As the boys entered their teens, their interests expanded. On days they used to stampede through the yard they now played poker with their father. A pinch on the back over a stolen bathroom became a punch in the arm over a game of mau mau — a popular card game in Germany. Dennis was growing up and not even a beautiful garden or a full troop of neighborhood pals could divert his course. As the years went by a single interest preoccupied him.
“If you’re a father to three boys and gaming consoles get released, you basically don’t have a choice. You have to be part of it, otherwise your kids will be at the neighbour’s house all day long.”
That was Jürgen’s rationalization for their new gaming console to Gisela, and then Martina, and it’s difficult to imagine it receiving anything other than a disparaging shrug. Dennis was constantly up to date with the latest consoles, from an original Nintendo to an N64 to a Playstation and so on. It was love at first sight. From the age of three he watched his older brothers play, sneaking in his own Mario Kart practice after they were finished. Even Jürgen himself joined in despite his frustrations as family tournaments became a chance to beat on dad. On weekends they all stayed up late, ate pizza and fries, and enjoyed video games and movies together.
Dennis grew more and more fascinated with the worlds he could enter. For Maik and David, video games offered fun and enjoyment for its own sake, but it was different for Dennis. Video games ignited something deep within him.
Jürgen bought his boys their first PC during Dennis’ early teens and introduced them to the internet. During these years, Dennis could always be found on the computer, with his cat Armani on his lap or on the desk. A familiar story for siblings, Dennis and David would argue over who would use the PC next in order to play Counter-Strike, yet Dennis played much more and naturally became the better shooter. Still, Dennis begged his brothers to join in, but the outcome was always the same. Almost immediately after loading in, David and Maik’s screen would go dark with the sound of a loud bang and Dennis celebrating.
While Dennis clearly had the edge on a mouse and keyboard, David was far superior at console beat-em-ups like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. Even during his teens, Dennis made it clear that his tendency was towards intuition. He shot down guides and manuals as a form of cheating, proclaiming instead that one needed to try new things and learn to feel the game.
Dennis’ obsession with video games went beyond just playing. From an early age, he intimated an ambition to work with computers. He frequently told his father, “I know that someday, I’ll do something with computers. That’s a rock solid decision.” While many teens waver in their early aspirations, Dennis’ resolve strengthened despite changes in his family life, school, and location.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone who had heard Dennis’ statement could have predicted how he would make his dream come true. His first taste of competitive video games came in 2003 when Activision released the genre-defining World War II shooter, Call of Duty. Released on what would become the largest video game platform in the world, Steam, the first installment of the series supported squad-based online multiplayer. Dennis, then 16 years old, was captivated by the ability to face organized teams online, and plowed through leaderboards to reach the top of the EU ladder. He represented Team Germany in the nascent years of CoD, when going under 3 digit ping was considered a blessing.
Even in those years, Dennis sought opportunities to lead. He believed that he worked harder than anyone else and therefore knew better. It would have been easy to reduce that belief into arrogance — or worse, delusion — but his extra hours were spent on his team. Unlike many players who were solely focused on their own practice, he was motivated to prepare his team’s scrims for the next day, and even arrange schedules for his teammates. If there was something that his team needed to perform better, it was natural for him to take responsibility. It was natural for Dennis to carry the burden of authority, and his peers would continuously recognize this by naming him their captain.
In this way, gaming became more than a hobby for Dennis, and he wanted to dedicate more time to his craft. Unfortunately, very few around him considered gaming worthy of that label. When he turned 18, he decided to move out of his mother’s home, since he did not get along with her new partner. At first, Dennis tried moving in with his grandparents. Though they had a great relationship in earlier years, the generational gap made it difficult for them to understand his priorities. So, he had to find somewhere else to live.
Eventually, he moved into a flat in Neuss with his girlfriend, Jasmin. This was a place that he could call his own and he lived with someone who understood his interests and lifestyle. Here, he was able to double down on his efforts.
