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‘Dota 2 has got a very long life ahead of it.’ – Interview with ODPixel on the AniMajor, his Rapping, the state of Dota 2 and more

After the groupstage concluded we had a chance to sit down with Owen 'ODPixel' Davies for a lengthy chat about his Takeover Cast, his Rap God antics, the state of Dota in 2021 and more.

As we enjoy a brief downtime from the AniMajor before the start of the playoffs we sat down with ODPixel for a lengthy chat. Here is what one of Dota 2’s most beloved casters has to say about the AniMajor, his Rap career, the state of Dota 2 and more.

ODPixel Body Pillow with Fogged at Animajor in Kyiv
ODPixel Body Pillow with fellow Caster Fogged at AniMajor in Kyiv | Image Credits: WePlay Esports

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Coming in clutch for WePlay as the power went out

esports.com: Thank you very much for taking the time out of your schedule to sit down and talk with us. The AniMajor has given us plenty of storylines and events already. But one that you were most involved in was obviously the TnC vs Team Spirit match, in which you stepped in as replacement cast when the on-site location lost power. Can you walk us through how that exactly happened?

Owen “ODPixel” Davies: Oh, absolutely. I was scheduled to cast the series after TnC and Team Spirit, which was Nigma vs Beastcoast, so I was watching the stream anyway. Then the caster audio went out and I saw the chat filling with F’s and the usual stuff, so I looked at the WhatsApp group with the other talent. One of them shared pictures, clearly showing that the power at the venue was out. As far as I understand the production is split into two locations. One with the set and another location for the production itself.

As the power was out I was thinking: “Well they are not going to get any caster audio for a while as all the talent is at the venue.” But the stream is obviously still running, so I figured that I might as well just get wired in through Discord, which we have been using to enable my remote casting anyway. Normally I would also be in the lobby of the game but WePlay always also sends me a live program feed so I can see what the observers are looking at. So I knew that all they had to do was getting me on the line, show me their screens so I can see the game live and then I would be able to talk over it and they can put my audio through to the stream. So I messaged the WePlay lads and said: “Hey, I am coming online on Discord, just ring me up and put me on if you have trouble getting the power fixed at the venue.”

While WePlay were quickly able to do it, I needed a bit of time to get ready as I was really just lounging on the couch and watching them play on the television. In the end they hooked me in and we were having a little bit of fun. Just one of those situations, where I thought I could easily help out. Because obviously I knew that they were probably panicking. You have this amazing show with the Major and then suddenly face technical difficulties, which just does not look good. So I was very happy to be of help there in that chaotic situation, but I think as a team we got through it nice and smoothly. Obviously they brought Slacks and Aui back in as soon as they could and Slacks made it even better with his comedic timing, so we all just did our part in making the best out of an unfortunate situation. I think we did it in a way that the fans were still able to enjoy the excellent Dota between TnC and Team Spirit.

As funny as technical difficulties are at the initial couple of seconds, it really is not something you want to have. WePlay really care about the product they put out there and always want to make it the best. So I really wanted to help them out in a pinch.

esports.com: You did an outstanding job at it. The entire incident just shows that you are quick to adapt to all kinds of situations that arise on the fly, a trademark that seems to have followed you, ever since that 3 hour marathon breakout game you had. Is there a secret to that?

ODPixel: I don’t really know, I kind of just do what I do really. Obviously I am very fortunate to cast and work so many events, be it online or offline. I have had so many fantastic experiences and have been in all kinds of different situation in Dota 2. I like to be as adaptive as possible, when it comes to handling problems or working with different co-casters. I just try to make sure I can always do my best and be at my best at whatever is required of me.

Becoming a rap star

esports.com: The community certainly is enjoying it and I personally am also a fan of your content, like the rap videos as example. How do ideas like that actually begin?

ODPixel: The basic stuff like me casting with music in the background to it was basically started by myself many years ago. I was still at start of my career and playing around with soundboards and other things to leave an impression. Like the Loose Yourself one was actually done by myself because I thought it was funny and people would find it entertaining.

