in all of their attended competitions after less than a year of existence.
Due to their string of positive performances from last year, the team received a direct invitation to the Upper Division for the 2021 Dota Pro Circuit. It is there where eight teams play amongst each other for two spots in the first Major competition of the year which also earns them points to secure qualification to The International.
With the possibility of reaching TI for the first time fresh in his mind, Gamezo sat down with Gunnar, who was celebrating his birthday at the time, for an interview to discuss his team, how they’ll fare in the revamped DPC, and his personal growth from the days of lingering in obscurity.
On The Upcoming DPC Season
Pedro: You’re only a few days away from the start of the DPC season. How is your training regimen going?
Gunnar: It’s good. We started off scrims again, like, a week ago or something. But we’ve all been playing pubs.
So you guys took a mini break?
Yeah. We took like a couple of weeks off for the winter. There are no tournaments going on since the start of December, so no one’s really scrimming in general.
Heading into this DPC season, you entered as one of the four teams in NA that received an invite to the Upper Division, which meant that you forewent the qualification process. When the team received the news about their invite, how was the reaction?
I mean, we kind of expected it. I don’t think we were that surprised, I guess…Us and Quincy Crew are the only [teams] that has been playing consistently for the entire season this year. And EG is EG, right? So we just assumed the three of us would be the teams [to get the invites].
How did you feel in particular about the team’s placement in the DPC?
I mean, it felt good to be invited, but I think we were somewhat expecting it just based on previous history.
In a league that is brimmed with distinguished teams and vastly experienced rosters, your team is an outlier as it boasts a somewhat young crop of players including yourself. Regardless of the difference in experience and age, you guys managed to crack the top echelon of the region in such a short time of existence. What do you attribute to your team’s success?
I think we all kind of like had a mentality that we wanted to prove something. We all wanted to work hard. I think we were putting in as much work as we can as a team just to be good. We’re scrimming a lot and we’ve played every tournament that we could, you know?
Where do you think your team currently stands in the current competitive hierarchy of North American Dota?
It’s hard to say because Evil Geniuses hasn’t played with their full roster in, like, ever. The last time they played with their closest full roster was last January (DreamLeague Season 13). It’s been pretty much a full year since they even had like Azel “Abed” Yusop in their team. It’s hard to say about EG but–if you’re just gonna default include EG by default in the top spot, we’re probably #3 behind Quincy Crew.
But either way, though EG hasn’t played together in a year, as you said, they should still be treated as a very dangerous opponent to face, right?
Of course. They have five really good players. But it’s hard to tell whether we’ve improved or not since the last time they’ve had their full roster.
So it’s just a wait-and-see kind of approach with them?
Looking outwards, how does NA currently stack up against the rest of the world in your view?
I think it’s really hard to answer that question just because there have been no international tournaments in such a long time. You can’t really say whether one team is stronger than another. I personally don’t think we’re as weak as everyone says but that’s just my opinion.
What Can Be Fixed (If Any) for the DPC
The DPC, in allocating the number of slots for each region for the first Major tournament, gave NA just two. Do you think it’s reasonable for the region to receive just two slots compared to the rest who possess three or four slots?
I think we probably should get three slots. We were all really surprised [of the slot distribution] because we usually got three slots for the past seasons. I think we were kind of shocked when we were talking about it. We’ll see if it has to change, I guess. Next cycle, maybe. Maybe we’ll get another slot.
That’s what I’ve been thinking too. I see this first Major as a test such as if a certain region does better than expected, then they’ll receive one more slot. And if another region does worse, then they’ll get demoted a slot. That’s how I see it. It could happen but you never know.
Yeah, like if the NA teams that qualify for the Major do really good, then we’ll probably get a third slot. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
For your opponents in the Upper Division, you have many familiar people that you’ve either played with and faced off against. Is there anyone in particular that you are itching to face?
I try not to get too invested in the individual teams we’re playing…I’m just kind of going to go in mentally and focus on each game as itself. We just have to win every game. That’s just how this season works just because the league system is purely a group stage. There’s no playoffs or anything, so pretty much every single match is equally as important.
You referred to the amount of matches in the group stage. What do you make of it? You just get seven best-of-three matches. Do you think that’s enough for the season?
I thought it was a little interesting when [the team] saw it. It’s really weird that everything is basically getting decided by the group stage, which almost never happens. I think the six-week long league system is cool, but just the idea that there’s no playoff after it? You play this team once and then that could decide your whole fate. I would personally be a bigger fan of having some playoffs at the end of this rather than just being the group stage.
The league-style format for the season is entirely alien for the Dota scene in general. It has been customary for teams to operate by playing tournaments that are scattered sporadically throughout the year, which has been more prevalent recently because of COVID. But since Valve installed those domestic leagues, how big of a change do you think this new league will affect the teams?
It’s weird. Like, guaranteed we’re only going to play EG twice a season. We’re only going to play Quincy Crew twice a season in meaningful matches. Whereas in the previous seasons, you might be in the same group as them and then you play them in an elimination bracket, which you could play them even twice just to qualify for a Major. There’s a lot more chances to actually prove you’re better or worse than whatever team. I think it’s a little–I don’t know if scary is the right word–but it’s just a little interesting to think that a lot of these important matches will happen just one time. That’s just a big change.
