Mikkel ‘Mande’ Hestbek has been trying to process winning the ALGS Championship for the entirety of the off-season for Apex Legends esports, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in. “It hasn’t really hit me yet,” he tells Gfinity Esports. “As soon as I get the trophy, I think I’ll believe it actually happened.”
Mande, along with teammates Can ‘Taisheen’ Öztürk and Dan ‘rpr’ Ušić, won the EMEA region ALGS Championship after a rocky year. The trio was let go from North at the turn of the year and had to fend for themselves as an orgless side. Under the name MCD, they won their first major tournament as free agents in January, but a rollercoaster of a Winter Circuit left them as outsiders coming into the biggest Apex Legends esports tournament to date.
Now signed to Japanese organisation SCARZ EU, Mande is on top of the world – and not just because of the trophy in the post.
Shooting For The SCARZ
“It’s nice to have a home, a place where you work and talk to people,” he says. Being orgless can be lonely with only your two teammates by your side. Mande clearly works well with other people around him, and appreciates the support offered by SCARZ in particular. He regales me with stories of how the organisation has helped him and his teammates where others may not.
“rpr’s internet didn’t work for one of the qualifying days for a tournament,” Mande explains. He can’t remember if it was an ALGS tournament or a different competition, but that’s beside the point.
“So he wrote to [SCARZ CEO] Youichi ‘ONEONE’ Tomori and explained that he didn’t know if he could play that day. And ONEONE was like ‘don’t worry about it, we know there’s a storm in Croatia, just take care of yourself. If you can’t play, you can’t play.’
“That’s when we realised – we were like f**king hell dude, they really like us. Not just because we’re good at the game, they like us as people and they want to be like a family for us.”
As it happened, rpr’s internet came back in time for the qualifier, but the CEO’s attitude towards the players told them everything they needed to know about their new SCARZ. Mande half-jokes that MCD signed to SCARZ because all three players want to visit Japan in the future, but in the present - a present where LAN tournaments are still a way off and the trio are playing separately from their bedrooms - this support is especially welcome.
The familial structure of being a part of an esports organisation is more important to Mande than any money he makes. It may be easy to say that when you have a regular salary and around $80,000 of Championship winnings burning a hole in your back pocket, but Mande loves what he does, and appreciates that he has the opportunity to do it.
“[Content creators] are very fortunate that we’re able to do what we want to do for a living, because not a lot of people can do that,” he says. “If I got $5 million tomorrow, I’m not going to be happy just because I got a lot of money. If you want to have a nice life, you’ve got to do stuff that makes you happy. I always say that I’d rather do what I love for ten years than f**king hate my life for 50 years doing something I don’t want to.”
So when he complains about Apex Legends’ servers, or burning out on playing the game so much when cheaters and DDOSers ruin his Apex Legends ranked matches, he steps back to keep that perspective. After all, it could be worse. All the same, he knows that the game isn’t in a good place at the moment.
Mo' Players, Mo' Problems
“I don’t want Apex to die,” he says. “I’m not joking when I say it can probably surpass every single game out there.”
Dying may seem like strong words, but between hacks, cheaters, and DDOSers, the game is often barely playable. For those who make a living from the game, either by playing in tournaments or streaming on Twitch (or both), it’s hard to keep playing.
“If DDOSing and cheating is still a massive f**king problem in two to three months, I think a lot of pros are going to dip. Philip ‘ImperialHal’ Dosen already talked about it on his stream and on Twitter, he’ll probably switch to Warzone if it ever happened.
“It’s sad to see, because they’ve got the best game in the world in their hands right now. And I want it to succeed and all of us [pro players] want that too, even if we seem very toxic around it. But it’s just not looking good right now, because the last six to eight months have been a massive problem. There’s just one guy, Conor ‘Hideouts’ Ford, sitting and banning people – and he can’t work 24 hours a day.”
The problems seem to have been exacerbated in the off-season, due to the fact that pro players have little to do other than stream and grind ranked. He’s glad that official tournaments are starting up in the off-season, but Mande believes BLAST Titans is more than just a stopgap.
“I was excited when I heard about BLAST Titans because I used to watch all of its Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments, and they're super high quality,” he says. “It can provide a more professional stream; I feel like when I’ve watched BLAST all the commentators are super hyped, and it’s always cool to watch.”
"There’s not a lot of teams that can win 3v3s against us in EU"
SCARZ broke its no-scrimming policy when it came to the ALGS Championship, but Mande still maintains that the team has a “relaxed” approach to tournaments and that there has been no pressure from the organisation’s owners to scrim hard ahead of any competitions, BLAST Titans included.
However, due to the off-season potentially dulling their senses and impacting their trigger fingers - and the not inconsiderable fact that BLAST is introducing a new map to competitive play - SCARZ has played a couple of scrims on Olympus.
The same is not true of Arenas, however, which will be played on the second weekend of the tournament. “There’s not a lot of teams that can win 3v3s against us in EU,” says Mande. “If they’re controller players we’re going to play slightly differently, but we’re confident in our 3v3s so we’re probably not going to change anything. We’re just going to roll them.”
Mande is relaxed and laughing with the air of an ALGS Champion. The pressure that being the best in the region brings doesn’t weigh heavy on his shoulders - if anything, winning has proved that his confidence is not misplaced. However, Mande has a habit of asking guests on his podcast whether they are scared of not succeeding. Despite his recent glory, I posited the same question right back to him.
“I think about that a lot,” he says. “It makes me very worried and sad.” But looking back, he can see how far he’s come and appreciates the progress he’s made. In terms of streaming, he’s gone from 12-viewer streams to four-figure viewership in 18 months. In the same timeframe, he has been crowned the EMEA ALGS Champion. “But I’m not done,” he tells me.
Where does he go from here? For Mande, it’s all about more tournaments. He is enthused by the idea of more tournament organisers - like BLAST - entering Apex esports and introducing new formats, but he is most excited by an idea he has been turning over in his own head.
“Solo tourneys would be f**king insane,” he says. “I’ve had this idea of making a tournament where everyone has their own [individual] points, but teams get scrambled every round. You’re not allowed to play with anyone twice, and you’re not allowed to play with your teammates [from your esports organisation]. If you win a game with 18 points, each player gets six points each, and the person with the most points at the end of the tournament wins.”
He isn’t anywhere near implementing his vision for solo Apex Legends tournaments, but the fact that he is coming up with new and innovative ways to play just shows his love of the game, and how playing at the highest level continues to excite him.
Outside of competition, he has a few ideas of how he would change the game at the moment, but aside from stabilising the servers and improving the anti-cheat, he’s only got minor changes in mind. Pathfinder and Lifeline would be his ideal recipients of minor buffs, and Revenant would be swiftly dealt a blow by the nerf hammer, but mostly Mande wants to play the game he loves in peace.
“If one day I can just wake up in the morning play Apex for eight hours with no problems – no cheaters – that'd be the best day of my life,” he says.
It’s not about the money and it’s not really about winning for him. The former keeps a roof over his head and the latter only staves off his fear of not succeeding for a little while longer. Mande loves playing Apex Legends, “the best game in the world,” and he's not done yet.
You can watch BLAST Titans over on the BLAST Twitch channel starting today.