Dota 2 team OG – made up of Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs, Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, Anathan “ana” Pham, and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen – shocked the world in 2018 when it won The International 8, the event with the biggest prize pool in esports history at the time.

In the lead up to the tournament, OG suffered a roster collapse which left co-founder N0tail to completely rebuild the team. Once assembled, OG was labelled the complete underdogs of TI8, but the magic that followed can only be described as one of the biggest comebacks in esport history.

In a brand new documentary, Against the Odds by its sponsor Red Bull, the team’s story is captured – unveiling the highs and lows of what it takes to compete, and dominate, in one of esports biggest tournaments ever.

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Image credit: Red Bull

We sat down with ana and JerAx to talk about the documentary, their expectations for The International 2019, and what they would like to see in the future of the Dota Pro Circuit. 

Esports Insider: People often describe your win at TI8 as one of the greatest underdog stories in esports history. How important is it to capture your story for the wider esports world?

JerAx: I think what should be captured is more about the esports world and how teams are working together; how players are really investing their time and how we have created this phenomenon over time with barely anything. Esports started 10 plus years ago and we started from nowhere. There are tournaments like TI that are massive and there are still people that don’t know esports. There is a barrier with facts on how much players are willing to invest their time playing every day for years. I think that’s something worth telling.

ESI: From the film, it’s clear to see that you guys have a strong friendship. How important is it to have that both in and out of the game?

Ana: In-game it really translates to how we interact with each other side of the game. It’s easier to, I guess, talk about whatever, especially to feel close to each other. There are no boundaries.

J: In the game, people feel free to say what they want to say or what they have to say. That is what OG was kind of created for: let people do their thing and really focus on keeping that. We do certain things in a certain way just to make sure everyone is happy and I think that carries over to our games too.

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Photo credit: Valve

ESI: Having already secured one of esports biggest prize pools in esports, how do you stay motivated? What drives you guys to be the best?

A: Taking a break always inspires me to try and play harder for the next season, especially since I am always away from home it can get pretty tiring. It often means you don’t really feel like playing as much. Sometimes you just want to stay away from playing Dota, so taking a break is what keeps me motivated.

J: There is a lot of tournaments this season and trying to live up to something is what keeps me motivated. Right now for this season, it’s very easy to say it’s TI for me, so I’m trying to improve towards that. Also, the people around me, including my team and my friends, are all really supportive of me. They basically let me do what I want to do so I can really compete or I can take more of a backseat. I think that kind of freedom also really helps me.

ESI: You’re headed to Shanghai to compete in a tournament that has the biggest prize purse in all of esports. What are your expectations heading into the event? 

J: I personally don’t set a lot of expectations for myself, I don’t know what other members of the team would say. I want to do what we have been able to do in practice and be able to play our own game, however, I know it’s not so easy. Conditions are not the most natural when you are playing in big tournaments – you sometimes look at the other teams too much or there is a lot of stuff that directs your attention. Although, I do hope that everyone invests in our team and we are able to show them what we’ve got.

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Photo credit: Epicenter

ESI: The Dota Pro Circuit and heavy prize weighing on TI9 has received a lot of pressure from the community recently. What are your opinions on the overall Dota ecosystem and do you think it needs to change? If so, how would you improve it? 

A: I guess major tournaments should have more invites to stop everyone just playing qualifiers. I think maybe the top six or top eight [teams] from the previous major should get an invite to the next major.

J: I think we should support the lower tier teams. Looking into the future, I think we should have more tournaments for them and reduce the amount of competition in the higher tiers.

For example, this season I played around five majors and it’s all aimed at the very best teams. Then the minors were very disappointing for what their purpose was this season, that’s something that needs to change. Also, overall, there is a big problem with the prize pool where I think it’s very top-heavy. It doesn’t help the growth of the game and it’s not very supportive of upcoming talent; I think the esports side of the game then takes a heavy impact. The professional players are going to be switching up and you won’t see the upcoming talent because it’s not an supportive environment.

Against the Odds is available to watch on Red Bull TV now.