Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
I didn't get into CS:GO until 2015 when I watched Vincent "Happy" Cervoni Schopenhauer's Deagle ace live in the audience at Dreamhack London. Despite being miles behind, lacking the lightning-fast reflexes and game knowledge required for such a punishing FPS, I spent the rest of that year running around Mirage and Dust II with my family.
I became obsessed with improving my skills using the aim training tools in the Steam Workshop, and playing countless rounds in Casual and private lobbies. After a while Casual started to feel boring, so we decided to complete our placement matches and get our ranks. But even after tens of hours of practicing smokes, retaking bombsites, and clumsy clutches, I couldn't help but feel anxious about my first match.
CS:GO has visual and audio cues to remind you things are about to get serious. I could feel myself tensing up as I read the on-screen notice: "By playing Competitive you are committing to a full match which could last up to 90 minutes. Abandoning the match after you 'ACCEPT' will result in a penalty."
I look back at this moment and laugh about it now—I've ignored this message hundreds of times since. But just before I hit 'accept' in that first Competitive match, I suddenly became very nervous. I really wanted to win, and more than anything I didn't want to mess up in front of my team. In a Casual lobby no one else is bothered about the outcome, but Competitive is an entirely different beast. Queuing with a bunch of strangers makes for an erratic experience, and things can turn aggressive and sweary quickly. This was something I'd only had a mild taste of in other modes, but I'd still learned to expect the worst from people using voice comms.
"Your match is ready!" popped up on screen. It's around this time that you hear a series of high-pitched beeps that prompt you to prepare for the match. I clicked the big green button and watched the server slowly fill with the nine remaining players. The last thing you hear before the map loads is a final burst of beeps and the "let's roll" voiceline, and this is where the full weight of the match ahead slapped me in the face.
It's bizarre how a single, innocuous sound bite can inflict such a powerful sense of excitement and fear. Thousands of hours later, this familiar audio clip still makes my palms feel a little sweaty, because I know the hour or so ahead will be intensely stressful. I love it though, and I'm yet to find a game that offers a similar spectrum of highs and lows as CS:GO. The buzz I get from scoring an ace, or defusing a bomb with milliseconds to spare in a pivotal round makes it all worth it, even if it causes my heart rate to spike.
I'm not alone, either. Even Carlos "Casemiro" Henrique, a footballer with four Champions League titles, has felt the pressure, recently saying that Counter-Strike makes him "a lot more nervous than playing at the Bernabéu". I mean, if that isn't the perfect description of how stressful CS:GO games can feel, I don't know what is.
I think back to that first Competitive queue every time I consider booting up CS:GO. I can't even remember the match very well, but I'm pretty sure our team lost. I don't play much Counter-Strike now, but every now and then I'll dip in for a few matches, and to this day, I still get those pre-match jitters.