As the dust settles with the conclusion ESL ONE Malaysia 2022, it’s time for the players, the crew, the talent and the rest of us to shuffle back to the non-tournament season; at least until The International 11 qualifiers start anyway. At the event, I had the chance to ask Mike Le Phoenix (MLPDotAnot affiliated with animations about ponies, as he puts it), and John Nathan Fernandez (johnxfire not currently frozen, and also sans sunglasses) a few questions in the time we had. The duo are a pair of Dota 2 caster / analyst, adding their flair to the game as they, like the rest of us, follow through the storylines of any given match.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
If you’re a regular viewer of Dota 2 games, more so for the Southeast Asian region, these two faces should need no introduction. The duo would appear practically inseparable for online broadcasts of Dota 2 tournaments – see: Beyond the Summit – and I’ve certainly had many a time tuned in for whichever SEA season was running. It’s not the first time either of them have been in Malaysia itself, though being at Genting Highlands itself is new. Both found it a fun experience, fortunately being able to enjoy non-foggy days the mountains can be known for.
Even from their brief self-introductions, the camaraderie they have with each other is pretty clear: they’ve been paired up for five years now, with Mike jokingly saying he “regrets it every single day”.
Everyone has to start out somewhere. Mike and John first got acquainted through the now-defunct EchoLeaguean amateur Dota 2 league. “I was casting with somebody else at the time; the analyst I did have – stinkypie – couldn’t cast with me one day. He told me he had a friend he thought could cast with me very well,” Mike reveals, about the first time they casted together.
“I just really liked the chemistry between us, so I said, hey John, let’s go cast together and go all the way, and we kinda did!”
The EchoLeague landing page mentions John as a former admin for the SEA region, and indeed, he recalls first meeting Mike when setting up lobbies. “I asked him to cast since I was actually playing in that amateur league,” he says. “That same league had a lot of people in it; like Moxxiand I think Avo was there, so I think some of us, weirdly enough, started around the same area.”
At this point, I find it unsurprising that many people who are part of the Dota 2 ecosystem just “imported” themselves over from Dota 1back when it was a custom map / game mode for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. “Why” Dota 2 for John was basically it being a game he played a lot and always something he went back to. Same with Mike, with almost 20 years since the Allstars days. “It’s kinda like family and I’d have it no other way.”
Since John mentioned having played at EchoLeague, I had to ask if he had any aspirations of going pro. “No, absolutely not,” he answers, almost immediately. “It was made for people with low MMR. It was a fun time, but I never wanted to be a pro, wasn’t good enough.” Mike gleefully offers himself to be a stand-in for any SEA team willing to rely on him to carry, which could certainly be a shake up in the scene. John shoots him down just as quickly, but let it be known, there is an opening.
BEING IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
ESL ONE Malaysia 2022 isn’t Mike’s and John’s first LAN rodeo, having been at the ESL ONE Stockholm Major 2022. However, there were multiple differences this time: they’re on the main stage where they’re before a crowd, as well as being in Southeast Asia. Having missed the opportunities for the previous SEA LAN events, I’m happy there’s somewhere more local, myself.
“It’s not just LANs; Coming back to SEA is really exciting as the crowd, as you can probably hear, is one of the best. Always loud, always excited.”
Mike would insist the SEA crowd is the best. “It’s so easy to cast at a LAN because you’re being taken care of, and production is taking care of everything,” he remarks, somewhat cheekily. No more accidental muting or not turning off the right overlay, am I right? “The difference between casting online and at LAN is just night and day. I can see John so we know when to talk, when to be quiet,” he adds.
Speaking of Southeast Asia, I also had to ask about what they thought of the region from when they first started to now. “Back then, the region was struggling quite a bit. Viewership was low, the players didn’t seem to have much confidence in themselves,” says Mike.
“Think about a crowd of OG fans. Those guys will literally win OG the games by how Hyped they get. That’s what SEA fans need to do.”
