When Raymond “AlienManaBanana” Milici discovered he was kicked from A-Team before the start of Season 2 in the 2021 North American Dota Pro Circuit, he was utterly devastated. Having spent all of Season 1 with Byzantine Raiders in the Lower Division, AMB was picked up by A-Team, who were recently relegated from the Upper Division, as their newest starting mid-laner for their bid of returning to the top flight. Despite already suffering relegation in his own right with BR, AMB was ecstatic in receiving another chance of playing in the DPC
Unfortunately, his stint with A-Team became excruciatingly brief. With a few days to spare before play began, he was let go by his new team alongside two others to make way for the arrival of three players from Wind and Rain, thus leaving him out of the DPC entirely.
Ugly as that episode was for AMB, he didn’t let it dissuade his hunger of returning to the DPC. In fact, he kept competing, playing for numerous teams in the process. Even as he was occupied with real-life obligations like attending college, he continued honing his skills to prolong his professional career.
Finally, after various attempts which spanned across an entire year, he finally cleared the final hurdle to return to Division II as the captain of Stratyk Gaming for the 2022 NA DPC Spring Tour. Aided by an unequivocal resilience to succeed, AMB is poised to build on his recent success with Stratyk and show North America what they have missed after being away for a year.
With the NA DPC Spring Tour on the horizon, AlienManaBanana spoke with Gamelevate to discuss Stratyk’s qualification to Division II, how the team was formed, the issues he encountered during the closed qualifying phase, the competition he is set to face, and much more.
The Origin of AlienManaBanana
Thanks a lot for doing this interview with me, AMB. First off, with regards to the general attention towards Division II, not many people know who you are, so I would like to have you introduce yourself. Who are you? What is your position? What is your current MMR? Which server do you usually play in?
AMB: Well, I’m actually not a newcomer. I actually played in the Season I of the 2021 DPC and there were a lot of unfortunate things that happened afterward -let’s put it that way- in regards to the teams I was on and getting kicked, so I had to kind of just take matters into my own hands which we can talk about. But yeah, my name is Raymond Millici and I’m from Morristown, New Jersey. I’m 21 years old. I’m actually going to school right now at Montclair State. I’m going for philosophy. I’m 8.3k MMR in Dota and I play mid lane and I draft for my team. I’m also the captain so is there anything I missed?
No, you described yourself just right. How long have you played Dota? What was your first encounter with the game like? When did you start treating this seriously which ultimately materialized into a professional career?
AMB: I actually started when I was 10 years old. I started playing Heroes of Newerth, not Dota. Heroes of Newerth has so many similarities. I then eventually got the Dota beta key in 2012 and I just started playing from there. I actually didn’t realize that a lot of the heroes in HoN were like straight ports to Dota 2. The reason why I play a lot of Queen of Pain is because in HoN there’s a hero called Wretched Hag. That was the only character I played. I maybe finished HoN in less than 500 games but it really helped me ease in the Dota 2.
I felt like pretty familiar with the game and how it went and everything, so playing HoN definitely helped me a lot when I was 10. I started [playing Dota] a long time ago. I remember my first tournament was in a league called CEVO. I’m not sure if they’re still around. I started in either CEVO Season 1 or 2 and then I started watching The International 2. And that was when I realized that this is a really competitive game. I don’t think it really hit me until then and I guess I’ve just been no-lifing it ever since.
You describe yourself as having a plethora of experience within the competitive Dota scene. I tried to look you up to see if you had a Liquipedia Dota page and I found that you didn’t have one. Given your lengthy career, I’d like to know how many teams have you played for? How many lineups Have you been a part of leading up to now?
AMB: I played and joined the Dota League. That was probably when I first started becoming serious with a team called Evil Empire. Actually, none of those players on that team exists anymore. I mean they exist but they don’t play anymore. [laughs] After that, I played for a team called Mind’s Eye and I really liked that team because it was a bunch of HoN players. I didn’t play with them when I played HoN but we just kind of connected on that.
