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"What I Miss About Counterstrike" - Blog authored by CSS legend JonMumm (eseanews.com)
339 points by janineyoong on Nov 29, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments

If I may, David Foster Wallace (as so often) said it better:

> “But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing…the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way”up close and personal" profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small…[Tennis player Michael] Joyce is, in other words, a complete man, though in a grotesquely limited way…Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well."


(A quote I come back to on occasion, thinking about my essay http://www.gwern.net/The%20Melancholy%20of%20Subculture%20So... )

He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well."

What's that supposed to mean? He will say he is happy and mean it, but really he isn't?

DFW committed suicide, I don't hold him as a great authority on what kinds of happiness are 'valid'.

DFW references this argument in his fiction, so I'll try to do it justice: I respectfully disagree. Depression does not stem from "I don't what happiness is". A depressed person is aware of happiness, of the fact that he or she right now should be happy because everybody else at the dinner table is laughing and having a great time, of the fact that he or she knows how to pretend happy and a great time while at the same time hating the pretension. Being depressed is constantly looking onto happiness but being denied access; being depressed is being depressed about the fact that you don't have access, which in turn makes you more depressed.

I don't think the way DFW meant to end that sentence is "but he really isn't". That paragraph, that entire piece really, is about the audience's predatory relationship with athletes. That last paragraph is addressed at people who watch, not people who participate. Michael Joyce is happy; we should just be wary of the kind of happiness.

DFW is comparing one-dimensional geniuses to people who are retarded in some way. (Mental, emotional, social... take your pick.)

The person is happy only because they're so oblivious to the things that they're missing out on, and their very nature prevents them from gaining this knowledge.

Were they able to know what they were missing then they might not be so happy with their limited existence.

> Were they able to know what they were missing then they might not be so happy with their limited existence.

Attaching any weight to what you're missing out is a guaranteed way to make you unhappy and has nothing to do with what you do in life. Even with unlimited resources you'll miss out on most things that require huge time commitment, like being a pro athlete.

Implying that seeing what they are missing out on and not being happy with their limited existence is better.

But seeing what you're missing out on sucks. Being unhappy because you have a limited existence sucks as an experience.

And it's not like you have an unlimited existence if you aren't a world class sports person, is it? You have different limits, but they aren't better or worse objectively. You can't trade tens of millions of adoring fans against a deep appreciation of city street planning and architecture and say one is undoubtedly better and the other certainly worse.

It means he'll be missing out on a lot of things, but he'll still be happy. He won't feel the loss.

I think the DFW was a little melodramatic here. I don't think the commitment to true excellence necessarily detracts from other possible commitments in the long run. E.g. DFW was a writer of singular ability, and he was, at various points in his life, dedicated to tennis, philosophy, and mathematics.

More to the point, the time spent being great at CS doesn't seem to have limited this guy's future ability to do things like work at a startup. While I'm sure it was an unbalanced life during the period of dedication, suggesting that it's the dedication itself which reduces athletes to "shockingly vapid and primitive comments" goes a little far.

> I don't think the commitment to true excellence necessarily detracts from other possible commitments in the long run. E.g. DFW was a writer of singular ability, and he was, at various points in his life, dedicated to tennis, philosophy, and mathematics.

DFW is a good example, actually. As far as I know from reading his nonfiction, in tennis he never got beyond 'very promising youth' but dropped out at some point when he realized he would never be truly great; in philosophy, he published an interesting thesis which was well-regarded - but that's not a career in philosophy, much less world-class philosophizing, and then he dropped out of that; and I'm not sure what, if anything, original he ever did in mathematics. What he is remembered for is being a writer (with interest in tennis, philosophy, and math), and being a writer is what he spent most of his short life doing.

Fact is, we don't expect world-class people to have many real interests or sidelines besides dabbling; look at the recent post on Heddy Lamar. 'My god, an actress with a brain for non-acting things, who invented frequency-hopping?' You could hear brain going 'foom' in the distance.

"More to the point, the time spent being great at CS doesn't seem to have limited this guy's future ability to do things like work at a startup."

I agree it has not limited his ability to learn new things, but of course it has limited his ability to work at a startup. Just think of all the things he could be better at, from social interaction to programming, if he had spent less time playing CS.

I'm not saying he should regret it, I just think that we should all face the fact that we all make sacrifices. You can't have it all.

Exactly. And on top of that, CS was only popular for a brief period of time. Had it already been popular when he was a kid, like Tennis, then he would have probably been practicing at a very young age to become world class. And if CS was still as popular, he might be still playing it.

