News

Player Spotlight: Puppey – In Search of Perfection

Michael Hassall  | 
Puppey

Puppey has spent most of his career crafting the teams he's on into finely tuned winning machines, but a second TI victory still eludes him.

Clement “Puppey” Ivanov is one of the most iconic players in Dota 2. A champion right from the get-go, the notoriously calculated player has been around longer than the game itself. Yet, for one of the winners of The International 2011, the majority of his career thus far has been spent molding and crafting one squad, into the ultimate force in the game.

In-game, Puppey is known as a master shot caller. A deadly support who can always shock you with a strange pick or strategy. Someone who can out-draft you so hard, you’ll not realize you’ve lost until your Throne falls. Time after time, he’s revealed a crucial strat that’s won him the game. He’s the type of player to lose game one in a best-of-three, just to try something new. Most dangerous of all, when the chips are down, and he’s all out of ideas, Puppey will try something new, on the biggest stages, and win just by pure shock and awe. It’s these elements that make him such a versatile and dangerous player to match up against.

Nothing Normal

Puppey’s story begins far before his first TI victory, though with his gaming career starting at just 13-years-old. He competed in multiple Warcraft 3 and Defence of the Ancients tournaments while still in school but his natural aptitude for video games wasn’t a fluke. Clement Ivanov was a diligent and gifted young person who excelled at languages and music. He attended the Heino Elleri Muusikakool (Heino Eller Tartu Music College) in Estonia, gaining proficiency in a half dozen instruments. Meanwhile, he became fluent in English and Russian on top of his native Estonian – a multi-lingual musician gamer before his 18th birthday.

It was clear that a conventional education just wasn’t going to cut it for Puppey. As the player himself explains in a 2016 TEDx Talk at Tallinn University of Technology: “I did not really care about the social norms. I was confident that school was not my path, and I used that confidence to go my own way. I, myself, believed that knowing music was more important than school. I myself believed that earning money somehow through a game, like poker, was way more important than school.” Instead of school, he focused on his music, playing guitar in a Death Metal band, and of course, grinding DotA pubs.

Puppey didn’t immediately see a future in a career in esports. But in 2007, at age 18, he joined Xero Skill and over the next three years bounced between multiple rosters, slowly gaining the attention of pros at the time. His big break came at DreamHack 2009, standing in for Mouz. It was here Puppey would start one of his longest friendships in Dota, as he teamed for the first time with Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi. The two instantly bonded over a shared intelligent attitude to the game and an appreciation for each other’s playstyle. The seeds were laid for the two to create a team together.

Kingsurf.International was the result of this initial team-up. Described by the pair as an attempt to create “The best gank-team in history”, KS.Int boasted, at times, nine players. All were skilled in a roaming and gank-heavy style of play; something Puppey was already a master of. The team had limited success with their sole triumph coming at Dota-League Masters 2009 when the team beat arch-rivals MeetYourMakers. Sadly after this win, the KingSurf organization would be caught up in a scandal forcing Puppey and squad to move to new sponsors Razer. Shortly after, KuroKy would depart Razer.CGC to join MYM, leaving Puppey to hop between teams, before starting a new chapter in his career

One DotA Ends, and Another Begins

By late 2010, Valve had made its intentions to release Dota 2 known. The closed beta dropped in mid-2011 and several pros quickly put time into it. Puppey initially continued with the original Defence of the Ancients, joining the roster of GosuGamers.net. But due to the team missing many LAN events, he would depart to a new squad that was just beginning to shine – Natus Vincere.

In a statement released by Puppey, he admitted that this was likely the “last year for the Dota-scene” with Dota 2 waiting in the wings. However, Na’Vi would still attempt to dominate the game in its final days – a fitting swan song for the game that started Puppey’s career. Na’Vi swept through teams in those last few months, defeating GG.net at the ICS#8 playoffs, and MYM in the finals. Heading to their first, and ultimately final, DotA LAN, the team crushed in the ASUS OPEN Summer 2011, ending the team’s run in DotA with a decisive victory.

But Puppey’s most memorable moment with Na’Vi would come at the very first International. With a genuinely unbelievable (for the time) $1.6 million on the line, Na’Vi was set to compete in the first-ever public outing of Dota 2. Hopes for Na’Vi in this event were low, with the squad getting the beta keys just three weeks before the event. However, the team defied all expectations, winning every single match in the tournament. Puppey, and his Na’Vi teammates, Ivan “Artstyle” Antonov, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, Oleksandr “XBOCT” Dashkevych, and Dmitriy “LighTofHeaveN” Kupriyanov, etched their names in history with a win on the grandest stage at the very beginning of Dota 2.

