The Mirana arrow is an impossibly difficult shot to land. It never saw play in competitive Dota 2 because it was based off prediction. WehSing "SingSing" Yuen didn't just change the game by using it, he dominated.
With every successful shot of the weapon, SingSing emphatically announced to the community that he was a legitimate threat. He represented a new guard of Dota 2 players.
It was game 2 of the finals for MLG Columbus 2013 and Speed Gaming International was in a war against perennial favourite DK Gaming. But, DK Gaming would give Cloud 9 (C9) just the weapon they needed to pull off an upset.
"SingSing's getting his wish. He said, 'BurNIng can you give me Mirana, please?' David "LD" Gorman said during the broadcast.
It would end up being a costly mistake for DK Gaming. SingSing was brilliant. One subtle motion into the fogged woods and a quick fire of an arrow — a clean kill.
Damage onto the enemy tower and another casual flick of the bow — one more down. SingSing had his way with the enemy heroes and his team crushed the opposition for their first win in the finals' set. They would never recover. Speed Gaming International ended up victorious.
Both instances in game 2 can be found in "DotaHighlight's" highlight clip. The team's unconventional, albeit risky strategy to base everything around a skill shot only worked because of SingSing's gifted abilities. He showed that strategy was not black and white and that players with great individual skill could flourish in a team game. SingSing provided a bit of flair and personality to a game that lacked some.
Confidence was never an issue for SingSing. He knew that competition at the highest level was a destination that could be reached: it just required hard work and great motivation. He received just that when Valve announced "The International" (TI) — a tournament with an unheard of (at the time) one million dollar prize.
"TI came out of nowhere," Yuen said to me in an interview over the phone. "My friends and I got really interested and we followed everything; every single match and we wanted to play this game. I definitely knew I was going to play it competitively. Just from watching the TI games, I felt that I could do it myself."
Even by above-average metrics, the feat of being a professional gamer is a difficult one. It's one thing to aspire and another to do. SingSing's method was to mimic the top players and train just as often as they did. That meant hours and hours of repetition and games until he understood all detail and angles of the map.
Through his games, he found a team with online friends. They would play scrimmages every day to improve as a unit. The team was named "EBIN." They were new to the scene but shared a similar hunger for success. Eventually, the team was picked up and renamed "mousesports."
"My team and I may have played the most competitive tournament matches," Yuen said to me. "We just signed up and played tournaments. I have no idea how I got recognition. I think it was just luck. I just played a lot."
Learning the Game
How do you differentiate yourself from every other player in a game that millions play? You think differently than them. SingSing loved speed and positioning, so naturally every build had an item that boosted movement.
He was one of the few players who prioritised the item "mask of madness" (an item that gives 100 per cent attack speed and 30 per cent movement speed but causes the user to take 30 per cent more damage) and other high-mobility items (boots of travel, drum of endurance, and the blink dagger) to beat opponents. It would end up being a staple in his play.
"When you're better than your opponent, all you need is mobility," Yuen said to me. "The opponents don't know how to position themselves or how to properly gather up for team fights, juke spots, or even how fog works. You can abuse this with mobility items. With proper positioning, you can get very far."
In one ranked game, he used a mask of madness as the primary build for Luna. The hero is a natural 'carry,' the main character that kills the opponents and only builds items to help that cause. But she suffers from low life and needs the help of her abilities to fight with the team. Rather than rely on his teammates and prioritise the fighting abilities of the hero, SingSing chose to maximise the hero's movement and attack speed for a better economy. This allowed him to split the opponent's defence by quickly killing waves of creeps and apply ridiculous pressure in his lane. Either you stopped him or you let your other buildings fall.
Above, SingSing showed off his end "gold per minute" (gpm), which was over 1200. The full video can be found here.
By outplaying opponents with faster items, SingSing quickly learned the map's best angles and his opponents' bad habits. He took it a step further: SingSing would test his new item builds during games and call upon those that played with him to check them over.
"Now, I try out builds over and over and check the win rates with it," Yuen said. "Some item builds, I talk about it with friends or teammates and bounce off them. If they didn't work, I ditched them. Generally, you need items to increase statistics to fight early; get drums up or different boots. Then, get situational items based off of momentum and enemy heroes."
Emergence of the Player
His experiences in mousesports taught him how to communicate with his and how to win. With C9, he learned how to break down the game and approach it from new angles. And with QPad Red Pandas, he learned what made a team break.
With C9, especially, the strategy to base an entire fight around skill shots was never done before. SingSing's exceptional skill made this work and changed how teams drafted. Now, the current trend encourages players to play riskier heroes for the highest reward. Even team fights can revolve around skill shots instead of guaranteed ultimate or "ball of death" lineups.
"With Mouz, I learned about teams in general. How teams should be run, what is toxic, and how to communicate in general to progress as a team," Yuen told me. "I learned a lot in Cloud 9. The players on the team studied a lot on how to win the game. Mechanically, they knew everything about items, hiding spots, and advantages. They were the first team I was on that did things without me saying anything. QPad was the hardest time. It was the first time I was on a team that didn't work out. The players didn't respect each other's skills and created a mistrust. It was a clash of egos even though we never won anything or did anything special."
