There was every opportunity to give up, to let the frustration overcome him. He had come close twice to fulfilling his childhood dream, yet as the calendar turned over and over the door that he had pried open started creaking to a close.
Of course, he never saw that as an option. In 2015, Dennis was a 28 year-old with no meaningful bullets on his resume, and he was at an age that was considered ancient or far too old to begin his career as a professional player. Things changed in October when the Overwatch beta was released.
The Overwatch IP was the first new Blizzard Entertainment game in many years, and it had caught Dennis’ eye when it was announced at BlizzCon the year before. Though it had been 10 years since his peak in the FPS genre, it was another Blizzard game that he knew he had to play.
“It’s going to be a huge hit like every Blizzard game,” he told his brother David a few months after the game’s announcement, “And this time, I’m going to make it.” Even though there were scarcely any details about the game, Dennis was ready for what could have been his very last chance. Before he had even played the game, he had already chosen to become great. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone who had heard Dennis’ statement could have predicted how he would make it happen.
In the first week of the open beta, Dennis was one of 9,700,000 players to join the game. He experienced the rush of new love, and he even convinced his brother David to play on his account during the early beta. While Dennis was already a proficient player, his brother’s clumsy mechanics and German curse words over comms left Dennis’ friends and teammates scratching their heads. Once it was Dennis back behind the trigger, the shotcalling and celebrations resumed from the other side of their headsets.
Dennis had found a new passion to pursue, and he would pour hours into the beta in an attempt to git gud. In those early days, he played the mechanically intensive hero Genji, although it later became common knowledge that he was not very good at aiming or micro mechanics, despite his background in StarCraft II. Despite his poor choice of hero, Dennis wanted to form a team that could coordinate as a unit in the wastelands of the beta’s ladder. He made a post on Reddit looking for players for a competitive team, even though the game was still young. This post would bring together some of the most important names in Overwatch, although none of them knew it yet.
One of the first people to reach out to Dennis was Sebastian “Chipshajen” Widlund, a support player that would go on to do incredible things within the Overwatch scene. Chips stumbled upon a post made by Dennis on the Overwatch subreddit about forming a team, and he and a friend reached out about the opportunity. Ever the sociable ladder player, Dennis had, in fact, already added Chips to his friends list from high level soloQ, and they started scrimming soon after. They sought out other like-minded players, and Dennis used his ability to form rosters and scout talents to form one of early Overwatch’s most popular teams.
During its early iterations, the team was called HULKtastic, coined by Dennis on GosuGamers and named after their estimable leader. The new recruits started scrimming, and this group of potential players, 10 or 12 large, tried out for a spot on the team. After cuts were made, the original group included INTERNETHULK (Dennis’ new handle), chipshajen, and new recruits Harryhook and cocco. These four players clicked early on and ended up staying together for more than a year and more than a few roster changes. They had started a team that would soon make waves in the world of Overwatch.
While the rest of the Overwatch world had just begun to consider the game in a competitive capacity, Dennis was ready to grind. He pushed for full eight hour scrim days, a carry over of the intense work ethic that he had developed in his failed pursuits in other titles. HULKtastic took every opportunity to show their prowess, competing in many of the earliest beta tournaments.
Within just a few months, Dennis would land on radars of prominent community figures, and he began to make connections as he had always done. On November 29th, HULKtastic competed in the ESL partnered AlphaCast European Tournament. Just a month after the beta launched, Dennis found himself toe to toe with the largest esports organization in Europe: Fnatic.
They wiped the floor with Dennis’s ragtag roster and HULKtastic fell out of the tournament in 5th place. Despite their performance, Dennis couldn’t help but puff out his chest. He sent a message to Mitch “UberShouts” Leslie, one of the casters of the tournament, warning him to look out for HULK and the HULKtastics. One day, he told him, he would be one of the very best in Overwatch. His boast was a prophecy for his own performance, but also for the unsuspecting caster.
In February of 2016, the name HULKtastic was changed to IDDQD, named after an old Quake cheat code to unlock God mode. The quintet of Sebastian “chipshajen” Widlund, Jonathan “HarryHook” Tejedor, Christian “cocco” Jonsson, Timo “Taimou” Kettunen, and INTERNETHULK competed under this name for only two months, but in that time Dennis and his teammates demonstrated that they were one of the best teams in the beta, and that their stack of players was formed in a way that elevated what it meant to be a team. This grabbed the attention of Team EnVyUs, and the American organization signed IDDQD on April 23rd of 2016 to represent them in Overwatch. As everyone knows by now, they made history.
Object of EnVy
Unlike Dennis’ stint with Alien Invasion in StarCraft II, his enlistment with EnVyUs basically guaranteed that he would compete at the highest level. After over 10 years clawing his way from one rank to the next, from one game to the next, Dennis finally had his shot. The buildup leading up to the release of Overwatch was nearly deafening, and his voice was going to be heard.
His teammates on EnVyUs definitely heard his thick German accent in their heads as Dennis held the mantle of shotcaller on the team. He showed great versatility during this early phase of Overwatch, moving over to heroes with more supportive roles like Winston and Lucio. He adapted himself and his team to the predominant meta, and the team made it clear in online cups during the months of May and June that they were one of the teams to beat.
However, there was still a significant change that Dennis had to undertake. Up to this point, Dennis had lived his entire life in Germany within the Neuss area. Since EnVyUs’ Overwatch division represented North America, their base of operations was stateside. Dennis would have to uproot his entire life in order to pursue his goals.
While his family was very happy for him, they were understandably in disbelief. David was one of the first people to receive the news, and though he was excited for his younger brother, the sudden development blindsided him. For the first time in his life, he would no longer be able to drop in on Dennis, whether to pester him, talk Game of Thrones, or mooch off of his internet. The three boys had always found time to hang out with each other despite their busy lives, and it was a big step for the family to have someone move an entire ocean away.
Things set in for Jürgen when he saw the contract with his own eyes. As any parent would, he took to the internet and researched ‘esports’, Dennis’ new team, and anything else he could find about this new world his son was about to enter. He was blown away. Just as he was fascinated by the story of Mathias Rust all those years ago, fans of Overwatch were reading, watching, and following his son, INTERNETHULK. Finally, he understood what Dennis was working towards, and all of a sudden his son was putting pen to paper on a contract that would change his life.
After years of being critical of Dennis’ conviction, his immediate family now supported him wholeheartedly. Even though they knew that he had his own way of doing things, they were reassured by the fact that he had matured into a man that could be called a leader. Still, not everyone understood. His eldest brother Maik received countless calls from their grandmother asking about Dennis and how he was doing. She never quite understood that Dennis somehow made money playing computer games, and that he was doing quite well for himself since moving out of their home. Dennis appreciated the doting of his grandmother, even though he could hardly explain what he was doing.
On May 22, 2016, he was off to the United States. He flew from Germany to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, before making his way to the EnVy house in downtown Greensboro. They moved into a newer team house in Charlotte in June, and his new city was almost three times as big and five times as populous as his hometown, with big companies and large industries in the neighborhood. It was a big change, but one that he welcomed.
During this time of transition, the Hawelkas stayed in touch through Skype or Whatsapp, where he talked about the stark differences between Charlotte and Neuss. Dennis was especially proud of his new living situation, and he routinely sent photos of his view of skyscrapers and city lights, and the pool in the inner courtyard. He was especially proud that he was able to take over EnVyUs owner Mike "Hastr0" Rufail’s leather couch — after all, he was the oldest. He enjoyed North Carolina, but it was much less friendly to Dennis than his hometown. Back home, he would always see people out and about, the town in a constant buzz. In Charlotte, pedestrians became drivers and the streets were empty much earlier than he was used to.
