It’s now January, and the last light has long since dimmed on professional CS:GO in 2015. Everyone is busy taking stock of the past year; its peaks at the Majors, its valleys like ESWC. Teams are being graded, performances ranked, and final rankings established. Right now, Thorin is likely thinking of funny quips to make about the teams he will give awards for their play as he dons his new Fnatic beanie, and HLTV is surely hard at work crunching numbers to crown Flusha as the best player of 2015.
Truly, 2015 has seen CS:GO rise to the forefront of competitive gaming. With viewer counts, prize pools, salaries, and even transfer fees all far north of what they were in 2014, the game has thrived in an esports landscape devoid of any serious PC FPS competition. This year has seen the highest level of competition, with many of the top teams winning multiple premier titles; all of them liable to beat any of the others on any given day.
However, despite all the wonder of 2015 and all the progress that has been made in establishing this game as a premier title, it pales in comparison to what 2016 promises to be. With all of that promise comes an equal amount of uncertainty and risk. Next year will define the future of CS:GO, one way or another. Here’s a look at the factors that will shape the game as it goes forward.
The rumors turned out to be true. As reported by Richard Lewis back in September, Turner Broadcasting has created a televised CS:GO league to be “staged, produced and promoted in a manner reflective of other major traditional American sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.” All of this includes a purported 30 hours of streamed content per week to accompany the Friday-night TBS broadcasts that will last for two ten-week sessions with a total of $2.4 million on the line.
The impact of this league will be quite massive. It promises to upstage anything that CS:GO has seen before in sheer production value. TBS has been putting on quality broadcasts of traditional sports for some time now, and their first steps into competitive gaming seem likely to follow suit. Not only do they have professional studios in which to stage these broadcasts, but they also have the experience in creating and packaging interesting content about players and teams to their fans, something that esports broadcasts have been lacking
The prize pool itself is certainly worthy of note. It rivals that of the world championships of other games such as League of Legends, and this is a long form league. Ignored are the tournament-style formats that often determine the recipient of vast sums of wealth; there are twenty weeks of games to play before a winner is crowned. This fully guarantees that the level of competition will be at its absolute peak, and that teams who traditionally take online leagues less seriously will have to change their outlook. Instead of having a hot tournament weekend, teams now need to maintain a consistent level for a sustained period.
Unfortunately, the teams that will compete have not been released yet, but given what is at stake, it would be hard to imagine that any top team could simply choose to pass on the opportunity. The logistics for Europeans may be interesting, as the studios are in Atlanta, and the weekly matches will be played online. One could reasonably expect a heavy bias towards North American teams and organizations in terms of participation.
With the announcement of North America’s first Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major to be run by Major League Gaming, Valve has at last brought the prestige and importance of its premier tournaments to American soil. There is perhaps no better organization in North America to produce such an event. MLG’s success with the MLG Aspen tournament in early 2015 was quite a feat, and one can easily imagine the company managing to replicate that success on a larger scale, seeing as they have years of experience with other games.
The decision to have the Major in North America comes with a few implications. Most obviously, Valve sees the rising importance of North American fans to the success of CS:GO as an e-sport. Instead of catering to only European fans with locales such as Cluj-Napoca, Katowice, and Cologne, there is finally a Major placed right at the center of the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio. This also implies that the broadcasts for these events will also be more friendly to North American viewers, as past majors saw many of the games taking place early in the morning.
Secondly, Valve realizes the importance of a diverse set of tournament organizers for its games. Instead of going down a darker path wherein only one or two organizers have large events for their game, such as in League of Legends, Valve is branching out to partner with more companies as its game grows larger within the world of competitive gaming. Seeing as only ESL and Dreamhack have run Majors before, the change of pace that MLG provides will be refreshing both in terms of locale and production.
Lastly, a North American Major places pressure on NA teams to truly raise their level of play and compete for the prize. The idea of “home field advantage” doesn’t truly exist in esports as it does in traditional sports, btu despite what some might say, it would be no less a shame should NA fail to make it out of groups as they did at all of 2015’s Majors. If there ever were a time for one of the top NA teams to show that it is a true heavyweight, it would be at MLG’s arena in Columbus.
The recent announcement of the Regional Minor Championships was a welcome addition to the CS:GO open circuit. The tournaments will highlight rising talent in each respective region and give some much needed exposure to teams that don’t often qualify for the international competitions which receive most of the public’s attention. Each region’s Minor will be hosted by a different organization, further exemplifying Valve’s ideology about a healthy tournament ecosystem. All in all, it would appear Valve have made a smart move, investing in aspects of their game’s professional scene that other companies (Riot, for example) tend to ignore or outright undermine.
