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From Pixels to Paint

We take a look at the career of an artist who struck a chord with gamers before picking up the paintbrush.

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Over the past few years, we have watched as the golden-era of esports has dawned, it's glow building bridges between the gaming world and the mainstream. Drake played Fortnite with Ninja, Jerry Jones acquired a majority stake in Complexity Gaming, and billions in venture capital has made its way into the scene. World championships are now held in stadiums, not in underground LAN centres, and ESPN now features esports news alongside more traditional coverage of big-name sporting leagues like the NBA and the Premier League.

However, even with an unprecedented level of focus from all walks of life, one community, closely connected to esports, has gone unnoticed. This is the modding community, a small collective of designers who develop custom content for their favourite games. They design the game items professional players use and they build the maps on which millions of dollars are won.

At the forefront of this obscure movement is the incredibly reclusive Luke Millanta, a designer who seeks to continuously push games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to their limits. Over the years Millanta has built an army of loyal supporters, becoming the most followed creator on the Steam Workshop, the world's largest collection of custom game content.

Millanta was first introduced to the world of game modding in April 2014, after a friend showed him Steam Workshop. He quickly fell in love and was soon creating custom game content for his favourite video games, including Age of Empires II: HD Edition, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Team Fortress 2. He published this content under two separate aliases; "MLLNTA", an alias he used while playing video games as a teenager, and "LMTLSS" an alias he created after watching the 2011 thriller, Limitless, starring Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.

Due to his perfectionist nature and obsession with detail, it was not long before Millanta caught the eye of Fnatic, one of the world's oldest and most prestigious esports organisations. At the time, Fnatic boasted the world's number one ranked Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team and had dominated the Counter-Strike landscape for over a decade. Millanta jumped at the chance to collaborate.

Working with Fnatic, Millanta was tasked with creating a set of team-branded Counter-Strike: Global Offensive weapon skins. When these went live on the Steam Workshop in August 2014, Millanta quickly rose to prominence, gaining thousands of followers overnight and catching the eye of his next major client, Min-Liang Tan, the co-founder and CEO of Razer.

Luke quickly signed an agreement with Razer and went about building a second collection of Counter-Strike weapon finishes. Released in January 2016, this Razer-themed collection received glowing reviews and Millanta's stock in the gaming community continued to soar.

Then, in May 2016, Millanta was informed of the upcoming DigiCreate Steam Workshop Design Contest, a 3D modelling competition which would pit the world's best workshop creators against one another. With only a week to go before the close of the entry period, Millanta registered his name and got to work. He submitted his entry, a collection of Team Fortress 2 game items known as the Imperial Dragon Collection, four days later. Millanta was later crowned the winner of the competition and received $1,000 in cash for his efforts.

From Pixels to Paint
The Imperial Dragon Collection.

Over the coming months Millanta would begin experimenting with map development, building levels for both Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2. Notable works during this period included a changing weather mod, a plugin which randomly changed in-game weather patterns, and Dust 2 Future, a re-textured version of the popular Counter-Strike map, Dust 2, in which the map's existing textures had been replaced with cyberpunk-themed equivalents.

His maps went viral, attracting millions of downloads and thousands of new followers. In November 2018, Millanta became the first content creator to surpass 100,000 followers on the Steam Workshop. An achievement that has yet to be replicated.

From Pixels to Paint
Dust 2 Future quickly found itself at the top of the Steam Workshop rankings.

Having watched his following grow to such unprecedented levels, Millanta saw an opportunity to capitalize on his popularity as a creator. To do this he negotiated lucrative branding deals with several companies, including Meta Threads, who developed a line of LMTLSS-branded apparel, and Runtime, who created both a LMTLSS-branded shaker cup and meal replacement shake.

These releases were a success, with the LMTLSS apparel selling out within the first week, and the Runtime shaker cup selling out within 10 hours - forcing Runtime to order an urgent restock. However, after the release of the Meta Threads x LMTLSS collection in March 2019, Millanta simply disappeared from the scene, providing his followers with no explanation for his absence.

"After the release of the Meta Threads collection I was inundated with messages, receiving thousands of messages per day on Steam alone. While this feedback was amazingly positive, I just felt the need to step back for a bit and try something else for a while," Millanta explained.

From Pixels to Paint
Millanta wearing a Meta Threads x LMTLSS hoodie.

Rather than continuing to publish content on the Steam Workshop, Millanta turned off the computer and moved back to an activity he had long since abandoned: painting. While in school Millanta had taken Visual Arts and had always shown tremendous promise as a painter. Within a few months, Millanta had fully substituted his online duties with painting portraits of his friends and family.

In August 2019, Millanta's friends urged him to enter his paintings for consideration by the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, Australia's oldest and, arguably, most prestigious art society. Millanta, who did not believe his skills were of a high enough calibre to be considered, was too embarrassed to deliver the paintings himself. He instead sent a friend to enter them on his behalf. Later that evening, at a meeting of the society's board, Millanta was accepted into the society by unanimous vote.

So where is he now?

Millanta is continuing to focus on his painting and has a number of goals he hopes to achieve in 2020. He has also returned to the Steam Workshop, having collaborated with Complexity Gaming, a North American gaming team associated with the Dallas Cowboys, to release a collection of Complexity-branded Counter-Strike: Global Offensive items in October 2019.

Millanta, however, is not sure if he will continue to publish content on the Steam Workshop: "I am still deciding if there is a next chapter on the Workshop or if I have reached the end of the road" he said, adding "I will not rule anything out but I am also not sure what I will to do next."

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It is fair to say that Millanta's creations have brought joy to millions of video gamers over the years. From Age of Empires to Team Fortress 2, Millanta has always strived to build stunning, feature-packed environments in which players could escape the noise of everyday life. He has worked with some of the world's largest esports organisations, won accolades, and has grown a massive fan following. So regardless of his next move, we are sure he will find success.

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