Jürgen, Maik and David made sure to be available whenever Dennis wanted to talk, and they even began watching some of Dennis’ matches. The EnVy roster had their first test within days of Dennis’ arrival, and they placed 2nd in their first big cup from the team house — Alienware Monthly Melee: May. Of course, this wasn’t enough for Dennis, who picked apart their match while catching up with his father.
“We should have won, we made too many mistakes,” he complained on Skype. Their opponent during this particular final was Cloud 9, one of their early rivals. The team at the time included KyKy, Adam, Reaver, deBett, Surefour, and Grego, and Dennis — naturally — became friends with a few of them. EnVy had beaten everyone without dropping a single map loss up to the finals, but lost to Cloud 9. So, Dennis complained about the manner of their defeat, and his father listened.
This became a typical conversation between father and son, and Jürgen learned quite a bit about Overwatch through his son’s rants. This modern dad even learned how to use Twitter, Instagram, and Skype just to keep up with the game, and read GosuGamers to check up on the team’s progress. He called himself the “INTERNETHULK Field Office” since all of Dennis’ mail was still sent to Jürgen’s house, and learned more about gaming culture in his role as the supportive dad.
Jürgen watched him no matter when he played, regardless of timezone or opponent, often streamed on his phone. It was difficult to fend off sleep but he made certain to catch the finals for the most important tournaments. Dennis was frequently annoyed whenever they didn’t win, and during these early months, it meant a lot of ranting. It was difficult for Jürgen to talk to his son after a loss because of the frustration, even though he wanted to understand the game and analyze it with him. Fortunately, words of encouragement would come naturally as Team EnVyUs began to sweep aside teams in online cups leading up to three big online tournaments at the tail end of June: Alienware Monthly Melee: June, Operation Breakout, and OG Invitational.
They won them all, and then some. “The boys have found their flow,” Jürgen told himself while watching Dennis being interviewed on stream. That flow would become a deluge — between June 12, 2016 and August 21, 2016, EnVyUs would embark on a 57 consecutive win streak, one of the longest in esports history. It seemed unlikely after another defeat to Reunited, one of their other early rivals, in GosuGamers Overwatch Weekly EU #11, but then, they finally turned it on.
The team won 9 cups and online events in total while qualifying for every spot up for grabs in major tournaments. They won almost $40,000 in prizemoney during that 3 month timespan, easily eclipsing Dennis’ winnings from all his previous exploits.
With success came notoriety and, eventually, haters. On August 6th, INTERNETHULK was accused of cheating in a Reddit thread with video proof. The evidence was a suspicious flick of his crosshair on stream which accusers believed was an aimbot, one of the most prevalent types of hacks. While some were quick to cast judgment, the team backed Dennis’ innocence. Mike “hastr0” Rufail, owner and CEO of Team EnVyUs, publicly denounced the accusations and condemned all cheaters.
In a matter of days, the controversy was debunked when other players were able to recreate the suspicious movements and prove that it was, in fact, a bug. This was the first time that Dennis had ever faced backlash of this sort, and he remained calm throughout the short duration of his ‘scandal’. His only significant response was to find humor in the best insult lobbed at him during the fallout:
This was the first time that Dennis’ reputation would come into question, and the event taught him that there was a certain price to fame. Instead of responding negatively, he embraced the memes — even “no brain Winston main” which he had wanted to turn into a shirt. With each win his name and his character only grew bolder. Each successive victory filled him with greater belief that he was part of the best team in the world, and he longed for his family to see him in action in person. The opportunity arrived at the end of that same month, at Gamescom 2016 in Cologne, just 40 kilometers away from Neuss.
Dethroned in Cologne
ESL Overwatch Atlantic Showdown represented the very first time that Dennis would play a meaningful match in Germany, and it was Jürgen, Maik, and David’s first time to attend an esports event as well. Team EnVyUs was the hottest team in Overwatch and were tipped as title contenders on Dennis’ home soil, so it was a special opportunity for everyone involved.
As the family planned Dennis’ first week back in four months, the EnVyUs captain reminded them that he would be there as a competitor and warned them about his limited availability. They could tell that he was focused on his team’s performance above all else, even though he was excited to finally show his family the world that he had just begun to conquer. His welcoming party wanted to do everything in their power to make sure that their streak would continue.
Jürgen offered to pick up Dennis and his teammates from the airport and drive them to their hotel, if only to secure some guaranteed time with his boy and get a hug. In return, Dennis promised a visit in September to put his father’s mind at ease, on the condition that he could stay at his house for a week during his trip. Though it hadn’t been long since Dennis moved away, Jürgen already missed him dearly. “Stupid question, of course you can come to us.”
With another visit in line, Jürgen told his son not to sweat fitting too much into his schedule for Gamescom. That weekend, Jürgen re-lived the years of his sons’ childhood, when his garden was the meeting place for everyone in the neighborhood. This time, however, Dennis had guests over from Sweden, Spain, Finland, and the US. His number one goal was to make sure that Dennis and his friends had fun and didn’t have to worry about anything. Still, Dennis was nervous for his first tournament in his own country.
Dennis and his team arrived in Düsseldorf on August 18, and Jürgen was there at the airport waiting for them. After bringing his teammates to their hotel, Jürgen drove Dennis to Neuss for lunch with Jasmin, before driving him back to Cologne. Dennis and Jasmin had been in a relationship for eleven years before the he left for the United States, and they remained good friends even after the split. It was a back-and-forth day for Jürgen, but it was worth it. Dennis was worried that he was taking too much of Jürgen’s time, but his answer was simple, “No problem, for you I play Uber.”
Two days later, the festivities began. EnVy won their first match and Dennis had the pleasure of giving the post game interview on stage. He stood tall and proud while responding eloquently in front of the flashing lights. He was effusive as ever, shouting to the crowd, “It’s nice, man, to play in front of the German... was geht ab, Köln [what’s up, Cologne]? Yeah!” It was an incredible moment for Dennis to perform in front of his peers, and it was a beautiful moment for Jürgen, too, to see his son up there. Dennis had struggled and searched for purpose for so much of his life, and he was finally finding fulfillment.
David and Maik were there in attendance, and they managed to meet up with Dennis in the middle of the event, even with his busy schedule. Just like old times, he called his brothers over, but instead of a round of games, he snuck them backstage to the practice area to show how his team was preparing. Once there, it was as if he had flicked an internal switch as he shifted into work mode. This was Dennis in his stride, and he wasn’t just a big kid trolling his brothers in game anymore. He was a professional worthy of the name, and his brothers developed a deeper appreciation and pride for their little brother that day.
Alas, Dennis’ potential fairytale homecoming was cut short in the semi finals against Rogue. The two teams swapped maps back and forth until the decider on Lijiang Tower, where they once again went the distance. In the end, Rogue advanced, dashing Dennis’ hopes of winning a title on his home court. Watching from the audience, David felt that maybe he had robbed his brother of his luck. It was the first time that he had ever had the opportunity to watch him live, and it resulted in a bitter loss. Ironically, David won a Funko POP Winston action figure in a giveaway at the event — scant consolation for the weekend and a symbol of Dennis’ signature champion.
In an interview with Proverwatch.gg, Dennis shared his thoughts on the loss: “We actually took it pretty well. Everybody was sad and frustrated, because we should have won, but we all know why we didn’t win. We know the reasons… All those little things help, but it’s a shitty feeling nevertheless.”
The next day, Dennis hopped on a plane back to home base, even though part of his mind was still in Germany. Not only because of the visit that he had promised his father, but also the Overwatch World Cup that was about to start its qualifiers. Upon returning to Charlotte, he looked up flights for his family visit in September. His plan was to arrive on the 1st and tour Rome for three days before spending the rest of his time in Germany. Planning it became difficult in between scrims and online events.
On one particularly busy day, while preparing for the qualifiers of Overwatch Open, Dennis texted his father, “I’m busy.” The latter was waiting for more details about Dennis’ upcoming trip, but Jürgen knew that he had to work around his son’s schedule. He replied, “Thanks for the info, my boy. I don’t need more than that. You know I’m worrying about how you’re doing, especially because the others already tweeted. Until tomorrow.”
