Arif MSS Anwar: From stand-in to runaway

Arif “MSS” Anwar made a name for himself in the North American DotA scene by frequently standing-in for teams like Dignitas, Liquid, and EG. Since then he has found a permanent roster spot on Team Dog, one of the first teams to qualify for ESL One - Frankfurt. Kevin Tocao spoke with him about the teams he stood-in for, what the future holds for him and Team Dog, and the challenges he faced at home concerning his gaming career.

ESL: Arif, tell us how you first started playing DotA and why you decided to start playing professionally?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I started playing DotA when I was in elementary or middle school. I would only play a couple games a week cause I would mainly just watch my brother play. We only had one computer that was good enough to play DotA so we would take turns. But then we finally got separate computers and I started playing DotA like crazy. I played Heroes of Newerth and then transitioned to DotA 2. I played pretty casually through high school and didn’t really think I would ever play competitively. But I started actually getting good at the game, which surprised me and a lot of my friends too. I began standing-in for teams during my last year of high school. That was primarily thanks to Liquid’Bulba for asking me to ring for them. I was pretty nervous my first game; I thought ‘Oh crap, I could really embarass myself in front of a lot of people.’ But I played well and I began to realize how fun this game was when playing in a competitive setting. I immediately gained passion for it and just wanted to get better at the game.

ESL: Your rise to popularity was primarily spurred on by your stand-in appearances with teams like Liquid, Dignitas, and EG. How did you get the opportunities to play with such high-tier teams?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I guess I’d give my thanks to ixmike88 for running IXDL, which is the in-house league for North American players. I guess I was playing pretty well in IXDL because one day Bulba added me and started talking to me because he thought I was good, I think we even played a few 1v1s. We just became friends and he asked me to ring for them one day .

ESL: You’ve played with a lot of well-known DotA names in both the NA and EU scene now. Who are some of your favorite players to play with? In a competitive setting and a non-competitive setting.
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I’ve got to say one of them is Bulba because he’s a clown. It’s always pretty fun to play with him. And whenever he does bad I just flame him cause that’s just NA DotA. I also like to play with Fear cause he’s really experienced and knowledgeable about the game.

ESL: Which teams taught you the most and allowed you to grow into the player you are today?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: Honestly, I would say Team Dog has taught me a lot about competitive DotA. During my time at EG, we had no leadership or direction. I was relied upon to become that leader which definitely was not a good idea - I’m just not the leader type. On Team Dog, we already had good leadership and I knew all I had to do was get better and learn more about the game. They would tell me if I was doing something wrong and what I should be doing instead. And I take that into consideration for future games.

ESL: Tell us about your time with EG. It seemed to be a very tumultuous time for the team.
Arif “MSS” Anwar: We just weren’t the right combination of players, I feel. We might have had individual skill but you need more than that to be a team. You need leadership - I’ll keep repeating that, that’s what we lacked the most. And at the time, I wasn’t that confident in my skills compared to now. I’m confident enough now where I’m not afraid to make calls. That was a big problem with me back then in EG.

Ironically, MSS is afraid of dogs but we managed to convince him to face his fears.

ESL: Could you give us a brief history of Team Dog and how you, FATA and paS of joined Pajkatt and MiSeRy?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: Coincidentally, the way I joined Team Dog was because I was standing-in for them during Dreamleague. They just needed a player and apparently they really liked me. At that time though, it was kind of a weird situation. They were kind of just playing with any player they could find and they weren’t particularly committed to becoming a serious team. The roster then was me, Demon, smulgullig, Fogged, Pajkatt, MiSeRy, and Sneyking was a stand-in a few times. That was our Skype group and whoever was on at the time would get to play. Demon eventually left the team because he felt that he wasn’t needed anymore. So it was me Pajkatt, MiSeRy, Fogged, and smulgullig playing as five. We started winning games without much practice and started to realize we could win some tournaments. So we decided to start practicing and scrimming everyday. Eventually, we began thinking that smulgulling wasn’t playing as best as he could, compared to the rest of us. And we felt that that could be our downfall. We looked into Sigma.Int since they were having their problems. FATA wanted to leave the team and we wanted to boot smulgullig but FATA and paS are kind of a duo so we tried them both out and really liked them both. And Fogged had to get the boot.

ESL: Can you comment on the recent rumors surrounding Team Dog and NiP?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I’ll just confirm that our sponsor is not Ninjas in Pyjamas and that our sponsor will be announced sometime this week… I hope. Last time I teased our sponsor announcement, they did me dirty - I thought it was going to be weeks ago but apparently not.

ESL: Is it different playing with Europeans rather than North American teams?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I might be a bit biased now since I’m playing with Europeans but I think that they definitely have more experience and are much more committed compared to the North American teams. Like how many of the top tier teams are actually all American? EG has a Swedish player in Zai, Cloud9 is half and half, and Liquid have a German. There’s actually no top team with just North American players. I feel like there’s not enough talent in the scene or people committed enough.

ESL: What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a team?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: We’re willing to get better at any cost. I think Pajkatt and MiSeRy’s time in China really helped establish the work ethic they have now. They really want to get stuff done. They want to get better. Another thing I really like about this team is that they hype things up in game. Like when we get a kill, they start screaming and it helps boost our morale. It wasn’t really a thing I experienced before in other teams.
As for weaknesses, sometimes we get way too aggressive, dive towers, and lose focus of everything and we all die. I wish that sometimes we could just calm down a bit and take objectives and win the game slowly. I think that we’re super aggressive probably because that’s how Pajkatt and MiSeRy played while in

ESL: Let’s talk a bit about ESL One Qualifiers. Team Dog faced Empire in the finals and you gave us one of the most memorable comebacks in DotA 2 this year, winning three games in a row after losing the first two games of the series.
Arif “MSS” Anwar: That final series was so stressful, man. After going down two games [against Empire], I thought we were done for. I guess another weakness we had that we kind of overcame was that, after losses, we would just crumble - things would end badly and we would get depressed and just lose focus. But it just didn’t happen and we won three games in a row somehow.

