The ecosystem of both amateur and professional tournaments in CS:GO is very organic and grass roots fed. From the many different online leagues offering a hierarchal ladder of divisions for a team to climb, to the at times clunky, but overall welcome addition of a Major/Minor system, the overall scene is accessible via many different routes for a team that wants to succeed. While this free and open market of tournaments has facilitated success stories like the volatile Brazilian side – Immortals working their way into the top eight teams in the world, it has also brought about a relentless gauntlet of tournaments that fill every single day with a new set of teams and a new set of pressures.
The already tightly packed schedule has now been pushed to the absolute limit with the addition of ELEAGUE’s weekly LAN games smoothing over any downtime that hardcore fans and most importantly competing teams might have off. To those that lie on one end of the extreme in terms of watching Counter-Strike, either being a complete diehard that just loves to watch the game, or an extremely casual fan that just watches once a month or so, this packed schedule won’t have an immediate effect. However for the vast majority of fans that just enjoy following their favourite team/player, or only watching the 250k+ international LANs, trying to experience high levels of anticipation and hype every single fortnight is impossible. There can only be so many world-beating finals, life changing games, and history defining plays. How can people be expected to clear their day/night to watch a semi-final between two teams when they have already played each other both offline and online multiple times in the same month. In saying this though, I can fully understand the other side of the argument, which is that in order to develop tangential rivalries, storylines, and history between teams you need to have them regularly play each other. However just as if two teams don’t play each other enough a storyline can’t materialise, if two teams play each other too much then it dirties the prestige and sacred nature of the rivalry. Furthermore in general the best examples of Hollywood like storylines occur deep into tournaments. From NiP’s infamous win of ESL One Cologne 2014, to the Danish semi-finals choke of Dignitas/TSM/now Astralis that follows them to every major they attend. To have the most poetic and gripping stories like these you need to have the teams in top form and playing out these overarching stories as deep as possible in a tournament. However the very nature of the packed tournament schedule limits these teams from playing at 100% form 100% of the time, and as such limits them in creating and completing the various different narratives that make competitive CS:GO so interesting to watch.
It has been tweeted a hundred times and retweeted a thousand more, that players, desk/stage talent, production elements, and casters all experience travel and playing fatigue from the packed schedule. Some teams can reap the rewards from being able to grit their teeth and power through event after event. Such as Cloud 9’s three consecutive second place finishes in the summer of 2015 which all occurred within 16 days of each other and across three countries. However most teams experience burnout and can have massive drop-offs in performance from spilling over from one tournament into another. An example of this would be Luminosity’s harrowing performance at Dreamhack Malmo directly after winning MLG Columbus. This player and team fatigue is a massive reason as to why we don’t always see the best teams at the best tournaments, as they are forced to take breaks, lest their spot amongst the elite be compromised. What’s even worse is when teams don’t take these breaks. When, because of how lucrative and inescapable prize pools have gotten they’re forced to travel away from their friends and family for consecutive months at a time with no clear off season in sight. This is a factor that can truly kill a player or team’s prime, and as a result contribute to consistent wacky upsets in tournaments that wrecks the rankings and ruins the scene from having a degree of legitimacy. However a tournament doesn’t just have the teams in attendance, it is often forgotten that the desk and stage hosts, analysts, interviewers, and casters all have to keep up with the schedule as well. Although these paid talent elements don’t in anyway contribute to the results of a tournament, they play the most important role in bringing complex overarching storylines together and breaking it down for the average viewer, along with many other jobs that both raise the level of professionalism of the scene and lower the barrier to entry for newer viewers. So if these core pillars of a tournament broadcast are coming into the tournament with an already depleted energy supply, then not only does the truly great moments of banter and analysis on the broadcast suffer, but also the entire viewing experience of the tournament.
So how do we fix this problem? Well many have suggested that in order to keep up the viewership, prestige and hype for the biggest events of the year, no tournaments should be played for 2-3 weeks in the leadup to the Majors. It has also been suggested by industry figures to cut out the fat of online leagues by giving one online league a qualification prize to a Major/Minor qualifier and in turn giving it the most legitimacy out of all the leagues and therefore meaning fans can maintain focus on one instead of many. More extreme measures have gained traction on social media as well like employing a Dota 2 style system that has one crowd-funded “International equivalent”, and less non-Valve events. Also as a final point which most people have seem to have forgotten about is sanctioning bodies like WESA coming into the space and essentially strong arming a less crowded scene. Although this method is probably the most drastic and least likely out of all of them, it is still something to consider as more organisations look to capitalise on this growing space.
With the current tournament schedule to consider yourself a diehard fan you either need to be constantly checking the HLTV events page online, something like thescore esports app on your phone, or just having a savant level memory of dates. This overabundance of what would’ve been in 2013/2014 world beating tournaments has led to a classic case of ‘too much of a good thing’ and as such, completely saturated the scene. Now it’s not out of the ordinary to have one of the top three teams in the world miss out on an event just to take a break from the relentless schedule. Furthermore the best groupings of paid talent are constantly fragmented around the globe due to in part from, fatigue and sheer exhaustion from Counter-Strike. Although this unique problem to CS:GO has often been talked about, the real-life consequences for Valve and tournament organisers have been showing themselves at ESL One Cologne 2016, with the peak viewership being 500k less than the last tournament. What’s More, according to PCGamesN the overall viewership for CS:GO as an eSport has been down 37% since March and with the vice gripping on the gambling scene this number could increase far more rapidly than what people expect. That being said, hopefully with the rapidly increasing numbers of viewers slowly plateauing out will also come with a slow plateau of tournaments and both the pros and talent will find themselves with an actual off season and break from doing what they love.
Written by Max Melit – @max_melit