This is the second part to a two-part series on improving Counter-Strike, building on lurppis’ tweet on how to improve Majors.
With my proposal for fixing the over-saturation issue published yesterday, today I have my eye on improving the grand slams of the Counter-Strike world – Valve’s Majors, currently featuring $1 million prize purses and the famous in-game stickers. I am afraid that fan interest in the Majors is plateauing, and while fixing over-saturation would already help, I suggest various additional direct ways to improve the biggest and most important events in Counter-Strike.
PART 1 – OVERSATURATION
PART 2 – MAKING MAJORS GREAT AGAIN
The level of play in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has gone through the roof since the medieval times when Ninjas in Pyjamas put together its legendary – and nowadays impossible – 87-0 streak from the fall of 2012 through to the spring of 2013. Whereas the first Majors saw multiple teams take part without a chance in hell at advancing, the later Majors have seen various fan favorites miss the events altogether. That is how cutthroat the competition has become, and it is why I propose increasing team slots to 24 from the historical 16.
The Legends status is here to stay (with the 3/5 rule its best variation, keeping players in power), and there is no reason the top eight teams from each Major should not continue to qualify directly for the following one. But that is where the similarities would, for the most part, end.
With two Large tournaments each season prior to the Majors, I would directly invite the winner of each – if they are not already Legends. In total I would hand out eight invitations, meaning that 6-8 additional teams would be invited (six in case neither Large tournament winner is a Legend, and eight in case both are). Other top finishes at the Medium and Large tournaments could be used to invite teams directly to the Major’s offline qualifier, in order to lessen the need for painful online qualification systems.
While the ranking could be created by a panel of experts, I would prefer a math-based ranking whose parameters would be agreed upon before the year begins – so that no bias can be inserted later on to favor a team – and be public, so anyone willing could re-make it on their own to verify the results. That would effectively remove bias all-but entirely from the ranking. In addition, such a ranking could be used for seeding and re-seeding purposes later on at the Majors.
The invitations should be issued after the second Large tournament, a week ahead of the offline qualifier. With the ranking public, teams would already know going in how likely they would be to receive an invitation, versus having to attend he offline qualifier for the Major. I would then lock the roster for the Major once the invited teams and the qualifier participants have submitted their rosters, roughly 2-3 weeks ahead of the Major.
The eight remaining slots would be filled through an offline qualifier, which would be held two weeks prior to the Major, preferably with regional offline qualifiers of some sort – whether Large tournaments, the Medium-sized ones, or even standalone events – acting as pre-qualifiers. There should still be online pre-qualifiers for the upcoming teams, but the established teams should be able to make it to the Major without playing online if they are good enough. Finally, I would include a backup slot on the roster, in addition to the coach – there was no point in forcing threat or zonic to play in cases of visa and health issues. Those were, for the most part, beyond the teams’ control. The backup slot simply adds a layer of security in case things go wrong.
Some will say Majors should be more exclusive, and only feature the best of the best – but the margins are so small and the qualification systems imperfect, they lead to situations where legitimate contenders to make playoffs are sometimes left out. Making the Major will be as much of an achievement to an upcoming team with 24 team slots as with 16, and adding some more challengers in the pool would not dilute the Majors in any meaningful way.
Seeding, re-seeding and tournament format
While the Legends status is a good way of guaranteeing success at previous Majors is appropriately rewarded in terms of a spot at the next Major, time and time again we have seen the Majors are too scarce to serve as an effective way of seeding. Teams’ levels fluctuate too much in the span of three or sometimes even six months between the Majors, leading to draws such as the Group of Death from ESL One Cologne 2016, which featured the world’s top three teams: SK, Fnatic and G2. The very same rankings used to determine invitations for the Majors – only updated to reflect latest results, of course – should be used to seed teams from 1 through 24. It will not be perfectly accurate – for no ranking can ever be – but it is highly likely to be better than a random draw.
The group stage should feature either four round robin groups of six teams, or four Swiss groups of six teams each, with top four advancing to the playoffs – meaning there would be 16 playoff teams, of which only the quarterfinalists would be Legends in the new system. While I favor the large round robin groups from a viewer’s perspective – and players loved playing so them at IEM Katowice and IEM Oakland in 2016 – the Swiss group can be a better fit sometimes, such as for the upcoming ELEAGUE Major, which will only feature 16 teams.
