Canadian Game Awards spotlight – interview with Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken

Photo of Russel Van Dulken courtesy of HLTV.

Growing up in Kelowna, BC, Russel Van Dulken aka Twistzz pursued a career as a professional player from an early age. He ultimately broke into a semi-professional gig once he landed his first position on Tectonic in 2015.

This catapulted Twistzz career, and two years later he joined Team Liquid and began racking up notable achievements in his journey as a CS:GO pro. From 2017 onward, Twistzz and his team gained first-place accolades in many high-profile esports competitions. 

During the inaugural Canadian Game Awards, Twistzz was given the award for Canadian Esports Player of the Year. Based on his performances during tournaments such as the 2019 ESL Pro League, IEM Chicago, and BLAST Pro Series Los Angeles, Twistzz has shown a a great dedication to his craft, and has proven as a standout in the Canadian esports industry.

Although Twistzz and Team Liquid have now amicably parted ways, Twistzz hopes to continue honing his skills in a competitive environment. We caught up with Twistzz to discuss his rise in success as well as what his future may have in store.

Steve: You’ve been in the esports industry for the better part of half a decade. What has this uphill trajectory been like, going from playing for Tectonic to then transitioning to Team Liquid and competing at the top level of CS:GO esports?  

Twistzz: Back then when I was playing semi-pro, I didn’t really think about the possibility of being professional, I just played until I was with and against pros, and this really only happened because Tectonic was a team of ex-1.6 [CS:GO] professionals who had connections to get into the first iteration of FPL, so I immediately had the opportunity to play against the best players in North America.

Fast forward to now – that was quite a journey, I’d say that my time on Misfits with Sean Gares played an important part in me being ready to move onto a bigger team, and when I initially joined Liquid, everything fell into place. I got to play the spots I wanted and I meshed well with the team, both in and out of the game. I’ve grown a lot over the past three years, and I wouldn’t change anything.

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Steve: Being a Canadian player, did you find it hard to break into the industry? 

Twistzz: Not really. If you’re good, you’ll get noticed. I also think I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I never went to any local LANs when I was younger, I only played online Counter Strike because it was all I had.

Steve: What was it about CS:GO that made you latch on to it and pushed you to form your career? 

Twistzz: I think it was how unique the game was and is compared to the other games I was playing at the time, I was playing a variety of games, like League of Legends, Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. The high learning curve and just how different [CS:GO] was compared to all of those [games] got me attached to it pretty fast. I instantly dropped everything else I was playing to only grind Counter Strike.

Steve: The esports industry is still growing out to the mainstream, with uninitiated members of the community joining the fold. Do you feel that esports is becoming more accessible?

Twistzz: Absolutely. I think last year and especially this year caused esports to see an immense amount of growth. You have these physical sports athletes collaborating with some of the biggest gaming influencers. Same goes for artists and even [politicians] who are getting involved in some form of gaming, and all of this helps gaming and esports receive more exposure as a whole. I still think esports is on the same uphill trajectory as it was last year.

Steve: What was your initial reaction when you discovered you were nominated, and then won the award for the Canadian Game Award’s Esports Player of the year?

Twistzz: I’ll be honest, when I originally saw I was nominated I was unsure if it was real, so I didn’t give it much attention. When I saw I won it though, that was pretty hype. That list had a lot of big names and I had one of the smallest followings, so to win that award felt amazing.

Steve: The Canadian side of esports has been thriving, with many new players emerging and finding their place in the industry. What can the Canadian esports industry do or continue to do to make it an inclusive place for all players and community members?  

Twistzz: The next steps should be to try and hold bigger events in Canada, so the country itself starts to recognize it more. Canada has top esports players that are usually on all different teams, but what we lack the most is the number of gaming events. We don’t have any big conventions or events, and if we want to see an increase of Canadian talent, those events need to happen.

Steve: In 2020, we’ve seen the esports industry affected by a global pandemic. From a competitive player’s perspective, what was the experience like for you?  

Twistzz: It’s been a very bumpy year, mentally and physically. Throughout the majority of the year, it was very difficult to stay motivated and continue to improve. I encountered a lot of personal issues, and my mental state was definitely down for the majority of 2020. Things can only get better, and it’s about believing and working towards that. [I wasn’t] able to travel and continue the routine that I was so used to because a lot of issues, and I’m sure that’s relatable for a lot of people.

Steve: What do you have in the works for the new year? Anything you can touch on? 

Twistzz: I’ve decided to mutually part ways with Team Liquid in order to pursue a healthier lifestyle, and be able to dedicate myself to one region instead of constantly traveling between NA and EU during a pandemic. I hope to find a new home with an EU team, and to work towards a better future.

A big thank you to Russel Van Dulken for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.

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