Handsken interview: “The beauty with this game is that there is always so much to learn”

Earlier this week Taras Bortnik was able to catch with Alliance’s Simon “Handsken” Haag as the team is gathering in a bootcamp for the first time since they welcomed back their TI 3 champion.

What are the big changes for Alliance with the arrival of Gustav “s4” Magnusson, how the in game leadership bounces between him, fng and Handsken, and how or if the insane five game grand finals at OGA Dota PIT from two weeks ago influenced the team chemistry, all these have been answered by Handsken in an exclusive interview for VPEsports.


Hi Handsken how are you doing, are you still in self-isolation, how are you holding up during these times?

We had a long period of time where all of us at Alliance were at home, played from home. Basically we never saw each other since s4 joined, but now we managed to gather in a bootcamp, everyone is here except for fng who is still at home.

fng is still in Belarus right now?

No, he lives in Moscow now.

Thank god, because otherwise, it would have been difficult if not impossible to play with him right now with the political situation in the country.


Sweden had a different approach for the coronavirus and you guys didn’t really experience lockdowns. How did you feel about that?

Initially, I thought it’s going to be terrible, but today we seem to be pretty good. We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted, but of course, they encouraged people to stay inside, wash your hands, wear a mask, all those things.

There were some good adjustments, for example at the supermarkets they opened an hour earlier for the elder people. But, generally, I think people were pretty afraid of coronavirus here, myself included. I stopped going to the gym, I stopped seeing my grandparents, my friends, people that I knew that could have been in trouble if they caught it. And I think overall it was a good decision for me to respect the isolation rules. 

Glad to hear you are ok. Let’s talk some Dota and let me start by asking if you are satisfied with how the team developed in general lines since s4 joined you. 

I like the group a lot. I know that our results have been a bit up and down, but I think what’s been missing is that we haven’t really seen each other until this point. Normally with a team, especially when you have new members, you would bootcamp, build the chemistry, the synergy. It was a bit different online and everything would have gone slightly better in normal circumstances. But, overall I would say I am quite happy with where we are with the team.

For how long have you bootcamped already?

We’ve been here for about 5 or 6 days already and we are going to stay here for a week more or something like that. We will play our first two or three games at OMEGA League from here and then we will all head home.

Obviously, the pandemic changed the competitive regime. Everyone is playing in regional leagues, most of the teams from home, etc. Has something changed in the way you guys practice, the scrimm schedule or partners maybe are not the same?

In that regard, I don’t think it’s much more different from like let’s say preparing for a Major before COVID-19. Maybe the absolute best teams are not scrimming that much now, and actually the main difference is that we never can scrim against the best Chinese or SEA teams, which we got to do about once per month before the pandemic. But outside that, nothing else changed that much.

In an interview for the Russian community from a  week ago, fng said that you guys are a bit underperforming. Would you agree with him and in what game aspects would you say that you are still struggling?

I agree with him. Our performance was up and down through all this online thing and I think in a sense you can say that this is underperforming. In terms of what we are struggling with, I can only speak for myself and say that at times it is hard to keep up the motivation. There are a lot of online tournaments, but you play the same team almost every week and sometimes it’s a strange feeling to it. 

Before all this coronavirus stuff you would look forward to a Major, but now it’s just everything the same, all the time. That’s why I’m actually quite happy about the OMEGA League. There is something to look forward to, big tournaments.

Not having the TI this year has also put a toll on you?

Yeah, it really sucks that TI is not going to happen as it was planned, but if there would never have been a TI I would still play this game because I like it that much. and I think it’s the same case for most of the people. 

TI in Sweden, basically in our backyards, would have been totally crazy. August, the Swedish summer, is the best time of the year. Oh, it would have been an incredible experience. It’s a shame that there is no TI and I just hope that they will make it work later this year or next year. I have no clue what is going to happen, but I hope that they will figure out a way to keep the tradition alive.

A question about the Alliance line-up. It’s been a while since fng has come on a loan from Gambit. Is it just a matter of time until he becomes a full-time member of the team or are you still considering changing something?

We are not searching for anybody else if that’s what you are asking. We are happy with fng and yes he is still on loan, but having a player on such an arrangement implies a lot of other stuff that I’m not really able to talk about.

Usually, the support duo in any team develops this outside the game super-strong bond as well. If you look at the old Puppey-KuroKy duo, Fy and Fenrir in their Vici Gaming times, would you say that you and fng are also becoming good friends outside the game?