Then I played for what was kind of a meme stack called DoZe Esports. And then after that, I started taking it really really seriously. I did play in DPC Season 1 with Byzantine Raiders. I think after DoZe, I think I definitely became way more serious. I have just been going about it wrong with team stuff and I think I finally found something that clicked and now I’m on Stratyk.
Have you always been a mid laner?
AMB: I think I’ve definitely taken some big criticism for only playing mid. That’s basically it throughout everything. I did have a time where I played as carry for a little bit. I’ll pick Position 5 in ranked games if somebody else goes mid, but other than that, I’m in mid for over 80% of my games.
When people are starting to get to know you, the first thing they’ll encounter is your name, I’d like to know what was the inspiration behind creating their name? I also like to point out that it bears some resemblance to another particular name within the Dota scene (BSJ; BananaSlamJamma). Was that an inspiration for the creation of your name?
AMB: Absolutely not. I’ve had this name for way longer than he’s been around. I’ve had this name going back to Club Penguin actually in 2006. I don’t know. It just rhymes. I really liked it. When I was six or seven, I had AlienManaBanana as a name in Club Penguin which is not even around anymore. But yeah, it’s kind of crazy how far it goes back. In Club Penguin it was kind of similar. It was AlienManBandana I think. [laughs] Something like that.
My sister helped me with my username and we wanted to make something that rhymes. And then it changed a little bit because I wanted to make it “Mana” because of the MOBAs I play and I like “Banana” more. I eventually owned an Alienware when I was a teenager too. There’s a kind of connection there. That’s basically where it came from.
That’s the one thing I did not expect to hear. Club Penguin, Alienware, and MOBAs. I mean MOBAs make sense considering that you’re a Dota player but Club Penguin is not something that I would have guessed even if you aim a gun at my head and make me guess where it came from.
AMB: I mean, that’s why I’m saying I’m pretty sure BSJ came way later than Club Penguin. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Behind the Formation of Stratyk Gaming
I guess you could say that. Moving on to actually qualifying for the DPC. You are a member of Stratyk Gaming, the team that qualified for the DPC in recent days. I’d like to know how that particular team start about. That’s because, as is usually the case in Div. II, there are times in which a given team forms out of the blue. For your case, with Stratyk, how did this lineup form?
AMB: There’s quite a backstory actually. Last season, there was a whole drama behind how I was kicked one hour before roster lock from a team called A-Team or Aristotle for DPC Div. II. The captain of the team at the time brought on three match-fixers and they ended up getting disqualified midseason, so I got pretty scumbagged out of the last DPC.
After that, I had to change how I went about making a team and stuff. Like I said before, I brought matters into my own hands. First thing I started was thinking about the Dota communities I already know and also people I already know. And there’s this guy called GoreFO from Stratyk Gaming, who owns the org, and he has a really friendly Dota community. He’s a really positive guy and I wanted to make my stack under his brand because it’s just a small brand he did for fun and I really liked the community he had on Discord at the time. He actually sent me a jersey and everything. I have my own Stratyk Gaming jersey. It’s pretty sick. We started from there.
I started from almost nothing because after not getting into the DPC for four or five months, I was still already thinking like, “I need a road back in the DPC because I need to have a stack in which I have basically full control over with an organization of nice people.” You need to team with your friends or it’s not going to work out. If you team with people that look at you as very disposable and they’ll just kick you at any given moment, those teams normally don’t work out in my opinion. You need to have good friends in your team.
I had a couple of different rosters we were scrimming with since September actually. About a month or less before the qualifiers, two players that were going to play for the DPC left for Black N Yellow. Eventually, I got somebody from the South American Dota community whose name is Oscu, and he scouted basically our Position 1 and 3. Big shout out to him because he just knew so many people from other regions and stuff and he was a Spanish speaker who found Adrian, but I don’t even know how the hell he found our Turkish offlaner [Kertenkele] who has been one of the biggest pieces of this team so far. He’s a really good player. I mean both of them are, you know. I just had to take matters in my own hands and make my own stack with people I’m friends with and go from there.
