2015 has been a big year for Counter-Strike. We’ve seen vast changes to the game, some good changes and some……not so good. There have been a lot of advances made as regards standard of tournaments, prize pools, and the overall quality of teams at the very top level has gotten better and better. But there have already been set in motion some changes for next year that will shake up the scene on many different levels, but whether these are good or bad is yet to be seen. Let’s look at some of these changes we’ll see the effects of in the new year.
Tournament Ecosystem and Prize Pools
The status quo will undergo huge changes in 2016 as regards tournaments
The formation of the so-called “team union” among most of the top level organizations in both Counter-Strike and Dota 2 brought with it a set of requirements and demands, that, if not met by tournament organizers, will lead to most of the top teams, including Fnatic, Na’Vi, Envyus, Virtus Pro, Cloud 9, Team Liquid, Titan and several others, not attending and as such lower viewing figures for said tournament and therefore ensuring that organizers listen. Chief among which is the fact online-only tournaments, that do not lead to any offline final, will all but disappear for top-tier talent. Furthermore in Europe teams will only attend events with a minimum of $75,000, and for US tournaments this figure is set at $10,000 for a tournament four days in length or less, and $30,000 for over four days. As such we will start to see organizations like Dreamhack and Faceit abandon their current system of holding 5-7 smaller tournaments every year and go for larger prize pools at events but make them slightly less frequent to compensate. This does help with the issues of oversaturation that we are starting to see, but it does cause problems for smaller, but top-quality tournaments like Gfinity, Starladder, or MLG. Indeed we’ve already seen several orgs like ESL and Starladder announce tournaments with prize pools far higher than you’d normally expect. As such the scene has moved towards getting higher prize purses, a goal many fans and commentators have demanded, at the expense of how often tournaments are held, and also bringing the future of smaller organizations into question.
Another shakeup to the tournament structure as a whole is the announcement of Turner’s ELEAGUE, a high-profile televised Counter-Strike league with two ten-week seasons per year, with action taking place on a Friday night at Turner’s studio in Atlanta. The prize pool is going to be $1.2 million dollars per season, utterly dwarfing anything we’ve seen in Counter-Strike thus far, even from Valve’s own Majors. This raises several talking points. First of all, how will the logistics work? Will teams be expected to live in the US during the course of the season, or fly out weekly to participate? Either present practical challenges. Furthermore the way the league will affect other tournaments is interesting. With the prize money being so large, will teams skip out other tournaments, including Majors, until now thought of as the pinnacle of competition in Counter-Strike, for this league? Will this negatively impact other tournaments as all the good teams will pick Turner over them? We cannot truly answer these questions as of yet; for one the only team confirmed to be taking part are LA Renegades, who live in America anyway, and this also does not address the fact that there are fifteen teams taking part. How will this work out? For example TSM may have been talking to Turner, but this now complicates matters due to their former roster, one of the best, is currently without an organization. Out of the fifteen teams it is required that the normal staples of top level play are present, but these haven’t been announced yet. Certainly the ELEAGUE has huge potential benefits, namely prize money, recognition awarded to the teams and players(who can deny a Friday night TV spot is huge for getting more people to watch and participate in the scene), and the fact that the format will obviously have to be different for TV could possibly make it more interesting, or if they do a CGS on us it could be a disaster. Either way, Turner will have a big role to play in 2016 as regards tournaments and the ecosystem.
Lastly, some of the aforementioned organizations such as CEVO, Faceit, Starladder, PGL, MLG and Gfinity, have grouped together to form a “Grand Prix” type circuit, formed in response to rumours(which later came to fruition) over Modern Times Group, the parent company of ESL, purchasing Dreamhack., thereby owning the two biggest players in our space and creating fears over a potential monopoly. This will further switch up the scene for 2016; instead of having a collection of both small and large tournaments from numerous different organizations, we are moving in the direction of larger and larger corporations and conglomerates, like ESL and Dreamhack, Turner, and the so-called Grand Prix, and moving away from having the smaller tournaments available for teams to go to. Whether this is good or bad for the scene remains to be seen; arguably there are benefits and negatives but we’ll have to see how all these changes act in conjunction with each other.
