Is Crowdfunding the way forward for Counter-Strike?

CSGO eSports 2014 Summer Case

CS:GO currently lets players support eSports through cases

In recent times Counter-Strike has often been compared to its Valve-produced stablemate DotA 2, at least in the eSports aspect. One particular part of this is the size of prize pools in DotA compared to Counter Strike, and the associated growth in viewership and playerbases. For example, the current prize pool for Valve’s The International 5 tournament currently stands at $15,000,000 whereas CS:GO’s equivalent majors, also sponsored by Valve, award only $250,000 per year, although they occur multiple times per year(this is variable as 2014 was the first whole year that had majors in it.) However CS:GO, while not bigger than DotA per se, closely matches its size, briefly having more concurrent players on Steam at one point, and gains huge viewerships at its majors(topping a million concurrent viewers at ESL One Katowice 2015). So why the disparity in prize pool? The answer is crowdfunding.

DotA 2 Crowdfunding

DotA 2 allows players to support tournaments through crowdfunding

Crowdfunding in DotA works as follows: players can purchase in game items, usually cosmetic items or compendiums(in-game booklets that track tournament stats and sometimes reward the player with cosmetic items) in order to financially support their favourite tournaments. Now, at this point some may bring up the fact that Counter Strike does in fact have a similar facility. The eSports cases(which reward the player with in-game weapon skins when opened with a key, which costs money) contribute to the prize pools of the majors, and many large organizations, tournament organizers and even teams have weapon skin collections on the Steam workshop, lobbying for support to be added to the game. But there is a key difference between the two systems. DotA 2’s system allows large tournaments to be crowdfunded, even if those tournaments are not Valve-sponsored(this applies to all but a small few), whereas in Counter-Strike the only crowdfunded tournaments are the majors, which to date have only been run by ESL or Dreamhack, and in turn is not nearly as large or far-reaching. Furthermore the Steam Workshop support that organizers receive is often not more than superficial upvotes on skin ideas, and never amounts to any funding. Clearlythen, there is room for further implementation of a crowdfunding system. But would it be a good idea?
CSGO Steam Workshop Crowdfunding

CS:GO’s Crowdfunding methods are shaky at best

There are some inherent advantages. For example, being able to support specific tournaments over others would allow for competition for said support, meaning that tournaments would battle for users’ recognition for certain good production features or viewing quality for example. Users may choose to support a Dreamhack tournament due to the innovative individual player cameras, or decide against an ESL tournament because of ESL’s recent failings at its ESL ESEA Pro League finals in Cologne, for example. Introducing competition for funding would cause organizers to strive to improve their production quality and add new features that would make more people interested and, ultimately, drive up viewership figures, thus also increasing the number of people that would fund that particular tournament the next time around. It’s a cycle. Crowdfunding also has another simpler appeal. It would increase prize pools full stop, which draws more top teams to take part and encourages them to play their best, making for a more interesting tournament to watch and ultimately producing better Counter-Strike for the spectator.

 

However at the same time crowdfunding on such a far-reaching scale can have its drawbacks. For one, players oftentimes don’t choose to buy a skin or case because it supports a certain tournament over another one, or that it supports any eSports tournament at all, but simply because they like the cosmetic items in it. This means that tournaments won’t be receiving funding because of innovative broadcast features, good format, production quality or anything else pertaining to their tournament, but simply because players liked their skin. This can lead to a situation where organizations invest more time into making their crowdfunded items look good than they do into their tournament itself, yet are rewarded for it. Another problem, considering the track record of some organizers and companies within eSports, that crowdfunded money may simply disappear, or may not all end up being invested into a prize pool or tournament setup. This is a relatively minor threat, however, and considering the growing scale of Counter-Strike’s eSports scene, I don’t see this being too much of a problem, especially with larger companies and leagues.

 

Thirdly, there is the more abstract issue of prize pools and saturation. While Counter-Strike is in its current growth phase, bigger and bigger prize pools are constantly being asked for, which is where crowdfunding could help. However there is such a thing as too large prize pools, or more specifically, too much of an emphasis on them. For example, earlier I mentioned DotA 2’s The International which for a number of years now has had prizes in the millions of dollars. What has developed is a culture where other tournaments aside from TI aren’t really important, and teams don’t take them seriously, because winning TI can set you up for a whole year both in financial and prestigious terms. This is a problem that we shouldn’t introduce to the Counter-Strike scene, and as such it may well be a good idea to limit how large and significant the majors and other tournaments should be in relation to each other. Furthermore oversaturation is a problem starting to creep into Counter-Strike. With so many tournaments weekend after weekend, some teams are now electing not to go to certain events, and teams like Virtus.Pro who attend masses of LANs don’t end up doing very well in the long run due to burn-out. This can give rise to a scene where the top teams only end  up playing each other once or twice a year, rather than what we have now where Fnatic can play EnVyUs or TSM multiple times per month, on LAN. This scarcity of top teams playing each other hurts the teams(if different top teams are scattered between events, then the gaps in those events are filled by lower level competition and so the entire standard of the scene is lowered) and most of all impacts upon the viewer, as we don’t get to see as many closely matched top level teams face off. However, I say all this with the caveat that oversaturation is only really tangentially linked to larger prize pools, and such a situation as in DotA 2 is created through other factors as well as prize pools and increasing emphasis upon them.

 

What do you think? Should Valve let us crowdfund our favourite CS tournaments with skins? Leave a comment and let us know.

Naail Khan

I write about gaming, eSports(mainly Counter-Strike), Android and mobile topics and also wearable tech, like smartwatches. Huge Nexus fanboy and heapdhone enthusiast.

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1 Response

  1. August 2, 2015

    […] more than there should be, and maybe it is time that someone stepped it up. Whether it’s with crowdfunding,  advertising, or just a large cash injection from a large company like ESL or Dreamhack, […]