Living in the shadow of giants is difficult. Harder still is overcoming those titans on the big stage when the lights are on you in front of thousands of eyes, both in the event center and online. Yet, Complexity did that and more at the recent Epicenter playoffs, besting an Evil Geniuses team that players described as "always having their number." As team captain Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman puts it, it was a conquest of the team's inner demons and their outer ones.
"We were really excited to play them because I felt we got much better at that event," Freedman recalls. "We had played maybe 15 scrims and we had played Newbee four times already. We were just feeling good and spent like five hours prepping for them, and just crushed in the draft really, really hard."
Rasmus "Chessie" Blomdin, the hard carry for Complexity's Dota squad, echoed the sentiment, calling it a "milestone win" for the team. Victory over EG likely meant a shot at direct invites, but it doesn't come so easily in the fast-paced, match-heavy landscape of competitive Dota 2.
"We still have a long way to go," Blomdin explains. "That's just one game. We have to do it many more times to be seen as the better team."
Complexity will get its shot against the top teams soon, as they are one of 16 teams competing in the upcoming Manila Major. As each squad finds its own way to prepare for the last major of the competitive season, Complexity has turned to a straightforward, yet unusual method: just playing more games.
Thriving in the limelight
During a period of time in which most teams would hide in scrimmage matches, testing draft compositions and team plays under the mutually assured veil of secrecy with other competitive teams, Complexity is competing in several qualifier tournaments and online series. Team captain Freedman is happy with this setup, as he says his team gets more out of competitive matches than scrims.
"We're a very emotional team, I'm a very emotional leader, and it's always been hard for us to really invest in a scrim like we do in a match," Freedman says. "In a match, we're on stage, we're in uniform, we're hyped, and we're focused for the two hours leading up to the game. It's game day."
The intensity of games, Freedman says, prepares the team better than playing practice matches in sweats or pajamas at home, drinking coffee, and playing in ideal settings.
"We're a very emotional team, I'm a very emotional leader, and it's always been hard for us to really invest in a scrim like we do in a match." Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman
"It's just not the same environment," Freedman explains. "We try hard, but it's never the same as game-day intensity."
Both Freedman and Blomdin touched on the importance of matches versus scrims, relating the very concept of scrimmages as one for rehearsing a style or draft, rather than working on the execution. For Blomdin and Complexity, that difference is key.
"I don't think drafting is going to be what makes or breaks us in [the Manila Major]," Blomdin explains. "It's more going to be if we can execute our style and play as a team."
The publicity of playing out in the open, where watchful captains and analysts can spy what Complexity is working on, isn't a factor either.
"I don't care if people see what we do. The whole point is we don't give a damn if you know what we're gonna pick," Freedman says. "Our style is very set. We will find a way to get everyone involved, and we will beat you as a team."
All for one, farm for all
The style of Complexity is something to note, as it takes a different approach than many other teams. It's a style not focused on the single carry or key player, but on the many supporting each other. There is no Burning or Anti-Mage. It's just five players sharing the farm. It's a style that's taken many by surprise, which Freedman attributes to the team's ever-expanding list of quality upsets and tournament placements.
"We play a completely unique style of Dota," Freedman says. "And my leadership style and my understanding of the game all stems from my idea that each person will contribute 20 percent."
Blomdin goes on further, discussing how the team's heroes and play styles are well-accommodated to the current patch, 6.87. Heroes that he describes as wanting to take fights, not the type to "just run around and split-push" are in vogue.
"Our style of wanting to group up early on, wanting to take early team fights, wanting to snowball and end the game as quickly as possible," Blomdin says. "That style has gotten into the meta right now and we love playing that type of game."
Freedman lists off stats from the team's recent games at Epicenter, and the results speak for themselves. In one match against Virtus.Pro, Complexity goes into late-game against a Medusa. Usually a sign of imminent defeat, their shared wealth instead leads to them taking the Ancient and the game.
"We'll get to a point, hopefully, where my five has 8K net worth and a Eul's, and yours has 2K," Freedman explains. "And it doesn't matter that your core has half an item ahead of mine because we have five people that can really contribute to this fight and you've got some dead weight because you put all your farm into one or two players."
