The Tree

Chapter 4

“I’m not scared about anything. There’s nothing that would make you not think of me as this German, great looking, super funny guy with great taste in music.” - Dennis Hawelka

In the aftermath of his passing, there was a palpable sense of disbelief. The loss was hardly settling in. It would have been understandable for everyone to take some time off and surrender to their feelings. Instead, the Overwatch community banded together and went to work, just as Dennis would have, in order to organize the HulkTastic Cup.

“To many of us, Dennis ‘INTERNETHULK’ Hawelka was a friend, a brother, a teammate, an opponent, a leader, a teacher, and a legend in the esports scene.

His passing this past week has cast a shadow across one of the most important eras in our scene. Dennis leaves behind a storied legacy in the scene. He was the mastermind behind Team IDDQD/EnVyUs, the most successful team in Western Overwatch. He made esports history by captaining the first western team to win an esports tournament in Korea. He would retire as one of the statistically most successful players and a two-time Major champion.

After his departure from his role as a player, he set his sights on coaching. He will always be remembered as a gifted leader and brilliant tactician. His efforts lead Team Liquid to a 2nd place finish in Overwatch Contenders Season Zero: North America. The reveal of his future role in the Team Liquid League of Legends team leaves a bittersweet taste in our mouths. His lasting influence in esports will never be forgotten.

In honor of his contribution to the community, we are organizing a charity tournament in his honor to help support his family in their time of need. All contributions will ensure that their needs to taken care of and the process continues as smooth as possible. We are in talks with his father and he agreed to only take the money for himself if it's really necessary, otherwise, it will go to a charity of their choice.

HulkTastic Fundraiser

HulkTastic Cup

"You can use #HulkTastic on Twitter to talk about the tournament.”

In just three days, the HulkTastic Cup was held in his memory. The casting crew included many of his closest friends — UberShouts, MonteCristo, Taimou, DoA, ZP, to name a few — and the teams commemorated him with their team names — THE INTERNET HULK, INTERNETGUYS, Winston Mains, HULKGOD, Internethulk Spanish Lovers, A legend, Hulk dons, and 20Hulk. It was the perfect way to remember the man called INTERNETHULK: By playing and competing in the game that he loved.

On November 15, Blizzard announced the Dennis Hawelka Award to memorialize his contributions to the community. It would be presented "to the player that we deem to have had the most positive impact on the community."

HulkTastic Cup banner advertisement

Blizzard described the significance that Dennis had had on their game: "To the esports world, Dennis was more than just an accomplished player and coach — he was a friend, a confidant, someone people looked towards for guidance and support. He reached out to those around him, drew them in and built them up. In doing so, he not only helped forge the foundation of competitive Overwatch worldwide, he changed countless lives for the better, in game and out."

"From all of us here at the Overwatch League and Blizzard Entertainment, we send our deepest condolences to Dennis’ loved ones. His intelligence, generosity and friendship will never be forgotten.”

A day later, Blizzard updated their game with a touching tribute on Eichenwalde. On the tavern wall was a poster with a symbol that read “I Dennis Hawelka / INTERNETHULK,” and the words “Crusaders stand watch” in German. On a wooden ledge was a candle and a flower that will remain forever new. Dennis belonged in Overwatch more than in any other place, and he could now stand watch over the map that he would have called home.

Facebook post by Overwatch Report

At the conclusion of the first season of Overwatch League, Mickie, the boundless ball of positive energy who Dennis had mentored, was bestowed the Dennis Hawelka Award. It was a fitting choice for the man the award was named for, and it was rightfully earned by his protege. “He told me that if he wants to find someone who’s good at gaming, at aiming and killing, he can find it anywhere. He thinks positivity is hard to find, and he needs that on the team. That’s why he picked me up,” Mickie explained in his award ceremony.

“It’s not just an award. Dennis has changed my life.”

Tweet from Mickie Ponghop

A few weeks after his passing, Jürgen and his family arrived in Los Angeles to see their son and brother, and prepare his memorial service. They were looking forward to visiting Dennis in his Santa Monica apartment, the small but expensive place that he was so very proud of. They had seen it on Skype, but their first time there was to pack away his things. On the counters lay half open books on psychology and two about learning the Korean language. Jürgen was happy to see that his son was still growing. He thought to himself, “I’m sure that my boy would’ve spoken Korean in 1 or 2 years.”

