In 2020 a breath of fresh air came to competitive Dota. Vikin.gg. These guys were able to fight back against the strongest teams for almost a year during the online era; brazenly, without fear or reproach, breaking well-known lineups in numerous tournaments. Upon closer acquaintance, it turned out that the players and the coach have unique chemistry — a mixture of strict discipline, fatherhood, brotherhood, and strong friendship.
Then, Vikin.gg disbanded. Returning as Team Tickles with almost the same core.
Melchior "Seleri" Hillenkamp, Miroslav "BOOM" Bičan and Daniel "ImmortalFaith" Moza from the previous roster joined forces with Marcus "Ace" Hoelgaard, Erik "tOfu" Engel and Anton "dyrachYO" Shkredov. New players, same playstyle. Fixed on team interaction, it's impossible to single out the strongest player among the top five. And there's no reason to, honestly. Gaimin Gladiators work smoothly as a clock, where each gear matters, and as soon as one sags, four cover. GG is an example of how a team becomes strong through excellent player interaction and a balancing of power.
Seleri can win a decisive map fight by organizing vision, executing ulti and positioning neatly. But next map, the credit will go to Ace — his brilliant timings and bravery in combination with Tofu's excellent performance, the pair look simply incredible; sometimes, it feels like they were born twins and share a mindset (not only in their choice of hairstyles). Another victory happens thanks to BOOM, who takes Ember Spirit, wins mid, and then just shreds all the opponents. Last but not least, durachYO calmly and ingeniously outfarms everyone with his Medusa to take a 1v5 afterward, while his teammates distract the opposition.
On top of all this talent, the extraordinary and bold draft ideas; both pub combos and some classic concepts, sticking to the plan regardless of the opponents, and at the same time, the ability to outdraft the opponent’s strategy with one hero.
In this decisive map example against Tundra Esports, ImmortalFaith picked Underlord for Ace, which means Sand King goes to mid. As a result, BOOM went 10-0, while enemy heroes simply couldn't breach through three Strength Cores.
There's no point in going deep into analytics, qualified people will unpack all of this at the upcoming Major in Stockholm.
So, I talked with Gaimin Gladiators' top management, to let them explain why Team Tickles was their choice. As well as a little bit more about their history, investments, futre plans and why they are confident in the Dota 2 roster's success.
GG's foundation sounds like a typical Silicon Valley start-up story — four friends passionate about what they love decided to launch their own project. But before Gaimin Gladiators, it was something else.
"We were getting a little older, couldn't find as much success in professional gaming, so we started OCG Esports around three years ago," Alex Cuccovillo, GG's Vice President, says. He, alongside Shawn Porter, CEO, and Nick Cuccovillo, President, were having this chat with me. The other GG's commanding crew member is Joseph Turner, General Manager, located in the UK, but he couldn't attend the meeting.
Alex and Nick were raised helping their parents establish the family business in Canada; that's where they learned so much about running an enterprise. Shawn studied brand and product design, so everything you see from the Gamin Gladiators brand is done in-house.
Shawn and Alex met a long time ago playing Dota and have a professional background in various MOBAs. The latter had a hand in coaching and commentating during the early Dota 2 era. Nick has been in FPS games, working in talent acquisition. So they have adequate knowledge and network in each esports sphere, giving them an upper edge thanks to the the fact they already know the ins and outs of esports not just from a business point of view, but from a player's point of view.
It's ironic, but Alex admits they had to leave competitive NA Dota 2 for other games because it lacked tournaments and money. And as it always happens with organizations, OCG Esports started signing players, helping them out, and finding investors and partners to uphold financially.
"At one point, we did have the best Warcraft 3 team in the world. We signed a bunch of European players back when WC3 Reforged came out and there was a little bit of hype around it. We won the grand finals for the first tournament for Reforged and we were playing against some big teams, like mousesports and others. And I believe the CEO of mousesports actually told one of our investors that we're working with right now to look out for us. And that's how we initially got in contact."
OGC were pretty big in Canada. Besides the WC3R team in Europe, they had a CS:GO team, which won the Dreamhack in Montreal. They also had top-tier players in Mortal Kombat and Smash Bros, all the best respective players in Canada. OGC was a running foundation, people knew them. So it was just a matter of time to find notable investors.
Today, Gaimin Gladiators are based in Canada. Still, they're heading more towards the global stage, acquiring EU, SEA teams, looking into Brazil, trying not to be constraint to North America.
But apart from the Gladiators side with around five people on staff and a couple of contractors, there's the parent company Gaimin.gg, the corporate side of the umbrella of the whole company. "They take more of the corporate level and to be honest, we relay back some of the business stuff back to them and they either approve it or don't. And so it works in both ends," Nick tells me. "They confirm all the transactions or whatever decisions are made for the GG side".