CS is still the most popular game on Steam[1] if you count both Source and 1.6, and has been for years. It is still played professionally[2], with a major tournament happening right now[3].

[1]: http://store.steampowered.com/stats/

[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counter-Strike#Legacy

[3]: http://dreamhack.binarybeast.com/#CS16

Thanks. Though, as far as I understand, Source is different enough that the author would loos most of his edge.

> And if CS was still as popular, he might be still playing it.

As of this posting there are ~52000 players currently playing CS according to Steam, with a peak in the past 24 hours at ~65000. For CS:S, the numbers are 38000 and 50000 respectively.

That's not all that popular for an online game.

There are probably 20-100 times as many people playing Warcraft over time same time frame. It's about at the level of EVE online which is a vary nitch MMO. Distributed Systems Architect Jacky Mallett explained that “we hit a new peak of online usage, 63,170 users online concurrently” on January 23 http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/03/02/eve-online-has-over-360000...

PS: Considering the player base and ongoing subscription costs I would not be surprised if wow peak's at 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 players at the same time.

Comparing MMO online presence to FPSs is comparing apples and oranges. MMOs are designed to keep you playing for hours upon hours; FPSs, though some do the same, are structured in 5-15 min individual games. And all that time is spent playing, unlike MMOs where boring downtime spent chatting can dominate the experience at the upper end and in some games (like EVE).

I don't think the issue is confined to athletics, looks at the people who populate television. Groomed for their looks and outrageous behavior a very similar numbers strike out in the real world once their careers are over. Toss is all the abuse they put their skin and bodies through to maintain the persona they show to us daily.

To be good at something you have to make sacrifices, but it doesn't mean the sacrifices are the kind of things we can look with contempt.

Take for example a Formula 1 driver, or a violin player, or a guitar player. All they need to do is practice, and practice, and practice a little more.

In fact, right now, I wish I wasted less time in my teens and twenties trying to be 'normal' and meeting girls and going to parties and all that stuff, I should have invested more time doing weird hacking stuff and learning vector algebra and physics.

Normality is very overrated. That's what I'm going to teach my children.

To be fair, sports players may be forced into that by needing to put in the often-mentioned 10 000 hours before they get too old to compete.

I spent a fair amount of my youth playing counterstrike and still have fond memories of it. I also learned to program roughly around the same time and found the later far more fulfilling in the long run. I learned skills in programming in those years that I still use today, but whenever I even touch a public counter strike (source) server these days I get hopelessly owned by a new generation.

I now see video games as pure downtime in the same way as watching a movie or something, I used to be very competitive and my scores in public servers and clan matches deeply mattered, despite all of this I really wish I had spent more of my CS time learning programming or taking up a completely different hobby (e.g real sport or music). I sometimes wonder where I would be now if I had spent that time doing something else. The problem with video games is that you are spending your time perfecting something that is useful only in a very specific virtual world which can be radically changed or even destroyed at any time. A very small minority of people may become "professional gamers" but for the most part it feels like almost completely wasted time in hindsight.

Will it make you money? No Will it get you laid? No Will it help you express yourself? No Will it make you healthy and fit? No Will it better mankind in some manner? No

I'm not hating on video games, just if you are going to spend that amount of time becoming awesome at something it does seem like a very poor choice.

I always knew there were more worthwhile pursuits and that's why, in hindsight, I struggle to accept the time I spent playing. But I never felt like it was downtime.

I knew I was building skills that I would use again someday. It wasn't about trying to be the best at shooting a gun in a virtual world. It was about outthinking and outmaneuvering my opponent. Analyzing details and figuring out the best strategy.

It was never about my score, it was about how well my team did. CS taught me a lot about working with other people. Managing and recruiting talent, motivating people, and keeping everybody happy.

I believe the single most important thing I've learned from playing competitive online games is how to manage the morale of a group. When you have 30-minute experiments, mostly self-contained, it's amazing how easy it is to see how one denigrating comment can ruin a whole match because it ruins the teams cohesion and teamwork. A few well-placed bits of praise, a little humility, and a little leadership will trump raw skill most of the time.

It's a lesson I'm glad I've learned, and now I can use online games as a way to practice.

Besides, learning about the importance of commitment to excellence is something that can be learned in a lot of places, as you demonstrate. It's a lesson that's lost on most people. Don't struggle to accept the time spent on CS; embrace it, become one with it. Enough other people will denigrate you for it, so there's no need for you to do it as well.

And, when the zombie apocalypse comes, at least you know how to clear a room better than the next guy, I'll wager!

Getting involved in clan gaming certainly takes things to a whole new level. I remember trying to organize teams and enter various leagues as well as playing friendlies against other clans.

