Heir Apparent: Mason Venne on Joining Evil Geniuses (2014)

This is my second of two 2014 interviews with Mason “Mason” Venne, which were both published on EvilGeniuses.GG. Though the original URL is still live, it’s no longer accessible by navigating site menus and the new format of the site has made it nearly unreadable, so I’m reposting the text here. For a bit of context, Mason, then-unknown an NA pubstar, originally joined Evil Geniuses as a temporary replacement for Clinton “Fear” Loomis, whose arm injuries prevented him from playing Dota 2 in spring 2014. But, eventually, Mason became an official member of the organization when it became clear that Fear was not going to return in time for The International 4. This interview took place concurrently with the announcement that Mason would be signing with Evil Geniuses.

Mason is a divisive figure in the Dota 2 community, and I don’t condone a lot of the shitty stuff he’s said and done. But he is smart, insightful, and obviously a gifted Dota 2 player, and I see no reason to pretend that these traits can’t all exist in a single person. I suspect this will surprise a lot of Dota 2 fans, but in my one-on-one interactions with Mason, I found him to be pleasant and professional; I don’t think I’ve interviewed another player who took my questions so seriously, and answered them so quickly. He’s also the only player I’ve interviewed who has straight up said “this question sucks, write a new one,” which, honestly, is pretty refreshing.


mason (second from right) with the rest of evil geniuses relaxing in the green room at ti4. simpler times.

Good morning, Mason. Or should I say EG.Mason? Welcome to the team, officially. I guess it makes sense to start with a hypothetical that has now become real — you’ve replaced Clinton “Fear” Loomis as the carry of Evil Geniuses’ Dota 2 squad. How does it feel to be a sponsored player (AKA S E L L O U T)?

Feels good. Obviously, there are some things that I don’t like/am not going to like — watching my language and being more politically correct, for example — but all of that stuff is a small price to play to compete in the upcoming LANs and The International, all of which I’m pretty excited for.

Maybe this is a good time to ask why you’re so hostile, if that’s the right word, to that kind of thing — t-shirts and so forth. Artour “Arteezy” Babaev likewise initially looked askance at the “commercial” aspect of being a progamer, but in time, it looks like he’s settled into it. You’re just a guy that wants to play DotA well — is playing professionally anathema to you, then?

I think those are pretty strong words. I don’t hate being a “sellout” or whatever, It’s just that if I had a choice of doing it (retweeting stuff I’m not interested in, watching the things I say and do, etc), I would obviously choose to be “responsibility free,” as would a lot of people I’m sure. Like I said before, it’s just a small price to pay.

Last time we spoke, you seemed pretty reticent about joining an established team. What, if anything, made you change your mind about “going pro”? Moreover, you announced just a few days ago on nadota.com that you’d be forming a new team after TI4 with some unknowns. What was that about?

ROFL. That was a joke. I’m friends with those guys and we go on Mumble and play in-houses and matchmaking. When I came on Mumble after that post, Beesa said he woke up to like 15 PMs congratulationg him and we laughed about it. Good stuff. One of our friends, Rime, was apparently upset that I didn’t include him on the imaginary roster, so I’ve been having some fun giving him sh*t about it.

As I said in my previous interview, if Evil Geniuses, with their current team, offered me a spot, I would take it. Nothing has changed.

Back when you began standing in for EG, the community’s reaction went from something like “who the hell is this guy” to “ok, he’s pretty good, but it’s not the real EG until Fear is back.” Well, Fear’s probably not coming back, so this is as real as it gets. That’s putting a lot of pressure on you — Fear was more than a player, he was an icon of North American DotA. More than living up to him as a player, many are probably also looking for a personality to fill the void that his retirement has made.

I’m not looking to fill Fear’s shoes. I’m me. He’s him. I’m going to just be myself, play the way I play, and whatever comes of that … well, it is what it is. It doesn’t weigh on me at all. If people want to try to shoulder that on me for some reason, that’s their agenda, not mine.

One common concern about you as a player is that your pool of heroes is limited. In competitive matches, we’ve really only seen you play Storm Spirit, Puck, Weaver, Luna, Lycan (which Arteezy plays now), and, of course, Mirana. Sure, Mirana is very strong right now and what you play is up to Peter “PPD” Dager, but you’ll agree with me when I say that the concern over your hero pool is understandable (if not justified).

