HasuObs: The Versatile Veteran
At the Intel Extreme Masters esports festival in Katowice, Heroes of the Storm player Dennis ‘HasuObs’ Schneider is sitting in a stairwell. He has 20 minutes to spare before he’ll be dragged off by journalists for photographs and interviews. His near-perfect English — delicate and direct — is punctuated by hearty laughter. Carefully considering his words, he addresses every portion of our interview at length. He describes his esports tenure in detail: A sprawling competitive history that spans three different games. His narrative changes course dramatically, jumping sporadically from event to event — and while it may seem an arduous odyssey at first, it’s quite a simple story to tell. He sums it up well:
“Twelve years of play,” the 28-year-old says. “Ten years of tryharding.”
Those 12 years began in 2004. There was no Facebook, Reddit, YouTube or Twitter; Pluto was still a planet; and HasuObs, then 16 years old, signed his first professional gaming contract with German gaming organization Mousesports. His first love was Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. After playing StarCraft: Brood War casually as a teenager, he took to the Undead race in Warcraft III and never looked back. While kids his age were working in fast food and retail for their summer jobs, HasuObs was plugging away at his computer and traveling the globe every few months to compete at major LAN events under the Mousesports banner.
“My parents were worried,” HasuObs recalls. “Every time there was an offline tournament, one of them came with me. When I signed with Mousesports I was a minor, so my parents had to sign the contract instead of me.”
A deal was struck — so long as he kept his grades up, he could continue to compete. “My parents were not a barrier. I managed to finish high school, then I started my college studies. I was trying to make it work in the first year. I was going there every day and writing about the subjects and stuff. I never felt satisfied with it. I decided to pursue esports full time.”
Dennis stuck with Mousesports — through high school and college, breakups, and 11 cold German winters. He spent the entirety of his formative years under the organization’s umbrella. It’s rare for teenagers to commit to any job for that length of time, much less one in esports.
“There were never problems within the team or the management,” said HasuObs of his former employer. “Sometimes I had offers that were better than Mousesports, but I always talked to the management and we always figured out a way that would keep us both satisfied. Back then, I had no idea what could be better, so I never thought about joining another team. Both parties were very satisfied. I think it was a very good relationship for both sides.”
Reign of Chaos
His first memorable public showing was at the ESL Pro Series (EPS) in 2006. EPS was a recurring national Warcraft III event in Germany that HasuObs competed at intermittently throughout his career.
“It's all ‘firsts’ for me with Warcraft because it was the first game I played competitively. Winning my first EPS was a very big deal for me. I also won the very last EPS, which makes me feel like the ‘forever champion’,” he adds with a laugh. “Back then there were big team leagues. Playing with my teammates — ToD, Happy, the Koreans, the Chinese players — I have so many good memories. I think we never won a team league, but we placed second and third a few times. It felt like winning it, though. It felt good to place that well back then.”
Protoss at Heart
At the age of 21, it was time for a change. “I started to play StarCraft II and I quickly realized that I loved the game. The first two years were crazy because I was traveling all the time, like every two or three months. I realized it was impossible to do anything next to esports,” said HasuObs. “I do not regret it.”
Mousesports was on board with the transition. “I don't even know if we talked about it. I told them I want to play StarCraft II and they said okay, sure, you can keep your contract. They said ‘Hopefully you will become good!’ I said ‘No worries’!"
HasuObs’ love of StarCraft started at a very early age, well before he became an esports pro, when he and his brother would throw small LAN parties at their parents’ house. “There was one guy who played Protoss and he built a lot of Gateways. For me it was something new because I only had one Barracks back then, only one production facility. He had like ten Gateways and built like mass Dragoons! It was impressive to me and made me like Protoss.”
There is certainly nostalgia surrounding his StarCraft II career. “If I think of StarCraft II, I think of a lot of memories outside the game when we were at tournaments. You meet these guys every two months all over the globe and play the same game. Every offline event was something special.”
Modestly put, HasuObs is well traveled for his age. “I've been to Korea, all over America, all over Europe, China many times. In Russia, I was in Moscow once to play in a tournament. I've been to DreamHack in Spain, France, and Sweden. The most exotic one I guess was Singapore, because I didn't expect to play there. I was supposed to be a caster there and they were missing a player and asked me!”