Half an hour later, Dennis replied: “And thanks for everything. Without you, I’d be doomed.” For Jürgen, it was a father’s duty to help his son, and a father’s joy to watch him grow up. “Bullshit. But still, a bit of learning for everyday life would do you good. *smile*” Dennis could only laugh in response.
In the first week of September, Dennis returned to Germany as he had promised, but once again his mind was preoccupied. The Overwatch World Cup was on the horizon, and Dennis had the opportunity to wear his nation’s flag in international competition. It was a great honor for him and he took it upon himself to lead Team Germany to World Cup glory in Overwatch, just as the country had claimed its first FIFA World Cup in 24 years in 2014.
Jürgen, who sometimes had a mischievous side of his own, wanted to make fun of Dennis by sharing a snippet from one of his old report cards. It wasn’t exactly a glowing recommendation: “It was still difficult for D. to get along with his comrades in a harmonious way and to focus his attention on the subject of the classes. Except for maths lessons, he lacked a serious way of working both in school and at home, which lead to more negligent results.”
The father thought he had finally gotten the best of his son, and expected a reply along the lines of “I did better than that!” or “That was a bad time.” Instead, the captain of Team Germany, which had just qualified for BlizzCon, proudly tweeted it to all of his teammates, adding, “Germany is in good hands!” Even when Jürgen found a way to joke at Dennis’s expense, his son found a way to spin it in his favor.
In his week there, Dennis stayed at David’s from Monday to Wednesday, practicing with his German teammates online. Even though he was technically on vacation, it was a matter of duty that he should prepare to represent his country. It was only after training on Wednesday that he had free time, and he spent the evening out with friends in Neuss before coming home for a stay. That Thursday was long and unremarkable in the best way possible for father and son, who finally had time to be themselves. The next morning, as quickly as he had arrived, he was off to the airport again.
As soon as he landed, Dennis and the rest of Team EnVyUs began their training for what was then the biggest Overwatch tournament in history: the Overwatch Open. The ELEAGUE produced event held an enormous $300,000 prize pool and was considered the UEFA Champions League of western Overwatch. North America and Europe sent their 8 best teams to determine a single unified champion in Atlanta, Georgia’s ELEAGUE Arena.
On the back of disappointment, EnVyUs routed every other North American challenger in one-sided games. Splyce, Liquid, Cloud 9 and Fnatic all fell as Team EnVyUs stomped their way to the finals. It was an opportunity to claim the title they had narrowly missed at Gamescom, but it was not to be. Misfits, the European representative, consigned EnVyUs to the consolation prize. It was the second time in as many months that EnVyUs would have to accept that they were not the best team in the world.
Although ultimately short of what they had set out to accomplish, it was still one step closer to their goal. The team was still considered one of the best squads in Overwatch, yet fans began to question their ability to perform on the grandest of stages. Their landmark winning streak from just a month and a half prior was all too quickly forgotten in the wake of their defeats. Dennis in particular was deeply affected, yet he would have no time to sulk as they were soon on the move once again.
The next stop on their world tour was a place that was at once both familiar and foreign: South Korea, the mecca of esports. Through his time in StarCraft and League of Legends, Dennis had developed a fascination with the country that had the best players in the world — at least, in those games. As soon as he touched down, the first text he was able to read was from his father, “Post a picture of you, or your accommodations!” Instead, Dennis showed him endless picture of KBBQ which he had grown to love.
Team EnVyUs, along with NRG eSports, REUNITED, and Rogue, was invited to compete in APEX Season 1, the first tournament in which top Korean teams could compete against the best of the west. At last, the Overwatch world would find out how the South Koreans stacked up against the world. The predominant question heading into the season: Would the home teams dominate once again? The prognosis, at least according to fans, was in Korea’s favor.
History was also on their side. In 15 years of Korean esports team league history, dating back to the very first incarnations of StarCraft: Brood War’s ProLeague, no “foreigner” team (a team with a significantly non-Korean roster) had ever won a league on South Korean soil. In fact, none had ever done well. From AMD Dream Team in 2003 to Evil Geniuses-Team Liquid in 2013, none had ever come close. APEX Season 1, with 4 of top “foreign” teams in the 16 team field, offered another chance.
Like many esports fans around the world, Dennis was fascinated by Korea, and in many ways he revered the esports culture that had blossomed there for over a decade. He embraced the opportunity to finally visit, and to say that he was excited was an understatement. He would be competing in the heart of esports, while he had a new city to explore and a new people to get to know.
Settling into Seoul became much easier for everyone because of long-time OGN crew Erik “DoA” Lonnquist, Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles, and Susie “lilsusie” Kim, who made it a point to give the foreign APEX participants a warm welcome. They took each team out to dinner one by one, and Dennis, who respected their long history in esports, thought that this was his chance to make an impression. Korea gave him a whole new section of the community to experience and explore — and he was going to make the most of it.
Though a fish out of water, Dennis’s excitement was apparent to Monte, Susie, and Doa. As that first night carried on, Monte noticed the German’s talkative nature. Though the two chatted briefly online in the lead up to APEX, nothing could have prepared Monte for the whirlwind that was Dennis. He had reviewed his Overwatch career in preparation for his color commentary but was surprised to learn the depth of his history in gaming.
Their careers had more than a few similarities. They discovered esports early on before making their first breakthroughs in StarCraft II. They became enamored with the world of Korean esports during this era, and eventually switched to League of Legends. Finally, both men found their calling in Overwatch, where they saw a long road ahead. The player and the caster talked like old colleagues that evening, sharing their attachment to StarCraft, their experiences and excitement about being a westerner in Korea, and their love of all things esports. Monte had been living and working in Korea for over 3 years when they met, and even though their careers were at very different points, Monte was only a year older.
During that evening, Dennis felt a growing sense of purpose for his sojourn in Korea. Without prompt, he offered his new friend his prediction for the season. “I’m going to win APEX Season 1,” he claimed with his usual bravado. Though he understood that history and public belief stood against him, this tournament would not see the day that he admitted the odds.
This declaration surprised Monte, not least because of its unlikelihood. “You’re full of shit,” Monte retorted in good humor, “You’re not winning APEX. There’s no way your going to win a Korean tournament.” That no one believed him was par for course for Dennis, but this time, he swore it was going to be different. Dennis requested a special prize from Monte should his prophecy come true: a parody song in his honor.
On October 14th, 2016, INTERNETHULK and Team EnVyUs played their first competitive match in a Korean tournament. Their first opponent was Mighty Storm, arguably one of the weaker teams in the pool at that time. EnVyUs mopped the floor with the team and earned a quick 3-0 to end the day on a high. First game, first win. Their fellow invitees found success early on as well, suggesting that this would not be a Korean blowout after all.
After just a week of games, EnVyUs’ group stage was done. Another win against CONBOX T6 was enough to get them through as runners up in their group despite a defeat at the hands of Lunatic-Hai. Their significant achievement of reaching the playoffs was dwarfed, however, by both Rogue and REUNITED who eventually won their groups outright. With 3 foreign teams in the playoffs, it was now clear that the derby between ‘foreigners’ and Koreans was going to be closer than fans had anticipated.
The season took a two week break between the months of October and November for BlizzCon 2016, the yearly celebration of all things Blizzard. The event would also host the final bracket of the Overwatch World Cup, which represented a nice change of pace for players and fans alike.
Though Dennis and Team Germany had already been knocked out during the preliminary group stages played online, he still attended the event for some time away from the grind. While he wouldn’t be able to experience his first official cap for Germany in front of a live audience, this was his first BlizzCon, and he jetted across the Pacific with the eagerness of a child on the way to a toy store.
