Nicholas Lim, better known as zeal (named after the Zealot from Starcraft), is a 24-year-old Malaysian, currently playing in the offlane for the Chinese organization, EHOME. Despite Liquipedia stating he's a stand-in, Lim is a permanent member and has been one for the past four months. "I've been a permanent member since the start!" he clarified about his place on the team.
Lim recounted to me the story of how he ended up in EHOME last year. Unsure of what he wanted to do after graduating with a degree in computer science, zeal received an invitation from EHOME to play Dota 2 for them. “The deadline for the DPC (Dota Pro Circuit) registration was ending and they didn't have a lot of time to try out new players. They asked me, 'do you want to play with these four guys? They are young, around your age.' I took some time to consider their offer," zeal told me. Since he was interested in playing Dota 2 professionally, it was no surprise he said yes.
Prior to accepting EHOME's offer, zeal had no experience playing with his current teammates. Shiro, 7e, planet and zzq were four rising stars that EHOME had signed for the new season after their previous roster parted. By happy chance, zeal fit right in with the guys and they went on to finish top four in the DPC CN 2021/2022 Tour 1. EHOME had a 4-3 score, with their losses handed to them by the big boys of the division: PSG.LGD, Team Aster and Royal Never Give Up (RNG). An impressive result for a somewhat new team.
I asked zeal what it was like to have to play against some of the best teams in the world. He responded, "they are more experienced so they have better in-game decisions than us. But it's kinda fun to play against them especially since I have friends on the opposite side." Just like EHOME, a handful of Chinese squads also field Malaysians in their roster. JT and Oli in Invictus Gaming, xNova in RNG, and NothingToSay in PSG.LGD. Going against them reminded him of the good old days back when he was a nobody competing in amateur Malaysian Dota tournaments.
"I used to go up against players like NothingToSay and he would always demolish me, so I escaped to the offlane, where I don’t have to see him for ten minutes!" zeal joked. In case you didn't know, Lim used to be a mid player but switched roles because he felt he couldn't be the best. He played mid in his earlier teams because none of his friends wanted the responsibility. Once he got to know better carry and mid players, he transitioned to the offlane where he found himself performing better. He believes he has much more potential as an offlaner than a mid player.
While it's a dream come true for zeal to play Dota 2 professionally, competing in China is a far cry from the events he used to compete in during his secondary school and college days. "In China, teams are much more structured. I had to learn to play Dota the same way. It was hard at first but after some time I got used to it." No longer was he playing for tiny prize pools or arbitrary titles, the Malaysian now represents one of the oldest organizations in the game's history.
It's also one of the reasons why a lot of Malaysians have moved to China to compete in Dota 2 professionally. "A lot of Malaysians play in China because of the infrastructure and tournaments. There are not enough organisations to back up new and younger players in Malaysia. Malaysian Chinese players can also communicate with Chinese players easily."
That being said, zeal still hasn't gone to China yet, and likely won't until May or June this year. Issues with visas (possibly due to the pandemic) have left most of the Malaysians playing remotely for the Chinese DPC this season. Fortunately, ping isn't a huge issue - playing from Malaysia through a VPN gets him about a 50 ping connection to China, sufficient for a game like Dota 2. He has seen a preview of EHOME boot camp and looks forward to going there someday. Until then, he'll be busy playing and training from Malaysia.
Lim's daily routine consists of 2-3 sets of scrims a day (best-of-twos) in the afternoon until night, with an hour break in between for dinner. When they run into problems with the game, they have lane practice against each other (sometimes before their scrims). After training, they are free to do what they want though they are encouraged to play solo rank to improve their mechanical skills. They get one day off (Sunday) for breaks and use it for additional practice when they have tournaments coming up. When he has some downtime, he unwinds by playing games like Monster Hunter, CS:GO, and Apex Legends casually. During busy periods, he doesn't touch other games at all.
Zeal used to stream his games on Twitch but stopped due to lack of motivation. Not having a strong following when he's the kind of person who thrives on viewer interaction felt depressing after a while. Perhaps one day he'll pick it up again.
Wrapping up the interview, I asked him a hypothetical question. If a huge organization came to Malaysia to start a new Dota 2 team and he got to play position 3, who would fill up the other slots? His answer: NothingToSay in the mid lane, MidOne for carry, and ah fu and Oli as supports. However, he mentioned that it probably won't happen.
"The thing about an all-Malaysian squad is - there are motivation issues. Everyone has different commitments and when you're based in Malaysia, everyone is more chilled and tend to do their own things. Everyone won't be pressured to improve and will stay in their comfort zone, which is why I believe that's one of the reasons why Malaysian teams haven't been thriving. Everyone is too comfortable with each other." What a bummer. Perhaps things could change in the future?
He also shared some advice for people interested in improving their offlane skills. "Watch good offlane players, not me, watch Faith_bian, Collapse and iceiceice (his favourite offlaners) - they have very unique hero pools and tend to take over games by themselves and they are cool people. Watch a ton of replays, play a lot, die a lot and try to get experience from dying to see how far you can go."
"If I have any fans, thanks for supporting and continuing to support me. I'll try my best to get into The International this year and hope everything goes well for me. Stay safe and stay healthy." To his haters, "I don't really care about the comments that people say though some of them can be really cruel. But I'm happy to be playing Dota professionally, and they're not!"