The camera slowly panned across SK Gaming’s League of Legends lineup at the group stage of the World Championships in Taipei. Bot laner Adrian “CandyPanda” Wübbelmann yawned. Top laner Simon “fredy122” Payne said something into his headset, and mid laner Jesse “Jesiz” Le nodded slightly, breathing deeply. Between them, a slight, dark-haired 17-year-old stared intently at his monitor.
He said nothing, but later smirked a bit at his monitor. That was rookie jungler Erberk “Gilius” Demir.
Riot Games analyst Trevor “Quickshot” Henry introduced SK Gaming and asked caster Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles about SK’s chances against Team SoloMid, their first opponents at the 2014 League of Legends World Championship. MonteCristo was unsure about how SK would fare because their starting jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, had been temporarily suspended.
“… Svenskeren is so key to SK’s strategy,” MonteCristo said. “Because the way that SK likes to play League of Legends is that they like to push all three lanes at the same time and then have Svenskeren go and 1v1 the enemy jungler or counterjungle very heavily. Now, I don’t know if Gilius is going to really be up to that task.”
As Gilius’ Kha’Zix walked into his top-side jungle, the Taipei crowd began to chant “T-S-M, T-S-M.”
It was Gilius’ first major stage experience — debuting as a jungle substitute for one of Europe’s top teams in a world championship setting. He had yet to play in Europe’s professional league.
Currently, Gilius is in the middle of what is likely his best chance to return to the world championship stage since his sudden debut: a miraculous run on Schalke 04 from being the worst team in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), to qualifying for playoffs, and now a possible bid as one of Europe’s four seeds at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship.
On Sept. 17, 2014, then-SK Gaming jungler Svenskeren was suspended for three matches and fined $2,500 for using a racial slur in his in-game name on the Taiwanese solo queue ladder. He would not be allowed to play on the worlds stage until the second part of SK’s group playthrough.
At the time of Svenskeren’s suspension, Gilius was going through the same routine he had been following since arriving in Taipei: swimming in the players’ hotel pool or eating food at their restaurant.
“I wanted to play solo queue there, but I couldn’t, so I was just chilling,” he said. “I went to eat alone in the restaurant there .. (Riot esports director) Nick Allen just came to me, saw that I was eating alone, was giving me company. We talked about life and how I’m doing, so that was nice.”
At that point, neither SK Gaming nor Gilius thought that he would start a single game for the team.
“They didn’t even give me a computer there to play because I was just there to chill. Basically all of the stuff went down with Svenskeren. They told me I have to play. They were super tilted. No one wanted to play with me and then we just lost every game.”
Gilius was fresh off of another jungle substitution stint in the European Challenger Series with Unicorns of Love. UoL starting jungler Daniel “Dan” Hockley was unable to play in the 2014 EU CS playoffs due to school, so Gilius stepped in for the team’s playoff and 2015 European League of Legends Championship Series Promotion Tournament. Gilius and UoL advanced through playoffs and qualified for the LEC, beating Millenium in a 3-2 reverse sweep.
“We made it to the relegation tournament, made it to LCS, and then SK needed a sub,” Gilius said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling. “Back then, you were forced to get a sub for worlds, and none of their players wanted to go in their academy, so they just asked me if I wanted to come, and yeah, that’s how it happened.”
His first game both on the worlds’ stage, and of his professional career, lasted 24 minutes. It was a blowout victory for Team SoloMid.
Since his September 2014 worlds appearance, Gilius has made it his personal mission to make it back to the League of Legends World Championship.
“I’m kind of a stubborn person and when I put something in my head I just want to achieve it,” Gilius said. “I’ve always told myself I would make it back to worlds, and I’m just trying every single year. Even when I was in the German league last year, I was only thinking about making worlds again.”
It hasn’t been an easy road back even to his debut domestic stage.
Gilius has played on 20 different teams over the past six years across the LEC, previously known as the EU LCS, the European Challenger Series, the European Regional Leagues, and the Turkish Championship League.
By his estimation in those years, he’s only completed a total of three splits as a team’s starting jungler: a year on Elements and later Schalke 04 when they bought Elements’ EU LCS spot in 2016, and the 2017 spring split with Vitality. The list of junglers who have replaced Gilius on teams is surprisingly lengthy and includes the likes of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek, who replaced Gilius so many times that it became a memetic social media response, as well as Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian, and Cho “H0R0” Jae-hwan.
Rather than rely on any sort of team or roster stability, Gilius managed to use the former system of promotion and relegation to his advantage. He admitted that getting onto an LEC roster has only become more difficult since the league franchised.
“I actually promoted twice to the first league, LCS back then, so this was kind of my way of getting into the league,” Gilius said. “I would just promote from the Challenger Series, and then no one could say anything. I don’t need any connections; I could just promote. But nowadays it’s very difficult.”
With so many different attempts to prove himself at the top of European League of Legends on so many different teams, it’s impressive that Gilius has stuck around as a pro player for as long as he has. Playing the often grueling amount of solo queue to keep skills sharp enough to perform at an LEC level can be tedious. The shine wears off after a few years. Gilius thought about streaming for a bit, but then went to play in the Turkish Championship League for Beşiktaş Esports.
In Turkey, he rediscovered his desire to contend at the top of the LEC thanks to G2 coach Fabian “GrabbZ” Lohmann.
