After taking a step back from competitive Dota, the legendary offlaner returns to the OG team – and he tells us that nothing less than a third International in a row will do.
Sébastien ‘Ceb’ Debs, most famous for winning mega-money tournaments The International 2018 and The International 2019, has returned to competitive Dota play. Once again, he's stepping in from a behind-the-scenes role with OG to fill a spot on the roster after a difficult 2020 for the most successful Dota 2 squad in history.
“Given the situation and the team's needs, it felt like me returning to competition was what was best for us as a group,” the Frenchman explains to us in a candid interview.
Ceb returns at an interesting point in time for the competitive Dota 2 ecosystem. This is the first time since the event began in 2011 that we won’t have the pinnacle event, The International. Most other events meanwhile have been played online, introducing problems with ping for OG’s cosmopolitan squad and forcing a series of stand-ins.
Ceb touches on how this has affected him and the team. “The scene right now has evolved to being almost exclusively online and that's the opposite of what it used to be,” he says. “I assume it has challenged our ability to create hype and motivation for ourselves.”
The impossible three-peat
Not being able to play in the same room or at LANs has certainly changed things for Dota 2 players and fans, but has it changed enough to avoid the infamous post-TI burnout? It’s well known that once players have reached the ultimate goal, lifting the Aegis of Champions at The International, they struggle to keep the level of motivation required to win a second. In fact, until 2019, when OG pulled off a historic double, no team or player had ever won more than once.
OG has already proved this was no problem for them, of course. But how do you motivate yourself to go for a third? Two of the five players in that legendary OG dream team, JerAx and ana, have already stepped away from the game, after all.
How does Ceb, who at 28 is older than both and has already retired as a player twice before, maintain that will to win? Ceb gives us some insight into this, explaining that “it's a long process, it's mostly about individual introspection” and “asking yourself why you chase what you chase, what made you go for it in the first place.” Remembering why you fell in love with the game, in other words. Ceb hasn’t forgotten: he told us emphatically that he's “ready to go chase the third TI.”
New leagues, new look
At the end of February this year, Valve announced the Regional Leagues which would start after TI10. The aim of this is to provide more structured and consistent games and deliver support for the overlooked Tier 2 and Tier 3 scenes, which are crucial for surfacing the stars of tomorrow.
Dota 2 has always been a scene focused on one-off tournaments and big events; while this provides for some hugely entertaining games, it can mean that you have a lot of Dota to watch for one week and then nothing for a month, and it helps to create a feast-or-famine economy for pro players. With the leagues, the games should be more spread out, allowing fans to more easily catch their favorite teams in action.
Of course, this change has a huge effect on the players. Ceb shared his thoughts, saying: “I think it'll be a great step forward for Dota. It will bring more stability, ask teams for more consistency, and, more importantly, I think it will help structure the T2/T3 scenes, globally.”
It’s all change, in other words, and the same is true for OG. While Ceb rejoins OG’s core members Johan ‘N0tail’ Sundstein and Topias Miikka ‘Topson’ Taavitsainen, he does return to new players too: Malaysian star MidOne and literal giant of the game Saksa.
“It feels great. Both of them are great players, but most importantly, great team-mates,” he says of the pair. Getting used to new people is always a tricky thing for most people, but when you’re playing with them 12 hours a day under the very stressful situation that is esports, things get turned up a notch. That doesn’t seem to be stopping the Frenchman.
“They're open-minded, eager to learn, and also very savvy about the game, so we learn from them back. It's been a blessing to have them alongside us,” he says.
One way or another, Dota 2 will bounce back. Can Ceb too? If there’s anything we should expect from the offlaner, it’s the unexpected.