I came into this qualifier mad as hell. I was sick of losing. I was sick of almost making it. I’m sick of people saying “You should play in DPC. You’re good enough.” I felt like I had something to prove this time and I just came into these qualifiers determined and angry as hell basically. We studied really hard. Our drafting is really, really good. I’ve studied so much in drafting. I’ve talked to all of them. We spent hours talking about it. So we worked really hard for this spot.
You talked about how you picked up Adrian and Kertenkele, but I want to know how the remainder of the lineup, with them being Raza and Theyna, joined the team. Theyna, for his part, is already fairly well known within the DPC. He played for Felt and KBU.US, so how did he and Raza join Stratyk for the season?
AMB: Raza has been a really good friend of mine for a long time now. We were a couple of games away from qualifying to the last DPC. I’d say two months before the last DPC is when I became really good friends with Raza. He’s just a really good friend of mine. I have a lot of faith in his gameplay and he’s improving. He’s a big part of the team.
With Theyna, this stack was originally going to be–so Zore is a really good friend of mine. He’s on Team Felt. I’ve always wanted to play with him because I played a lot of like custom games with him. He’s kind of been tied down the Felt for such a long time and he was going to leave them or something and we played together for a couple of weeks. He also brought Theyna to the mix but Felt ended up changing the roster completely and he went back to them. However, Theyna didn’t go to Felt so I ended up becoming good friends with him. So yeah. That’s how it happened.
Of course, with this team being formed ahead of the DPC, you guys had to work together and find a particular identity. What was the process like for you to get to know your team within the field of play? This goes from the team’s initial scrims and how did that improve later down the line?
AMB: I think one thing that’s good about our team is that everyone’s really communicating in-game. We don’t have anyone that’s dead silent. We’re always talking. [Some players] have some limited English speaking abilities. That’s what they tell us but I think we’re really fluent actually. We understand what we’re doing and we have a lot of trust in each other as teammates and stuff. We go in every game with faith in our game plan. If there’s a hero they want to pick in a draft that we haven’t seen before, and if we really trust them, we’re going to put our trust behind it and make it happen. We have some stuff up our sleeves.
Indeed, you guys have a lot to prove as one of the teams that just qualified for Div. II Looking into you specifically within your career, you mentioned how you were a part of A-Team and not being able to play in the DPC. Obviously, that must have been a difficult situation for you to overcome. How were you able to maintain your focus from that episode to now having finally reached Div. II?
AMB: I was really angry because I wanted to play really badly. But the thing is if you don’t make DPC in the NA region, there’s just no tournaments really going on besides it. All your eggs have to be in the basket in making DPC or else you can’t really compete for months. I’m actually looking at my DotaBuff profile. My last game with A-Team was 11 months ago and my last qualifier was four months ago, so I was out of it for basically 6+ months.
We played a couple of Community Gaming [tournaments] but there were a few very small tournaments in between. At first I was definitely angry about the whole situation and it just really sucked. That’s why I came into this qualifier really mad as hell. I was just sick of losing and I was sick of not being in the DPC. Just the mentality was so much different going into this qualifier. I really wanted to fucking win every game really badly. I was staying up so late preparing drafts as in thinking about it and playing tons of games.
It definitely sounds like you had a very big point to prove with respect to your past roles. In playing with such animosity, many people would feel as if that kind of mindset would negatively affect a player’s performance within those tournaments. But in your case, I guess you could say that it helped you in that regard. Is that correct?
AMB: Oh, yeah, it’s definitely helped me a ton. I wasn’t like saying in the middle of the game, “I really want to fucking win guys.” It was more like in my head, like where I’m just trying my hardest. If I didn’t make it, I’d try even harder next time. But I think I tried really hard, you know? I did actually play in Season I of DPC and that team had so many holes. I think I learned a lot about teamwork and stuff in addition to how a team should be constructed and so many other different teamwork things. I just learned a lot about it and how I wanted a team to look like. I feel like this team is the best team I’ve ever been on. It’s not even close. Everyone is so talkative and very willing to express their ideas.
