European LCS fans have had opinions on Berk "Gilius" Demir, the jungler for Team Vitality ever since he played for the Unicorns of Love in 2014. For some, he’s an unapologetic trash talker. Among them are people who relish moments when his trash-talking ways backfire and who call him “overly cocky,” but others root for him when it’s on, calling him "GodGilius" either for fun or to celebrate the moments when he excels.
Gilius is a polarizing presence in the European LCS, and he is well aware of that. It does not faze him one bit nowadays. But even before the LCS, he was a competitor; and before League of Legends appeared in his life, he was a sportsman.
“I was always playing football and tennis in clubs,” Gilius recalled. “I played football for seven years, and I played at a pretty high level actually. I was almost in the first league. Then I started to play tennis, I don't know why, but I started to like playing it a lot. Then I got bored from tennis and went back to football.”
I didn't feel like I could become the best football player ever, so it took some motivation away.
It was all about competition, practice and having fun in the process back in Köln, Germany. As a child, he flourished in sports, but puberty hit late. As he grew up, he had to fight off an inherent physical disadvantage — but not only that.
“My problem with football was that I was getting injured a lot, and I started to become lazy. I didn't feel like I could become the best football player ever, so it took some motivation away,” Gilius said. “I'd been passed around teams because of my body size. I hit puberty pretty late, so when I was 15, people were already 1m80 when I was like 1m60, and it was really hard to play against these big guys.”
It was in that setting that his brother and cousin introduced him to a free-to-play PC game called League of Legends, after he got his first laptop computer. He had always been a gamer as far as he recalled, although he had primarily played on consoles, but League of Legends had him hooked like nothing before; and before he knew it, he was in high elo.
“If I kept going with football, I would have been a really good football player, but esports got me,” he said. “I just stopped doing sports and went all-in on League of Legends.”
Gilius’s passion for League of Legends was not without repercussions. He had dropped sports-related activities to focus on a video game almost overnight, and his marks in school were taking a hit. He had nothing to show for his hard work in-game at the time, and his parents were fairly upset, even against it. His mother, in particular, had wanted something different for her kid.
My mom's dream was to go to university, but she couldn't do it because her parents told her that she had to move with them to Germany without her wanting to. She wanted me to pursue her dream.
“I have to understand my parents. They were the kind of parents that told you that school was the most important thing, then getting a good job, going to university,” he said. “My mom's dream was to go to university, but she couldn't do it because her parents told her that she had to move with them to Germany without her wanting to. She wanted me to pursue her dream.”
When I told them about the prize money, they started to understand that this is the real deal.
Gilius still managed to make a name for himself in the Challenger circuit, even helping the Unicorns of Love qualify to the LCS. Most importantly, he attended the World Championship as SK Gaming’s substitute — and he played, after Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen received a four-game suspension from the league for disciplinary reasons. At last, he had something to show for his hard work.
“For [my parents], when I played in the World Championship, it opened their eyes. When I told them about the prize money, they started to understand that this is the real deal. Ever since then, they [have] supported me fully. [My mother] is more than happy and supporting me.”
Gilius’s demeanour may be polarizing, but it is not surprising; sportsmen delving into trash talking can be considered normal in the UFC or elsewhere, and up-and-comers looking for the next guy to take down are legion in fighting sports. However, the League of Legends audience has had mixed feelings about that — and some struggle to see it as just competitive fire at work.
“I have always been a very competitive guy,” Gilius asserted. “I hated losing, and I always think that I'm better than the opponent, whoever is standing in front of me. I really like to challenge people too.”
It’s hard to imagine how that feeling doesn’t drive a player on its own. Hating losing and thinking that one is better than their opponent usually go hand in hand. Feelings like these push some of the top sportsmen forward, at least those that turn passion into obsession. Where does that spark come from for Gilius?
I hated losing, and I always think that I'm better than the opponent, whoever is standing in front of me.
“I don't know,” he said. “It gives me a rousing feeling when I know that I beat another person in something. Maybe because I had a big brother, and in video games I was playing a lot against him, practicing how to beat him.”
Truth be told, maybe it should be seen as a mark of respect, as if Gilius is willing to push himself to attain a level that would allow him to beat his opponent reliably. For someone who has plenty of motivation to begin with, getting into ‘competitive mode’ adds extra spice — and he wants you to participate, get involved, maybe tell your friends that something is going down — because something is indeed going down on Summoners’ Rift. Or out of it, when he talks smack to an opponent on social media.
