Prasad “StrykerX” Paramajothi is the ex-captain of Singapore’s team TitaNS, arguably South East Asia’s most successful CS 1.6 team. We sat down with our long-time friend and discussed everything he’s been up to since ending his playing days, what it means to be a CS player today and his work with gaming peripherals company, ZOWIE.
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?
StrykerX: I’ve been playing for 20 years now. I started off when I was 15, and I’m turning 35 now. I started off with CS 1.6 (but of course the earlier versions too), a little bit of CS:Source and CS:GO. My team, TitaNs, was the first professional team in all of South East Asia. We also played in the CGS league under Singapore Sword, which was CS:Source. I’ve played under a lot of other line-ups and teams since then. I guess you could say we’ve been moderately successful.
CSGO2ASIA: What have you been up to since ending your playing days?
StrykerX: I’ll spare everyone the details that aren’t esports related, as I’ve been tackling a lot of various businesses along the way, but with regards to esports I’ve been involved with some of the players here in Singapore, some coaching, mentoring etc. But on a more official level, I’ve been consulting for ZOWIE (BenQ) – I’ve been part of the team at HQ for the past few years. It’s been quite fun, visiting events all over and seeing the progress of ZOWIE products make their way into the top tier tournaments around the World.
CSGO2ASIA: Cool, how did you first get involved with ZOWIE? You touched on this a little, but would you care to expand a little on what is your role is in within the company?
StrykerX: So it’s a very small team, I feel that we all sort of touch everything. But in general – I helped out with product design, marketing, communicating with players and getting valuable feedback to help the development of our products. How I got into it was because the original owner of ZOWIE, Vincent. He used to sponsor my team back in the day. When BenQ acquired them to become the esports arm he asked me to come to Taiwan to watch a Counter-Strike show match. At the time I honestly thought that’s all he wanted me to do. But I went over there and I got a job offer. At first, I thought it was only for 6 months, and that he wanted me to help them expand. But 6 months ended up being four years and well, here we are!
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CSGO2ASIA: Awesome, so do you still play CS? What other games do you play?
StrykerX: I’ve been asked this question so many times over the past 20 years. Honestly, I don’t play much else. The other game I would say I play a lot is Pac-Man, haha. I play a lot of Pac-Man. But yeah, Counter-Strike is the only real game I’ve touched throughout my career and yeah I still play a little here and there.
CSGO2ASIA: You’re one of the few personalities who has been involved with and seen the evolution of CS since 1.6, Source and now CSGO. In your opinion, why is Asian CS still far behind their EU/NA competition, especially in this version of CS?
StrykerX: Well I think there are two main reasons. The first one would be an infrastructure issue. Back then, competing even between Singapore-Malaysia, and Singapore-Vietnam, ping was a big issue. These days it’s a lot better but it’s still not the same as in Europe or North America, right. If you take for example a team in Europe, they get to play 4-5 high quality matches a night, and it’s always been this way. Here, we have to wait until a team qualifies for a big tournament before that team can even think of playing such a high-level game. There’s no doubt that the level of CS is slowly improving. But generally, we still suffer from this trickle-down effect which is slow to hit our region. Generally the ideas of good CS are coming from the West, so we have to look at it and say: “Ok, how can I copy this, how I can adapt that.” But that is also an issue because we aren’t really developing anything new here. If you look at a company like Xiaomi for example – they’re really good at copying what other companies are doing.
They put it together it’s a great package, it’s a great piece of hardware, but they are never the market leaders because all they’re doing is trying to copy it and trying to follow what others are doing. The second issue I think is with the attitude here. In the West, there is that belief that you can be the best. Over here, there is the belief that you can be the best, in Asia. The minute you do that (and this is from 20 years from talking to players here), they immediately accept that teams in the West are going to be better. I think now some players here genuinely do believe that they can compete on the same level, but I say, actions speak louder than words. Look at how they play the game. The kind of effort they put in, you’re admitting defeat before you even step into the server.
CSGO2ASIA: Yeah, I guess their only goal right now is to be top in Asia. Maybe they achieve that, but then the idea of beating a team like NiP or G2, for example, is so far fetched it doesn’t even cross their mind. I mean, it is a bit far fetched for now, but I see what you’re saying.
