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‘The first step is to speak up when you see people being assholes.’ – Interview with Sheever regarding the state of Dota, hosting, dealing with haters and more

We caught up with Sheever during the AniMajor and had a long chat about the state of the Dota Pro Circuit, what good hosting looks like and how to deal with haters throughout the internet.

Jorien ‘Sheever’ van der Heijden is one of the most accomplished hosts in the Dota 2 scene. We sat down for a lengthy chat on all things Dota, her career and how she has dealt with haters on the internet.

This interview was conducted on June 8th and has been edited for clarity and brevity.

esports.com: Thank you very much for taking the time on your day off to talk to us, we really appreciate it.

Jorien ‘Sheever’ van der Heijden: Thank you for having me.

esports.com: Let’s start off with a simple question fitting for the AniMajor. How much Anime do you actually watch?

Sheever: Not an awful lot. I remember when I was not playing dota yet, I watched Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. I watched all of that. Obviously I watched the Dota Anime and I watched a lot of the Studio Ghibli stuff as well. but not too many series, more like random movies here and there. And then me and Owen started watching Attack on Titan a month and a half or so ago. We are almost through all available episodes, but that’s about it. Not a super die-hard Anime fan, but I do like it, be it movies, series or what not. So I definitely have some enjoyment watching anime.

The State of the Dota Pro Circuit

esports.com: Moving on to the Dota part of the AniMajor. Obviously it is the second Major of the current season. And with the regional leagues introduced this year, it is quite a different Dota Pro Circuit from what people are used to. What is your opinion on the current state of the DPC?

Sheever: So far every DPC every year has been somewhat different. Of course this one is the first with the leagues done in the way they are. The leagues by themselves are a really good benefit for the teams and I think it kind of shows with the level of Dota we have been seeing at both Majors so far. There is definitely a need for tweaks though. I am not sure if six weeks is the right length, maybe four weeks would be a little better. It might be tricky with the scheduling as right now it is all scheduled in a way that nothing overlaps.

I believe first place of each regional league getting 500 points and only top eight at the Major giving points is a bit skewed for sure

Which is admirable, but maybe not entirely realistic. Some of the point distribution is also not ideal. I believe first place of each regional league getting 500 points and only top eight at the Major giving points is a bit skewed for sure. Maybe it is tough to tell with the point distribution. This was a season that was set up to have three seasons instead of the two we have right now. Who knows how different it might have be, if we had another full season with points, but even with three seasons I don’t think the point distribution would have looked that much different. Something needs to be changed, but we will see I guess.

Like I said we have never had the same season two times in a row. So who knows what is going to happen next season. It is the endless search to find something that is perfect, which is very hard to find.

A look back at the Alliance drama

esports.com: The new regional leagues in the DPC have brought quite a bit of more prominence to regional rivalries, matchups and of course also drama. In regards to the Western European region, the entire incident with the cheating accusations against Alliance comes to mind. Can you maybe share your thoughts on that. How did it feel facing all that on the panel?

Sheever: In the end it was all stemming from communication issues. Be that communication between tournament organizer and talent, TO and the teams, Valve and the TO and Valve and the teams. At that point as talent you are basically just a pawn and our job is to ask questions. So for that interview with Limmp we asked questions that came to our mind, because that is what we do and have done the entire season. We ask the questions, that we think people want answers to in terms of what has been said by the community.

I think everyone was upset and rightfully so, it was just not a pleasant situation to be in.

In hindsight communication was poor. Talent should have been informed of any rule changes. A change like that should have been made more clear to the teams and ideally that change should have never happened, right? The fast reaction of Valve to roll back that rule goes to show that it was not intended. It stems from a communication issue and I don’t know who is at fault there. All I can do is my job and that situation was not pleasant for anybody involved I would imagine. I think everyone was upset and rightfully so, it was just not a pleasant situation to be in.

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Hosting and Sheever – How it began and what to look out for

esports.com: Definitely not a situation you face every day as a host and hopefully will not face again in the future. Let us talk a bit more about hosting. Over the last years you have built up a very strong reputation as one of the best hosts in the Dota scene. But initially you started out as a caster. So how did you manage that transition and when did you dedicate yourself to hosting instead of casting?

Sheever: I casted for a very long time and then at some point, I found myself doing a large part of the things a host would normally do. I think it was at the TI 4 EU Hub, basically a 24h livestream with lots of cats, lots of Dota and lots people and talent. I was “hosting” in the sense of just keeping people informed of what was happening and things like that.

It was not a conscious decision, it was more something that naturally and gradually happened.

