The Majors are landmark events in the Counter-Strike calendar. They are attributed as the be-all, end-all of CS:GO competition. They events have the most prize money, prestige and popularity and are rightfully considered the most important events of the year.
Now imagine an event with a comparable level of teams and prize pool. Could you label it a Major despite not getting the official recognition from Valve? It’s an interesting question. Many have argued that by default, Valve’s intervention provides the incentive (monetary and reputation-wise) to separate a premier tournament from a Major. But before Valve’s participation in the CS scene, that’s exactly how they were designated. So long as an event had enough of the top-tier teams in the world and prize money, it was labeled as a Major. In the coming month, we have two such events: DreamHack Las Vegas and IEM Katowice.
But are they Majors? The community certainly wouldn’t claim so as they don’t have stickers or the Valve designation. By what other designation do they not qualify? In terms of competition, both events can be argued to have even stronger competition than ELEAGUE. DreamHack Las Vegas has the same number of teams, and though the bottom tier is weaker, the top is even stronger than the Major because of the reshuffling that happened after the ELEAGUE Major. Astralis, Natus Vincere and Virtus.Pro are the same, but SK Gaming, Fnatic and North have supplemented their rosters. On paper they look even stronger than before; time will show whether they can adequately readjust the roles and reestablish team synergy. IEM Katowice is more suspect in this regard as there are only 12 teams instead of 16. In that regard there is slightly less competition, but the top end can still be argued to be stronger, so it is at least comparable.
Even if you believe that the Major had the highest level of competition (and you certainly can make a cogent argument), does it have the highest level of competitive integrity? The way I define competitive integrity, parity in opportunity and design are central. All competitors should get a fair chance, and the tournament format should aim to identify the best team in attendance. In that respect, the ELEAGUE Major lags behind both Las Vegas and Katowice. The lack of first round seeding and the map randomizer led to circumstances that arguably hurt some of the teams. From these two arguments, we can determine that competitive level alone doesn’t make a tournament a Major.
What about prize money? The fact that World Esports Games exists discredits the proposal. The ELEAGUE Major had a $1 million prize pool, while DreamHack Las Vegas is $450,000 and IEM Katowice is currently unannounced (though we can assume it will be at least the same as last year, which was $250,000). The prize pool is significant, but it wasn’t so long ago that $250,000 was close to the highest pool you’d find.
The best argument the Major has over any other tournament is prestige. In this aspect alone it is untouchable. The reason the Majors are so highly coveted is because all other players have officially recognized it as the height of competition. Therefore, it is the most wanted trophy in CS:GO. While every player wants to win everything they attend, there is an heightened sense of passion and pressure that is almost palpable. For me, that is what separates a Major from the highest level of tournaments.
That intangible element of psychological desire separates the Major form other tournaments, but I think critics (and teams) take it too far. Success at the Majors isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Incredible teams and players don’t rely on winning that subset of tournaments. The early 2016 version of Fnatic established its legacy by winning six events, yet only reached the quarterfinals of MLG Columbus. Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans is regarded as one of the best leaders of all time despite having very little success at the Majors.
In nearly every regard except the last one, DreamHack Las Vegas and IEM Katowice can match the Major. In some regards they surpass the Major, as the shuffles have made the top-tier teams even more dangerous, and the contentious Swiss format won’t be in play. Although the intangible prestige isn’t there, these remain highly competitive events. Winning one will stake a team’s claim as the best in the world. Winning can change a player’s career and, given the right circumstances, can mean everything. There is a reason Ladislav “GuardiaN“ Kovács broke down in tears after winning ESL New York. These types of tournaments are of the highest order and are as close to a Major as any tournament can get.