Ceb says winning TI8 was the peak of his career, even if TI9 was a bigger achievement
But before his TI8 'peak', Ceb's 'lowest point' had him deciding to quit Dota 2 because it was costing him 'all the money' he had.
Frenchman Sébastien "Ceb" Debs boasts one of the most storied careers not just in Dota 2, but in all of esports.
The former OG offlaner is one of only five players, alongside his OG teammates, to become two-time Dota 2 world champions back in The International 2019 (TI9) after having won The International 2018 (TI8).
He has also won three Majors as a coach and another last year as a stand-in, which he recently commemorated in the 'The Return of Ceb' documentary with Red Bull.
In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Esports SEA, Ceb looked back on his colourful career and listed OG's victory at TI8 as its peak.
"The peak must have been TI8, in the sense that this is something I have been chasing for more than a decade. This is something that years and years of my life have been dedicated to," said Ceb.
"And when that happened, it's an overwhelming feeling and I think nothing can top that. So, that was definitely the peak."
And what a peak it was. Despite the team's reputation as four-time Major champions back then, OG entered TI8 as massive underdogs.
The roster was gutted by sudden departures of key players, which forced Ceb to switch from coach to player while the team brought back Anathan "ana" Pham and signed an unproven midlaner in Topias "Topson" Taavitsainen.
Rounding out that legendary squad was Johan "N0tail" Sundstein and Jesse "JerAx" Vainikka.
That OG squad are the stuff of legends now, but many expected them to bomb out of TI8 in last place. It wasn't a controversial take either.
But we all know what happened next. Against all odds, OG claimed their first Aegis of Champions in an epic run that culminated with a titanic clash with PSG.LGD in the Grand Finals.
The 'True Sight' documentary for the TI8 Grand Finals released by Dota 2 developer Valve Software months later captured that legendary match and how Ceb's fearless leadership and excellent gameplay (especially in game four) was crucial to OG's victory.
Not so simple the second time around
While Ceb listed TI8 as the 'emotional peak' of his career, he thought that OG's victory at TI9 to become the first-ever back-to-back TI champions was the bigger achievement.
"TI9 was the bigger achievement because winning as the favourite is much harder. Winning again when everybody expects you, when everybody had their eyes on you for an entire year, and also because of what you had to deal with yourself internally," said Ceb.
"It's been what, four years now? And we're still the only players to have won it twice, which is already kinda crazy, and let alone back-to-back."
The two-time champion explained that winning TI9 wasn't as simple as running things back and doing it all over again.
Ceb and his teammates had to deal with pressures from within and without, especially given that the team were now seen as title challengers.
"As competitors finding the same level of motivation, not resting on your laurels, not getting distracted by everything that comes with that amount of public recognition, it's a lot of stresses that you have to handle. And the competition only gets tougher because everybody tries much harder when they wanna beat you," said Ceb.
"Because if they beat you, that's the closest they can get to winning TI themselves, because if you beat the winners it's real proof of the fact that you can become winners yourselves," said Ceb.
But despite facing seemingly overwhelming odds once again, Ceb and OG did what was previously thought impossible and became the first-ever two-time TI champions in TI9, doing so in incredibly dominant fashion.
The TI9 Grand Finals True Sight continued to showcase Ceb as the heart and soul of OG, rallying his teammates onward in their march to another championship.
While OG proved that winning TI twice was certainly possible, it's very unlikely that another team would be able to pull off a back-to-back championship.
In the two TI's since TI9, the defending champions only managed to get as far as the Top 8. Ceb and OG were knocked out by would-be champions Team Spirit in TI10 and Spirit were themselves eliminated in 13th-16th place at TI11.
"I think it's a testament of how hard it was. And I think that all the teams that won TI once and are trying their luck again, it's gonna be Tundra this year and it was Spirit last year, they're going to realise one after the other how big of an achievement honestly it was, winning back-to-back," said Ceb.
While many may have thought OG winning TI9 was a foregone conclusion, Ceb and his teammates saw it differently, with the offlaner even telling Yahoo at the time that winning it would "mean everything" and feel like he "completed the game".
Every game was a battle, every step back up the mountain a struggle, and Ceb said he and his team only realised they were almost back at the summit once it was within reach.
"It was extremely difficult. I think the ten years that I spent grinding was not as hard as this one season. That season took it all from us, it was so hard," said Ceb.
"It was like this mountain where you cannot see the top of it, ever, and you just had to keep going and keep going and keep going until we actually made it. But I think it was until the very last moment, during the tournament, during the run that we realized that 'Okay, maybe we will succeed in doing so."
'Cost me all the money I had back then': Ceb almost quit Dota 2 before the OG dream
But for all the glory he won during his illustrious career, the two-time champion first had to go through some abysmal times.
If becoming a TI champion was the peak of his career, Ceb said its lowest point was when he decided to end what back then seemed like a fruitless endeavour.
"I think it was before I joined OG initially as a coach because at that point I had decided to quit Dota completely, for good," Ceb recounted.
"That must have been the lowest point, I think at that point I was on Alliance, I was working really, really hard and I was trying as hard as I could. I think we had really, really good results online, maybe like more than 80 per cent or 90 per cent win rate, if I recall correctly. But eventually we did not even qualify for TI, so that came as a soul-crushing news to me."
In a scenario all too familiar for every aspiring Dota 2 pro player, or anyone competing in esports, for that matter, Ceb said he called it quits when he realised he was heading nowhere.
"Back then I was still a student, I was still studying. I had a lot of financial problems, because for Dota you need to travel a lot and everything. It really cost me all the money I had really back then. It was becoming really tough just to live my daily life. So, life caught up to me and I promised myself if I was not gonna be successful that year in Dota, I would just quit. And I was not, then I decided to quit," said Ceb.
But Ceb was one of a very lucky few to get another opportunity. The game pulled him back in as OG were looking for a coach in 2016. He took it and they won three Majors. And we all know what happened next.
"Next thing you know, half a year later, N0tail reached out, asking if I would be interested to coach them just for this one Major. I accepted and it went great, we won the Major, and the whole OG thing started right after that," said Ceb.
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