Berk “Gilius” Demir has lived one of the most interesting careers of any professional League of Legends player.
He’s played for 12 teams in three years, a mix of Challenger and League Championship Series orgs in Europe and North America. He’s been relegated and also fallen one match short of reaching the LCS from the Challenger Series. He’s played with some well respected players and for an org backed by a traditional sports team.
Now he’s a free agent, coming off a spring split with North American Challenger team eUnited, and Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Gilius to talk about his career, LCS franchising and differences between Europe and North America.
Andrew Kim: How have you been lately? I know you’ve been a free agent for a bit. Are any new plans being formulated right now?
Berk “Gilius” Demir: Right now I’m just spamming away solo queue, streaming at home and looking for offers. I’ve gotten some offers from the Challenger Series, but I’m not really interested in that next split, so I’m just looking for EU LCS or NA LCS offers. I’m waiting for answers right now and I think in the next two weeks I should be able to say what I’m going to do.
AK: You have been part of Challenger teams before. Is there a particular reason why you’ve raised your standards of what team you want to play with to the LCS caliber as opposed to the Challenger Series?
BD: For me, the reason I play professionally is to compete on the highest level, so playing in the Challenger Series in the spring split made sense to me because I could qualify for summer and then play in the LCS. But since I didn’t make it, I’m not really interested in playing another split in Challenger because I get paid really well in Challenger, but I get kind of bored in the middle of the season. I don’t really enjoy what I’m doing because in my opinion I face weaker opponents, and I don’t learn as much as I could in the LCS.
AK: Looking back at your career, since 2014 you’ve been 12 unique teams with a couple of them you played with more than once — a good example would be the Unicorns of Love. How do you think you were able to be consistently involved the in the Challenger Scene and the LCS?
BD: I think the effort I put into solo queue is one big part of it because every season I end up top 10 in the solo queue ladder, so it kind of shows that I have the skills to compete professionally. I think that’s the biggest reason. The second reason is that I started my career pretty young, when I was 17, so people see this potential in me. Athletes’ careers usually spike at the age of 22, 23, 24, and I’m 20 right now so maybe that’s why teams are interested me, because I’m pretty young.
AK: Since you have been part of both Challenger and LCS, what are some of the biggest differences between the two that a lot of people don’t know about?
BD: You get worse practice than in the LCS because LCS teams try to scrim against LCS teams. So you don’t get good scrims, you play much less games because the Challenger Series is a league with six teams while the LCS does 10 teams. The Challenger Series also has only one series against a team. You don’t play each other twice like in the LCS. You just get much more play time in the LCS, basically. The competition is just really different. The Challenger Series has more rookies, worst players.
AK: Do you think increasing the number of challenger teams would be better for the scene? Or do you think it has less to do with the number of the teams and more to do with the level of play?
BD: I think it could be good. If they would make it as big as the LCS, like 10 teams, and then if you play each other twice, that would make the Challenger players better because they would get more play time. The play time you get in a competitive match is much more important than scrims because you play so many scrims but you take away much more from serious competitive games. That would make it much better.
AK: Do you find that this is the same in LCS caliber games as well? Or is it unique to Challenger?
BD: It’s for the LCS as well, yeah. In scrims, people don’t really try hard. They’re just training. They’re just training, and when it matters, in the real match, everyone gives their best and you learn a lot there.
AK: I want to ask you about your experience with FC Schalke. Obviously there was a lot of media attention as it was a soccer organization moving to the EU LCS. How was the atmosphere like after FC Schalke bought Elements’ spot in the LCS? Was it different at all?
BD: Not really. It was basically just Elements with the name Schalke because they bought the spot really late, so they couldn’t really give us the infrastructure back then. They bought the spot one month before the LCS began, so they just decided to buy the staff of Elements as well, and then everything was just the same. We went to GelsenKirchen — that’s where Schalke is — once, and we were welcomed really nice. There was some nice stuff about Schalke, that we were (part of) Schalke, but nothing really that increased our performance. We had the same gaming house, and stuff like that.
AK: Tangentially, what are your thoughts on the fact that both Paris Saint Germain and Schalke failed to make it to the LCS? I know there was a lot of hype especially surrounding Schalke. Did you pay attention to the Challenger scene at the time at all?
BD: Yeah I paid attention to it. I just think that both teams didn’t use their resources to their full potential. Especially PSG, they could have a much better roster than they had. I think I could have told you when the roster was built that they’d not make it to the LCS. I don’t think that team was good. I think the FC Schalke roster had more potential. I think both could have signed better players and could have made it. I don’t know, something probably went wrong with management.
AK: When it comes to playing in a professional league like the LCS, there has to be some negative impact when a player faces relegations. I know you talked with theScore about the topic. Which has a larger negative impact on a player; being relegated or barely missing out on qualification?
BD: It’s much worse to get relegated from the LCS because in the relegation match, the LCS team is always the favorite and the Challenger team is the underdog. If you get relegated as an LCS team, you get much more shit than the other way around. You can say the Challenger team has something big to gain, like a spot in the LCS, but when they don’t make it, it’s fine. They will try again. But when you get relegated, you lose so much money as an organization so I think it hurts much more that way.