“I think as time goes on, the SEA teams have started to truly believe that they might be able to win a The International. Personally, I think they can, easily, this year is the one.”
John brings up the time where SEA teams had foreign captains, and that it had helped grow the region – Canadian Jacky Mao, best known as EternaLEnVy, had a stint in FNATIC SEA, for one. He believes the SEA teams have improved a lot, becoming more competitive, but that they will still need to work on that certain “lack of confidence”.
As to who makes their list of “who to watch” in SEA, Mike champions Yopaj as the midlaner to look out for, JaCkky, 23savage, Palos – who was at ESL ONE Malaysia standing in for FNATIC’s Raven, to name a few. “SEA is one of those regions where anyone could become part of a Tier 1 team and pull out a massive victory.”
THE LONG WAIT HAS FINALLY ENDED! 😭
BOOM Esports have finally qualified for The International! 🤩
Our win against @TeamLiquid Not only prolongs our campaign at the Major, but also secures us a direct TI invite!
— BOOM Esports (@boomesportsid) August 10, 2022
John similarly agrees with Mike about BOOM Esports (Yopaj and JaCkky), and also brings up Talon Esports. He points out there’s plenty of potential in the region, but some of these teams didn’t get the “advantage” or at least, the experience, of bringing in foreign talent to help them on their way. “Talon’s inexperience is showing in LANs, and that’s something they desperately need to work on if they want to get to TI. I think our dark horse could be Polaris Esports, if they don’t tilt and get mad at themselves.”
This sentiment should be painfully familiar to those who’ve been following the SEA Dota Pro Circuit. As viewers, we can definitely get extremely frustrated when we see players make “silly mistakes”, which are part and parcel of the game. They’ll need to learn, and we should be there to cheer them on.
As ubiquitous the caster duo are, they have worked with others before. “When I cast with someone else, I like to be able to talk to them earlier,” John says, also pointing out Otomo in the vicinity. “Talk for a time, get a feel how we are with each other, and go from there. Communicating, being familiar with someone, helps a lot.”
“Like, you gotta have a chat with them, watch some of their replays, casts, understand how much they like to talk, when they take breaks,” Mike adds. “It can get a little awkward, but I think after game one, you’re usually pretty good. You understand how to work with people, and it’s fun to switch it up.”
I also had to ask about their personal improvements with regards to casting. “In our early days, me and Mike would watch replays, make notes, and talk about what didn’t feel good, what needed to be worked on. It’s just a gradual process,” John says. “It’s a timing thing. For me, personally, I had a lot of anxiety about casting, finding myself being stiff,” Mike admits. “People can tell when you’re not comfortable. There’s no way around the grind; you have to get more games under your belt to be more comfy till it becomes second nature.”
There’s the scene as a whole to think about too, which still has room to grow, needing more people who can bring these storylines to the people. John points out there can only be so many games and tournaments that people can cast for. Aspiring casters themselves could get their start from the increasing number of smaller tournaments that pay, getting the scene to be more ‘newbie’ friendly. Mike likewise notes that the Dota Pro Circuit’s revised length means that there can be events to provide the opportunities, like the Division 1, Division 2 Tours. Much like improving at your delivery, it’s yet more gradual processes to work through.
TO THE FANS
To close off, I asked what they had to say to fans. Mike thanks you guys out there for your support, acknowledging how the stream chat could be toxic when they first started. “They’ve been on Reddit, demanding me show up at LANs, and you know what, we wouldn’t be here without them.”
John likewise extends his thanks, mentioning RD2L Europe’s Tapas, whom he said encouraged him to cast meeting prior to his Mike.
“Stuff like that makes a difference when you’re still starting out, so thank you for your kind words and feedback as well.”
Much appreciated to Mike and John for answering my questions! We’re a couple months off to The International 11, so perhaps we’ll see them on the stage there as well? At least, I’d hope so. I’m sure we’ll see more of them as the regional qualifiers loom on the horizon, with more caster curses in the future as well. Let’s hope this time doesn’t power that up to Kyle’s level.
See you next time!