New York City Huge
Hi. My name is Olof Kajbjer Gustafsson. I play video games for a living. And last year, I got injured playing Counter-Strike.
Yeah, I know, it sounds kind of … crazy. But it happened. I tweaked my right elbow somehow. Mostly likely from doing the same movements with the mouse and keyboard over and over again. I went to different doctors and physiotherapists, but none of them could come to a definitive conclusion as to what was wrong with me. There was nothing I could do but take a few weeks away from the game and wait for the pain to go away. It was so frustrating.
In May 2016, during my recovery, I traveled from my home in Sweden to New York City. One night I was at my hotel watching the NBA playoffs on television. It was Oklahoma City vs. Golden State — Steph, Klay, Russ and KD were putting in work. Then, all of sudden, in the bottom corner of the screen, my face popped up with an ad for live e-sports on TBS.
It was wild — all of these American superstars on TV, and then … bam! Olof! I knew Counter-Strike had been working with networks in the U.S., but never did I think we were this big.
I couldn’t believe it. This game I had started playing in my bedroom when I was just a kid was suddenly … huge. Like New York City huge. I knew it, of course, but this was the first time I had really seen it. It was … weird.
If you follow e-sports, you might know me as “olofmeister.” You might not know me at all of course, but as I like to say:
I’m not the best Counter-Strike player in the world.
But there’s nobody better.
At this point, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Let me give you the 30-second Counter-Strike introduction.
GAME: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (aka CS:GO)
PLAYERS: 10 (two teams of five each)
So basically, CS:GO is a FPS (first-person shooter), similar to Call of Duty, but like way, way, way better. We only play one game type: “bomb defusal.” It’s very simple. There’s two teams, the terrorists and the counterterrorists. The mission for each team is very straightforward. The terrorists have a bomb, and they have one minute and 55 seconds to plant it at one of two locations on a map. The counterterrorists job is to kill them, or defuse the bomb once it’s planted.
If the bomb goes off, the terrorists win.
Each match is best of 30. The first team to win 16 games is the victor.
You get it? O.K., good.
Counter-Strike is the most popular FPS in the world right now. There are huge tournaments every couple months and a fan base that would make those of some professional sports leagues seem small. But it wasn’t always like that. Just five years ago, I never thought I would even be able to say that I played video games for a living — it was never my plan. My goal was actually to be a professional soccer player.
When I was 14, I was just like most other kids in Stockholm. I would go to school, watch the clock all day, rush home — like literally run home — play Counter-Strike, and then go to soccer practice. I played soccer at a pretty high level. The older I got, the more I wanted to be like Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane. I practiced soccer every weeknight, and played matches on the weekends. When I was 15, I hurt my knee pretty badly. I had torn some ligaments, and my doctor told me that I would need to take almost a year off from soccer.
I remember coming home that night, logging on to Counter-Strike and, well … maybe that injury was actually a blessing.
No more soccer practice meant more Counter-Strike. And I started to get good. Like really good. I started playing in online tournaments and I did so well that people thought I must have been cheating. As a gamer, that’s the greatest compliment you can ever receive. A few years later, my parents started to ask more questions about my future in gaming. At the time, there wasn’t much money in Counter-Strike, even after I had joined a professional team. My dad gave me an ultimatum: Until I was earning a salary that would enable me to support myself, I had to go to college.
So I went. I lasted three weeks. School was not for me. I liked the courses, but I had no interest in studying. I wanted to work on my video-game skills. I was getting better, and I knew that soon, I was going to get a chance to showcase my talents to the Counter-Strike community.
In March 2014, that opportunity came. Katowice, Poland, hosted a major Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. I was playing for LGB eSports at the time. We weren’t a huge name, but we had had some impressive results leading up to that tournament. In the quarterfinals, we went up against one of the best teams in the world, Fnatic.
We were definitely the underdog, but everyone on our team just clicked. We were playing the best Counter-Strike of our lives and we won. I think we caught them off guard, a bit. To be honest, I think we caught the entire CS:GO scene off guard. People who weren’t really sure about our talents became our biggest fans. We lost in the semis to Virtus.pro, but it hardly mattered. We had arrived. People knew our team, and they knew my name, too. That weekend I saw what I could become. But more important, I saw what Counter-Strike could become.
I sat in the front row of the Spodek arena for the final. It was Virtus.pro, the hometown organization, against the Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), a top team from Sweden. There were 11,000 people there, screaming at the top of their lungs every game, every kill, every moment. It was … I don’t know how to explain it. I didn’t know that so many people loved the game as much as I did. I felt validated. This game I had played for so many years as a kid meant something — like really meant something — to a lot of other people.
A few weeks later I ended up joining Fnatic. With them, I really hit my stride. A year after that night in Poland, I was back in Katowice trying to win my first major. It was almost the complete opposite of the year before. This time I was on Fnatic, and we reached the finals against NiP. It was one of the best events of my life. In the final map of the tournament, I was top-fragging (most kills). I felt on top of the world after we won.
Something about being back in Katowice, where I felt my career sort of got kick-started, and winning a major was incredibly special.
The majors are why I love Counter-Strike so much. The amazing atmosphere we get at majors is so unique to our game. That’s why I was so discouraged when I got hurt last year right before the major in Columbus, Ohio. And when I returned, it was the mental part of my game that I had to relearn.
I had to believe in myself again, like I did when I first entered the scene. Remember how I said that nobody is better than me? Well, it might not be true — but I have to think that way. At this level, you must have that kind of confidence. I respect my opponents, but I’m never afraid. Never. If you play with fear, you aren’t playing at all. Go watch players like JW, kennyS and FalleN — they can smell fear. They’ll eat you alive if you aren’t at the very peak of your game, physically and mentally.
That’s the mindset I carry with me from event to event. And I hope I can continue to play at this level for a while, because I think the CS:GO scene is going to just get bigger and bigger. Every year, there’s more people watching our streams and going to our tournaments. It’s motivating.
Our team played in a tournament in Minsk last year in the middle of winter. It was maybe –20°C outside. We arrived at the back of the venue, and waiting outside for us were nearly 500 people. They had been standing there all day just to see teams walk into the arena.
That’s why I play the game.
I remember being embarrassed about my friends and I playing video games when I was younger. Like we had something to be ashamed of.
But now, we’re the ones selling out arenas across the the globe.