How about as an individual? How did you improve yourself specifically besides focusing on improving your teamwork?
AMB: Well, the thing about mid laners in the DPC are a dime a dozen. I don’t want to make it sound like they’re replaceable in any sense, but it’s so much more on teamwork. Individual plays are really important for mid-lane too, but in a lot of these games, it’s not the defining factor. It’s more about how your team plays and stuff because we see it in the DPC. You also see it in so many other forms of play where teams with 1,000 points less than the MMR average are beating teams that should be way better than them on paper and it comes down to teamwork. I truly believe that so I developed as a player. I am definitely a way different player from like a year and a half ago. I think I just added a lot of different niche-like things to my hero pool and stuff.
With respect to Div. II, given the distribution of the prize pool for teams, people might not see that as a good thing. If people don’t find continued success within Div. II they eventually themselves away from competitive Dota and try to find work in the real world. Have you ever thought about transitioning away from competitive Dota within this period of trying to get into the DPC?
AMB: I mean, I told myself, you know, I definitely gave myself a timeframe. I’m still in school. I graduate in a year. Once I graduate, I’ll figure out what my next move is. But if [my career] is going super well, I might just keep playing. I think it’s a thought that lingers over a lot of Dota players. We have some players in this DPC that have been on the brink so many times, you know? I guess a lot of respect are there for them to keep trying. It’s not like they haven’t succeeded at all. But I think I have a lot of other hobbies and other things I do too so I think that really helps too. But in terms of your livelihood, in making a living and stuff, it’s getting harder to be in Div. II. I think setting a timeframe is really important. That’s why I’ve set myself one too.
On Stratyk Gaming’s Qualification to Div. II
Changing the subject to actually playing within the qualifying tournament, it does bear mentioning that in light of Stratyk’s qualification to Div. II, there was one particular team that was disqualified from the tournament (Let’s Go or what used to be Team Magnus). What was your reaction to Let’s Go’s disqualification from the competition since that meant Stratyk’s own qualification for Div. II?
AMB: I mean, we were going to make it in. Now I’m not sounding cocky or anything but I really believed in my team whether we played that series or not. I have no real opinion on anything. People in the qualifiers were talking about the issues they had with that team because they were all smurfing but it never really got addressed until the grand finals of the closed qualifiers. We didn’t go into that hoping they were getting disqualified. We were ready to play no matter what. No matter what the circumstances are, you just have to be ready to play. If they get disqualified, whatever, and if they don’t, we’re ready to play. It’s not like I wanted them to be disqualified. I wanted to play them because that was the team we were one game away from beating with my old stack with Raza in the last qualifier. I think I know a lot about that team and a lot about their players. I know I also have so much info about every team so we’re always ready.
As a result of Let’s Go disqualification, another team within this issue, them being Black Ice Esports, were fighting for their reinstatement into the tournament, since they previously lost to the former team. And so, since BIE lost to a team that was ultimately disqualified, they feel they should have returned to the tournament or at least play against you guys in the grand finals or something like that.
AMB: I have no opinion. I think all that could have been avoided if LG was DQ’d in the Open Qualifiers. Something else that I want to bring up about is one of my good friends Froogoss, was on a team (called “Sigma Seals”) that beat Let’s Go five straight times. What happened was the first team (Darwashan) got disqualified and in the Open Qualifiers #1 and 2, Let’s Go lost to Sigma Seals both times. But since Darwashan was disqualified, they had to enter a decider tournament and it was there where they finally beat Sigma Steals.
