GuardiaN column: My Major curse and why I’m ready to return to CSGO - Dexerto
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GuardiaN column: My Major curse and why I’m ready to return to CSGO

Published: 8/Sep/2020 15:00 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:43

by Ladislav 'Guardian' Kovács

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Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovács is a name destined for the Counter-Strike hall of fame. In his first Dexerto column, the AWP legend details why he believes that he’s ready to make his return to CS:GO and how he can break his Major curse.

I have unfinished business in Counter-Strike. After a string of poor personal performances following my return to Natus Vincere in September 2019, I knew that I needed to take a step back from competing at the highest level. My game-to-game rating was on a steady decline and I wasn’t comfortable with my impact inside the server.

So at the backend of January, both the team and I made the decision to move me into an inactive role on the bench. Perfecto was the perfect replacement, in the sense that it freed up s1mple to step-up the role of Primary AWPer — and everyone knows what he can do with that weapon in his hands! After all, there’s a reason his iconic AWP play from 2016’s ESL One Cologne has been memorialized as graffiti on Cache.

Since then, I’ve been working on my individual game non-stop. On a personal level, I’ve been striving to achieve the same individual form that I was hitting during my first tenure with NaVi. While most of this has been a psychological battle, the freedom of being able to grind FPL — and working to feel ‘comfortable’ with an AWP in my hands once again — has been a blessing. If I was to compare how I feel right now to my previous form, the Boston Major/Katowice era would be a fair reflection. So with that being said, I’m ready

GuardiaN competing for FaZe Clan.
ESL
During the majority of my time with FaZe, I feel like I consistently performed at a high level.

Why I’m ready to return to CS:GO

I’m ready to return to competing in CS:GO at the highest level. People might say that I’m old, but I think that age is just a number in CS. When I stood in for Dignitas during Flashpoint, there were glimpses of my old self, I felt it. But, as you’d guess, consistency was lacking. While I believe that even then, I could have slotted into a top-tier roster and still go toe-to-toe with the very best, I also think that the timing wasn’t right.

Fast-forward some months, and after watching the ‘online era’ of Counter-Strike unfold before me, I’m seeing mistakes being made at the highest level. Mistakes that I know I wouldn’t make. Saying that, I’m not expecting to come back and be the most consistent fragger on a team. But with the right team, I know that I can fill the void as a top-tier AWPer and grind to become one of the best snipers in CS:GO again. If my months grinding FPL have taught me one thing, it’s that adapting your style to make yourself more unpredictable (i.e., aggressively peeking an unexpected angle) will generally work in my favor.

In my opinion, playing FPL is much harder than against a team. Of course, in FPL, there’s nothing to lose, so players are willing to experiment and make plays they typically wouldn’t in a more structured, team-based setting. As an AWPer, this is often very difficult to play against. Especially with my approach — which is largely based on anticipating what my opposite number will do, and then put myself in a favorable position to do as much damage as possible. I’ve been playing CS:GO every day for the past six months, and individually speaking, I’m there. As I said, I feel like I’m getting back in my stride (comparable to my peak with FaZe). So for now, I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to arise which will allow me to be the right asset for my team.

GuardiaN competing for NaVi.
StarLadder
My form dipped during my second tenure with NaVi, which was primarily psychological.

Breaking my ‘Major curse’

Let’s address the elephant in the room… My Major ‘curse.’ During Cluj-Napoca, we just weren’t ready. Envy were our kryptonite during that tournament, and we just weren’t equipped to counter kennyS — especially on Cobblestone. During Columbus, I felt like there was next to nothing I could do to help my team perform when it mattered most. Nursing an injury meant that I was playing on a mouse sensitivity that threw everything out of the window. While our road to the Grand Final was smooth enough, when the Brazilians were firing on all cylinders, we were put under a level of pressure that we were unaccustomed to.

Then there was the infamous Boston Major. Under FaZe, I rediscovered my groove. As a squad, we peaked at the perfect time. It felt like we did everything right. And after Cloud9 dismantled FalleN and co. in the Semifinals, I finally felt like it was time to clinch my first Major… Turns out, the third time isn’t a charm after all. After we both traded map picks, the notorious double-overtime Inferno was a map I’d prefer to leave as a distant memory. At 15-11, we thought that we had it in the bag. But as C9 gained momentum, we began to seize up. The one-versus-two clutch to take the match to double-overtime was one of the most euphoric moments of my Counter-Strike career.

But it wasn’t enough. Again, we failed at the last hurdle. I failed. For the third time in a row, I watched another team lift the Major trophy. But this one stung. It was almost like we wanted to win too much, and we felt that pressure. And that’s exactly what shouldn’t happen in a situation like that. So, moving forward, if I’m lucky enough to find a team that soars to the pinnacle of CS:GO once again, I want to find teammates that will be able to stick to the game plan and take each round as it comes. That’s easier said than done, of course. But if I’ve learned one thing from my brief stint away from CS, it’s that the difference between becoming a Major winner or a runner-up is dictated by the finest of margins… And often, that can be something as trivial as staying head-strong in the face of adversity.