As he entered adulthood, the family remained centrally located and visited one another often. When David came by his brother’s flat to check in, he would be quickly ushered through the door and asked to sit — with a game in progress on Dennis' computer. Dennis implored his brother to join, just as he had when they were teens. Though he rarely gave in, David was there for Dennis in ways many were not. He promised Dennis that if he ever needed anything, or wanted to talk, he would be there, and Dennis tried his best to return the favor.
Sometimes, that favor would be the internet, and David would come by when he needed to send something important in a pinch. On one occasion Dennis was busy on his computer, and after initially saying no, he acquiesced with one condition. And in true Hawelka Brothers tradition, his stipulation was ridiculous. David could use his computer to do his work, but Dennis would be there slapping his thigh over and over again. David was also not allowed to let out any sound, and he would be evicted from the computer seat as soon as he said “ouch.” After 15 minutes, it was the tormentor that surrendered. He had asked David over and over again if he was about to give up, to no avail. Dennis’ hand began to hurt and he finally just let his brother finish his business. These violent visits meant a lot to the pair, and they often went out afterwards and talked as they once had.
To David, he expressed nothing but appreciation, even though he felt skepticism and doubt from most of his friends and family. He often told him, “Sometimes I think you’re the only one who can comprehend this at least a bit.” For everyone else, this dream of gaming was for the birds. That support meant a lot during these years, with Dennis stuck in transition. By then, he was already an adult, but the traditional path eluded him. He watched his friends from school continue their education, complete apprenticeships, and fall into the rhythms of adulthood. He was in his apartment grinding levels and earning ladder points. Dennis believed that somehow, someday, people would appreciate gaming as a profession — and by extension, him.
In 2008, his affinity towards Activision Blizzard games continued with the release of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. The WoW expansion is still highly regarded as the pinnacle of the game’s lore, and the massive PvP scene exploded during this era in the game’s history. Naturally, Dennis held multiple accolades, including rank 1 titles with both warrior and death knight, the 2nd highest 3v3 rating in the world, and one of the highest ret/DK/priest ratings during Season 6.
Despite the size, scale, and popularity of World of Warcraft, the moniker of ‘“professional gamer” still eluded him. Dennis was acutely aware that there was still a long way to go. In a post on TeamLiquid.net a few years later, he explained:
[Edited for clarity] “Being a WoW pro is hard with just a maximum of 2 events per year. There were only a handful of WoW players who could call themselves pro: Hydra and Kalimist for example. You’re not a pro if you didn’t play those 1-2 tournaments a year in WoW and get sponsored. I doubt that even if there were salary for those guys, that few if any got more than laptops and gear.”
The fortunes of aspiring professional gamers changed in 2010 with the release of StarCraft II. Along with Counter-Strike, StarCraft: Brood War was long considered one of the only games that could provide a livable wage. While prize pools slowly crept up, salaries still did not exist for a majority of aspiring pro players. No other scene could compare to the infrastructure that a successful and vibrant scene in South Korea had built dating from the game’s release in 1998. While the competitive scene for StarCraft (as well as Warcraft III) in the West had waned, the game continued to fill stadiums in the mecca of esports. The long anticipated sequel had quite a legacy to live up to.
Tournaments began being organized in mid-2010, even though the game was still in its Beta. In anticipation of the title’s release, former StarCraft and Warcraft players flocked to the Beta, which drew audiences online through the streaming service justin.tv — the precursor of Twitch. On August 18, 2010, its first official tournament was held in Cologne, Germany at IEM Season V - Global Challenge. The $15,000 up for grabs seemed significant at the time, but it would be dwarfed just a few months later by the Global StarCraft League’s massive $170,000 pool.
Suddenly, it seemed possible. Suddenly, StarCraft II was the most competitive game in the world. Without any experience in the genre, Dennis decided that StarCraft was where his future lay. He was inspired by the competition, the fandom, the thrill of victory, yet he had much to learn. For that, he went to the center of StarCraft’s western scene.
Dennis was first introduced to Team Liquid on August 6th, 2010 when he registered his account on the team’s StarCraft community site. The 23 year old had taken to the competitive nature of StarCraft II, and TeamLiquid.net was the one place to go and share that passion. Though this was his first RTS, he quickly rose from Platinum to Diamond — then the highest league — during the game’s first few months. After years being tormented at Risk, Dennis had finally come to master a strategy game, though he wasn’t immune to ragequitting on occasion.