I can play a lot of heroes. I feel uncomfortable explaining why and going any further into this, as I feel it could reveal potential strategies and heroes we have lined up for upcoming LANs.

Your relationship with Evil Geniuses came up during y’all’s D2CL match yesterday. I’m just going to quote the caster verbatim: “You know it’s gotta suck for Mason, although I realize he hasn’t had any aspirations to play competitively. On the one side, you’re like ‘hey, you’re not going to be playing at TI, but you’ll be playing with us for a little bit.’ Kind of feels bad, but at the same time, it’s still worth it to get out your name, play with your friends if you like playing with them.”

Personally, I think you’re being misrepresented here, but there’s a lot to unpack in the caster’s opinion.

To say I’ve never had aspirations to play DotA professionally is a lie. Right after TI3, I was actually eager to play with a team, and Franky (@inphinity123) asked me if I wanted to try out or play with Dignitas. I said “Sure, why not?,” but shortly after playing with them, I came to the realization that I just want to play with people I respect and like. That was the most important part. Dignitas wasn’t for me, so I left very shortly after playing with them.

It never made me upset that I wasn’t going to LANs or playing at TI4. I was helping Fear and the rest of EG out by standing in. I was completely aware that I was “standing in” and set no expectations for the future. If your expectations are low/nonexistent, you can never really be disappointed. As for getting my name out there and stuff, not really. I mean, I was aware that if I played on EG as a standin, I could become more recognized or whatever. But that was never the goal.

I guess I should also ask what went wrong in that series. In game one, you guys wrecked Power Rangers. But then y’all lost the next two games. What went wrong, especially in game two? You guys started out really strong — as I recall, you were up 9–0 in kills at one point.

Yeah. I was feeling good and then I realized Doom was on the other team and I played like sh*t after a dominant laning phase. No one played particularly well that game — we’re all to blame for game two I think. I played “lazy,” I was too greedy and carelessly when we had a lead and got picked off by Doom a couple of times, which really slowed me down and gave them a lot of momentum. Game three was also pretty bad — we should have won that. I should have just gone for Drums of Endurance into Black King Bar, and Artour should have gotten a BKB over Armlet of Mordiggan too, I think. There were a lot of mistakes in game three, but I think if we just went for the correct items, we would have been alright. Whatever, Luxembourg games. I’m over it.

You know, I come from a StarCraft II background and sometimes you remind me of Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri — he was undeniably talented, but his interest in the game itself often seemed instrumental. Lots of people would give anything to play like you do, and yet sometimes, it seems like you don’t really give a sh*t that you are as good as you are.

It’s true, I sort of don’t. Ranked matchmaking is awful, ixdl (in-houses) are at an all-time low right now, and sometimes scrims are just as miserable. I’d like to think when it gets to crunch time I’ll give it my all, not just in one particular game itself, but the weeks leading up to the LANS or whatever. So while I may have just f*cked around in pubs in the recent past, at the moment, I’ve been taking pubs more seriously and trying to get stuff out of them — optimal farming routes, sharpening my decision making, understanding heroes I don’t usually play, etc. I’ve just been playing more, period. From around February to about mid-May, I played like 1–3 games a day tops. More if I had officials, but to be honest, I probably wasn’t playing any more than your average DotA player.

So you say people really want to be in my shoes, to be as good as me (or another pro they feel is exceptional). I’m sure some people do feel that way. But I “worked” hard to be where I am now. Around February of last year, I played my first Dota 2 in-house match in c9dl. I lost the game and I didn’t play too well. I got flamed. I thought I was hot sh*t but I got knocked down a few pegs. This happened for about another month. I’d play, do OK, and get flamed by “better” players. It was really rough, and I thought to myself at one point, “What’s the point of this? I could just go back to smurfing and pretend to myself that I’m a good player.”

Being the competitive person I am, I couldn’t delude myself to that degree. And then one of the biggest blows to my ego came in the form of a small tourney called SECS (Sunday Evening Series Cup hosted by nadota.com). I played against Arteezy mid. To say I got humiliated is an understatement. I got straight up wrecked. Solo killed, zoned, tripled my CS, and dived me multiple times pre-ten minutes. It was beyond ugly. At this point I realized if I wanted to be good at DotA, I was going to have to put in some actual effort. I learned more heroes, changed my settings to what I felt would make my play more optimally, watched countless hours of streams to get a better understanding of the game in general (I was relatively new at this time, as I had no WarCraft III DotA experience and had only been playing for around six months), and played at least five games everyday. I did this for a very long time. I put a sh*tload of hours in DotA. It may sound like I wasn’t having fun, but it was the opposite. I really enjoyed learning and seeing myself improving.

