Moses column: How online CS:GO can be a painful blessing in disguise - Dexerto
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Moses column: How online CS:GO can be a painful blessing in disguise

Published: 15/Jul/2020 19:38 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:07

by Jason O'Toole

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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. 

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.

The grind

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. 

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.

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.

Semi-Pro Scene

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.

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. 

Moses ESL
ESL
The online era shouldn’t shift power rankings, but should dictate storylines we bring back to LAN.

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.

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Adam Fitch: Sorry Dr Disrespect, mobile esports are thriving

Published: 27/Nov/2020 17:00

by Adam Fitch

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Earlier in November 2020, streamer Dr Disrespect spoke down towards mobile gamers on Twitter by questioning how it could be a “serious thing” — however, he’s just failing to understand how popular competition on mobile already is.

While mobile gamers and industry figures alike came to the defense of mobile gaming when the Two-Time took aim at the platform, there’s still a serious misconception around mobile esports and the success it’s already achieved.

Firstly, it’s worthwhile addressing the “serious” comment from Doc. While mobile devices perhaps don’t allow for precision that PCs do, there’s still a major skill gap between average and professional players and that lends itself perfectly to competition. The most common and widely-accepted definition of esports is a “video game played competitively for spectators,” mobile tournaments meet such a criteria on a daily basis and it’s already serious to hundreds of thousands of viewers on a weekly basis.

This skepticism from one of the faces of gaming is emblematic of a larger problem of platform elitism that plagues gaming on all levels. Ever since the popularization of esports there has been debate between console and PC gaming, centering around not only which type of players are better but whether console esports have unfair advantages due to features such as aim assist.

Ezreal in League of Legends Wild Rift
Riot Games
The most popular esports title, League of Legends, arrived on mobile in October 2020.

Tribalism is also a factor in this spritely, never-ending discussion, with players grouping together based on their platform of choice and nonsensically taking aim at those who have other preferences.

The only time in which such a debate would be productive is if cross-platform play is embraced in serious competition, which seems to be a long way away from ever becoming a reality. Fortnite developers Epic Games received plenty of criticism when implementing this feature in casual play, never mind in their esports activities, so it’s probably safe to assume no companies are rushing to make this a reality for the time being.

Infrastructure matters

Something that all good games need to be viable on a competitive level is infrastructure. Creating an appropriate structure for esports initiatives is important, whether it’s by a game’s developer or a third-party tournament organizer.

A great example of this in the realm of mobile esports is Clash Royale, one of the more popular titles from Finnish developers Supercell. The real-time strategy game has its own official team-based league from the company themselves, with top-tier gameplay spanning nine weeks and culminating in a year-ending world championship. This level of support and structure actually goes beyond what some PC and console games receive.

On the third-party organizer front, especially in the West, you only have to look as far as ESL to see how seriously mobile esports is being taken. As well as hosting regular online events for the likes of Call of Duty: Mobile, Clash of Clans, Brawls Stars, and Clash Royale, they have the ESL Mobile Open for elite players.

Clash Royale League World Finals
Supercell
The Clash Royale League World Finals are always a spectacle, rivaling events in almost any other game.

Recently incorporating the Middle East and North Africa into the European arm of the competition, it’s said that ESL hosted over 500,000 players in the inaugural season alone. The second season involves PUBG Mobile, Auto Chess, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Clash of Clans, and will be expecting even more success with the widening of the player base.

In North America, the Mobile Open from ESL is already in its sixth season and has a headline sponsorship from the world’s largest telecommunications company, AT&T. There are other examples of infrastructure being fleshed out for mobile titles, but you get the gist.

A sight for sore eyes

One major factor of how we define success in esports is viewership. With a healthy amount of eyeballs on a product comes sponsorship opportunities, bragging rights, and further validation that fans are interested in watching the elite face off against each other.

With that in mind, it’s never been clearer that mobile esports isn’t just a major part of the future of the industry — it has already arrived. According to analytics agency Esports Charts, mobile events made up three of the five most popular tournaments in October 2020. This happened alongside the League of Legends World Championship taking place, which is not only one of the most anticipated occasions in the esports calendar but as it turned out to be one of the only LAN events we’d seen in six months.

Garena Free Fire
Garena
Free Fire hit a record of 100 million peak daily users earlier in 2020.

Asia and Latin America are where mobile esports are truly thriving at the moment, rivaling the popularity of any other title you decide to compare them with. This is proven from last month’s peak viewership statistics, where MOBA title Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and battle royale game Garena Free Fire occupied three of the top five placements.

Ryan ‘Fwiz’ Wyatt, the head of gaming at YouTube, posted a thread on Twitter on November 26 backed up the sheer popularity of Free Fire on the platform. In 2019, it was YouTube’s fourth most-viewed game and it’s proving to have some longevity considering its monthly viewership peaked in October 2020.

While this level of success isn’t replicated across all regions just yet, that’s how esports typically work. Call of Duty and Counter-Strike are mainly popular among those in North America and Europe, for example, which is reflected in the demographics of both the top-level players and the viewership alike. The same applies to mobile but it’s not an excuse for ignorance.

The future?

Mobile devices are generally more accessible than a high-end computer or new-generation gaming console so there’s a much higher ceiling on participation in mobile esports by default. Whether adoption from mobile users does indeed propel it into becoming the de facto competitive option is yet to be seen, but such potential can’t be ignored.

With viewership rivaling (and even oftentimes besting) that from console and PC esports alike, it’s sheer ignorance to state that mobile gaming isn’t already a major player in the industry. If you fail to see that from the investment that’s being funneled into mobile titles, or the number of people who already enjoy playing and spectating, then perhaps you’d like to argue that grass isn’t green too.