Na'Vi

The TI1 winning Na’Vi Roster. (Photo courtesy Na’Vi)

Na’Vi would continue their domination of the nascent Dota 2 scene, winning the very next tournament hosted, and rarely coming below second place in any of their LAN performances over the next year and a half. During this time, Puppey would step up to the mantle of captain, becoming the shot caller and drafter for his team after former captain and carry ArtStyle departed. In his new role, Na’Vi flourished, securing nine podium spots at tier-one events in the run-up to TI2. But after another incredible run on the grandest stage, Na’Vi would run into a brick wall in the form of Invictus Gaming, losing out in the finals.

With a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, Na’Vi went back to the drawing board. As LighTofHeaveN and Sergey Antonovich “ARS-ART” Revin departed the team, Puppey saw an opportunity to bring in someone he knew he could work well with – KuroKy. With his longtime friend now helping him in the five position, he could focus on winning. The team initially struggled during the latter half of 2012 and early 2013 but stabilized leading into TI3.

Puppey ESL Frankfurt

Puppey in 2014. (Photo courtesy ESL)

Once again, Na’Vi would fall short, losing out to European super-team Alliance in both the Upper Bracket Finals and Grand Finals. From here, it was a downward spiral. Despite retaining all of it’s players for the ensuing season, it was clear Na’Vi was not the powerhouse it once was. After a miserable showing at TI4, Puppey and KuroKy jumped ship. It was time for something new.

Something Secret in the Works

The qualifiers of StarLadder Star Series Season 10 was the start of something new. Listed originally as “The Secret Team”, before being unveiled as “Team Secret”, the squad had begun as a conversation between KuroKy and Johan “N0tail” Sundstein. The pair had an idea for a team run by players, and not by an outside organization. Puppey was invited by KuroKy to join the squad and rounded out the roster alongside Tal “Fly” Aizik, and Gustav “s4” Magnusson.

Puppey would be the captain of this team, and in their first event, only fell short of victory by a single game to Evil Geniuses. Several members of EG were impressed by this new Team Secret roster, and after Fly was removed from the squad and his friend N0tail followed him, EG’s Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, and Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg jumped ship. With this unstoppable roster, the team quickly breezed to TI5, crushing in the group stage. But before the team could even reach a much-anticipated rematch with rivals EG, the squad was defeated by EHOME and plummeted to the lower bracket. There they were defeated by Virtus.pro and went home trophy-less.

Team Secret TI5

Headed into TI5, Team Secret were seen as a super team. (Photo courtesy Team Secret)

Crucially, Puppey had not been the shot caller for that TI. Instead, S4 had stepped up, and after the disappointing loss, all save Puppey decided to leave the team. This left Puppey as sole remaining founder, owner, and most importantly, captain of Team Secret. Matthew “Cyborgmatt” Bailey came into the fold as team manager, so that Puppey could focus on the game and the slow build into something new began.

Over the course of the next year, Puppey and Team Secret would begin experimenting with NA players and talented young newcomers such as Aliwi “W33” Omar. Puppey, having seen the incredible success of Evil Geniuses at TI5, seemed set on incorporating US and Canadian players in some way, bringing back Arteezy, and inviting Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao, Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling, Sivatheeban “1437” Sivanathapillai, and Kanishka’ Sam’ “BuLba” Sosale.

Fractures and Splits

It’s worth noting that during 2015, much of Team Secret’s funding and sponsorship model was very different from other teams. An unknown outside investor had reportedly funded the original squad, with plans to reveal them after TI5, as per a Reddit AMA by KuroKy. However, after the disappointing performance and the departure of all players, save Puppey, the idea was scrapped. At this time, the team took on numerous sponsorships to cover costs.

In the lead up to TI6, money, finances, and personality difference would begin to cause a split in the squad. As EternaLEnVy alleges, the team was wracked by payment delays, and in some cases, lower amounts being distributed. What’s more, it was claimed that Puppey was not fulfilling sponsorship contracts. He reportedly failed to mention sponsors in streams and apparently did not fill the 30 hours a month quota given by Panda TV as part of their deal. What’s more, after departing the team, EternaLEnVy and MiSeRy both came out alleging Puppey was an aggressive and egotistical player.

EternalEnvy

EternaLEnVy claimed he received late payments from Team Secret, and that Puppey was an aggressive and egotistical player. (Photo courtesy GosuGamers)

Additionally, they reported that Puppey would often get into heated arguments with W33, many times saying something along the lines of “If you guys want to talk about who’s right or who’s wrong, why don’t we fight?” or “do you want to fight about it?” The threats of violence were damning, and despite coming out after the conclusion of TI6, painted a picture of a team in turmoil.

