Universe interview: “In order to have a chance to win TI, you need to make your team tier 1 and that's the goal right now for me”

Ninjas in Pyjamas were one of the two teams to suffer an early exit from the WePlay! Tug Of War: Mad Moon tournament, despite coming to the event as one of the favorites, given their recent Major qualifiers run in the stacked European region.

Taras Bortnik, our special reporter present at the tournament, had the chance to sit and talk to Saahil “Universe” Arora, who was kind to answer a couple of sensitive questions and to take a trip down the memory lane through his whole career.


WePlay! Tug of War: Mad Moon didn’t go as planned for NiP, so let’s start the interview by asking what went wrong, when did you lose the grip on your games?

To be honest, our opening drafts against Nigma were not great, at least the game two draft was not playable. Game one was winnable, but we misplayed a couple of times. In general, we just got done with the pretty intense European qualifiers for the Major and I think we are all a little bit tired from playing for like a month straight. We had a super long bootcamp before the qualifiers, so at least I and Lelis have been on the road for like a month and a half, maybe two months, and that might have played a part in our result here. Hopefully, we will be back in form for the Major.

You switched the role with Lelis’ arrival at NiP. Is it hard for you to make such a change?

It’s definitely challenging. It’s like learning to walk again. It’s really tough, but I enjoy it. It’s challenging, but it’s fun at the same time because everything is new. I switched to position 4 for this team because Biver left for Chaos and we were looking for players and it was really hard to find a position 4 one. So, I suggested that I should try to play this role while we should look for a suitable offlaner. We found Lelis who is very good and he has a lot of potential to grow even more. He always thinks a lot about his role and… yeah, I like him. 

You took a break last year and it was the first time when you missed The International. So I’m curious, what did you do during your time away from the competitive scene? 

I honestly just chilled out for a really long time. I got to spend time with my girlfriend, we watched a bunch of tv shows and we travelled a bit. We went to Vegas, Mexico, basically just relaxing and taking it easy. 

The general impression is that the esports players get to travel a lot and hearing that on your break you went travelling even more, might sound crazy. But, for most of the players, getting to go to so many different countries is more like switching computer places, you don’t really have the time to visit. Are there any countries where you went as a player and you would like to return for a proper visit, like a tourist?

That’s so true. It really is like just changing computer places. In almost every country that I’ve been as a player, I never got the time to visit something. To answer your question, well, I have never been there, but I really want to visit Italy. Germany would be nice to visit, France is another place where I’d like to visit. I’ve been to France once for an ESWC convention, but I’d like to go back and visit Louvre for example. 

How was it to have to watch TI from home for the first time?

It was tough. I even thought about playing the qualifiers, but you know, at the end of the day if I want to go to TI, I want to go with a team that I believe in. I don’t want to go just to hope for a top 12 or whatever. I don’t go to TI just to say that I was there, I go to try to win it or get a good place at least. It was definitely hard to watch it from home because the streak was broken, but I made my peace with it. All streaks come to an end eventually, so it’s fine. 

How is it to reunite with ppd, is the old Evil Geniuses times chemistry between you two the same, or did you need time to adapt to each other. In the end, it’s been around four years since you two played together on EG.

It’s definitely a work in progress to build or to find our chemistry back. Back then, we were on the same page a lot, but now, at the beginning of this NiP roster, we discovered that our ideas about the game are different. I’d say it’s just a matter of us two getting back on the same page and that is something that takes time. ppd as a captain tends to simplify things a lot for his players, for example back when we were with EG it was very easy for me to know what is expected of me and that just made all my decisions as an offlaner way easier. When a player is on a team where all their decisions are simple, then they will look really good. That’s what happened with me on EG, I think. 

credits: WePlay! Esports

During the time you played in SEA with EternaLEnVy, you said that he has a whole different vision about the game. I always wondered what people who worked with EE and who say more or less the same thing about him actually mean by this. 

It’s really hard to explain. I don’t really want to go into how he was as a captain. He is very intense and he is kind of a chaotic person. He has his own style and I think he needs a team to kind of buy-in into the kind of chaos he wants to play with. 

Every TI winner carries some sort of legacy with him. For some, this might bring some extra pressure or it can be an incentive to push even harder and fight to stay at the top. How is it for you?

Well, all the players are chasing that feeling of winning tournaments and obviously you want to win TI because it’s the biggest tournament. For me, the drive is always there. My biggest goal is always to win tournaments, but it’s been a while since I’ve done that, so I’m just working towards that goal and hopefully I’ll make that peak again. That’s what I care about. I don’t care that much about the legacy, I just want that experience of winning again. 

Here is a quote from you from an interview with DotaBlast back in 2016: “Professionally, I would like to win more TIs, that’s my number one goal. When I’m done playing I’d like to be known as the best offlaner that has ever played. I want people to look back and say that there is no question about who was the best offlaner during the time I played.” How do you relate to these words now?

Haha, yeah I remember that. Well, I really do believe that during my peak as an offlaner I was the best in that role, so there’s that. But, now I’m playing position 4 and you know, the offlane has been a little bit rough for the past couple of years. Now my goals have definitely changed. Now, I’m just trying to be a very good support 4 player and be instrumental to our team’s success. 

Did the “winning more TIs” goal also change? 

In order to even have a chance to win a TI, you need to make your team tier one and that’s the goal right now for me. I just want to make our team good enough that when we go to tournaments we are a threat to win. Obviously, winning TI would be amazing and it’s on the back of everyone’s mind, but you have to take it one step at a time. You can’t just say, “I really want to win TI, that’s why I’m playing right now.” For me, when I play and when I try really hard in practice, my goal is to become better. That’s it. 

Listening to you just right now, I realized there is actually a person in this world who did all this process. It’s Ceb. 

Oh yes, definitely. I think what Ceb did for his team during these two TIs was really amazing and I think he was one of the biggest factors in their wins. 

For the fans, watching OG taking two TI titles, back to back, was something absolutely astonishing, but how was it for a TI winner to witness that? 

I mean, it’s not a great feeling, to be honest. You feel a little bit of jealousy because everyone who won TI once wants to win it a  second time. Honestly, winning TI twice is a very hard thing to do and if someone is able to do it as OG have done it, it’s a really great accomplishment and they deserve it.  

I’d like to end our interview with another quote from you. This one is from January 2013, you just joined Dignitas and in a short interview with them, you said: “I was considering not playing pro Dota at all when Team Dignitas asked me whether I wanted to play with them.” What plans did you have back then, what was the other thing that you were considering instead of becoming a Dota 2 pro?

I was thinking of going back to school. I wanted to do something in psychology. I was very interested in that back then, it was really the only subject that interested me at that time. 

Alright, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us. Best of luck next month at the Los Angeles Major and hope to see you again soon!



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