People think players get good through natural talent, and some may, but you’re delusional if you think that’s all it takes to be one of the best. You need to be willing to put in the time at one point or another in your DotA “career”.

At the moment, I feel like when I’m trying and completely focused, I play just as good as anyone or even better. The trouble for me now is focusing and taking things seriously, but I’m actively working on that and improving.

I’m sure there’s a lot of rigmarole on your end with joining Evil Geniuses — signings, contracts, photos, stream overlays, et cetera. have you been handling all of that? Have you been/will you go out to the EG office in San Francisco yet?

It’s whatever. Nothing too exciting to mention. I’m going to The Summit, which is in LA, then I’ll be going to the Evil Geniuses house in San Fransisco for a couple of days before we head out for Europe.

Now that you’re a sponsored player, you’ve probably scored some EG sponsor schwag — all Razer, all HyperX, or whatever. Has your EG jersey arrived in the mail yet? Maybe this is a good time to ask what kind of set up you’ve been playing on, from rig to peripherals, and whether or not it has (or will) changed since you signed with EG.

Sure!!! I LOVE TALKING ABOUT THIS STUFF! My keyboard is a Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition, and my mouse is a Razer Taipan/DeathAdder (still deciding which one I want to use). My computer is awful (Evil Geniuses hasn’t sent me a new computer or anything, so I’m using my “old” one). Charlie “Monolith” Yang has my jersey, which he will give to me at The Summit.

I got the sense that you sort-of valued your relative obscurity. Or at least, playing DotA, for you, was never about joining a sponsored team, making big money, or acquiring thousands Twitter followers. Your thoughts?

I’ve enjoy veiled anonymity; meaning that people who were really entrenched in the NA scene knew who I was, but other than that, most people had no clue other than “He’s that carry player who has been standing in for Fear”. Now, naturally, more people will be interested and I’ll be in the spotlight, while before I was kind of on stage, but just in the background.

How do you see yourself interacting with fans, in person? Some guys put themselves out there at tournaments, while others stick to the players’ area and don’t interact with the fans at all. And if I call you out or give you a shoutout on Twitter, are you going to respond?

Sure, I’ll interact with fans and people attending. Honestly, it just depends on my mood. If I’m in a bad mood, I’m not the type of person to put on a fake smile and go talk to a bunch of people, regardless of who they are. I’ll try not to be in a bad mood during LANs. Not sure what your 2nd question means, I mean I don’t respond to people on Twitter often, but I do read a lot of comments. Discretion or some sh*t.

And yet, here we are. After our last interview and your subsequent games with Evil Geniuses, your profile in the DotA community at large has risen quite rapidly. Your Twitter followers, for example, have tripled since then. How are you dealing with this newfound attention?

It’s whatever. I don’t think of myself differently because of the number of Twitter followers I have. Sure, there are more people reading the things you write on twitter, and therefore more responses, but like I said earlier, as you get more exposure you reach a different spectrum/audience of fans/followers. As for the Dota 2 community in general, I can’t speak about many communities, but it seems like I have more respect on NAdota, and that’s the community I care about the most. Other than that, I don’t think much has changed other than that more people know who I am.

With that attention, though, comes increased scrutiny. Last time we spoke, we talked a lot about your supposedly toxic attitude in pubs, on Twitter, and so forth. Does the fact that there are more eyes on you affect how you conduct yourself both in and out of game, whether in pubs or in pro matches or on Twitter?

Yes and no. I just need to be more aware of the words I use and the connotations they can carry. If I flame, I’m going to flame. I may just choose different words.

I think I’d be going easy on you if I didn’t ask about this. During in the finals of the qualifiers for The Summit, you called the men of Sneaky Nyx Assassins “f*cking apes.” Maybe unsurprisingly, the comment didn’t go over well on /r/dota2. You even got a statement from /u/ESPORTSREP, which is basically the highest (or lowest) honor I can think of.

A P E B O Y S. That Reddit thread started off with people being mad and all the hate comments upvoted, but after a while, I think Reddit, as a whole, grew some common sense and realized it was just a joke between friends. Just some casual trash talking. That’s all it was. No underlying racism, malicious intent, or whatever theories people made up.

