Richard Lewis: Valorant – The Game Review - Dexerto
Opinion

Richard Lewis: Valorant – The Game Review

Published: 11/May/2020 2:15 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:19

by Richard Lewis

Share


After being provided early access by Riot Games directly, I figured it’d be appropriate to write up a review of Valorant, their latest game and first foray into the FPS genre.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been around gaming since we were loading things via cartridge and cassette, I’ve held positions as a games reviewer as far back as the late 90s and have been writing about competitive gaming for over fifteen years. Most of that work has been localized to FPS titles, although nowhere close to exclusively, and I’ve played and reported on every version of Counter-Strike including Condition Zero.

Advertisement

Some of those qualities might make you think I’m biased and I suppose there’ll be a grain of truth to that. I believe Counter-Strike to be the pinnacle of team based competitive FPS titles. I think most people do too. I think Riot Games do too, which is why their new game has so much in common with it. Hopefully because of that background, it makes me equipped to give some insight into why I have enjoyed my time with the game but also qualify me to identify some of its shortcomings. I will be dividing this review into parts and this one will focus primarily on the graphics and gameplay, with a more in-depth look at the balance and competitive aspects to follow.

CLIENT

The first thing that is worthy of praise is the overall design of the client. For many years, League of Legends players have had to endure a client that at various points looked awful, would frequently crash, was full of memory leaks and lagging issues, and just about any other problems you can envision.

Advertisement

Even as recently as two months ago, Riot, not exactly known for acknowledging their mistakes, admitted in a blog post that “the client is not in great shape.” This is a clean and modern client, free from clutter, and while player profiles might be a bit plain, everything else looks and functions great.

Menus pop out when you hover over them to create space, friends lists are very clear and prominently featured, stats from previous games are easily accessed and clearly presented. It puts some older game clients to shame, including League of Legends.

Riot Games
The client is great.

GRAPHICS 

Public critique of Valorant’s art direction has varied wildly. Its more vocal detractors have dismissed it as cheap-looking, cartoony and bland in the way many mobile gaming titles have to utilize due to system limitations. Those who like the style praise its clarity, its cleanness and character design. Your viewpoint will mostly come down to what you are looking for in a game and how highly you value both graphical vibrancy and realism.

Advertisement

By now most will know that Valorant’s art director is the legendary Moby Francke, formerly of Valve and perhaps best known for his design work on Team Fortress 2. It’s obvious to anyone who played that game that Francke has gone back to that well for inspiration and it shows everywhere. The red and blue theme is woven into this game too, just more subtly. Cold metallic hallways lead into courtyards enclosed in warm pink and orange walls. Characters have that same gradient coloration from bottom to top. Broad strokes of color are used over small details. Characters stand out with a crispness when placed against the backgrounds. 

Personally I think the art design in this game is very well done. It falls short of the greatness of TF2 but all of the principles that made that game something special to look at are applied here and can be improved upon as we get more maps, more characters and more mechanics. When you consider all the balls Riot were trying to juggle here, the fact they’ve not dropped one is worthy of praise. The game looks good while moving away from realistic depictions of war and violence, it performs well and doesn’t lose much of its fidelity when settings are turned down for lower-end machines, and there are none of the issues that impact on competitive integrity such as certain skins being “camouflage” on certain maps.

Riot Games
The graphics might make it look like it’s for children, but there’s more than meets the eye.

 

There’s a reason why the graphics are likely to be a bone of contention for many. There’s no getting away from the fact that when we think about competitive shooters, we think of those that lean to more realistic depictions of real world violence. It’s no coincidence that those that try to circumnavigate age restrictions by leaning into a cartoon style, such as Fortnite, are often dismissed as not having a high skill ceiling.

Advertisement

The perception is that because the game looks like it should appeal to children, that indeed children can play it, then the skill required must inherently be tailored to children. Often this is fine because the developers of such games aren’t trying to push them as hardcore esports titles and instead content themselves with the broader market share and revenue such an approach grants them. 

In the grand scheme of things, none of this should matter but social media chatter does have a huge impact on perceptions around a game and until a hardcore community is fostered, what people say that might drive people away from a game absolutely matter. Those more traditional thinkers about what a competitive shooter should look like might be quick to dismiss Valorant but there’s certainly a more demanding competitive experience here than the packaging suggests.

