Patrick Bonifacio, February 7, 2017

Mineski's Ninjaboogie on Reclaiming the Crown of SEA Dota 2

The Southeast Asian regional qualifiers for the upcoming Dota 2 Asia Championships kicked off last Friday, which will award a single slot at the Chinese tournament to be held in March. While Team Liquid (1.61) and Team Secret (2.25) fight over EU's spot, among the teams battling for the chance to represent the SEA region, three hail from the Philippine Islands—a nation known for its fanatical love of all things Dota.

ESL One Manila 2016 and the Manila Major certainly proved this much. Touted as two of the best Dota events held last year both in terms of the quality of the games played and the hype shown by the fans, it firmly placed the Philippines on the map as the game’s Southeast Asian capital. In both tournaments, a team called Mineski played in front of the hometown crowd.

The rosters the organization fielded at the time were different from the current incarnation, but their name is still synonymous with Pinoy Doto. Mineski is often said to be the country’s “national Dota team” as it was one of the very first professional DotA Allstars squads ever formed. They were also the Philippines’ representatives at the inaugural International in 2011, being invited to the tournament directly by Valve.

However, with TNC Pro Team’s success at the WESG LAN Finals held last month, this title may already be out of Mineski’s hands for the time being. For team captain Michael “ninjaboogie” Ross, this fact does not faze him in the slightest. “This doesn’t bother me. I just want to win and focus on myself and my own team.”

Before his Dota 2 career started, ninjaboogie gained fame as one of the most successful Heroes of Newerth players to come out of Southeast Asia. As the captain of a team called DuskBin, he led his comrades in battle across a multitude of SEA tournaments, and even against the legendary Fnatic. n0tail and Fly of three-time Major champions OG were a part of that team.

“It was a great transition [from DotA to HoN] for me. HoN brought back the spark and interest in me again,” says ninjaboogie. “The game made it easier to improve as an individual because you had many more tools at your disposal [compared to WC3 DotA]. At first, I had no intentions of playing competitively again, but the more I played HoN, the more I wanted to get back into the scene.”

“Gaining experience in DotA 1 was tough,” he continues. “HoN, on the other hand, allowed me to sharpen my skills against the best players in the world.” Ninjaboogie’s chance encounters with Fnatic in HoN instilled within him the confidence to keep playing at the pro level. “I knew after playing against Fnatic and even beating them at times that I could compete at a very high level. I was satisfied with all my progress.”

Upon making the decision to leave HoN and play Dota 2 in 2013, Ninjaboogie was picked up by Thailand-based organization Neolution.int. After just five months with Neolution, he moved on to join Team Impervious from Singapore, and then Execration. What came after this brief period of flux would change his life significantly: his decision to move to South Korea in order to join Rave.

Ninjaboogie recalls his mindset around the time of the big decision, saying, “I was initially asked by Cast [former teammate, Mark Pilar] to go to Korea as a backup player for DJ back when they were still known as Eyes of Tiger Hammer. After some time, he asked me once again to join him in Korea after my run with Execration ended less than fruitfully. I’ve always wanted to visit Korea anyway, so I took the opportunity and left the next day.”

Little did he know this would be one of the most formative decisions he’d ever made up to this point in his career. On top of winning the fourth season of the Korean Dota League in 2014, Rave went on to achieve bigger things by finishing within the top 6 of DAC 2015. Their run at DAC was one of the most talked about Cinderella stories of that year, considering that they had to go through an incredibly stacked field to get to where they finished.

“Our placing at DAC reassured me that my time and effort [as a pro gamer of many years] wasn’t a waste,” says Ninjaboogie as he reminisces about the good times. “It motivated me to keep going, although since then my luck hasn’t been as great.”

Now, with some of his former teammates in Rave also in the DAC 2017 qualifiers, now with TNC and Execration, he expresses excitement at the prospect of seeing them play in Shanghai. “It’s been two years since our run at DAC, so I’ve grown accustomed to seeing DJ and ryOyr playing elsewhere. I see them as brothers and I hope at least one of us qualifies.”

He also expressed joy at TNC’s miraculous victory over Cloud 9 at WESG, and what this means for esports in the Philippines. “They played amazing Dota. I was happy for them, but mostly because ryOyr finally got a win once again. Not only did TNC show the strength of Philippine esports in the month of January, but there were other gamers who did this in different games as well. Maybe this can help improve the way the government sees esports and convince them to support it in a better fashion.”

Ninjaboogie joined Mineski in July last year, after a brief yet unsuccessful return to Rave. A month after, the team picked up Galvin “Meracle” Kang Jian Wen and Ralph Richard “RR” Peñano, to complete the roster that is currently playing in the qualifiers.

“I enjoy it here and I feel that the individual skill level of each player in the team is very high,” says Ninjaboogie of his time in Mineski so far. “Of course, we have our issues just like any team, but I think we do well fixing them. Communication can be tough at times since we aren't all of one nationality, but we find a way to get things done. If we can find a way to not succumb to pressure, I’m confident we will reach further and place higher in tournaments.”

Mineski have survived the group stages of this year’s DAC qualifiers, but not without troubles. Pitted against their comrades in arms, TNC and Execration, they managed to defeat only Execration in a grueling 2-1 comeback after DJ’s side went a game up. A simple 2-0 defeat at the hands of TNC suggests Mineski may be feeling the pressure to secure that solo spot in the tournament. With their playoffs set to begin tomorrow with a difficult fixture against Faceless, we’ll see if Ninjaboogie’s side is ready to reclaim the flag for Pinoy Doto.

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick is a Dota 2 fanatic, specialising in the SEA scene. He's also a massive K-pop fan but we don't offer markets on Girls Generation (yet) so he writes about esports instead. You can follow him at twitter.com/EthanKairos_