Not only that but you have to manage a geographically dispersed set of people over the Internet who have their own schedules and priorities. Some of the politics got very heated and of course you would always get somebody who was an incredible played but would always drop out of playing matches at the last minute or would find some minutiae to throw their toys out of the pram over.

Still an excellent lesson in management though, as well as having to plan tactics and be able to change these on the fly as the other team adapted to them and trying to close the gap when your team is losing and you cannot afford the weapon setup that you have based your strategy around. Very satisfying getting 3 frags in 1 clip with the USP and winning the round for your team :)

I do remember the public servers being utter every man for himself bedlam though, not to mention being accused of cheating when you are 30 kills to 1 death.

Would you say the same thing about chess, which is arguably just as useless? Just wondering if it is mostly public esteem that makes you think so (chess would presumably be held in higher esteem - being a grandmaster in chess would gather more respect in the general public than being a grandmaster in CSS).

I don't mean it in a bad way, just seriously wondering what are worthwhile things to pursue. Should we discard any and all recreational activities and concentrate every waking hour on researching cancer cures? Even music and art seem very questionable, at least it is not clear why they should be more worthy than playing games.

I don't think it's any more of a poor choice than spending time trying to be awesome at sports or music, or any other hobby. The real question is: does it make you happy?

Not everything in life needs to fulfill one of the questions you ask of a hobby - there are lots of things that people devote time and money to that won't make them money, get them laid, etc., and I don't think they're any more a waste of time than being a competitive gamer.

I'm not against playing games for short term happiness or pleasure. It just seems like a poor long term hobby , especially to focus so much on one game.

I don't think CS is the worst offender here though, It's worse when WOW gets patched and people complain about the patch making their character worse because they invested so much time in that character which can be so arbitrarily rendered worthless.

I think being good at sports or music is much more likely to get you laid and more likely to be a hobby that people will respect and you will be able to carry on throughout your life. There is also way more chance of making money and of course there are fitness benefits to sport.

I'm not ridiculing people who enjoy video games I just sort of look back and think "wow, why did I take that so seriously" and I know my other CS playing friends now think the same.

I don't find gaming a poor long term hobby, I see people who spend hours upon hours building model planes, only to crash it in a park.

If I never get published, my hobby of writing fiction is just as big a waste, if not more. At least playing CS or WoW gives me the chance of meeting someone to be friends with. With writing I'm generally disconnected and isolated, rather than connected and isolated.

Hobby's are entered into in full knowledge that you're wasting time. I don't see the point in replaying games (I worked as a movie/game reviewer, so I got into a healthy habit of seeing it as disposable entertainment), save for a few special ones like Grim Fandango.

> I think being good at sports or music is much more likely to get you laid and more likely to be a hobby that people will respect and you will be able to carry on throughout your life.

I don't think being good at sports is going to get you laid, I think being in excellent physical condition will get you laid. I think being good at sports means you're likely to have less free time to get laid, especially when you start avoiding drinking alcohol to perform better for saturday and sunday morning games.

Similarly I think being able to play guitar well might get you laid, I don't think spending your Saturdays in someones garage is going to help.

Sorry but you can't claim one hobby is superior to another, when by a hobby is a non-productive activity.

I'm sure many professional athletes have said "wow, why did I take that so seriously" when they're burnt out at 30, or took a bad tackle or fall and can never get back to performance level. I mean fuck, watch a series of Intervention and you'll see like 5 Olympic or Olympic qualifying athletes.

I know a girl who broke up with her bf just because he was training hockey too much. 5-6 times training per week and 1 match = No time for gf.

And when not training they are talking about hockey, watching hockey-games on tv or playing nhl on xbox.

I've heard that tale a thousand of times.

Successful men usually have wifes who support them in their hobbies/jobs/whatever, and vice-versa.

This is for me the meaning of 'Behind every great man there's a great woman'.

Our personal choice for a significant other should take this into account.

I don't know about you, but I don't choose my hobbies based on how likely they are to get me laid. And if people don't respect my hobbies, that's their problem, not mine. It's also a good indication of what kind of person they are.

Although as an aside, you do forget one significant downside to playing sports - injuries. This is especially the case if you play at all competitively. Also, are sports really a valid "long-term hobby"? You can probably only play most sports for so long... (barring golf/tennis/etc).

No, although as a teenager if you had suggested a hobby which I hated but promised that it would result in ladies throwing themselves at me I probably would have considered it :)

My point was more that being masterful at a sport (e.g playing professional or semi-pro football) or being a successful musician playing large gigs to cheering fans will get you more social status than being a counterstrike champion (although maybe korea is a counter example here).

