These are a loose smattering of thoughts on how to find a CTF team to play with. This is completely skill independent, whether you have no experience or are very confident on the keyboard, finding a new group of people to play with is hard.
First, are you in school? If you are search to check if your school already has a team (nerds are notoriously bad at advertising), email them, learn their practice schedule, and then show up. If it seems like you don’t have a team, check out my post on starting a CTF team.
If you’re not in school, don’t worry, you aren’t out of luck. There are numerous CTF teams out there that accept anyone into them and provide a welcoming environment and camaraderie. In the long term Hopper’s Roppers will become a juggernaut of CTFing and will compete every weekend, but for now, I highly recommend the OpenToAll CTF team. They’re great people and really know what they are doing to get beginners up to speed.
Alright, so now if you have found a team, whether you are going to a practice or playing in a weekend CTF, be prepared to be completely out of your league. That is fine and completely expected for anyone new to CTFs, no matter how technical they might be. You are going to struggle hard and be lost without a paddle, and it might seem like it is entirely on you to catch up.
If the team welcomes you with open arms and gives you their training material and starts helping you, congratulations on finding an exceptional team. But, for many newcomers to CTF, you might find the team might not be the best at teaching (we are nerds), or even not show interest in teaching you. That is fine and unfortunately, somewhat expected. Most CTF teams have likely have seen a lot of newcomers show up to the team who quit after they realize it is too hard or requires too much of a time commitment, so they don’t want to dedicate their practice time to helping someone on their first day. This is really lame and a terrible feeling, but it is normal, and I promise, it will change.
Someday when you are on the team you can be the person who reaches out to the new guys to teach them the basics. For now, let’s focus on building up your skills so that you can walk in there and feel like you know what is going on. If you don’t feel comfortable with Linux or Scripting yet, take the Computing Fundamentals course, it will teach you everything you need to know. Once you feel good about that, follow on to the CTF Fundamentals course. By the time you are done with the material, you will feel much more comfortable, and more importantly to the people on your new team, you have put the time in to show that you want to be good at CTF. That’s what it all comes down to anyway, they just want to know you care. Keep crushing the Ropper’s Roadmap and you will be a stud in no time.
While you are working through these online courses, keep going to the meetings, no matter how lost and useless you feel. The team doesn’t hold it against you that you have no idea what is going on, they were similarly lost when they first showed up. Just keep showing up, putting the time in at practice, and when it becomes obvious that you are not going to be leaving anytime soon, you will start feeling the investment from the team. You will have a decent base from the online courses, and they’ll point you in the right direction from there. Every person who played CTF has gone through a long period of time where they felt they were not good enough to contribute. You will be at that point for a while, but the more time you put in, at practice and in competitions, the more fun you will be having with your new friends, and eventually, you’ll find yourself solving challenges.
When competitions are starting, ask the senior members of the team to leave the low point challenges for you so that you can enjoy the process of solving the challenges, while they can move on to “the hard stuff”. They’ll appreciate you wanting to contribute, plus it’s more fun for everyone that way. My freshman year I spent a lot of time looking at forensics challenges by myself and writing reports because no one else wanted to do it. People appreciated that a ton, even if I was pretty terrible at it. Now 8 years later I’m addicted to packet captures and I’m helping you get into CTFs. Full circle stuff.
If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts on the subject, hit me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Slack.
Stay stoked, Dennis