The Problems with Unfair Qualification Systems

While just about everyone has been in favor of a system combining both sensible, direct invitations for the world’s best teams and an open qualification system for the challengers, the details of a perfect system have never been nailed down. It is an imperfect science, at best. And the results have been, as one might expect, less than spectacular.

This past week has now seen two different leagues and tournaments come under strong criticism from various parties due to how they have chosen to structure the qualification system for their events.

First was the next Asian minor – the pre-qualification system for Valve’s major events with a $1 million prize purse – which chose to award host country South Korea two slots at the main qualifier. If you are interested in the situation, I recommend reading my former colleague Tgwri1s’s blog about it, as it covers the situation in more depth.

Put shortly, some good teams will not get a chance to participate at the next Asian minor because the allocation of slots is affected by the country in which the event is hosted, more so than the quality of teams that hail from there. If you do not think that is an issue, you must read the blog linked above.

Secondly, FACEIT/Twitch announced their new league, Esports Championship Series (ECS), which features a $3.5 million prize purse. Notably it is also structured in a clever way, where the organizations received equity stakes in the league. In effect, this will lead to some sort of revenue sharing system, similar to those used in North American sports leagues such as the NBA.

But despite having the largest prize pool in Counter-Strike’s history, the ECS had a flawed, at best, qualification system. Having been announced at such a last minute, teams were only informed of the qualifier matches three days before they were to take place.

What’s worse, DreamHack Malmo is starting Tuesday, meaning some of the teams – most notably Tempo Storm, the Brazilian side that took Natus Vincere to its limits and has impressed online in North America, where they are residing – were already en route to Sweden. As such, they were effectively barred from playing in the qualifier, as FACEIT apparently also did not allow them to play online from Sweden with high pings. Similarly, Chris ‘GoMeZ’ Orfanellis, the manager of Australian team Renegades, who also live in North American, stated on Twitter that his side was left out in the cold, receiving information on the ECS qualifier mere five days before it began. Due to travel plans back to Australia to finalize their visas, they also had to miss the mega-league.

Other teams to be excluded from even having a chance at qualifying – as the qualifiers were also closed, with direct invites given to only 12 teams across the entire world – included the likes of FlipSid3, pronax’s new team GODSENT, as well as E-Frag. In a game that is growing as fast as Counter-Strike is, we need to be extra careful to avoid making what may seem to some like minor mistakes, but that over time could snowball into serious issues. Closing out the tournament circuit from newcomers would, ultimately, effectively kill all the growth in the scene. And it is that growth that is fueling not only these massive leagues, but the fund raising rounds that FACEIT have enjoyed success in recently.

One of the people criticizing this was Luminosity’s Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo –the leader whose team won the first $1 million tournament last week, and therefore had little in play here personally. Some may point out he is obviously friends with Tempo Storm, but active observers will know the Brazilian has also put his money where his mouth is in the past, in funding an Argentinian team’s stay in Brazil for a tournament in January.

He took his time from a bootcamp in Sweden, and shared with us the following statement:

“Tournaments, prize pools and media exposure in CS:GO are growing a lot since it all began. That is awesome for everyone, but also very dangerous. If people who are in charge of making decisions for our entire community don`t think and act correctly, in order to really sustain the sport’s eco-system, we are putting a lot in risk.

“If you are a player trying to get good, you probably still don’t need these qualifiers. You still have a lot to grow in small tournaments. But in case you are a good player, yet still not good enough to be invited, you are in a situation where all you might need is an opportunity to become one, in some cases to even come back to the top once again.

“I was in this position 1 year ago. I had NOTHING to play. Fortunately, MLG gave me what I can now say was the chance of my life. How important to the scene and to the players itself can an opportunity be? They gave Brazil a spot in the MLG Aspen qualifier. Look how much we could achieve because of one small chance.

“If you are organizing a BIG tournament it’s VERY important to think community-wise. You can`t announce qualifiers with one week of preparation, you can’t just filter and choose which teams are going to be invited without a sound reasoning for it. In my opinion, HLTV.org’s ranking is the closest we have to the fairest ranking at the moment, and should be used every time for these cases.

“We are witnessing a lot of cases where teams are being picked up based on how strong their organizations are politically, some of them don’t even have a proper and steady line-up… This is very unfair.

“I don’t know how other pro players think, but in my opinion this is important for ALL of our community and everyone who thinks the same way should speak their voices out. I’m sure I’m not alone.

“It’s time to go back a little and think over one important question: ‘What are the main goals behind competition, what do we want to see the most, what is behind everything we started?’ I would say good teams fighting fairly to discover and prove at every single tournament who is the best. That’s where we came from and what makes people invest so much time in this game. Don’t break the system.

“All I ask for is more competitions around the world, fair distribution of spots across the continents and opportunities/qualifiers for everyone! Plenty of teams are waiting on my continent to compete for international spots. They play every day hoping that someday tournament organizers will think and care about their dreams too. #makeitglobal”

This is, at the end of the day, another chance for players to try to gain control over the organizations when it comes to our game. As FalleN has done, the best need to look out for the rest. As someone who was able to break out to the professional scene through the magic of the open tournament circuit, I fully agree with FalleN, and the other people criticizing how this was done. We should not merely accept what we are given by the folks in charge, but both expect and demand better.

Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com

lurppis is a former professional Counter-Strike player whose team was ranked the world's best in 2007 and who led Evil Geniuses for two years. Since retiring, he has been an active member of the media.

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