In the second edition of our new Insights section: ‘Behind The Scenes’, we take a look at the brains behind Indias leading CS:GO platform and the evolving landscape of Asian CS:GO through his eyes.
CSGO2ASIA: For our readers who aren’t aware of who you are, let us know a little bit about your background and how long you’ve been playing CS?
Aequitas: I have been one of the lucky few that through my general journey through life (migrating and education) I have been able to compete at a decently high level in all the three key counter-strike regions – Asia, Europe and North America.
I like most gamers of my generation started out at the cyber-cafes – in Singapore and remember signing my first ‘professional’ contract at the age of 16 years. I use the term professional loosely as back then it basically paid for my cab fare around the city for small LAN(s), an online server for scrims and free hours at the gaming cafe for our team.
The real eye-opening experience came with becoming regular scrim partners with Team TitaNs back then (who were one of the dominant Asian teams) and eventually due to my university days compete in the EU circuit (via the UK) for a year.
I ended my playing career in the states where I was based in New York and played primarily in the east coast LAN circuit.
TLDR: I have been playing since Beta 7 and competitively since CS 1.3. Quite a gramp in this game.
CSGO2ASIA: How did you begin the journey at SoStronk and what inspired you to go down this path?
Aequitas: By the time I was in my mid to late 20’s, gaming and esports had been one of the defining areas of my life and my primary passion. I had attempted doing jobs after graduating in marketing and finance (typical paths that my Economics & Political Science degree directed me towards) but at the back of my mind I wanted to continue exploring Esports – even back when winning LAN(s) often times meant just getting mousepads I truly believed it was going to be a legitimate sport one day.
I have always been a pro-risk individual and moving across the globe for my passions hadn’t stopped me in the past. I decided to pack everything up in the states, move to Bangalore knowing next to no one there to build out a platform in 2014 and started working on building out a team. The initial idea was from competing in EU & NA and seeing the importance of platforms within the CS ecosystems there (CAL, ESEA, CEVO, Enemydown).
I reconnected with Karan “VuNaMi” Misra who used to be a competitive player second and hardcore tech evangelist first who had been going through his own journey within the product development world. Together we started building out a kick-ass small team internally to build out this dream of ours – which is today SoStronk.
CSGO2ASIA: You’re one of the few people in Asia who has been involved with and seen the evolution of CS since 1.6, Source and now CS:GO. In your opinion, why is Asian CS still far behind the EU/NA competition, especially in this version of CS?
Aequitas: I could potentially write a thesis on this question as the reasons are numerous but I will try my best to highlight some of the key reasons.
Poor Transitional Eras: Due to a multitude of reasons, whether that is NS, the emergence of MOBAs or Asian societal pressures on professional gaming careers; at various points in time we had great players, great minds and excellent talents but none of them were able to transition their knowledge over to the upcoming generations. This always created a kind of hard reset between version to version and often-times between generation to generation.
Not to mention there is this general avoidance of sharing of knowledge as if if you spend a couple of hours mentoring the 16 year talent he will suddenly learn all that you have known for a decade and beat you at your own game. It’s a lack of self-confidence in their own abilities which stops people from mentoring and spreading the wealth of experience.
Limited & Immature Scrim Culture: The US and the Asian scene have much in common other than the ‘balls to the wall’ – PUGGISH styles we are both known for. They both share this mindset of calling out people ‘tryhard’ and looking down on people putting in the hours with regards to the dirty work in practice.
We like all regions also put in an immense amount of hours but often-times we didn’t utilize those hours correctly to practice smartly or scrim properly. MR30s became a norm only recently, very few teams till date still schedule their scrims ahead of time with a breakdown on types of playstyles they want to test themselves against. There is very little thought on processes – whether those are roles, building out a playstyle, process of reviewing demos and general innovation; it’s mostly still a copycat mentality of ripping from the T1/T2 scenes.
It’s one of the main reasons we introduce the scrim listing system in SoStronk to enable structure across the board for teams in the scene.
Lack of IGLs: This is a byproduct of the ‘omg so tryhard’ mentality that we as a region have always struggled to produce great leaders, minds, IGLs, and coaches. We as a scene still value that star player way above the impact of the tactician and the IGLs. Even today many upcoming talents are hesitant to transition into that role because of a) lack of guidance and b) lack of appreciation.