Dennis had always had a soft spot for Blizzard games — from StarCraft to Diablo, and now Overwatch — and it was a welcome respite to attend a festival that celebrated his world. Being around new people brought out a special glow in Dennis, and if he wasn’t out making friends or trying to meet girls, he was there enjoying the ‘con experience’. He attended all of the panels and watched most of the games, even paying a visit to the StarCraft stage which he thought was “soooo cooool!” He got to hang out with old buds and new pals, especially the boys from Thailand. Germany had been ousted in the group stages, so it was a refreshing week for Dennis to just enjoy the event without the pressure of competition.
He loved it. The whole experience. From the anticipation right before walking into the Anaheim Convention Center doors for the first time, to being stopped every few minutes for a photo and a chat with fans, to coming home to his hotel room exhausted. This was his very first BlizzCon, and he swore to return every year to celebrate the world that he was helping to create.
On the final day of BlizzCon, he watched as Korea dominated Russia in the Overwatch World Cup grand finals. The Koreans proved that they were clearly the strongest nation in the game with a combined 14-0 score in maps across the tournament. No one came close. It reminded Dennis of the task at hand back in Seoul, and he hopped onto his return flight a few days later more determined than when he had left for his break.
Back in Seoul, the team had the luxury of watching the remaining group stage matches while they practiced. EnVyUs was one of the first teams to qualify for the playoffs, which offered the advantage of extra preparation time. Instead of making strides in training, their season was almost derailed by the sudden departure of Ronnie "Talespin" DuPree. Just days before their scheduled bout in the round of eight, their DPS player decided to officially step down from the team.
The forecast for EnVyUs suddenly went from modest to remote. With no DPS player and less than a week to find a replacement, EnVyUs had it all to do just to arrive in the studio with a complete roster. Fortunately, Dennis’ penchant for making connections would pay dividends. He had made more than a few friends with the various Overwatch World Cup squads at BlizzCon, but he had developed a certain fondness for the Thai players there. One player in particular intrigued him.
Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod was hanging out with teammate Ubon "oPuTo" Dara at the event, who Dennis had known previously. Within one conversation, Dennis knew that Mickie was something special, and they exchanged Skype contact information to keep in touch. Little did Mickie know that he would hear from INTERNETHULK sooner rather than later.
Within two weeks of meeting, Dennis asked Mickie to stand-in for Team EnVyUs. Even though it was a temporary offer, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for Mickie to play for one of the biggest teams in Overwatch. He said yes without hesitation, and once his visa was approved, Mickie was off to Korea. It was a whirlwind week for the fledgling player, who wasn’t even a DPS main.
Dennis knew that he’d either be seen as an idiot or a genius for this move, not only by their fans, but by his teammates as well. Mickie was entirely his recommendation, and the decision to bring in an untested players from an unknown region who didn’t even replace their position of need seemed destined for failure. The team had days to figure out their new roles, their new teammate, and their new strategies. Even under ideal circumstances this was more than just a stand-in situation. Regardless of who they were set to face, the team was going to be considered limping underdogs.
During the live playoff draw, EnVyUs fans bit their lips in anticipation — who would be our mountain to climb? The first to pick was Lunatic-Hai, and they chose KongDoo Uncia as their opponent on the bottom side of the bracket. In response, BK Stars selected LW Blue and a spot on the opposite side of the playoffs. With the top two Korean teams out of the picture, that left EnVyUs with a revenge match regardless of who would have them as their opponents. Rogue, the team that had felled EnVyUs in Cologne, chose the Monday match slot, and Team EnVyUs as their foes. The Group A winners declined to face AF Blue, a team that they had 3-0’d in the group stage, believing that they had instead chosen an opponent that was at their weakest. By choosing the latest playoff schedule, however, they had gifted EnVyUs an extra weekend to practice and figure things out.
That would be the nail in Rogue’s coffin, and they had chosen it themselves. Instead of disaster, Team EnVyUs rallied for revenge, in no small part due to their new recruit. Micke stole the show with his play on D.Va, consistently baiting Rogue into his self destructing landmine in waiting. More than just a barrier, Mickie provided an emotional boost to the team that had sometimes seemed too aloof in the booth. With each map win, the cameras panned to Team EnVyUs to find Micke radiating with excitement and belief. It was his first time on a stage such as this.
The two teams traded maps. Ilios, then King’s Row, then Hanamura, and onto Gibraltar. The series tied at two apiece, that semi final would be determined on Eichenwalde. Rogue had already denied Dennis on home soil in Cologne, and there was no way that Dennis was losing again — this time, on his home map. Rogue began on Assault and managed to claim the first objective, only to grind to a halt a few blocks from the first checkpoint. Unable to push to the first checkpoint, Rogue would have to rely on their own defense. Instead, EnVyUs blew right past their walls, reaching checkpoint A in under 3 minutes in order to seal the map, 3-2. According to Dennis in their post match interview, “revenge felt really good,” even though he was confident heading into the series.
Dennis’ newest discovery, Mickie, proved to be quite the difference maker, and by the end of that fateful week, their honeymoon period was once again put to the test, this time against KongDoo Uncia in the semifinals. It was an equally close affair with the series going the distance, with Eichenwalde again as the rubber map. EnVyUs’ stalwart defense starred in a repeat of their victory against Rogue.
At the time, each step seemed as unlikely as the last, but everyone in the EnVyUs camp was filled with belief. In the pre-finals trailer, Dennis was frank in his assessment of their opponents, “I think Afreeca Blue is a really good team, but they still have some learning to do in terms of team play.” According to the EnVyUs team captain, Afreeca was a worse team than either of their previous opponents, and he stopped short of predicting a more comfortable scoreline. He and his team had prepared for the occasion, and the finals, in Dennis’ own words, “[was] everything.”
With great excitement, fans filled the KINTEX Arena in order to watch who would be crowned the inaugural APEX Champions. The packed house was clearly behind Afreeca Blue, although there was still a spattering of nV signs in the crowd. The allegiances in the crowd became clear when thundersticks and cheerfuls rose to attention for the opening ceremony, which included a fusion pose from the English voices of the final, DoA and MonteCristo. As the stage ignited, both teams stood on the grand final stage as equals.
Dennis took a few seconds to absorb this instant in time. He had fantasized about this moment for years, built on the images of past OGN broadcasts of Starleague and LCK finals. It was both unbelievable and expected — as he had promised MonteCristo months before — and for a few seconds he was alone with his thoughts amidst pyrotechnics and applause. It was a minute that he could live in forever, but they were soon ushered into their respective booths as the players received their introductions and the pre-finals reel played once more. Everyone at home and in the crowd was reminded of his confident appraisal, and for the first time in the playoffs, they were, according to DoA, “the overdogs.” MonteCristo agreed.
Dennis’ pre-match assessment ended up being justified; EnVyUs took control of the series on on the first map, Nepal, and never let go. Hollywood, too, went in their favor, and Afreeca Freecs desperately needed a point to get back into the series. The Blues showed some life on Volskaya, matching EnVyUs at every turn, but it was short lived as the international team outlasted the hometown favorites again. The close loss sent Afreeca into a 0-3 hole, and it would prove to be a knock that they could not recover from. EnVyUs completed the sweep on Watchpoint: Gibraltar with a leisurely stroll to the first checkpoint. The EnVyUs players lept out of their chairs in celebration and filed out for their coronation ceremony. The seats had barely begun to warm, and the final was over.
There were no more questions to be asked of EnVyUs; they were clearly better on the day, and though the maps were close, the Western team cleared the finish line barely breaking a sweat. Dennis was right about the match, right about Mickie, and right about his chances of winning the tournament. EnVyUs, with Dennis at the helm, had traveled over 5,000 miles with everything to prove, and they did it. Korea’s team league iron curtain had fallen. Thank you, Mr. Hawelka.
