TSM want to be a force in CSGO again. Just not overnight.
TSM’s VP of Esports Dominic Kallas discusses the organization’s vision for their return to CS:GO in an exclusive interview with Dexerto.
When TSM revealed their intention to compete in CS:GO again from 2023 in Europe, the news was met with a mixture of excitement and surprise in the scene.
TSM last competed in CS:GO in late 2016, their time in Valve’s FPS title ending in acrimony following a dispute with their North American team over the exclusivity proposed by the now-defunct Professional Esports Association for its league (which never got off the ground because of the controversy surrounding it). In the years that followed, there was not so much as a hint that TSM was monitoring the scene and weighing up a return.
The announcement came just two weeks after Riot Games unveiled the ten teams for its Valorant partnership league in the Americas region. Despite topping Forbes’ list of the most valuable esports companies at $540 million and having grandiose competitive plans for Valorant, TSM were among the organizations left out in the cold.
There have been suggestions that the return to CS:GO came in response to the Valorant snub. But the two situations are unrelated, according to Dominic Kallas, who assures that the wheels were set in motion at the start of 2022, shortly after he was hired from Gen.G to help steer TSM’s esports department.
“Internally, we started talking about it in January,” he tells Dexerto. “I was already communicating in May that we were going to be looking at a European CS:GO team. Regardless of whether or not we got accepted into the partnership program, we would field a CS:GO team in 2023.
“This is more of getting the news out there early so that we can start the process. It’s to get our fans excited and start building an organic fanbase in Europe.”
TSM are going full circle with their decision to compete in Europe, having entered CS:GO in 2015 with a promising Danish lineup that included Nicolai ‘device’ Reedtz, Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth, and Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen. The team competed under TSM’s banner for a year before moving to Astralis.
Back then, TSM were “super aggressive” in their approach, according to CEO Andy ‘Reginald’ Dinh, and became involved in a bidding war for the Danish team, driving up salaries and improving players’ contract negotiation power scene-wide in the process.
But this time around, they will be doing things differently. Instead of going out and splashing the cash on an elite lineup, TSM will be taking small steps on their way to the top. Kallas will spend some time on the ground, working in tandem with a yet-to-be-appointed General Manager on finding talent and setting up the right infrastructure for the team.
“I think we will be looking at HLTV top 30 talent,” he says. “It’s not like we’re going to pick up a bunch of rookies. I think it could be a mix of rookies and players that are on other teams.
“I think there’s still very much an idea that we want to pick up players from relatively the same region just because you need to have the same ideologies, right? It’s very much [about] narrowing in on a region we want to put our time and effort behind. Making sure that the GM, the players and the coach are all aligned on how to play the game but are also okay with spending so much time together.”
Kallas does not wish to elaborate on the kind of profile that fits this General Manager role, but he makes it clear that the person hired will be solely responsible for the CS:GO team.
“This isn’t the kind of game where you can enter and do things as a side project,” he notes. “This needs to be a full-time effort. So it’s very much a structure of finding a GM, a coach, a strong team manager, and likely a small analyst crew to go along with that as well.”
Moving away from North America
Kallas has clearly done his homework on the CS:GO scene. He knows how “brutal” the landscape of the esport in Europe is and how quickly today’s mainstays can become tomorrow’s has-beens. A handful of bad decisions can prove disastrous and set a team back several months.
It would be easier, one would think, for TSM to simply invest in North America. The competition is less fierce and there are a number of unsigned players yearning for an opportunity after the exodus of organizations to Valorant. This would also give TSM the chance to play a key part in the revitalization of the scene in the region.
The explanation for the decision to compete in Europe is twofold. Firstly, the move is part of TSM’s expansion plans as it looks to increase its global presence after venturing into the Japanese, Indian and Brazilian markets. “The idea is to have a strong footprint within Europe so we can reach our European fans,” Kallas says. “We have always been a global company, so we are just continuing to expand on that. One of our most popular players, and one who has been with us the longest, is [Swedish FGC player] Leffen.”
Secondly, CS:GO remains a European-centric esport, with the region constantly producing the best players in the game. TSM are not in it just to win domestically — “There are higher ambitions [than that] with TSM,” Kallas explains — or be also-rans at Majors. And that means being present in the strongest region.
“It’s like, if we’re going to be in an esport, let’s find a way to win world championships,” he notes. “Let’s not just be in an esport to be in an esport.
“Whether it’s Katowice, whether it’s the BLAST Pro Major in France, we want to be on the biggest stage and we want to give our fans something to cheer about. I think you’re going to hear TSM chants in every stadium where you go. If we can actually do that with having our players on stage, I think that’s the ultimate goal.”
TSM will have to work hard to win over the skeptics who still remember just how poorly the Danish CS:GO team was managed in 2015. The players’ relationship with TSM quickly became rocky over sponsorship obligations, and there were criticisms that the organization barely gave attention to the team on social media, despite the success it was enjoying.
“At that time there were like ten people here, and now we’re at 155,” Kallas says. “The company has scaled to another level and we have built the infrastructure to be able to support teams globally.
“We have the resources and we have the commitment to make sure that we have content that is being captured at these events, whether that’s through full-time [people] or contractors who are just jumping from event to event. A lot of different teams have different models and we will obviously get that sorted. This is going to be a core team for TSM here in the future, so we will obviously invest to show that.”
Finding the right pieces
CS:GO fans were surprised at Kallas’ revelation that TSM had “already started discussions with ESL and BLAST” about how the CS:GO division can be successful in Europe “through long-term partnerships.”
Many immediately took that as a sign that TSM are looking to enter the ESL Pro League and BLAST Premier circuits in 2023 already. The former recently expanded by three teams to 15 in a $20 million deal, while the latter has had 12 teams since its inception.
However, Kallas notes that his comments may have been taken “a little bit out of context.”
“I think it’s more of just finding the right tournament type of circuit that we can be part of for the whole year,” he explains. “For us, it’s working with those guys to figure out, ‘Hey, what is the right tournament cycle for us?’ Depending on our players, how do we slot into these programs longterm?
“I don’t think it’s going to be immediate. I think that in either of those systems you need to show that you’re going to be a good partner. I think you need to show that you have talent that is worthy of being in those leagues. Granted, some of those partner teams probably don’t have the talent to warrant being in those leagues.”
Right now, there is no timeline set for TSM to enter CS:GO, though fans can expect more updates within the next three months. In the last two weeks, he has had “a lot of players flood my DMs” with requests about joining the team, but he insists that he won’t be rushed into making decisions.
There is a chance that TSM will have a lineup in time for the BLAST Major qualifiers, but it’s no guarantee. 2023 will be a Year Zero scenario, in which TSM will be focused on getting the right European infrastructure in place. 2024 will be the true acid test of their credentials, the year when they hope to rub shoulders with the CS:GO elite.
“We’ve set the goal internally that at the end of 2023 we will hopefully be a top-15, top-10 team, and then by 2024 to be a top-five team,” he says.
“I’m not going to come out and say, ‘Our goal is if we don’t reach number one, we have screwed up’. We want to field a competitive roster but we also understand that it’s going to take a little bit of time to put all the pieces together.”