I'm not suggesting that you should choose your hobbies based on this though! I try to choose hobbies based on a deeper sense of fulfillment which may be creative , exhilarating or just make me physically fitter. Whilst I still enjoy playing video games I never got any of these feelings of "real" achievement from it in the same way I would from writing a good program or running a marathon for example, so they are now in the "fun" category for me now rather than a serious hobby.

Of course there is a social aspect to many hobbies too and this is probably one of the things I enjoyed most about gaming (especially since it is easy to play with people all over the world and learn about different cultures).

I just feel if I had the chance to go back again I might have been more fulfilled learning to really shred on a guitar since this is a skill which would be more likely to stay relevant over time. When I play modern video games I can really only call on a very limited amount of my counterstrike skillz.

It's like looking at the starcraft players in korea complaining about starcraft2 making their well honed skills less useful simply because of a software update. The same thing happens with programming a little but I can still apply most of my Visual Basic and PHP techniques now to writing python or something.

Can't argue with that one (choosing hobbies as a teenager), although I have to admit that I became much more satisfied with my hobbies once I stopped caring about them from the point of view of other people.

Personally, I think putting time into music and sports are about as useful/useless as putting time into video games. For the most part, adults aren't going to be able to sink much time into their hobbies (certainly not enough to become world class) - most of my friends who did sink time into learning to shred on a guitar (and the like) don't really use those skills now. I spend most of my personal time playing sports, but other than the side effect of being rather fit, I don't think they are intrinsically any more fulfilling than spending a similar amount of time becoming just as good at competitive gaming.

Re: SC -> SC2 - not really a great analogy, considering how well professional SC players have adapted to SC2. They might complain about it, but there's actually a pretty high correlation between being good at SC and transferring that skill to SC2. (Not to mention that the few SC players that have switched to SC2 so far haven't been top-tier. I can't imagine how well the top-tier SC players would do at SC2 in comparison.) I don't think it's much different from pro athletes dealing with rules changes; NFL players might vociferously complain about it, but in the end, they're the best at what they do for a reason.

The choice is hardly one after 10,000 hours. Video games are addictive and satisfy short-term pleasure. My guess is that becoming awesome is sometimes just a matter of "addictiveness".

There's probably some correlation/causation in there - I imagine that you would tend to become "addicted" to things that you're naturally good at.

I think the case is that when you start playing a video game you don't start with the intention of playing it for 10000 hours, you just keep playing an realize you have invested so much time that you may as well keep playing and become the best.

Most people who trot out that "10,000 hours" figure don't remember the second part - it's 10,000 hours of _meaningful practice_. Being the best at something, including video games, isn't something that you just stumble into.

Would you say that about someone who enjoys sports as a hobby? You say "may as well keep playing and become the best" as if video games somehow involve less skill or practice to become the best at than other hobbies.

I think it is mostly that video games are generally designed around quick gratification compared to most other activities, they are not usually designed to be your primary hobby (at least 1 game on it's own is not). Throw a relative newbie into a first person shooter game and they will probably score their first kill in a matter of minutes, it just doesn't ask any long term commitment from you. I imagine very few people started out thinking they would become CS champions, more likely they found it addictive and played allot then at some point took it to the next level and joined a clan etc.

Contrast this with learning the guitar for example, first you have to buy $100+ of stuff that is only useful for that hobby. Then you will try and play some songs but most likely your going to have 10+ hours of practice under your belt doing boring stuff like learning chords and getting callouses on your fingers before you can reliably play even very basic rock songs at full speed. The learning curve then becomes very steep, especially if you want to learn complicated solos and techniques but once you have mastered it then it is a skill that is kept for life. It is very unlikely that a new instrument will come out which renders your guitar obsolete.

All of the people that I used to play counterstrike with no longer play it at all or only play very occasionally. Contrast this with the people I know who started playing guitar instead (investing a similar number of hours) at a similar age. Almost all of them are still playing and are now very proficient. They are playing gigs and writing/releasing their own music. A few have even made careers from it.

Single-player games may be built around that, but multiplayer games generally aren't. Have you ever seen a newbie get thrown into a multiplayer FPS game? Unless everyone else is at a similar skill level, the newbie often just gets destroyed. Heck, the difference between my friends and I at Halo isn't even that great, and I usually only wind up with a handful of kills at best! (It's arguable that I might just really suck at Halo, but it's not like my friends are that great either.)

That being said, I still fail to see how this is any different from playing sports, or any other hobby. You try something new, discover you like it, do it some more, get decent at it, and then decide to take it to the next level. I've never been that addicted to video games, but one could easily argue that my current hobbies have (obviously) been more addictive for me, since I've stuck with them to such an extent.