The Rise and Fall
“I watched OGN since the days of StarCraft and LoL,” confessed Dennis in their winners interview, “It feels amazing to win in the best esports market as a foreigner. There were lots of bumps in the road to this victory, but I'm glad we eventually won.”
It was a proud moment for the team, and everyone was visibly beaming as they wrapped up the tournament with their final words. After a whirlwind season that came close to derailing, EnVyUs had proven that they were one of the best teams in the world, making history along the way. Dennis wanted more, and he ended the interview with a clear message: “If possible, I want to come back.”
Season 2 of APEX would not begin until the middle of January 2017, and the next international event was not for another two weeks. It was a relief for the team to finally have time to relax, and moreover, to celebrate what they had just accomplished. Dennis took this opportunity to explore Seoul and all it had to offer, leading to late nights out with new friends eating yukhoe and drinking soju, and the unleashing of the hedonist inside him. He made lifelong friends during his stay in Korea, and in many ways the city of Seoul felt like a spiritual home for him.
During their break, the team decided to postpone scrimming until their next event in two weeks. While other teams may have dived straight back into the game, it was a good opportunity to refocus and enjoy the perks of their profession. There were certainly fears that the team would arrive in Nevada a little rusty — or worse, complacent — but the APEX champions understood that there was still more to be won.
It was during this time that Dennis began thinking about his future beyond APEX Season 2. His success in building a roster and identifying talent suggested that he had potential as a team’s head coach, but the competitor in him urged him to continue playing. On one of their many nights out, Monte was one of the first people to intimate this opinion to Dennis, in a blunt manner that he could appreciate, “You're not gonna be a top five Lucio player in the world forever, but I think you could be a top five coach.”
Despite receiving the suggestion with his usual cackle, it was true that he had always enjoyed this side of leadership. Monte pointed out, “You’re an older guy and you know what it’s like to be a pro gamer now. You have that credibility, and I think you should transition into this role.”
As defending champions of APEX, it seemed a bit premature for Dennis to consider the move, but it was clear that his career to this point had been telegraphing his inclination for coaching. With another tournament on the horizon, he shelved those thoughts for a more introspective time.
They arrived in Las Vegas for MLG as the favorites, and it was an encore performance worthy of the two week intermission. After dropping 1 map against compLexity, they rallied eleven consecutive wins straight to the podium, with EnVyUs at the top of a dismembered pile of foes. In a way, the tournament was a disappointment for fans, as sweeps often seem to be. In contrast to their APEX season fraught with close calls, MLG Las Vegas was a celebratory cake walk. As featured on HyperX Open Mic, the team’s comms were dominated by Dennis saying, “Good job, guys,” over and over again, such was the ease of their wins. As soon as the curtains fell, EnVyUs signed Mickie to a proper contract, and the team ended 2016 on a high. At least for now, they were the best team in Overwatch.
2016 was a good year for Dennis, and he explained on Team EnVyUs’ YouTube channel just what it meant to him. “Essentially I went from not having any job,” he shared, “and trying full time to become a pro in Overwatch, now being here in America, having all these great opportunities going to events, meeting fans, and having people literally care about you who have never met you, just because they admire you or they like the organization or like the team. That’s just crazy, definitely.”
“Finally winning championships is like the best feeling in the world, really.”
The calendar turned over and in January of 2017, APEX returned for its second season. There was barely a month in between their last tournament and their return to Korea, and EnVyUs would soon have to adjust to a new patch along with a new format. The patch was called ‘the death of the tank meta’, and analysts and pundits predicted ill effects for EnVyUs’ playstyle. Their title defense would have to come through different means, and the two group stages added a greater variety of potential opponents.
EnVyUs entered APEX Season 2 with heavy expectations. On top of being reigning champions, they were the only returning Western team from Season 1. They were now joined by first-timers Cloud 9, Fnatic, and Misfits, and by the end of group stage 1, it was clear that they alone carried the Western banner. The Korean dominance that many had expected in Season 1 finally transpired in early 2017; Cloud 9, Fnatic and Misfits all placed 3rd in their respective groups to get knocked out at the first hurdle.
Only EnVyUs survived the cull, but it was clear that their Korean counterparts had strengthened during the offseason while the West stagnated with the new patch. Despite navigating to safety, it was clear that the team was not in their championship form — and that they were vulnerable. The following week, Korean fans experienced a return to normalcy when the last Western team was eliminated. Lunatic-Hai and KongDoo Uncia, familiar foes from the previous season, bested EnVyUs to end their season. With that, the APEX throne was abdicated, and one of four Korean teams would claim the title. It was an unceremonious end to EnVyUs’ title defense, yet something greater ailed the former champions. Dennis continued to visit the OGN studio for each match day, in part to learn and in part to grieve.
Though he regretted the loss deeply, it gave Dennis more time to explore Korea. Over the past two seasons of APEX, Dennis had grown closer to the ‘foreigners in Korea’ nearer his age — namely Monte, Susie, and DoA. Each of them was either on their way to their 30s or already well within, and Dennis identified with them as he approached his impending birthday later that month. He and DoA shared the same date, and he wanted to celebrate in Korea, so they planned a joint party for his big three-zero on March 22nd. It had been two weeks since they bowed out of APEX, and it was finally time to let loose and forget the troubles of Team EnVyUs for an evening. Dennis chose Hongdae, a University party area, for his birthday destination, and it became a night that his friends still remember — most of it, anyway.
In between rounds of barchow and blowjob shots, Dennis leapt from one conversation to the next and savored the gathering of his friends in Korea. His 30th birthday party represented everything that he lived for: He was out with his friends networking, partying, meeting new people, and trying everything that he could in Korea.
Two days later, Dennis had work done on his arm for his first big tattoo: A single feather with birds breaking away from it. He had developed an interest in Native American culture and myths, and his first tattoo symbolized the battles that he had already won. He often spoke with his father about his plans for future tattoos, explaining how the spirits of the animals represented various qualities, such as strength, courage, and honesty.
He was finally living his dream, and nothing could stop him from living it. There were times when his gregarious nature affected his practice, not least when his friends and teammates needed him, but it was also part of what made him such a powerful motivator. He loved to compete, but he also cherished every part of the esports lifestyle — and he wanted it all. And just when he thought he had everything, he lost the biggest part.
A month later, on April 22 2017, Team EnVyUs announced the departure of INTERNETHULK. A year after joining with the team that he founded and 4 months after conquering Korea, Dennis became teamless. Despite a reputation as one of the game’s great leaders, Dennis’ flaws had affected the team throughout APEX Season 2, and the two parties mutually decided not to renew his expiring contract.
In many ways, it was a difference in perspective that led to a clash in priorities. Dennis placed a lot of importance in the emotional well-being of the team, at times even sacrificing his own practice. When their results suffered, it made it even more difficult to make strides in areas outside of the game. Everyone acknowledged that there was an internal crisis within the team, yet opinions were split on how to find a solution.
The fact that Dennis had personal difficulties during that time complicated matters even further. His own personal issues weighed heavily upon him, and he brought that distracted mind with him into practice. He labored to shut out his life during their scrims, and though he still performed during their games, their preparations suffered for it. As a result, Dennis struggled to adapt to playing in a Lucio-centric meta, and the team decided that they wanted HarryHook to move from DPS to Lucio — and there was no way that Dennis would move to DPS.
Although everyone on the team recognized him as the leader that steered them to greatness, it was still clear that the team needed a change. Even though he provided much in terms of support, coaching, and motivation, Dennis’ difference in approach and regressing effectiveness became too difficult to ignore, and the decision was made. He was out of Team EnVyUs and his career as a player was over.
“You’re an old man and you can’t aim,” John ‘Meep’ Nguyen once told Dennis, “You can’t be a player forever.”
Dennis experienced first hand how quickly fortunes could change. It had only been four months since he was at the very top of the Overwatch world, lauded as an iconic team captain who had helped make history. On the outside, it seemed harsh that he was let go after a single unsuccessful tournament, but Dennis eventually cast aside the regrets he carried about how his playing career had ended abruptly.
