In the field of counterterrorism, 68-year-old Inger “Trigger Finger” Grotteblad and 73-year-old Rick “Crazy BOOmer” LaRoche are considered among the best in the world. Two-fifths of an elite, highly trained unit, Inger and Rick spend their days doing what most “seniors” wouldn’t dream of doing: diffusing bombs and defending hostages using rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols; high-explosive, decoy, and smoke grenades; tasers and teamwork.
Sure, their logo-emblazoned opponents are generally sitting right next to them in an esports arena, and their thousands of spectators are eagerly cheering for the next kill, but that’s all part of the fun when you’re a “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” senior world champion.
While most players in the $1 billion esports industry retire by the age of 29, companies like Lenovo are out to change the demographic expectations of the industry. To that end, in 2017, the company ran an ad in Stockholm, Sweden looking for men and women with no digital gaming experience, ages 60+, to form the “Silver Snipers,” a Counter Strike esports team to compete in the upcoming Dreamhack digital competition in Sweden. (Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment.)
I caught up with Inger and Rick to find out more about what motivated them to become part of the Silver Snipers and what message they want the rest of us to know about bridging generational gaps.
“I saw the ad that Lenovo was looking for three women and two men to become a five-person team,” Inger told me. “They didn’t require any experience, only that you knew a little about computers, could speak English, and that you were interested in learning something new – the game Counter Strike.”
“I asked my kids and grandkids; do you think I should try?” Inger told me. Their response was immediate: “Oh yes grandmother – you’re going to be the greatest grandmother in the world.”
“I was in New York when I received a message asking me to send a video in English (the common language among esports gamers). So I took one of my grandchildren down to 6th Avenue and taped from New York.”
Inger was one of more than 130 women who made the first cut and was invited to “audition” for the team by exhibiting her use of the computer and completing an interview in English. The field was narrowed to five women, and ultimately Inger was one of the two chosen to join the Silver Snipers.
A retired US diplomat living in Stockholm, Rick La Roche is a more recent addition to the Silver Snipers team – although a highly qualified one. “The Silver Snipers had already been quite successful, having competed all over the world and generating global media attention (WSJ, CNN, BBC. They even inspired plans to make a movie about the senior gaming community). So when the idea of creating a world championship came up, another team was formed. This time they were looking for Americans over 60, living in Stockholm. I went ahead and applied and was one of the people selected for the USA team – the “United Senior Assassins.”
A few months after the Swedish win at Dreamhack 2019 (the “United Senior Assassins, Finland’s Gray Gunners, and Germany’s Germinators made up the final four), Rick was asked to “defect” to the Silver Snipers who were then down a team member. (The three other members of the team are Oivind “Windy” Toverud, age 78; Monica “TeenSlayer” Idenfors, age 65; and Anders “BigBang” Nystrom, age 71).
Neither Inger nor Rick identifies with the typical expectations of people in the “senior” age demographic. “There are a lot of assumptions about people our age,” Rick said, “and the goal of our team is to break those assumptions.”
“I’m always curious about new things and not afraid of trying new things.” Inger said. “When you’re an old person you think this isn’t something I can do because I’m too old. I don’t care about that. I do whatever I like.”
Both feel that playing CS:GO has had a very positive effect on them physically and mentally. “Your attention is better,” Inger told me. “You are thinking more quickly, using your brain in another way … you can’t be slow. You have to be rapid in your reflexes. You have to think four steps ahead to play the game and you have to make rapid decisions. You’re keeping your brain alive. And of course, you’re using your hands, and you have to coordinate everything.”
“Prior to diplomatic work, I was in the military,” Rick said, “so I have some real-world experience in this stuff (not that it helps me in the egames!). I’ve found it’s almost like playing a very animated game of chess. Where the avatars are like chess pieces. You’re thinking ahead to create a diversion … there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it.”
For a team that was constantly travelling and competing (including Moscow, Ukraine, Helsinki., and France), and participating in in-person training every other week at Inferno Online (the largest gaming center), COVID-19 has had a profound effect. But to combat the isolation and keep playing, Inger has started a Facebook group for gaming seniors. “More and more people are joining,” she said, “and the media are very interested in us. Many are seniors who had never realized there were other old people gaming. And we’re making friends around the world.”
But it’s not just their fellow seniors that Rick and Inger have reached through their “Silver Snipers” activity. It’s the connection with the Millennial and Gen Z crowd that also excites them and for whom they advocate. “We are passing on a positive image about the younger generations and they are getting a very different image of the elderly.”
“When we talk to young people, they treat us like rockstars,” Inger said. “They think we are so great. We’re old people coming into their community – a community that has been very closed. ‘You are legends,’ they tell us. ‘Can I take a picture with you? can I have your autograph?’’
“People should try this and find out how lovely it is,” she said. “Come see how great the community is and having young friends.”
Rick La Roche concurs: “This is an excellent way of bridging generational fences and promoting greater understanding between these two large demographic groups. The younger generation writes us off, and no one takes advantage of all the expertise and experience we have.” On the other hand, baby boomers tend to write off the game-playing younger generation as time- wasting and disconnected.
“In fact,” Rick continued, “the military is looking seriously at Gen Z kids when they become of military age and at making a concerted effort to recruit them because they believe by that time so much of the war will be cyber-based – and these young kids are ambidextrous, doing many different things at once and assimilating a tsunami of information and making instantaneous decisions.”
“Be nice to young people,” Inger continued, “Don’t be so hard on them for playing. They will be prepared for very interesting jobs and know languages better than we do, and they are meeting people all over the world. They learn how many different people think. It’s good for them and it’s good for you too to stay young at heart. Gamers live about five years longer.”
And Rick added with a laugh, “which doesn’t sound like much until you’re in those last five years!”
Inger also invites senior gamers (and those interested in learning more) to join her Facebook group, Gaming Senior.
And stay tuned for an upcoming “Superstars” article about Rick La Roche (let’s just say there’s a lot of real-world experience in his gameplay!). In the meantime, follow Rick’s blog here.