It is true that video games do age quickly, but it's not the case that your skills suddenly become obsolete. When the electric guitar came out, did that suddenly render classic guitar skills useless? It's the same with video games - many of the skills transfer over within the same game archetype. It's why you see the same people winning at different 2D fighting games over the years. Despite playing a completely new game, the bulk of your skills are still intact. Sure, the specialization is gone, but that's part of the appeal.

Yes, but how many of those CS players actually invested time into _meaningful practice_ at CS? No offense, but just being in a clan is kind of like being a club sports player. Pretty damn good compared to the average player, but not the same at all as putting in the work to become world class.

> which can be radically changed or even destroyed at any time

This was the nail in the gaming coffin for me. Imagining all those hours spent to be completely worthless once the servers are shut down- and then imagining that all that time had been spent playing guitar and writing code. I still like to play games occasionally for fun, but not with the drive to be the best.

Spot on. But oh, the feeling of a well-placed deagle headshot through the wall corner...

I started competitive play at 15, eventually peaking at 18 with 2 CPL showings. I probably played vs. juan at a couple LANs.

The amount of focus, time, and sheer mental fortitude required showed me what it took to truly master something. When I could drop 35 kills in a half in a tournament, or kill 10 people in a round in a pub, I understood my level of commitment had led to that success.

I spent the past few years at a telecom/networking company doing sales as an engineer. Multi-million dollar deals, complex designs and high-stress situations. Learning to communicate only what was relevant and necessary, eliminating all extraneous information, was essential to success. My co-workers looked to me to quickly prioritize targets, shift strategy, and keep morale high as we focused on the end goal of closing.

Counter-strike taught me that. No other "group project" or random nonsense in college prepared me to work with the most highly regarded and ardent professionals in the world. My team would put egos aside, drop all sense of the individual, and focus on beating an enemy that was composed of the very same caliber.

It taught me the value of "ideal scenarios" or "how it's supposed to work". The immaculate plans leading up to a meeting, that required innumerable changes during practical execution. Without the ability to communicate as fluidly as possible between individuals any slight shift in the plan would create utter confusion and chaos, quickly exploited by a foe just begging for you to make a mistake.

I'd like to grab a beer with JonMumm. There's just something about the high-level Counter-Strike people that has reassured me that there are others out there can place so much of themselves into something that it doesn't become second nature, it becomes you.

CSS being counter strike: source, though he may be talented at using cascading style sheets as well.

Ahh. The whole time I was wondering: "How is this guy a legend at both counterstrike and cascading stylesheets?"

Title should then be CS:S if I remember the acronym correctly?

confirmed jon is pretty awesome at cascading style sheets, also, yes.

I thought it was DVD Jon, because of DeCSS.

To be the best at anything, means that you must live abnormally and do abnormal things. This is why being the best at everything is nearly impossible, since each thing to master would require different kinds of abnormalities and different ways of living abnormally.

This is why you find "geniuses" in a particular field, like math, or music, and they're usually not-so-genius in most other fields. "Genius" is attainable in my book, it's a matter of being focused and "putting your mind to it" as the article states, and this focus and "putting your mind to it" require being and doing abnormal things.

That's what makes the old-school polymaths like Goethe and Von Neumann so amazing to me - they not only did it in a single field, but many, all relatively simultaneously.

Many, which are very closely related. Computer science and mathematics are essentially one and the same, or maybe a subset of another (as an example)

Goethe did more than math or CS.

This is why I abandoned the desire to be the #1 best at something. This isn't to say I can't strive to be exceptionally good, but being the best is such a great cost. I haven't yet found something where I feel the payoff of being THE best is worth it.

This doesn't really jive with conventional worldviews, and I feel like I should be ashamed for "giving up", but honestly it seems like a destructive behavior/goal.

According to a lot of research, it isn't that the person does abnormal things, it's that the person invests an abnormal amount of time into practicing his skill. It's an important distinction, because it illustrates that 'being the best' is more of a decision than an abnormality.

There is a place called Kota in India. It is a hub of coaching institutes trying to assist highschool students get admission into top engineering and medical colleges(IIT,AIIMS) of India.

>5000 hours of counterstrike is pretty common game-time that students living there spend and you would easily find >25000 kids of age 15-16 such types. Millions of students go there each year. Competition is so tough that hardly top 2% get admissions into IITs.

As a result, >90% do not study.

