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CS:GO • Sep 18, 2019

Stuchiu’s Standpoint: The declining prestige of the Majors and how to increase it

Stuchiu’s Standpoint: The declining prestige of the Majors and how to increase it
Igor Bezborodov and StarLadder

In the last few years, the prestige of the CS:GO Majors has been lessened. While it is still the most important tournament in the calendar, it is no longer the shining star at the center of the CSGO universe. It is no longer enough for Majors to continue as they are, it is time to find ways to improve.

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The declining prestige of the Majors

The Majors used to be the biggest spectacles in the scene. That is no longer the case as some tournaments can not only compete with the Major, but are arguably even better than the Major. IEM Katowice, ESL One Cologne, and DreamHack Masters have a better competitive format and often produce better teams through their superior qualifying system. ESL One Cologne in particular has a history and legacy that no other tournament can match. Beyond the official Valve backing and the inherent legacy of a Major, the qualities of a major is no longer heads and shoulders above the typical tier-one CS:GO tournament.

Igor Bezborodov and StarLadder
The crowd at StarLadder Berlin

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This in turn has reduced the relative priority for teams attending the Major. In the past few years, we’ve seen multiple teams attend the Major with a lineup that differs from their future plans. The SK/MiBR players are the biggest offenders of this, but we’ve seen it recently with teams like ENCE who played with Aleksi 'Aleksib' Virolainen at the Berlin Major, despite plans to replace him with Miikka 'suNny' Kemppi. Additionally, the roster rules need to be reworked as the Majors have had multiple roster issues in the past few iterations.

Another problem is relative prestige. CS:GO fans will always draw comparisons to The International whenever the Dota 2 tournament comes around. The International has bigger prizes, community funding, and compendiums. When TI starts, all of the best talent gets hired for the event, whereas CS:GO Majors often try to skimp out on broadcast talent or observers. At least in StarLadder’s case, they were willing to add more talent as the event went on. In the case of FACEIT London, they had a chance to celebrate the UK Counter-Strike scene by getting big UK community figures like Paul “Redeye” Chaloner, Duncan “Thorin” Shields, and Richard Lewis on the desk. Instead we got a chicken on the desk and unlimited eggs.

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Things that Valve could do, but won’t

Beyond the issue of relative prestige, there's a definite lack of escalation when it comes to CS:GO Majors. The prize pool of the Dota 2 International increases year upon year. They have video features and documentaries that celebrate their players, teams, casters, small community figures, and funny skits. They always have bigger and bigger releases for their compendiums which enhance the game and celebrates their community figures. 

For instance, one of the most popular in-game chat wheel sounds is Owen 'ODPixel' Davies yelling “CEEEEEEEEEB”. CS:GO commentators have equally iconic moments that fans would buy in droves. I’d personally buy the “Inhuman Reactions” tagline and spam it any time I saw someone miss an easy spray for instance. Unfortunately, Valve have no interest in doing that for CS:GO.

Valve, for instance, will make an entire video feature about the small Japanese Dota 2 community. In comparison, when Auguste 'Semmler' Massonnat retired from CS:GO casting, Valve couldn’t be bothered to do any kind of content that celebrated his legendary career and impact on the CS:GO scene.

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If we’re looking at video features in specific, Valve have started to wind down rather than gear up. There haven’t been any video features highlighting players since ELEAGUE Boston. We haven’t seen any significant game updates that are comparable to what they’ve done in Dota 2.  While not every Major produces a graffiti-worthy moment, like coldzera's jumping double AWP shot from MLG 2016, we haven’t seen one produced since PGL Krakow.

Valve
The jumping coldzera graffiti

The biggest offense is the DMCA problems that surrounded the StarLadder Berlin Major. Valve immediately responded to those problems when they arose for the ESL One Genting Dota 2 tournament, but did nothing when it happened in CS:GO. For me this is the biggest indication that Valve just don’t have interest in improving the Majors along the same lines as The International. 

In fact, if you look at the improvements across the Majors, they largely come from the tournament organizers' side of things. ESL introduced better seeding and format at IEM Katowice. They also introduced the element of the IEM Grand Slam to it. ELEAGUE inserted their own documentary about Cloud9’s miracle run at Boston. StarLadder Berlin put together a stage that was TI-worthy and the finally nailed the "live music at esports event" concept with the guitarists used to introduce teams.

Considering all of these factors, it’s unlikely that Valve will put in the resources or time necessary to improved the Major. As that’s the case, I’ll focus on improvements that I think Valve might be willing to consider because they are low cost and low maintenance.

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History and Place, Time and Format

One of the first things to consider is location. CS:GO has a long history of TOs and venues. Among all of them, the one with the most history is ESL Cologne. It’s legacy, history, and consistency has been so incredible that it’s considered the unofficial third Major of the year.

Personally, I feel that ESL should be rewarded for establishing the Cathedral of Counter-Strike by making ESL One Cologne one of the two designated Majors each year. By doing this, the Majors can solidify a symbol of legacy in their Major circuit. The problem with this is that Valve seems to want to give different TOs a chance to host the Major to potentially help them, so this seems unlikely. I’ll address this problem in the potential solutions section, but I think there is a potential compromise to be had.

Adela Sznajder and ESL
The Cathedral of Counter-Strike, ESL One Cologne

The other thing to look at is the time and format. The past few CS:GO Majors were scheduled right after the player break. The players then played at the biggest tournament of the year with ring rust and this could result in sub-optimal games. This at least is no longer a problem though as Valve have already set the dates for the next two Majors to be in the middle of the season during May and November.