HasuObs played StarCraft II professionally for five years. He won a little over $82,000 from 119 tournaments, 42 of which were in-person competitions. HasuObs spent a lot of time traveling in the name of competitive StarCraft II. This lifestyle takes a certain kind of resilience to chase with such determination, and on a long enough timeline wears even the most steadfast competitors dull. As he went from hotel to airplane, to hotel, to computer, and back again, his motivation and dedication to compete in StarCraft II began to dwindle.
A Leap of Faith
It’s true, old dogs can learn new tricks. It’s far easier said than done, however. “It was a very big step,” HasuObs recalls. “I didn't like to play StarCraft II anymore. It was almost one year where I didn't have the results, so I wasn't getting prize money and my morale and motivation weren't there anymore. I started to play Heroes.”
In June of 2015, HasuObs and Mousesports parted ways. “For over a decade, HasuObs was a part of our team, longer than any other player in professional gaming I know of,” said Cengiz Tüylü, CEO of Mousesports, in the team’s official farewell statement. “Our cooperation was always built on respect, trust and friendship… I like to think back, enjoying all the great memories I’ve shared throughout the years with Mouz, and HasuObs is part of many of them.”
Moving forward into uncharted territory without a sponsor, HasuObs asked a few other StarCraft II players to make a Heroes of the Storm team — but it was something of a failed venture. They struggled to post results until about eight months in, when they signed with ROCCAT. “For the first year, it was a hard time. There were not that many tournaments and we didn't know how to practice that well. We didn't understand drafting.”
The ROCCAT Heroes of the Storm team broke up in December of 2015. Just a month later, HasuObs joined the roster now competing under the Team Liquid banner. “When I joined these guys, it was the first time in Heroes that I felt like, this is going to be good! These guys work hard, they understand. They have the right mindset to play tournaments. It just felt like I fit perfectly into the team.”
The Price of Complacency
While his team had been performing marginally well at first, adding HasuObs boosted their competitive performance into the stratosphere. They qualified out of the gate for their first regional LAN together at IEM Katowice 2016.
“We had a boot camp before with mYinsanity in Switzerland. We performed well. Our goal was not to get first. Our goal was to qualify for the [Spring] Global Championship; we needed to win the semifinals for that. The moment we won the semifinals, all the pressure was gone,” said Schneider. “Then the grand finals were a stomp by Team Dignitas. It's hard to explain, but the moment we won the semifinals, for us it felt like the tournament was done. Of course, we tried to win, but there was a different energy.”
After losing out to Team Dignitas at Katowice in 2016, HasuObs’ team was determined to not make the same mistake again. A lot of preparation had gone into this year’s Western Clash. “Right before the tournament here in Katowice, we checked out some drafts, scouted the opponents, and talked about what we like, what we don’t like. We tried to spread it out a bit, because last year for the Summer Championship we practiced the most with Team Dignitas and it felt like it was unfavorable for us. We felt like they learned way more out of the draft and stuff, so we adjusted our practice routine and we tried to spread it out across all good European teams.”
Dennis’s breath hung in the air as he explained that his Warrior player teammate, Markus ‘Blumbi’ Hanke, had fallen ill the night before. It was Championship Sunday at the Western Clash, and an exceptionally cold morning in Poland. He was wearing sweatpants, and walking with his team toward an access corridor in the back of the venue. Moments earlier, they had stepped off the Greyhound bus that had ferried them here from their hotel just a mile down the road. He offered that Blumbi was feeling better, but these words were soaked in concern. While this event meant a lot to every competitor, it was especially important to his team. They had failed to qualify for the Fall Championship. They had barely missed the crown at this exact same venue a year ago. Now the stakes were higher, and they were within arm’s reach.
It takes a certain kind of person to get back up after being knocked down so many times. One of those people is right here in this stairwell—a fabled competitor who remains from an era when computer monitors were as deep as they were wide. As we know now, HasuObs’ team went on to again succumb to the strength of Team Dignitas here in Katowice. Despite this setback, he remains vigilant. A newly inked deal with Team Liquid acts as a soft reset—a welcome reprieve for someone who, at the age of 28, could be considered an old-timer in this industry. HasuObs is well aware of that. “I was thinking of quitting esports when I stopped playing StarCraft II,” he says. “That was the only time I’ve ever thought about quitting. I love esports. I would like to stay.
All pro gamers have an expiry date. HasuObs, a “forever champion,” has reached what should have been his limits and surpassed them time and time again—in a way, defeating the strongest opponent of all.