You see them playing they are experts! Most of them don't even know how to log into a server. The cybercafe would set up the LAN for them. All they do is play, all the time. As per rule the shops are supposed to close after 11 pm. But these shops have eating/smoking and toilet arrangements inside. They pull down the shutter, as if the shop is closed from 11 to 6. Students stay 'voluntarily trapped' inside for a LAN party at a discounted rate of 1-2$ for the whole night. Once the course is over, the gig is too. they go back to their hometowns, never playing again.

I work in Delhi and I see clans participating and even winning international competitions like WCG. But even the gameplay of the best, is only at par average as per Kota standards.

All this time spent for happiness, curing boredom. Rajasthan would be the biggest consumer of CS, DoTA, Tekken, AoE if pirated stuff is counted for.

Wow, never knew that about Kota. Had a friend who lived there for a year for IIT studies. He himself admits that he never once attended a single class and was mostly just having fun. Counter Strike in India is certainly big. I only wish Starcraft 2 was as well.

Oh, and can you tell me where in Delhi do these tournaments happen? I don't play much CS but earlier on in school, all I could think about was being a pro-gamer!

Thanks for the great article. Counter Strike was the game that really got me interested in programming. I got introduced to it in early 2000 and was blown away that this game was made by hobbyists who created a mod (expansion package) for Half Life which in itself was revolutionary at the time. Eventually Valve acquired Counter Strike and the rest is history. I still think fondly of the many hours spent on de_dust and cs_assault.

Counter-Strike was what really got me into programming too, in the form of several small programs that added some neat functionality to CS and other HL mods. As a high school student it was pretty amazing to have tens of thousands of people using the software I was writing.

If you used any of the programs I wrote or know anyone who did, I guess I owe you an apology. One of the programs, Half-Life Sound Selector (HLSS), annoyed countless people by allowing players to blast WAV files over the voice comm system. Really, really annoying. Another program, HLirc, interfaced with HL and mIRC, letting you chat in IRC using the game's console, until VAC started detecting it (incorrectly) as a cheat and banned you that is. The other program was a Winamp plugin called HLamp. It let you control Winamp from inside the game and even tell others what song you were listening to. My favorite feature: automatically turning the volume up/down when you died/respawned. Of course the VAC eventually detected HLamp as a cheat too.

Anyway, sorry if I got your WON/Steam account banned!

Good memories :)

Oh man, HLSS was crazy back then. I can't believe you created that. I just remember every one playing Bannaphone or Jim Carrey yelling at the top of his lungs. Those were the days.

Wow. HLSS was the source of a whole lot of fun a few years ago. Thanks!

Counter-Strike had a similar effect on me. I'd be coding since long before CS, but most were small, simple hacks.

Seeing the success of Counter-Strike, and the mod-mania of that era, got me interested in modding, where I was first exposed to the complexities (and math!) that "real" software entailed.

From there I went on to write some standalone, small games, then went deeper down the C++ rabbit hole which helped me get my first software internship. The rest is, as they say, history.

I got started at 15 working with teams to make CS hacks harder to detect. I now work in netsec doing packet analysis to identify new malware via network signatures. It's funny how script kiddies, given proper motivation, can grow into professionals doing real work. How many thousands (millions?) of our fellow IT workers can trace the direct roots of their profession to video games they played as kids?

Writing scripts and bots to cheat at runescape in middle school for me.

I remember trying out tons of mods for Half Life and Quake around '99-2000. That's all but disappeared now.

Are there still active modscenes for newer games? Minecraft is the only one that really comes to mind.

Nothing has been as easily moddable as Half-Life, with the same install-base.

I suspect there's another problem with mods today: asset production. In Half-Life's day even I could hack out a semi-passable player model in a day or two. Nowadays, producing assets for games has been made dramatically more complex. In short, you really can't find a lot of people willing to produce that quality and complexity of art for free. The size of teams required to put anything together, as a result of this, has also put a lot of things beyond a mod team's modest reaches.

I think that's why a lot of the indie excitement is around casual and "low-fi" games like Minecraft. Assets have always been a major blocker, and when you embrace the fact that you're not AAA, you have a better experience with it.

Some games, yes. Epic foster an incredible community with their incredibly generous terms for licensing the UDK out to all. Skyrim will no doubt see a profusion of mods; the Total War games all have a healthy modding community; all Valve games are as moddable as HL2 was, given they... uhh... are still on the same engine.

There seem to be a lot of new Skyrim mods coming out every other day. Mostly cosmetic stuff, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more 'total conversion' style work soon.

I haven't really checked moddb.com since Unreal Tournament 2004 was the big online game, but it seems to be going strong.

Different genre and a few years old now, but Civilization 4 is supremely moddable with a very active community. Firaxis released the entire source code to the game rules engine!