Alex continues: "We've always had a plan. We always knew that at one point we're gonna need to get investment to get far. No organization has really made it without some type of increase of investment, even 100Thieves or whatever it might be. So we always had an action plan built. We created investment decks a long time ago, always updating them. And I think it just came along to happen. We met some of the investors a couple of times through talks; at the time, they didn't really seem interested because they didn't see how it could connect with what they were creating. And then a few months later, they figured out that esports is a great way for this application."
Gaimin's Mission is basically this; "PASSIVE AUTONOMIC MONETIZATION FOR GAMERS". It's a play-as-earn type of platform: get game rewards for free and do whatever you want with those rewards.
"Although we have an element of Crypto and NFTs within our platform, we are a game engine by design." Nick explains, with the platform's core focus the "utilization of processing power, not the mining or purchasing of Coins, nor NFTs."
GGs software instead "simply uses Blockchain Elements for background working, and for all intents and purposes, it should be viewed as a game engine, with the ability to launch into Private Server Games, including Minecraft and GTAV, watch Content Creators via Streams and Practice on your favorite games with skills training."
He's also quick to clarify: "Under no circumstances would Gaimin be requesting people to purchase a currency or to purchase NFTs." Establishing the platform's core use case is "actually as a processing power aggregator, to provide processing power for video rendering and AI Production." Aspects of the technology's use which are completely separate from most crypto-based ventures.
But, it was evident that expanding the platform through the esports sphere could work well.
Takeover and rebranding was a pretty long process. Shawn says that it took them a year to close the deal from the moment they first had a meeting with the company.
"And then, at one point, they just decided to bite. They liked what we were doing. We came up with the plan that benefited them as well in terms of getting user acquisition for the platform, and they really liked it."
"They invested in us more than the teams we had", Alex says. "We had some teams that were definitely pretty good and some very high level players, but we didn't have anyone who was on the level of what our current Dota 2 team is. We built out these huge documents listing different teams at different cost points and what they can bring, what success, and what type of viewer metrics. We showcased what our plan would be over the next year and a half, what teams we'd bring on and why we'd bring them on, and what kind of potential they have. So there was honestly a lot of background work as well, which was another part of the reason why they really liked what we were doing".
Acquiring Team Tickles
As already mentioned, Shawn and Alex have a background in Dota while still being massive fans of the game . They were looking at getting into the Dota scene due to its very high viewership. It came as a surprise to hear they were initially (yet, obviously) looking for an NA team. And GG had a couple of options. But during the middle of the season; back at the end of December-early January, they saw something special in Team Tickles.
Alex confirms: "At first, I thought maybe they're just having a good run. I wasn't too sure, but as soon as I started watching them play, I knew there was something special. We all did, actually, and then decided to have a discussion with them".
Towards the end of the DPC Winter Tour, they had a talk with Daniel "ImmortalFaith" Moza, the team's coach.
Alex continues: "We had a talk with a few amount of teams. But we were most interested in them just because of not how good they were, but in terms of a new organization coming in the brand awareness that they bring playing against Team Liquid, OG and Secret. All these teams allow a new organization to get that brand awareness very quickly, rather than if you're in a lot of other regions. So it was a colossal decision-maker for us as well. And we also saw that there was a lot of potential with the roster of young players.
"Every TI, there's a new champion and there's always a lot of those new teams that come out of nowhere, like Team Spirit, or CDEK, LGD back in the day. Why not invest in a team that has that potential? Who knows how far they can take it? And all the players seem like great guys, very hard working."
Though, signing a North American team gets you higher chances to participate in Majors and subsequently TIs, adding the fact that there were teams with high skills in need of sponsors. And the crew knew it, says Shawn: "There's only really three teams in NA competing at a high level. But honestly, a lot of the teams that we talked to were, I would say, very hard to negotiate with. We tried to pursue the NA angle at first because we're obviously from North America. But I would say they were very hard to work with and negotiate with, so we just lost interest and decided to look in other areas like CIS, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Our eye caught Team Tickles, and we pursued them."
Image via Gaimin Gladiators
"It was a blessing in disguise. Who knows, if we did pursue a NA side, where would we be standing right now?" Nick points out.
Gaimin Gladiators Dota 2 squad is their most significant asset and most prominent investment so far. And it is all risks considered, Shawn says.
"We had the budget to sign a Tier-1 team in any respective game. We looked at every single game within esports. We looked at CS:GO, we looked at VALORANT, we looked at Rainbow Six, and a lot of team acquisitions in those other games are actually quite inflated. They're pretty expensive to get into. We were looking at anything from a million dollars for a five-person roster. Whereas in Dota, it's pretty much under half of that. So we did all the calculations, metric-wise."