Of course there is a difference doing that myself or doing it for a larger production like WePlay. I believe it was at OMEGA League, where we did the Techies rap, which was a lot of fun. For me I don’t mind rap but it is not my favourite genre of music or anything. I don’t listen to a lot of it. I like the smoothness and the idea of being so eloquent in your speech that it becomes musical.

So for the Techies video, WePlay were like: “Let’s do a Rap, we really want to do a Rap!” and I was like: “Okay, I guess we will try and I will write some words and it is going to be fun.” I really enjoyed doing it because apparently a lot of the viewers and fans liked to hear it. I always go into pieces like that rather light-heartedly, because I find it hard to take myself seriously, when I am rapping. It is just entertaining and kind of funny, but people seem to like it, which makes me more than happy to do it. Sometimes even in some games during a cast I enjoy speeding it up a bit and adding a bit of rhythm to the excitement I am bringing.

But working together with WePlay on things like the Techies Rap showcases the fantastic level of WePlay production in audio mixing and video production to create something people love and remember.

esports.com: You have already said that you are more than happy to provide the entertainment if people are demanding it. So was there any time at any tournament, where an organizer came to you with an idea that was too crazy for your taste?

ODPixel: Honestly, there hasn’t really been any event like that. At the end of the day pretty much all the tournament organizers I work with are completely professional and have incredibly skilled people in these creative positions that work with talent for the video pieces. Even in the livestreams, the panel sections or in the game, where they want you to use specific interfaces to improve the viewing experience.

I never felt uncomfortable with an idea they have come to me with. I never had a problem working with any of the creative divisions. They not only come up with fantastic ideas but are also very open to work through an idea with you as caster or talent to make a piece or segment, that you are happy with and people at home will enjoy watching.

Putting the Anime in AniMajor

esports.com: So for the opening piece on the talent at the AniMajor, who decided which talent is which anime character?

ODpixel: That was something that definitely wasn’t decided upon prior. I saw someone go through all of them and they were able to draw connections between all the characters. I don’t actually know who came up with the brilliant designs for the talent.

Honestly, I watched some anime but haven’t watched a lot. Only recently I binged Attack on Titan, which was fantastic, so I will probably watch some more anime. But I did not know any of the likenesses used for the talent.  I think it was a great idea as many fans online on reddit or other places had a lot of fun trying to figure out which anime style or character this person is being based on.

It was purely up to the creative designer without input from the casters. I think most talent enjoy not seeing these, before they go live on the first day of the show. Especially with WePlay they do a great job of creating a lot of content. They don’t want us to see it until it is live. For us people that work at this event and love this game and love the show and the experience they provide, it’s fun to have a little surprise element for us as well to see what creative things they worked on behind the scenes.

More Dota 2:

esports.com: Speaking of Anime, for Dota 2 we obviously had Dragon’s Blood air on Netflix this year. Are there any specific things you are looking forward to in the second season of Dragon’s Blood?

ODPixel: Just like most Dota fans I am excited to see more Dota characters added to the mix. To be honest, when I went into the Dragon’s Blood Anime I wanted to see loads of different heroes. We obviously did not get that as we had a very small cast, but honestly it worked out. So I ended up really enjoying the story and it was some very nicely rounded characters they focused on.

In terms of the storylines I am looking forward to seeing a lot of the questions answered. As I said I don’t watch much Anime, but that series definitely left a lot of things unanswered. Just to name a few: The role of the Spirits, Invoker’s motives or his entire connection to Selemene and their child together.

I am not sure if they said how many series they will do, but I don’t know if they will be able to cover all in the second. They definitely set the door open for quite a huge world with infinite backstories for these characters which is great writing for the story. It is a story that has so much life in each of the characters. So yeah, too much to list, it was quite a complicated series or maybe I am just an idiot (laughs) but I am looking forward to see more backstories to all of them.