The bigger problem to look at is the current format of the Majors. The Major is split into three sections: the Challengers Stage, the Legends Stage, and the Champions Stage. It runs for a little over two weeks. The problem with this setup is that the group stages of the tournament (the Challengers and Legends Stage) lasts for ten days while the playoffs of the tournament lasts for four.

The best part of every tournament is the playoff elimination portion, but for some reason the CS:GO Majors give more time to the group stages than the playoff stages. The decision to eliminate most of the competition in the group stage means that more of the broadcast time has to be used to cover this stage.

A better solution is to copy or emulate what The International does. TI runs for a similar amount of time, a little under two weeks. Instead of running a group elimination stage, they have BO2 double round-robin that decides the seeding of the teams. The only teams that get eliminated from groups are the two teams who place dead last in their respective groups. From there, TI runs a double elimination format through the rest of the tournament. 

So where 66% of the CS:GO Majors spends their time on the group stages, TI spends only 40% of their time on the group stages and 60% of their time on the playoffs. The format doesn’t need to be a wholesale copy. CS:GO could keep the Swiss format, but make sure that instead of teams getting eliminated, they get seeded into the upper and lower brackets based on their performance in the group stages.

Connecting to the circuit and qualification

Back in July, CS:GO caster Matthew “Sadokist” Trivett tweeted his thoughts on the competitive scene.

"The grand slam is more impressive than a major. There, I said it."

This statement is worth breaking down as it gets to the heart of one of the big problems with the current Major: it’s complete lack of connection with the rest of the tournament year. The IEM Grand Slam is impressive because it forces the team to be consistently great over a prolonged period of time. It also connects the biggest tournaments into a larger narrative so when a team accomplishes the feat, they get a level of prestige and recognition that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

The Majors are not connected in anyway to the regular circuit and this creates a strange disconnect in the narrative, prestige, and quality of the tournament. The Legends teams are almost never the top 8 teams in the world. At the FACEIT Major London for instance, the best team in the world was Astralis, but they had to qualify through the Challengers stage. In contrast to that Quantum Bellator Fire (later Winstrike) didn’t do anything between their top 8 at ELEAGUE Boston and FACEIT London.

The seeding and qualification system of the Major implies that nothing outside of the Major matters. Nothing a team does during a season actually builds into an overarching narrative for the Major. The International in contrast has a clear qualification system. In the past a team was invited based on their performances in the year leading up to TI. In more recent times, they’ve given qualifier points at different tournaments throughout the year.

The DPC Solution

When you look at the problems of the declining prestige of the Majors, there is one potential solution that could solve a few of them. What is good about this particular solution is that it doesn't require crowd funding, compendiums, or a lot of money. It only requires a little bit of work and some changes to the format, but it could fix a lot of the problems that could instantly boost the prestige of the Majors.

I believe CS:GO should adopt the Dota Pro Circuit system of 2017-2018. For reference, you can look at this Liquipedia page which has an overview of the system. I’ll explain it briefly. Every tournament in the circuit is ranked as either a tier 1 or tier 2 event. Tier 1 events have a 1500 DPC points pool while Tier 2 events have 300 DPC points. By the end of the year, the 8 teams with the most DPC points qualified for TI. The remaining TI slots were divided up into the typical regional qualifiers.

In 2018-2019, Valve modified this system as there were multiple problems that arose with the system. There was no clear difference between the tier 1 and tier 2 events, a lack of quality control, and there were too many events trying to fill the space. None of those problems exist in the current CS:GO circuit. It’s fairly well established which of the events are tier 1 and which are tier 2. The TOs in CS:GO have been running tournaments for a long period of time and there isn’t a problem with the quality of the tournaments.

Valve
The stage at the International 2019

This particular system perfectly fits and fixes the current CS:GO ecosystem. It will connect the Majors to the rest of the circuit in a seamless way. By using this qualifying system, the Majors will always have a close approximation to the top 8 teams in the world. Earlier I mentioned how Valve wanted to help different TOs by allowing them to host the Major. This particular system is arguably a better way to help TOs as they will get to host their typical tournaments and be a part of the Major cycle without going into the red. 

It could potentially even help a tournament like ESL One Cologne. For instance, if ESL One Cologne doesn’t get the Major, Valve could still give them acknowledge that while they aren’t a Major, they are still a special tournament by giving them more DPC points compared to the usual Tier 1 event. They did this in the DPC 2017-2018 with the Chinese Dota2 Supermajor, where they gave that particular tournament far more DPC points compared to normal. 

This system is also great for fans as it will standardize formats for tier 1 events. In Dota you needed a certain amount of teams, prize pool, and competitive format to qualify for DPC points. If Valve instituted that in CS:GO, then a TO like BLAST would have to fall more in line and fans would get a far better tournament as a result.

The time to strike is now

Valve have already started to take steps to make the Majors better. The biggest thus far was the rescheduling of the Majors to be during the season instead of the player break. While it was a step in the right direction, there is more that can be done. CS: GO doesn’t need a TI and it is incredibly unlikely that it will ever happen, no matter how much the community begs for it.

Even so, there are other cost-efficient ways to increase the prestige of the Majors. Adopting the DPC system connects the Majors to the rest of the circuit, helps the TOs, and fixes the qualifying system. That in turn could allow TOs to change the format of the Majors to be more akin to The International. That alone could easily boost the current prestige and that is more critical than ever as the CS:GO circuit continues to accelerate and grow. The prestige of the Majors needs to be upheld and just as the CS:GO scene has grown, so too must the Majors.

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