I didn’t really think about that and it was not a conscious thing. And directly off of that nothing really came out. But when TI4 came around I got the opportunity to host for the first time ever and I really enjoyed that.

I still enjoy commentating an awful lot as well, but hosting turned out to be something I was able to grow in a lot more. I enjoy it a ton as well especially getting to work with loads of awesome people. and that is kind of how I transitioned. It was not a conscious decision, it was more something that naturally and gradually happened.

esports.com: So what are some of the things that you have to watch out for while hosting? How do you manage the panel dynamics?

Sheever: The panel dynamics are different every time there is a different panel as different people give different vibes. I think my goal as a host is always to let my panelist shine. Figuring out what they are really good at and then making sure they are comfortable enough to show that off on my panel. Be it specific mechanic questions or other niches the panelists are good at and then trying to make people comfortable and bringing out their best.

Sheever and her panel during the AniMajor groupstage
Sheever and her panel during the AniMajor groupstage | Image Credits: WePlay Esports

One of the things I am also aiming for as an host is trying to have a bit of a flow in the conversation. I try to not just jump from one topic to the other every minute or so, but if I do, I want to chain the topics together in a way that makes sense. This lets the people watching it follow more easily and avoids abrupt topic changes. I think the main goal of the panel is not just to inform, but also to entertain.

It should all be seeming like a natural entertaining flowing conversation, while in reality a lot of thoughts go into setting up a panel like that.

So if all the points we want to make can be said in an entertaining way, I try to go for that. I always want to make sure that my panel is as engaging and excited as possible. Not just fake happiness or something like that. I want the emotions to be real on the panel and I want them to show in terms of how we talk and how the conversation flows. I find that I can stimulate that with my own emotions as well so I’m trying to do that.

I try to bundle all of those points up in one panel. Sometimes it is successful, sometimes a little less so. But that is the goal for every panel. It should all be seeming like a natural entertaining flowing conversation, while in reality a lot of thoughts go into setting up a panel like that. I feel like I notice most of the nuances in panels very heavily, but people at home will barely notice.

esports.com: You have worked with quite a lot of different panels and tournament organisations as well. What are the main differences between tournaments that are heavily themed like the current AniMajor or the Omega League before in comparison to let’s say Dreamleague, which focuses a bit more on letting the personalities shine. How do you balance different approaches by the tournament organisations?

Sheever: I try to know in advance what the TO is going for. Like how serious I have to be or how much space I have to showcase personalities. A lot of that is also decided by how much panel time is actually available. A portion is also decided by what the dress code is. Because if you are in a full three piece suit, you are going to be more proper and more serious than if you are just wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt.

I think the difference between WePlay and a lot of other organizers is, that every event so far has been themed. Nobody needs to bring an outfit with them, if they dont want to, because outfits are being provided for on-camera work and that is absolutely unique. I think it’s good but it is a balancing act, because as a panelist you want people to still be themselves and talent to still showcase their personalities. Some outfits might take away from that a little bit, depending on how intense the clothes are. But I do think that WePlay are very successful.

Sheever at AniMajor | Image Credits: WePlay Esports
Sheever at AniMajor | Image Credits: WePlay Esports

This time around I wasn’t a hundred percent on board with the wigs, but we have found solutions. Feedback is very well received and we have found solutions for everybody that makes them more comfortable. So you can do the outfits while still showcasing personalities, which I am very happy about.

In terms of style of hosting I think this (WePlay) style is more similar to Dreamleague than some other organisers, but I think I can balance most of them as long as I know in advance what kind of panels are required. And if I am hosting a Grand Finals or Upper Bracket Finals, in general a serious match with lots of people watching I tend to steer the panel to be a bit more serious and game-related than if the match does not matter too much in the long run. Then I would focus more on the entertainment part of things.

It’s always tough to find a balance because there are always people that prefer one thing over the other and that is absolutely fine. It is an ever on-going balance act I would say.

esports.com: This balance also always heavily depends on the members of the panel. So when a new talent joins the cast like Ephey now for WePlay, how do you integrate them into the established personalities? How do you help fitting them into the panel?

Sheever: When a new panel member comes around I always want to try and talk a bit beforehand, before you go live. Ephey was planned to be on show for the OMEGA League, so I had already talked a lot to her back then. We talked prior this time as well so I knew what her strongsuits were, going into the panels.

She has good Dota knowledge and can talk about drafts incredibly well. She can explain intricate draft mechanics, hero mechanics and synergies in a way that is understandable to everybody and she does so in a conversational way. So I try to set her up so she can express her opinions in that way and ideally I have her together with a panel member that is able to play off her draft ideas as well. Obviously as a host that is not my forte.

