UI student catapults gaming career to new heights


Photo courtesy of Illini Esports

Luis “SLK” Salik, junior in Engineering, stands between two teammates: Vahey “V” Mouradian, senior in LAS (left) and Adam “Osho” Tsouchlos, freshman in Engineering (right).

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

As he booted up his PlayStation 3, Luis Salik, junior in Engineering, had a decision to make.

At age 6, it didn’t seem like a big decision and it certainly did not seem like one that could become career-defining. It was a decision that gamers everywhere face: Which game was he going to download?

After sorting the list of games and scouring the PlayStation Store for every option before proceeding, Salik settled on a little demo for a game called “Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.” It’s a soccer game – just with rocket-powered cars instead of humans.

“6-year-old Luis went crazy on that game,” Salik said. “When I got my (PlayStation 3), my parents wouldn’t let me buy games. My strategy was to just go to the PlayStation Store, find all of the free demos and download them. SARPBC had a free demo at the time … I remember playing that and ‘Little Big Planet.’ That was my childhood.”

Salik instantly became “obsessed” with SARPBC. He said it scratched his itch for competition and filled a void that other games could not.  Salik convinced his parents to let him buy the full game, fulfilling what turned out to be a decision that would impact his future plans at a young age.

Fast forward a few years, and SARPBC began to fall out of favor with a large part of the gaming community. In order to revitalize the hype around the game, Psyonix, the game’s parent studio, announced a sequel called “Rocket League.”

Rocket League’s announcement brought a lot of hype to the community and transformed the series into one of the largest new-generation esports. Among the crowd that the hype brought was Salik. He never stopped playing SARPBC and instantly had a leg up on his opposition when Rocket League launched in 2015.

“When I heard Rocket League was coming out, I didn’t have a PlayStation 4 at the time,” Salik said. “I grinded hard and saved money all summer so that I could buy a PS4. I ended up getting it, playing Rocket League and somewhere down the line I just fell in love with competing on the game.”

Known in game as “SLK,” Salik now captains Illini Esports Rocket League Orange, the top team representing the University. The team’s roster includes SLK and two other students at the University: Vahey “V” Mouradian, senior in LAS, and Adam “Osho” Tsouchlos, freshman in Engineering. The team is solid, competing with the best in the collegiate circuit and winning awards along the way – most recently at a competition at North Central College, where the team took first place.

In Salik’s collegiate career, he also participated in a tournament called Bundle Bash. Bundle Bash featured 16 professionals, who then drafted two of 32 possible collegiate players to join their team.

After being drafted by professional player “Rapid,” Salik and his teammates went on to place ninth to 12th at the event, beating out four-time world champion Turbopolsa’s team along the way.

“Rapid, a professional player for XSET at the time, drafted Vegas, another collegiate player, and I,” Salik said. “And we just swept Turbopolsa’s team. Like, really bad. That was a really eye-opening experience for me.”

Hoping to build off this already prolific career, Salik and his teammates on Illini Esports Orange are preparing for their biggest tournament yet: the Illini Esports Invitational, which boasts a $25,000 prize pool.

On home soil at State Farm Center, SLK and the rest of Illini Esports Orange are looking to win their home LAN (local area network) on March 31 and April 1 at the Illini Esports Invitational. This also happens to be one of the largest independent Rocket League LAN prize pools to date.

Competition is stiff with 16 teams total competing, including the 2021 national championship runner-up Akron Zips. For a team to take down such storied opposition, the game is all about teamwork.

“(V and Osho) are the easiest people to play with in the world,” Salik said. “Over time, I’ve been learning to place a lot higher emphasis on chemistry rather than individual skill. We have a really great dynamic right now.”

About 14 years down the line from when 6-year-old Salik booted up his PlayStation 3, he is now top 100 in 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 game modes in Rocket League and competing for a $25,000 prize pool. Upon reflection, Salik said he thinks about that decision that led him down this path a lot.

“It’s kind of funny,” Salik said. “Just thinking that you downloaded a free demo for fun when you’re 6 and now, a few years down the line, you’re actually competing in it.”


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