Growing up many of my hobbies were sports related. Whether I was playing on a baseball or soccer team, or competing in skateboarding tournaments, I found a way to stay active. More importantly, I learned how to function as the member of a team, using teamwork and strategy to chase the thrill of winning.
It was during these years that I played video games casually. I enjoyed my time playing games on the Sega Genesis and PlayStation, but never thought that the skills I had learned while playing sports would come into play. That was, until I met Counter-Strike.
When transitioning into high school, Counter-Strike was a big thing among many kids at my school. I remember hearing about how you could play as part of a team, using military grade weaponry to compete for victory and respect. Given my limited multiplayer and FPS experience, it was difficult to fathom at the time. I had to experience it for myself.
One weekend myself and fellow GameRevolution staff member Josh Orona decided to head to a local LAN center (LANWerx in Temecula, California) to see what Counter-Strike was about.
LAN centers were usually dark and overcrowded in the early days, made possible by the lack of residential broadband ethernet.
I still remember that day vividly, spending upward of four hours getting destroyed by other players on cs_office and de_dust. In-fact, I still remember a player by the name of JonnyOnTheSpot, one of the fiercest contenders at this particular LAN center. My goal was to earn a better KDR than him. Little did I know that such a feat would require months of practice.
Despite my poor performance, my competitiveness had kicked in. I was sold on the idea of pushing myself to be the best I could be at the game.
Myself and Josh would head to LANWerx every weekend for months, slowly rising through the ranks. During that time we would learn about crosshair placement, jiggle peaking, which guns are actually worth buying, and spray control. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that when we communicated, we were a force to be reckoned with.
Counter-Strike was considered to have great graphics at the time.
At one point we both began asking our parents to get us personal PCs. It was a fair financial proposition given that we were spending nearly $15 per week at LANWerx, a place that was more than six miles away from where we lived.
Eventually, our parents caved. In my case, my Dad headed to a PC shop in San Diego and picked up a bunch of parts. This was at a time when compatibility issues and quality assurance were problem areas, so I have no idea how he managed to make it work on his first try. Nonetheless, I soon owned my very first PC.
My addiction to Counter-Strike would accelerate in the following months. I would spend at least six hours per day playing the game now that I had direct access from the comfort of my own home. Looking back, I have no idea how I finished any of my school homework.
Me next to one of my first PCs, which was built specifically for Counter-Strike.
As with many players, I was interested in the competitive side of the game from the moment I learned about it. After just a few months of playing I would be recruited by a team that played in the early seasons of Cyberathlete Amateur League (CAL), hosting private practices several days a week before facing off with other teams in 24 round games—this was before the shift to 30 rounds. We would eventually graduate to CAL-M before going head-to-head against some serious competition. It was at this point that my rifle aim was the best it would ever be in any game during my lifetime.
Fast forward a few months and I taught myself how to bunnyhop in addition to performing some of the more advanced maneuvers in the game. It was at this time that I competed in a few local LAN tournaments for cash prizes. Counter-Strike was clearly more than just a game.
A lot of my addiction came from the sheer breadth of Counter-Strike; this wasn't your ordinary FPS with just a few maps and game modes. Counter-Strike's modding potential paved the way for exploring creativity. Some days I would spend time playing surf, kz (platforming), and even hide-and-seek maps than normal games.
Surf_city was one of my favorite user-made maps in Counter-Strike.
I soon began experimenting with hosting my own server. I learned how to type in cvar commands in console, in addition to studying file structure when installing server-side add-ons such as Metamod and Podbots. I would even learn the basics of networking, if only to understand how to forward ports, grab my publically available IP, and allow friends to join my server.
As the son of an engineer, Counter-Strike would come to fill a natural interest of mine. I've always loved technology and computers, even during the years when I didn't have a PC of my own. But I also love sports, especially for their teamwork and strategy. As I would come to learn, Counter-Strike blended these two worlds unlike any other game before it, and perhaps anything since.
It wasn't long after that I would upgrade my PC, this time using my own money and my own two hands. I would learn what the difference is between a CPU and a graphics card, how to install a massive ribbon cable to a hard drive, and how to ground myself to avoid blowing up my computer. The end result was something I was very proud of, and was capable of running Counter-Strike beyond 800 x 600 resolution.
This was my first hand-built PC.
Building a PC without YouTube tutorials or a smartphone to Google questions wasn't easy at the time. Frankly, it was a bit of a headache, but even then I loved it. There was something about tinkering with all the parts, awaiting the moment it would successfully boot before installing games and software.
Little did I know that these skills would come in handy just a few years later when I would work at two IT companies. In one case, during the hiring process I mentioned that my PC skills originated from setting up Counter-Strike servers. Funny enough, the same was the case for the guy who would become my manager.
It's now been almost exactly sixteen years from the day that I first played Counter-Strike. A lot of time has passed, and when I look back I realize that it played an instrumental role in my early adult life, paving a path before me both at a hobby and professional level.
Me playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Sometimes when I install new hardware for my PC, I think back to that first build my Dad created. Equipped with a single-core processor, 128MB of RAM, and an Nvidia MX 440, it was just enough to get by. Yet, it allowed me to play what would become one of the most important games I would ever play.