He was engrossed, and he consumed as much StarCraft as he could, developing a fascination for South Korea and its StarCraft scene. At every opportunity, he showed Maik videos of Korean StarCraft II tournaments, but it was still received with some reluctance. Dennis pointed to the sold out arenas and roaring fans, but in Germany there was still nothing of the sort. Even though most had never heard of esports, nothing slowed him down, and his family grew weary of his fever dream. A future in esports was this intangible notion, the extra-large fry that Dennis had no hope of finishing. Yet Dennis didn’t even bother with a plan B — he was, in the dialect of StarCraft, all in.
Grassroots pro team Alien Invasion took notice of ‘Rmdx’, Dennis’ original handle, and signed him on August 1, 2010 — his first “professional” contract. His contemporaries included notable names such as Svusuyk “Bly” Aleksandr, Andrei “DeathAngel” Nodea and Hun “inuh” Park. Unfortunately, Dennis would find little success as a competitor, and his participation would largely be limited to online cups.
On November 17, 2010, he made his presence known to the community in the only way he knew how: by sharing his knowledge. His first post on the site was a guide for the Terran vs Terran matchup — then the most exciting matchup in the game — specifically, with an opening build order that incorporated Ghosts. Aside from laying out the build order’s basics, Dennis included pros and cons, special considerations, and even a small replay pack. Despite a need to improve his English — growing up, Dennis watched movies exclusively in English to practice —, it was clear that Dennis was a high caliber player with a desire to teach.
Over the next few months, Dennis participated in online tournaments and posted on the forums. Though he was not immune to shitposting, his interaction with the community was largely positive. He shared his opinions on units and matchups in the Strategy Forums, and even had a thread closed for ‘balance whine’ against Chargelots in TvP. Like many other posters, Dennis was even a fan of ‘girl blogs’, blogs that described community members’ often comical interactions with women.
His desire to share the game culminated in starting his stream, announced on Team Liquid on Jun 9, 2011.
By then a Top 100 Grand Master on the European server, Dennis began streaming his games on justin.tv. He spent €600 on a computer and peripherals just to be able to stream. Aside from showcasing his games, where he played mech and air Terran compositions, he also offered coaching for €25 per hour or €40 for two hours. At the height of the game’s popularity, seminal figures in StarCraft demanded as much as $200 for coaching sessions, and this would be Dennis’ first opportunity to formally impart his knowledge and gaming philosophies on other people.
Beyond streaming his ladder sessions, Dennis became involved in grassroots StarCraft II by casting smaller online cups such as Gigabyte cups and German qualifiers for leagues that led to EPS.
His stream’s dedicated thread received many positive responses, noting his motivational tone and positive approach to improvement. Aside from his ladder sessions, his playlists became a highlight of his daily shows, which he shared on grooveshark. Several posters on the site called for his stream to become featured; unfortunately, a break from the game following the release of Diablo III curtailed progress on his stream. His thread received over 19,000 views overall, and many hours were spent watching him climb the Battle.net ladder.
However unlikely, Dennis finally had his foot through the doorway. He had his contract, his stream, and a few cup wins under his belt. All the time that he had invested in video games suddenly seemed like it was paying off. In between his long hours of practice, he even found time to become a bigger man — both figuratively and literally. Though his family worried about his health and mental state being locked in his apartment all day, Dennis had his priorities in order.
Aside from his daily practice routine, Dennis regularly went to the gym with his brother Maik. He tried his best to live healthily, even though there were more than a few exceptions. Burger King or a nearby Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet was their after-gym snack, and he never skipped out on the ice cream. “Ice cream is always on the table,” he would always tell Maik as the latter sighed in exasperation.
Though Dennis definitely matured during these years, he never really grew out of the prankster that poured pond water in his brother’s drink. He was still the jolly green giant that cracked jokes at every turn, but the adolescent edges began to become more refined. Exposure to online communities, toxicity, and an interest in psychology had helped him become more level headed and calm, though there was still little that could deny his wild side.