There's a whole world to discover: http://www.moddb.com/mods

Bethesda games tend to be very moddable.

I think I'm also very close to those 10.000 hours in cs 1.6. I can really relate to this guy story. I don't think many people will ever experience that adrenaline you get when you're in high level competition. That is sport or esport. It's like a first girl friend, I will never experience that feeling again and that kind of makes me sad.

I know I've wasted a big part of my life playing this game, but I don't regret because of that competition feeling, that stress, that happiness when you win a tournament, that solidarity between players of the same team, the nights spend training and practicing...

If you enjoyed the time, did you really waste it?

Pick up a new sport/hobby/game. Practice.

Gaming taught me a lot and made my life better. I was depressed and with few positive catalysts. Warcraft 3 made me play with other people, meet people who I am friends with today and also taught me to be excellent.

I got to compete, set up a clan which trained other people, and held tournaments, and taught me how to take responsibility for my team. Like someone else mentioned, I learnt how to maintain morale, how to take on the jobs no one liked and to excel at them. Having people have faith in your strategy, making people follow your plan, knowing how important it is to even have one, no matter how bad, I learnt that from gaming.

But above all, like the OP, i learnt what it means to be the best at something. I look back at that time and am glad I did it. It helped me start building myself back up and taught me the basics of team work which I use everyday.

League of Legends has become my modern-day Counter-Strike. The buzz the author mentions is exactly the buzz I get playing the game over hundreds of hours. The rules of the game are fairly simple -- and inside of that simplicity a desire for perfection emerges. It's fun and challenging -- likely why I'm a programmer, too.

LOL is many more times more complex than CS. If you are weird, try running game-theory and stochastic simulation models. Try to optimize things like item builds, team-movement/formation, engagement sequence, allocation of champions to lanes at various times, allocation of gold/farm to champions. And then to apply it.

I think a lot of ex pro counter strike players are playing LoL right now.

Based on the title, I expected Jon to explain the things he missed about Counter-Strike, the game, with respect to Counter-Strike: Source (CSS), the sequel. That's not what this is about. It's a retrospective on his career as a professional CS player.

I then wondered why he didn't pick up another game or hobby. Turns out, he did. "Earlier this year I stumbled my way in to the world of tech startups."

I played with and against him for years. His old teammate n0it was chatting with me on facebook for a while about my start-up-turned-company as he uses our software on his campus. I had not talked to either of them for a few years at minimum.

Jon's a great guy. Good read. Very surprised I saw something like this on HN. Small world, eh?

Having read this, there are so many skills you can pick up from the gaming culture that helps you integrate with working as a programmer.

He probably knows how to do scripting from IRC... maybe he's written a bot or knows how a bot works from IRC. I remember lots of bots that work in different way and what you can learn from watching it run.

At 16 I remember seeing my very first bot and being amazed by it. The problem was that I was on a Windows box and everyone around me was on Linux. Then the problem was which language did I pick. Then the problem was that the most popular language was a bitch to install... then there was the problem I had no idea what the error was and if it was something I had done.

Oh the list goes on.

What I'm trying to say is, not everything is a waste. Knowing when something is valuable enough to spend time of is a skill in its self.

+1 procrastination proclaimer

Interesting. I thought this would be a critique of modern day first person shooters.

Modern day first person shooters provide an immersive, story-driven single player experience, but have gameplay that cannot make for a decent competitive platform.

Surely you are aware that Halo 3 with variants and COD:MW with variants are the most successful online FPSes of all time? Both were also criticized for shallow single player stories, not on par with previous versions.

Well, to be fair, COD is an RPG. If you have to farm and craft for 20 hours to get a decent weapon, you're not playing an FPS. Halo on the other hand is a different story :D

I wonder how you define successful. Microsoft doesn't seem to like releasing simultaneous player counts except on launch days and of course launch is almost always the highest count you'll find, but the Halo 3 launch day count (750k) I found isn't that impressive compared to run of the mill counter-strike numbers on steam (75k). Mind you, counter-strike at this point is 12 years old. I'm pretty sure that no one will be playing either of those games in 12 years.

Those games do not even come close to the competitive levels of CS for team-based FPS and Quake3 for dueling. Not by a long shot.


It's a great feeling, being the 'best' or better than the majority. I've also experienced the void created after deciding to move on. I still feel as though I'm on an endless search to find something that I can be as passionate about.

Thanks for the great read!

Looking back to a few years ago, I would actually say that I was addicted to CS. Playing matches in a clan is a sure fire way to drive the addiction because it becomes hard to leave without letting your teammates down.

