Gaming had been a part of my life long before 2012, but it wasn't until I encountered Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) that I discovered my true passion and the seeds of my future career: Esports. My journey into esports began during the Katowice 2014 tournament, the second-ever major in CS:GO. As I casually browsed Twitch, I stumbled upon a live stream from the esl_csgo channel.
It was the grand finals: NIP vs. Virtus.Pro, and I was instantly captivated. I had never heard of esports before, let alone witnessed the intensity and excitement of a live match. From that moment on, I was hooked. My journey into the world of CS:GO esports had begun, and it would go on to shape my personal and professional life in ways I could never have imagined.
By 2016, I was a high school junior, completely enamored with the world of esports. As I searched online, I stumbled upon a website called highschoolesportsleague.com. At the time, it was a modest league hosting League of Legends tournaments for small gift card prizes. Though I didn't play League of Legends, I recognized an opportunity to turn my passion for esports into a potential career. That's when I crossed paths with Aaron Hawkey, the CTO of the High School Esports League.
After a brief Skype call about my ambition to develop a CS:GO league within HSEL, my career in esports officially took flight. As an admin in the HSEL Discord, I was given the green light to start building the framework for what would become one of the most popular games in the league at that time. The introduction of the Counter-Strike offering and its rapid surge in popularity attracted two key individuals: Elijah and Beau.
Together, we became HSEL's original trio of interns, embarking on a program that would not only shape the league's direction but also leave a lasting impact on its structure and format for years to come. Moreover, our shared experiences and passion for esports would forge deep friendships, shaping our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Through hard work, perseverance, and a love for the gaming community, we transformed our passion for esports into a meaningful and fulfilling journey, both personally and professionally.
Elijah Smith, Beau Hughes, and I eagerly took on the day-to-day operations of competitive play, developing rulesets, researching new games to expand competition offerings, and managing support chats and competitive disputes. We were fully immersed in the world of esports, ready to embrace every challenge that came our way.
By 2017, the league had skyrocketed from just a few teams playing League of Legends to over 3,800 students participating in games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League, Overwatch, and Hearthstone. Interest in upcoming events continued to soar, and within a year, the three of us had become integral components in one of the fastest-growing scholastic-level esports leagues in the world. Our dreams were unfolding right before our eyes.
No longer was gaming merely a hobby, a waste of time, or a distraction. It had transformed into a full-time opportunity—a passion that could pave the way for a long and fulfilling career. As the league expanded and more volunteers joined the ranks, the original trio of Elijah, Beau, and I began to specialize in different roles. Beau focused on competitive offerings and community management, Elijah on competitive integrity and managing rules and regulations, and I concentrated on broadcasting and league marketing.
Our hard work and dedication paid off as we transitioned from interns to official league staff, a milestone marked by my first paycheck in esports. Although it was only a modest sum at the time, it validated the realness of the opportunity and allowed me to pursue my passion without having to worry about finding a "real job." The world of esports had opened its doors to us, and we were determined to make the most of it.
For the next few years, the league continued to flourish, and its future looked promising. However, Elijah and I, now deeply immersed in our college careers, faced a difficult decision. The rapid growth of the league demanded more and more of our time, leading to increased stress as we tried to balance schoolwork and league operations. Eventually, we reached a breaking point and made the tough decision to step away from HSEL to focus on our college degrees, hoping to return to esports in the future.
Over the next year and a half, Elijah and I stayed involved in the esports space while concentrating on our studies. I even spent a semester abroad in Italy, advising a semi-professional team and a grassroots CS:GO league at the amateur level. As our college careers neared their end, we reached out to Generation Esports (previously High School Esports League) to discuss a possible return and reunite the original trio.
Fortuitously, two roles that aligned with our respective degrees were available. After going through the interview process, Elijah and I rejoined HSEL as a Software Engineer and a Business Analyst, respectively. Meanwhile, Beau, who had chosen to stay with the company while we pursued our degrees, had become the league's Community Manager and Competitive Operations Manager. For the first time since early 2019, the original three interns were back together at HSEL, hungrier than ever to succeed in the space and bring new opportunities to students who, like us, were passionate about video games and searching for their place in the world.
Today, we continue to forge ahead at Generation Esports, with each of us thriving in our respective roles. I serve as the league's Sr. Product Manager; Beau was elevated to the Director of Competitive Strategy; and Elijah excels as a Software Engineer and Team Lead. Our unwavering passion for esports and commitment to providing invaluable experiences and opportunities for students like ourselves have led to a plethora of professional achievements. These accomplishments include organizing local LAN events at high schools, building the nation's leading scholastic competitive platform, creating an opportunity-driven esports experience, and even preparing to host the first-ever in-person high school national championship this coming May.
Our journey has been a whirlwind of growth and triumphs, and we are all eager to continue expanding the world of esports, opening up opportunities to more and more people across the globe. Our story, which began with a simple love for gaming and a chance encounter with a Twitch stream, has evolved into a lifelong passion and fulfilling careers. We hope that our experiences inspire others to pursue their passions, regardless of the paths they choose, and to always believe in the power of turning dreams into reality.
As we move forward, our mission remains the same: to cultivate a vibrant esports community and empower the next generation of gamers and industry professionals. Together, we will continue to break boundaries, create opportunities, and change lives through the incredible world of esports.