There's more to competitive gaming than just having a quick trigger finger. Both individual skill and teamwork are required in Counter Strike, in which Tizian Feldbusch of BIG is making a name for himself.
Kill or be killed. That is how Counter Strike, one of the most successful first-person shooting games, looks to the untrained eye. But beneath the digital bloodshed lies a game of strategy, in which players rely heavily on their teammates round after round, navigating a map they have memorized, acquiring resources, eliminating the opposing team one by one and of course, surviving until the bitter end.
Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) was only launched in 2012 but quickly became popular enough for many professional gamers to make it a profession.
German CS:GO player Tizian "tiziaN" Feldbusch (pictured above, left) is one of those professional gamers. The now 22-year-old began playing when he was 12, inspired and motivated by his brother's command of the game.
But due to a fierce competitive drive, first to beat his brother and then to master the game, Tizian got picked up by his first team at the early age of 16. Today, he plays CS:GO at Berlin International Gaming (BIG), an organization that was launched in 2017 and hopes to become the leader in German eSports.
The team recently made German Counter Strike history by reaching the finals at ELS Cologne 2018. Although they did not win the big prize, it was not only a significant achievement for Tizian, but it was also a testament to the growth and potential of Counter Strike in Germany.
"The arena, the fans, and the feeling to play there was one of the best experiences of my life," Tizian told DW.
Winning requires teamwork
Competing at this level means a lot of hard work. Tizian spends 8 to 10 hours a day in front of the computer, beginning his mornings with an individual warm up practice and studying demos. By mid-afternoon, he meets up with his teammates to discuss strategy and practice together.
At first glance, Counter Strike seems to cater to an individual's target shooting skills and adeptness at navigating the map. However, the game is a team sport at its core, in which strategy and planning are two of the keys to success.
"You need good individual players, but they still need to adapt to the team and can't just play on their own," Tizian said.
Making a living
The landscape for monetizing an eSports career has changed dramatically over the past few years. Tizian remembers the beginnings of CS:GO, when it was hard to find a team that would actually pay a player a salary. Back then, a gamer was driven by prize money and the hope of being scouted by one of the few big teams. But now, according to Tizian, most teams can pay their players a salary, with some earning $25,000 (€21,000) per month or more. Combined with prize money and revenue from social media accounts, "you can have a good life while enjoying your hobby," he said.
The earning potential for players like Tizian should grow as more investment flows into eSports. Already, some players at the highest level of eSports, in games like League of Legends, can earn around €1 million in prize money annually.
Youth development requires investment and Germany lags behind places like Scandinavia. Players from Sweden, Norway and Denmark are more prevalent in the Counter Strike professional scene and for Tizian, this has to do primarily with the support they get in countries in which eSports enjoy greater acceptance.
He sees the eSports academies that exist there, as well as the greater opportunities to compete at the local level, as the keys to Scandinavian success.
"It is easier to follow your dreams if you are born in those countries," Tizian said. While there are a lot of gamers in Germany, "we don't have the same support for players who want to make it to the top."
Is Counter Strike a sport?
A pivotal step in getting this support to players is to acknowledge that what they do is a sport in the first place. Early this year, the German government stated its intention to recognize eSports as a sport but no law has yet been passed.
Assuming that it does happen, this could have a tremendous impact on the development of German eSports clubs, which Tizian sees is crucial for fostering talent. As an official sport, eSports clubs would be eligible to apply for not-for-profit status, which could lead to lower corporate and commercial taxes, and would make them eligible for tax-deductible donations.
The growth of eSports is "undeniable," Tizian said, and in his view it is "only a matter of time" until it becomes mainstream. But for now, Counter Strike players are still fighting the negative perceptions that have haunted them for years, when their sport was deemed violent and at times, even blamed for mass shootings.
Tizian hopes one day to be seen as what he believes he is; an athlete and not just "a nerd who sits in front of a PC all day."