CSGO2ASIA: What about India? We are aware there are tons of teams in the region, but from your perspective why is Indian CS:GO a little step behind the top countries in Asia like China, Singapore, and Thailand?
Aequitas: The interesting thing about SEA & in particular India is that oftentimes we have grown in closed ecosystems. India is case and point – throughout 1.6 & source and a lot of CSGO most of the teams and players were competing internally in a closed ecosystem and hence growing at an incremental slow pace due to lack of exposure and challenges. Secondly, it’s a matter of mentality and general intelligence – the pro scene in India was happy being the best in India for years on end, highly toxic towards people attempting to practice & scrim properly and a general lack of IQ to tackle the more advanced concepts of theory-striking.
I think we have taken a few steps forward in the last few years with a focus on IGL’s being imported from mature regions and it’s a matter of continued investment in those experiments until the talent people is actually getting the mentoring & guidance they require to compete with the rest of Asia.
CSGO2ASIA: Do you think it’s easier or harder to start a team today in CS, despite the abundance of opportunities?
Aequitas: I think this is a “little bit of column A, a little bit of column B” kind of answer. It’s much easier to create a team today and learn quickly by competing in the infinite number of online tournaments & leagues but it’s much more difficult to break through the noise and establish oneself whether that is as a player or as a team.
I think of it as similar to the silicon valley-esque top-down ecosystems in US & CN (Google, FB, Tencent, Alibaba) – it was a handful of entrepreneurs that made it big in the late 90’s and early 2000’s who then utilized their newly acquired wealth to become serial entrepreneurs/investors into newer startups. This started a cycle of growth which results in those two countries being the two tech powerhouses globally.
Similarly – the equivalent of our tech giants are the more experienced pro(s) and team(s); they need to be actively looking at raw talents and teams – harnessing them, mentoring them, scouting and giving them opportunities instead of playing musical chairs with the usual 10-20 players that have been around at the top of the scene for a decade within each country. I mean if the musical chair formula was working we would already be breaking through into T2/T1.
CSGO2ASIA: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in developing an alternative playing platform?
Aequitas: The early-ness of the market is definitely one of them, the markets we operate in are still fairly immature whether that is from the point of the ‘mainstream-ness’ of esports, cultural acceptance, propensity to spend online or simply with technology adoption cycles.
The other aspect is that only until recently (when CS went free to play) did it start gaining a foothold in the Asian region competing against mobile games & MOBAs, this meant that even as Esports becomes more mainstream the focus has been on other titles than CSGO.
Lastly, it’s the messaging, I think being transparent & communicative whilst not sounding preachy (yeah, I struggle with that sometimes) with the community is important – being on the ground with the pro(s) & the casuals, listening to their feedback so that you can build a product that balances both sides is an ongoing challenge.
CSGO2ASIA: Why is anti-cheat development such a hard thing to tackle? Help our readers understand some of the nuances that maybe we don’t think about?
Aequitas: It’s a cat and mouse game and there is more money to be made in private cheat development than building out anti-cheats. It’s the age old story of capitalization and its dark side; the black markets. There is greater demand for cheats so that bad actors can get an edge and hence oftentimes really really talented developers end up working on the cheating side to make a good buck. To top it off, they outnumber the anti-cheat developers probably 10,000:1.
If I can simplify it – anti-cheat development requires two things to be addressed which is prevention and detection. Prevention is about wrapping up CSGO.exe so various cheats can’t inject into it. Nowadays private cheats inject in a variety of pretty innovative ways so we have to tackle all of those and this prevention usually happens on the kernel level of Windows. Kernel developers/security specialists are some of the smartest specialist developers, are insanely expensive and very few on the market.
We are lucky to have an excellent one working alongside us who has decades of experience in the anti-cheat space – however, it’s a slow-moving needle of development where if one does not build it out with stability in mind, Kernel development can severely harm the end-gamers computer (BSOD’s etc) or stop them from running CSGO due to conflicts with the version of windows they are running.
We are very close with the first beta release of Odin (our anti-cheat) which will allow us to finally enforce it on all our users.
CSGO2ASIA: During your time IGLing, coaching and managing teams, how has that helped in what you do today?
Aequitas: I think it’s the people skills that have helped the most – ego management, reading people, team management, assigning roles & specializations which all help in running a startup.
