All writers, at some point through their journey, suffer from Writers Block. After not writing for almost 7 weeks, I realized what that phrase actually means. It is the lack of inspiration. A friend advised me yesterday, to write about something that enthralls me, gets me excited, that which I am emotional about. And for me, there is nothing that I have spent more years on, than playing Counterstrike.
While growing up, I played the traditional FPS games that any 90s gamer fawned over. Doom, Heretic, Quake, Unreal Tournament, Wolf3D (Only the free episode) were some of the most popular ones. Then I changed to playing strategy games for a few years, such as Age of Empires (My second love), Red Alert, Caesar, Rome:Total War, Simcity, RCT etc. And then, one fine day in 9th grade/class , a friend “Smooth Criminal” introduced me to 2 things that would change my life as I knew it. A Gaming Cafe & Counterstrike (CS).
Surf’s Up was the only gaming cafe in Pune, India in 2000. It was THE cool place where all the gamers, most of whom played Counterstrike hung out. And this is where the 5 time National WCG CS Champions, TUA (The Unholy Alliance) played. For me, it was about the environment. For the first time, I was not playing against predictable computer AI. These were actual people, sitting around me, whom I was trying to beat. You could hear the groans of humiliation when someone got knifed. Or the screams of delight when someone wallbanged 2-3 people or got a few headshots.
I had to go home and get this game asap! It was at that time I figured out that this game was actually a Mod for Half Life, which I luckily had a copy of. Unlucky for me, I had to download a 86MB patch and a 110MB CS mod to be able to play the game. Out came Download Accelerator Plus and I started downloading the files. I had a 56Kbps Dialup connection at the time, so I downloaded both files over 1-2 days, only to find them corrupted. I had to redownload them and they worked!! What I didn’t realize, is that even though we had a lot of minutes on our internet plan, I didn’t know that we had to pay for phone charges as well. So I had an interesting (read:Scary) conversation with my parents, as to why our monthly phone bill went from Rs. 100 to Rs. 12,000 for that month …
I was very lucky that my family was supportive of my gaming. In fact, I still remember when I was practicing for the WCG in 2003. After my final exams in March 2003, I convinced my parents to fund my training. They would give me Rs. 100 every day, which would give me 3 hours of practice @ Surfs Up and a Chicken Fried Rice + Coke for lunch. After that, I would come home and practice against bots. I would load up cs_untitled and practice getting headshots with a Desert Eagle, then a M4a1, then an AK, then a Sniper and would then Rinse and Repeat. Since I was on vacation, I practiced for 3 weeks straight as the tournament was coming up.
I still remember my first WCG, we walked in and paid the high entry fees, Rs. 100 a head. The first team we faced was Wolf, a team from Mumbai, which apparently lost in the City Semi Finals. We got pretty nervous before the match, as we saw that the guys had fancy gamepads and these really cool gaming mice (Logitech MX-518). As you can guess, we lost that match, IIRC 11-0. We were determined to try again and after convincing the officials to let us re-enter, we paid another Rs. 500 and played again. It was our bad luck that we played the national runners up in our second go around. What I was happy about was that I got a few kills and we lost 11-4 IIRC. It was a huge ego boost for us, that we could beat them for a few rounds.
My Counterstrike Gameplay video:
I still remember one evening when I had to meet with someone, but had a few hours to kill before they got free. So I decided to head to a cafe and play CS. I was relaxing and casually playing, when suddenly this guy came and knifed me. As most FPS gamers know, getting knifed is a pretty big insult. I looked around and I saw this High School kid sitting at a computer. His hair was spiked up, he was well dressed and he had a few friends gathered around his computer (2 guys, 1 girl). They were laughing about the fact that they knifed me and were poking fun at the fact that I didn’t know how to play. Inwardly, I was cursing myself for letting my guard down, but decided to seek my revenge. People who have played with me know, I mainly like 3 things in CS: My AWP, my M4A1 and my Knife. I ran around and focused on that one guy. In the next 6 games, I killed him thrice and knifed him twice. At that point, he stood up and asked. “Who is CyCo?”. I replied that that was me. He said, “You’re a good player, man” and shut down his computer and left.
Another memory I have is when I walked into this cafe right next to my college. When I was entering, these few guys started whispering to each other. When I sat down, they asked me, “Are you CyCo?”. When I replied positively, they said “You’re a great player dude, can we play with you?” Though these incidents definitely gave me an ego boost, what was more important for me was that my game was getting recognized. And that people knew of me. Not for notoriety, but for how well I played.
Over time, my friends Crusader, Smooth Criminal and I, played a lot of CS; at Surf’s Up, Home and any random internet cafe that we could find. When I went to college in 2004, I realized that a few folks did play CS, however they were played the outdated CS 1.3 and not the latest 1.5 . After getting them the latest version, our entire hostel/dorm got into the game. Every night around 8-9pm, we would shout out in the corridors “Servers up!”. And then 15-20 of us would start playing CS for the better part of the night.
Every year in the Spring (January – March), each college in Pune had a technical symposium/festival/gathering. One of the events always was a gaming event and these were what we waited all year for. Every other day, we would go and compete in these. The qualifiers were generally on cs_untitled and the main maps always were: de_dust2, de_aztec, de_nuke, de_inferno and sometimes de_cbble. Our team always won a few matches, but we generally lost once we came to the quarter or semi finals, since we faced all the serious WCG teams, who had way more practice playing in teams as opposed to solo players like me.
Once incident which stands out in my mind is my colleges gaming tournament, “Nipun”. That was the only tournament where my team reached the finals, which we unfortunately lost 16-12. However, the reason this memory stands out is because of the amazing support we received. This was home ground, where 30-50 people were watching and cheering us on, as we beat team after team to reach the finals. Even though we didnt cross the finish line, it felt great because it was the support which spurred us on. It’s true what they say, it’s the support of your friends and family which drives you. Drives you to do great things, because they are there to help, to cheer you at your best and to catch you when you fall.
I guess that’s what being a competitive gamer really is. You enjoy playing a game because of your love of the game as well as the social aspects which come with competitive gaming. But maybe its about being really good at something, sharing that skill with the world and having the people you care about the most, share that joy with you.