Danny “HuskY” Engels earned his reputation at SK Gaming back in the day. Today, he is one of the driving forces behind one of the world’s most successful gaming organisations, G2 Esports. Overtake talks with him about esports racing and what it did for his career.
Danny competed in multiple racing games for SK Gaming. His most notable successes as a player were certainly his 2007 Intel Racing Tour championship in Live for Speed and a second place at the Electronic Sports World Cup in Need for Speed: Shift in 2010. His journey in the scene has not come to an end, though: As G2 Esports’ Head of Esports Operations, he is now responsible for the success of the entire organisation. Overtake asked him about his career and the role esports racing played.
Overtake: Danny, thanks for taking some time for this interview. Could you give a short account on what you did after stepping down from competing actively?
Danny: When stepping down, I did not expect to return to esports. It was a phenomenal time, not going to lie. I kept following the scene even beyond sim racing, but since racing competitions had fallen into a slump around 2010-2012, I went on to graduate in IT Management and started studying mathematics. You can almost say I tried to live a “normal” life, hehe.
However, I kept appearing for promotional activities thanks to SK Gaming and their partners. It was a life changing opportunity to attend the $1 million Visa Vegas eRace on behalf of SK Gaming back in 2017. It was impossible to overlook that “something” was happening around sim racing and my passion pushed me to dive deeper through the network that I had from back in the day.
How did you become part of G2 Esports?
It was half a year later, when I received a call from G2 Esports suggesting that we could do something crazy together and history wrote itself from there. I was blessed to receive the chance to lead the Fernando Alonso Racing Team with G2, which later turned into the Red Bull Racing Esports Team. There I also developed on a personal level from being the sim racing Team Manager into leading all professional esports teams and players that we have at G2 Esports – arguably one of the most successful esports clubs worldwide, which makes me extremely proud.
What exactly is your job there?
Being the General Manager comes with the complete financial responsibility for the entire esports department and is therefore directly connected to buying/selling players in all games; making sure we hit all company targets, with a high focus on competitive success.
I also act as the connection point for all other departments that we have in the company. Especially content and partnership are huge pillars in esports that we work with every single day. But also, legal and HR-related topics will end up on my desk.
In the end, I am responsible for all operations in our esports department running smoothly and are best-in-class to ensure that our teams and players win as many World Championship titles as possible. Considering the recent competitive success of G2 Esports, I am very happy with our job so far, which obviously also includes all team managers, coaches, additional staff members that we have around the professional players on G2.
When did you stop play competitively and why?
There were multiple factors and the environment around the financial crisis was hurting the development of sim racing a lot. In the end, I shifted from traditional sim racing games (Live for Speed, GTR/RACE, iRacing) to more arcade-like games and became very dominant in Need for Speed Shift 1 and 2.
It wasn’t my plan though, I just followed the biggest tournaments left in racing esports and Need for Speed simply had major ESL tournaments as well as the legendary Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC).
Do you think you were the best sim racer at that time?
I have never believed myself to be the best sim racer. My successful ride in 2007, winning the Intel Racing Tour and the 2nd place finish in the ESL Pro League, were the result of me working hard and getting lucky on very favourable cars/tracks driven. It was only around 2010 with Need for Speed SHIFT when I found back to a very dominant form and developed into the best SHIFT player there was.
Honestly speaking, it was hard for me to handle, because I put a lot of pressure on myself and was always struggling with fear of failure. When SHIFT 1 and 2 came to an end, it became clear to me that I wanted to call it a career, because I feared I couldn’t find success anywhere else and five professional years felt like a long time as well.
Do you still remember the moment you retired?
It was very special to announce my retirement on the Intel Extreme Masters stage at Gamescom in 2011 after winning “Germany’s best Gamer in Need for Speed” only to go ahead and round off an amazing career by winning the overall “Germany’s best Gamer” the day after.
How would you describe the impact sim racing had on your life?
Massive. It was less the actual racing part and more the gaming part. I have never had the ambition of becoming a real-life racer. I have never tried to qualify for GT Academy for example. I was a die-hard gamer and embraced the whole esports side. I have met amazing people thanks to sim racing. People who surely have developed into friends. Friends that I spent hours with playing games such as Counter-Strike or Dota 2. Friends who were either team-mates or competitors on the virtual racing track.
The different personalities that you get to meet combined with the competitive environment also helped me a lot to develop as a person. The fact that I have been attending esports events ever since I was 14 and got to attend my first international offline final in a huge arena in Paris when I was only 18 helped me so much with growing up. It requires you to be open-minded and willing to learn things outside of the game and in the end, I believe all those years have prepared me to be in the shoes that I am pridefully wearing today.
Looking back at your racing career: What was your biggest success in your active years?
For sure winning the Intel Racing Tour 2007 when I was still relatively new to the scene as a 16-year old. Winning a BMW M6 in that final was also a buzz across mainstream esports due to the M6 being worth $100,000. This helped me massively in establishing myself amongst mainstream esports.
Besides that, I also value my 2nd place in the Electronic Sports World Cup very highly. The ESWC is one of THE legendary esports competitions worldwide and it had always been my dream to attend one of those.
In which sim racing games does G2 compete nowadays?
Right now, G2 Esports is only involved in the eNASCAR competition, run by iRacing, where we finished in 2nd place last season with Keegan Leahy. This is because eNASCAR does not conflict with any competition that the Red Bull Racing Esports Team is running in, which surely has the bigger footprint in sim racing right now, winning major titles like Formula One Esports and Forza Racing Championship.
Which achievements are you particularly proud of ever since you joined the organisation?
Sim racing related: The team championship title in F1 Esports last year, closely followed by the blueprint Championship title in ForzaRC.
G2 Esports related: League of Legends’ success of 2019. Living through that ride was insane and being on-site with the team when they won the LEC trophy for the first time as well as taking down big names like SKT1 in Madrid in front of an insane crowd still gives me insane goosebumps. I will be insanely proud of every trophy G2 will lift though!
The year is still young. What are your and your team’s goals in 2020?
When it comes to sim racing, I have given the lead to our team manager Nils Naujoks, who is also a former well-known sim racer and knowing Nils, he will have high expectations. It feels a bit awkward that I am detaching myself from the sim racing team, but that’s the nature of my role in the end and I am fully trusting Nils.
Overall our goal at G2 Esports will be winning. This counts for League of Legends just as much as for the sim racing team. It’s part of our DNA and G2 Esports has developed into a competitive powerhouse, which we obviously want to keep alive in 2020. The League of Legends World Championship, Counter-Strike Majors, Six Invitational and Majors as well as the Rocket League World Championship will be the most important tournaments for us.
Photo credit: Danny Engels, G2 Esports