Glaurung on Growing Pains—and Growing Up—in Esports

Dylan Walker, Blizzard Entertainment
September 6, 2017

While other young people might look up to movie stars, entrepreneurs, and firefighters, as a kid Mike ‘Glaurung’ Fisk looked up to the likes of Flash and Jaedong, two of the most decorated StarCraft pros in esports history. Chief among them all, though, was herO, a Protoss player from Korea. “He's always been at the top of StarCraft II,” said Glaurung. “His work ethic and dedication to his craft is inspiring.”

All three are players who have competed for years on the game’s biggest stages. After playing on stage himself, Glaurung knew that’s what he wanted to do—for life. “It felt so good winning on stage the first time,” he said. “It’s a feeling you want to chase, winning in front of a live audience that thinks what you’re doing is awesome. It’s so thrilling.”

It doesn't happen for everyone with a dream, but Glaurung did get the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his idols. In January 2015, Symbiote, Glaurung’s young and hungry Heroes of the Storm team, was signed by Tempo Storm. The roster promptly went on a tear for the better part of a year, placing first in nearly every early-beta community event. But the good times would turn out to be short-lived.

EXILE ON WEST MOJAVE STREET

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The reason Glaurung was removed from Tempo Storm was simple: “I didn't know what I was doing,” he said. “I was a lot more naïve than I am now. We didn't really have structure or a plan behind the [team] house; we just wanted a place to live, essentially. That was one of the reasons why it failed, I think.”

The house was a five-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot mini-mansion in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, where the original Tempo Storm team—featuring Wade ‘Dreadnaught’ Penfold—lived and worked for most of 2015. The house had a swimming pool, nearby putting greens, and a quaint terracotta roof.

“It was my first time moving away from home," Glaurung said. "The house was so huge, but so empty. It was me and Dread alone, at first, in a house with plastic fold-up tables and lawn chairs. I think the lack of structure led to the animosity I felt toward Dread and that he felt towards me at that time.” Glaurung said.

He was only in the house for a few short months before he was separated from the team.

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On Tempo Storm, Dreadnaught said, “I was the original shot caller and team leader. When Glaurung joined the roster, we had struggles . . . on learning who should be leading and how. We both naturally take leadership roles in a lot of what we do, and I think this caused us to have unreasonable friction in our relationship working together.”

“I wanted to be the in-game leader, but out of game I was this young, egotistical kid who had no idea how to approach leadership,” Glaurung said. “It's hard for me to figure out what I need to be doing, what I need to say, and how I need to treat my teammates.”

The two players also viewed how to approach the game and practice differently, which added to the friction.

“Mike preferred aggression and kills over out-rotating the enemy team,” said Dreadnaught. “He focused more on securing ganks and kills to snowball a win; I was more macro-focused. He also wanted everyone to grind all day, every day while I preferred four hours of heavy focus over eight hours of light concentration.”

Two years later, things between the former teammates have improved. “My relationship with Glaurung now [is] much better that it was before, especially [after] getting to speak with him at the Western Clash and talk a bit about old times on Tempo Storm, and just about the game in general,” said Dreadnaught. “We are pretty solid and good friends. I think we both realize that our short time together as teammates was bound to start on the wrong foot due to the lack of experience [and] maturity, and the pressure we put on ourselves naturally back then.”

Things weren't so sanguine at the time, though. After the dust settled from leaving Tempo Storm, Glaurung said, “I felt like I had lost a lot of confidence.”

THE WILDERNESS YEARS

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Glaurung began to recoup his confidence just two weeks later, when he signed with Cognitive. “[That] was a team environment where I really started to believe that I could make something of myself and became more optimistic,” he said. “Overall, my experience on Cognitive was good for me because I started to learn more about who I wanted to be.”

Even so, Glaurung would end up playing for Cognitive for little more than a year, from June 2015 to July 2016. [Full disclosure: At the time I was Team Manager for Cognitive.] We made the decision to remove Glaurung from the team because people in the house weren’t getting along, and most of the group was pointing toward him as the problem.

Cognitive had struggled before Glaurung joined. When he did, results improved, but eventually began to backslide. His narrow hero pool of melee assassins pigeon-holed the team into an aggressive playstyle at a time when Cloud9 and Tempo Storm were experiencing success with triple-backline comps. Essentially, we could only play the game one way—and, once people figured that out, Cognitive again hit the skids.

After leaving Cognitive for good, Glaurung took a turn on Denial Esports with John Paul ‘KingCaffiene’ Lopez and Keiwan ‘k1pro’ Itakura, following their win at BlizzCon 2015 as part of Cloud9. The new team competed at BlizzCon 2016, tying for seventh. “Going to BlizzCon was really good for me,” Glaurung said. “It was my first chance to prove on an international stage that I could be a top competitor.”

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And yet, after BlizzCon 2016, Glaurung found himself teamless once again. “[Denial] was not a good fit in the long run,” he said. Despite being removed from three teams in relatively quick succession—Tempo Storm, Cognitive, and Denial—every team that Glaurung played on had reliably placed within the top three of North America during his tenure. It seemed inevitable that once Glaurung’s maturity caught up with his talent, he would be a force to be reckoned with. And now it seems to be happening.

BALANCE CHANGES

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When the HGC was announced, Glaurung banded together with a mixed roster that included Justin ‘Justing’ Gapp and Chandler ‘Buds’ Gavran, known for their time on Team Name Change; Chu8, a popular League of Legends player turned Heroes streamer; and longtime esports veteran Orie ‘YoDa’ Guo. “Everyone expected us to get seventh place,” Justing said earlier this year at the first Western Clash.

But everyone was wrong. The roster shot up on the standings in Phase 1, entering the Western Clash as a second seed ahead of fan favorites Gale Force Esports.

Team 8, whose roster eventually evolved into Roll20 esports, is now considered by many to be the most successful North American team in the last two years, thanks to their performances against powerhouses like MVP Black and Team Dignitas at the Mid-Season Brawl in June.

Part of this might have to do with Glaurung getting max benefit from the stage energy he has long pursued. “I choose not to feel pressure,” he said. “I just want to see if I can be the best. I feel a lot of pressure to perform, but [that’s] not necessarily derivative of a crowd. It's more personal.”

His living situation, too, is decidedly more placid. Today Glaurung lives with Ben 'Cattlepillar' Bunk, Tempo Storm’s current captain, in a new three-bedroom penthouse in a luxury apartment complex. “Cattle is probably my best friend,” Glaurung said. “Living with him has been really nice. It's just someone I can talk to about the game, or not about the game. We have fun.”

That’s not to say Glaurung has totally mellowed. He still has the same fire that contributed in the past to his clashes with teammates; it’s just tempered now by age and experience. “I want to be the best in the world,” Glaurung said, adding, “. . . and then take it from there. I want to see what it's like at the top.”

While he’s been at the top of North America for some time now, Glaurung’s personal motto continues to ring true, as it has through his many cycles of exile and return: “I'm always hungry for more.”