Playing with Others: The Cyberathlete Amateur League

[Editor’s note: DanlHaas talks about the competive side of gaming for his Playing With Others Monthly Musing. — CTZ]

For this month’s theme, I thought I’d spend some time discussing a form of gaming that isn’t heavily covered on blogs like this: the hardcore competitive scene. Now, I know what you’re thinking. We all compete in videogames. You probably compete to exert your superiority over legions of racist 12-year-olds every day on Xbox Live. You might even enter Smash Brothers tournaments held by gaming clubs at your school. I mean, when I tell people that I used to play DDR competitively, what I really mean is that I entered two or three tournaments at my local arcade.

But these events, for the purposes of this article, anyway, are not what I mean when I talk about ‘competitive gaming’. But even with that distinction, we’re still talking about a very broad subject. There’s practically no end to the games people play competitively, ranging from Street Fighter II, Call of Duty 4, Starcraft and more.

The leagues supporting these games are in no short supply either; the World Cyber Games, Major League Gaming, and ESports Entertainment just to name a few. This is the world that can truly be described as electronic sport, with all the tension, drama, and fandom of the real world equivalent. It’s not about having a good time anymore, it’s about being strictly better than everyone else. So today, I’m going to talk about my enjoyable, though admittedly brief, personal experiences in the world of competitive gaming. 

Plan your strats carefully.

I was aware of the Cyberathlete Amateur League (CAL) from the moment I started playing Counter-Strike. I was pulled into the game by a friend who already had a team competing in CAL’s Open division, and they were pretty good (that team, though my friend no longer plays for them improved enough to reach CAL Main, where they have been playing for the last few seasons.).

So naturally when I picked the game up, I already had the competitive mindset. Under the tutelage of my friend and his teammates, I got better at the game fairly quickly. They taught me the sorts of tricks that most players take weeks to discover on their own. I became a competent player in months, rather than years. Of course, I didn’t have the practical experience backing it all up like the rest of them did. By competitive standards, I was (and still am) pretty awful.

With this in mind, I decided to join CAL with my own team. The proposition was mostly a joke at first, with some friends from school with whom I played Counter-Strike occasionally. It wasn’t really a serious idea until we came up with our name: Ing With Crabs.

Fuck yeah

When we came up with this, we knew it was simply too good to not use. We found some extra players to round out the roster and started playing CAL Open in its 17th season. We knew we were terrible, of course, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude of our team made it pretty obvious that we were just there to have fun and make idiots of ourselves. To this end, we instituted various traditions in our matches.

For example, each half ended in ‘Para/Night vision round’, in which every member of our team would bunny hop around the map carrying some of the most useless, overpriced equipment available. We also made it into a much more social event by making match nights into LAN nights, getting the majority of our team members into one house to play the match. In retrospect, we were sort of the pioneers of CAL’s now-defunct Counter-Strike Fun League; we just didn’t know it at the time.

Needless to say, we never won a match. We may have stayed competitive from time to time, and may have even won a scrimmage or two so long as one of our more talented friends was ringing for us.

Can you guess which one is the ringer?

But at the end of each of the seasons we played, the only wins on the record were forfeit wins. Even if all our matches were a complete waste of time for everyone involved, I like to think that at least we all had a good time. And that’s what videogames are all about, right?

Once Team Ing with Crabs disbanded following CAL-O season 19, I figured I’d be done with my cyberthletic career for good. This seemed to be the case until very recently, when I picked up Left 4 Dead and started playing with several members of the aforementioned CAL-Main team, Face the Music. We practically had a competitive team from day one, so we knew that as soon as CAL announced their L4D division, Team Left4Bro would be first in line to sign up.

Be sure to watch us head straight to the top in the sport’s premier season, and thanks for taking some time to read my thoughts on a somewhat under appreciated side of gaming.