Collegiate CS:GO On the Rise

Written by Eric “Xenon” Yu and originally published at the UNIKRN blog.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and eSports in general, has grown massively over the last few years. The competition is just as intense as traditional sports. The gap between eSports and our every day sports is getting smaller, and now we are beginning to see the rise of collegiate leagues.

Many colleges have already begun to offer scholarships and varsity eSports programs. Robert Morris University in particular was the first university to offer gaming scholarships, and now we have many more following in its path. Just recently as well, UC Irvine announced 10 scholarships for League of Legends and an eSports arena to open in the future.

For CS:GO in particular, San Jose State University and Poly De Montreal have both recently won a share of $5,000 along with a paid trip to Dreamhack Austin to compete in the CS:GO grand finals of the Collegiate Star League. Both of those teams competed throughout AVGL and CSL to earn their prize, they are North America’s top collegiate CS:GO teams. With leagues like CSL who are now beginning to focus on CS:GO, the collegiate scene for the game is expanding at a fast pace.

Xenon: How did you first find out about SJSU’s Counter-Strike team, and how did you join? 
Following San Jose State University’s big win over University of Southern California this past weekend to qualify for the Dreamhack Austin CSL grand final, I asked Armon “rickishaw” Bakhtar a few questions about what it’s like competing on SJSU’s CS:GO team.

rickishaw: I found out about the team through a Reddit comment about SJSU’s gaming Facebook groups. Through the group I played ESEA and matchmaking with other people at our school. I was contacted by the IGL of the team at the time to join their team. I had no idea this was a serious thing and I decided to join. Honestly, I had no idea I could earn money playing my favorite video game with some new friends I just made at my school.

Xenon: Practicing with your team is a huge part of competitive Counter-Strike. How do you manage to balance team practice with your college classes?

rickishaw: It really is hard to manage full team practices with everyone’s class schedules, studying, and other activities. We almost rarely have our starting 5 on always to play so we just play by ourselves or in groups of two-three members. We all just work on our individual skill and game mechanics. We are all great players that synergize very well and I believe that is what makes us a top tier collegiate team. We are all super friendly and outgoing with each other.

Xenon: How does SJSU’s Counter-Strike team prepare for matches?

rickishaw: Honestly, we don’t do anything special. We all just show up to our scheduled playtimes and play the game. We have fun with it. We are here to compete, but also to have the most fun possible while playing our favorite video game. This is what makes us synergize so well in-game and out of the game. We share a common goal to win and have fun while doing so.

Xenon: How big is the skill difference between teams in the collegiate CS:GO scene? How’s the competition in general?

rickishaw: Depending on the team, the skill gaps can vary greatly. We have played matches where we have completely demolished our opponents and we have also played games that have been extremely close; such as our 4 overtime game against USC. I haven’t had much experience yet in the collegiate scene, but I think there are two categories for the skill groups. There are your top tier teams which consist of 4-5 teams, and then there is everyone else.

Xenon: SJSU’s Counter-Strike team recently won 1st place at the AVGL CS:GO Collegiate League. What does your team plan to do with the $2,000 prize?

rickishaw: As for my team, I have no idea what they plan on doing with their money. As for me, I am a broke college student so I need to save all the money I can for the upcoming years of my education. I’ll probably just use it on gas, books, food, etc.

Xenon: Schools traditionally have teams in athletic sports like football, basketball, and baseball. Do you see Collegiate eSports as a parallel to those teams? If not, what are the differences?

rickishaw: At the moment, I don’t see them as a parallel. But, as times goes on, if eSports grows and the collegiate scene grows for CS:GO, I can see them being parallels. People like supporting their schools and teams. The people that are interested in video games will come out and support us just like the people that enjoy the more traditional sports go out and support their schools and teams.

Xenon: Collegiate eSport leagues are still in their early stages, especially CS:GO leagues. What do you think could be done to improve the collegiate competitive scene?

rickishaw: To improve the collegiate scene, there needs to be more recognition that there is actually a league to begin with. As a student, I had no clue collegiate leagues were a thing before last semester. These leagues really need to put themselves out there if they want to bring out new players and a bigger viewer base.

Xenon: Where do you see collegiate CS:GO in a few years from now?

rickishaw: I hope to see it as a very competitive league with many top tier players. I want it to be a well respected league with people cheering on their schools and favorite teams. With a nice fan base and people that are interested, the collegiate scene could really go far. With the addition of all that, this would encourage more people to come out and play for their schools, which would increase the skill of the competition. I know that there are certain players that don’t compete with their schools because of the skill gaps, but this could all be fixed with the leagues getting bigger.

Xenon: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Any last comments or shout outs?

rickishaw: Shout out to all our fans (if there are any), to my ESEA team, and my SJSU teammates. My teammates are all great people and also extremely talented at CS:GO. I am glad to play for this team and to know such amazing people.

San Jose State University’s CS:GO team is currently rickishaw, xKurby, Miichz, cdub, Antwan, and is managed by CruzCTRL. You can follow them on twitter @SJSUCSGO