To understand the exact way a team should work, I always look to OG’s Dota 2 squad during the Grand Final of 2018’s ‘The International.’ Down 1-2 to PSG.LGD, they were getting destroyed and their fate appeared to be sealed. Yet they showed resilience, with the likes of Ceb remaining calm and collected, while N0tail continued to call the shots. And that’s exactly how a team should function in high-pressure situations like that. They shouldn’t fall apart like we did in the pivotal moments of a game, and ultimately, that’s what led OG to bag their legacy by winning two consecutive Internationals.

So I’m not just coming back to CS:GO to tick a box and earn a paycheck. It’s much, much more than that. I’m hungrier than ever; and I feel like with the right team, I can finally claim the elusive Major trophy and it will no longer be a case of ‘one that got away.’

Columns

Adam Fitch: LoL, Call of Duty are rightfully the most marketable esports properties

Published: 21/Oct/2020 19:30 Updated: 21/Oct/2020 16:30

by Adam Fitch

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Last week, sports industry media company SportsPro released their list of the “World’s 50 Most Marketable Properties” in sports and, perhaps surprisingly, both League of Legends and Call of Duty made the cut — coming in at 12th and 41st, respectively.

This may sound extreme to some, with just football housing numerous world-renowned properties; from the Premier League, to the UEFA Champions League, to the FIFA World Cup itself. Add in that teams themselves are very much properties in their own rights and the listing of both League of Legends & Call of Duty may be pungent sources of contention for some.

The first thing that must be considered when judging whether esports titles can stand tall against well-established, decades-spanning sports properties is the set of criteria used to base judgements and estimates on. By now, almost everybody who’s a sports fan has been exposed to esports in one shape or form — whether through an ESPN broadcast or F1 wholly embracing its gaming counterpart during the global health crisis — but there’s still a lot of convincing to do as to esports being a sport (operating on the belief that it’s necessary at all).

SportsPro used a “universal currency,” devised by SponsorPulse, to identify the opportunity score of over 185 global sports properties, made up of seven key metrics that were tested on over 30,000 people each month.

Engagement, excitement, favorability, intensity, momentum, passion, and purchase consideration are the metrics used to develop the overall score that properties were compared upon. These metrics provide what I believe to be a somewhat fair foundation to judge the overall hype, attraction, and commercial viability of a sports property — it satisfactorily serves its purpose.

With any sort of list or power ranking it’s important to take into account bias and subjectivity, and scoring properties still offers the opportunity for those things to creep in, but at least we know the boundaries in which we’re operating.

Finally, let’s get into the infiltration of this list from two interestingly-contrasting titles.

The League of Extraordinary Growth

Riot Games may have finally warranted the “s” in its name with the expansion of its offering through Valorant, Wild Rift, Teamfight Tactics, and Legends of Runeterra, but League of Legends is still the developer’s golden child.

Released in 2009, it’s not taken long for household brands — the likes of Spotify, Mercedes-Benz, and Louis Vuitton — to get involved on the esports side of the equation, and it’s impressive when compared to the commercial interest and scale of other upstart sporting efforts like the XFL.

G2 Mikyx at League of Legends Worlds 2020
David Lee/Riot Games
G2 Mikyx’s wearing a Bose headset and sitting on a Secretlab chair at Worlds 2020.

For this year’s League of Legends World Championship, Riot Games has put together its most impressive roster of partners to date by mixing endemic and household names together in a variety of activations. From Cisco providing network infrastructure to Red Bull sponsoring in-game happenings, not to mention in-game banners for Mastercard and Alienware, there’s a lot of value to be obtained by putting a brand in front of an average of almost 1,000,000 avid gamers (according to Esports Charts.)

This level of pull for Riot Games isn’t commonplace in esports by any degree of the imagination. It’s a testament to the attractive, successful property that the developer has built over the course of a decade and the hard work of employees such as Naz Aletaha, who serves as the head of global esports partnerships. It’s not possible for every game to secure a breadth of mainstream and endemic brands like this.

Now, the list doesn’t state whether it’s the League of Legends esports ecosystem as a whole or simply its global efforts that found its way to 12th place, which could change things significantly. If it indeed includes the entire game’s competitive efforts, then you also have to consider LEC’s KitKat, Kia, and Shell, and LCS’ Buffalo Wild Wings, Samsung, and Verizon, for example. This possibility alone speaks volumes about the depth of commercial opportunities that the MOBA yields.