“Grabbz messaged me and said that he really wanted to scrim us,” Gilius said. “G2 wanted to scrim us for some reason, and we got 5-0’ed, completely destroyed. And that’s when I realized I have to leave. I have to go back to Europe.”
Professional players often have a more traditional backup to their esports careers. Competitive gaming is hardly a stable environment or a reliable source of income outside of a select few elite players, and asking players what they would like to do outside of playing League of Legends usually invites a list that includes becoming a staff member or coach of a team, going into sports psychology or medicine (with the potential to work with an esports team in the future), or a more standard business or computer science degree.
Gilius, however, has never thought of a career outside of League of Legends, despite all the ups, downs and changes his career has had.
“My plan from when I was 15 or 16 was just to become like [Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago] and [Brian “TheOddOne” Wyllie], these streamers I was watching,” Gilius said. “I just wanted to live off of playing League, and when I saw the competition things on Twitch, I wanted to become a pro. Nothing else really.”
Gilius admitted that one of the reasons he has stuck with the game for so long is that he’s never really been into academics.
“A bit of motivation for me is to not go back to school and get a normal job,” he said, laughing. “I really enjoy this job.”
Gilius joined the Schalke 04 main roster in the fourth week of the LEC summer split, taking the place of Lukas “Lurox” Thoma. Schalke lost to MAD Lions that week, but managed to beat a slumping Fnatic. The next week, Schalke lost to both Rogue and SK Gaming for an abysmal 1-10 record. It wasn’t until Week 6 and a surprising victory over G2 Esports that Schalke began to show signs of life in LEC matches.
According to Gilius, his arrival helped the team, but they were already performing well in scrims.
“Even when we were 1-10, we had a 70% win rate in scrims,” he said. “We were doing quite well. We just had an issue of translating these scrim games to the stage games, so I’m not sure if I helped with that regard. I brought a bit of my aggression in the early game, a bit more playmaking, but I think this team was good, it just needed to click at some point.”
Schalke 04 ended their LEC summer split on a seven-game win streak that qualified them for playoffs. From the point where he joined the team’s starting lineup to the end of the regular season, Gilius had the highest kill share of any jungler in the LEC at 26.9%. He was second in kills/deaths/assists ratio at 5.9, second in damage per minute at 310, had the highest experience difference at 10 minutes at 173 and the highest CS per minute at 5.9 (of all starting LEC junglers across that time period. This was the perfect jungle meta for Gilius and Schalke 04 gave him resources and the champion picks to succeed as a team carry. The legend of 2020 God Gilius had begun.
The nickname “God Gilius” initially came from former SK Gaming teammate Jesiz.
“I was called General Gilius, and I was in contact with Jesiz back then, we were duo-queueing a lot,” Gilius said. “And he said, ‘Your name is completely stupid. Just call yourself God Gilius instead of General Gilius.’ So Jesiz basically told me to do it, and that’s how it started.”
“God Gilius” spread due to Gilius’ aggression both in and out of game, especially at the start of his professional career. Gilius became known for trash-talking opponents, flaming foes on the European solo queue ladder and being overconfident, especially for a player who had bounced around so many teams.
“This toxic personality that people knew me from the past was kind of true,” Gilius said. “That’s how I was. I was a hot-headed guy thinking that winning is everything and behavior and stuff is not important, and I was flaming in solo queue a lot.”
Thinking about his past solo queue behavior was the first and only time that any doubt flashed across Gilius’ face.
“I’ve been a pro for six or seven years now, I just matured and learned how to behave normally,” he said. “That has helped me a lot outside of the game and getting along with teammates and stuff. I think for me, maybe I just started way too early in this business. Maybe if I had just finished school, just started when I was 18, 19, and normal in the head then, and having more social experience, maybe that would have been better.”
He hasn’t lost his famous confidence in interviews or on social media, but Gilius was also quick to praise his Schalke 04 teammates and the entire organization. Gilius described being on Schalke 04 like coming home, even when he was playing for the organization’s academy team, FC Schalke 04 Evolution. A combination of his own personal swagger, broadcast narratives, and Schalke’s miraculous run from 1-10 to an LEC playoff team have only added to the God Gilius mythos.
“The broadcast memed a lot this split about me which gave me a lot of hype,” he said. “… No one really believed we would make this run so I think it was all in fun but then became kind of serious.”
On Friday, Gilius and Schalke 04 will take on MAD Lions as the next step in a 2020 Worlds bid that was even more unlikely than their playoff appearance. MAD Lions have been a top LEC team for most of the regular season, and while European legacy organizations like Fnatic and 2019 Worlds finalist G2 Esports have seemingly reached their postseason forms — sending MAD down to the playoff losers’ bracket — MAD is still a formidable team that is favored to beat Schalke.
For Schalke, their path is the same one that they’ve followed since beating G2 in Week 6: keep winning and they’re in.
“We kind of have this mindset where we have nothing to lose again,” Gilius said. “We only have things to gain right now. We already made a nice run and won a lot of fans’ hearts and if we make Worlds it’s going to be some crazy stuff.”
Returning to the Worlds stage isn’t a given for Gilius. He described even making it as “quite crazy.” Yet, he has still thought about what a potential Worlds appearance for Schalke would look like.
Unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like their current form.
“I’m pretty sure is what would happen is that we’re going to get into a really hard group and make a miracle run happen,” he said with a grin. “This is what I’m thinking. We’ll get a completely stacked group and make it out somehow.”