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Kips: "I’m a happy shark in a trash bin"

 We caught up with Muriëlle ''Kips'' Huisman as Vega Squadron finished their performance at StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational S5 to discuss a range of topics about her, her team and the competitive scene.

You have a photo of a shark in the trash bin as your attached tweet. What is the history behind this tweet?

We got trashed 3-0 by Effect on ESL Katowice, it was one of the very first that we participated in. And it was extra painful because I wanted to prove my skill through the results, and then we got stomped. We got 3-0’ed. At that moment you just have to laugh at yourself.

A friend of mine sent me that before: just a happy shark in a trash bin and at that moment I just felt like: you know what? That’s me! I’m a happy shark in a trash bin. At least I know I’m in a trash bin and I would find my way out of it! And we actually did, because we played with them in another best-of-three right after and we had lost the first one, but we were learning through the first series, so we lost 4 games in a row to them, but we won games #5 and #6. And that was the road of progress.

What should happen for you to remove it? Or it is more of a symbol now?

It’s a symbol now. I don’t think I will remove it because progress doesn’t happen in one bit. It’s not like you just become better one day and you going to stay good forever. We are going to have some shitty performances again and at the moment it’s good to remember that you’re still just a shark in a trash bin. The same is when you are actually winning — you’re still just a shark in a trash bin. Anything can happen, so laugh at yourself.   

Your team plays qualifiers a lot. What do you think of CIS qualifiers at this point?

It’s interesting. At the start of the season I didn’t expect it to be like this, but by now I sort of got used to the fact that there will be one stable team at the top, there would be a team to beat and then every month or so there would be a new stack, that’s gonna take the honeymoon period to try and get to some LANs. My goal has always been, from the start, to be a stable team up there. And by now I think we are.

The question is now: “Can we become strong enough that a month-old stack can’t deal with us anymore?” That’s an ultimate goal — to use the fact that we have been together for longer to get past all these stacks with players that may be skilled, but eventually not able to last long because they’re gonna piss each other off.

Community mentioned that this tournament is what minors should actually look like. Do you agree with it?

Yeah. I have some issues with a format, as always, but the production and the venue, the hotel are all really great. And the attending teams. Now as you can see if we actually managed to win our group, it means that there are no any big names here that are taking all the points and the money from teams that need to have a little bit extra.

It’s one of the big problems I have with a current scene that the prize pools are really big. And salaries in Dota 2 are not really high when compared for example to Counter Strike. So even though there seems to be more money, it’s just the top teams getting richer. Like one player in Team Secret probably gets more in a month than all of my players together in three months. And at some point, the middle-tier teams are struggling. You can see it in Europe already. Where basically, apart of OG, who have a lot of money, there aren’t a lot of stable teams left. There’s maybe Kinguin and Alliance, but Alliance are here just because they have the money, but the tier-2 stacks are gone.

After the Dota-boom here in CIS and in NA as well I’m worried what happens if we won’t have more tournaments like this. If there will still be 3-4 big teams in every Minor they’ll swipe up all the points, all of the cash, and there’s not enough left for the rest.

Minors should belong to lower-tier teams, than majors?

Yes. I’ve heard people said before that if you give points to the top-8 on a major, not only to the top-4, then good teams would basically always be sure of getting some points by going to the major. They wouldn’t be afraid that skipping minor would cost them the TI invites. I think that’s a very good way to remedy this problem.  

Your team went to the tournament unexpectedly. Without a proper preparation and without you at the group stage. Were you actually somehow present?

I was sending the instructions on distance, yes. But I was also getting my passport from an embassy and then flying first to Warsaw and then here to Kyiv. So I did miss a lot as well.

Are you satisfied with the results?

The result is nice. But we have mostly played this tournament for the experience. I think that the biggest lesson here is feeling how much the style differs by regions. We are not that much experienced team. We are doing well against the CIS right now, but only due to the fact that we are already experienced against CIS by now.

Paying against Chinese is completely different. It feels different. Different things happen, your game senses are off. And they felt it against SG e-sports as well. They came off the stage and I got messages like “It was so weird!”. And yes, yes I know. I haven’t experienced it, but I knew it would happen because I’ve seen it before.