SingSing's choice of heroes ranged from stunners and supports like Ogre Magi to heroes that used surprise attacks to win fights like Slardar. He garnered more responsibility in the game when he shifted to the solo middle lane role with QPad. That meant he needed to be a provider of offence for the team, in addition to helping the rest of the lanes on the map do well. During his time with C9, he played the role of utility — alternating between the middle, the carry, and the offlane. His hero selection ranged from conventional laning heroes like Templar Assassin to skill shot team fighters like Kunkka and Queen of Pain.
His play on Mirana made her a signature hero, in addition to his play with Kunkka. Both heroes were limited participants in competitive DOTA before SingSing's selection.
"Ember Spirit, Tiny, and Mirana: all the heroes that can solo kill, have high burst and mobility," Yuen said. "Skill shots are a part of the game I love. It's one of my favourites. I just really enjoy landing the impossible-to-land skill shots."
"This is high-level Dota right here," Yuen said.
His hero, a rotund and rotting corpse with a claw, positioned himself in front of the enemy.
SingSing was using Pudge, armed with the ability to grab an enemy with a hook and an ultimate ability that keeps them in place. His teammate was Dota 2 castor and personality, Toby "TobiWan" Dawson. The pair moved in for a kill, but couldn't get on the same page.
"Move! Move!" Yuen said. "No, Toby, what the..."
As quickly as he said it, a pop appeared near the enemy and a vacuuming black hole shot out of the hero's hands. Its arms shifted back and forth while he channeled the spell. But at the same time, a large decayed bone flew into view and pulled the hero away from its sphere. SingSing just hooked his own teammate instead of the enemy.
The two broke down in laughter.
Above, you'll see SingSing's Pudge hook TobiWan's Enigma from his black hole. The rest of the match can be found on SingSing's Youtube channel, WehSing.
It's a stream that never takes itself seriously. That particular video clip has over 320,000 views as of this writing. If his tournament play caught the attention of the Dota audience, then his stream is the reason they stayed. It has over 25 million views total.
He started streaming five years ago, with Heroes of Newerth, because a few friends wanted to see how he played.
"The primary enjoyment is making a play and knowing people saw it from your perspective. I would still stream no matter the viewer count: it doesn't change a thing," Yuen said to me. "Since I started streaming, I expanded my personality more and swear a lot less."
Yuen started adopting lingo like "strim" (in place of stream) and adding 'please' after every sentence. Perhaps the most adopted SingSing phrase is the use of "-rino" (or, sometimes together, 'strimirino'). It's only used at the end of a word or sentence and, for some reason, caught fire with the viewers and fans. They're then retyped by the legion of SingSing fans with many copying his mannerisms and catch phrases.
He often jokes about his superiority to teammates, feigning a cocky attitude, while he makes fun of everyone's play. He jokes and uses the same attitude around his family, particularly his brothers. It's a natural transition to translate it to the stream.
Amongst the Dota streams, he's the top. He's humbled by the admiration, citing that he doesn't understand why people gravitate toward him when others have better accomplishments. He couldn't provide more than one reason for the question, "Why are you so popular?"
"It's weird. I don't know why people copy me. The things I say are so stupid when I look back on it," Yuen said. "They're the same kind of jokes I make with friends and with my brother. It's how we talk to each other. I don't take the game too seriously and enjoy myself when I stream. People just like seeing someone have fun."
Although SingSing is currently teamless, he understood the need to move away from a group that did not mesh, regardless of success. It was pointless for a team that could not trust each other to continue playing. SingSing learned that when he played the leading role for QPad.
With C9, one of the best teams in the Western Hemisphere, success was not a strong enough reason for longevity. And after, with Team Tinker, the same lack of synergy was apparent. Success cannot keep a team together. It was a lesson SingSing understood then and still does now.
"In competitive, I don't play for fun. I had more fun before," Yuen said. "In competitive play, teams clump up and prevent any kind of solo action. Now the fun comes from winning. It's a lot more fun beating good players."
The reason we love following players is their passion: "Do they really want to win it all?" SingSing is no exception. He looks for the same tenacity in teammates. It's an expectation of greatness for greatness. How else can you win it all?
"I definitely look for players that always seek to progress further in their play," Yuen said. "Players that don't whine and are motivated to actually play competitively."
Winning TI has eluded him so far. It's what keeps his drive up. His only motivation.
SingSing's personality may have landed him plenty of fans, but his phenomenal play with skill-based heroes continues to force opponents to "respect ban" him. He's a matchup nightmare and possesses versatility that most teams would kill for. Fortunately for the Dota community, he's here to play and should be around for a few more years.
Timothy Lee is a journalist of video game culture, tech news, and sports. He has published articles for Riot lolesports, IGN.com, 1UP.com, 1337 magazine, and Rotowire.com. You can find him on Twitter @SHBL_Tim to read about his rants on awful RNG in Hearthstone and fighting game tomfoolery.