Yes, a little bit. I think we get along really well. I played support with other people where sometimes I led or that guy leads most of the time, but with fng I feel like we’re good with taking turns on directing the flow of the game. He is a natural leader, he’s been a captain before, I’ve done that as well a couple of years back, and I think that helps us to be good at taking turns on controlling the tempo of how we move on the map and stuff.

As far as I understood, the coordination and the big decisions are made by s4 right now, right?

Yes, that’s correct.

Some analysts and even the fans are saying that s4 is underperforming right now. Obviously, he is coming after some time off from the game and at the same time he is also the captain and has his attention split to a lot of other things in the game. Have you guys ever considered to move all this captain part of the job to fng or maybe yourself?

That is not really something worth considering. I think things like that happen regardless of your position, and when you all get on the same page, when you figured out our playstyle, when you are textbook,  then it’s not that hard of a job anymore. I imagine in all the other solid teams, their captains don’t have to do all the calls all the time anymore.

You guys still don’t use a coach, is Loda contributing in this position somehow?

No, he is not. His primary job at Alliance is to be the CEO and he is pretty busy with that. He comes around in bootcamps and chills with us and sometimes he comes with us at the tournaments, but he has no official coach duty or anything like that.

Do you consider picking up a coach?

Right now we are fine just grinding out without a coach and see where it takes us. There is no immediate rush for any sort of a result because we don’t have a DPC season right now. So, we don’t feel like we have to immediately find a coach, we are not rushed by taking decisions like that right now.

Two weeks ago, so even before bootcamping you reached the grand finals of OGA Dota PIT. That was an insane series that started with Nigma leading 2-0 then you even up the score and pushed it to a game five. How do you feel after that grand final, where disappointed for losing that game 5 after all the effort or were you pretty happy with the overall result?

I think it was fine, overall. We had a long break before and we didn’t practice that hard for that tournament in particular. Personally, I felt in that grand final that we were about to lose it 0-3. But then we had some close games against OG as well so I think we played to our potential at that moment. There was a sick grand final, honestly, and I’m happy that it went to five games.

What kind of a player would you say you are: one that likes to play under pressure because it forces you to enter the game fully focused,  or do you feel more comfortable when you play with no pressure at all?

I don’t really care about the pressure, regardless of where it might come from, inside or outside the team. I care more about the atmosphere within my team, my teammates. Are they all feeling ok about me, am I feeling ok about them, stuff like that. Apart from that, I don’t care about any other sort of pressure.

This is your second time under the Alliance banner. Do you feel like you changed in the four years you played for other teams before returning to Alliance in 2019?

I would like to say that I am a much more mature person now and that I also got a lot better at Dota in the meantime. The beauty with this game is that there is always so much to learn. It’s not only about the current path or the current lane match-ups or whatever. There are a lot of other things you have to know and you learn them the more experienced you get.

You’ve probably seen the numbers of unique players right now. Do you think Dota 2 is dying?

Hey, I played another game, called Heroes of Newerth and there you could feel when it was dying. I don’t have the same feeling for Dota 2. Just because there are fewer people playing day by day, it doesn’t mean that people are going to stop watching the game.

At the end of our interview, I’d like to ask you a few questions regarding the upcoming OMEGA League. Are you hyped about your group?, NAVI, Evil Geniuses, Team Nigma and Miserys’ new team with former Cloud 9 and OG.Seed players.

I have to say that this will be a very solid tournament, and looking at the groups, they seem pretty even. This is by far the biggest event we will play since COVID so, I’m very hyped about it.  

picture credits: WePlay! Esports

Did you guys set a goal, have a certain expectation in terms of results at OMEGA League?

I would be happy with a top 3, I could live with a result like that, but it goes without saying that we hope to win this tournament.

How do you feel about the possible El Clasico match-up, NAVI vs Alliance?

It’s going to be fun, there’s a lot of history and a lot of memes that you can do about it, but for me, it doesn’t have a special feeling.

Is there a team in the OMEGA League that you could say you have a rivalry with?

Liquid. But not for what happened in the post TI9 shuffle. It’s more so because they have these players who played HoN for a long time and that I played against competitively for almost 10 years now.

Got it. Thanks a lot for the interview, I’m very excited about this OMEGA League Immortal division to kick off on Friday and I wish you guys best of luck!

Thank you for having me and thank you to everybody cheering for us and I hope we will make our fans proud at OMEGA League. 

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