Winning six tournaments in a year is just not enough for Gaimin Gladiators as tOfu claims the team have yet to reach their peak.
Gaimin Gladiators have stomped through the competition throughout 2023. By winning all three Majors, two DreamLeague seasons and most recently BetBoom Dacha, it is undeniable that they are one of the best teams of the year.
Esports.gg had the opportunity to speak with prior to the start of DreamLeague Season 21 Erik "tOfu" Engel to talk about Gaimin Gladiators' success and reflect upon his Dota 2 career.
Does being a triple Major winner affect tOfu's mindset?
Hello tOfu, it's a pleasure to speak with you today. How are you enjoying BetBoom Dacha?
Erik "tOfu" Engel: "It's pretty chill coming in after a break into a sort of chill little tournament. There are not so many teams so you get to hang around with your team and other teams as well. There's Nigma, for example, who I haven't seen because they didn't attend any majors. And I got to talk with Kuro and the other guys for like two hours the other night. So it's pretty cool."
"It's insane to see how far we've come, and I don't think we reached our peak yet. I'm not sure it's even in sight."
Speaking of Majors, what does winning three of them feel like? Does that affect your mindset around the game at all?
tOfu: "Obviously it's better than losing three majors [laughs], but I wouldn't say that it has changed much. You kind of just have to keep on competing and going forward. It's insane to see how far we've come, and I don't think we reached our peak yet. I'm not sure if it's even in sight. There's still a lot to come and I think we all have a bit more time to showcase what is left for us. I don't think there's any incentive for anyone to retire, which gives me a big confidence boost in not just myself but also the organization. We just believe in what we do and that makes up for a good spirit."
Key to Gaimin Gladiators' success
So what's the secret behind your success?
tOfu: "I haven't been in many teams. So for me, it was necessary for us to have change in order to become who we are now. Personally, I have a strong desire to fix what is not working or out of sync. Harmony and good chemistry within the team is the most important thing because we spend almost every day together. Everyone needs to be highly skilled, but is also able to adapt and take criticism."
Mindset is a strong part of Dota or any sport there is. And I don't think we're going to shy away from being confident
"Other than that, we just got a bit lucky. We are in the flow and are confident, Whoever is in our way sort of got crushed under. Once we got rolling, there's some sort of aura where we believe in doing our thing. Maybe other teams see us then they doubt, they fear and they crumble. Mindset is a strong part of Dota or any sport there is. And I don't think we're going to shy away from being confident."
Dissolution of DPC. No more Majors for Gaimin Gladiators to win?
You've heard how the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) has been dissolved. How do you feel about that? Especially since there is probably no more Majors for you to win?
tOfu: "I haven't thought about next season that much yet. It's hard to fully grasp right now because there's uncertainty. What the DPC gave was stability and certainty. You know what's leading to TI [The International] which I think is good. But you also you kind of always know what to play for so it does get stale. You always play the same opponents and competition, leaving little room for third-party organizers to innovate. Whereas this whole esports space is a lot about passion.
It's not always about the money. What drives the people here is passion. And if you don't leave space for other people to pursue the creativity and be able to host tournaments, you're kind of missing out on a lot. Take Beyond the Summit for example. That's like one of my favorite tournaments to watch. I'm looking forward to having more tournaments like BTS or like the Minors back in the day."
What about the impact on Division I and II tournaments?
tOfu: "The DPC system was good overall in nurturing the competition. It's sort of why I jumped into pro Dota because I thought I could compete in Division II and then make my way up. With open tournaments, I'm not sure. I'm not sure if there's even third-party organizers that are ready and can host enough tournaments. How will they do the ranking for TI? I don't know, it's all out of my hands. I'll just play whatever there is to play and I'll see how it unfolds."
Will Gaimin Gladiators go all out for DreamLeague?
Between Bali Major, Riyadh and then BetBoom Dacha, do you and your team have enough break to become ready for DreamLeague?
tOfu: "I think it's fine. We all had a lot of time to chill and reflect and just do our own stuff. We went home between Bali and Riyadh while other teams went straight to boot camp. And during this week-long break, I didn't really want to play and wanted to chill and see some friends. At the end of our break, I reached a state where I would wake up and just want to play Dota. I played 12 pubs a day.
"We are going to be really confident going into DreamLeague. We had enough break. It's time to get out there again."
That's when you get your motivation back and you just want to compete. Right now I think everyone's in a pretty good state and we have a good buildup of a month towards TI. We are going to be really confident going into DreamLeague. We had enough break. It's time to get out there again."
So will you be going all out then at DreamLeague? Or will you save some strats for TI?
tOfu: "I mean there's some stuff that isn't out there yet that we don't necessarily need to show everyone. But it's not like you have to hide. We'll play what's meta and evolve it. As you create, invent and practice it, you'll learn how to play around it. You'll eventually know how to counter the meta and therefore other teams will be a step behind. So it's always good to play your best and show certain strats because they always evolve and other teams will just try to catch up."
From League of Legends to Dota
You were a pro League of Legends of player before this. However, you did play Dota before that. Why did you not go straight to pro Dota?
tOfu: "Back then I wasn't aiming to become a pro or knew how big this space is and what was behind it. I started playing Dota when I was eight because of my older brother and his friends. When I was 14, League of Legends came out and some friends wanted to play it. So, after school I started playing every day. I got recognized and was picked up into some teams that competed in smaller, fun tournaments. Long story short, we lost the Worlds qualifier against the team that we always beat.
We went into a break for a while after that. I was 16 at that time and decided to quit playing and just do life. Study, meet people, play sports and travel. Then COVID happened and suddenly I have a lot of time at home. That's the reason I gave Dota a shot and climbed all the way to the top 100 leaderboard."
So, which is better? League or Dota?
tOfu: "Dota. Do you need an explanation or can we all just mutually agree that Dota is better?"
Would tOfu get into Dota if it wasn't for COVID?
If COVID didn't happen, would you have become a pro Dota player?
tOfu: "It's very hard to say, but probably not."
Everything happens for a reason, right? What's in store for you next? Especially since COVID is pretty much over.
tOfu: "I'm always keeping my eyes open for any opportunities falling my way, but I'm really happy with what I have. I'm grateful for the life that I've gotten and I couldn't wish for anything better. So, I'll be doing this for another year or two. Let's see how I keep on competing with this team. I don't know if I'll get washed up or not. I'm definitely happy with what I've achieved and how I'm doing personally.
Enjoying life outside of Dota
Now, for a chill and fun one. What do you and your team like doing together outside of Dota?
tOfu: "We don't really do many boot camps. We only had one boot camp this season. But we would sometimes go around the city, eat out or have some drinks. Or we would do some team sports together like basketball or football."
Rate your teammates from best to worst in sports.
tOfu: "Generally, Ace and I are probably the best. Seleri is sporty overall but he is more hardworking than talented. Then dyracho and Quinn."
TOfu share some words of appreciation to the fans
That's all the questions I have! But before I let you go, is there anything you wish to say to all your fans out there?
tOfu: "Overall we had a great season. Thanks everyone for cheering, watching, supporting and showing up in person wherever you are. We really appreciate it. Also, if there's any comments for our team or myself personally, I appreciate you for taking the effort. Without the you guys there wouldn't be much for us to compete for, so thank you. I hope for more good things to come."
Thank you tOfu. We wish you and the rest of Gaimin Gladiators good luck for DreamLeague and TI.