At Version1, service men and women and U.S. military veterans hold a special place in our hearts. For us, it’s personal. We work alongside veterans in the office and Mike “MajorManiak” Szymaniak and Eli “Standy” Bentz, who play for Minnesota Røkkr, come from military families.
The decision to serve one’s country takes a lot of commitment, discipline and sacrifice. The families of military members understand that more than most. They sacrifice time and shared experiences with their loved ones, who are often deployed or stationed thousands of miles away, sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Mike’s father, Colonel Michael Szymaniak, has served in the U.S. Army for over three decades. His father is not only his namesake, but also the inspiration behind Mike’s in game name – MajorManiak – the only one he has ever had.
Eli’s twin brother Nick is currently in basic training. Growing up, Eli and Nick were close. They went to school together and played sports and games together. For Eli, being a big brother – even if it is by just a few minutes – is a big responsibility, and though he was nervous at first when Nick decided to join the U.S. Army, Eli couldn’t be prouder of his brother as he begins his military career.
Like many military kids, Mike’s father was often deployed while he was growing up. Even though it was difficult, it also shaped Mike’s character and his resilience. He learned many lessons from his dad that resonate in his career as a professional Call of Duty player. “I’ve learned to keep the faith but also work hard,” says Mike. “Patience is the one thing my dad always instilled in me; to never let go of my work ethic and attitude.”
Mike harbors a sense of pride when he reflects on his father’s career. “It means a lot to see how much sacrifice my dad has made, not just for the country but also for his family and fellow soldiers.”
Right now, Eli and his family are playing a supportive role as his brother transitions into the military. They spend time catching up over FaceTime when possible, stay connected on social media and write letters to check in and send encouragement. Eli notes certain characteristics his brother has that he believes make him well-suited for a military career. “He’s really brave and strong, but he also has a passion to help others,” says Eli. “My brother always goes out of his way to do nice things.”
As much as Eli checks in on Nick, it’s the same the other way around. Nick loves that Eli has found success in competitive Call of Duty and the brothers have formed a connection over his journey as Eli quickly settles in at as pro level in the Call of Duty League. “Nick thinks I’m blessed. He’s super supportive.”
At one point, Mike considered joining the military, but life sent him down a different path. As a professional Call of Duty player he’s traveled, explored new places and met people all over the world. And while gaming is not a career path they expected him to take, Mike’s parents are completely behind him. “He might not be able to hold a controller and play himself but man, [my dad] is my biggest fan … I’m grateful for that.”
The feeling is mutual. Mike recalls a proud moment he shared with his father at his promotion ceremony when he made Colonel. “Pinning the eagle [on] at my dad’s ceremony made me proud of him. He worked so hard for it and to see him get what he deserves in front of the family was something I will always remember.”
*Featured image is of Mike and his dad