Froogoss said afterwards, “We wanted to be in the closed qualifiers.” That team should have been disqualified earlier. I feel like they missed their chance to play in the closed qualifiers because they beat that team so many times. Let’s Go actually wouldn’t even have been in this if it wasn’t for Darwashan not getting disqualified at the time actually. I’ll be real. The whole tournament was kind of a s**t show. We didn’t really encounter any issues whatsoever, but there’s a lot of other teams that did. I feel bad for Black Ice for sure, but it wasn’t like they won every game. You just gotta keep winning and avoid problems.
In that case, do you think there could have been a better way for the organizers to resolve everything that went down within this part of the event?
It was so screwed up until that point. The thing is Darwashan was DQ’d for the same exact reason Let’s Go was DQ’d, so that’s why it doesn’t even make any sense to me. Is there’s something I’m missing or is there somebody who didn’t do their job because it was a s**t show. I just want to point out we didn’t lose a single game in qualifiers. We came to play. In fact, going into that qualifiers, a lot of people in Discord were saying “Typical NA” and I think we just proved them wrong. We beat them in the very first game of the qualifiers and I think a lot of it has to do with just the way we planned and everything. We knew every player and every team. We just had all the info so we were more prepared.
Taking on the rest of Division II
Whatever everyone’s opinions are of how that tournament transpired, it doesn’t take away Stratyk’s qualification to Div. II. Within Div. II, you guys are going to face DPC-level players and teams. Not only that, there are the two teams who were just in Div. I that were obviously relegated to Div. II. That said, how would you rate Stratyk’s state compared to the rest of Div. II?
AMB: I mean it’s really high. We’re really determined. I think everyone realizes that. And I think for myself I’m going to keep that same attitude. It’s been working for me in just really wanting to win and to keep putting the work in. That’s because after we qualified we had a couple of days to celebrate and then we’re like,”Guys, let’s get back to it,” and that’s when we started scrimming again. We’re doing everything we’ve been doing, so we rate ourselves very highly. I mean we really have our ambitions set high for even Div. I. We want to be in Div. I. That’s the ultimate goal so it’s going to keep going from there so we really need to train ourselves.
I guess you could say you feel confident Stratyk Gaming is one of the best in Div. II?
AMB: Definitely. The thing is the other two players that were going to be on Stratyk are on BNY now and they’re probably the favorites. I have to say BNY are definitely the favorites. I can’t rate every team. You have to play some games and see how it goes. But upsets can always happen, too. There were surprises in last DPC so you have to keep playing your game. When teams throw curveballs, and it’s gonna happen, you just have to be ready for it. Every game is so important in the DPC.
You highlighted other teams that you’re going to face. Do you have a particular team that you are most looking forward to facing in the Spring Tour?
AMB: There’s a couple. Obviously Felt is huge for me because Zore is a really really good friend of mine. He’s like my best friend in Dota and Pingu is a really good friend of mine. The same thing goes with Black N Yellow. Their carry and Position 4/5 were on Stratyk before. And 5RatForceStaff rounds the list. They have a lot of players that I know. Those are probably the three teams I’m really looking forward to facing. I don’t really have an opinion on the other teams one way or another. I’m always looking to compete and play hard. Especially with the 5RFS series that’s probably going to be a clown show, I’m going to be real with you. I just think it’s going to be really clowny. I feel like it’s just gonna be a war in mid-lane, that’s alright.
Whenever that date will be, I will be sure to watch that with massive interest. In your case, in particular, you are the captain for this team who was just promoted to Div. II. As a captain, I assume you understand you have major shoes to fill in fighting within the second tier of North American Dota. Where do you personally rank yourself among the rest of the captains?
AMB: For this one, I have to give a full shout out to my teammates because they’ve helped me so much along the way. I never actually wanted to be a captain but I had to just own up to it because I really felt like there was no other way to make the DPC. I had to have my own stack, I had to have my own people around me who trusted me like the guy who owns Stratyk and the guy who scouted out the other two players that we got. I have to just give more credit to everybody else. I’m just kind of like working hard on drafting and making sure we’re all focused. That’s about it. It’s a team game, you know?. I’d give the assistant captain role to all of the other players because they helped me a lot.