Unsurprisingly, TI6 was a failure. Clearly not gelling with the team Puppey and his Team Secret squadmates dropped immediately out of the event in the lower bracket single eliminations. Whether personality issues, money, or whatever else caused the splits in the team, Puppey once again found himself without a team around him heading into the 2016/2017 season.

On the accusations of aggression, egotism, and threats of violence, it’s worth noting that numerous people have defended Puppey from these accusations. Former teammate Dendi notably said that “Puppey never said anything like this to us when he was in Na’Vi, he was a defender, not a fighter.” LighTofHeaveN described that when he first met Puppey (when the latter was 18-years-old), he was a rager, but that when the pair joined Na’Vi, he was perfectly behaved and never said toxic things. It’s also crucial to be aware that the allegations of toxicity come from English speakers, while the defense comes from Russian speakers. Languages have different quirks and conventions, and even someone with fluency in multiple languages will likely come across differently depending on which language they speak.

Tweaking and Turning

The 2016/2017 season finally saw the move towards a more consistent lineup and one that Puppey would be happy to play with. Rather than rely on EU, CIS, or NA players, Team Secret would look to the SEA region, picking up Korean player Pyo “MP” No-a, and a relatively unknown Malaysian player known as Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng.

The squad would also be joined by Maurice “KheZu” Gutman, a young german talent, while in Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat, Puppey finally found a suitable replacement for KuroKy as his co-support. The team immediately found success, taking victories at tier one events, just like in Puppey’s heyday with Na’Vi. At TI7, he would clash with Kuroky and Team Liquid in the Lower Brackets, and Secret found themselves eliminated by the eventual winners. It felt like Puppey and Secret were so close to perfect, but not quite at the level they needed to be.

After the departure of carries MP and Khezu after TI7, the team attempted to try slotting in and trying new pieces of the puzzle until something worked. The 2017/2018 season saw mixed success. The squad initially felt incredibly strong, with Adrian “Fata” Trinks and Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard added in, but it still wasn’t quite right. Instead, in what was rapidly becoming a tradition, Team Secret was eliminated at TI8 by TL, as Puppey and KuroKy once again clashed.

Then something clicked in 2019. Puppey once again found himself a young European prodigy to fit into his perfect team. Michał “Nisha” Jankowski was just 17 when he joined the team and quickly became one of the most dominant carries in Dota 2 with a veteran team behind him. Zai also returned to the stack, and the squad seemed to win any event they decided to attend. In a landmark year, they were victorious at the Chongqing Major and MDL Disneyland Paris Major, easily securing a trip to TI9, and grabbing numerous wins along the way. Ahead of The International, a familiar story began to form, with multiple outlets focusing on the friendly rivalry between KuroKy and Puppey.

Headed into TI9, Secret were hot favorites. They dominated the group stage and headed to the upper bracket with a lot of confidence. However, after a crushing defeat by Evil Geniuses, they were once again in the lower bracket. Rallying against the likes of Mineski, Infamous, and Vici Gaming, it finally looked like Puppey would get his second TI championship. But in a cruel twist of fate, the team would once again be defeated by KuroKy and Team Liquid, but still reached fourth place, the highest Secret has ever placed at TI.

Almost Perfect

Following TI9, MidOne departed the org, and a reshuffle saw Lasse Aukusti “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen join the squad. A foe who’d helped crush them at TI8, the addition of Matumbaman has lit a fire in Team Secret and Puppey alike. After sweeping their first LAN event of the year, DreamLeague Season 13, the global pandemic, put a stop to their offline success. However, in a genuinely singular run, Team Secret has now won six straight online events. They hold the title for the best record over 100 pro games and seem literally unstoppable. What’s more, with their current DPC points, they’d likely immediately be seeded into TI10 if it happened tomorrow.

Puppey has spent his career crafting the perfect team. An artist of team-building, taking the malleable clay of Dota 2 talent and sculpting it into something that can win. But in the cruelest irony of them all, Puppey might have finally completed that perfect team – only for TI to be postponed due to an ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He can only hope that this team can endure long enough to find the LAN success they should be having. The meta changes and players have slumps and peaks. If there’s one person who can keep things together, though, it’s Puppey.

Michael Hassall
Michael Hassall
Michael is a Brit-based esports generalist and timezone traveler. He spends his free time polishing his collection of fighting game tournament participation trophies.