First, the nickname. According to Ben at The International 7, his nickname originated from his Everquest days. Random name generators didn’t give him anything appealing. He decided to be a wizard, choosing the iconic Merlin of King Arthur’s court as his inspiration.
Merlini first saw success as a professional player with MYM in December of 2006 with Maelk, Mania, Levent and Hanni. His jungling mechanics at DreamHack Summer in 2007 helped secure his team first place over T_T in the finals. He played with MYM until 2009 when the organization went bankrupt. The mostly Danish squad went with a new sponsor that wasn’t willing to pay to send an American (Merlini) to events. He parted ways from the drama free roster as friends. Afterwards, he briefly played on Evil Geniuses with Fear before internal conflicts led to a disband. He eventually found his way onto Nirvana.Int, a powerhouse stack with Fear, Puppey, Kuroky, and Demon. He won Farm4Fame with the team, but was chose not to continue playing professionally.
Professional Warcraft 3 DotA was a different world from what we know now. Anyone who has seen Free to Play knows the struggles that early pros faced. There was little prize money, minimal sponsorship, and no guarantee of stability. In a 2012 interview with Jack “KBBQ” Chen, Merlini explained his decision not to pursue a WC3 DotA career.
“When I retired from DotA 1, I knew I wasn’t coming back. The prizes were meager, sponsorships were flaky, and it lacked that extra ‘oomph’ to take it to the next level. On top of that, I was 21-22 without a stable job, and I felt that my affinity (some may read addiction) for gaming along with my lack of motivation kept me from finding one.”
Although Merlini chose to step back from playing competitively, he had a huge role in developing the playstyles and mechanics of DotA. His Nirvana.Int roster had three eventual TI champions from three different teams. His teammates became legends, and he had a hand in shaping their careers and playstyles.
“He was a superstar and a phenom and was Arteezy before Arteezy was Arteezy.” ~ SindicateDota
According to accounts of Merlini in the early days of DotA, he was one of the best. Gold was harder to come by, regen was barely used, and warding was considered a waste of time and money. Ben was the “try hard” who would jump into a lobby to test mechanics. He played in an era of unlimited wards and no assist gold where denies took away 100% of the experience. Ben has stated that his love of mechanics drove him to innovate new ways for the game to be played.
“When bottle was invented as an item, my imagination took off and I tried jungling every hero possible: Abaddon, Kroebelus… You name it, I’ve tried it. I used to play as a competitive Warcraft Ladder player, so I’ve always been interested in the Warcraft mechanics (like armour and damage types, etc).”
Efficiency and vision were mechanics he abused to sit at the top of the leaderboards. Jungle stacking and warding ensured that his teams had access to more gold and knowledge than the enemy, and he used that to win important games. His jungle Beastmaster at DreamHack surprised T_T and guaranteed MYM their victory. His intelligence and motivation led him to constantly innovate, pushing the scene forward and constantly introducing new ideas.
Merlini left WC3 DotA behind for a stable job in finance - but he couldn’t stay away for forever. He had a few stints of playing professionally, but he truly made his name (again) when he settled into his role as a caster. He started as a panelist at The International 3, and less than a year later he was interviewing players comfortably from the bathtub of the BeyondtheSummit house. His flexibility and hard work has allowed him to fit in on the casual DreamLeague panels and Summit couches as well as the more serious style of ESL and Valve events. He did this all while never losing his edge, leading the caster stack Vegetable Esports to several impressive open qualifier runs.
His casting style is unique. When he initially re-joined the scene, he was one of the only professional players in the analytical casting role. As the scene grew and time passed, more ex-pros have joined the ranks, but none have matched his style. Similar to his innovations in WC3 DotA, Merlini’s casting and content has centred around efficiency and vision. He has never been afraid to point out a player’s mistake, but it wasn’t blind criticism. Ben would explain the step by step reasoning, focusing on what vision and information was available and why certain decisions were made. In a scene where players are untouchable, and “Win a TI before you talk” is the attitude towards criticism, he provided fresh unbiased casting that was priceless.
If you tuned into his stream, you could expect to see bots and a midas on almost any hero he played (probably Zeus). If you met him at an event, he was honest and approachable. His work ethic and drive to improve made him one of the best. Ultimately, that same need to improve and grow has led him away from Dota 2. He’s left behind an impressive legacy that is felt with every midas purchase and jungle stack, and his presence in the scene will be missed.
Thank you Merlini.
Enjoy this piece on Merlini? Check out this piece about the Dota 2 Pro Circuit!