In the rare moments he has nothing else to do, Konstantinos "Forg1ven" Tzortziou likes to go outside for coffee or to grab a drink with his friends. He might order Asian cuisine such as chicken curry. He enjoys watching TV series and reading about war history. He never frets about his past or distant future. Forg1ven only concerns himself with the present and immediate future. If he takes interest in something, he will do his best to excel at it. Where does he see himself in five years? "I do what I like," he tells me. "I'm not planning anything."
No one could plan for the roller-coaster ride of ups and downs in Forg1ven’s short career as a League of Legends player. He has gone through three splits, three teams, one fine, and one suspension. In those three splits he can say that he’s achieved more and gone through more than most LCS players. He can claim he has earned the respect for his individual ability as a player and an MVP title. There aren’t many players that have been consistently rated as one of the best players in their region in every split they’ve played in. How many players have ever been on a team that placed first in the regular season? Very few – there are less European LCS players that have been on a first place regular season team than a championship team. Still, Forg1ven stands at the edge of a line, not wondering, but waiting for when it’s time to move on.
The 23-year-old star AD carry of Gambit Gaming currently resides in Kavala, Greece taking a break from anything League of Legends related. He admits to casting a Greek League of Legends tournament, but otherwise he’s been dominating the ladder in Heroes of the Storm. It’s his vacation, and he deserves the time off. After weeks of inconsistency, Gambit Gaming looked like it was finally coming together towards the end of the split. Everything came crashing down when he received a four-game suspension for his behavior in solo queue at possibly the most important time of the year. He isn’t sure if he has any attempt at being in a top team again and he needs the time away from the game before he can make any decisions.
“Why don’t you think you can be in a top team?” I ask.
There is a pause. "I am a player working from a combination of logic and the ability to decipher evidence and facts, to produce results," he finally says. "I accept the fact that I will be 24-years old soon and I am way up on the expected gaming life of a professional player. The teams I have played for didn't have much success. I just don't see how I can be up there again, not because I won't be able to. I just strongly believe it won't happen again. I can't explain it."
Even if he couldn’t quite explain it, I understood. Forg1ven wasn’t wrong. In the past six splits teams such as TSM and Fnatic have made and for the most part, won every LCS Final. In North America, aside from CLG and GGU, the only other team to make the final has been C9. In Europe, an assortment of teams have taken their chances with Fnatic and the only team to ever finally take the title from them in Summer of 2014, Alliance, collapsed the following year. Historically, the odds of him being on a team to challenge the status quo were against him. In sports, they are called dynasties for a reason.
In the history of both traditional sports and esports, there have been truly talented players that never could quite add a championship to their legacy because of poor front office management, injuries, or weak overall rosters. Unlike Forg1ven however, traditional sports players have the luxury of time to cement their legacy. The average career lengths for NFL and NBA players range from three to five years. In comparison, three to five years is the full-length of only the most successful esports player’s career. The average is much shorter.
Forg1ven stands in what may be the twilight of his career, amidst chatter of his behavior in solo queue and debates on whether or not his punishment was carried out correctly. He doesn't care about any of it. It isn’t important to him what other people think of him. All he knows and cares about is that he has limited time to accomplish what he set out to do when he entered the LCS.
Everyone wants to win. What makes Forg1ven stand out? I’ve seen the highlight plays that he’s made and I know about the controversies that surround him. There are debates about where he ranks among the top western AD carries and questions about what his options are in the future. As I spoke with him, it was clear that the plays, controversies, debates, and questions all stem from the simple fact that he wants to win – more.
Whatever hobby I picked up the moment I realized I liked it, I naturally became good at it. It was natural competition, the moment I pick a game I don't commit, but I try to understand what I need to do to play at the highest level at least individually. I want to know I'm not wasting my time in comparison to doing something else.
Forg1ven wasn’t a gaming prodigy. He didn’t have any special connection with gaming. Like most professional players, he had a normal life, "I didn't really have an extraordinary or different childhood." He played football, he went to school, and hung out with his friends. He grew up in the suburbs of Greece and when he had nothing else to do, he found computer games. "The choices you have in the suburbs in the town or city compared to Athens is vastly different," Forg1ven tells me matter of factly. "I was limited with the choices I was presented with."
Many people can enjoy computer games, but few become professional gamers. What drew him into the world of esports? Was it because he was competitive?
“Yes.” – There’s a silence. I imagine him shrugging after the fact. I guess it was all he needed to say, as if it were only natural.
Forg1ven was drawn to competitive online games such as Counter Strike 1.6 and Defense of the Ancients. His parents at the time did not allow him to travel abroad to play in tournaments. So while he could not take on the best players in the world at age fourteen, he still tried in earnest to play at the highest level in Greece. Eventually his brother had taken him to his first local LAN when he was fifteen years old. While he became relatively well-known as a player within the local scene, his name would not be known to audiences until several years later with his League of Legends Championship Series debut.
Forg1ven only started playing League of Legends near the end of 2011, deciding to finally try the game out at his friend’s insistence. He rose quickly through the ranks of solo-queue and became the highest rated player on the Europe Nordic & East server. Around the same time, a western AD carry was creating reels of highlights in competitive matches. "His insane individual skill, and his style of carrying back then really motivated me to play AD carry,” Forg1ven mentioned in an interview with Rift Rant. Yilang “Doublelift” Peng was making a name for himself and Forg1ven set upon a path to follow in Doublelift’s footsteps.
Forg1ven dominated the Greek scene for months with different teams: WannaBeez, Pentakill.gr, and Test Your Limits. He participated in as many monthly online Go4LoLs as he could, trying to see where he stood amongst the competition. He watched as international teams competed for two million dollars in the Season 2 World Championship. Being the best in the Greek scene wasn’t enough and he knew it. He had to start over and try his hand in the more competitive Europe West server. It took two to three months for him to claim the number one position on the challenger ladder. After that, he waited for the offers to come in: It was time to go professional.
Before I played every single game I knew we were most likely going to win no matter what happened.
The following months were what Forg1ven would describe as the best time in his career. He joined with the Copenhagen Wolves (CW) in October of 2013 at the recommendation of Petar “Unlimited” Georgiev. He was filling in the shoes of young Swedish star Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, who already had the international experience he did not. The Copenhagen Wolves were doing incredibly well in the amateur scene with Rekkles, and Forg1ven’s introduction changed nothing. They went nearly undefeated and smashed the competition.
“What made your time then the best time of your career?” I ask. It was curious, he hadn’t even entered the LCS yet, but it was the months leading up to it that he considered the best.
It wasn’t just about winning, it was also about home.
"I don't imagine myself living somewhere else other than the country I was born in,” he tells me. “It's just my job forces myself to be outside of it.” Home is that important for Forg1ven.
He was able to live from the comforts of his house in Greece and socialize with his friends, family, and girlfriend. "I would just play, practice, or scrims or solo queue. I would fly back to a country for a tournament and I would fly back to my city... life goes on again,” he reminisces.
What would make someone who considered the best time in his career the time he spent playing at home, leave behind everything? It was a hard decision. Not because of money. It was never about the money. "It's not as fantastic as it sounds, it doesn't pay you that much, it also keeps you behind mostly in your life," Forg1ven expressed to Thorin on Reflections. Forg1ven traveled 2000 km and left behind the home that he loved; his friends that he enjoyed spending time with; and the years he could have spent getting an education at a technical institute. He sacrificed his better half to chase and obtain success, the only other thing that could make him happy.
Forgiven has been a really, really, eager person, but he may be a bit overzealous, which shows in his style of arguing and trying to bring points forward. He adapted a lot towards the end of the split, toxicity was only an issue for me in the beginning of the split, he really tried too hard to improve in that department. He is one of the hardest working players out there, so he earned my respect, he really wanted to make the team he was in the best team it could be, but people didn't follow up, and didn’t work as hard as he did, therefore creating a gap in individual skill level.
Forg1ven was affectionately given the nickname "House" after the character in the popular show by a former Different Dimension teammate. Like the character, he is blunt, logical, and brilliant at his profession. What people may perceive as argumentative and a lack of empathy is a byproduct of his high expectations. There isn’t a soft, compassionate, and understanding person underneath. He isn't the kind of person to tell someone that they can do better next time, it's implicit. But it doesn't make him a bad teammate, just one that is harder to initially understand. He wants the best out of everyone, and he wants to win.
Despite all their success in the challenger scene, the Copenhagen Wolves couldn’t always win. They would go 13-15 in the 2014 Spring Split. If anything, they were a consistent team. They were either tied or had winning records versus all the other LCS teams save Alliance, Gambit Gaming, and SK Gaming. The team wasn’t terrible, just at the level where they were a deserved LCS team. They finished in 6th place after going 1-2 against the rising powerhouse that was Alliance and 1-2 against the waning Gambit Gaming.
Being just at the level to stay in the LCS was not why Forg1ven left home to compete. He helped the team during relegations, but decided not to stick with the Wolves. He waited and bided his time for another opportunity to arise. Five months later, after a short stint keeping his edge with Greek team Different Dimension, he finally found the top team he wanted to play on.
