The first part of the translated interview covers VP's year in CS:GO and Dota 2, which you can read here. In this second part, Dvoryankin discusses Likkrit's ban and LoL int he CIS; the eager waiting for Artifact; the prospects of the OWL; and VP's expansion plans in 2018.
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Let's talk about League of Legends. Do Virtus.pro plan to return to it? What do you think about the Likkrit vs. Riot Games conflict?
I don’t remember if I mentioned this publicly, but in late August, when we were still deciding on our future in LoL, we talked with Likkrit. If we had decided to stay, then he and a few of his boys would’ve very likely been a part of VP. I was and still am confident that he is the kind of a player that represents a region, and we are the kind of organization that represents a region too. He would’ve been the kind of player we need, not only from a media point of view, but from a skill and team building point. Naturally, often with talent come other elements: Kirill was always known as a bit of a rebel who loved to speak his mind. Yet in the end, we decided not to stay in LoL.
Currently, I see no conditions for us to return to LoL in CIS. The biggest problem is having players doing nothing for six months. The schedule is very irregular, which is the same reason that caused Natus Vincere to drop their World of Tanks squad. The same problem is in Hearthstone, but shouldn’t be in Quake Champions.
We will pay attention to it next year but we can’t keep players on contract for six months. When people say that VP blew up the transfer market and offered insane salaries, I can only say two things. First, when we talked with Likkrit, he asked, ”Did you really pay this much in Summer?”, and called a sum that we paid to one of our younger players who he wanted to see on his team. In reality, the sum was 30 percent smaller, leaving him to regret he didn’t know the real numbers to lure this player himself.
Secondly, as opposed to most teams, we were not dropping our team before the Split ended. Most CIS teams operate as follows: Spring Split ends, you have two months of a break and you tell your player, “Kid, you’ll be staying with us, but we won’t be paying you”. We were not operating that way, because we valued our players. We wanted to be sure that they will stay with us, so we continued to pay during all those breaks. We continued to pay until the moment we announced to drop our roster in early October. Most teams just end their contracts right after being knocked out and do not pay their players. Obviously, we did not have to do that, but our responsibility is to bring the region to a more civilized form. Naturally, players were getting used to it and some other teams might not have liked it.
When we see viewing numbers and notice that players do nothing for six months, I do not understand how it is all supposed to work. That is why we made the decision. There are no personal motives regarding Riot. We are using this kind of decision making — and will continue to use it — in other games, if they don't work out the way we expect they should.
Who is right in the Likkrit situation?
I believe that Riot are formally in the right. I do not want to go down to personal level, but I think they could have played this situation with much less damage to their own reputation. Likkrit, on the other hand, was genuine from the very start. He was talking about meeting Riot and telling them: “Guys, let’s try to spin this like I meant something else, to the benefit of us both”. He was denied. After that he went on stream with: ”I tried to negotiate with Riot”. Thankfully, he is in a position to do this kind of stuff. I was talking to him after all this drama and mentioned that he will always be welcome in VP if he still wants to try the esports thing.
VP and a few other top organizations opened Quake Champions rosters. How would you evaluate signing Cypher and Av3k? Was it worth it? Are you concerned with lack of announcements for next year?
The concern is present. We met id Software representatives at Dreamhack in Sweden. They shared their 2018 plans in detail. Unfortunately, I can not share them right now. All I can say is it outlined our concern, giving LoL as an example. If the publisher will not have a clear strategy that benefits both parties, then we will not be investing our resources in developing this game. The outlook presented for the first six months of next year is satisfactory to me.
We will see how it turns out. We do not make hasty decisions. In this situation we have a six to twelve months grace period. We entered LoL in November 2016, and left in September 2017. I am pleased with the guy we have. Naturally, I hoped we would get at least one cup in our victory drawer. Not yet, but it is no reason to give up.
Your Hearthstone players couldn’t get to main events this year. What is the potential of that scene? Where did DrHippi go? He wasn’t a part of the last team matches.
I managed to meet all three players last month. Naiman visited Moscow, BunnyHoppor I met at Dreamhack, and DrHippi I visited in Lutsk. He is well.
VP will definitely have an Artifact team [in 2018].
In Hearthstone, you must take into consideration two factors. First, Blizzard are obviously very focused on Overwatch right now, throwing all their resources in it. HS got a new competitive system announced recently. It moves in the right direction, we research it intently. Decision on the fate of this roster will be made after additional information regarding a tournament system with split divisions.
Secondly, Artifact — practically a direct competitor to HS — is close to its release. I believe that this game will have a bright future. Valve have needed a big new game for a long time now. A lot of people played Dota 2 before but have dropped it by now, because it takes a lot of time. A card game with Dota heroes can be very popular.
We stay in direct contact with Valve: our players are some of the first to get alpha test access. You can already play Artifact in the Valve offices, and many WESA representatives already have. They are thrilled. Unfortunately, nobody can share any details yet, only emotions. We talked with our players regarding Artifact. All of them will be happy to try it out.
Will VP get an Artifact team next year [the interview was taken late in 2017 — Ed.]?