The Majors have always been regarded as the biggest tournaments around, but that might be about to change.
As I mentioned previously, Valve’s Majors have long been seen as the pinnacle of competition in Global Offensive, having the largest prize pools, highest viewership figures, and best production quality you can find. However this all seems set to change, with numerous organizers either already organizing or planning for the new year tournaments with more than $250,000 in prize money, escaping the “magic number” that was seemingly so hard to beat. With the Turner league and other events with large prize pools already announced, and doubtless many more to come, it seems Valve will definitely have to step up in this regard. To me it seems most orgs won’t be able to beat Major viewing figures since Valve allows them so much exposure in the game client itself, before any other advertising done by the org hosting it, however Turner again may have something to say against this as you can’t deny television can pull some large figures if done in the right way. As such I see a diminished significance of the Majors in 2016, due to the aforementioned competition to push prize pools above $250,000, and larger and larger players getting into the game.
Specifically with the Majors, there are other points of discussion. The new timers, of 1:55 for a round and 40 seconds on the bomb, were met with suitable scepticism and doubt among the community and pro players alike, and you can see why. Making the round longer not only biases the game towards the T side in normal play, but makes buying a kit not as necessary as before with more time to retake a site, making it much easier for the CTs to recover a round. It also diminishes the value of intricate fakes, as previously causing the CTs’ to waste time rotating back to a site they left would make retaking significantly harder, but now not so much. Valve’s reasoning for this, apart from “to unify the professional and community experience” which we can all see is casual-minded bullshit, was to lessen the ability to smoke Ts out of rounds by blocking a chokepoint for the majority of the time. Well, the easier, and less harmful way of doing this would have just been to make smoke duration shorter, no? Of course Valve might have some rationale for not doing this which of course they will never tell us but tell the pro players behind closed doors at Majors to taunt us. However I doubt this timer change will yield much in terms of tactical benefit or balance.
Lastly the newly-announced Minor system looks promising, a series of $100,000 tournaments separated by region that prohibit any player who competed at Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca in order to allow newer and up-and-coming teams to win some money, grow in their regions, and earn a spot at a Major. It’s important to note that the normal route of qualifying for a Major still stands for those teams that cannot participate in a Minor. However the most interesting thing about the announcement was the Asian Minor which is interesting since a lot of discussion has occurred recently about Asia’s lack of involvement in Counter-Strike compared to other eSports like League of Legends, Dota 2 and StarCraft. No doubt the Minor will at least start to improve the fledgling scene we have over there.
Allu joining Ninjas in Pyjamas was one of the biggest roster moves this year, and helped set a trend for international transfers.
Before 2015 there were no real international teams, at least on the highest level. The only real teams that would have players from mixed countries were either North American or from the CIS Region, both of which are regions where the same language is spoken and cultural differences are minute. However in 2015 we saw teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas, Dignitas, and HellRaisers mix up their rosters with players from a completely different country than those on the team before. We also saw players like Pyth and Devilwalk leaving their native Sweden and move to North American to pursue a career playing in a different scene with what some would call a lack of talent. This is completely ignoring the success story of G2 eSports, formerly Kinguin, who made headlines in forming an international roster that has since had players from Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Portugal playing together. Many thought the communication would be disjointed since the players would all talk in non-native English, however recently the team has proven it’s coordination is better than some other teams all from the same country speaking their native tongue. They made the semi-finals of the Cluj-Napoca Major as well as winning some big series against top teams and making a smattering of good placings. As such, with such a wealth of both experienced and new talent available, and some teams in urgent need of fresh skill, it’s only a matter of time before we see more high-profile moves to North America and yet more teams swapping in players from other countries.
Counter-Strike has changed a lot over the course of a year, yet there’s bigger stuff to come in 2016. Whether it all works out or not, is a different matter.
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