Is your current stint with Stratyk pick the first time in which you are a captain of a team?
AMB: Yeah, basically. I’d say I was like a captain on Evil Empire around six years ago and that was kind of like a more casual stack anyway, so this is way more serious.
Did you ever feel nervous about taking that mantle of being a captain? Do you still feel nervous now given that you are in DPC?
AMB: Well, I come from a very musical background in performing and everything. I feel like overcoming stage fright and stuff like that has helped me so much with Dota. There’s games where you’re looking back and there’s ridiculous pressure especially in the qualifiers and stuff and it’s hard. It could be easy for you to get away from your game. But with a team like us, we’re really good at just keeping it together and just playing our game. I think that’s the most important thing. We just really want to play our game that we’ve talked about. We don’t stray away from it at all. I think if you don’t stray away from it then there’s nothing to be nervous about.
The Similarities Between Dota and Hockey
Do you look to other people as a source of inspiration or knowledge for your own career?
AMB: Oh, for sure. I mean, my dad always told me the greatest leader of all time in any sport is a guy named Mark Messier. We’re New York Ranger fans and I’m a big hockey fan. He was known as the best captain ever. I just want to highlight one instance of that where they really faced adversity. In 1994, going Game 6 where they were down 3-2 [in the Eastern Conference Finals], he took matters into his own hands and said in all the papers, “We will win tonight” and he scored a hat trick in that game. I don’t think anyone can really match that because it’s like a fairy tale, talking about it out loud, but you have to look at strong leaders like that who just really believed in all their players and everything. And I think what he did just proves that he believes in all his players.
Sometimes you have to find ways to win. I mean, there’s a game in qualifiers where we were down like 10,000 gold when we still won. I think we just have to find ways to win. You just have to really overcome adversity and sometimes finding those ways to win has to come through a big individual performance from time to time. That’s the faith and trust that we have in our players. If we need a really big game from a certain player, I really do believe that they’re going to step up if it’s a really difficult game or task to [help us perservere].
In that case, I’ll give you a question relating to hockey. Right now, which NHL team best fits Stratyk Gaming?
AMB: It’s kind of funny because we’re kind of like the Rangers because we’re finding ways to win even if we’re not playing the best, but we’re trying to be more like the (Calgary) Flames because they play really solid all around. Up and down their lineup they play really solid like a two-way game. I think all teams should probably strive to be the Flames because they seem really solid together as a team.
Which New York Rangers player best describes or resembles you?
AMB: Oh man, that’s hard. I guess there’s a player I grew up watching during the early 2010s. His name was Mats Zuccarello and though he was really small, he had a lot of leadership and was also a really good player. I feel like he resembles me a little bit. I try to strive to have both good leadership (qualities) and a good gameplay, or try to at least.
I now have to ask which players resemble your teammates.
AMB: For supports, you have to talk about defensemen, you know? For your carries, they have to be your centers, forwards, or goalies even. I’m not sure about a particular name but I find a lot of similarities between hockey and Dota because they’re both such team-oriented games. In basketball, one player can just win the game all the time.
In basketball, Kevin Durant can just drop 50 points and that’s the game, but in hockey, it doesn’t matter. There are superstar players who are not in winning teams and you just need to have a good team. Hockey is so much like Dota than any of the other sports in that sense. In hockey, one player can’t really single-handedly score a goal. He needs to catch a pass from somebody. He needs a lot of teamwork for that to happen, like way more than any other sport.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, AMB. I believe that wraps up the interview. Do you have any final words to give, final shout-outs, final acknowledgments, to everyone who might be reading this?
AMB: Yeah, I mean a shout out to the people that are on the team like GoreFO and Oscu who have been a big part of this whole team even though they don’t play. They’re a huge part every day. They help by motivating us on Discord, working with our fan bundle, finding the players, and working on social media, so they’re a huge part of this team.