Comparatively speaking, you can theoretically play a few matches, do well in your leagues and Majors, and qualify for TI. For TI, back then, you have to place very well within Top 8 many times and gain enough DPC points. It’s a major difference in the make-up of the season.
Yeah, it’ll be an interesting season.
Looking forward to the future, do you think the DPC will need to make adjustments on its structure? Or do you think it’s passable as it stands right now?
It’s passable but I think there’s an issue like I said before. I think not having a playoff section is pretty crazy to me. It’ll end up like if we lose two best-of-three’s or something there’s a good chance it’s impossible [for us] to qualify. You pretty much are only going to be able to lose one series in the entire group stage to qualify for tournaments. So there’s a lot of pressure, I guess.
Looking Back and Forward With 4 Zoomers
One can’t deny that your team 4 Zoomers has played well since its formation. You guys have consistently stayed at or near the Top 4 in multiple tournaments since then, taking first sometimes and finishing second oftentimes. For you personally, this stream of success came after years of intermittently playing with teams in different regions while being lauded as a promising upstart. Is it reasonable to say that your success with 4 Zoomers has been a long time coming?
I don’t know if “a long time coming” is the right way to say it. I think everyone on my team has had different reasons to be motivated. I think we’re all just playing really well. We all wanted to be the best, so it’s really easy to look good when everyone else is also doing good.
I also remember in an interview you did with Dan Offen for his podcast, you said that your team was made up of friends and that your mantra was similar from OG, so I guess you could say that the success is very fulfilling since you’re doing it with people that you’ve been familiar with for a long time.
Yeah. We’re all friends and we all hang out after our games and just play random games with each other, so yeah.
Regardless, do you think that your history with multiple teams before 4 Zoomers has matured you in any fashion?
I think yeah, in a sense. I think I learned a lot about Dota from the different teams. Every different team was like a different learning experience. What I like, what I didn’t like, what maybe plays better or worse…I think you either learn from something or, you know, what’s the point of it?
Alluding back to the interview with Offen for his podcast, you mentioned the need for improvement for both yourself and your team so that you guys can play seamlessly and subsequently show results in your competitions. Since you’re standing as the team captain, has your thought-process changed in that regard?
No, I think improvement is the biggest thing. We’ll get really mad if we lose but we’ll get more mad if we lost and there’s nothing to learn from the loss. We’ll lose the game in such a dumb way that there’s no point in mentioning. I think that’s when we get mad the most. We really just want to get better as a team.
Returning to the fact that you’re the team captain, you arrive to that point after displaying your versatility beforehand. You’ve been Position 2, Position 4, Position 5, etc. Now, with 4 Zoomers, was it difficult for you to adapt to that captain position?
Umm, not really. I was never a hard captain or whatever. It was kind of like a very open thing as a team. All of our voices are important, you know? No one person’s voice is better than other people. It was more like if there’s something that had to have a final say, then I can make it or whatever. But we’ve changed it up. Braxton “Brax” Poulson is now our drafter since we’ve got him.
Brax joined in like a month, right?
Yeah, about a month ago.
Because before it was you [who did the draft].
Yeah, I drafted the majority of the season and then, I think for a week before we got Brax, Jacob “Husky” Fifik was pretty much my co-drafter. He wanted to start drafting so he drafted for about a week and then we got Brax who also became our drafter.
How impactful, if you can elaborate, has Brax been for your team since joining?
He talks a lot, which is always really helpful to have as a teammate. I think he has pretty good drafting ideas. He brings a lot of experience to the team. He says what needs to be said, stuff like that.
When you consider your current position, the subsequent synergy with the team, the scarce roster shuffling, and your career trajectory, is it appropriate to say that you’ve finally found a home in 4 Zoomers?
I guess you could say that…We have a goal of qualifying for TI. That’s always been our goal. Even if we lose these online tournaments and get mad, it wouldn’t matter. It would just be additional experience for us. This is just going to be something that hopefully we can learn from and get better because of. We also wanted to be good teammates to each other, you know? That’s kind of been the whole vibe in the team. It’s just been a pretty nice environment to play on.
Moving ahead, alve has recently dropped the 7.28b update. With respect to the list of heroes whose stats and abilities were affected by the updated patch, to what extent do you think it will affect your teamplay?
It isn’t really that big. There’s only one big kind of change in it which is OD (Outworld Destroyer) who’s really annoying, in pubs at least. It’s hard to say because all these changes and the way Dota is played makes it really hard to tell until the actual DPC starts and people starts playing online tournament because evident scrims could be doing their own things–and pubs aren’t always a great indicator of hero strength or the correct way of playing the game, I guess.
So it’s just the calm before the storm and then it’s all guns ablazing in the 19th?
That about covers everything. Do you have any final words for the fans or anyone else?
Go support our team 4 Zoomers! The DPC starts soon so we’ll do our best to get Top 2 and then play in LAN!
The North American Upper Division for the DPC is scheduled to go from January 19 to February 28. The first match of league play will include 4 Zoomers and Evil Geniuses, one of Dota’s distinguished and most legendary organizations.