SK Gaming had the potential to go far. They had a solid top laner, one of the best EU junglers, an up-and-coming mid lane talent, and a veteran support player. And for a period in time, they looked unstoppable. Forg1ven won fifteen games with SK Gaming and lost only three during the 2015 Spring Split. The only other teams that looked to have the same consistent ability to win games was the newly formed Fnatic and H2K. The rest of the EU LCS teams were a mess with losing or near-losing records.
Somehow, in spite of the success they showed during the regular season, they collapsed in the semi-finals against the scrappy Unicorns of Love and fell to fourth against H2K. They were both close series, but for SK Gaming it was a clear sign that the team had gotten by on pure talent rather than working together as a team. The issues that existed, but never manifested themselves while they were winning, were revealed in the disappointing playoff losses. In the end, only Forg1ven left the team and was replaced by Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann.
Two teams in two splits: for however short Forg1ven’s career had been thus far, the community had already identified him as a lane dominant AD carry that could not get along with his teammates. He was lambasted for his supposed inability to adapt to meta changes and his supposed lack of teamwork. It was the the reason why his teams failed, why he continued to leave teams, and why he would never find success.
But, one player cannot will a team to win in a team game. Forg1ven recognizes that. He doesn't bemoan the fact. I bring up the criticism and ask him if it was true that he demanded teams to be centered around him.
"I just play what I had to in order to find a way to win," says Forg1ven. "In the start, the teams that I played for had already a plan. But in the end, the plan with the people they had didn't work, so I had to take the responsibility and burden most of the times, or especially on Copenhagen Wolves and SK Gaming sometimes."
In both teams, Forg1ven was given the opportunity to stay and change members to fit around him. But he couldn’t. “I’m not a leader,” he tells me. He doesn’t want to lead a team at the expense of his teammates. He doesn’t want to deal with the politics of playing competitively. All he wants to do is show up, scrim, play, and destroy the enemy nexus.
On Gambit Gaming, Forg1ven was willing to take a supportive role and let his teammate Cabochard carry. It was the best way to win in a top-centric meta, and that’s all that counted. "On the teams that I played, my life wasn't easy," Forg1ven laments. "There wasn't always an instance where I had to do something, but it took a lot of time to adjust." Even after an 0-4 start, the team began to come together and other teams publicly acknowledged the strength of Gambit Gaming. It looked like they were headed to the playoffs despite their poor start. Unfortunately, Forg1ven was suspended for four games during that critical time in the 2015 Summer Split. The team lost their last two games and fell out of playoff contention. Meanwhile, Forg1ven could only wonder if next year was his year.
The more splits I play, the more answers I am going to decipher [for myself] from it. If it will come then we will see. Until then the odds are stacked at the moment.
Time is the main enemy for the star Greek AD carry. He doesn't see himself as a leader, has no incentive to create a team on his own, and thus he has to continue searching for the best possible chance to taste what he almost had with SK Gaming. I ask Forg1ven about the success stories of other players such as Froggen who took away the one championship Fnatic could not get while on Alliance or Doublelift who stuck with Counter Logic Gaming for six splits before he finally won his championship.
"Do you think you can replicate their success?" I press.
"Man I don't have the reputation those players have, I just want to play," Forg1ven says in frustration. "I don't want the responsibility of running an organization or a team. I'm just a really good player and just want to play on a team, I don't care about anything else.”
What if things don’t work out? What will he do then?
“Life goes on man,” he says matter of factly. “Whenever I stop gaming, I will just continue whatever I left behind in Greece. Simple as it seems.”
He still misses home and is glad that he’s back. It’s a constant tug-of-war between the two things that are important in his life. “I get homesick when I am in Germany,” he admits, then he grins sheepishly. “But one month after I arrive in Greece, I usually get really bored and I want to go back. This has already happened three splits already.”
I think of his career and how he has played on three different teams so far. Maybe if he had assurance or some kind of guarantee that the teams he were on would improve it wouldn’t have turned out this way. It’s a race against an ever ticking clock in esports. Most players are pressured by the community to succeed. Many have retired because they can’t handle the insults, backseat managing, or lack of trust from their fans and teammates. Forg1ven is his own harshest critic, because other than his individual performance, the only metric he judges himself by is whether or not he succeeds.
There are no hypotheticals with Forg1ven. I ask him what support systems he wish existed during his career. "It's not up to me to answer the question,” he states. “The organizations are great and the environments the players work for. Whenever I have a responsibility I just make sure I am typical with it. That's all."
Well of course things could be better, "So I'm just saying in a perfect world what do you wish existed?"
"I answered you," he laughs. "There is no perfect world."
In a perfect world Forg1ven would be the undisputed best player in the west and would have the best teammates to win with him; he would have the time for a social life and work from Greece; and he would have the time to keep trying for several more years. But this isn't a perfect world.
He can only attempt to be the best player he can be, until the window is finally shut.