Among the things that they packed was the famous Ugliest Shirt in the World. It was the one thing that belonged to Dennis that Meep wanted from the family. Even though he still thought it looks terrible, it reminded him of the best times he had with Dennis.

The infamous "Ugliest Shirt in the World"

In the weeks before his interment, the family continued to learn more about the world that Dennis called home. They visited the Blizzard Arena and watched videos of Dennis competing, winning, and celebrating. They listened to him talk so eloquently in front of the camera for interviews, even wearing the colors of Germany with pride. They met the Dallas Fuel, once Team EnVyUs, the team that Dennis had once built. Mickie, Dennis’ own little brother, even received a compliment on his hair color. They even had time to walk along the Santa Monica boardwalk to see the city that Dennis had grown to love.

Jürgen, David, and Gisela at the Blizzard Arena

They realized that, at one point, their Dennis was no longer only theirs. He belonged to the community of friends, colleagues, and fans that he had made over the years, and for as much as he had given, he had also received in return. Dennis’ family wanted to thank everyone who had helped make his life special.

“Dear friends of Dennis,

Many of you have said that our beloved son and brother helped them and that he had a big heart. The irony of fate is that forensics found out that he died because of it. For years, his heart must have enlarged so much that it could no longer fulfill its task. They told us that the cause of this is difficult to identify. It could also be genetic, though we don’t know of a case in the family. Nevertheless, we’re going to have that tested too. Likewise, we’ll do a second test in Germany. Because one thing has not changed since the first minutes of [November 8, 2017]: We can not really grasp what as happened.

We miss our boy and brother so endlessly.

But you who have shown us their compassion in any way, those who helped us in this difficult time and those who helped us make the farewell to Dennis in his beloved Los Angeles possible at all: Thank you again from the bottom of all our hearts. It means so much to us to be able to experience part of his work, to feel a part of him live on in you. This legacy of Dennis we loved to accept and it will accompany us for the rest of [our] lives. Our son and brother will never be really gone …. even if we so painfully miss him.

The parents and brothers of Dennis”

The Hawelka family chose to lay Dennis to rest in the city of his peers, where he had begun to build his new life. While touring the grounds of Rose Hills Memorial Park, a coyote roamed a few meters away and looked on as the family searched for a plot of land with clear skies and a good view. When they found the perfect spot, Jürgen and the family felt a sense of certainty as the coyote disappeared from view.

Helden sterben nie

It was a quiet morning in Los Angeles, sunny and bright, just as Dennis would have wanted. On top of a hill stood the Skyrose Chapel which resembled a stone and wood Christmas tree. From there, one could see the surrounding hills as they rolled through the peaceful greens and solemn greys of Rose Hills Memorial Park.

Dennis' funeral card
Skyrose Chapel

There was hardly a whisper outside the chapel as Dennis’ family and friends gathered for his memorial service. He had always enjoyed bringing his friends together, but it was far different on that 12th day of December. When the doors opened at 11, Dennis’ family entered first, followed by his friends and colleagues. The California sun that Dennis had loved filtered through the large geometric windows to light the way to their pews, and they were greeted by the smell of freshly cut flowers that surrounded the dais.

On the altar was the urn that carried Dennis’ ashes, a rectangular white stone with divots across the sides and top, creating two strong slabs for the front and the back. It sat on a mahogany stand that matched the woodwork that supported the angular structure. On a stool beside him, the Winston figurine that David had won at Cologne stood watch.

The altar

The large hall was barely half full by the time everyone arrived. Amidst a field of pews were patches of friends and family, those who had known Dennis the most. Both sides of his personality were present in the two photos flanking the podium: Dr Dennis in his Team Liquid jersey, posing with the braggadocio of a professional wrestler; and Mr Hulk peering over his sunglasses with the widest of smirks, a connoisseur of gaiety and girl trouble.