After that, the second most important aspect would be creative and critical thinking with regards to finding solutions quickly – in the heat of the game as an IGL there is always immense pressure to find a solution and that’s the same while running a flexible and pivoting startup.
CSGO2ASIA: In your opinion, what makes CS such a prominent esports title even after 20 years?
Aequitas: The depth, the history, the spectator friendliness…the list goes on and on but more than anything it was always a community-driven esport. Its the wild west out there and the open ecosystem approach from Valve really allowed CS to flourish because it allowed all kinds of third party entities – whether they were TO’s or platforms to really set the trends in the scene. This has been the case for years and continues to be so.
CSGO2ASIA: What about the sponsorships – do you buy the idea that sponsors are deterred to CS:GO because of the violent nature of the game? What do you think could be done (if anything) that wouldn’t take away too much from the core of the game?
Aequitas: I have always pondered about this, I don’t take much issue with how Valve handles CS:GO, in general, I think they do a great job but few of the smallest changes can go a long way in making it more appetising for sponsors.
a) Terrorists and Counter-terrorists to be changed to Attackers & Defenders or something more generic. Before you ‘don’t change our game’ fanatics get out your pitchforks understand that this is pretty crucial in today’s snowflake climate. Social media is too powerful and sponsors simply can’t take risks on these things.
b) Continued releases for the casual base to make the overall player base much bigger – battlepass, dailies, weeklies or built-in leaderboards will go a massive way in keeping users hooked and active. These, in turn, will also transition them easily towards the competitive part of the game. At the end of the day if the numbers are there, no matter the PR risk the sponsors have to splurge.
CSGO2ASIA: Do you think that Asian CS:GO can actually compete with the West in the next coming years or has the opportunity window closed?
Aequitas: As a whole the opportunity is closed, the occasional team has the potential to break through for sure. There is so much access to what the west are doing today in the form of demos and tutorial content online today that the right group of people, with the correct mindset and dedication, can definitely bridge the gap. Hypothetically say that we are improving at say a 50% rate they are probably improving at 125% year on year, hence holistically as a scene, it’s unlikely.
The odd team can figure out a formula, a playstyle, the right set of players and potentially keep up at 125% year on year.
But they will with their success probably spend less time with Asian teams, the scene and generally spend more time in T1 scenes (look at Renegades) which means that simply get exported out of the scene leaving the scene behind; and it’s absolutely correct for them to take those steps.
CSGO2ASIA: How can Asian CS:GO truly improve? Is it a question of moving out of the region or bringing in more talent to our region, or both?
Aequitas: I think it’s a matter of both but definitely the latter is more important. I think in particular we need to bring in IGL’s, coaches & analysts from outside to work with the immense amount of talent we have in the scene so that they can bring in the correct scrimming culture and structured pracs.
CSGO2ASIA: Who are some of the players you looked up to during your career?
Aequitas: 1.6 & previous: moto, xeqtr, ave, zonic
Source: ex6tenz, fetish, NBK, Rattlesnake, Steel
CSGO: All of Astralis, Karrigan
CSGO2ASIA: Do you still play CS? What other games do you play?
Aequitas: I coach BOOT.DS as a part-time coach whenever I can put aside the time from SoStronk. Between that and running SoStronk I don’t really get to play much myself. I couldn’t get my diamond coin because I was not able to do the MM challenges this time, for example, got all my predictions on point.
CSGO2ASIA: Which is your favorite team to watch now and why?
Aequitas: I am a hardcore Astralis fanboy and I also enjoy most of Karrigan’s teams. I think that the level of performance and teamwork Astralis showcase in-game can only happen because of the immense attention to the process they put into their practice.
That’s no fluke, it’s a lot of calculated thinking about practice whether it’s about how they counter-strat, their communication systems (that teamwork ain’t happening without really special built-in comms) or their fluidity of roles no matter the situation (almost total football-esque).
I think they are the definition of smart practice over pure hours and I truly respect that. I also dig Karrigan’s teams because he often-times plays the opponents like a high stakes, high-risk poker professional.
CSGO2ASIA: Lastly, what do you see for the future of esports?
Aequitas: I hope to see VR in the near future – further adding the physicality of traditional sports into the space. I see it continue to grow at a tremendous pace and become even more of a mainstay in the sports & entertainment space to come.