This announcement has not been without criticism, however, due to Valve’s restrictions on the teams that can enter. Players that competed at Cluj-Napoca are not allowed to play in the Minors, even if they have since left the team they were on at the time of the last Major. Thus, new teams with players eager to prove themselves won’t get the chance to test their mettle in these competitions if they make the decision to play with a former Major combatant like allu or pronax. This, in turn, changes the decisionmaking process when a team or organization evaluates bringing on one of these proven talents.
Fortunately, these Minors aren’t prestigious enough that they demand attendance to be relevant as a team. The restriction in place serves its purpose in allowing lesser teams the chance to compete at an event unlike many they have the opportunity to attend. For this purpose, Valve’s Minors fill an important niche that adds real value to the scope of tournaments available in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
As any game grows as an esport, more and more emphasis is placed on the highest level of competition. Without investment in the teams and players just outside the upper echelon, the risk of insularity and stagnation becomes greater. Valve has realized this, and created a rather unique set of competitions aimed at solving this problem. They are taking a risk in putting such a large sum of money into these Minors; $200K USD across the four regions is nothing to scoff at. Are they perfectly conceptualized and implemented? Perhaps not. But they are nonetheless valuable.
It was reported in November that Swedish media company MTG had bought Dreamhack. This company also owns a majority share of ESL, who in turn bought ESEA. This singular company now owns the organizers who ran all three Majors along with four other $250k tournaments in 2015. It may be a bit far-reaching to call it a monopoly at this point, but it sure is a power play that changes the landscape of CS:GO coming into the new year.
What is alarming about this move is that ESL and media giant MTG were at one time involved in talks with teams to form an exclusive league that would effectively lock away all of the top talent in CS:GO from entering events ran by other organizations. It becomes much easier to do so when you now control a large majority of the upper echelon of tournament organizers. Seeing the potential scenario, other organizers were planning a response to compete with ESL for the top teams.
It would be a huge blow to CS:GO’s future should any sort of exclusive league become fully realized. Monopolies are the natural bane of competition and the breeding grounds for stagnation. It is imperative that an open circuit be maintained to allow naturally the development of increasingly higher production values for the events ran in the future. It has worked wonderfully in DotA 2, allowing for a diverse set of tournaments and organizers to flourish. CS:GO thus far has grown in popularity with this plural system, and there is little reason to believe that an exclusive league would help the game in any way.
As 2015 drew to a close, there were few teams that have continued on without some sort of change. Even a team as successful as Fnatic, winner of two Majors among many other LAN victories, did not escape the end-of-year shakeup that sees players and teams alike bargain their futures in the hopes to improve their standing come the new year. The effect of this change is pronounced to a much greater degree in the unstable North American scene where not a single top team stayed static.
All of Cloud9, Team Liquid, and Counter Logic Gaming have lost a member within the past two months. Whether they retired, stepped down, or were forcibly removed, each of these teams now searches for their new fifth. With many names floating around as possible pick-ups, it’s difficult to see how the rosters will look in 2016. It is quite likely that the right player for any one of these teams could propel them in front of the others to become the top dog in NA CS.
Liquid’s recent signing of Ukrainian talent Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostlyev sees them poised to take the reigns as the top North American team amid the turmoil the top teams find themselves in. There are few players available for their counterparts to add to their teams that would come close to matching the potential that s1mple adds to Liquid.
Even organizations themselves are attempting to find the right fit after losing their squads late in the year. TSM, Splyce, and Conquest all were recently left teamless by their former players. CompLexity was almost equally bereft of talent amid a huge roster change. With so many organizations looking to get into Counter-Strike, the competition for tier 2 NA talent is quite fierce. One can only hope that these organizations take the right steps to fully develop their players instead of impeding their progress as is too often the case in esports.
The coming weeks will likely lift the veil on the many changes that are currently happening in the scene. For now, speculation runs rampant as teams and players attempt to control how information is disseminated, often unsuccessfully. For now, at least, it’s making for some quite funny reads on Twitter.
The coming months will see many firsts come to pass for CS:GO; the first million dollar league, the first North American Major, and if lurppis is correct, the first non-European Major champion. CS:GO is on the precipice of realizing its full potential as an esport with some of the highest stakes in the industry and the highest production values. As a spectator, one will be in remiss to ignore any of the coming events in 2016.
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