It’s good for them to actually feel it because I can tell them, but they won’t feel it until they will allow mistake and get wiped off the stage by a bunch of Chinese. Now we have reasons to study them and to scrim them, to work on understanding why it feels different.

That’s the part I’m satisfied with and results are just numbers.

Talking about feeling a difference, what makes CIS as a region different from other ones?      

CIS is a bit like an ASEAN as there’s a lot of emphasis on individual skills. You can get outplayed by one player in the enemy team sometimes and people build their teams around players, that they think can do that. They value it super high. I think it’s where the “stack of the month” comes from. Even if you play very well and stable as a team, sometimes you’re gonna get walked over by a player like that.

Both in ASEAN and CIS, I’m impressed by a sheer skill of a player like that. You don’t see it in Europe or NA as much. But it is also a very lonely kind of style. People are not really playing together. And I think it’s the reason I fit in CIS and ASEAN so well: I’m very good at teaching people how to work together.       

CIS community is extremely unfriendly to girls in it. Do you feel that towards yourself?

Here’s something funny: communities that are very sexist usually know it. I get this remark a lot from ASEAN as well: “all of the people are so sexist here”. People in my team are also apologizing towards women. But the thing is: if you’re aware, you’re actually less bad than the people who are not aware. Some of the nastiest things I’ve had, experiences that make me extremely insecure are actually from people from Europe and North America. They tell me to my face that they are unbiased and then ask me questions and do things that they would definitely not do with a guy. Whereas in CIS I see people that are like: “I know this is kinda shitty, but I’m doing this because you’re a girl”, and I’m like “Alright! At least you f*cking know it and you try to be polite about it.”. So I actually think that this is the reason why I would rather work in communities that are more sexist because at least the people here know. And I can ask like: “Hey, do you have a problem with me being a woman?” and if they say “yes” I’m like: “Cool, I’m not working with you”. And if I ask that in North America they would go like: “No, ofcourz wi don’t hev a problem wiz you, wi juzt have rizhns wai wi won’t hayar u” and I’m like “Oh yeah, haha”.             

Does it create additional pressure or only challenges you? Or at this point, you don’t mind it at all?

It pisses me off sometimes. I have three problems already: low MMR, not being a pro and also being a woman. It’s just one more thing, right? I’m already beating the odds on so many fronts. At this point, it’s pretty clear to myself that the normal rules don’t count for me. One more thing? Sure, why not.

I am very humbled and touched by the reactions of women that I get. People, who reach out to me and tell me how much does it mean. People I don’t know and never seen before say: “Hey, you encourage me, I admire you”. That is very strange, as you don’t have the same opinion about yourself. And you don’t want to think of yourself like that, but it does mean a lot for me. I’m really very happy that I can do that. And it doesn’t create pressure, but it does keep me grounded.   

[about frequently getting asked on being a woman in an industry]

The statement: if you want to ask a woman in an industry, where women are underrepresented and have it much more difficult to get then please give them a heads-up about it or give them an opportunity to reject answering that question at all. Because that is a very big question and I get it all of the time. It takes up so much time which you could be using to actually talk about what she is doing and what she is good at instead of this tired old question that everyone knows what’s going on. For me, it’s the same. I don’t actually answer this question anymore. I want to bring it up on my own terms. It is relevant to my work that I want to discuss it in the context of my work and not as a separate thing that I have to explain over and over again to all the men who haven’t read the previous articles, where I also answered this question. Do us all the favor and don’t ask that question anymore.  

Recently you’ve stated that “Visas, Literally Killing Esports”. What are the worst things teams face up with in esports for now?

Well, originally we weren’t going to play ESL Birmingham. We were thinking about skipping the qualifier because our Kirgiz guys couldn’t get any visas. And luckily we think we found a way to make it happen, so we’re going to play qualifiers now. But can you imagine, that you’re the second best team in a region and you can’t go to a million dollar tournament just because you have two players from Kyrgyzstan? It’s preposterous. It’s really sad. With our very busy schedule, it’s a miracle we have already attended every event we wanted. For myself, I need visas to get into Russia all the time and I used to get double and single entries and it was like alright, it’s time to get half year multiple entries. Problem is — I’m never home much more than a week, because of a busy schedule. So I don’t actually have time to get a longer visa, so I need to keep returning home every time to get it. It’s enough for it to make you go crazy. And costs a lot of money as well. But it’s one of the realities that you’ve got to deal with. I’m hoping that maybe the next year with this roster if there is one, we’re going to be stable enough that we would get invited to things and then you can actually plan around getting the visas to that, and not to think like “we need to qualify first, boys”. That would be nice. But up until now, it’s just an extra handicap. And if the choice is between having to do visas or not having the Kirgiz players — I will do the visas every single time, because those guys are awesome. And we can’t do it without them. Easy.                