As the crowd settled down, the first to speak was Mitch “UberShouts” Leslie, on behalf of Dennis’ father Jürgen. The family sat in the first row of pews on the left, as close as possible to Dennis. “Dear friends of Dennis,” Jürgen’s letter started, “please excuse me that I can’t give the speech myself. I just don’t have the strength. For I need to talk about something that I myself have not truly understood yet. Something for what we don’t know the cause yet. My beloved son Dennis is gone.”

He described the great joy that he felt when their third son was born, and how they had always supported him in all his endeavors. Despite the fact that they didn’t understand what esports was, Jürgen quickly fell in love with the game that his son had embraced as a career, even watching it more than Formula 1. He was happy to see his son grow up, realizing that, “The most important day of his life was May 21st 2016. It was the day we took him to the airport in Dusseldorf; it was time for him to depart to the US.” It was the day that INTERNETHULK was truly born.

Overwatch League's INTERNETHULK memorial video

He questioned why his son’s time was so short, and how a tragedy could be so incomprehensible, pleading, “My birthday was last Saturday, and how much, without any hesitation, would I have liked to give this birthday to my son.”

Jürgen thanked everyone that had made his son’s life special: his teammates and colleagues, his friends, and all the fans that cheered his name. Even though it was difficult to visit Los Angeles, the family was able to make countless more memories of Dennis by being in the world that he adored. “It was a memorable experience to witness how much he was appreciated and loved by you, and be able to cry together. From the bottom of our hearts, we’d like to thank you, that you were a part of Dennis’ life and allowed us to participate in it. We thank you very much for that.”

“When we were able to hug some of you,” Jürgen expressed, “we had the feeling to hold a part of our son.”

Next to speak was David, and he read words from his mother and his brother Maik, who sadly could not be there. “You found your way, but it had to end too early,” his mother lamented, sharing her feelings of loss. “Every day I wake up and hope that all of this was all a horrible nightmare,” Maik echoed in disbelief, “But then I realize that we can never see each other again.”

“I will miss you for the rest of my life, little brother.”

David then took his turn to speak as he shuffled his notes in his hands. He towered above the podium, the bigger brother to the big brother that was Dennis, yet there was a gentleness in his voice. “One of the biggest and most painful of all questions arise: Why? For he was the youngest of us. The one that Maik and I, as well as my parents, should have protected. But that’s something we couldn’t do.”

He shared all the things that he would have wished that Dennis could have done, if only he were still here. “I’ll never be able to ask him if he’d like to be my best man,” David regretted, “Or godfather of my child. He was — no, he will always be my little brother.”

To the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters that Dennis made wherever he went, David expressed his gratitude for taking care of of his brother when they weren’t around. “Once he told me that being in the company all around you felt not like being in any regular job, but rather like being in a huge family. And thanks to you, we now fully understand this in the most difficult of all times.”

“My little beloved brother, please allow me to once again express how incredibly proud I am of you. That you never lost sight of your dreams or lost the passion in your heart. Thank you for letting me watch you become a brave man. I salute you.”

His long lost made up cousin, UberShouts, returned to the podium to share his own stories. He described how they first met in Alpha Cast Invitational, and how Dennis first reach out just to send a warning. “Team HULKTASTIC’s captain was telling me to look out for him,” Uber recalled, “That he would be one of the best in Overwatch very soon. I smiled. His team had been knocked out in the quarter finals. And his Widow had managed to make thin air look like Swiss cheese with all the shots he’d missed.”

Eventually, however, even Uber believed. By the time they met again in Cologne, Dennis and Team EnVyUs had established themselves as one of the best Overwatch teams in the world. Thankfully, Dennis had stopped playing Widowmaker and moved to support, and even though he was playing great, “His performances in-game,” according to Uber, “were nothing compared to the damage this guy could do in the real world.” Uber remembered that weekend in October as if it were yesterday.

“‘Are you coming or not?’ A cheeky grin, a quick glasses adjustment, were accompanied by the smoothing of his side part. In front of me stood this big German bloke. Despite my personal policy of not drinking during events, the offer was pretty tantalizing. But it wasn’t for a while that I realized I never had a choice in the matter at all. It was summer in Cologne, basking in the warm evening air… It was party time. And this big bastard in front of me wasn’t going to take no for an answer anyway.”

