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Few names in esports go together as well as Danil “Dendi” Ishutin and Na’Vi (Natus Vincere). After playing six Dota 2 Internationals and over 1,500 games under a shared banner – the most of any player with one team in esports history – it was difficult to imagine Ishutin anywhere else.
But with his exit from the team in September 2018, it was time to see what would come next.
By Ishutin’s own admission, in an interview with The Esports Observer, he has not had a very active year. From January to April 2019, Ishutin played with Malaysia-based team Tigers. But aside from this period, he remained unattached to any organization.
Underlying his absence was a fear of how a team wanted to use him.
“I didn’t know 100% if a team wants me as a player or to use my name in a way. I was worried about it a lot,” he says.
Ishutin says that after a lot of thinking and encouragement from friends and family, he decided it was time to build his own team, getting to drive a team in his own direction in the process.
“I saw how organizations and teams grew in different directions and I wasn’t always agreeing with everything that was happening,” he says. “I want to do something that everyone will enjoy. It would be something I would be sure in and would have my full trust, my full power, I would give myself completely to this thing.”
While he builds his organization, Ishutin is clear that his intention is not just to run a team but to be the captain and continue playing. He puts “three to five years, or whatever” as a loose timeline on when he might be ready to retire from play, but sees his own team as a place where he could happily move into other leadership roles.
“I’m already going to have my own child so it’s going to be fun and amazing and I see it as a great opportunity.”
Finding The Right Mix – Backers and Players
In 2019, teams struggle to launch without a good financial baseline, and Ishutin admits there is an active search for investors and sponsors to underpin his new operation. So far his outreach has been targeted toward Russian-speaking regions, and he says this has led to initial interest from people “mostly from the CIS region.”
“We are already having talks, I’m pretty open about that,” Ishutin says. “I have a team of people and I’m confident in their abilities. They’re very talented people in different areas. I’m not alone.”
Ishutin argues that, with China as the big exception, the CIS region is one of the biggest Dota 2 regions around – in terms of players and fans. Alongside raw popularity amongst young people in the area, he mentions players have even been used in TV advertising there, and brands are participating in the ecosystem.
While initial investment interest has been from the CIS region – “because I’m from Ukraine” – and while he also feels he carries a significant fandom at home, Ishutin says he expects his team will work to maintain fans from around the world. He points to South-East Asia, South America, and China as regions where he has a fanbase, with Europe and North America lower down the list “because it’s less based in Dota.”
“At the very beginning, because we don’t have a lot of finances behind us, I’m searching in the European and CIS regions because they’re closest and it’s easier to group up and do something here.”
But longer-term he aims to build a team of players from around the world, with English as the team’s shared language.
“Obviously I’m going to aim for the best players I can get but it would be cool to be global for everyone to follow us.”
Dota 2… And Beyond?
In the midst of the news that the Team Liquid Dota 2 roster has exited to form its own organization, Ishutin says it is hard to say exactly what it is, but there is something about this esport that makes teams feel more confident to pursue their own path.
“Maybe it’s somehow connected to large prize pools,” he wonders. “Teams like Liquid and OG believe that they don’t really need to join some organization and they can cover everything with prize pools and they’re going to win and they’ll be fine by themselves.”
Long-term, though, Ishutin sees the potential to take his new organization beyond his beloved esport if the right opportunities arise. “At the start, I’m going to be 100% focused on Dota because it’s the game I play and know really well. It’s the game I grew up with. I’ve played it for 14-15 years.”
But he also sees that any expansion is a difficult road to walk, saying it’s just not that simple to scout players and free agents to build out a top team.
But even with The International as a “pinnacle” focus, Ishutin sees many ways to approach running his new team, and opportunities that he feels other organizations may not have explored.
“There are a lot of ways to go about it, I think. I also think that I’m going to build a team in some new way of methodology.”
I want to give back to people that are cheering for me from all over the world, that’s why I decided I wanted to do it in the way I see fit. I will try to make people happy so they can follow something they like and can rely on.”
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