During the first map of the Virtus.pro/Astralis semifinal at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, I sat in the top row of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, eyeing the vast majority of empty seats. Twitter and message boards alike had largely made one distinctive argument since the quarterfinals began, that “North America isn’t a great place for such an event.” As an American, I’m biased. But that’s just not true.
DreamHack Las Vegas struggled for many reasons. Attendance sagged to the point that there couldn’t have been more than a few hundred people in attendance for the playoffs. I heard “let’s go gamble until the final” on multiple occasions Sunday, meaning few probably attended for the sole purpose of watching Counter-Strike. Sin City is based on a unique form of tourism rather than a large local population, which could also be a reason why it is does not yet have a major sports franchise. Considering that, and the fact that it had been less than a month since the ELEAGUE Major in Atlanta, I understand why many regular event goers sat this one out.
Las Vegas has been a successful esports location in the recent past. The spring finals of the North American League of Legends Championship Series last April had a reported 6,000 people in the Mandalay Bay Events Center. The event consisted of only two best-of-five matches, one each day of the weekend, leaving plenty of time each day to explore the city. The EVO fighting games tournament every year is also generally well received. But Las Vegas simply doesn’t work for Counter-Strike the way most fans are used to seeing a tournament. The days were extremely long, with four quarterfinals squeezed into Friday and the semifinals and finals condensed to Saturday. Although that’s somewhat common for non-Majors, long days of viewing simply don’t do well to keep the attention of fans in Las Vegas.
Other North American tournaments have had great crowds. MLG Columbus 2016 showcased the atmosphere fans rave about in Europe. The ELEAGUE Major was uneven, but the back and forth chants during the final also showed that North American crowds can compete with the best in Counter-Strike. Unfortunately, Las Vegas is automatically at a disadvantage being in the middle of the desert. It lacks the accessibility that exists in a typical large city and is far more expensive to visit. The 360-degree stage was a refreshing concept compared to the traditional side-by-side stage setup, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Outside of watching the matches each day, a few product booths and a fancy stage are not going to keep fans entertained and involved for upwards of 10 hours.
The attendance problem with DreamHack’s event reveals more about the difficulties to run a successful Counter-Strike tournament in Las Vegas than anything else. As a pure fan of the game, I mention the shortcomings in hope that improvements can be made the next time Vegas — a city that garners more intrigue than just about any in America when it comes to esports — comes available for a CS:GO event.
Cover photo by Robert Paul/DreamHack