In his Dexerto column, Jason “Moses” O’Toole discusses Counter-Strike’s shift to online gameplay, why that shift is difficult, and how the CS scene can use this phase to address issues with its schedule, content, and semi-pro structure.
The reality is Counter-Strike has always had a very odd relationship with online gameplay, but we’re kind of just stuck with it for a little bit. But, as a positive, this is a chance for the entire Counter-Strike ecosystem to re-evaluate how we dedicate our time and resources.
We've spent two years doing everything on LAN and been an esport for so long that all of our greatest performances have been at LAN. There's just a feeling of less intensity and focus when you play online, so this has probably been a particularly rough transition for many.
Additionally, the transition from online to LAN had, in a way, been the best form of anti-cheat that we've ever had. It just offers a bit more reliability and a lot fewer question marks surrounding results, whether it’s from an individual player or an entire team.
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Still, we can use this mandated period to be open and reassess the direction we've been taking CS in for the past five years—whether that be in terms of schedule, content, or attention to the semi-pro scene.
One thing that seems frustrating about online play is a lot of these tournaments, since everyone’s playing from home, have extended and flushed out more days than they would normally play.
Ridiculous, this online season has had some of the most insane scheduling I've seen in a long time, especially with all the formats changing to double elim brackets and a ton of group stage games...
Things have to be different after the player break if we still can't go to LAN https://t.co/UBpfEgnL4D
— Janko Paunovic (@YNk) June 24, 2020
It's actually been the eternal problem in Counter-Strike, not even specifically related to online play: our schedule in the professional scene for the past three, four years has been a clusterfuck. For all talent, players, and teams, we just have way too many tournaments and are stretching ourselves way too thin.
We haven't been able to get this schedule under control and that limits the health of our scene. We are very top-heavy and there's not a whole lot else in Counter-Strike getting any love, including development of our non-tournament content and semi-pro scene. And that's just a result of the sheer number of events on our schedule, how long they are, and how intensive their formats are. If we can address that combination of factors, we should be able to make this esport a little healthier for everyone involved.
Catering to the online viewer
As an esport, we do a terrible job of creating content. Whether that’s player, team, or community-based – anything that doesn't have to do with a live game of Counter-Strike. So exploring ways to reconnect with that core Counter-Strike audience is important, especially in how we interact with them while events are going on.
For the viewer, we've transitioned online but it still feels like we're trying to keep up LAN competition’s tone and intensity, probably leaving viewers with some level of fatigue. Essentially what we've done is taken the formula for casting big arena championships and brought them online. But with adapting everything else that we have in a broadcast, we’ve missed the opportunity to reconnect by adapting the style of our show to fit the circumstances. I look over at the LEC and admire the way they use their talent to build content that keeps fans engaged and entertained.
— LEC (@LEC) July 3, 2020
Tournament formats have been elongated to provide the most consistent results, but that chews up time and resources that could be spent on getting players more involved in the show or getting something unique like player profiles or deep tactical analyses of gameplay thrown into the broadcast.
It could be good to find a way to let the seriousness drop a little bit and have a little bit more fun, similar to the way that Beyond the Summits are run. We've gotten so accustomed to centering around tournament gameplay that we've kind of lost some of the fun ways to interact with our community and we can use this time to reconnect.
The biggest problem I've seen in esports is a lack of attention to the semi-pro scene. It is the one area of Counter-Strike that doesn’t get enough attention at all, despite probably gaining a little over the past year.
Right now, we just have the professional scene and it is all-consuming in Counter-Strike. That’s natural, everyone wants to see the best, but the top level of esports can't survive longer than its one-decade generation of gamers if there's no new blood that can consistently rise up and compete with the best.
— Jason O'Toole (@MosesGG) December 6, 2019
This online era would be the perfect timing to look at, fix, and restructure that scene and the content that can be created there. Counter-Strike is one of the deepest esports in terms of semi-pro’s competitiveness and the amount of potential that we have down there—but we don't give it any love while so preoccupied with the battle at the top.
It’s become super disorganized, with teams dying, players jumping to new teams or even games, and no real goals set. Especially with a new game like Valorant coming out right now, the biggest part of our scene that has been gutted has been semi-pro players who haven't made it to the top yet, and just see Valorant as a better opportunity at the moment.
A huge priority for Counter-Strike, especially right now, should be building a semi-pro scene that has a clear structure leading to the professional ranks, with more tools to find players, build rosters, and actually learn how to compete properly. And if we can create room to get more eyes on the up-and-coming, they’ll have more to play for and can experience progressive growth.
What online Counter-Strike means for a return to LAN
While online results are legitimate, it's hard to put a full force of weight behind them. At the moment, online play won’t shift teams up or down in my rankings or make me believe teams are trash or championship-caliber.
Instead, the community, and us as analysts, need to look at this online stretch as more of a barometer for judging teams when we get back to LAN. BIG finally showed that they can still be dangerous with this lineup, so will they still be dangerous when we get to LAN? Furia showed an aggressive style that historically seems to work better online, can that style keep up when we return to offline events? We can bring those storylines to the first LAN tournament and find out if teams can meet or exceed expectations.
We're away from arenas and that hurts the reliability of our results. But now we can turn it around, hit a pause on these massive costly events, re-evaluate the millions of dollars we spend building out arena events, and see if we should scale back some of those and relocate the money elsewhere.