It was not until he had spent a few months as a coach that he understood why it was the right decision for the team. He intimated to his close friend, Avi Bhuiyan, that while he saw immense potential in the squad as it was, he lamented that he did not have the wisdom and leadership to provide the guidance the team needed at the time. At times he showed the wherewithal to balance his team’s mental and emotional needs with his own, but in the end the additional responsibilities of a professional player tore into him. For a man so intent on being right, he was keenly aware of when he was wrong, and he told Avi that he wanted to be “the leader that I needed as a player.”
Never the kind to sit idly by, his transition from player to coach lasted but a few hours. Dennis did not spend very long in unemployment when it was announced that he had begun trialing as the head coach for several teams, starting with Laser Kittenz. It was clear that Laser Kittenz would provide Dennis with a venue to start honing his new craft as he searched for better opportunities, but few could have expected the name that would come knocking at his door.
After just three days as a coach, Dennis took another step and joined a high profile team that had previously played his antagonist: Rogue. Once upon a time, the bandit in blue was his nemesis; the team that had denied him a trophy in front of his family. In an interesting twist, Rogue had just beaten a Hulk-less EnVyUs in Overwatch Rumble, and a return to Korea was also on the cards. Rogue had been invited for the third season of APEX, the final season with foreign teams, and Dennis had plans should he meet his former team. In an interview with DotEsports, he laid out a clear challenge, “If Rogue meets EnVyUs in OGN, I will make sure Rogue does not drop a map.”
In the same interview, Dennis shed a little more light on his situation with EnVyUs. “Building [EnVyUs] and winning without a coach for so long underlines my ability as a coach,” INTERNETHULK said. “I was functioning as a coach in some ways more than others, which also made me less of a player and maybe even lead to what happened to me after we picked up another coach—or a real coach that was actually not a player on the team.”
Though he was first announced as a trial analyst, he would soon be recognized as their interim coach. The French squad welcomed Dennis’ experience and hoped it would propel them beyond their Season 1 placement, and they flew to Korea at the start of May in order to prepare for the tournament. With barely any time to integrate himself into his new team, Dennis was tasked with taking down the most difficult group in the round of 16. Expectations were modest; Season 2 champions Lunatic-Hai and fellow contender KongDoo Panthera were arguably the favorites in Group A.
The result was close but ultimately disappointing. Lunatic-Hai cleared the round robin group with barely a blemish, while KongDoo Panthera, Rogue, and Mighty AOD traded wins to all tie at 1 win and 2 losses apiece. While Rogue and Mighty AOD had tied in map score (-3), KongDoo Panthera had done just enough to break even and earn their survival. For a second season in a row, Dennis would have to go home empty handed, and their stay in Korea lasted barely 2 weeks.
Despite a less than favorable result, Dennis had acquitted himself well as the team’s coach. He required more time — to grow into the role and to mold the team — and a system that would support his longer term approach to team building. After all, Team HULKTASTIC was not built in a day.
Over what remained of the month of May, Dennis was courted by a variety of teams who believed in his capacity as a head coach. Due to his flexible arrangement with Rogue, Dennis had the luxury of spending time with each team and each offer before making a decision. He had made many connections during his years in various gaming communities, and his networking skills were put to good use during his search for a permanent stint.
By the end of May, he had received an offer that he was close to accepting, but wanted to hear from one team in particular before making a decision. One of the first communities that he embraced and that had helped commence his fondness for Korea was that of StarCraft II. The website that he had once frequented as a streamer had become one of the biggest esports teams in the world, and they had a highly rated but underperforming Overwatch team.
A single phone call made the difference. Dennis and Team Liquid’s founder and co-CEO Victor Goossens spoke for an hour, and by the end of their conversation they knew that that they needed each other. Never one for spontaneous decisions when it came to his team, Victor felt an immediate connection with Dennis and his philosophies on life, coaching, and how to create a culture of success. In return, Dennis’ lifelong admiration for Team Liquid now extended to the man that would soon become his boss.
It was during this time that he stamped himself with another tattoo: A large tree with the same birds from his feather. The tree — likely a birch or a cedar — expressed rebirth and cleansing, a fitting choice for what was about to come.
A New Home
On June 2 2017, Team Liquid announced that Dennis had joined the organization as their new Overwatch coach. In his welcoming video, Dennis shared what he must have told Victor in their fateful exchange.
“I believe in this: if you’re mechanically gifted, you can become a really good player; if you’re mechanically gifted and you’re also smart, you can become a great player; if you’re mechanically gifted, you’re smart, and you have fire, you have desire to win, you can become one of the best players ever.”
Dennis effused about the importance of team culture and a positive working environment, adding, “If you have a really good team culture you get a really happy team. If you can make sure there’s no toxicity and everyone understands what the goal is and everyone is on the same page then I feel like we can all work really hard and really well together.”
From the day of his signing, there would be two weeks before Overwatch Contenders Season 0, one of the most important tournaments of that calendar year. With Overwatch League looming, Contenders was a proving ground for organizations, teams and players that would act as a precursor for the league. With only one invited team and open qualifiers for the remaining 15 spots, Dennis had quite a first task in his debut as the team’s head coach.
Where some would have insisted on cramming their system or establishing a particular playstyle, Dennis took a more thoughtful approach. For the first week of his tenure, all he did was observe — no feedback, no criticism, no opinions. It was a huge risk to take considering the stakes involved in the open qualifier bracket, but this team was different from those that he had coached before. His new cast of players included legends in other games, most notably Shane “rapha” Hendrixson, one of the greatest Quake players of all time. It was clear to Dennis that the team already possessed experience and skill, and there was nothing to change in the day leading up to the qualifiers. Instead, he took down notes and tried to understand the different dynamics within the team and its players from comms to skill interaction. And for the qualifiers, all he could do was believe.
On the first day of Contenders qualifiers, Dennis watched from the sidelines as his new team reached the round of 16, only to lose with qualification within their reach. Although there were no second chances on the day due to the single elimination bracket, a second day of qualifiers, with a more forgiving format, offered one last road into the tournament. Scares were many, but in the end his faith was repaid as Team Liquid scrapped into the tournament in the very last qualifying spot.
With a place in the tournament secured, Dennis finally had an opportunity to make a difference. He flew out to San Jose to meet his new charges, bootcamp with the team, and prepare for the inaugural season. During this time, he was also busy scouting for new talent to bolster the squad, and just before the season opener, Team Liquid signed Kim “Fury” Jun-Ho upon their head coach’s recommendation.
Dennis saw great potential in the 17 year old Korean, and Fury in turn showed great courage in moving to the US to follow his dreams. In many ways he reminded Dennis of Mickie, not least in their shared affinity for D.Va. The transition was much harder for Fury, however, and Dennis was very protective of his new recruit. He took it upon himself to make sure that Fury was as comfortable as possible so far from home, especially since he was the youngest player on the team. Though Fury would not reach the same heights as Mickie under Dennis’ guidance, he would eventually become an Overwatch League winner as a part of the London Spitfire.
For Contenders Season 0, Fury would have to sit as a substitute as he integrated himself into the team. He was a long term project for Dennis, and the coach understood that mental and emotional adjustments were far more important than tournament experience. After barely squeezing into Season 0, Team Liquid was not even considered a favorite to win, so Dennis began planning for the future.
In a surprising turnaround, Team Liquid shed their reputation as an underperforming team by making it to the finals. The boot camp had worked. The talented squad benefited from Dennis’ fresh pair of eyes, and their play visibly improved as the two week tournament wore on. It was a remarkable achievement for Dennis to get his team on the same page in such a short period of time, and even the more senior players bought in to his ‘big brother’ persona.
