Richard Lewis: Valve, now is the time to show CS:GO the love - Dexerto
CS:GO

Richard Lewis: Valve, now is the time to show CS:GO the love

Published: 4/Mar/2020 18:04 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:09

by Richard Lewis

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Another week of re-adjusting my sleep schedule, turning up to meetings with eyes like pissholes in the snow. Yes, whatever the timezone the big Counter-Strike tournament is in, I’m there, whether it means early mornings, late nights or foggy limbos.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.


It’d be hard to think of one I’ve missed these past fifteen years. That’s what this game does. Since moving to the US I barely set an alarm to catch the football and when it’s time for the NFL I know I can watch the games on catch-up with all the commercials stripped out. Who would have thought that for most of my adult life it’d be a video game that would be my sporting consistent?

When the original designers created the Counter-Strike Half-Life mod they probably didn’t realize just what they’d created. Ignore all the imbalanced and inaccurate weapons that were there at the start and instead focus on the game’s core. An idea so perfect in its simplicity. Two teams of five shooting each other, one team planting a bomb, one team stopping them. Win, and you get more money, potentially snowballing your advantage. Lose and suddenly you’re relying on skill and tactics to dig you out of the hole. This would be enough for a memorable game, a classic in the genre, but one that would fade as new fads came in.

Why Counter-Strike endures is the layers, that while it can be boiled down to the visceral thrill of shooting someone before they shoot you, the game gives you so much agency and freedom that it is never as easy as the best player wins. You can flank them, you can blind them, you can evade them with smoke, you can use teamwork and communication, you can fool them and if all of that fails the mechanics of the game even allow for a little bit of luck. Different guns, different maps, infinite possibilities. And all this is happening under the surface, there if you want to learn about it but not even necessary to appreciate the adrenaline rush that Counter-Strike delivers.

ESL
IEM Katowice 2020 set a viewership record for a non-major CS:GO event, despite the lack of a crowd.

This is why CS is unique among esports. Its format has endured for two decades. It has survived everything from a community split across different versions to global financial crashes. It has outlasted every competitor and killer that has come for its crown. Even now, in the Global Offensive era, it has yet to peak eight years after the game was released. This past week saw it become the number one game on Steam by a huge distance, with over 931,000 players online at once. IEM Katowice, the first real-world championship of 2020, attracted over a million simultaneous viewers, the kind of numbers we usually see reserved for the Valve approved majors. Top streamers and influencers are continuing to pick up and learn the game, admitting what we all know, that it is the greatest competitive FPS game ever created and its not even close. A new contender was revealed this week too and not only is that game a Counter-Strike clone, but their marketing is also a laundry list of long-time CS player complaints. Just know, we will come and dabble, we will grace your counterfeit with our presence but whatever we say we will not leave this game behind. It simply does not happen.

Safe to say Counter-Strike is my first love in this weird world of esports. It’s in the best place it has been for a long time and signs are that 2020 will only see it improve. I’ve been one of its biggest advocates at every level of esports I’ve operated at, from community meet-ups to corporate boardrooms. Yet, it’s got to be said, the one entity that seems to be decidedly unimpressed with all our achievements is Valve. This piece is really aimed at them. I’d just be preaching to the choir otherwise.

Riot Games
Valorant’s marketing crosshairs are unquestionably aimed at Counter-Strike players.

Now, don’t get me wrong, finally we’ve seen a shift in Valve’s thought process when it comes to leaving the Counter-Strike fields fallow. The free-to-play, Danger Zone patch came in at the end of 2018 and since then updates have been more frequent. We even got the Shattered Web Operation after two years without one. But let’s be honest here Valve, because I know at least one of you will read this, it’s nowhere near enough content or attention for the game that is now inarguably the flagship title of your company. The latest patches to Dota 2 saw player numbers drop dramatically. One year ago it had over a million peak players, now it is just over 650,000. I appreciate the balancing act for that game, for any MOBA, is insanely difficult. You have to try and create systems that don’t punish experienced players and newcomers, who will often be rubbing shoulders, in a game that takes 1000 hours to even comprehend the broad spread of the basics. If you simplify and streamline you lose the hardcore, if you add complexity you lose players to one of the more accessible replacements on the market. Dota is a gaming proposition like no other and it is a product you can be immensely proud of.

Yet the fact you try so hard to do this, having employees glued to subreddits to roll out hotfixes and implement patches, while Counter-Strike waits a year or longer between content, isn’t going unnoticed. I’m sure Dota is a more lucrative game. It’s clearly the one you all prefer playing. We know that Gabe Newell is probably running around as Weaver right now. But the Dota IP is giving you diminishing returns and will continue to do so. Artifact was a disaster, Underlords was a quick way to monetise a flavour of the month genre that is designed for the new generation of people who game on their mobile phones. I doubt it’s going to be anything other than a footnote in your portfolio. I will also say I have a suspicion this will be the first year that the crowdfunded prize pool of The International doesn’t go up.

Valve
The International set another record prize pool in 2019 – but can it keep the streak?

None of these things are probably considered metrics of success for a company that has always been known for their unique approach but just in case they are you do have a solution. There’s an audience full of people that would love to just give you their money. They would love to pay you for a Dota plus style match-making system with unlockable cosmetics and stat-tracking. They would love to part with their money for 128 tick server access and ranking up away from the free-to-play cheater accounts. We are all willing to fork out for new cosmetics and ways to support our favourite esports teams and players with in-game merchandise. And if those things don’t really sound all too interesting to the team, an operation every 3-6 months, like the old days, is definitely something that we’re all just itching to open our wallets for.