So, all-chatting during a game? Sure. I don’t know if I’d call someone an ape again. Baboon? Yeah. F*cking chimps.

Moving on, it’s my understanding that the reason Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao stood in with Evil Geniuses at the StarLadder Finals was that you didn’t have a passport. Given that June will have major tournaments in Jönköping and Frankfurt, as well as TI4 boot camp somewhere in Germany, I’m guessing you’re probably getting one now. Have you travelled outside the U.S. before?

Yes, I’m getting my passport now. When I was younger, I went on a cruise ship from New Orleans to Mexico and spent a couple days there. Then I went to Cozumel or something. That was like when I was 11. I’ve never been to Europe before, though, and I actually haven’t flown in a really long time. At least six years. So yeah, I’m excited to go to Europe and get back on a plane.

Anything you’re especially looking forward to doing once you’re over there? I recommend street food and bars.

Get drunk. Rock on. I’m not too interested in historical landmarks or sights, but if the team wants to go, I’ll join in of course.

I’m guessing that Dreamhack Summer will be your first LAN. Now you too can have a 100% LAN win-rate. Any special preparations for that for you? What kind of effect do you think playing on LAN will have on you?

Special preparation? I’ve shifted my keyboard into unusual positions, played without a mousepad, moved my monitor each game, etc. I’m ready. Nothing will faze me. Arty and I have talked about this, and I’ve said several times I don’t think it will have any effect on me. I don’t get nervous when I play DotA. Of course, I’ve never played for over $100,000 or anything, but I can only assume it won’t affect me. As for like, logistics and set up, I’ll cope. Everyone will too, so I’m not the only one playing on a slightly different set up.

I have confidence in myself as a player. A LAN setting won’t waver that confidence.

Finally, since this is technically an introductory interview, I should do some of those type of questions. You’re a college student, but now that you’ve got the Evil Geniuses gig full-time, are you considering taking any time off from school to pursue DotA? If not, how are you going to balance these two very time consuming activities.

It depends on how Evil Geniuses does in these upcoming months. I don’t think I’d quit school entirely though, regardless of what happens. I’d at least try to be a part-time student and pick up an academic hobby, maybe something like learning programming.

And how have your friends and family reacted to this rather rapid change in your place within DotA? Supportive, dismissive, bemused, mystified . . .

Surprisingly supportive. Kind of a funny story: I was playing in the grand finals of the ESL tourney vs Liquid, and in the middle of one of the games some of my friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a really long time came to my house. They heard I was playing DotA professionally and just wanted to hang out and drink. I had to tell them to come back later because I was in the middle of a game, which they did, but the point of the story is that it’s just interesting and funny how many people watch DotA and support it.

So, I noticed you changed your Twitter photo. Last time, I kind of just took the photo that was on your Twitter because, you know, why not? Was that even you?

Yeah, that was me when I was around ten and lived in Georgia. It’s much harder to get that tan in Illinois.

I guess this is a good time to ask why your NAdota.com name is Audrey Belrose? And your Reddit name /u/icequeen97? I can’t keep up, man.

Audrey Belrose is a character in the upcoming game, Huniepop. Great game. Top-notch writing. I’ve always switched names in games, I never use just one. For every game I’ve ever played, I’ve used a different name/alias.

… I promised someone I’d ask this. Who’s your anime waifu?

Probably Arcueid from Tsukihime (and to a much lesser extent, Carnival Phantasm). Saahil “UNiVeRsE Arora told me he wanted to share his as well. He likes Misaka from Kaichou Wai Maid-Sama.

If you were an matchmaker, who would you set your teammates up with?

Sh*t question, bro. Not answering. I’m not EE level.

OK. Uh, well . . . since this is an esports interview, I guess I should end by asking you if you have any shoutouts.

Bessas, Terry, and just the Yanble in general. Made Dota 2 fun for me and if it weren’t for those people, I probably would have quit playing and, therefore, wouldn’t be on EG. So I guess in large part, this is thanks to them. SHOUTOUT TO MY SPONSORS AND TEAMMATES LOL! I LOVE THESE GUYS HAHA! KINGSTON, HYPERX, MONSTER ENERGY, NEEDFORSEAT, BENQ, SONY ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT, CYBERPOWER PC, AND RAZER.

Then it’s official. Welcome to Evil Geniuses.


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