One of Dennis' favorite poses

Uber added, for the record, that Dennis couldn’t dance, couldn’t dress, and had terrible luck with women. He was always, always late, and they dubbed it “International Dennis Standard Time” — thirty or more minutes later than whatever time it was supposed to be. Their many misadventures count among his fondest memories, and in their favorite gag, they played long-lost cousins in order to meet women. “But as time went on,” Uber paused, “he became the big brother I never knew I had, never knew I needed.” Of course, their cousins schtick still failed.

Tweet from Mitch Leslie

And yet no amount of rejection, failure, or embarrassment could cause him to close up. “His heart remained open,” Uber described, “Much like me, he realized that the hurt that could bring, the risk it posed, was better than facing life with a heart closed up to people and the world.” He had a special ability to draw people in and make them feel like they had known each other for years, and Uber experienced that first hand.

Uber relived the long conversations they shared about their careers that often lasted till sunrise. He had lived in obscurity for so long working so hard on what he loved, that when he finally found recognition, the only way to make sure it lasted was to work even harder. In his opinion, no one understood the struggle of becoming a pro gamer quite like Dennis, and it motivated him to help young players — even though he was still some ways away from achieving his own dreams.

“When he finally reached the top, he realized something that some people never do: To be a leader is not to stand at the top and look down. Leadership is about sacrificing your own ego in order to raise the next generation of leaders. He not only understood this, but embraced it. All the success in the world didn’t mean anything to him unless he could share it with those that needed support. To walk beside him, not in front of him.”

Uber felt great pride in being able to share Dennis’ story, the story of how he had grown “from a basement dweller consumed with the desire for glory, to a happy man with a wide smile, and love for showing love.” It seemed like forever ago when they first met, and yet it had only been short of two years. In that time, he found himself and found a place that he wanted to call home.

“The pain we feel is an echo of the great love Dennis has injected into our lives, reverberating through the space he left behind. Dennis has sparked and nurtured a flame in many of us. To strive to hold one another up. To extend a hand where it’s needed. To believe in the potential that we and one another all have. As long as that flame in us never dies, nor will Dennis.”

His special life was retold by Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles with a historian’s touch. MonteCristo had had the distinct honor of calling many of Dennis’ major victories, notably APEX Season 1 in Korea, giving him the best seats to witness his friend’s career. “I think I have to start with discussing Dennis’ accomplishments,” he said frankly, “because there would have been nothing he would have liked more than for us to understand his struggle and the trophies that he won, and their importance to the esports community.” In a way it sounded like he was doing his friend a favor, when in fact, it was cathartic for everyone to remember those moments.

Inside the chapel

Monte traced Dennis’ career, from his humble beginnings grinding StarCraft II and League of Legends, barely making ends meet on his stream. He emphasized all his years of failures, that amounted to more time than he was able to spend at the top. Finally, he spoke of Dennis’ first triumph in Overwatch, leading up to the historic moment when he won APEX in Korea.

“I remember Dennis and his teammates, joyfully running on stage, sprinting down on top of the trophy, and lifting it in the air. After all those years of struggles, when he came to Korea when he was 29, when he was told he was too old to be a progamer, when everyone thought it was impossible for him after his previous failures, to reach the pinnacle of esports, he had made it in a way that no one else had.”

Even when he was at the top, Monte knew that it wouldn’t last forever, and he disclosed the reasons why he encouraged him to become a coach. He had witnessed the circumstances surrounding his exit from EnVyUs, and it impressed upon him how Dennis would go out of his way to ensure the emotional safety and mental state of his friends and teammates. “I was astounded,” he admitted, “I never thought of him as that level of emotional leader.” Moreover, Dennis always asked for advice. One of his greatest strengths, in Monte’s opinion, was his patience in collecting information before making any decision. It was these qualities that convinced Team Liquid to sign him as their Overwatch coach, and then as the foundation for their League of Legends franchise.

For much of Dennis’ life, he needed esports to give him purpose and direction. Yet now, Monte understood that that Dennis was exactly the kind of person that young players needed. He remembers what he told him, “We need you, the esports community needs you to take on this role because you are one of the very few who can do it.” Monte expressed his belief that Dennis could have been one of the best had he lived to see it through.