The state of Dota 2 in 2021

esports.com Looking at 2021 in general, it has been a very different year for Dota 2 following on the pandemic dominated 2020. Not only did the Netflix animation air, but the introduction of regional leagues in the Dota Pro Circuit has been a very new element. What do you think of the current state of Dota 2?

ODPixel: I am always very optimistic, but I think it has been pretty good. I have been quite happy with the league situation. It has been quite nice for the viewers to have set times and schedules. Of course it sometimes does not work out as games go longer and stuff, but that is going to be hard to fix, unless we introduce two streams at the same time to guarantee the starting times. But at least it provides you a timeframe in which you know: “Oh, I can sit down at this hour to watch some Chinese Dota or at that hour for some EU Dota.”

That sort of stability is very nice and it shows as well. I think across the board from season 1 to season 2 the viewership in all leagues went up and people have been becoming more familiar with the setup and format of the league system.

Of course a lot can be discussed in terms of slot allocation, prize pool, how it is split and also the distribution of DPC Points. But I am not too clever with these sort of things so I leave that discussion to the players and analysts. They are the ones that can really break it down and say this or that region should get more priority for these reasons. That is way above me, I just turn up and talk about the Dotes and the games.

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For the people at home that just want to enjoy the games, the league system has been very good. And as you said with the hype surrounding Dragon’s Blood and finally having a TI this year, it really has been a good year for Dota 2 so far.

Which is great to see as in the past few years people felt there was a decline in players and stuff. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it has been slowly going down. As for me, I will still be playing Dota 2, even if there are only 100 people online, so it does not matter to me. I will be casting it for as long as there will be events for it, which I think will be quite a long time. Dota 2 has got a very long life ahead of it. It has survived for this long, you know it is not going to just disappear after so many years of being around.

Dota 2 has got a very long life ahead of it.

This year it absolutely shows it. While there can absolutely be improvements and I am sure there will be, as Valve always reassess what worked and what did not every year, I think there are a lot things from this season’s setup that Valve is happy with. They might change some things or even start over from scratch, but I believe we will see a very close continuation of what we have right now after The International in the leadup to eventually TI 11.

Any plans for after the end of Dota 2?

esports.com: You just briefly mentioned a theoretical end of Dota 2. I would like to expand on that a little. What would you do in a Dota-less world if the servers just disappeared from the next day?

ODPixel: Usually I don’t really think about it as I am very much an “in-the-moment”-person. I am very bad at planning or looking into the future. I am always about just making sure, that I am doing what I enjoy doing and I am doing something that other people can benefit from and enjoy as well and at the moment that is casting Dota 2.

Obviously I have an immense amount of fun casting and am very grateful that many people enjoy listening to me doing it. So after Dota is gone I guess I would just sort of try to do something else that I enjoy. Maybe something on a more local basis instead of an online international thing. I think I would still be happy at the end of the day if I get a local job, even something like a standard 9 to 5 as long as I still have time outside of the work schedule to do the things I like, for example music or playing Dota 2 and various other video games.

It is definitely something that I do not worry about. Sure I will be sad that Dota 2 comes to an end, whenever it finally does. Even though I already said that I don’t think it will happen for many many many years. But I would also be optimistic. I have had an amazing time doing what I have been doing now, so if it all just disappeared I would be sad, but I will be able to pick myself back up. Because I had just that much of a brilliant time working in Dota 2 and working with the game I love.

Tips for aspiring casters in Dota 2

esports.com: There is still plenty of new blood coming to our game even at its current age. In previous interviews and podcasts you have always been encouraging new casters to go for it and try to make it. So what are the pitfalls you need to look out for, if you are a new caster that wants to make it in dota?

ODPixel: Uh.. that is always a hard question to answer. As much as I have had a great career and stuff, I always find it hard to give advice. Because everyone is going to do it in a different way. And I think that is the most important thing. Do not try to look at someone else and emulate their style. You got to come in with something different.

