Halo, it’s me: One student’s journey to semi-professional gaming

By in Culture

Many gamers aspire to play video games professionally, and one former University of Saskatchewan student has done just that in the competitive Halo scene.

Simon Oosterlaken is a former U of S computer science student who has had a lifelong fascination with the Halo series. Leading up to the release of Halo 5: Guardians, Oosterlaken decided to follow his passion to play Halo competitively.

Competitive gaming may seem like an unconventional spectator sport, but with the rise of gameplay streaming services like Twitch, the eSports scene has steadily grown. The popular strategy- action game DOTA 2 drew upwards of 20 million viewers for the 2014 annual international tournament, and Street Fighter V, the latest installment in the famous fighting series developed by Capcom, is regularly covered by ESPN. The Halo series, renowned for its fastpaced, first-person-shooter gameplay, has remained a mainstay of the eSports scene.

Oosterlaken explains how his skill and love for the game presented a unique opportunity for him after his first year of university.

“I ended up finishing my first year of university and decided to take a break, because I had an opportunity in what I wanted to do, which was [to] play a video game at a competitive level,” Oosterlaken said.

Oosterlaken has been a fan of the series since the release of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001.

“I was pretty young then — I think I was five years old. So, obviously, I didn’t think anything of it other than that it was just a game. I played the other titles as they [were] released. I was actually able to play against other people online with Xbox Live towards the end of Halo 3’s competitive stage,” Oosterlaken said.

Though Oosterlaken has been a lover of the series for nearly two decades, he has been active in the Halo competitive scene for only the last two years. During this time, he gained sponsorships, and he has begun broadcasting his gameplay live on Twitch.

“I started playing in online tournaments in late 2015, but I didn’t feel like I was actually creating something real until late last year, in September, when I got the opportunity to travel to St. Louis [in Missouri] and compete in my first real tournament,” Oosterlaken said.

Oosterlaken explains how the recognition that he received in tournaments opened up a new facet through which he could pursue the game: streaming.

“I started streaming Twitch around the same time I started playing in tournaments. I used to watch a lot of gameplay of actual Halo professionals on there, so I figured I would start to share my own gameplay and try to create a positive community around myself,” Oosterlaken said.

Playing a video game professionally requires more than just showing up for tournaments, and Oosterlaken says he splits his time working and practicing with his team.

“We try to get a minimum of 40 hours of practice in per week, which is just practicing on top of our full-time jobs. We usually start [at] about 8 p.m. and play until at least 1 a.m. We get a minimum of 16 hours on weekends, and then scatter the other 24 hours throughout the work week,” Oosterlaken said.

As far as career highlights go, Oosterlaken fondly recalls his experience playing as part of a sponsored team at the Halo tournament in St. Louis.

“It’s literally the dream. A lot of gamers don’t get the opportunity that was given to us. We we’re lucky to have funding … The days were literally 9 a.m. until 2 in the morning. It was awesome. You walk in, and there [are] about four or five booths, where people just get to scrim against other teams,” Oosterlaken said.

People looking to join the competitive gaming scene can take after Oosterlaken.

“If you really enjoy a game, keep playing it, and be consistent. Remember that you are playing a game that is meant to be fun. A lot of people will forget the fun aspect of a video game and just try to compete. That will never work out for the person,” Oosterlaken said.

Students can follow Simon Oosterlaken’s Halo career at XyttoXBL on Twitch, Twitter and Instagram.

Cole Chretien

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor