"HeatoN: Gambling with your life" offers the most honest look yet at an esports legend
Emil “HeatoN” Christensen is a man with many accolades to his name. The 33-year-old Swede is revered as one of the greatest Counter-Strike players in history. But despite becoming synonymous with Valve’s acclaimed franchise, the five-time world champion was plagued by conflicts with teammates, drug abuse, and the scars of a broken home throughout his entire career.
These are perspectives we are seldom privy to when it comes to modern esports competitors, and it is why his new autobiography, HeatoN: Gambling with your life is special.
Co-written by Swedish sport journalist Linus Sunnervik, the book takes the reader on a wild ride through Sweden in the late 1990s, the journey of becoming a world champion, the unfettered corruption surrounding the early days of esports, addiction, disappointment, and loss.
Some of these themes are recurring throughout the entire book. Whether it’s in the opening chapter that pays attention to HeatoN’s hockey-infatuated childhood, or during his most successful period alongside NiP, disaster always seems to be waiting on the next page. This is particularly true for the chapters that touch upon Ann Christensen, HeatoN’s mother, who struggled with sickness and a prescriptive drug addiction. HeatoN elaborates painstakingly on her transformation and eventual passing in 2012.
It certainly makes HeatoN: Gambling with your life one of the more mature documentations of an esports legend, and also helps illustrate that professionalism in esports is a very recent phenomenon.
Fortunately, the book offers the reader enough respite in between the many traumatic ordeals HeatoN is forced to overcome, and captures the impact of HeatoN’s ascension into Counter-Strike stardom.
Aside from his mother, the most recurring name in the chapters detailing both HeatoN’s private life and career is Tommy “potti” Ingemarsson. The former NiP mastermind provides the book with some of its funniest and memorable moments, including the best friend’s tumultuous first encounter in 2000. HeatoN (who is known as Kill_4_Fun at this point in time) shit-talked and team-killed potti after he was convinced that he was a cheater. HeatoN’s poor first impression was, however, quickly brushed over, and he quickly found himself as a permanent fixture on what came to be one of the most iconic teams in Counter-Strike history.
Once the two players found themselves competing on NiP, however, they proceeded to change the very way Counter-Strike was played. HeatoN constantly showers potti’s tactical mastery of the game with praise, and his recountings of their first world championship victory at CPL Summer 2001 is undoubtedly one of the book’s most interesting chapters.
But despite the enormous amount of success HeatoN enjoyed, that joy is almost always short-lived. Former managers, team owners (former SK Gaming CEO Alexander Müller in particular receives an incredible amount of vitriol), investors, and even some other players are described as roadblocks to HeatoN’s success. Whether it's a matter of not transferring winnings or not receiving payment for products he endorsed, the book gives the reader the impression that outside forces always prevented HeatoN from slowing down and simply enjoying his success.
The lack of qualified staff at the time also shows how quickly players and teams could disappear into the ether, as inter-personal conflicts saw teams disband or rosters change for the most outrageous of reasons. One of the best examples of this in the book is, ironically, HeatoN himself: In 2005, after losing a final against, at the time, upstarts Patrik “cArn” Sättermon, and Harley “dsn” Örwall’s mixteam Skolpojkarna2, HeatoN belittles his teammate Christian “vilden” Lidström to such an extent that the entire NiP team opted to rejoin SK Gaming over competing with him.
The final third of the book offers more insight on HeatoN’s personal life, and is easily the darkest part. Only a couple of months after he explores the possibility of once again restarting NiP, his mother, after years of health-related issues, passed away due to sudden blood toxicity. Shattered by the event, HeatoN retreated from public life and began consuming copious amounts of alcohol and sleeping pills. The addiction saw HeatoN reach a point where he came close to leaping from his apartment window, in an effort to end what seemed to be a never-ending downward spiral.
Thankfully, HeatoN's story didn’t end that night. Instead, HeatoN regained his footing in reality, and went on to secure some of the best CS 1.6 players for what came to be the first major CS:GO roster in history—NiP.
With names like Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg, Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, and Rikard “Xizt” Landström (who was bought out from Fnatic for a three-digit sum), NiP quickly became the first truly great roster in CS:GO history, going on a string of LAN victories, in which they won 87 maps in a row.
HeatoN: Gambling with your life ultimately sends the reader off with a strong message of hope and redemption, with the concluding chapter focusing solely on the calm life HeatoN now leads. For the first time in its 208 pages, it seems as if the book's namesake has finally found the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor.