There has been talk recently about a perceived over-saturation in Counter-Strike, particularly since the scene has continued to grow with more tournaments and more events. My perspective on this issue is limited as I’m only a spectator of the game, but there are three issues at stake here: burnout, exhaustion and the dilution of a product. The issues vary depending on which group of people is being assessed, and the only group that has an easy solution to deal with it is the fans. But here’s a look at the issue from multiple perspectives and what might be a possible approach going forward. (As a disclaimer, I have never been in contact with any of these groups of people, so this is pure speculation.)
The players have to deal with a constant barrage of online matches, travel, LAN tournaments, practice and streaming commitments (depending on the contract) on top of whatever personal affairs they have going on at the time. The amount they to deal with varies depending how good their teams are, but here are some harder numbers.
There are 365 days in a year and about 20-30 large LANs, with a multitude of smaller LANs. LANs last one, sometimes two weeks. The travel to the LAN is dependent on where the player lives but can be anywhere from one to three days for getting there and going back. On top of that, if the LAN is important, players need about two weeks to prepare hard for it and one week to decompress and deal with the jet lag and mental exhaustion. In an ideal world, a player would need a month for an important LAN. This isn’t too far off from the scene we have now as there are about one to two large LANs a month, three at most.
If that’s all there was to CS:GO, there wouldn’t be a problem. Top teams don’t meet that often in LANs, so all of the matches would still retain their high intrinsic value. While a team can burn out if it decides to attend every LAN event it can, that’s a choice (assuming the organization isn’t forcing them to go).
The problem is the online leagues. Two of them in specific being ESL Pro League and Esports Championship Series. ELEAGUE is also a league, but because of how the tournament is structured it works more like a week long LAN for the players rather than an ongoing league.
“Being a professional gamer today is hard because you want to keep your body fit and you want to be mentally fine, but you can’t do everything together,” Natus Vincere’s Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács told Slingshot during the final weekend of ELEAGUE. For example, we had times where we had every week a new event. So you’re flying from one event to the other event to the other and the other, and sometimes it was Europe, U.S., Europe, U.S. Mentally it’s so, so bad because even if you are losing and you have some problems, real life problems, you just cannot handle it sometimes.”
But the teams have to play in online leagues that require 22+ games in ESL Pro League and nine best-of-threes in ECS. That means for every day of one of these online leagues, the players need anywhere between one to three hours to play, an hour to prepare before hand and another two hours to decompress and relax after a series of mental exhaustion.
But layer that on top of an already packed calendar, and now you have to cut into the time where people relax. What a lot of people don’t understand is that this is a very focused and strenuous workload where players have to concentrate at the highest levels of mental faculty. Much like a job, when many people go home, they relax. They watch television, movies or play a game. That is their decompression period. People working a normal 9-to-5 job don’t necessarily focus the entire time. They have moments of peak work and moments where they do less. For a player, you have to be locked in for the whole game.
On top of all of that, players also need dedicated practice to stay at the top of their games as well as whatever streaming hours are required for them by their team.
So this is the entire situation for the player. They want to attend LANs. Those are the best parts of being a player. So you need to travel, which accumulates strain jet lag, exhaustion and the fact that most people sleep much worse in unfamiliar surroundings. They play at the LAN and then when they get home they either travel to the next LAN or they play online matches. Sometimes they have to play online matches at the LAN and when they get home. On top of that, players still need to practice and improve just to keep their level in the field. Then you have other commitments like streaming or making YouTube content and then what little time is left over goes to family and friends.
All of this is probably why players might feel burned out, but there’s a dilemma. Do you stop going to important LANs? But those are the best part of being a competitive pro (and, perhaps more importantly, the opportunities for the largest prize pools). You can’t stop practice. And the team requires they play in the online leagues and stream, so what can they do really?
The first thing a player should do is confront their management. Lay out their entire schedule day by day, week by week, month by month and work out what needs to be cut so that the players can manage it all. In some cases, renegotiating contracts to allow for guaranteed time off, or a larger say in the schedule would be an ideal method to dealing with over-saturation, exhaustion, and burnout for a player. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so that doesn’t always seem feasible.
Casters deal with similar issues as the players. The difference is they have longer days, and instead of practice, they need to make content, analyze their casting, keep up with the game and results and do even more travel as they have to attend LAN events to make money if they aren’t contracted.
As they are all for the most part independent contractors, they need to also balance their financials and figure out how much they need to work, how much time is on the schedule and how much time they need off.
“(Over-saturation) is not ESL’s or anyone else’s fault, but it’s a problem that happens naturally, and it happened in Dota 2 as well,” popular caster Anders Blume said last month. “It seems to require either a lot of cooperation from the people who are essentially competitors, or it requires some top down decision making from an entity that either doesn’t exist yet, or it’s Valve.”
I don’t think it’s possible for tournament organizers to ever come to an agreement on who takes what time slot in a year. I also don’t believe that you can convince any of them to shorten or eliminate online leagues that are extremely lucrative and cheap to run.
But what they can do is make a schedule for a year and release it to players and teams so they can figure out what they want to attend and plan accordingly.
Product dilution is inevitable as long as online leagues are being run, but the problem can be mitigated by using different casters, analysts, production or format. This is especially possible in CS:GO, which seems to have a surplus of broadcasting talent.
Finally, for tournaments that will just never be super important, go the opposite direction. Instead of using the standard model of a desk, casters and analysts, why not try something different like the oddball formats of Red Bull events or the unique casting environments of TakeTV (StarCraft) or The Summit (Dota 2)? The ESL Barcelona Expo in February was an attempt at an alternate format, even though it did include some top teams.
I said this half jokingly before, but I’m serious now. Duncan “Thorin” Shields occupies a specific role that can’t be replicated because of the amount of historical knowledge, in-game knowledge, showmanship and willingness to take on the trickster/villain role. Just make him a dictator in one of these off events where you don’t want to run an ordinary event and have him decide the matches and have captains or players appeal to him as to why he should change it.
I don’t understand most of them, but here goes: Just watch what you like or what you think is important. An infinite amount of online matches will never dilute how important a match is at a Major or in the playoffs of an important LAN, so I don’t really know what they’re complaining about. I personally only watch LAN events, and because of that I’ve never thought of my personal viewing experience as oversaturated.
Overall there needs to be a schedule for the entire year so that players, casters, and organizers can plan ahead and not burn themselves out. Players need to go to their team managers and negotiate their responsibilities and time. Figuring out a schedule ahead of time would be helpful to casters, too. Tournament organizers should cut how much online content is out there, but because they won’t they should at least diversify and create a unique character for the LANs they run that aren’t significant or important.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com