Now is definitely the time to start just giving us a little bit more attention at least. Not just because we’re number one right now, but because Valorant is round the corner and Riot Games are willing to do more pandering to the CS community than you, the game’s creators. You can’t just keep relying on the fact the game is great to keep people sticking around, even if it probably will work and has worked for twenty years. A commitment to content and development is not just what we want, it’s also what we deserve. And we’ll pay you for it. Our position as black sheep of the family remains baffling given the unwavering loyalty. You won’t see us lobbying the president because we didn’t get a seasonal mod. Hell, we’re grateful when the Twitter account says something.

It doesn’t need to be a cavalcade of corporate crossovers like Fortnite. You know what we want and you know how to monetize it. You’ve done it with your other games and now it’s our turn. It surely cannot be the case that we love your game more than you do. Maybe it is. We’ll be here playing whatever version exists in ten years. We’ll be watching a new generation of stars earn cheers from stadium crowds. It says something profound about the game that there’s no bitterness that it is transparently obvious you know that too and have used that as a justification for years of indifference.

CS:GO has something no other game you make does. I can show it to someone who has never seen it before and make them a fan in two minutes. I know I can do that because I have done that. I spoke to those people when we were taping ELEAGUE on US television, saw the people who brought their kids and expected to be bored in week one, and then saw them rocking a Cloud 9 jersey and screaming their lungs out by week four. I saw fans of other games who had never played an FPS title pick up Counter-Strike and uninstall whatever game they came from. It’s time to reward that loyalty before someone else comes along and does it instead.

Opinion

Adam Fitch: Esports fans don’t exist

Published: 8/Jan/2021 17:30 Updated: 9/Jan/2021 1:32

by Adam Fitch

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The agreed-upon definition of esports is a form of competition using video games and in 2021 it’s almost unanimously adopted across the industry, but there may be something counter-productive with the premise of being an ‘esports fan.’

The early years of competitive video games saw plenty of tentative, widespread naming conventions for the industry that was being built from the ground-up. In the past five or so years, ‘esports’ became the de facto umbrella term for the dozens of games that are played competitively.

It’s handy to have a colloquial term for the industry for several obvious reasons, I’d not debate that. I do believe it doesn’t matter too much what the term we collectively agree upon is, as long as it’s not offensive or overly-complex, though.

What I believe may matter in the future is the use of ‘esports fans’ — effectively generalizing and collating a wide range of sub-communities. There are circumstances where this isn’t harmful at all but it’s not helpful when trying to understand the demographics that support those that comprise the industry.

London Royal Ravens hosting their home series event
Call of Duty League
Call of Duty fans are generally unrecognizable when compared to League of Legends fans.

Mischaracterization helps nobody

Esports is segmented by nature, much like the music industry or traditional sports. There are different genres that are unique in nature, thus appealing to people in different ways. There are strategic titles that fall under the banners of real-time strategy, shooters, fighting games, MOBAs, battle royale, and so on.

Each genre stands on its own for a reason; games under a particular banner all share characteristics. Let’s delve into a scenario. 22-year-old Tim is a fan of Call of Duty, he enjoys the shooter gameplay and simple objectives of the game modes within the franchise. He’s not been able to find any interest in strategy games and he thinks Dota 2 is impossible to understand.

He has more chance of understanding and enjoying a game like Halo which, while standing alone in its gameplay, shares characteristics with CoD. Considering his established interest in shooter titles, he may well find something of intrigue in Halo or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive but it’s almost-guaranteed that League of Legends won’t be something he’d enjoy — or perhaps even understand — when spectating.

It wouldn’t be a big stretch by any means to call him a fan of shooters but not a fan of MOBAs. Now, let’s say he’s just become interested in watching the world’s best players battle it out against each other in Call of Duty because he wants to improve. He’s now a fan of Call of Duty esports.

League of Legends Louis Vuitton
David Lee/Riot Games
Louis Vuitton identified League of Legends Esports as good means of advertisement.

Companies of all nature should want to understand audiences. Knowing the interests, tendencies, characteristics, and demands of an audience allows a company to better serve them and subsequently, in theory, have a better chance of becoming successful. This is especially important for sponsors, who comprise a crucial percentage of the overall esports revenue.

Considering his preferences and competencies as a spectator, banding Tim together with 13-year-old MOBA fan Jenny as the same demographic would not be a good idea for many companies. There’s no overlap between Tim and Jenny besides their general interest in gaming — the chances of a company having a product that appeals to them both, even if it’s a new video game, is unlikely.

Segmentation helps everybody

We often generalize when we discuss esports, which is an industry that’s heavily-segmented by nature. If we want to better understand the numerous demographics we serve, we’re better off keeping them segmented. A generalization of all competitive League of Legends fans is more likely to be accurate than a generalization of those across several genres and the dozens of games under those departments.

This is true for regions, too. The living experience in the United Kingdom is vastly different in many ways than it is for somebody who’s based in China. There are cultural and societal differences that must be accounted for.

Now, there are anomalies. There are certainly consumers who enjoy shooters, MOBAs, and battle royales, for example, but there’s an exception to the rule. It’s hard to identify these people without extensive surveying, though this is something I’d hope to see in the future for a couple of reasons.

I don’t believe there’s too much harm to be made on a general basis when discussing esports, but it’s within the business of the industry when this occurrence is stupid. Executives who think they can tap into the ‘esports audience’ don’t really understand the industry, because there is not an esports audience.

Hopefully, as esports continues to progress and develop over the coming months and years, we can further acknowledge the nature of the industry for what it is and then have more informed and precise discussions — whether that’s when making an important decision or simply trying to advance each other’s thinking when it comes to the industry.