He looked back on their last conversations, and how Dennis beamed with excitement over his future and the future of his team; the questions he had asked about players, strategies, and potential signings; and how their friendship should have lasted decades. His unwavering voice started shaking, but Monte delivered his final note with a gravitas borrowed from his dear friend.

“Something that Dennis proved, and that he wanted to prove, was that it was never too late to keep grinding away at your dreams. That you could suffer enormous setbacks, but persistence would overcome anything. And keeping an open mind and an open heart could conquer those obstacles.”

Dennis opened his big heart to Avi late in his life; of all of Dennis' closest friends, Avi knew him for the shortest amount of time. Yet a year knowing Dennis was like knowing other people for their entire lives.

Avi shared his three fondest memories of Dennis, starting with their first meeting at a Team Liquid dinner. Avi admitted that he wasn't the type to warm up to people very quickly, but he confessed, “I never stood a chance. Dennis was the kind of person that lit up the room.” Avi listed down the many things they discussed — esports, League of Legends, LCS, Los Angeles — and by the end of the evening, Dennis had already come to trust Avi's expertise. It was during that dinner that Dennis delivered that immortal line: “Well I’m already a legend in one game, why wouldn’t I want to be a legend in two?” After getting to know him more, Avi realized that even though Dennis wasn't entirely serious, he wasn't entirely joking either. He was unapologetic about chasing greatness, and was never consumed by the fear of failure. Avi had the perfect way to describe it: “He was a freight train heading towards his goals.”

His second memory added more context to his first. While Dennis' hunger for success was apparent in the amount of work that he put in, Avi only realized the real source of his motivations later on. He spoke of a conversation they had at the TL Apartments, late into the night, where Dennis first narrated his many failed attempts at becoming a pro player. Avi hadn't known how long Dennis had already grinded to get where he was, and his daily schedule could only be described as overloaded. On top of that, he read books on business, psychology, and even Navy SEAL Training. Avi repeated what Dennis had told him, “He said, “I want to give my players the guidance I never had.””

Dennis' half-read books

Avi realized what motivated Dennis. It wasn't just fame, fortune, and fan girls. He was driven to make an impact on other people. Success made him proud, but impacting others' lives made him happy.

In his final memory, Avi affirmed the impact that Dennis had in his life. Avi was throwing a small get together for his birthday, and he invited Dennis on short notice a few hours before. Ever ready to party, Dennis showed up with a gift in hand: A book about how to become a good founder. It was a life goal of Avi's that Dennis had somehow remembered. A few weeks later, right before TwitchCon, Avi paid Dennis a visit with a book in return. It was a book on coaching, one that many traditional sports coaches cited as an inspiration. Dennis said thanks, and placed it on a stack of 10 other coaching books.

By the time they met at TwitchCon, Avi confided that he wasn't in a good place. “What's going on, man?” Dennis shouted in his German accent. They talked for a little bit, and promised each other to hang out soon.

A few days later, Avi received the last message he ever got from Dennis.

“Hey, I just want to let you know, I am really thankful for the book. I'm only half way through but it’s amazing, and it will definitely help shape me as a person in the future. I have a lot of books that I've bought and I'm reading, but I started with this one because of you and I appreciate that. I'm trying to get into a daily routine of reading a book at least an hour or two a day, but it's really hard but I know I'll get there.”

Avi revealed that he wasn't touched because Dennis liked the book. Instead, it was the fact that Dennis had taken time out of his busy schedule just to check up on him. Maybe, he even read the book just to have an excuse to say something positive, and to be able to show appreciation for their friendship.

“And that's the last thing I'll always remember about Dennis. He kinda seems like this larger than life esports figure. He was tall, talented, driven, hilarious, won a title in Korea. But he was always so humble and trying to cheer up other people around him. Whether it was strangers or friends, he always had time to console someone, to make a joke, to try and cheer people up even when he had so much else to do. I am so thankful to have known Dennis, and I will always remember him. Dennis, I love you brother. I hope you find peace on the other side.”