The League of Legends competitive scene has undergone impressive growth with the formation of its regional approach — its Belgian League alone is sponsored by Audi and Burger King — and it creates an almighty commercial offering for prospective partners on a global, regional, and national level. This infrastructure can’t be found to this degree in other major titles, whether it’s Dota 2 or Fortnite.

It’s worth considering that Chinese live streaming company Bilibili reportedly paid around $115M to acquire the Chinese broadcast rights to just the League of Legends World Championship for three-years. Media rights may be the main revenue stream for sports properties but that’s not the case in esports, though Riot Games’ flagship game is showing that it’s possible.

League of Legends on a casual basis is huge across Asia and Europe and popular in North America, so it has an amazing viewer base, a whole host of competitive offerings, and the hype of non-savvy spectators of esports as a whole. With all of this in mind, it’s entirely possible that Riot Games’ MOBA could be a more enticing marketing option for companies looking to advertise to a legion of young, technology-adept potential customers.

All-in-all, it’s fair for League of Legends to be highly-regarded through a commercial lens and I feel it indeed deserves to be high in the list.

Call of Duty League leapfrogs Overwatch League

Sneaking onto the list in 41st place, ahead of the New England Patriots, Paris Saint-Germain, and tennis’ French Open, is the Call of Duty League.

A repackaged and reformatted version of the Call of Duty World League that had been chugging along at modest viewership numbers for years, the Call of Duty League is the second geolocated franchised league to come from Activision Blizzard following the Overwatch League.

Despite having to readjust its plans of having franchises hosting events in their home cities due to unfortunate circumstance, the competition had no problem in attracting commercial partners — nor more viewers.

Long written off as a “dead” esport that will only ever entertain hardcore Call of Duty fans, Call of Duty League and its 12 shiny new franchises drummed up a lot of interest and secured a lot of deals. The likes of Sony, PepsiCo, YouTube, the U.S. Army, and T-Mobile all chose to get in on the action despite a pivot to online play.

London Royal Ravens hosting their home series event
Call of Duty League
London Royal Ravens hosted their home series event in February.

Despite a lack of transparency in the financial terms of most deals in the esports industry, we know such partnerships aren’t being sold for pennies. The narrative of a new league, which is capitalizing on the titanic player base of the Call of Duty franchise, growing in viewership and looking to drum up location-based fandoms like in traditional sports, is compelling for marketing managers at technology and consumer-good companies.

Let’s be real. The viewership for Call of Duty esports is dwarfed by a plethora of other games so it simply doesn’t pack as much of a punch when it comes to putting eyeballs on a brand’s logo. What it does have in its back pocket, though, is that a high percentile of the existing viewers are avid players of the franchise and have likely supported competitive Call of Duty for years. Consider the legion of fans that a Scump or FormaL has, never mind an OpTic Gaming (which was spiritually succeeded by NRG’s Chicago Huntsmen and is the fastest-growing franchise in the league) or FaZe Clan.

So while it may not be the biggest league in the industry, Call of Duty League has a lot of merits — viewership is growing, new players are climbing through the ranks and building followings, the city-based approach has freshened things up, it has a lot of capital behind it (which allows for experimentation) and, importantly, new and existing companies alike are flocking to advertise through it.

What may be surprising here is how Call of Duty League has managed to make the Top 50 following its inaugural season, while its predecessor and sister competition, the Overwatch League, is nowhere to be seen.

This could be down to dwindling passion and viewership in the league, a degrading interest in the game’s casual player base, or simply that brands such as State Farm, T-Mobile, and Coca-Cola are much less plentiful in terms of commercial interest when compared to the exciting, industry-rattling launch of the competition.

Turning a casual fan base into a viable esports market

Looking at the two titles in comparison, they’re both hermetically-sealed and entirely governed by their wealthy and well-connected developers. They each have rabid casual fan bases spanning multiple regions, and both are garnering more eyeballs than ever on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.

When it comes to the CDL, the LCS, the LEC, and similar League of Legends endeavors, you know which team brands are going to be involved for the long-term. There’s no risk of smaller, less attractive organisations with less resources or popularity being promoted into the league. Other major titles you may think of, such as Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Dota 2, are structured differently when it comes to esports.

CS:GO has tournament organizers battling each other with no means of commercially acquiring a package deal across them all. Valve isn’t particularly interested in getting involved with that, nor controlling the ecosystem itself, unlike what Activision Blizzard and Riot Games have done themselves.

This results in a more fragmented and less reliable means of advertisement and marketing for brands, and that’s why you see the same faces — Intel, Betway, and DHL, for example — and rarely any additions when it comes to Valve’s iconic FPS.

Whether it’s believed that esports is a sport or not, it’s clear that some titles are proving to be a hit when it comes to sales, and that’s a promising sign for the future of esports should others follow suit before long.