ESL: What past LANs have you competed in? Are you excited to head to Frankfurt?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: The LAN’s I went to were ESWC and MLG for EG. I also went to the Monster Invitational when I was standing in for Liquid. But yeah, I think playing in Frankfurt will be awesome. I really love playing in LANs. The environment is crazy with people screaming while you’re playing and then you get a kill and the crowd gets louder - that’s such a good feeling. And I love interacting with the fans and other players.

ESL: How have you guys been training for the ESL One LAN Finals?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: For now, we’re doing what we normally do. Just scrim everyday for a few hours and play matches when we need to. We’re training everyday and rarely take days off, unless there’s an emergency. We’re also planning to bootcamp in Germany starting on May 16th for a couple weeks.

ESL: Of the teams that have qualified for the ESL One Finals - Alliance, Na’Vi, Fnatic and EG, which teams are you most excited to play at the ESL One Finals?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: It would probably be EG. I like playing that team, not because I got booted, but I think they’re really good and have unique strategies up their sleeves. It’s something different every game against them. They’re always good practice too.

ESL: You and Team Dog were recently invited to the TI4 qualifiers. What are your expectations for the European TI4 Qualifiers?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: Actually the TI4 qualifiers were a lot bigger than I expected. 10 teams is huge, I thought it was gonna be only six teams or something. But I feel like we should win it fairly easily. I think the second place team will likely be Rox.Kis or Power Rangers.

ESL: Any predictions for the Americas TI4 Qualifiers?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: Man, I have no idea how to predict that. I think the top 4 should be Liquid, NAR, SNA, and Revenge. But I honestly don’t know who’s going to win out of those four since they’re all on the same skill level.

ESL: The International Compendium came out this weekend and surpassed last year’s prize pool in less than 24 hours. Thoughts?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I was talking about this with some friends earlier, it’s just absolutely crazy that the prize pool is already past what it was for TI3. The dota community is awesome. But, I hope that the prize pool isn’t that top heavy though. 6th through 8th should get a bit more too, and maybe they can give money to the all the teams. That would be cool.

ESL: I’ve heard that you have had some disagreements with your parents when it comes to pursuing professional gaming - which is not exactly rare for young pro-gamers. Could you tell us a bit more about what happened and how you dealt with it?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: My original plan was to just go to college after high school. But I got the opportunity to join EG and I was actually really torn to choose what I should do. So I asked my parents if I could and they just shot down the idea without talking to me any more. I didn’t like that they wouldn’t listen to my opinion and how much I actually wanted to do this. They just wanted me to go to college because that’s what everyone else is doing; and you can’t stray from the path of normalcy, if you’re brown (laughs). My parents are from Bangladesh and they’re really strict. They talk to other parents and want to tell them “My son’s a doctor” or “studying to be a programmer or stuff like that.” And that my dad doesn’t want to have to say to people that his son plays games. That got me mad - I don’t think the opinions of other people should affect my life. I just want to be myself and do what I need to do for this gaming career. So I left for the EG house without telling my parents with just a backpack.

ESL: How much do tell your parents about your gaming accomplishments?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I don’t tell them anything. I didn’t tell them I qualified for ESL.

ESL: So they don’t know that you’re going to Frankfurt to play in the ESL One Finals?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I’ll tell them when I need to go. Like a couple weeks before.

ESL: What if you qualified for the International?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I don’t know what would convince them . But I hope they wouldn’t go to TI4 - they would probably be a distraction for me. That’s just me.

ESL: What do your parents want you to do after you are finished playing DotA? What do you want to do?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I do plan on going to college next year. Unless I get top 3 at TI4 or something, I don’t see myself breaking the promise I made to my parents to go to college. I guess playing DotA would be fun; it’s become more fun for me recently. But I don’t see myself taking a year off from school again. I want to study computer science and become a programmer.

ESL: Is your parent’s support important to you?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: It would be nice. But I don’t think it would mean a difference in me going to TI4 or not. Of course, support from your parents is always nice but you can’t have everything go your way in life.

ESL: Do you know of any other professional gamers that have faced other similar circumstances?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: I’m not sure anyone else has really had my kind of situation. I don’t think anyone else would run away from home to play DotA (laughs).

ESL: Thank you so much Arif for taking the time to do this interview. Do you have any shoutouts?
Arif “MSS” Anwar: Of course. Shoutout to Liquid’Bulba, Honk, LiChE, Mr. Toast, Adib!

Name: Arif “MSS” Anwar
Age: 18
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Role: Offlane/Mid
Favorite Heroes: Invoker, Axe, Centaur, Dark Seer, Rubick
Favorite Teams and Players: DK, s4, UNiVeRsE, Mag
Other Games: Dark Souls II, Touhou Project, Random single-player indie games
Hobbies: Watch anime, read manga, listen to music
Stand-in Appearances: Liquid, Dignitas, EG, Team eHug, Team Dog
Vote for Compendium Arcana: Axe
Twitter: @MSSDota


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