The best exhibit of his growth was in his stream. From every teacher’s ire, he had become the teacher himself. There was never a barrier between him and his viewers, and he was approachable no matter the player’s rank. His ability to relate to people from all walks of life became an invaluable asset during his career as a streamer, and fans flocked from all corners. Slowly, his little bird bath grew.
Unfortunately, he would never find much success in official matches. His most significant accomplishment was a sole win in ESL Sennheiser Cup Season 2 #15 on December 17, 2011. He would toil away just a rung below the pros, though he did occasionally take official games against some of the best players in Europe. His record included wins against the likes of DIMAGA, sLivko, WhiteRa, Beastyqt, uThermal, HasuObs, Forsen, Strelok, and DarkForce. Total career earnings: $177.
Dennis’ desire to turn his passion into a career would face more obstacles than just defeat. On April 18 2012, Dennis signed to a clan called NOM Gaming, an Israel-based esports team. Unfortunately, like many wide-eyed players before him, Dennis would face the harsh reality of unfulfilled promises. In just 2 months, the team would disband after accusations of unmet contracts and financial problems. Rmdx, along with every other player on NOM, left the team soon after. That would be the last of his forays into professional StarCraft II.
A New Challenger
Dennis resurfaced in 2014 by announcing on reddit that he had become the first player to hit Challenger in Season 4 for League of Legends. In a brief moment of fame, his name was plastered to forums and community hotspots alike as users theorized about his identity. They scoured his profile on popular stat websites for clues. Naturally, some pegged him for an EULCS pro. One user even raised the legendary Fnatic jungler Lauri “Cyanide” Happonen as a possible identity, another offered current Team Liquid mid laner Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” (his handle at the time) Jensen for the man behind the rank.
Their online detective work proved futile, however, after Dennis unabashedly commemorated his achievement with an AMA on Reddit. It received significant fanfare: 916 comments and over 1000 upvotes. With triumph, he put the theories to rest: he wasn’t a pro player or known personality, just a big kid moving onto the next ladder challenge.
In his AMA, ‘1813424’ (18 - R, 13 - m, 4 - d, 24 - x) revealed that he had lost interest in StarCraft due to the isolation, and that he longed for team based games. He logged hours upon hours in Diablo III upon release and only rediscovered his competitive fire in Season 3 of League of Legends. He was D1 at the end of that season, and then surged to Challenger in Season 4.
In order to reach Challenger, Dennis played a marathon of 49 games in 3 days. Five straight wins in D1 sent him straight to promotions, and a 3-1 record earned him the title of world’s first Challenger. His go to champion was Kha’zix, a rage-inducing melee assassin with more than enough carry potential for Dennis to pave his way to the top.
It was an unexpected result for the unknown jungler, yet his previous experience in other competitive titles gave him an edge. Dennis managed to do something under a tenth of a percent of the playerbase could achieve and in a relatively short time. The subreddit submerged him in questions — mostly about his path to Challenger. Once again, Dennis’ teaching side could not contain itself, and as more and more people asked how they could improve at the game, he shared more than a few nuggets of wisdom.
“Basically, never rage. Be positive. Try to influence your team in a positive way. It can make all the difference.
The thing about not raging, what people might not understand is, it’s one thing to not flame other people and another thing to be totally calm and positive in your mind.
Being positive and motivated all game long, even when far behind, always helps while on the other hand…
If you try hard, there is no room for flaming your team. Complimenting them with every good kill or good move does help. If they flame or are bad, try to keep the team’s spirit up as high as possible.
Be motivated and dedicated. I believe that your mental state, dedication, motivation and such, are far more important than playing the game itself. If you rage and don’t play seriously, troll or don’t play to win, then you have already lost.”
After his world’s-first achievement, little would be heard of ‘Rmdx’ again. He received a few offers to join academy teams, but he would never appear in the European League of Legends Championship Series, the Challenger Series, or any pro-am events. Once again a rung below the pros, Dennis would ultimately fail. Twenty-six at the time of his AMA, which was already considered an advanced age for esports, Dennis quickly faded into obscurity as just another ladder hero. 2014 turned into 2015 and Dennis was no closer to his dream.