The heavy air that had permeated the chapel had lifted by the time the stories ended. Although the eyes of most still welled with sadness, there was a lightness in everyone's steps. At times, there was even laughter. The stone urn that had once felt like a crushing weight was now ready to move on.

Dennis’ mother Gisela held him in her arms and nodded to Jürgen and David in affirmation, as if to say, “I can do this.” In David’s hands were three red roses and a single white rose, and together with his mother, who carried Dennis as she once had as a baby, they walked out of the chapel before settling him inside a white hearse. Together, the congregation escorted Dennis to his final checkpoint.

The friends and family of Dennis

They passed the rolling hills, the peaceful greens, the solemn greys. Old trees lined the main avenues that wound their way to the meadows of memorial plots, providing shade on a cloudless day. In the distance, below a burgundy canopy, were rows of white chairs and wreaths of flowers, where the procession marched into.

The family was each given a white dove, which they held softly with both their hands. Jürgen raised his dove towards his face, paused for a second as if to make a wish, and gave it a kiss on the back for good luck on its journey. They threw their hands open one by one to release the doves, and behind them, a flock followed into the mountains of Los Angeles to disappear from sight.

After a moment of silence, David took Dennis’ urn in his hands. In front was an engraving, the silhouette of a man with his arms open and a line of birds above him in a curve. The first feathered creature was upright and almost human, while the final bird had it wings outstretched. It was the transformation of a man with open arms into a bird in full flight. David placed his brother into a white stone container, and left his rose inside with him. Their parents followed, taking a moment to be with their son a final time. Gisela turned to her former husband and patted him on the back to give him the strength to say goodbye, and once everyone was ready, the vault was sealed and Dennis returned to the earth. His friends said their farewells and a bouquet of flowers marked the spot where he lay to rest.

Little Winston stood watch till the very end.

Jürgen and Gisela preparing to say farewell

After the funeral, Dennis’ family and closest friends celebrated his life in the most Dennis way possible: By eating, drinking, and laughing in his honor. The restaurant was lit by white Christmas lights — it was December, after all — wrapped around wreaths, stretches of garland, and a large tree with peppermint ornaments. The festive scene belied the reason they had all gathered together, yet as the black formal attire loosened, so too did a little bit of the grief that they carried. They showed each other pictures of Dennis in ridiculous poses and terrible outfits, then shared stories of their misadventures all over the world. It was impossible not to smile, not to laugh, such was the joy with which Dennis lived. By the end of the night, when they shared hugs and well wishes, they were all Dennis’ family.

It was a different world in 2017. Dennis Hawelka lived in Santa Monica, on the west beach of Los Angeles, in a modest apartment, with expensive rent. He was just 30 years old at the time when he passed, but he lived an eventful life and fulfilled his dreams.

His family watched a man that was changing. Dennis Hawelka spoke to the crowd at Cologne as the captain of Team EnVyUs, then won APEX in Korea at the tail end of his playing career. He joined Team Liquid as their coach for what would have been their sixth year competing in the LCS. Germany never won an Overwatch World Cup, though.

For the Hawelkas, 2017 was a difficult year. On December 12th, a sunny Tuesday morning, they laid their third child, Dennis, to rest. The trip to Los Angeles, the funeral, and their journey there was filled with sadness, yet there was still something special in store for the family. They were finally able to see the life that Dennis had built, and met all the people whose lives he had changed. It was a busy day for his whole bigger family, and on that Tuesday in December, no one rested. Sure, the night may have ended a little earlier than Dennis would have wanted, and yet, it was good.

Dennis Hawelka


A few days later, Dennis gave his family a final surprise. During their last visit before leaving for Germany, a stag had wandered into the park at night and began gorging on Dennis’ flowers. Gisela lamented the ruined wreaths, but once the initial scare subsided, they were reminded of the coyote that had helped them choose Dennis’ resting place. Jürgen was certain that this was just how Dennis would have wanted it, and David agreed. They watched from a distance as the stag tried to finish its meal, far too big for a single deer, but there it was munching away, its tail wiggling in delight.

They shared that tender moment and took one last picture of Dennis in his beloved Los Angeles, now illuminated.

The Deer
One of Dennis's tattoos (a feather that transforms into birds).