Drexel Esports Counterstrike: Global Offensive Team Wins Third National Championship
The first time Drexel University's Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team in Drexel Esportswon a national championship, it was like a “David versus Goliath situation” against Davenport University, according to team member and future co-captain Noah Vaknin, software engineering
The third time they were playing for a national championship, they went into every game expecting to win. They stayed undefeated as a team of five and indeed won the championship.
The next season, they might not be playing for a national championship as three out of five players on the winning team have graduated with the Class of 2023, but the momentum they’ve created will carry the team forward.
“I’m very grateful for our CS:GO team because they did a lot of the foundational work to get us noticed by the University,” Drexel Esports Director Claire Toomey, software engineering ’25, said. “Even though they’re leaving, I think Drexel Esports will continue to have fantastic talent. We've built up a strong and passionate community that isn’t just focused on winning but is focused on the entirety of esports.”
CS:GO is a first-person shooter in which two teams of five battle to be the first to win 16 rounds in a map, and the tournament format has teams play to the best of three maps. Vaknin said it can feel like a chess game as the in-game leader works to move pieces back and forth and make it further into the map. The goal is to get to a bomb site, plant it and set it off before the other team, eliminate the enemy team altogether, or diffuse the bomb on your team’s site after it’s been planted.
Vaknin, who plays in the team’s sniper role, is going to be a co-captain along with Jacob Lee, computer engineering ’24, now that most of the team is graduating. He joined in the middle of his freshman year, right before the pandemic hit. Once they found the fifth piece of their team and everyone got to know each other more, they were off to the races — or, the playoffs.
“Once we had that team of five that that we really felt comfortable with, plus our coach [student James Tran] we knew that that first season was going to be probably the hardest tournament we'd ever have to win,” Vaknin said. “We were a ragtag team of five players plus a coach and at Davenport they have players on scholarships, and we managed to take it to them and win. That momentum allowed us to get our second win.”
The first two national championships were back-to-back in 2020 and 2021 against Davenport and the University of Central Florida, while the third was won against Rochester Institute of Technology. They pulled together for some stellar comebacks in 2023.
“The biggest change between past seasons and this one was that we knew coming into it that that we had done it twice before and could do it again,” Vaknin said. “Most importantly, we knew this was going to be our last chance to play as this team, so we really wanted to make it count.”
The teamwork aspect is important in CS:GO, and Vaknin said they have to be able to work together.
“You need to be communicating with your teammates really well in order to give information to each other as you prod forward and feel out the map,” Vaknin said. “Our team doesn’t really practice together, but we all trust each other so much since our first championship win and we’re all really good friends, so that allows us to work together.”
The CS:GO team isn’t the only one flourishing for Drexel Esports. There are now about 120 players across 10 games — Splatoon, Fortnite, CS:GO, League of Legends, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, Super Smash Brothers, Valorant, and iRacing — and most teams play in the Varsity Division in the NACE Starleague, which is the largest collegiate esports organization in North America. Within the NACE Starleague, the Overwatch team is ranked 12th nationally, and the Valorant, Rocket League and iRacing teams are making headway in the rankings.
“Our Super Smash Bros team does crew battles against Temple [University] and we had the top player in Philadelphia at one point,” Toomey said. “Our Rainbow Six Siege team won a ] in Cincinnati, and we sent our Overwatch Division II and Division III teams to a regional Kutztown University tournament, and they ended up making it a Drexel vs. Drexel Grand Finals.”
Drexel Esports started as part of the Drexel Esports and Gaming Association, but the groups split in 2021. Drexel Esports turned into the competitive part of the group, and the vice president in her sophomore year, when the CS:GO team had just won their first national championship, and is now president.
“I realized that our teams were really good,” Toomey said. “We were doing a lot better than other collegiate esports teams that had a lot of support. We didn’t have many resources when we started out, no logo, no social media presence, no paid coaches, nothing. At that time, it was a lot about building our group up and finding our footing.”
They created a marketing team and began to build their presence on campus to showcase the talent the team has, and even secured a space for the team to practice. It’s an old call center in the Pearlstein Business Learning Center and they’re still working on furnishing it, but it serves the team well for now.
As president, she’s hoping to secure partnerships for the team, including with gaming gear companies, the esports business program in the LeBow College of Business and Nerd Street Gamers, which will host the second annual Welcome Week event for Drexel Esports at their facility in the fall.
The next generation is quickly arriving for the Drexel Esports team. Vaknin and co-captain Lee will have to make decisions about how to build their team up again next year when they’re the only ones left from the championship teams.
“I’ve been thinking about it from my perspective as a freshman coming and in and being scared about not being able to make friends with people on the team, but everybody was incredibly welcoming and kind,” Vaknin said. “My goal is to basically recreate what they did for me, because it was more than I would have ever expected to get out of the Esports team. I really hope I can provide that for whoever is on our team next year."