The One Year Rise of Doolsta

Below is a feature from the March 23rd edition of Inside the Net.

When then 17-year-old Cormac Dooley saw a post on Philadelphia Union’s website stating that the winner of the club’s FIFA video game tournament would become its official esports representative, he didn’t assume he would blow away the field. He simply figured this was a good chance to put his skills to the test. Arriving at YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa., his goal was to advance out of his group. Just one year later, one of the biggest stars in eMLS has 2019 League Series 1 and 2 trophies in his cabinet, and he is well-known throughout the esports world by his gaming name: Doolsta.

“I didn’t expect it to get this big at all,” the 18-year-old said recently, reflecting on his meteoric rise. “When I signed I was just looking forward to getting to represent Philly at the eMLS Cup and take part in my first esports tournament. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Philly was going to run another tournament and wasn’t sure if I’d be back, but luckily they gave me a contract. I didn’t expect to win League Series One, I didn’t expect to win League Series Two. It’s all been a perfect year so far.”

From the moment Doolsta’s star began its ascent, back in the first round of the Union’s esports Open presented by Independence Blue Cross and powered by N3rd Street Gamers, the teenager’s parents have been in his corner. Though, as his father tells it, they didn’t exactly see the writing on the wall a year ago.  

“He played a lot at home and I had no idea exactly how good he was,” Seamus Dooley admitted. “I had no idea how far he was going to get, and he just kept going through round by round and when he got to the quarterfinals I called Maureen and the family and I told them that he was pretty good at this!”

While the West Chester teen battled local competition for the opportunity to sign a contract and represent the City of Brotherly Love, he was missing time at a new job he had started only weeks earlier. Forced by his parents to find work in order to pay for a car and gas, Doolsta needed his parents to help him avoid getting fired.

“During that tournament he won a year ago, he asked Seamus to text me so that I could call his boss and let him know what was going on,” Maureen Dooley recalled. “It was too hard to say because he was just at a video thing so he’d be late for work. I think I said that he was at an away match and that he’d be late for work.”

Matched up in the final against the competition’s favorite, spectators got their first chance to see Doolsta’s poise under pressure as he won the final by a tight 2-1 scoreline. On March 2, 2018, the Union signed Cormac Dooley to a contract to become their official esports gamer. And at that point, Seamus and Maureen began to realize just how talented their son at the FIFA controls.

“There was great excitement at that time, I don’t think we actually understood what it was all about,” Seamus remembered. “Gaming was very new to us and new to a lot of the MLS clubs as well, so we didn’t realize how far it could go or how big it would be. But there was great excitement, and we got to see him on TV and we ended up recording him.”

“Seeing the official Union scarf put around him, me and his two younger sisters were screaming at home,” Maureen chuckled. “The neighbors must have thought something else was going on.”

 “I had no thoughts, didn’t even know about it,” she continued, describing what she felt when Cormac signed a contract to become a gamer. “We called his older brother, who had been to PAX West [a festival that focuses on all aspects of gaming] and we had him explain everything to us because we didn’t have a clue.

Smiling, she adds: “We know a lot of about it now.”

While Doolsta trains in the family’s Pennsylvania basement, Seamus studies his son’s passion and even scouts potential opponents. Less than a year after first learning about Twitch, recently he stayed up until 4 a.m. watching a competition in Singapore on the popular esports service.

“I’m there analyzing the competition and, of course, he won’t listen to my analysis because I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Seamus laughed, “According to him!

“We spent a lot of our time throughout the years going to his soccer games since he was five,” he explained. “But when his games are on Twitch, we sit down and watch it so it’s like watching a live soccer game. We’re really enjoying it.”

Seamus’s memories of his son’s soccer matches help undermine a predictable stereotype about gamers: That they only understand soccer as a video game. This broad, dismissive viewpoint couldn’t be further from the truth; many competitors on the eMLS circuit have played and continue to play soccer, and they use their knowledge in the beautiful game when they pick up their controllers. Doolsta, for instance, utilizes a high-pressing style that has won him back-to-back championships at eMLS League Series One and Two this year.

But while their son has remained calm and composed on his multiple championship runs, his parents, understandably, ride an emotional roller coaster on his behalf. “I take the dog for a walk,” Maureen admitted. “I did that in the LA competition because I couldn’t take the pressure. When I left he was down and when I came back in, he was up so I kept going outside.”

The PlayStation-hosted competition in Los Angeles was Doolsta’s breakout moment. After fighting his way into the knockout stage with a fourth place finish in the regular season, Cormac overcame a second-half deficit in the conference semifinals. But in the championship match, the Union gamer was a heavy underdog against Kid M3mito. The defending eMLS Cup champ, Houston Dynamo’s gamer rode a 33-match unbeaten run into the showdown against Philly’s teen sensation.

“He knew that Kid M3mito was very good, but he was on a roll that tournament and was confident that he could do it,” Seamus explained with fatherly pride, reflecting on the thrilling 4-3 final that Cormac won.”

That confidence covered a deep, personal pain. Doolsta’s grandmother passed away in the lead up to eMLS League Series One, and the loss hit him hard..

“He was very close with his grandmother and when he went to compete in Los Angeles she had just passed away in Ireland,” Seamus said quietly. “He actually had to fly from Philadelphia to Ireland and then straight to LA, so he had been in so many different time zones in that weekend that he ended up winning.

“His grandmother was very much into sports and they discussed sports a lot so I always say to him that his grandmother is looking down on you and she’s been looking down on him the last two competitions and he’s won. Hopefully the next one she is looking down on him as well.”

With two titles under his belt in 2019 and the No. 59 ranking in the latest FIFA19 Global rankings, Doolsta has his sights set on winning the 2019 eMLS Cup in Boston on March 29-30. Entering as the tournament favorite, Cormac still focuses on taking things one match at a time given how tight competition is in the Eastern  Conference.

“The Eastern Conference is a really crazy conference and you have to be at your best and focused a lot and expect the unexpected,” Cormac explained. “There is a bit more pressure than when I entered League Series Two, but I’ve won the first two so I don’t see a reason why I can’t get a third.”

As the biggest tournament of the schedule draws closer and closer, his parents have a few nuggets of advice for their son, and, as parents do, they can only hope he’s listening.

“Just enjoy it, let it give you more confidence,” Seamus began. “If you don’t win, this is just more experience for you to build upon for the next tournament. You’re 18 and you can learn from it.”

“I say win and bring it home!” Maureen jumped in as Seamus trailed off. “You can do it and remember to drink water and no fried foods.”

he quiet champion understands that even though it took time for his parents to come around to the idea of their son as a professional gamer, they have been essential to the successes on his journey thus far.

“They’ve been really supportive, but at the start they weren’t really too keen on my playing video games. When I won the tournament, they hopped on the bandwagon and introduced them to everything,” Doolsta grinned. “They’ve been really supportive and let me do what I need to do so that I could get to where I am today. They understand the time I need.

“If they call me for dinner and I’m in the middle of playing, before they’d be shouting. Now they understand.”

Seamus and Maureen aren’t the only ones that understand why Cormac is late for dinner on occasion. In the year since he became the Union’s gamer, everyone in the esports world has come to understand why Doolsta puts in the hours at FIFA each day. He’s a special, young talent representing a club dedicated to development. And he is heading to Boston to win the 2019 eMLS Cup.

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