The inaugural season of ELEAGUE, a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league to be televised on TBS in North America with $1.2 million up for grabs per season, is set to kick off in May. This column will take a look at all the various potential consequences this league might have on the Counter-Strike scene.
Due to how differently ELEAGUE is structured compared to the other tournaments and leagues that we have seen in the past years of CS:GO competition, as well as the TV money behind it, it has far more potential to disrupt status quo in our scene than other events. Here’s why:
Clearly the most obvious intended consequence of the league is to grow the following of Counter-Strike in the U.S. to the point where televising matches actually makes financial sense. Currently, the schedule has games during awkward hours during the week, when no one working full-time hours will be able to watch on TV. However, Europeans will be able to watch the games via streaming platforms.
An unintended consequence is that ELEAGUE, especially if successful, will not only quiet down the rest of the scene during its duration, but will practically kill other event organizers’ hopes of hosting large-scale events during the seasons. As a result, either events will work around this and the other times of the year will become even busier than usual, or those events will see the level of competition weaken. In the latter case, it would also split the competition in half at times of the year, which is far from the optimal solution in the long term.
On top of that, assuming the participants will live in North America during the season, it will effectively make practice significantly worse for the teams hoping to catch-up. Months of time when nearly all top 10 teams are unavailable for practice will certainly hurt the up and coming teams’ chances of getting to the top, though it may allow them to get more less meaningful tournament victories with the big dogs gone.
Exclusive league in the long term
A long-term goal of the league is, without a doubt, to become the exclusive place for top-level Counter-Strike competition – but only if the game can grow to become large and popular enough across the pond that it makes sense financially. If it were to do just that, you would be kidding yourself if you thought ELEAGUE would not want to grow into the standard North American sports league format, with teams exclusively competing in a near-yearlong season. That is how they could own the market, reaping all the benefits of the initially large investment.
That would effectively kill the open-circuit era of Counter-Strike, something that CGS tried to do in 2007-2008 with poor success. I doubt it could work now either, and reports suggest the organizations backing current teams are already unhappy about ELEAGUE, as it makes the organizations less relevant. If things were to go well, you should expect TBS to push for exclusive contracts within the league’s own franchises – because paying the organizations makes no sense, and would be money that could have gone directly to the players – at year’s end, when most teams’ contracts are expected to run out.
Although so far the only meaningful player to relocate to North America from Europe in CS:GO has been Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostylev, ELEAGUE could work as a catalyst to not only more players making the leap, but even full teams who find the life in the U.S. enjoyable.
After spending months in the country, players will have a much better idea of whether living in the U.S. could be something they may enjoy in the medium term. If so, it could make perfect sense for non-elite teams for whom it is an option. As Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen recently pointed out, many leagues – in the open-circuit format, assuming no exclusive deals are brokered – make it much easier for teams residing in North America to qualify for finals, where up to $500,000 is paid out.
On top of that, assuming the teams will live near each other and spend even more time together, it is not unthinkable that stronger friendships could be forged that may lead to more players moving overseas to join a new team. These things take time, but generally this is how they begin. And as we so often see here, the money is in North America – not in Europe.
So far it is unclear how many of the world’s absolute top teams will even take part in the inaugural season of ELEAGUE. The league will apparently feature nine European teams, as well as nine teams from North America – a categorization that includes foreign teams residing there, such as Luminosity, Tempo Storm and Renegades – and based on the teams that have been published so far, it is possible not every top team will take part.
The six teams that have been so far announced (Astralis, Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, mousesports, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Renegades) are neither the worst nor the best teams ELEAGUE could potentially have. It might be impossible to read into the other teams based on this, but it could be the case that many top teams are choosing to skip the first season, simply based on who TBS chose to announce first. If you were TBS, would you not either begin with the best teams, or the worst, depending how you want to play it? Why start from the middle of the pack?
If ELEAGUE gets the likes of Fnatic, EnVyUs, Luminosity and Natus Vincere, it could become the best event of the year simply due to how much is at stake. However, if any of those teams are missing, there is a very real chance the multi-million league could be relegated to a moneymaking machine that teams do not care so much about – especially if the prize money is not top-heavy. In effect, it could turn into a very well-paid vacation with a side of Counter-Strike. Only time will tell.