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How Do We Decide Who is the Best in ESports?

November 29, 2016 John Paolo "Sandata" Bago

On Facebook yesterday I was part of an interesting topic: A post surrounding the concept of the “best”.

Specifically, Acion Arena’s manager and Dota 2 shoutcaster, Adrian Jison, said that he thinks Ralph Richard“RR” Peñano is the current best player in the Philippines for Dota 2.

I have always been vocal about my opinion when it comes to the subject of who the best player for Dota 2 is in the Philippines right now. I have not hidden the fact that I think Djardel “DJ” Mampusti is hands down the best in the country. A close second in that debate would be Mineski’s Ryan Jay “Bimbo/RagingPotato” Qui.

My first instinct was to think that Jison was wrong. After all, its almost crazy to me that anyone else would think there were any other choices between Dj and Bimbo!

But as I thought more about the subject, I came to the conclusion that there are many ways to think about who the best is. And a much better use of my time would be to share how I personally think about the concept of the best, and how that drives me to make my conclusions as a writer and analyst for eSports.

Why do we obsess about the best?

Part of what makes sports, eSports and competition in general such an enriching activity is that it allows us to reflect on the concept of excellence.

Picture this: A basketball fan watching the greatest games by legends like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. The majesty of their jump. The insane fade-away jumper off a screen. The game-winning clutch shot while contested mid-air.

While we watch their physically impossible feats, it triggers inside of us two things: A. An inspiration to be the best or B. A reflection on what it means to be that good at something.

After watching Fy-God repeatedly destroy things by himself as a Rubik support during the 2013-2014 TI season, I decided to play Rubik for two days in a row. In the process, I also began to appreciate what it takes to be a god-level player and how much dedication it would need out of a person to be able to achieve such things.

I know for a great many fans, just watching the sick moves by Rtz makes you want to stop watching the game, log on to Dota 2, and start playing. To start getting good and learn as well.

And in that process, you start to think about how long it must have taken them to be that good. How many hours it must take for a person to master a split-second timing on a series of moves. How much creativity they must possess to make those brilliant plays. How sick their reflexes must be to react as quickly as they do.

How much is asked of us to become great. And maybe, just maybe, you begin to think if you have what it takes to be great, too.

That’s the power of reflection.

So knowing how important conceptualizing and reflecting upon excellence is, how do we judge who is the best? While there are many ways to do so, here’s my own personal system for modeling and thinking about excellence.

To do that I’d like to introduce a system of thinking about games and the impact of players that I derived from Magic the Gathering. This is the Quadrant Theory.

The Quadrant Theory of Player Impact

There are many ways to think about who is the best when it comes to a certain competition. In esports, we use a bunch of different metrics.

Maybe the best player in the world for Dota 2 is one whose GPM (gold-per-minute) is consistently above 800 per game.

Maybe the best player in the world is one whose KDA (kills-death-assist) ratio is consistently positive along the double digits.

Or maybe the best is a player who is a combination of all those metrics. A statistically, monstrous anomaly.

Some people look at the achievements, awards and LAN wins. Others, look also to the rivals of certain players at the time that they were active. After all, in an era of weak competition, a player can theoretically win everything but have it not be an accurate indicator of skill.

For myself, I try and look at a marriage of using both statistics and behavior modeling: The Quadrant Theory of Player Impact. Let me show you how it works:

In Magic: the Gathering, a card’s effectiveness is often judged based on its effect and where it lies among four key areas: Developing, Parity, Winning and Losing.

Is a card cheap enough to deploy in the early game? Then it’s good at Developing.
Is a card good at punching through similarly costed cards? Then it’s good at Parity.
Is a card good at ending games and not delaying? Then it’s good when winning.
Is a card good at digging you out of tough situations? The it’s good when losing.

So knowing that, I shaped the concept for the game of Dota 2 however I also use this system for other eSports titles in order to help me conceptualize how effective a player is in a team environment.

I came up with the following areas:

1. Laning Phase — Both teams are still mustering resources to gear up for later fights. They could be establishing map control or lane control. This is a very critical part of the game as things can get out of hand if you lose control of it. This phase is critical to how the rest of the game will play out.
2. At Parity — Both teams have scored some early victories, maybe a gank here or there. However, the game is still pretty much even. Teams are probably still even on towers and other objectives. It’s stalemate, and whoever breaks it will have the initiative in taking the next series of fights.
3. When Winning — Your team has taken a fight at Roshan, a lane of barracks and are about to mount another push on another lane. You’re in control of the match and just need to close it out. If nothing changes, you win the game.
4. When Losing — See above, but flipped on its head. You lost a fight at Roshan, a lane of rax and are desperate to stop the enemy from taking the rest of your base. This is your last stand and failure here means GG.

With those quadrants in mind, I start to take a look at the play styles, habits and games of certain players and see where they fall along the four areas.

A player who actively sets the tempo in the early game through ganks or aggressive play would be someone who scores highly in the Laning area. Also, a safelane carry who consistently gets farm despite adversity is someone who excels here as well. Examples include: Dj, BuRNing, Rtz, Miracle-.

A player who makes plays when everyone else is just running around and dodging each in fights is someone who excels at breaking Parity. These are the players who make things happen. Examples include: Fy, EternalEnvy, Puppey.