StrykerX: Exactly, they go to events and they start having fanboy moments, like “oh my god it’s so-and-so!”. When I had my teams, there was none of that bullshit. We would get somewhere and all we wanted to do was kick-ass. We didn’t care who we were playing against, there was none of this “hey can I take a picture with you, can I get your autograph?” I mean, we respected them, but in no way did we think they were better than us. We always wanted to go out there and beat our opponents. Again, having that mentality and saying you do, versus actually showing up and displaying that, I think that is what is seriously lacking right now in Asia.
CSGO2ASIA: But do you think that’s a by-product today’s World in general? The rise of social media and how we’ve sensationalized these personalities?
StrykerX: I think social media on its own, good and bad. It’s definitely made esports the absolute beast that it is today. But at the same time, yeah, it’s a lot of fluff. No one documents the hard work, because it’s boring, right. All they see are the flashy moments, the victories, how much money some of these guys are making, and kids are influenced by that. If they see someone winning something, sure, that’s one out of a hundred days, they aren’t seeing the other 99 days that person is having a terrible time. I think if they focused more on what the are doing those 99 days out of 100, they’d get a lot further.
CSGO2ASIA: So I guess you’re saying this isn’t just an Asia problem, but also a wider issue with the general social fabric that we live within today?
StrykerX: Yeah, completely. I mean, I think today everyone sorts of suffers from that ‘FOMO’ mentality, the fear of missing out on something awesome. I’m so glad that we didn’t have any of this when I was a player. I don’t know how it would have affected us, to be honest.
CSGO2ASIA: Yeah, true. So, aside from the obvious engine/graphics updates, what were some of the biggest differences you noticed when CSGO first game out compared to 1.6?
StrykerX: The shooting, the recoil etc. It was definitely something we needed to get used to when it first came out. They tweaked over time. I think now it’s a lot more similar to 1.6 then when CS:GO first came out. The movement, for me, was still one of the biggest changes. When you see players like NEO and GeT_RiGhT still in the game, it’s a testament to how good they are. Imagine doing something for 10,000 hours and having to re-learn all of that basically. It is really hard to get used to. And of course the smokes and molotovs, that was a big change. I think they are a very interesting element to the game. It completely changed the game in some regards. But also because you see some of the same maps are still the same Counter-Strike we all know and love.
CSGO2ASIA: We both speak about how the old days were better. From your viewpoint, tell us a little bit more about what the scene was like back then and how it differs today, locally and regionally?
StrykerX: The one thing that I would say was better was that players looked at Counter-Strike as something they loved to do. When I say love, I mean that they preferred it over going out for drinks or to watch a movie, that was our form of entertainment. Without fail, every Saturday, you’d find everyone at LAN centers. This meant we got a lot of LAN practice. When we went to events, we didn’t really choke as hard as some of the kids today – as you know it’s a very different mindset having people watch you play. I would say that’s the one big thing that was better because, to be honest, it’s quite good today. So many tournaments, easy matchmaking, so many YouTube videos to teach you what to do, there is no excuse really. Literally just put in the time and you will not suck – in many ways, I think that is also the problem at the same time, there are literally so many options.
CSGO2ASIA: Touching on that then, do you think it’s easier or harder to start a team today for CS?
StrykerX: To start a team, probably easier. To keep a team together and keep it going, probably harder. Because again, there are more choices. I also think because of the way the younger generation is today, they have less in-person time. I feel this affects their problem-solving skills if there’s a problem they move quickly to just replace someone. Back then, we didn’t really have that option. It forced us to make things work. I think if players were more limited in their options, they would figure out ways to make things work.
CSGO2ASIA: During your time as an IGL, coaching and managing teams, how do you deal with player ego?
StrykerX: I think teams only become good when everyone is aligned to the same goal. What we always used to do in our teams, we had these “untouchable” rules. As in, no one was exempt from these rules no matter what. So let’s say, for example, you wanted to bring something up – we had this rule which was to “ask yourself, did you do anything wrong?” “Is there something I could’ve done better?” If there is even a 1% chance of a yes, then shut your mouth and fix that first before coming out to blame someone else. If you bring up a problem, offer a solution. Secondly, I would say to my team, “there is no wrong answer”. It doesn’t matter who says what. It doesn’t matter if their suggestion is completely garbage, there’s no such thing as a wrong answer. Even if I completely disagreed, we would try a suggestion. If that seemed to work 9/10 times, then it would be a moment of “ok, I guess that works then.” I think these two things are what has really helped me in the past, forcing everyone to take a look at themselves first before opening their mouth, it created an environment where no one was afraid to speak up, a non-toxic environment.