According to his new team, Dennis “was very easy to respect as someone in a leadership position,” due to a combination of his history as a competitor and his visible drive. After his first week doing nothing but observing the team, his next step was to get to know each player by sharing more of himself. His players described him as “open, honest, and genuine,” and these traits allowed him to gain their trust as a friend and as a mentor. His sensitivity to personal differences, through his ‘listen first, talk (and talk and talk) later’ approach, provided a platform for solving ingrained barriers within the team. He was a unifying force with his own motto: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” For Dennis, there would be no shortcuts.
After close to a year on the road, Dennis returned home for Gamescom 2017 in order to enjoy the event as a spectator and visit his family for some time off. The event was a non-stop party for Dennis, and he made a few good friends while there, as was his habit wherever he went. His other habit, of being perpetually late, almost cost him some precious time with his mother Gisela. They had planned to meet near the airport over two hours before Dennis’ flight from Düsseldorf to LA, but a traffic jam cut their time down to twenty minutes. Gisela waited over two hours for her son, and they barely had enough time to say their hellos and farewells before Dennis returned to his job in LA.
Unfortunately, Dennis’ road reached an unexpected cul de sac; Contenders Season 0 would be Team Liquid’s final tournament in Overwatch. With excitement building for Overwatch League and franchise spots gradually being announced, Team Liquid and its ownership group, aXiomatic, had to decide whether to pursue a larger investment into Overwatch League’s first season. Doubts about Team Liquid’s involvement arose when it was announced in August that Team Liquid had sold their spot in Contenders Season 1 to EnVision eSports. The following month, the team revealed the fate of its team: disbandment. Four of the team’s players had decided to return to their original games; MESR retired to become a coach; and shadder2k and Fury were released from their contracts. Ultimately, Team Liquid decided not to become a part of Overwatch League.
Despite the support of a renowned group of investors, Team Liquid decided to invest in other ventures — namely, the first year of franchising for the North American League of Legends Championship Series. The NA LCS was a known quantity for Team Liquid, as the organization (through Team Curse) had been in the League of Legends scene since its earliest years. With a struggling squad that had never won a title and was in the midst of suffering its worst year in history, Team Liquid chose to prioritize the rehabilitation of their League of Legends team.
On the surface, it seemed as though Dennis was destined to be cast aside. Instead, he stayed in Los Angeles with a secret mission.
Lost and Found in Los Angeles
Dennis had a job interview waiting for him. Even though Team Liquid no longer had an Overwatch team, the organization wanted him to stay and coach a different division that was considered one of its cornerstones. After witnessing first hand how Dennis galvanized an Overwatch team stuck in second gear, Victor Goossens and Steve Arhancet, Team Liquid’s co-CEOs, both recognized that he was a good fit for what they needed.
Dennis told Steve everything that he had told Victor, and Steve understood over the course of 4 meetings why Victor had once said that the German had a special talent for leadership. He understood how to build relationships and excelled as a man-manager, skills that the team desperately needed after several splits of dysfunction. The League of Legends team was Steve’s personal project, and they scheduled twice a week meetings from then on to plan the rebirth of the team’s franchise. Steve believed that Dennis could get the job done.
Dennis had a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, he had already received an offer from an Overwatch League team to become their head coach, and Overwatch was the game most dear to him. On the other hand, he felt a sense of belonging on Team Liquid, and the support of the team’s CEOs could provide him with opportunities to grow. It was during this time that he first met Avi Bhuiyan — introduced to him by Steve Perino, Team Liquid’s CS:GO manager — a man with a background and esports experience very different from his own. At first, Avi could not understand why Dennis would want to shift away from the game where he made his name, but after discussing his options, Avi boiled it down to a choice: “Choose OWL if you want to be successful; choose Team Liquid if you want to spread your wings.”
Dennis replied with his usual bravado, “Well I’m already a legend in one game, why wouldn’t I want to be a legend in two?”
The casual nature of his response belied the ambition that had spurred him to pursue an entirely different game. He was certainly aware of the risks involved, yet he had never before forestalled for the fear of failure. That introductory dinner with Avi foreshadowed many more to come, yet Dennis would never again get his new friend to come party after their first and only night of clubbing. It was the only way to celebrate his resolution.
With his future arranged, Dennis moved into a small but expensive Santa Monica apartment nearer to Team Liquid’s facilities. Since moving out of his parents’ home, he had lived with Jasmin for many years, and then with roommates or in a team house, and this was the first time he was truly living alone. That didn’t stop him from inviting guests to his apartment, but they were were often greeted by reminders of his inexperience. John “Meep” Nguyen, who he had known since the Beta, was one of the first friends to visit, and he had brought a case of beers as a housewarming present. They placed the beers in Dennis’ new fridge to cool, only to find that they were still warm half an hour later. Apparently, he was just as bad at appliances as he was at his aim; he had neglected to turn on his fridge since installing it. Inside, Meep discovered warm beer and rotting groceries, and all he could do was shrug his shoulders and teach his friend how to use a fridge. Still, he was proud to have a home to call his own.
In between life lessons learned a little late, Dennis began incorporating himself into the city and Team Liquid’s League of Legends system. The man he would come to rely on the most was Michael Artress, their League team manager, and their relationship became one of mentorship. Even though the big man understood coaching and leadership better than most, cosmopolitan Los Angeles was a mystery for the man who grew up in Neuss. Artress helped Dennis set up his social security number, cell phone plan, and living arrangements, and saw a side of him that few others were able to see. Dennis had a certain naivete when it came to the banalities of adult life, so focused was he on Overwatch and following his dream wherever it took him.
This was his first time settling down for an extended period of time — LCS was played solely in LA — since moving out of his parents’ home. He was immediately smitten by the sunny, bright weather of California, and the warmth suited the man who rarely wore pants. “I love LA so so much,” he beamed on Twitter. This was going to be home for him.
It was this feeling of permanence in his physical place and his place within the team that filled him with motivation. He was the first piece in Team Liquid’s franchise since the team would begin anew, and Dennis was eager to begin building the roster. He and Artress discussed potential signings to daily routines, and Dennis shared the structure that he wanted to implement, which the organization was ready to follow. Even though there would still be almost 2 months until the announcement of accepted franchises and the free agency period, Dennis was already devoted to his work. Although he spent most of his time grinding League of Legends, he still kept up with the latest developments in Overwatch, and even continued to play in his free time.
After all, Dennis had a lot to catch up on. Even though he was a Challenger player in the past, the three and a half years since his peak in League of Legends presented quite a climb. While a coach’s ability isn’t measured by their ranking, Dennis had several reasons to practice. Aside from learning the meta game and contemporary strategies first hand, he had also relied on his own skill as a player in order to earn his squad’s respect.
In the past, Dennis’ approach to player relationships could be considered excessively friendly, and at times a bit too casual. Though trust was the foundation of his coaching style, his new position necessitated a balance between his affable man management style and a more professional demeanor. Avi was one of the first to notice the change as he hung out with Dennis one evening. In the middle of their animated conversation, Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer, one of the remaining Team Liquid players at the time, entered Dennis’ room with a question. Dennis shifted from friendly banter to professional coach in an instant, as if all he had to do was flick a switch. Avi was impressed by the exchange, and he would continue to see more of this adaptable Hulk.
The old dog had learned a new trick but it was hardly a surprise considering how he spent much of his time. When he was at home and not on his computer, he dedicated an hour to reading the stacks of books littered around his apartment. His kitchen table, counter, and every other flat surface acted as shelves of half read books — even though he had a bookshelf. When he arrived at Team Liquid’s LA office, he would brag to Matthew “Matt” Elento and anyone who would listen about the books that he had just read, “Oh I’ve finished like five books this week, and I’m working on another one.” That was never the end of the conversation, however, as he would then ask every single question that he could think of. There was something very charming about the way he asked questions, and he was never embarrassed about appearing too eager. When he was out with Avi and his other friends in esports, it was often to discuss the industry, LCS, its teams, or its players.