Because that is ultimately what the fans want. you never want to have fans listen to you and assosciate you with another caster, that is already familiar to them. You don’t want to be considered a second-grade version of that. You want to be you, you want to bring something that the viewers fall in love with. Ann I think there are casters that are doing that really really well, we got some great personalities coming up in the scene.

I also never took myself too seriously at the start and personally that has helped me a lot with finding my footing and getting opportunities. I did not start casting Dota 2 with the idea, that this would be my life and this would be the way I make money from. That was never the plan. Obviously it was always the dream and it was something, that would be amazing. But I wasn’t doing it to be the be-all end-all.

I was still studying, still working at a pharmacy and making my living there and that is important. By all means, if you are at an age, where you are able to have a year between studying and working and want to fully commit, go for it. But I do worry, that for some people it can burn them out quickly. If you do it for a year like that and you don’t get the opportunities you will be in a hard place.

For those, that are passionate about it, absolutely go ahead and apply your passion to it. Get online and start your stream every day, make videos on YouTube so you get content out there, get into contact with amateur leagues and people that want their games casted, so you are putting your voice out there for people to find.

Because in the end, this is a performance-based career.

Start to slowly build that following, but I would never really recommend sacrificing elements of your life to do so. Because in the end, this is a performance-based career. It’s one of those things that you might put everything into it, but as harsh as the world is, it might just not be for you.

Maybe there is not a huge following, that enjoys what you are doing, regardless of how much you love doing it. That s not to say that you should not do it. If you love doing it, keep doing it, but you might hit a wall that might seem impassable. That is very unfortunate and sucks for the ones that put everything into it, but it is a possibility you need to be aware of. I think lots of new people should absolutely give it a go. There is definitely potential everywhere. Just look at the leaderboards, players at that high level or recent ex-pros could all apply themselves as potential analysts to a panel situation. And I would like to believe that there are a lot of people that get genuinely excited about the game like I do and also have the ability to talk about it in exciting fashion. There is defnitely more room for more voices in the scene. at least if I was a viewer I would always like to hear new people.

As much as i am grateful for the fans, that are always happy to hear from me I totally understand the viewers, that want to maybe hear a different voice and hear someone else. There is room and There is space. Go for it but don’t throw you life away to get into Dota 2.  Do it on the side and I hope it works out for some new voices out there.

Who will win the Kyiv AniMajor?

esports.com: For our final question we cycle back to the ongoing Major. Obviously the bracket is out now, so what are your predictions? Who is going to win it all?

ODPixel: Uhhh…..This is really difficult to answer. The teams that scream out to me right now would be Nigma, PSG.LGD or TnC. I can see them making it.  While TnC start out in the lower bracket, they are a team that can absolutely make a phenomenal lower bracket run. They are somtimes a bit overlooked and they have been a bit hit and miss so far, but from what I have seen I think out of all the teams in the lower bracket TnC has the most potential.

But If I had to pick one of the three, I’d probably go with Nigma.

But if I had to pick one of the three, I’d probably go with Nigma. Although they might get knocked down by Virtus.Pro I believe a team from the lower bracket will make it. And Nigma meeting TnC there would be an excellent series. Let’s just say that one out of Nigma or TnC will at least make it to the Grand Final.

esports.com: Once again, thank you very much for taking the time for this lengthy interview. Any last shoutouts you want to make?

ODPixel: Shoutouts to everyone reading the article and everyone enjoying the content that is produced around this Major. Also thank you for inviting me to come and be interviewed and also shoutouts to everyone that looks forward to the remaining games of the Major.

If you enjoyed the things WePlay have shown so far, you will be happy to hear that there is more magic ahead to see, so there are a lot of things to look forward to. Dota fans are really going to enjoy the rest of the tournament, both in terms of production from WePlay and the amazing talent over there and of course because of the great Dota that is coming up in the Playoffs.

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