Ahmad “Contrastsz” El Samad has been playing video games for as long as he can remember.
Perhaps a culmination of his childhood, growing up in Kuwait firing up first-person shooters on his SEGA Genesis and PlayStation 1 as a part of his daily routine, El Samad once won $300 competing in a “Call of Duty” tournament.
In high school, El Samad dropped the Activision FPS title to join his friends on Riot Games’ “League of Legends” — the 10-year-old multiplayer online battle arena, whose high-skill ceiling matches averaged eight million peak concurrent players in August, is considered to be crowned the most played PC game worldwide.
Before graduating at the end of this year with a masters of business administration degree from Long Beach State, El Samad looks to complete his commitment to the CSULB Esports Association’s Division 1 “League of Legends” team on Summoner’s Rift.
“We have official practice for three hours each, for three days a week,” El Samad said. “But since we all enjoy the game a lot, we tend to practice just to play for fun together and build our synergies.”
After two weeks of online tryouts, complete with one club moderator analyzing in-game callouts and another taking note of each macro play — i.e. wards, positioning, rotations, objectives, teamfight set-up — El Samad was named the starting mid laner and thus one of the 100-plus players representing CSULB in collegiate esports.
Though the goal of winning is something that is shared among all teams at the Beach, player eligibility remains a defining concern in collegiate esports.
As the captain for the club’s Rainbow Six: Siege Division 1 team, senior computer science major Chaz “AbsolutelyTrash” Del Prato said he makes sure his players understand that not meeting GPA requirements would make them ineligible for the Collegiate R6 league.
“I make it a rule with us that school is first,” Del Prato said. “One of our players can’t make it [to the match] because he has three exams next week. We sub them out, and we’re OK with that. We’re ready for that.”
Playing professionally, like in any sport, is something that remains more of a dream than a reality for most players.
Del Prato said that although he may never get the opportunity to go pro in “Rainbow Six: Siege,” he’s more than satisfied with the friendships he made at the Beach while making an underdog grand finals playoff run last December.
While strategies and in-game mechanics are something players spend numerous hours perfecting, senior business marketing major and teams coordinator Christopher “Roeka” Yem said that the club’s main priority is developing its players’ communication skills.
“By being a part of a team, communication [in game] not only helps you,” Yem said, “but it gives you practice because being in an actual game, you have to focus on the minor details. If one little callout is off, then that means they could lose the whole match.”
In addition to “League of Legends” and “Rainbow Six: Siege,” Yem has brought back “Dota 2” and introduced “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” this semester into the club’s existing catalog of teams — “Rocket League,” “Fortnite,” “Overwatch” and “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.”
Most of the teams carry multiple divisions of rosters, with the main ones comprised of players with the most talent or commitment to competition facing off against the likes of USC, UCLA, UCI and other elite collegiate esports teams. The other rosters are used to build up less experienced players committed to improving, and offer pathways for them to represent CSULB on the “varsity” teams in the future.
After not wanting to continue her stint as a support player due to time constraints, senior studio art major Laura “iiLita” Duenas volunteered to drop the player spot to become the manager for the club’s Overwatch Team B this semester.
In addition to looking for other teams to scrimmage against and tournaments to participate in, Duenas said she wants to continue the tradition of family and creating a cohesive team. Often times, it can be difficult to make the right plays in the heat of battle, especially if you’re afraid to make callouts to total strangers within your team.
“As managers, we want to push our team members to communicate more with each other because at first, they can seem shy because they don’t know each other,” Duenas said. “They’re just put into a team and it’s, ‘OK, now you guys have to talk to each other.’”
Second-year choral music education transfer Matthew “MANDERSON” Anderson said that although he doesn’t have plans to continue his competitive playing career after his time on “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Black” comes to an end, he hopes to start an esports club in the future as a school teacher.
“Gaming isn’t just some negative thing where people go online and swear profusely at each other,” Anderson said. “You learn all sorts of skills that you didn’t know you needed. Communication, teamwork, having the [right] mindset, work ethic, all that stuff. And being able to bring that to the younger generation, if they haven’t been able to experience stuff like that, especially if the stigma around gaming is still negative as I feel like it is to this day.”
For now, El Samad said the stigma that students can’t be gamers while still being successful in college is false.
“It’s very important to prioritize school,” El Samad said. “That’s something I was very careful of and made sure. But after that, if you want to blow off some steam, if you want to take a break while playing ‘League of Legends’ or any video game for that matter, I feel like if you prioritize well, it’s very manageable.”