Dario “Akraken” Falcao-Rossohka and Leyton “Punk” Gilchrist are two of Australia’s best up-and-coming players.
Akraken burst onto the scene explosively with the Drop Bears in Season 1 and has cooked up a storm since. Punk has been the rock of Dark Sided for a year, and while the organisation has left the scene he was critical to their success.
Once rivals, the 17-year-olds are now two crucial pieces of Australia’s World Cup puzzle. And behind them every step of the way has been their parents.
Cristina Falcao has adopted the role of esports Mum head on. While she works a ‘9-5’ during the week, during the big events she becomes the Mum of not only Akraken, but his team.
“At the boot camp in Sydney before the finals, I stayed with the team and did all the cooking for them – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Akraken’s rise through the Overwatch ranks has been meteoric. 12 months ago he was grinding the ladder, orgless but hungry. Now he is competing on the world stage but his hunger will never be satiated. For Cris, it’s been a whirlwind trying to keep up.
“We had a rule in the house that there was no playing on school days. When Dario came up to me one day about 18 months ago and asked if he could start playing after school I knew something might be up.”
“At the first LAN in Sydney for Season 1, I knew literally nothing. I knew Dario played Overwatch but I only caught a glance of it when I walked past his room. Going to the Sydney LAN was eye-opening – I asked so many questions to try and understand what was happening.
“Since then, I’ve been learning more and more about the game. I don’t understand all the strategies, techniques or skills, but I know when Dario is playing well and when they are winning. That’s all that matters.”
School, however, has been a different story. Going to a prestigious school, grades and his future was at the forefront of his life.
“We were really strict about his grades. His father is Russian and I’m from South America so we wanted him to follow the generic path – become an engineer, doctor, lawyer or something. However, he was never interested in that. While he was a top student at school, that’s not what his passion was.
“We realised that as he kept playing Overwatch, he was living his dream. He puts in 12 hours a day into the game just to improve and become the best. While he’s good at studies, his heart is in Overwatch. I want him to pursue his dream.
“There’s no point him doing something he doesn’t love. He lives in Australia – you have the opportunity to do anything. If he wants to play Overwatch and see his career out, I will support him every step of the way.”
He’s immediately soaked up to the limelight too. He is confident, outgoing, not afraid to speak his mind and has slotted right into place in the competitive scene.
“He was never really a sporty kid too. Obviously growing up we put him into sports like tennis and swimming, but one look at him and you know he isn’t the sporty type. However, he was really into debating and I think that helped him become so confident.
“When he was going to his first LAN, I was really nervous for him. I asked him how he was feeling and he was like ‘I’m fine’ meanwhile I’m completely losing it! Him and I are two different people – I’m all of the extremes and he is calm and collected.”
Akraken salvages Oasis: City Centre for Team Australia with a clutch coalescence against Denmark.
His performance in Bangkok was outstanding too. His Ana play was crucial in Australia’s triumph. While he was known more for his Zenyatta back home for the Drop Bears his versatility has been important. This has led to a busy period of trialling for academy teams in the school holidays since.
“Every single day he’s trialling for a different team. He’ll finish up and I’ll ask him how he’s done and some days he will be like ‘I did okay’ or ‘I could have played better.’ That’s the thing with Dario – he’s always looking to improve, there’s always something to fix.
“It means he’s going to have to make a big decision too. If he makes an academy team he will have to move overseas. Given that he hasn’t finished school that’s really scary for us. However, I’m sure no matter what he does he will find a way to finish it all up and live out his dream.”
For BlizzCon, Cris wants to be at the forefront. In fact, she asked me about the diehards and whether they are coming. While we aren’t sure, we both came to the same conclusion.
“I wake up before Dario so I had a chance to check Twitter before him when the matches for BlizzCon were announced. Having spoken to him a bit, he always glorified the Koreans and was like ‘they are literally gods!’
“When I saw Australia got matches with Korea, I ran over to Dario and woke him up and said ‘guess who you are playing?’ While I was in shock, he was just like ‘oh they might underestimate us, they might not watch our games, so we might be able to beat them.’ I can’t believe how calm he was!
“I am organising some posters with Patty (Punk’s Mum) for BlizzCon. The atmosphere with the diehards was great last time so I hope we can replicate that. The whole family is coming over too so I hope they’ll be able to enjoy it – Dario’s sister is only 9. Everyone’s proud of whats he’s done so far and we will have to see what the future holds.”
I caught Sean and Patty Gilchrist right after Sean’s weekend ritual with Punk.
“We always get the same thing week in week out. Leyton will get a bacon and egg burger with barbeque sauce; and he washes that down – no matter what the season, the middle of winter or summer – with an iced chocolate,” Sean laughed.
“We’ve been doing that at least every Saturday and Sunday for three years.”
Even though their little Punk has gone from local hero to global superstar in the space of a few short months, the Gilchrists have been with Punk for the entire journey.
“[At Punk’s first LAN for Season 1] we were walking through darkened corridors and then opening a door to a big stage set that was very professional and we looked at each other and thought ‘what’s going on here?’” Sean reminisced.
“We were surprised by how many people were involved in the whole scheme of things” said Patty, “We knew Leyton played games down in the office, but we didn’t realise how big it was. Seeing all the people at ESL Studios made us realise how big it actually was.”
“Before Overwatch, he was playing Counter-Strike and he took me to some event early last year at Qudos Bank Arena (IEM Sydney) and he made me sit two or three hours through these games and I had no idea what was happening. “People would cheer and I would ask ‘What happened?’ and he would say ‘I’ll tell you later there’s too much happening.’
“Unbeknownst to me, last year’s [Overwatch] World Cup came to Sydney with the Group Stage. He said to me ‘C’mon Dad, let’s go again,’ and I was like ‘Nah, not again, that was boring what we did last time, so how about I drop you off and I’ll pick you up at the end of the day?’
“I think he ended up talking to Maid (ex-Kanga Esports coach) and went with him and when I picked him up I asked ‘how was it?’ and he said ‘bloody good’ and that it was all very exciting. I asked him what game it was again and he said ‘it was Overwatch – the Overwatch World Cup’ and I went ‘oh alright’.”
“In hindsight, I wish we both had of gone! I can’t believe it was right in our backyard and we missed the opportunity.”
While that was Sean’s first experience as a spectator, he had his first true experience at the Dark Sided bootcamp just before Season 1 Contenders LAN.
“The Dark Sided boys had organised a bootcamp in the CyberGamer studio in Adelaide, and me being an interested parent wanted to go check it out.
“The studio was located in an area with a bunch of smash repairers and mechanics so it was a bit weird. When we got there, the place looked terrible compared to what we then had in Sydney! There was Red Bull everywhere and it looked like a bomb had gone off,” Sean laughed.
“I had organised to work out of my work’s Adelaide office for the week so I could keep an eye on them and meet the boys and go to their apartment. They were a great bunch of guys just having a bunch of fun, and it was really good to see that Leyton was hanging out with a bunch of genuinely nice people.
“They set up their PCs and kept practising. The team were preparing really hard and I could see the work they were putting in. Then I got a call one morning from Leyton. Someone had obviously seen the expensive PCs and electronics and ram raided through the front door and nicked some stuff.
“Leyton was going off like how it was really exciting and how the police were there and I’m sitting there in my office completely stressing my head off! Luckily they didn’t take anything important, but it was a surreal experience that’s for sure.
“While they didn’t beat Sydney Drop Bears at LAN [in the Season 1 final] after the boot camp, I think everyone thought that was the real Grand Final.”
“He’s in the entertainment industry 100%, and hanging around people like Custa in Bangkok has helped him realise that. In Bangkok, you could see him start coming out of his shell a bit and as he moves forward in his career he will have to get used to it.”
Between his commitments for Dark Sided and Team Australia though, Punk is in Year 11 in high school. Trying to strike a balance when both are so important has been tough, but he’s figured it out.
“Leyton manages to separate school from Overwatch. When he is at school it’s all about school, but as soon as he steps through the door at home it’s all Overwatch. He will stay back in the library for one, two, three hours after school just to get all his work done so when he comes home he can focus on the game,” said Sean.
“Leyton was massive into soccer and basketball in school, but he tore his ACL 50% one day and he couldn’t get it operated on. In those 6 months when he couldn’t do anything, that’s when he dedicated himself to gaming.
“We obviously have an agreement with him that if his grades slide we will need to rethink the whole gaming situation, but he’s always been a good student at school. He’s super dedicated to everything he does and I’m really proud of him for that,” Patty stated.
Convincing the school wasn’t as hard as first thought, either, but it’s just another obstacle to tackle.
“His school has been super supportive of his career. I’ve been on a bit of a crusade to get them onboard. He goes to a fairly sporty private school which helps, but they haven’t had to deal with an esports pro before.
“I remember going to the school just before the Season 1 Contenders LAN and organising a meeting with the Deputy Principal. I went ‘I need to take my son out of school for a week’ and he was like ‘okay, why?’. I said ‘have you ever heard of esports’ and he said ‘yes’ but they had never had to deal with it before. Leyton was their first.
“Leyton being the captain of Dark Sided helped with the process. Being able to say he was in a leadership position definitely got more leverage than if he was just a player lurking on the side.”
“Since then, it’s been a whole load of back and forth. I let the school know how he does, but they don’t announce it. His tutors let his classmates know and a lot more people follow him compared to before, but otherwise, he keeps it between his close mates – he doesn’t like talking himself up.”
Punk keeps Team Australia alive against China on Rialto with a 3K Self Destruct.
However, Sean and Patty see the esports industry not just as a game, but as entertainment, and Punk’s slowly adapting.
“He’s good at the game – everyone knows that – but he also needs to be marketable. So much money in the scene rides on you being a fun, marketable person.
“It was funny in Melbourne he got the interviews on stage and he quickly learnt to never drop the ‘L’ word on stage!” laughed Sean. “He didn’t the second time around, so that’s an improvement.”
And as for what they call him, well it’s pretty straightforward.
“To us, he’s always been our little Punk.” said Patty. “We’ve called him that since he was little, so it’s a nickname to us as much as its a nickname to everyone else.
“We chop and change a lot, but calling him Leyton in public feels awkward, so usually we stick to Punk,” laughed Sean.