This article is the first of a two-part series looking to find an answer to the over-saturation issue plaguing Counter-Strike. The second part will be released tomorrow, focusing on improving Valve’s Majors.
Over-saturation is a serious issue in Counter-Strike that is not only hurting the players jetting across the globe on a weekly basis, but also the lifeblood of our game and community: the fans, whose interest ultimately drives investments and the growth of Counter-Strike. The amount of online games and offline tournaments in 2016 has taken meaning out of regular matches between elite teams and made it impossible for the casual fans to keep up with the scene. In addition, quality of play has suffered as a direct result of teams not having enough time to practice at home.
Given the increasing number of events taking place, and ESL’s Michal “Carmac” Blicharz’s interview, where he stated there realistically is not enough common ground between events to work on this together, I hope this piece can at least lead to more active discussion on the subject.
Please note the exact figures, number of events et al. are mere illustrative proposals that can be improved and better defined later.
PART 1 – OVERSATURATION
PART2 – MAKING MAJORS GREAT AGAIN (To be released Tuesday)
Bidding for a spot in the calendar
The free markets would, over time, burst the bubble currently brewing in Counter-Strike and diminish the number of events held annually. But with the scene meanwhile suffering from it, there is little reason to wait.
Instead, I propose Valve begins regulating Counter-Strike tournaments. In effect, that would mean allowing anyone to host tournaments, or qualifiers to events, without written permission or a license, as long as the combined prize purse does not exceed a set figure (such as $100,000, for example’s sake). Alternatively, Valve could setup some kind of governing body to take care of the regulation, in case they prefer to solely focus on developing the game itself.
The year would be broken down to three seasons, each culminating in a Major. The Major would take place on the third weekend of April and August, and the second weekend of December (to make time for the holidays – with the Fall season’s start pushed up by a week, to make up for it), at four month intervals. Offline qualifiers would take place three weeks prior to each Major, with the following two weeks dedicated to the participants preparing, to ensure the highest level of play. Similarly, the next two weeks after each Major would be time off (aside from after the August Major, when the time would be one week to accommodate the winter holidays) to give teams a small break, and a chance to make roster changes at peace. However, in my system there would also be a Minor – whose new role is explained in more detail in part 2 of this article – a week before the Major, for teams who did not qualify for the main event.
The three seasons – Spring, Summer and Fall – would feature in months 2-3 (i.e. February and March, June and July, October and November) two Large tournaments, which organizers such as ELEAGUE, MLG, ESL, FACEIT and DreamHack could compete for to get to host. The organizations would effectively pitch their idea of the tournament, including prize money, format, number of teams, venue, etc. with Valve, a governing body or a panel appointed by teams selecting the winners.
In addition, the third week of the opening month (again, to accommodate a small break for the players) and the first weeks of months 2-3 would feature Medium-scale tournaments, which would be handed out using a similar process. This would guarantee no tournaments aimed at top-tier teams take place on consecutive weekends, easing the over-saturation and the burden of constant travel, while giving teams more time to practice.
Set tournament dates each year
Organizers would first bid for the Majors (including in-game stickers, a prize purse upwards of $1 million large stadiums, etc.), followed by the Large tournaments (in-game news posts to boost viewership, no stickers, prize purse in the $250K-$750K range), and finally the Medium tournaments (with >$250,000 prize purses and lesser standards). Each organizer could therefore try to make up in the lower tiers what they missed out on above, as they would have more resources left. (Those prize purse ranges are, of course, highly illustrative, only to give an idea of how I envision the current tournament circuit fitting in the plan.)
In the end, we would end up with three guaranteed Majors, six Large tournaments, and nine slightly smaller Medium-scale tournaments on an annual basis. In total that would add up to 18 tournaments the top dogs could choose to – for the most part – participate in, with no events ever taking place on consecutive weekends, two weeks of offseason after the Majors, and two weeks dedicated for practice leading up to the Majors. While online play would surely take up some of the remaining 28 weeks on the calendar (assuming two weeks off after each Major), it would still guarantee more time for practice than teams have had in the past two years combined – annually.
As a byproduct of this, the other weekends could be saved for second and third tier tournaments, which then would not have to compete for viewers with the juggernauts who rule the scene. It would help smaller events garner higher viewership numbers, and increase the likelihood of investments being made outside of the biggest players in the esports industry – a welcome development. Likewise, the benefits would go directly towards the lower tier teams, who would therefore receive more funding, and a better chance at competing at the highest level.
Meanwhile, the top teams would not meet every single week, making online play more interesting again, as the bidding system – which would include disclosing potential qualification stages – could ensure there can only be a set number of online games on a monthly basis.
The bidding process would allow teams to punish tournaments whose events are not up to par – whether it is due to not having booths on the stage (in countries whose laws do not prohibit booths due to fire concerns), using tables from the 90s, or having outdated computers. All of that could be taken into consideration in the process of awarding tournaments for different organizers, effectively incentivizing organizers to put their best foot forward, instead of trying to penny pinch in the wrong place.
Another factor could be scheduling events overseas in a way that would help players to avoid flying back and forth between continents on a weekly basis, as is currently happening. It would not be easy to balance travel for teams from various parts of the world, but minor scheduling changes would already help, and with every other weekend off, overseas travel would not be as tough as it currently is. If it could lead to fewer tweets about jet lag, I would be all for it.
This plan would give us a predictable calendar for fans, so everyone would know – much like with traditional sports, with e.g. the Super Bowl always on the first Sunday of February – exactly when the Majors would be, far ahead of time. Players could organize social events on the weekends they know would not have Large tournaments, months in advance, and plan vacations when needed. Likewise, fans could choose to save the dates of the majors far in advance, should they wish to. It would also diminish the uncertainty currently hurting the scene from investors’ point of view.
Ideally, the backlog of events would be built up to more than a year into the future, which would provide great visibility to all stakeholders – players, event organizers, casters, media, investors, etc. – and allow them to plan around the busy Counter-Strike schedule with more clarity of its future. In other words, just about everyone would benefit – most likely even including the tournament organizers, whose top lines might be hurt, but who could instead focus on margin expansion, when the rat race would have been extinguished.
Who says no?
This system would make the schedule easier on players and more consistent for fans, while allowing for more practice, effectively leading to a higher quality of play, and thus a better spectator product. It would ease the burden of travel on the players, and give up and coming teams more exposure and, down the road, funding. And finally, it would give us clarity of the future – a real concern for many currently involved, as well as many future hopefuls.
In a sense it would, indeed, kill the free market, but consider the alternative: ESL already tried to build an exclusive league in the past, and in the era of hyper-competition it seems only a matter of time before the leading tournament organizers will get together to effectively close to circuit on their own. At that point, a regulated system ran by Valve, or a governing body, would be an improvement. But would it be possible to go back any longer?
Building this kind of system would require massive structural changes throughout the scene and not be easy to implement, and could in fact take a long time to get running properly. But if it is considered a significant improvement over what we currently have, or what the future is likely to hold, who says no?
Cover photo by Adela Sznajder/ESL, eslgaming.com