Ephey at WePlay AniMajor
Ephey at WePlay AniMajor | Image Credits: WePlay Esports

I think that most hosts, when they get a new person on the panel, try to find out their strenghts before the panel starts so you can set them up for success in a big way.

Dealing with hatred on the internet

esports.com: That has worked very well during WePlay I’d say. I have personally enjoyed watching the panels quite a bit. Unfortunately some in the community are more on the hating side of things, especially when new casters or new talent enters the scene. Often they face unfair sexist criticism and harsh unjustified discrimination. As a woman in esport, an industry that is unfortunately still plagued by these issues, how do you deal with that discrimation?

Sheever: First of all it is indeed very shitty, that that is still a thing. I would say it is maybe a little bit less than it used to, but you are absolutely right that it is still an issue. And I am probably the wrong person to ask how to deal with that. Because since I have been in the scene for so long, I used to get a lot of hate. A lot of hate threads and everything like the emails, the DMs, it was everything.

So I built a very thick skin. It is very easy to say “just grow a thicker skin”, but that is not the solution. I was forced to do that, but it is not ideal for someone to be forced to do so. There is no best way to deal with criticism and hate like that. Because it should not have to be dealt with in the first place. It should not be there like it is. I can say what worked for me, but that won’t work with someone else. I grew a thick skin and now I can somewhat ignore the comments and that is great that I can do that.

But first of all I should not have to do that, second of all some other person might not be able to do the same thing. Because everyone is built differently, everybody deals with stuff differently, so it is a very tough question to answer for me to be fair.

esports.com: I think in the end what we all need to do in the community is show those haters that there is no place for them in our community.

Sheever: Oh absolutely. What I said earlier was in regards to a short-term solution. But long-term ideally people start calling out bad behaviour like that. I get that criticizing on-air talent is a thing, it happens in all different on-air branches. But criticize them for their work if anything. Don’t criticize them for the sake of criticizing, it’s not going to do anything.

But long-term ideally people start calling out bad behaviour like that.

If you see other people doing it, call them out. Like if I go to a bar and someone is being an asshole to someone else I would generally say something about it. If I am in earshot of someone being an asshole I will say something about it, that’s a normal thing. Because people should not do that, it’s not cool.

Online there is no policing. Most platforms don’t have that kind of policing and the only one, who can do that is the community itself. So I’d say in any kind of community and in this case, the Dota 2 community, ideally we have people step up. Of course there instantly will be people saying: “Boo hoo, such a white knight!”

But that is not a thing. Most of the time you are being called an asshole, you are just an asshole. It is a weird balance and it is a shitty situation, but I think the first step is to speak up when you see people being assholes.

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Plans after Dota?

esports.com: To wrap up this interview on a more positive note. You have been branching out a bit on your stream recently, playing different games besides Dota. If one day Dota was suddenly removed from the world, what would you be doing?

Sheever: Oh, I don’t know. I hosted a couple of other games over the COVID-season and I liked that, definitely enjoyed myself, but obviously I am a Dota addict. So I don’t know what I would turn to next? Maybe I just stream? I can always do that and am very happy with my stream community, that I built up. So I feel like if all else fails I can do that until I find a new thing, that I want to do.

Dota is basically an out-of-control passion project for me in terms of the job that I have, so I cannot answer you what I would be doing after Dota 2.

Luckily I have not needed to think about it that much recently. So that is a good thing. I feel like I can host other games as well, but the reason I started hosting Dota is the passion I have for Dota 2. I think I can host other games just fine, the question is what kind of passion would I find if Dota 2 disappeared. Dota is basically an out-of-control passion project for me in terms of the job that I have, so I cannot answer you what I would be doing after Dota 2. If Dota 2 were not my passion at the moment, I would already be on the way to something else.

esports.com: Alright one final thing. Will you be taking ODPixel’s body pillow back with you?

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

Sheever: I hope so or rather it’s massive so I hope they can send it. But I heard that maybe they want to do a giveaway with it or something like that so I am not sure if that can happen.

esports.com: Once again thank you for this rather long interview, any shoutouts before we conclude?

Sheever: Shoutout to Owen for being able to mentally support me, while I am here and he is not. Also shoutouts to everyone that has been sending nice messages and to everyone of you that is calling out bullies, when you see them. Thanks to everyone that is being supportive and sending encouraging messages to not just me, but all my colleagues as well. Those matter, they are seen, they are read and they are heard. Keep doing that, spread the love and drown out the haters. Thank you.

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