After another MSI appearance, Istanbul Wildcats veteran HolyPhoenix focused on return to Worlds

by Sage Datuin

For most, a 10-year career in esports is unheard of, but for Istanbul Wildcat’s AD carry Anil “HolyPhoenix” Işık, it has been a way of life.

His latest achievement was qualifying for this year’s Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) in Busan, South Korea. HolyPhoenix’s career began in 2012 at the GameX Riot Turkey National Championship, where a gaming career never crossed his mind.

“It was the first tournament I ever played and I got third place,” HolyPhoenix shared. “It was just me and a group of friends playing for fun, but it was an exciting feeling.”

After finishing third at his first tournament, his mentality toward League of Legends stayed the same. There were no thoughts of it being a career, and he simply viewed it as a side hobby to his studies.

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“I wasn’t earning much money back then. Esports was just something I did on the side to earn money and played for fun,” HolyPhoenix recalled.

That all changed when he experienced his first major LAN event where he experienced emotions he had never felt in his life.

“It wasn’t until I played my first major LAN event in Turkey in this giant basketball stadium with 10 to 20,000 people and felt the energy of the stadium cheering for me,” he said. “In that moment, I understood that this is my job and this is what I want to do with my life.”

After this moment, HolyPhoenix decided to give his everything to League of Legends. He dropped out of school, dedicated more hours to the game and took a risk on an opportunity that may never arise again.

It was a moment of clarity for HolyPhoenix, but for his family, it was one that was tough to persuade at the time.

“I remember when I told my father about this decision, he told me how I needed to go to school,” HolyPhoenix said. “He never told me this, but I could always feel he was disappointed with the decision at first because of what I was giving up.”

HolyPhoenix excelled in school and was gifted academically. He was someone who could have gone on to become successful going through the scholarly route, in his eyes. Yet, in his heart, he knew gaming was the path that gave him the most fulfillment in life.

Eventually, his mother and father grew supportive of his decision, and HolyPhoenix became one of Turkey’s superstars in the early years of his career. With family support and a blossoming career as one of his region’s most talented superstars, everything looked great for HolyPhoenix.

Enduring tough years and falling from dominance

Photo credit: Riot Games

After his League of Legends World Championship 2014 run with Dark Passage, HolyPhoenix was unable to replicate similar success in his region for quite some time, most notably his multiple missed Turkish Championship League (TCL) playoff appearances during this stretch.

“I had some really bad splits throughout my career, and to be honest, it was really depressing to go through,” HolyPhoenix said. “You just feel really sad losing every game, especially when you know you are putting the work in and getting no results.”

HolyPhoenix admitted that it was really hard to maintain confidence in his own abilities during this period of his career. He remembers all the hours practicing, only for the same results to haunt him week after week.

Most veteran players would see this as a sign that their best days might be behind them and that they are toward the tail end of their career. Some may stay one more year, but for the most part, thoughts of a transition away from pro play arise.

For HolyPhoenix, it was motivation to get back to where he began his career all those years ago because of the feeling he got from winning.

“The feeling I get from winning matches and achieving things is something I do not feel from anything else in my life,” HolyPhoenix said. “It is not about money or being famous. All of it is just for the actual enjoyment of winning, playing well and progressing in my career. It’s the most fun thing I can do in my life, and the fact I can support myself through it all now makes everything so much better.”

Back at the top

Photo credit: Riot Games

Now, HolyPhoenix is back at the top as he and the Istanbul Wildcats have been one of the best teams in Turkey since last year. Although not everything is perfect just yet, Holyphoenix and his teammates continue to learn as they go.

“We still have a lot to work on in regards to communication, but we have faith in each other as players and teammates,” HolyPhoenix said. “We know the talent on this lineup is there. If we just continue to work through our issues, we can do great things on this team.”

Last year, the Istanbul Wildcats made it to MSI, but were unable to replicate their successes in the summer and didn’t qualify for the League of Legends World Championship. This year, HolyPhoenix is confident that they have learned from their previous mistakes and will make it to Worlds this time around.

“After the TCL finals [last year], there was no break. We did not have a vacation or moment to detach from the game. Instead, we just kept playing scrims until we got to Iceland, where we continued to scrim nonstop.“ HolyPhoenix said. “Now, everyone is playing better. We have that experience and aim to play better overall this year.”

Even after all the ups and downs of his career, HolyPhoenix’s passion for the game still stands strong. Now, after making it back to the top, his next goal is set on something that has evaded him since 2014.

“The thing that has driven me towards the latest stages of my career is to finally make it back to Worlds,” HolyPhoenix said. “The last time I went to Worlds was in 2014, and this year, I want to do things that Turkey has never achieved on the international stage.”

HolyPhoenix and the Istanbul Wildcats’ Mid-Season Invitational run is now over, and they will prepare for the TCL summer split in hopes of making it to the Worlds stage later this year.

“I’ve been a pro player for about 10 years now and I think it has been a nonstop grind,” HolyPhoenix said. “There are times where it has been tough in my career, but what keeps me moving forward is these moments where I can be on an international stage or in front of a crowd. These are the moments I live for.”

For now, they will watch from the sidelines as the six remaining teams at MSI 2022 compete in the rumble stage starting May 20.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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