CSGO2ASIA: In your opinion, what makes CS such a prominent esports title even after 20 years?
StrykerX: One, it’s a team game. I feel like team games will always be more popular than games like StarCraft. Another thing is, CS is really simple at its core. It’s similar to the fighting games, right. You can have any fighting game come up now. People instantly understand that the objective is to knock out the other character. Sure the mechanics you may not understand, but you can easily tell who has won and who has lost. CS is similar that way, you can easily see what’s going on. “Oh he’s throwing a grenade” or “Oh, he’s blind now” – it’s these elements that have kept it so popular. And not to take anything away from Valve, they’ve definitely improved the way the game is viewed too. So in that sense, it really kept its longevity. It isn’t that game that needs the crowdfunding or ‘The International’.
CSGO2ASIA: Do you think that Asian CS:GO can actually compete with the West in the next coming years? Or do you think the opportunity window has closed?
StrykerX: No, not unless they move to the West and play those high-quality games. Like I said earlier, it is getting better, but you can’t just be the king of the hill in Asia. Just look at TYLOO and teams like MVP PK. They’ve been dominating Asia for so long now, but whenever they go overseas they get smashed.
CSGO2ASIA: So what you’re saying is, if all else stays the same. Then we’ve pretty much reached the ceiling of Asian CS for now?
StrykerX: Pretty much, yeah. I mean, the only thing that might change it is if we bring in more and more foreign talents. Coaches, managers, I think if we brought in players from the West here that wouldn’t really help, in fact, those players will probably get worse, hahaha. I think coaches coming in to teach would make a huge difference, as long as the players keep an open mind and are willing to learn.
CSGO2ASIA: Do you think that the CSGO circuit today is too saturated? If yes, what could be done? If no, why not?
StrykerX: I think if you’re talking about professional-level tournaments, yes, there’s probably too many now. If you’re talking about the smaller amateur, local tournaments, I think the more the merrier right, let’s put them out there. On the professional level, players are burning out. You don’t want CS to improve at a rate where you need to make all these map changes and additions to the game just because it’s moving so fast. For the smaller events, there should definitely be more. We need the activity to generate interest so that people don’t feel that these big tournaments are out of their reach, that there’s something to play for. Perhaps the bigger tournaments can reduce in quantity. But prize pools increase, and locally we need to see more events coming up.
CSGO2ASIA: Who are some of the players you looked up to during your career?
StrykerX: Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, and Filip “NEO” Kubski, I’ve always looked up to those two. Muhamed “mJe” Eid from the 1.6 mTw, I always thought he was way ahead of his time. I would put in there Patrick “f0rest” Lindberg too, people talk about how he’s the G.O.A.T. I really respect his consistency throughout all these years, it’s remarkable. For me though, the best is still NEO. He’s the guy that has taken literally every role in the game and done it well, you know. Even his time in CS:GO, he played well.
CSGO2ASIA: What do you see for the future of esports?
StrykerX: I think right now with esports we’re in this bubble. Everyone is talking about it, everyone is starting new companies, there’s definitely a lot of fluff. I think when that bubble bursts, you will see that mobile games will be somewhere at the top in terms of dollars. But I don’t know how it can be taken seriously the way professional sports are today. I think we’re some time away from that. There is a difference between games that are for money, and games that are proper esports. I think in the next 3-5 years we will see more titles being released and developers pumping in money the similar to Overwatch etc, but once all that settles you will see the organic communities like the FGC and CS:GO communities come out on top, because they’re more sustainable that way. Ultimately I guess you could say a lot of people will be getting into esports for the money. I mean that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s no downside really it’s just what it is.
CSGO2ASIA: And lastly, what are you working on next?
StrykerX: Well, it’s been about a year in the making now, but I’m working on a Singaporean line-up to live and train in Europe. We want to have them based in Europe to train with better teams, but it hasn’t been easy. We’ve currently found four players and are looking for our fifth. We’ve identified a few perspectives, but if anyone out there is willing to learn and improve and speaks good English, we’re open. I’m going to be mentoring and coaching the team – a few of the players that are in this team I’ve worked with before, so I’m confident we can accomplish good things.