We caught up with Danny "mahone" Hsieh, analyst at Ninjas in Pyjamas, on his journey in esports, building a brand from nothing and eventually landing a full-time job at a top organization, the way he communicates his analysis to the coach/players including the general hierarchy, using statistics to further help him and more.
Hi Danny. Thanks for agreeing to the interview. How are you doing? Kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello! Thank you for having me on here, happy to share more about myself! So for those who don’t know, my in-game name is “mahone”, or perhaps more commonly known as “mahone_tv” on YouTube, and I am currently the analyst for NiP’s CS:GO team. I am 26 years old and I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. I also have a degree in Civil Engineering from UBC, and prior to becoming NiP’s analyst, my full-time job used to be doing automation in the architecture industry, coding scripts and algorithms to create robust 3D models of building structures in 3D modelling software.
How did you get started in esports? I believe you also played the game on a professional level a few years back.
At age 15, CS:Source was my first Counter Strike game. But before Counter Strike, I used to only play racing games (games like Midnight Club, Forza Motorsport, etc) and I enjoyed competition, but the competitive scene was very small with those games. I watched my brother play CS sometimes, so I started playing together with him. Eventually, I found out how big the competitive scene was in CS, and that got me hooked. I then made the decision to spend all my time playing CS instead.
My parents made school a priority for me, so I was never able to commit to joining a team that I could practice and compete with on a regular basis. Fortunately, they at least agreed to let me go to LAN events, granted that there were no big conflicts with school. I exclusively competed at LAN events in the Vancouver/Seattle area for a few years before actually joining any teams. These were events like LANcouver, GottaCon, GameClucks, Gameworks, etc. If you’re in the PNW area, you would have heard of these LANs. It was at these LANs where I played against some of the more established names you see today before they went pro, like NAF, jdm64, vanity, TenZ, etc.
When I started going to university, I took the opportunity to join a handful of teams at the ESEA-Main/Intermediate level (this was back when Advanced didn’t exist yet). That being said, my best project was the collegiate CS:GO team I started and led at UBC. Our team competed in college-only leagues for a number of years until I graduated. During my captaincy, we captured 1st in the first ever NA collegiate league (NCESPA 2014), and captured 2nd place in two separate years (NCESPA 2015 and CSL 2017). Nearly all of these were LAN events, so the TOs would also fly us out to these events, all-expenses paid. It was an awesome experience and I’d highly recommend anyone who’s thinking about competing in collegiate to do it!
After graduating university, I basically retired from competing and focused more of my effort on my real-life career and other aspirations. However, a few friends of mine (who I was also teammates with at UBC) urged me to give it one more shot to compete on a team focused on making it to MDL. We competed in Intermediate and won the season to earn promotion into MDL, and this was the last time ESEA ever did the IM to MDL move-up. Competing in MDL was a nice goal to reach, but ultimately it was very hard to find motivation to continue as I no longer found any enjoyment playing the game. I stepped down from the team and retired from competing for good afterwards. I wouldn’t consider myself to have played at a pro level by any measure, as our team had pretty poor results during this stint, haha.
After retiring, I wanted to give back to the game that has given me so many great experiences, which inspired me to start my YouTube channel. I also had a stint of coaching, where I coached the TGS (The Gaming Stadium) CS:GO team, which resulted in a 3rd place finish in ESEA-Intermediate as well as 7th-8th at Fragadelphia 13. Shortly after, I made the decision to direct all my focus into my YouTube channel, which paved a path to landing an analyst position at NiP.
You’re an analyst and surfing through your YouTube channel, I’ve found that you’ve produced a myriad of some of the best analytical CS content. What made you decide to get into this particular field within the game?
During my time as a player, I felt like I gained a reasonably good understanding of how the game was played, because I found myself being able to explain decently well why pros did what they did. Big shoutout to my past teammate richie, who played with me both in collegiate and MDL, who recommended that I make a YouTube channel breaking down why pros do what they do. I didn’t actually take his advice until a couple years later, but I credit him for planting the seed in my mind.
My main motivation for creating this type of content stems from what I would have wanted to see when I used to compete. I like to think of it as creating content for my past self, the one who actually played competitively.
I love to see the new series on your channel, namely, “Understanding Team CS”. Would you mind to take us through the intricacies, in brief, on how this series will help the community get better?