Luckily, due to Steam's awful user account tools via the client and the website, I am unable to recover my Steam password. The only way to recover it is to deface the CD box by writing the support ticket number on it, taking a photograph of that defacement and the product key and then sending that photo to their support email address. Then they will reset your password.

You know what, I'm really not that bothered!

"all of a sudden I'm in a de_dust pub server and I just picked up my first mp5"

Ahh the memories..

Few news articles (even on HN) 'move' me, but this one did. To all those whom were among the best at a popular game, you understand.

Some interesting comments: like whether playing CS, or any other game, is "worth it." I agree with kejadlen, "does it make you happy?" Though heroin, at some point in time, makes addicts "happy." One thing is for certain though, the feeling of mastery gets harder and harder to find later in life, at least with regards to professions or wealth.

Wow. Nicely said. I help out with Ninja Girl's party in D2 which is a Counter Strike Source server and I never hear anything about Counter Strike outside of the server anymore. I am curious to see what Counter Strike Global Offensive will be like. Our server is the most popular in the US and I am pretty sure we can keep that status in CS:GO. I am kinda hoping it brings the spotlight back to CS.

"When you pursue something difficult, eventually you have to make a choice between being balanced, normal, and conventional, and being different, weird, and exceptional. I chose the latter."

Wow. You are not a normal writer. More writing needs to come from the heart like this. I don't even care about video games and loved this article.

tl;dr: You can do anything you want to do, but you can't do everything you want to do.

Love the shoutout to Aaron Rodgers! lol

But seriously, as a former Cal-I vet myself, I know exactly what he's talking about. And I can relate to how it feels like that in the world of start-ups.

In my opinion, a lot of it has to do with the book "FLOW". We should all go read it.

Good stuff!

What is a stratcaller?

The equivalent of a team captain or quarterback. As the situation of a match unfolds the stratcaller will do just that, call out different strategies and make decisions about what the other members should do.

Cliff notes: being great at something requires spending a lot of time on it.

Not exactly groundbreaking insight, and I disagree entirely with the assertion that such dedication makes one "weird". Any sane person would be jealous of someone who's so passionate about their career that they gladly dedicate signifant effort to mastering it. The fact that he chose to spend 10,000+ hours mastering Counter Strike is the "weird" part, although I'd personally love to see gaming become more accepted here as a professional sport.

I think you're missing the point. It's not about becoming great at something. It's about being exceptional at one thing. It's about spending every moment of your life either practicing or thinking about that thing, to the detriment of everything and everyone else. It's about being possessed with the desire to be the best. And that is weird, by definition - only a small fraction of people have such dedication to one pursuit. It's not just passion - it's obsession.

And, in the end, it's the feeling you get when you've attained that level of mastery, and the hollowness you feel when you give it up to focus on a more balanced life.

Many people would be jealous of someone with such skill, but few would envy the work and the exclusionary lifestyle required to get there.

Most people are always 'jealous' whether it be of people who are great at singing, playing an instrument, videogames, or something, yet they really don't seem to care or desire that and often they feel negative towards those people. It seems everything in their lives revolves around watching others do things (Reality TV shows, magazines, news stories, etc) and little to do with their actual selves.

They don't want to be in a good conversation, they want to have an average conversation where everyone agrees on some average opinion or every now and then someone will be 'edgy' to give it a bit of flair.

They don't want to understand good art they simply want to say that one of their kids once went to an art gallery and that they saw know that Picasso has weird/funny looking paintings.

This sounds elitist yet it's not. From school age and possibly even before the majority latches onto the dumb notion that if a kid studies well he's a teacher's pet and weird or some other term and they never let go of this idea. Ever. At university one of the subjects was systems analysis and design which came with a huge textbook. I read some of it each week that aligned with that week's lecture/tutorial content and people said that's weird.

.. but all this is like endlessly driving on a roundabout because what it means to be weird and normal differs though does have a common understanding. A common understanding is that 'normal' is not being the best or putting in the best effort. They should just start saying average instead of normal. For me, all those people they call weird are the normals ones as they're doing it right.

The ones who exercise are normal and the ones who sit around are weird. The ones who do the homework are normal and the ones who don't are ridiculously weird. It's like they want to ignore cause and effect and modify the universe to suit their quick whims for instant desires. What a bunch of weirdos.

Oh Janine, you so funny.

Not trying to be funny. I posted this because this is the best thing I've read of Jon's - and I felt there was something universally resonant about the sweet pain of aspiring to greatness. What I didn't expect were the multiple comments from those who play or used to play CS and draw lessons that apply to programming and teamwork. If CS produces colleagues like Jon, then more please.

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