To make the groups more exciting, two matches (in round robin, three in Swiss groups) should be played at a time, allowing fans to pick and choose between different games. It would also help those who are afraid the level of play would suffer with the addition of eight more teams, as they would then have the option to avoid certain games, should they choose to do so. With one group played each day – or two, if the event needs to finish in six days total, as opposed to eight – there would be plenty of action for fans, and in 2017 events can easily put together two streams for the three Majors each year.
Currently two best-of-one wins are enough to make you a Legend. In theory, you could attend few events a year and exit early at those, only to always win two maps at the Majors before crashing out in the quarterfinals, and remain Legends indefinitely. That hardly sounds like a perfect system to me. Large round robin groups (or Swiss groups) would make you play more, and would require you to not only win a couple of group stage games, but also a playoff series to retain your Legends status, or to become Legends. The process of becoming Legends would be more demanding, and the title more meaningful.
With four teams advancing per group, the playoffs would feature sixteen teams. Those sixteen would be seeded within pools of 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16, based on their placing in their respective groups. For example, the world’s No. 1 ranked fourth place finisher in a group would be seeded 13th, whereas an unranked group winner could not be seeded lower than fourth. It could be a good compromise between rewarding group stage results and taking long-term results into account in order to try to avoid stacked brackets, which at times can even ruin legacies of certain players – just ask Astralis’ coach zonic about 2010.
The playoffs should be played out in a single elimination best-of-three format, with round of 16 matches played on one day, two at a time, to start the process. Day 2 of playoffs would feature four quarterfinals, Day 3 two semifinals, and the final day would be reserved for the grand final. Despite some outcry, I feel that the grand final should also be played in best-of-three, because the requirements in being a successful team in a best-of-five differ too much. You should be able to win the event with same skillset that got you that far in the first place. Otherwise, earlier rounds should be best-of-five, too, which is unreasonable from a scheduling perspective – not to consider how draining it is for the players. Plus, many fans are put off by matches that can last up to five hours, excluding delays.
There is an argument to be made for double elimination, and I am more than willing to go there – but it would be easier to set up a fair format in single elimination, and I see little point in switching later on. The main benefit of double elimination is giving teams another chance if they get screwed by poor seeding, and that is no longer an issue from the semifinals onwards – which some suggested as a cut-off point for switching format. Finally, it is hard to come up with a fair advantage for the team winning the upper bracket, and it can be confusing for fans.
The veto process should be your now-standard ban-ban-pick-pick-ban-ban, with the remaining map played third. The map randomizer served a purpose in 2014 when few new maps were being played, but the new veto system, featuring only two vetoes prior to map picks – and teams’ progress over the years – have taken care of that issue. Now it is merely a historical anecdote randomizing results and making months of practice meaningless, at worst and giving us the results of a fair system at best. There is no upside.
The role of the Minor
Now that we have sorted out the tournament circuit and the Majors, we can surely do something about the Minors as well. The name Minor suggests a lower tier event than a Major, and to me it is incredibly misleading as a qualifying event to the Majors – the grand slams if you will. As such, and together with my new tournament circuit proposal, I recommend an entirely new approach to the Minors.
I suggest hosting the Minor as a separate tournament two weeks after the offline Major qualifier, a week prior to each season’s Major, for those who missed out on qualifying for the grand slam. It would give teams plenty of exposure, as fans would love to have something to watch while all top teams are busy preparing for the Major itself. In addition, the Minor would give the participating teams who missed the Major a chance at exposure, experience playing versus good teas, and could also serve as a qualifier for the next season’s Major.
Alternatively, you could also remove Minors altogether or relegate them to Major qualifiers, but in my opinion they could play a much more important role as separate stand-alone events.
Who says no?
Unlike my proposed solution for the over-saturation issue, the changes for the Majors would be fairly straight-forward to implement. It would require the backing of Valve and for the tournament organizers to buy into a collective Major system, but once set in motion all of this could be done in time for the second Major of 2017. There will be backlash to this idea – plenty of it, in fact – and better ones may surface.
But the fact is our current format and system is far from optimal, and we should be looking into improving upon the old formula as we enter 2017. And if not, then how could anything ever get better?
Cover photo be Adela Sznajder/ESL, eslgaming.com