My main goal with the “Understanding Team CS” series is to explain certain concepts that players and teams may have encountered before (or perhaps they’ve never encountered it), and explain the exact elements that make that concept a “thing.” These concepts may be hard to see on the surface, so I do my best to help the viewer understand why and how it works by breaking down an example of that concept found in pro play. Overall, my goal is to help the next generation of aspiring pro players think a bit more deeply about the game by breaking down the more theoretical aspects of CS, and hopefully they can bring it into their game and find more success.
What is the job profile of an analyst?
I believe the job profile of an analyst varies from team to team, but I would break down my duties at NiP into 3 main things: figuring out new things that the team can do to improve at a tactical level, discovering the weaknesses and tendencies of every opponent we face, and developing statistics to quantify the team’s performances.
Seems like your hard work has paid off as you’ve been recruited by NiP as their analyst on a full time basis. Being an analyst is good but when it comes to being one on a professional team, it’s a different ball game altogether. Can you point out the differences between being an analyst that caters towards the general audience and one that caters to a group of professional players?
I believe the main difference between making analytical content for an actual pro team compared to the general audience is how tailored the content is. This means creating content that’s designed to target something that is currently missing in their game, or something that they can improve on, or even reviewing what went wrong in a match. Since the general audience is so broad, it’s not possible for me to create targeted content in the same way. Another aspect that is very different is the way I communicate these ideas, I usually don’t have to spend as much time finding the right words to explain a certain detail to a pro player, whereas I’d be more inclined to do so for the general audience. The notion being that the pro player will likely already know what I’m talking about, while the general audience may not.
I am of the belief that analytics and stats go hand-in-hand and both compliment each other really well. Do you also rely on stats to come up with your analysis? Kindly provide an example, if you can.
Yes, I use statistics when applicable to help aid in my analysis for the team. The most important part though is figuring out what to do with that statistic. As an example, we might be looking at our pistol round win percentage and see that it isn’t as high as we want it to be. If that’s the case, we have to look at why that is. Are we just missing shots or are we not approaching these rounds in the right way based on our skill sets? On top of this, we, as humans, can easily get clouded judgment about how successful a particular strategy or approach is, as we tend to remember the handful of times it worked, rather than the vast majority of times that it didn’t. Using statistics can help remove this clouded judgment so we can see what the reality is, which then allows us to make the proper adjustments with absolute certainty.
In which ways is a team analyst different from those that provide analysis on-air?
Team analysts are different from broadcast analysts usually because team analysts are usually tasked with finding real solutions that either help their own team improve or help with winning the next match against their opponent. I believe the struggle for broadcast analysts is having to research all the different teams in a tournament, watch the games, and then be able communicate their ideas about what they’ve seen in a way that the average viewer can both understand and enjoy, all in a fairly short amount of time.
For example, a broadcast analyst might identify that there was ‘something’ wrong with a team’s B hold on Inferno during a match, and why it might have cost the match. Whereas the team analyst would have to figure out exactly what that ‘something’ is, determine whether it’s actually a problem (because the other team could have a specific counter), and then figure out potential reliable solutions to fixing that problem. That’s where I believe the difference is.
Do you work more closely with the coach or players or both? Is it the coach that relays the information you provide to the players or do you talk to them directly in presence of the coach? What’s the general process?
I work closest with the team’s coach, THREAT. We communicate directly very regularly. As far as the players, it’s actually a little bit different. We don’t speak directly to each other very often, and instead the bulk of my communication with them is actually done through video form, very similar to what you see on my channel. Whether it’s regarding an opponent we’re going to face, or a different way to approach something in-game, I create a video for them to watch. This slight separation of communication is done by design, but also partly due to the time-zone difference between Sweden and Canada.
As an analyst, which map is the most difficult to break down and why?
I don’t really feel that any single map is particularly difficult to break down, but they all have certain areas or aspects that make it difficult to come up with solutions to improve tactically. As a random example, the fact that the ramp room on Nuke is completely enclosed removes some potential options for newer approaches to be used.
Alright mate, that’s a wrap. Anything you’d like to say before signing off?
Thanks for having me, I really enjoyed this! To everyone who has supported me, thank you all so much. Without your support, I would not be in the position that I’m in now, so I can’t thank you all enough. Lastly, shout-out to NiP for giving me such a great opportunity!
Feel free to follow me @mahone_tv on YouTube and Twitter!
Feature Image Credit: Mahone
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