AK: Speaking of playing in the Challenger Series, I know you were a part of eUnited in the NALCS and I want your perspective of a player after Riot banned farming teams from existing in the Challenger scene. Did the removal of such teams change the way you approached each game?
BD: I think the change definitely made the challenger scene weaker. I think last year, I watched NA challenger and it was pretty stacked. I remember Hai (Du Lam), Rush (Lee Yoon-jae), Altec (Johnny Ru,) LemonNation (Daerek Hart), and Balls (An Van Le) playing in a Challenger team, so the removal of that made the challenger scene much weaker, but I think it’s going into the right direction because back then really good players would play in the Challenger Series, farming the spots, make a lot of money, and that would kind of suck for the new players or the upcoming players. I think it was a good change for everything.
AK: The LPL announced that they’ll be franchising soon, and NA is expected to do so as well, which means the removal of the relegation system from those regions. For you as a player, what are your opinions on the removal of relegations from the perspective of a player?
BD: I think it’ll be good if every region does it because it would give a better chance for rookies to come into the first league. Right now, there’s a situation where teams are really scared to get relegated so they just sign veteran players that are not really even good anymore. Talented players end up in the Challenger Series because the teams were just scared to pick them up because they could be hit or miss. I think it’s better for growing talent because there’s no risk involved anymore, and I’m pretty sure that much more money is going to come into the league because sponsors will be more willing to work with the teams if they know they can’t get relegated. I think it’s only advantages. The only disadvantage is for bottom tier teams never getting to play playoffs. Relegations are basically like playoffs for them. The bad teams won’t get those high-stake games so I’m not sure if it’s good or bad for them.
AK: Do you think there are some things that Riot can do in order to rear new talent in the region?
BD: I don’t think there’s anything that Riot can do better. I think it’s rather the problem of management with most teams. There’s so many rosters where I cannot agree with roster decisions teams are making. I play actively in the high levels of Challenger, and I see so many talented players who are really hungry to play and they have insane mechanics, champion pools and everything. These players are just ignored and not picked up, and they don’t even get tryouts. So I think it’s the problem with the management of most teams not knowing what they are doing.
AK: Was this an opinion you generated while you playing in the Challenger scene or was it an opinion you still had while you were part of the LCS?
BD: I always had this opinion. I think the management of most teams is just, in my opinion, really clueless in EU. There could be so much better rosters in the EU LCS this year, but I don’t know, the decisions people make are just not great.
AK: You specifically pointed out EU to having this problem. Does NA also have this problem?
BD: I think NA got much better this spring split. The NA LCS looks much, much stronger than EU this spring split, so I think they are going in the right direction. FlyQuest picking up Moon (Galen Holgate), and then Akaadian (Matthew Higginbotham) playing for Echo Fox, these new players — actually Moon isn’t that new but, players like Contractz (Juan Arturo Garcia) and Akaadian getting a chance on big teams, that’s really nice to see, which I don’t really see in EU that much.
AK: You are in a very unique position as a player because of your experience despite being quite young. What are some of your big lessons that you’ve learned over your career?
BD: I think one of the biggest lessons I learned was that the team’s atmosphere is most of the time much more important than individual skill. Teamwork is so much more important than individual play and I can be a big part to make the team atmosphere much better, and being a good teammate is really important. I learned a lot about how to handle stress, how to perform under a lot of pressure because I had this thing where I always put myself under tons of pressure with my social media. So I’ve kind of trained myself to see how it is to play under a lot of pressure. I know how I can perform on the best level I can play. I know how to train myself that way. I learned a lot like that.
AK: When you’re working as a free agent and in between teams, is there any advice you could give to any other players that are also in the same position?
BD: The best is don’t sell yourself too cheap. Know your worth. You should ask for the money you deserve. People should not be too shy to talk to organizations. I know a lot of players are just waiting for offers to come when they could just talk to the teams and ask for a tryout or something. That’s another option.
AK: Looking back at your career, what was your favorite moment?
BD: Probably making LCS with Unicorns of Love, 2014.
AK: On flip side, what was your least favorite?
BD: I have two least favorite moments. Not making the LCS with eUnited and being relegated with Schalke. I was really crushed after both.
AK: I’m sure you heard the news that eUnited acquired DanDy (Choi In-kyu) and GBM (Lee Chang-seok.) There’s still a lot of discussion going around on whether or not this is a good roster move. What are your thoughts on the acquisition?
BD: I think they have really big shoes to fill after the change. I think Fox (Hampus Myre) and I have been the driving forces the team. I think in my opinion this team is probably going to look worse in the start because with me and Fox and the three rookies, we had a huge boot camp together in Korea so we kind of grew together as a team in the start already. So they’ll probably need time at the start to know each other, but I think they have potential to make it to the LCS. If DanDy plays like he did in Season 4, then I am pretty sure they can make it. I think people viewed the roster change a bit wrong. People on Reddit are saying that it’s a huge upgrade for eUnited, but I don’t think so. We will see.
AK: If there a particular reason why you don’t agree with the “huge upgrade?”
BD: I’m not sure. If DanDy plays like he did in Season 4, I think he’s probably better than me but I think it looks like this guy is only playing for the money right now, not really for the competitiveness in esports, so I doubt that he’s going to play really well. They’re also two Koreans. They don’t even speak English. I don’t see it working out, but we’ll see.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/illustration by Slingshot