The offseason held a lot of surprises for Complexity. After a long period of playing together, two players left to go compete in Sweden, and a third had to leave the demanding life of playing professional Dota 2 due to health concerns.
As Complexity assembled a new roster and fought to hold its spot among a growing stable of competitive North American Dota squads, the midseries departure of Justin "jk" Rosselle from the lineup added to the pile. Weeks from the Boston Major, the team would need to find a new player and potentially shift roles within the team to stay five players strong for the first major of the 2017 season.
You wouldn't know any of this talking to captain Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman, though. The leader of Complexity, who is known for his candidness on panels, was frank about the team's determination to forge ahead, despite the stumbling blocks. In spite of everything, Freedman still has his sights set squarely on the Aegis.
"I kind of never stop thinking about [The International]," Freedman told ESPN. "It's just what you want to win. The majors are important for a lot of reasons, but you never stop thinking about TI."
Talent vs. drive
When discussing Complexity's recent roster difficulties, both Freedman and the organization avoided detailing the situation surrounding Rosselle's departure.
"You're not supposed to air each other's dirty laundries and discuss any potential personality flaws," Freedman said of player departures. "You just say, 'Justin quits,' and we just went with whoever we could find that would want to win and play real hard. There's more to it, of course, but end of the day, Justin quit and we needed to find somebody else on short notice."
The player the team turned to in a pinch was Jaron "monkeys-forever" Clinton, an American player the team was familiar with and trusted. It did, however, throw a wrench into the mix, with an uncertainty about whether Clinton would take Rosselle's role in the one-role, or if offlaner David "Moo" Hull would take the reins. When asked, Freedman was ambiguous about who would take which lane, saying "it's kind of up in the air" and "whatever works is what [Complexity] are probably going to try next."
When asked what he looked in for a replacement, Freedman cited a drive to win as being more important than talent.
"Talent -- everyone has talent. It's more about finding people that want to grow, and become the best, and work within any specific team," Freedman said. "Take a player like Miracle, and he looks like a god on OG, and then he plays with Liquid and they don't look good at all. Is that because Miracle is suddenly worse? I don't think so. It's just that there's more that goes into teams than just existing. It's how you work within the team, how you communicate, the role you fill."
"Talent -- everyone has talent. It's more about finding people that want to grow, and become the best, and work within any specific team." Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman
When we last talked with Complexity, the team was coming hot off a win against Evil Geniuses and looking strong for the Manila Major. Half a year later, the team struggled in Manila and failed to make it through the TI6 Wild Card qualifiers.
As Freedman tells it, it has been a series of what-ifs while seeing teams like Digital Chaos and Evil Geniuses dominate.
"We were really close the whole year," Freedman said. "We lost the tiebreaker to EG, then we lose to DC 3-2 in an 80-minute game we should have won, then we watch those teams finish second and third [at TI6]. You see yourself and you're like, that could have been us pretty easily if we had just come through. If we had won the one game we should have won instead of losing it again."
It was a sore spot, but Freedman seems determined to forge ahead with Complexity, pushing to make those close losses turn the other direction. He says the team plans to "work smarter, not harder." In an esport that demands so much of its players, between travel, playtime and myriad tournaments, burnout has been a frequent topic of discussion for the past couple years.
"When all you do is play Dota and being at it is your job, whenever you lose, you're in a pretty poor spot," Freedman said. "Because now, in order to get better you want to continue playing. But at the same time, now it's just going to be a source of stress, a reminder that maybe you don't have anything to play because you lost."
Taking time off becomes a tricky concern for players as well. When discussing the offseason, many have said that while they took the month or so of downtime to relax, they still played the occasional game, in pubs and ranked stacks. As Freedman describes it, if you step away from Dota for a few weeks or a month, you often need to dedicate that much time just to get back to where you were prior to the break.
"It's a cruel mistress, you know?" Freedman said. "The more time you give to yourself, the more you'll need to make up for it due to your neglect. It's sort of just finding a balance. I think it's a weekly balance, more so than this massive binge of being on or off. I think that can actually be potentially more harmful."
The advice Freedman had for burnout solutions was to find ways to relax. Making time for yourself on a weekly basis can mean the difference between being wound tight or feeling fresh.
"Make sure you get out of your own head, because Dota's always going to have to be a really main part of your life," Freedman said. "Probably priority one, in truth, as a pro Dota player, but you just have to make sure you don't let it take over all your other priorities. You still need to do things that make you relax every day."
The state of the union
As for Complexity's headspace going into the major, the team seems passionate and ready. There's a tacit drive in Freedman's speech, and as the team comes together to boot camp for the coming tournament, that drive might well carry over into results for Complexity. There's a lot on the line with a performance at the major, as well. North America has been growing as a region over the past year, with new teams challenging the old guard and making a name for themselves.
"I think America's always had really good teams at the top," Freedman said of NA's growth in the past year. "We just haven't really had the depth of other regions, and a lot of that's just because our good players in America are too lazy to even try."
Freedman cites pros who decline to compete -- in America and in the open qualifiers for Boston -- based on feelings of not being able to make the cut.
"They'd rather just not even play," Freedman continued. "They'd rather just not even try, because otherwise they might lose. If I consider myself a good player and I had a thought, or even a hope, of being a pro Dota player, I'd be trying to compete in every event I could."
"It's a cruel mistress, you know? The more time you give to yourself, the more you'll need to make up for it due to your neglect." Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman
As for Complexity, the team continues to compete with the best and play to win. Though Rosselle's departure from the squad was sudden, Clinton's assimilation into the squad has been "surprisingly easy," according to assistant manager Josh Schmidt.
"His first message to me was something along the lines of 'my schedule is yours, and tell the team if they need to me practice anything specific I will,'" Schmidt said.
Don't patch what isn't broken?
When looking past the major, one of the major topics was the impending patch. With 6.89 all but certain to launch post-Boston, an interesting question is posed: Does Dota need patching?
"I think right now, what people are most looking for is just change," Freedman said of potential patch adjustments. "The game itself is in a great state, and I expect that the changes will do more to change and add complexity to the game, versus just nerfs and buffs."
The fluid meta of 6.88, which Freedman refers to as a "revolving door of strategies," has seen more concepts rise in and out of favor than specific heroes. There's no Sniper or Troll Warlord, but rather general strategies: Shadow Demon illusion sieges, Chen and Drow compositions and teams-specific drafts. Freedman says he's "sure Wings has things we haven't even seen yet." Despite that, there's no real worry that one patch could wreck the long period of balance Dota has been enjoying. According to Freedman, the Dota community has faith in its enigmatic developer-behind-the-scenes, "IceFrog."
"The community's faith in [IceFrog] doesn't just come from nowhere," Freedman said. "It's always been good. There's always been changes, things people complained about, but the game is good and it's always been good. Doesn't matter what gets changed."
Though changes come and go, it seems that both Dota 2 and Complexity will endure. As the scrappy North American squad gears up for Boston, it looks like a long road ahead, facing down many teams that have bested Complexity in the past. Working smarter, and carrying ahead with its current attitude, Complexity might just have a chance to best its demons this time around.