In many ways, Dennis during the daytime seemed obsessed — with esports, with coaching, with glory. He had already proven that he was a good coach, but as in everything that he did, he wanted to be the best. Though he was brash and overconfident at times, there was something especially inspiring about how he enjoyed the daily labor of improving his skills. In reality, he wasn’t always confident that he would succeed, but he threw himself into it anyway.
Dr. Dennis and Mr Hulk
Dennis had never seen a Los Angeles sunset before. Having lived in landlocked locations for most of his life, the sun sinking into the ocean was a spectacular sight. There was something very different about the maze of highways and pillars of light that filled the LA skyline, and every evening he set out to explore a little more of it with his friends. His social stack included Meep and UberShouts, as well as a rotating cast of characters as he sought to grow his social circle in the city.
The trio of Hulk, Uber, and Meep first came together as a group at Gamescom 2017, where Dennis had arrived late and was hit with jet lag. Knowing that he was never one to miss a party, Meep goaded his friend with a Snapchat of the event to let him know what he was missing. As Meep spun around to take a 360 degree video, a thick “fuck you” floated above the noise and into Meep’s ear — it was Dennis, suddenly revived. Later that evening, Dennis introduced Meep to his friend UberShouts, and the two immediately bonded over trash talking Dennis, especially since he was late every single night they hung out at Gamescom.
After the event, Dennis and Meep returned to Los Angeles, and Uber soon followed as he moved to there in September. Having lived there for two whole months, Dennis made it his responsibility to help Uber acclimate to LA. In particular, he introduced Uber to his whole friend network over the course of the first few weeks. The gregarious German took a special pride in introducing people to each other, and making these connections was both business and pleasure. Now living in the same city, the trio became inseparable. They developed their own roles within the group: Dennis was the instigator, Meep was the voice of reason, and UberShouts was just along for the ride. Dennis would drag them out to Universal, new clubs, and new experiences, some of which could be considered “dumb ideas.” It was as if he was transformed by the night from the thoughtful Dr. Dennis into the reckless Mr Hulk. Meep tried his best to reason against some of his worst whims, but in the end, all they could do was give up and go with it.
More often than not, his dumb ideas involved his hilarious attempts to meet women. Just as he had enjoyed ‘Girl Blogs’ on the TL.net community site, his own trials and tribulations could have become its own blog serial. Of course, his friends were often there to witness, if not act as his wingmen — they all even had their own roles. Meep was the utility man for any situation; since they had very different types, there was never any conflict. Avi was the reluctant — Dennis had to give Avi pep talks to persuade him to do it — high brow spokesman; on one occasion, he convinced a group of women that Dennis was an early Google investor named Klaus. Finally, Uber was the brother-from-another-mother; they pretended to be unlikely cousins and built it up from there. Even though it was mostly play acting, Dennis became the brother they all never thought they needed.
He was no longer the little troublemaker idolizing his siblings; he was the big troublemaker idolized by thousands upon thousands of fans. This time, Dennis was the older brother leading the pack, but one thing stayed the same: He was still the butt of jokes.
The biggest joke for Meep was Dennis’ favorite shirt, which he plainly abhorred. To Meep, it was a mess, The Ugliest Shirt in the World, but Dennis was partially vindicated the first time he wore the shirt and a bouncer let them in saying, “Hey, nice shirt!” Despite his questionable sense in fashion, Dennis was able to get into clubs through the VIP line, something that he was genuinely proud of.
Another running gag between them was Dennis’ tendency to disappear as the night wore on because of a girl. At times, he even tried to pretend he wasn’t German, especially when talking to German girls. It never lasted very long, however, as his Kölsch accent became thicker and thicker with each beer downed. The night would officially end soon after with Uber leaving an angry voicemail for Meep, complaining about Dennis’ blunder of the evening. Even though he was exceptionally kind to everyone around him, he was still self-interested and did whatever he wanted. Fortunately, misbehavior became more uncommon with age.
Halloween that year was Dennis’ first American holiday in Los Angeles, and it became one of the trio’s most fond memories. They had planned for it to be a ‘boys night’, and hence had one golden rule: No ditching. It started out poorly, however, as Dennis had overhyped a Halloween gathering in West Hollywood and dragged his friends out there at 6pm — obviously a few hours too early. Meep protested the plan, advising that no one in America partied at six, but Dennis was adamant that this was the place to be. Disappointed by the small crowd, Dennis, Meep and Uber decided to go bar hopping instead.
Obviously, it was not going to be a normal night, and Dennis insisted on visiting multiple gay bars to get the ball rolling. The three strapping young lads became quite popular wherever they went, especially considering their costumes. Meep, the lifeguard, quickly became cold and nippy — and eventually annoyed. Dennis loved the attention and egged on anyone that showed them attention, and quite a few older gentlemen offered to buy Uber, who was dressed as the Mad Hatter, a drink. At one point, Uber realised the unfortunate resemblance in his choice of attire, “I look like a dickhead.”
It was on to the next event, and Meep and Dennis began to argue outside their last gay bar about their next destination. To some bystanders, it might have seemed like a lovers’ quarrel as voices started rising. Uber tried his best to mediate, but the two just needed to blow off steam from their discouraging night so far. After 15 minutes hashing it out, the pals made amends and agreed to that it was Meep’s turn to order proceedings. They headed to Downtown Fullerton like originally planned.
Finally, their evening began to pick up as the lane of bars bustled with activity. As soon as they arrived, Dennis immediately spotted girls in Overwatch costumes and started his “I’m a famous Overwatch player” routine. Despite their differences earlier in the night, Meep played wingman and showed the girls who Dennis was, impressing everyone within earshot. There was a sudden excitement about them and they spent the next few hours finally having fun. It was the boys night just as they had wanted. Of course, the night couldn’t have ended without something going wrong. Meep hitched home with his cousin, but inadvertently forgot that Uber needed a ride too. Stuck, drunk out of his mind, and miles away from his apartment, Uber was stranded. Dennis had long since vanished by then, yet somehow reappeared just in time to call Uber an Uber. The Australian woke up with a hangover and a $200 Uber bill, and Meep agreed that they had drank way too much. No one knew how Dennis got home.
The Largest Heart
That would be the last of their wild nights as a threesome. They had planned to meet up at BlizzCon a few days later (November 3 to 4), but Dennis complained that he was feeling under the weather. “Of course you are,” Meep told Dennis, “because you’ve been going hard as fuck!” Between his compulsive work ethic and love of socializing, Dennis was living his best life a little too much.
Dennis joked in return, “I’m dying.”
It was the very last thing he told Meep.
Dennis decided to skip BlizzCon to take care of his health and visited a doctor in order to get some shots. He tweeted during BlizzCon Saturday: “Tonsillitis, 2 shots in my butt. Hope [at least] you guys have a nice #Blizzcon2017.” He returned home to rest, and spent the next few days away from the world.
On November 7, 2017, Dennis tragically passed away in his apartment in Santa Monica. It was a shock to everyone, and no words could ever describe the sadness that filled the esports community that day. When Team Liquid announced the heartbreaking news, there was an outpouring of love and support from everyone — friends, colleagues, players, and fans — yet few could believe what had happened. Thirty years was far too few for someone whose joie de vivre had driven him to win the world and the hearts of many.
It was later revealed that he had passed away from complications of an enlarged heart. There was an extraordinary melancholy in how he had died for exactly the same reason that he was celebrated during his life. Yet few could picture him holding onto any regrets even though his time was cut short. His half read books were still half read, his computer was still logged in to all of his accounts, and his beers were still cold in his fridge. Inside his room, it seemed as if he’d planned for another average day, which to him was another good day. Instead, he left without a word just like he always did, though it’s comfortingly easy to imagine him saying, with that big goofy grin:
“Well, I’m already a legend in this world, why wouldn’t I want to be a legend in two?”