A player who is good at closing out games is one who excels at the When Winning area. Their experience allows them to know when to go for the kill lest they allow the enemy to catch-up. Examples include: Hao, Fear, Xiao8.

A player who is good at turning around losing battles is one who excels at the When Losing area. Their clutch plays and decisiveness often steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Examples include: UNiVeRSe, Qojva, JerAx, probably all of MVP Phoenix.

Some players might be good in multiple variants. Their play might be such that they are good at the laning phase, and routinely secures their team an early advantage in the games that in turn, allows them to easily break open a parity and proceed to win.

Some players only excel in one area. Maybe you have a player who isn’t necessarily a great laning phase player, but is reliable in times when you’re losing.

Let’s use an example: Among Offlaners, we can use the quadrant theory to see what kind of impact UNiVeRSe has compared to GeneraL.

A player like UNiVeRSE who puts in clutch performances when Evil Geniuses needs it, but isn’t necessarily a reliable offlaner in the laning phase like NaVi’s GeneraL would score highly in the When Losing and Parity quadrants.

GeneraL on the other hand fills a much different role and scores highly in the Laning quadrant. In Na’Vi, SoNNeikO and Dendi are the go-to guys for Parity situations, while Dendi and Ditya Ra were called on to end games.

With those comparisons done, I would then conclude that the better offlaner between the two is UNiVerSE as he fills more areas, thereby demonstrating that he has more impact on the team when compared to other people.

Bimbo and Dj

While it might seem that the quadrant theory should only be used to compare players filling the same roles, you can use this system to compare just about any player.

That’s because the quadrant theory helps you conceptualize a model a player’s overall place in the team and not just in relation to other players in the same role.
To go back to the genesis for this piece, I have long since used this system to decide who was the best in the Philippines.

During his time in Fnatic, Dj has routinely showed that he’s a force in the early game. In fact, a lot of Fnatic’s successes and overall play direction comes from his aggression as a support player. He’s made a name for himself on Enchantress and Mirana.

But above all of that, Dj’s experience as a core player in other teams has given him the experience to also come up big in saving losing positions. In Fnatic, he shared the proficiency at breaking Parity and saving his team When Losing with their offlaner, Ohaiyo.

About the only quadrant that I would say Dj isn’t the best at is When Winning. Since he’s usually a tempo-setter and playmaker, his role is usually to set others up to close the game for him.

On the other hand, Bimbo occupies similar areas with Dj in that he’s a Laning phase monster, being one of the best core players in the Philippines. Against other Filipinos, laning against Bimbo is a nightmare since he has great reflexes in lane coupled with an aggressive, harassing style.

Bimbo also excels in the When Losing department, as he is the consistent go-to guy for Mineski in digging them out of tense situations. While this role has been shared with Meracle in their latest roster, the number of times that a farmed Sven Bimbo has saved the day is almost insane to count.

Bimbo’s weakness, at least to me, have always been in the When Winning department. Although he’s in a similar weak area with Dj, his reasons are different. Since he’s the core, he’s the one expected to end games for his teams. However, as we have seen through 2016, Mineski has always had trouble going for the win, sometimes throwing away big leads.

For these reasons, I would say that Dj is the more consistent star player in the Philippines right now, but Bimbo is a very close candidate with some very fixable issues in his play.

I struggle to find anyone else close to the level of impact these two players bring to the table as far as their teams go. To be the best, one must be a consistent force and reason for the team’s victories. Not just a fair-weather player. The best and the excellent are the ones expected to drag their teams kicking and screaming across the finish line. Dj and Bimbo are the only ones that qualify, as far as players coming out of the Philippines is the topic.

On Consistency and my conclusions

You may have heard the phrase, “a game does not make a season.”

Simply put, one good performance, or even a handful of good performances, do not make a player the best. Just as a few wins does not make NBA champions.

The most important key to the quadrant theory is, and always has been, consistency. A player who scores high in Laning, or Parity or When Losing/Winning but only does so every so often shouldn’t even be in the consideration for the title of the “best.”

When you look at a player like Dj, you see consistent performances. When you look at Bimbo, you see a consistent core that has stood the test of time in Mineski.

djstats

When Team Liquid, OG and Newbee eventually lost at The International 6, my first instinct wasn’t to decry them or hail the teams that beat them as automatically better. After all, Team Liquid was a consistent top 4 team prior to The International. OG won two Majors. Newbee had a mind-boggling win streak.

In the same way, despite Wings winning TI6, I did not automatically think that any one of their players automatically had a better year than someone like Miracle- who was consistent god-tier player throughout the season.

In the conception of who is the best, we should look at the consistent performances each player brings to the table. The quadrant theory helps us see and model their actions and helps us reflect on the impact these people have.

In a world of randomness, consistency is one of the only true measures of skill. And the best of the best bring out their A-game, day in or day out. These aren’t the players who are only occasionally good, or the players who have done one or two clutch plays. These aren’t the players who perform only when the stars align.

To be the best means to be a consistent force of nature. An unrelenting player. A constant presence.

So for the Philippines, my answer still stands: I believe that Dj is the best player we currently have. I believe that Bimbo is the only other player consistent enough to rival him.

Who do you think is the best?