[about TNC players and manager Paulo]

The characters of those players are really way more outgoing. I definitely took TNC as the example of what an actual team that plays together looks like. And I sort of used that with selecting these [Vega Squadron] players as well. CIS people are a lot more closed, they are not gonna go hugging [before each game like TNC]. Well, not yet. At least I found people who are not afraid to do stuff together instead of people who lose and then close down. I want people who lose and then open up. That’s what I was looking for. And TNC guys were really like that.

Paulo is a religious man. He’s sort of their preacher. But in the sense of calming people down. He brings them together and emphasizes harmony and responsibility and being grown up. That is very good because those Filipino guys are just kids playing video games. They are real kids. And he’s their father both in religious and a personal sense. I learned a lot from that man. I owe him so much and I try to bring some of those things to this team as well.

Do you want to be more like him to your current team?

I can’t be. That is something I have to be very aware of. I’ve been accused by multiple people that I want to be one of the guys because I make dirty jokes and stuff. But no, I make very dirty jokes with my sisters, with my parents, this is just who I am. And no matter how many dirty jokes I make I know I’ll never be one of the guys, I won’t be their father. And that’s ok. Because they don’t need another guy. We have 5 guys there on the stage playing together. They need someone to give them tough love when they need it. If they have feelings they need to share with someone, they can’t share them with other guys.

This is one of the few benefits of being a woman on this scene by the way. People would share their feelings with me and this is very natural and expected. If I would not talk about my feelings everyone would be like: “What?”. So that is actually one of the main roles: I understand them and then I turn the emotions back towards the group and make sure that it’s shared there as well.

You’ve asked your followers what would they prefer: “Do you want to carry or get carried? Command or go with the flow? Be the learner or the master?”. How would you answer your own question and why?

Well, very easy. I’ve always been the worst player in my group and I like it that way. A lot of people that underestimated how much I know from the game think that I am solo queueing every day like they are. I don’t solo queue. I got my 3k when I calibrated and I calibrated when I had less than a hundred games in total. So I’ve got an average ranking after a hundred games. It should tell you something about what I could actually do if I was playing. A lot of people say that everyone says that if they were playing they will try, but no. If I’d “played” — I barely play 10 games a month nowadays. When I do queue it’s always a 5-stack with really solid players because I have made a lot of friends through twitch chat and I just gravitate towards tryhards. And tryhards gravitate towards me because I’m the most f*cking tryhard person you’ve ever met. I’m not a funny person to play ranked with.

If you’re the worst player and playing position 5 for a bunch of very good players it sounds like a very traditional women thing, right? There’s one girl getting carried by 4 dudes. Well, yeah. But I’m a shotcaller. So I tell those 4 dudes what to do. And it took them a long ass time to start listening to me. But that just means that I’ve done really good. If the standard for you is higher, than there have two options: you either shut up or start getting very good. And I got very good.

I like joking about 3k playing and 9k shotcalling. That’s not actually true. But I’m a decent shotcaller. And if I play with my stack we beat people who are clearly way more skilled than all of us together.

Have you actually thought of getting boosted by all of those pro players you have around? 

The MMR difference is too big to get to play ranked. In Fnatic, I’ve played games with some players with a higher ranked smurf before I’ve realized that that skill difference was too high. I can play with divine-1 people or so, but there is a world of difference between divine 1 and pro players. With pros, things definitely go too fast. It actually takes away their respect, when I can’t keep up. And I get nervous and it gets worse, so I’ve decided to simply not play with my players anymore. And I refuse if they ask. I think it’s better for everyone. I know that every time I play I get wrong impressions and opinions of the game because I don’t play at a pro level and my brain is learning the wrong things. I should be learning from replays and from watching pros play, watching my guys. So yeah, I did once, but I don’t do anymore.

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