For a country like Pakistan, the realm of esports brings more challenges than opportunities. The competitive scene is incredibly limited, resources are scarce, and large-scale events have become a rarity in recent years.
Despite apparent difficulties, the aspiring youth of Pakistan continues to chase the dream of esports through whatever arrays there are. The local competitive scene may not be that glorious when compared with the west and neighboring countries, but that has hardly stopped players from proving their mettle.
After all, this is the same community that produced Syed “Suma1L” Hassan. The star mid-player of Evil Geniuses is regarded as one of the best Dota 2 players in the business, beginning his professional career by securing The International 2015 and rounding up as the third-highest esports earner of all time. He was also featured in 25 under 25 series by TechJuice, leading technology publication of the country.
With that in mind, could it be possible that there are others as well who are awaiting their turn for glory in the midst of Pakistan?
Virtuosity is one of the oldest teams around in the country, dating back to the vanilla days of Dota. In its prime, the team was hailed as the best that Pakistan had to offer. Surprisingly enough, losing some of its core members with time has not affected the team’s performance in any way. It is now led by Arhum “Freak” Imran, who hopes to put his country on the world’s esports radar by achieving something major during his competitive tenure.
Coming in from a series of recent victories, he was kind enough to indulge me in a small chat to give an insight into his team as well as the local Dota 2 competition.
Do introduce yourself. What is your current lineup, and for the readers, what is the team’s average Matchmaking Rating (MMR)?
Well, I have only been active again in the Dota 2 scene for a year now. I recently took over an old roster of Virtuosity and have been competing with them since. Our team averages just over 5.5K MMR and the lineup is as follows:
- Arhum “Freak” Imran (Support)
- Mohammad “Revenge” Ahmed (Mid)
- Khalid “-EoN-” Khosa (Carry)
- Asad “Cat” Saleem (Support)
- Muhammad “Arrow” Ahsan (Off-Lane)
Would you call that MMR your peak or are hoping to improve on that with more play? To get a better understanding of the competition, how does that MMR compare with other local teams?
As Danylo “Dendi” Ishutin once said, “MMR is just a number” but you need a higher rating to practice against the best Dota 2 players. Soon, my team will be free from studies and start working hard to hit the 7K mark.
Local teams are usually in 3-4k brackets and only a few are in the 5k bracket. The former lack the coordination and chemistry required to take down the latter. So yeah, MMR and team-game matters a lot.
Has Virtuosity or any of its members received offers from outside of Pakistan, such as from Southeast Asia?
Our players in the past have received offers from abroad. However, the new roster is more than happy with just the support and opportunities from within the country. Nothing outside of Pakistan as of yet.
Does Virtuosity actively scrims against teams from other countries, especially those from the Middle East? How would you compare the skill level of theirs with ours?
We have not gotten the chance to scrim with other neighboring countries as we recently updated our roster, but we did try out for the ZOTAC Cup and have played a few other online qualifiers.
If I would compare our team’s skill with their tier 1-2 teams, I think that with time and practice we can start taking down teams from India, Sri Lanka, and maybe even Southeast Asia.
Have you ever considered streaming?
Yes, I have considered streaming but the internet in Pakistan does not allow me to do so. Maybe with some support I can manage to pull it off.
Being called a professional player in other countries is a big deal. Would you call yourself a professional Dota 2 player? If so, give us a short rundown of your daily routine. Does your team practice on a daily basis, or do they only become active when there is a tournament on the horizon?
Yes, I do consider myself as a professional Dota 2 player as I am working really hard to make my country proud. I usually play the game for 8-11 hours, depending on my stamina.
As for the team, we all usually play solo queues as we want to improve ourselves individually. However, we do play together on weekends to try out new meta heroes in Captain’s Mode and improve ourselves as a team overall. After all, Dota 2 is a team game.
Does the local Dota 2 community of Pakistan keep tabs on the western professional scene? Do you often see teams in tournaments adhering to the meta set by those abroad, or pick unique compositions found through popular streamers?
Yes, those who are good are always experimenting with the meta, which is a good thing. It helps you to improve. When someone asks me how they can improve themselves, I always advise them to start watching streams and keeps tabs on the meta.
Since you took over Virtuosity, what have been some of your most recent victories? Do share the winnings as well.
We recently secured SOFTECH, an event held by FAST University in Lahore; and Battle Arena, an online community tournament. Both featured some of the best teams from all across the country, including big hitters like Team Ghost Khan, Team EnvY, and Team CSM. Around 14-16 teams participated in both events. As for the prize pool, SOFTECH featured 75,000 PKR (around $715) while Battle Arena boasted 30,000 PKR (around $290).
It is interesting that you played against Team EnvY in your recent tournaments. An interview of their star player, Shiraz “Sh1zzY” Akhtar, from last month suggested that most local teams refuse to play if they know beforehand of his team’s participation. Is that true, and if so, why did you compete nonetheless?
We faced Team EnvY in the finals of both events and won. I very much respect Sh1zzY’s comments. I cannot speak for other teams but for us, Team EnvY gives the thrill of victory which is what competitive gaming is all about. They play really good and are a challenge that we must overcome every time. If anything, we are actually compelled to participate if we are told of their involvement.
In as few words as possible; give me two best and worst elements of the esports scene in Pakistan.
- An insane amount of talent! We have a lot of brilliant players in Pakistan, and I see so many potential Sumails in the community.
- Respect; we have our mentors who have taught us. It’s a close-knit community and everyone respects players deemed worthy (apart from a few disrespectful ones).
- The lack of family support. Even though I see many stars in the community, I know hardly any of them will shine bright because of the lack of support. Maybe a few lucky ones will be able to have it but majority, including myself, will not. Gaming as a priority is seen as taboo in Pakistan.
- Electricity outages and terrible internet connections. When you are lucky enough to get a stable ping, you are just cursed with outages during the most tense matches.
I am told that you have played against Syed “Suma1L” Hassan when he was still in Pakistan. How does it feel to see a community member, who until recently was playing alongside you, now followed by millions across the globe?
Yeah, I played a lot of games with him. I cannot compare our level of skills since at the time, I was a carry and he was usually mid. That being said, in all honestly, I get a bit jealous when I see him playing these days. I do envy him; he followed his passion and made himself into the man he is now. I actually quit competitive gaming a few years back and he is the only reason of my return. He inspires and motivates me, helping me believe that if he can do it, so can I.
Have you ever considered going abroad in the hopes of joining a major esports organization?
Yes, I have considered going abroad for that purpose but it’s not that easy. So, I have decided to leave my mark in Pakistan and Southeast Asia first before going to Europe. I believe that I need to make the world recognize Pakistan as an esports nation first, before they start respecting us and supporting new talent. You have no idea how talented Pakistani players are.
Any last thing that you might want to add?
Just a shout-out to our sponsor, Gooline Space, and Junaid “Psio” Yousaf.