On this patch, Blomdin, Freedman and the rest of Complexity have found that more teams have to adapt to their style, rather than the other way around. Blomdin relates that he's had to spend little time learning new carries or extending too far out of his pool. "It's [more] like, this hero you might be an eight out of ten on right now, and I want you to be a ten out of ten on this hero for the upcoming major," he explains.
The pieces are there, and for both Blomdin and Freedman, they're happy to see more star-oriented teams fall under their weight. "It's all about taking these fights at any stage of the game, and then capitalizing on your advantage to take map control," Freedman explains. "It's much more like standard warfare than our Goliath versus your Goliath."
Play together, stay together
It's no surprise, then, that a large amount of this comes from Complexity's time spent together. Besides the sibling team of Freedman and Zakari "Zfreek" Freedman, the entire squad has been together for some time. Many other teams have shuffled players and pined for the hottest core roles, but Complexity has remained one unit.
"It's all about taking these fights at any stage of the game, and then capitalizing on your advantage to take map control. It's much more like standard warfare than our Goliath versus your Goliath." Kyle "swindlemelonzz" Freedman
"You will do the hard times and the good times together and work on it as a team," Blomdin says. "It definitely helps that we're all friends who have known each other for many years."
Captain Freedman takes it further, describing their resistance to change as a huge long-term advantage. According to Freedman, the short-term impact of trying to place star players into a new system results in issues, which only strengthens Complexity's rise up the ranks.
"I'm actually kind of hyped because, I know that after The International, for example, there's going to be a huge shuffle," Freedman says. "We're not going to shuffle. So all the competition constantly gets worse, and we improve every single day."
Of course, there are still inner demons to overcome. While taking fourth at Epicenter is a major accomplishment, this Complexity squad is still fairly young in the Dota scene compared to the xiao8s and Puppeys of the world. Teamwork will take them so far, but personal play will be the cogs and gears that move the machine. Freedman explains he's still adjusting to his new role in the offlane.
"I was not an offlaner. I had never played an offlaner," Freedman says. "I started playing a little less than two years ago, and I've still never played Invoker. If I'm playing a hero, it's because I might pick them later."
Freedman tells us it isn't about being a star, but tailoring everything towards the team goal. In that aspect, Freedman's father, a follower of Dota himself, gave some sage advice that has helped shape his approach to the team.
"I will win TI because I'm the best drafter in the world," Freedman says. "I am not going to win TI as the best offlaner."
Making the major and more
While the Manila Major looms closer each day, there's an even greater consideration that needs to be taken into account: the sixth International, or TI6. As Freedman puts it, "a major is nice, but it's nothing in comparison" to an International title and the potential earnings.
For many teams, including Complexity, the Manila Major is where squads will solidify their spot at The International. Blomdin explains that a lack of performance at this major means a qualifier run to make it into The International 6, and another two weeks of games. To avoid that gauntlet, Freedman sets his Manila expectations succinctly, "I think we need at least top eight, preferably top six. Top six we're in, but top eight, there's an asterisk."
There's 16 teams standing in the way of a top finish, though. To overcome them, Complexity looks again to its aggressive, team-oriented play to carry it over tougher opponents, as it did with its sweep over EG. Rather than acclimate to the trends of the tournament, the team approaches a ladder like you would in real-life: one rung at a time.
"We approach every match for itself, and we always prepare for at least an hour or two for every single team that we play," Blomdin says. "So as soon as we know the team we're playing, we do our best to prepare for that specific matchup in order to focus on each game instead of the tournament."
It's a lot to prove on an international stage and with thousands of eyes watching. But if Complexity is to survive, avoid the gauntlet of qualifiers and take a shot at the greatest title in Dota, there can't be hesitation. Complexity is no longer a gatekeeper or B-team. With wins like those claimed at Epicenter, the shakes are gone.
"It was a big step for us just on our journey because they were that one team we never wanted to play, and now we're just not scared," Blomdin says.
With the play they've exhibited and the confidence in their tone, Complexity might not be the ones who should be scared anymore.