VP will definitely have an Artifact team next year. It is both in our strategy and our budget for 2018. We will be paying it all the attention we can spare.
Which other new esports games look promising to you? PUBG?
We are talking to a number of Russian and American players. I don’t fully understand the tournament promise of PUBG for now. The game is insanely popular, full of players and great for streaming Yet, there is a question of how many “live” players there are and how many are clones from China. Another question is how it will work as a tournament scene. For the most part, it only had one big event: IEM Oakland. We are in contact with ESL, awaiting more detailed numbers and feedback regarding it to evaluate.
Regarding some other games, we are paying close attention to mobile ones. We and a few other teams had a meeting with Tencent, who develop a few of their projects both in China and in the West. It might grown into a reasonably big industry, so we pay close attention.
Blizzard's biggest accomplishment was to manage to sell all this [OWL] properly.
Did you discuss any possibility of entering Overwatch at all?
Everything that is happening with OW right now is very interesting. Neither me nor a lot of other people in the industry that I talked to have enough confidence in the success of the system.
Right now we sit in “Yota Arena”, and I’ve also been in internet cafes in North America. I know what people play there, and what people play here. Many in NA play Overwatch. There is a possibility of OW becoming an important local scene, similar to American Football. The North American market is big enough for the game to be comfortable there.
The most important factor in my opinion is the franchise model. You should not overestimate investment values: the $20 million are invested by sports club owners. Those are big numbers for the esports industry, but not for sports. Blizzard's biggest accomplishment was to manage to sell all this properly. There are things to learn from this. We will pay attention to how this develops, but our priorities in 2018 are Artifact and mobile games.
This was your first full year in esports. Did your perception of it change in some way?
I think that the first months were the most emotional due to me visiting a lot of events. It was a realisation that from Kiev to New York and from Boston to Minsk people fill stadiums to watch some game. Then you sit in a stadium in Atlanta and realise that the English stream broke a million concurrent viewers. I was working in Russian sports and our main problem there was that the younger audience wasn’t interested, while the 40+ year-olds who watched it were not that interesting to advertisers. The fact that esports is this stable in its business model is very good. I got very lucky and I am very proud of the players I am working with, both in Dota 2 and CS:GO. I put a lot of effort for our guys to be well and our fans to stay happy.
Personally, my most important emotion in 2017 was me understanding what esports is, realising what Virtus.pro is. My main goal is to preserve it going forward.
Everyone realised by now that directly comparing sports and esports is incorrect. Still, does lack of transparency in esports bother you? In soccer for example, player salaries and transfer sums are openly disclosed.
I disagree with the structure of this question. In soccer, a transfer price or salary of a player is mentioned by the media, but none of it is ever announced officially. It is more about the industry around sports and esports. I am absolutely sure that there will be time when we will have tabloid media for esports that will focus on the personal lives of the players. I am sure we will have awards of being the best esports player in the world. “Gold mouse” or “Golden mousepad”, I don’t know. The same thing will happen with all the transfer related stuff. Earlier this year, NiKo’s move from mousesports to FaZe Clan was mentioned to cost half a million dollars, but by my accounts, the real number is less than half of what was originally reported.
I believe that people simply should do their job. Take casters for example. There aren’t that many of them yet, because there aren’t that many players that retired. When that number grows, some of them will realise that they don’t cast very well, but since they know a lot of players and team managers, they could become a kind of caster-journalist: share insights about a hypothetical fn not liking his salary, while Double Dimension offer twice as much.
There are no agents in esports yet, which is a good thing since they do not always affect the economy in a positive way.
It is all a natural course of action. The same way esports players were convinced to wear soccer jerseys, but shorts are much more difficult matter. It is all a natural process of industry growth.
But transfer agreement details do not always come from tabloid media.
Let’s take a The Sun kind of paper that writes about who Roonie slept with and where he transferred his hair from. There are also papers like Corriere della Sera and Transfermarkt, who focus on evaluating player costs and are trusted. Often this information gets leaked from agents. There are no agents in esports yet, which is a good thing since they do not always affect the economy in a positive way. There is simply no media that specializes on player cost evaluation, there are no agents. Esports is missing a lot of things for now.
Not a single soccer or hockey club shares how much money they paid for a player and what salary they offered. None. The only exception is the North American leagues, where disclosure is demanded by regulations and is part of the salary cap system. Plus, there are no actual transfers: players are being exchanged. America has it, Europe doesn’t.
What are your ambitions and plans for 2018?
We did not reveal these goals in early 2017, and I would like to avoid big announcements now as well. Partially due to some of them depending on financial results. But I can say that we are ready to win at least as much prize money as we did in 2017. You can count it up on Liquipedia [~$2,502,904 in Dota 2 and ~$891,806 in CS:GO — Ed.]. Similarly to the previous year, we aim to win five events. We reached about 12 finals in 2017 and I think that five events a year is a healthy goal.
On top of it, we have a lot of media related goals. I can say than in the second half of 2018 we will be entering Chinese net and their social media. We are holding negotiations right now, and they are not easy since this market is very unique. If we are able to find a partner we can trust, it will be out main media focus in 2018.