Alex continues: "Dota 2 actually is still doing really well in terms of viewership. And especially now that live events are back, that's huge for us. But after doing the overall analysis, we just thought it was a no-brainer to get into Dota. We did have that fear of… You know, it's Valve. You don't know what the hell they're going to do next, they're very spontaneous. But we decided at the end of the day that if we wanted to get a Tier-1 team, Dota would probably be the best route for us: it still has really good viewership and a loyal fan base, and it's been around forever. So it was a no-brainer for us in terms of how much it costs, how much viewership it gets, and how much our brand will be shown. And the Majors and TIs, obviously, are a huge deal for us.
"Obviously I'd like to say we did get a little lucky with getting a team that is now one of the strongest teams in Europe, but I think it also was a lot of due diligence on our end and kind of figuring out what we thought would be best and working together with them to create what's what's happening right now".
GG reached ImmortalFaith, and you know what happened next.
We pay salary in céleri. Seleri's fine with it.
Alex Cuccovillo - Vice President, Gaimin Gladiators
By the way, speaking of finances, Shawn confirms that all the money from Supporter Packs goes to the player and the coach.
Bootcamping, Stockholm, and Plans
Gaimin Gladiators were staying in Belgrade, at the Relog Media facility, for the whole DPC league. Essentially, they needed to find a place with the current geopolitical issue going on right now: Anton "dyrachyo" Shkredov is from Russia, so they had to find somewhere he could participate in the DPC without getting into too many issues.
Initially, they wanted to bootcamp right before the season. Then, instead of players traveling around and trying to figure out visa issues, GG's management decided to keep them in Belgrade for as long as possible. They have excellent connections with Relog, who were "so, so helpful" on this. It seemed like it paid off eventually.
Nick underlines the importance of bootcamping and its impact on players' success:
"Everyone thinks bootcamp is about 24 hours grind and practice. However, there are aspects of it in which the players never physically met. Thus, it was an ideal moment for them to meet, develop team bonds, and even establish a team culture. And they developed as a team, and they developed that closeness. And I believe that is critical: if we are to compete in the next Major or a large event like TI, that is a necessary aspect; it is critical for a team to have at least that initial engagement."
"Obviously, they did well on the bootcamp. But those guys are very humble and they have great friendships among themselves. And I think that solidified the team for a better cause. We also got them a psychologist once a week to go over stuff with them. It's important for mental performance and mental fortitude, so they won't get exhausted or drained. You know, the boys have families, girlfriends, all that. They don't want to be gone for a very long time. And although they were gone along for this bootcamp, I think it was just a very important season."
Joseph Turner, General Manager, traveled with the team to Serbia. But with the team going to Stockholm, Alex and Shawn will follow them to Sweden together with Joseph. Still, everyone at GG was confident about their team making it to the Major.
"We were a top-two team in the past and the regional champions," Alex says. "And there were four slots for EU. OG was a bit of a surprise, but they have a very strong young roster. So they surprised us a bit, but I think we always knew our team could make it to the Major. But ultimately, we had faith, immortal faith, you know."
By the way, speaking of the coach. Communication is built through a closed Discord channel, where ImmortalFaith gives daily reports. They also call each other once a week and discuss the team's past and future schedules. Alex even finds it convenient to work in the European time zone; he's happy to get up at 6 am, watch games, communicate with the squad, and finish at 6 pm to have his evening free.
We have some fantastic news, hopefully in the future. And the merch will be coming out soon!
Alex Cuccovillo - Vice President, Gaimin Gladiators
Wrapping up the chat, Alex wanted to shout out to every Gaimin Gladiator fan out there.
"We really appreciate everyone that supports our teams, Dota 2 especially. And anyone that supports any of the other teams, honestly, the fans are the main reason why any esports organization exists. So the support is always outstanding. The love and even the hate we get, we love it. Thank you to all the fans. And then on top of that, thank you to Gaimin.gg: support them if you want to support our players and the organization. And our sponsor StoneForged too: they offer PCs to all of our players, specifically the Dota 2 team."
After our conversations, I had the clear feeling; these guys are trustworthy.
Yes, they might have sounded like genuine business people who are primarily interested in profits and opportunities to promote the brand on the market. However, given our young field and the notes in the voices I heard, I have no reason to doubt the organization's success if everything goes well. Furthermore, this is an organization that doesn't hesitate to invest in a potentially good asset, and therefore it's logical that the headquarters expects to make a profit.
Judging by the social media posts of Gaimin Gladiators players, they frankly enjoyed the bootcamp, despite how long they spent on it. Maintaining high morale and setting up the players is incredibly important, especially given that they are capable of making it to TI for the first time in their lives.
Let's just follow the Gladiators in Stockholm starting May 12 and see what they show us next.
Feature Image via Gaimin Gladiators