“When I talk trash, it puts a lot of pressure on me to perform, and I really like that,” Gilius said. “I know I like it when there's a big stake in something. I like to give my fans a good show, also; the LCS can get pretty boring in some weeks, but when I make a storyline with the enemy, it usually becomes more exciting. People like to watch my games, and it motivates me too.”
When I talk trash, it puts a lot of pressure on me to perform, and I really like that.
Mind you, sometimes, others take note and talk back — or fire declarations away, unprompted. When that happens, the heat is usually on; ask Splyce’s jungler, Andrey "Xerxe" Dragomir, about what he did in the spring split. Suddenly, a game that initially had no attention became the talk of excited LCS fans ready to watch Xerxe demolish him, or waiting for him to assert himself as the better player.
Win or lose, it’s all the better for Gilius; “For the fans, it's more exciting,” he said. “When there's drama, people tend to watch the game more likely, and I like it when more people watch my games.”
Gilius is as much of a showman as he is a competitor, and considering that League of Legends is a team game, his mission of backing his statements up and becoming the best player involves constant improvement. He’s earned his place in Vitality through hard work and has a lot of setbacks to show for it: his World Championship run in 2014 was unsuccessful, and so was his North American Challenger adventure, and his tenure within FC Schalke 04 Esports in 2016 — in a team that was relegated.
There's a lot of stuff that I learned: how to be a good teammate, how to become a good leader...
Setbacks like these can break a career, and Gilius’s attitude towards them is quite telling; rather than focusing on the bitterness of defeat, he saw how he improved since the SK Gaming days. He remembered how complacent he was at some points, thinking he was good enough only to stumble as the opposition caught up, and how he decided to double down on practice — rather than sticking to past glories and calling it a career, a thought that has not crossed his mind to begin with.
“In my journey, so far, there's a lot of stuff that I learned: how to be a good teammate, how to become a good leader, keeping a good routine up,” he said. “In the end, if you do one good game and three bad games after, you're not going to achieve anything. I've learned that having a good routine and a good lifestyle is really important. Staying healthy and putting in the practice every single day.”
He also noticed the importance of having a positive atmosphere, as he saw teams tear apart internally and stumble to irrelevance in professional play. Solid play from one person is not enough; teammates have to buy in, too.
Trust is a big thing; if people trust each other, you're going to have more success.
“Trust is a big thing; if people trust each other, you're going to have more success,” he said. “In the past, I've had teams where the team atmosphere was bad and where we lost a lot of games. It taught me that I have to put in not only becoming a better jungler, but also making the team atmosphere more positive and helping my teammates to improve.”
His mid laner in Team Vitality, Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro, had gone on record on his jungler’s contribution back in the spring split; “He taught me a lot of mid-jungle [synergy matters] — what we should do together,” he said. “I understood what he needs, he understood what I need. We pretty much adapted to each other. I think I'm a good player because of him as well.”
And it goes both ways: Gilius feeds off the motivation that Jiizuke and Amadeu "Attila" Carvalho showcase during practice, as the two ex-rookies are out to prove themselves on the international stage and to do whatever it takes to reach it. But go and tell that to his detractors, and they’ll fixate on the heel image he projects on social media and occasionally in interviews.
The tweets are just for fun! I know what it takes to win now.
“I want to say that people have the wrong opinion of me as a teammate, and how I function in a team,” he said. “I think I learned a lot in the past. I've improved a lot as a person, and matured a lot. The tweets are just for fun! I know what it takes to win now. People have a wrong perspective of me, because of the toxic past, I would say.”
The only hurdle standing between Gilius (and Team Vitality) and success is their performance on Summoners’ Rift. In the 2017 summer split, he helped Attila, Jiizuke and support Jakub "Jactroll" Skurzyński reach the LCS as members of Giants Gaming, before they joined a new-look Vitality and took over the LCS there. Although they were unable to beat Fnatic and Splyce in the spring playoffs, they have signaled that they were a team to watch for the foreseeable future.
In doing so, Gilius can affirm — without anyone denying the fact — that his choice to dive into competitive League of Legends was more than worthwhile. “The transition from sports to esports was really nice for me; when I got a higher ranking in solo queue, I knew that if I played in the LCS one day, I'm going to be very good.” he said. “It kept me going, and now we're here.”