Puppey's Concern for Order and Competition

An interview with Secret's former captain gives insight into the mind of a serious strategist.
Team Secret Hoists The Battle Grounds Trophy © Alex Rubens/Red Bull eSports
By Steven Strom

Clement Ivanov, known as "Puppey" in the eSports community, is a professional. He values order and structure, and takes his job, that of a professional Dota 2 player, very seriously. That's the impression he gives off in person, anyway, even when talking about his friends, family and free time.

Perhaps he has to be. As a founding member of Team Secret, he shoulders an enormous amount of responsibility. While not the most popular title in professional gaming, Dota 2 does offers the biggest prizes, and as one of the premier teams in the Western Hemisphere Secret stands to win a healthy chunk of that.

To earn those prizes means near constant travel — to events like Red Bull Battle Grounds, where Ivanov and his companions reached the grand finals and won — and that lifestyle can take its toll. Every Dota 2 pro has a means of coping. Red Bull's own player athlete, Jimmy Ho, favors training and exercise, as do many of his peers. For Ivanov, however, it seems to be more about an ordered schedule than one activity.

"I haven't really picked up working out," he said. "That seems to be the natural thing to do when you're actually traveling around. Most players already started doing it, and it's a nice thing to do. ... I'm not really sure what I do."

That last statement rings hollow. Ivanov seems to know exactly what he's doing, when he's doing it and for how long.

On the road and between tournaments, he develops chemistry with his four teammates, discussing "movies, [TV] series" and "Mayweather fights," but never for too long, if he can help it. "I guess two weeks is maximum, if I would have to think about a tournament itself or like traveling overall. After two weeks — two weeks is already, to me, a lot –but over two weeks I feel like things start becoming a little bit weird."

After that, it's back home to Estonia: "maybe two, three hours" visiting with his parents, back to his place to see his girlfriend, two days of rest and another two visiting with the friends he left behind.

"That's going to take overall four days already," Ivanov continued. "That's going to end with me being ready for the next tournament, because you literally have either seven to 10 days to chill at home, and if realistically you have longer time at home then tournaments are already going to start [being played] online."

That doesn’t sound like someone who doesn't know what he's doing, as he implied. If anything, his schedule seems well-rehearsed, with the duration of each activity estimated and at hand. It's bit more sterile than what you'd expect from someone describing his time with friends and family.

It doesn't stop in his personal life, either. Ivanov has long been known for his professionalism within the game, which may have something to do with his track record.

Team Secret preps for a match at Battle Grounds. © Red Bull eSports

Before there was a Team Secret, he captained the fan favorite team Na'Vi. Under his guidance, Na'Vi won Dota 2's biggest annual event, the International, for a then-unprecedented $1 million first place prize. They took second place the year after that, and again the year after that.

In the interceding months between the International, the captain and his teammates were performing well at smaller tournaments throughout the world. Unlike most sports, the championship teams aren't part of a league. Therefore touring at major tournaments like Red Bull Battle Grounds (and building up a war chest of winnings) decides who gets an invitation.

What does someone like Clement Ivanov, seemingly compelled toward structure, do with all that loot? You create your own little slice of order.

"I have a lot of planning going on with building a house" he said. "All this stuff that I do in my own time, which I've earned with my money and stuff."

Here Ivanov became much more animated. Talking about his relationships he seemed almost cold and calculated. When discussing his house — something he can direct and control, and that will stand for some time — he showed a passion similar to his competitiveness.

"Yeah, a particular nice place that I have established," Ivanov said. "Got some ground going, and just got some papers, actually. It took a long while. Building a house is completely a cancerous thing to do. Like, to start out with: to deal with the politics with people. Get everybody signed up, get everybody dealing with this stuff, because there's going to ... it took a long time."

Once the topic returned to dealing with other people he locked up again, saying, "I don't even want to talk about it, to be honest."

Perhaps it was similar when he ceased interacting with Na'Vi. In 2014, the International exploded to a nearly $11 million prize pool, crowdfunded over time by the Dota 2 community. This time, Na'Vi only managed to take the shared seventh-eighth place slot. It was the catalyst for Ivanov's departure from the squad (Dota 2 teams are notoriously short-lived) and the eventual formation of Team Secret.

Team Secret's current roster. © Red Bull eSports

"Competition is not a joke," he explained. "Maybe a few years ago it was much more fun, but now it's very important for you to actually succeed."

"Before you would have a team that would want to play together and succeed. Now, people have choices to maybe leave – get a better salary somewhere else — and stuff like that. Poaching starts coming into the process."

Team Secret started as an independent, unsponsored group of top players looking to succeed. As such, "poaching" doesn't exactly describe their formation (though they did absorb two of their current roster from a top North American team later on), but it does show that players like Ivanov are always looking for the better, more logical home for their talents.

Order and logic have gotten him this far, and now they may take him further than anyone in Dota 2 has gone before. Less than an hour after his interview with Red Bull, Ivanov's team was announced as one of those directly invited to the International 2015.

The pot for that tournament rests at more than $7 million at the time of this writing, with an estimated ceiling of $15 million and two months of incentivized fundraising to go. Dota 2 will almost certainly break yet another of its own records, and the teams in attendance — including Secret — can only benefit.

That may not be good enough for Ivanov, however, who even now craves a better structure among the disarray that is professional Dota 2.

"A lot of things can happen now, because there's a lot of money involved," he concluded. "Not saying it's good. I'm not saying it's bad, either. It just needs to be tamed, and it has not yet been really tamed."

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