Advertisement

CHARACTER ART

Similarly the art design for the characters is also extremely good if just again falling short when compared to TF2. Similar to that game we can draw a lot of conclusions about the personality of each of the characters without it being explicitly said. We know Phoenix is immediately young, brash, arrogant but talented from the way he carries himself and pops his collar. We know Brimstone is the grizzled veteran who has seen it all from his gray-flecked beard and large frame. Similarly names, while hardly high literature, all tell us about their abilities and who they are. It feels informed from 80s cartoons (think Thundercats), which is no bad thing if you’re of my generation, but given a contemporary twist. It’s very good.

I want to congratulate Riot for avoiding the temptation to pad out the game with lore, instead letting players learn about characters from throwaway voice lines and Easter eggs. Keep it like that. As we’ve seen with Overwatch, once you start ramping up the amount of lore surrounding your game, you turn the casual player into freaks and crazies who care more about the narratives surrounding characters than things such as game balance.

Suddenly, in their eyes, a needed nerf becomes an “unforgivable attack” on a signature character and the people who play it. Weeks of bad press and screeching until the next drama comes rolling into town. There are some games that benefit from lore, such as RPGs, but online shooters are not one of them. The characters here are all distinct, unique and thematically strong. You’ll get all the benefits of the fan art and discussion without the crazies that act like Kathy Bates in Misery. 

Simply put, I don’t need a cinematic about the time Brimstone took Phoenix on a lads holiday to Magaluf to appreciate the game and what these characters do in-game. Character-based shooters need to have enough about the choices so that we can appreciate the differences but also remain vague enough that they are your avatar on the server. You pick the skillset not the personality, as it should be.

GAMEPLAY

So, onto the big question; how does the game actually play? In true Riot Games fashion, what they have looked to do is take concepts from already existing titles and simplify them for the purposes of mass appeal. The game’s DNA is about 70% Counter-Strike, 15% TF2, 10% Overwatch and 5% of new ideas and innovations that the developers have brought to the table.

There is again significant ambition in what is being attempted. All of the games it borrows from all have much steeper learning curves. This is most likely the rationale behind lifting so much from CS, even to the point that the main guns are like for like copies with knowing winks like the best sniper rifle being called an “operator” so you can ask for an “op” a close phenetic match for “AWP.” It is something that will be immediately familiar to the audience they crave to lure over. When I played with Riot staff, they called the guns by their CS names. It’s not so much a love letter as it is copied homework.

But if you are going to emulate something then choose the best. Were Oasis bad because they borrowed heavily from The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and Marc Bolan? How many tunes did the Rolling Stones steal from the blues? Here Valorant’s gunplay is undeniably satisfying. Bullets connect with a solid crunch, augmented at times by a chord strike of music that ramps up the adrenaline. There’s rarely a moment you feel that the game cheated you with poor hit registration.

Where the game fails to live up to CS’s impeccable standards are in two key areas: recoil control and quick-scoping. The time it takes a gun to reset after recoil and the general accuracy and spread make highlight reel spraydowns such a rare thing when compared to CS. There’s no getting around that, it’s just how things are designed right now. Those moments when a rush out of the b-site tunnels on dust2 is shut down in two seconds by a controlled AK spray will not be replicated here and maybe Riot don’t want them to be. Strange when you consider how close the game emulates CS in so many other areas.

Valve
It doesn’t quite live up to Counter-Strike’s gameplay.

By the same token because “quick-scoping” isn’t a feature of the game, combined with the slow movement speed, you’re never going to see an impossibly quick takedown of a push by one man with a big gun. There’s no risk versus reward consideration for playing aggressively in a defensive scenario such as this. You WILL be traded quickly because the game engine limitations do not allow for any other outcome unless the players you are against are woefully inept. No, patience is the way… Hold the angle, take the shot, readjust, hold an angle. This might be more in line with the real world mindset of snipers but who wants that when you can have a godlike aimer make a hero play only possible due to gamesense, reaction time and the luck you create from having the balls to try it?

I think overall hardcore CS players will be initially satisfied and then mostly disappointed. Valorant has the foundations laid down perfectly yet it has built little above them for those coming from Counter-Strike. Mostly those players will have to take the learning of the abilities and timings as the part that satisfies their yen for improvement because tap-tap gunplay is something any decent level CS player has already spent years perfecting.

I’ve been intrigued by people saying the game is CS with training wheels when many of the core mechanics handle like CS 1.6, the version most believe to be the one that required the most skill. Slower movement, absolutely brutal tagging (slower movement speed when hit by bullets) and slow recoil resets after spraying with a gun should sound familiar. Yet there is something fundamentally easier when it comes to mastery of this game over any version of Counter-Strike and I would agree a comparison to 1.6 would be a blasphemy of sorts, even though I suspect when someone does hardcore analysis the two games are closer than anyone would want to admit.

Even though Riot should get some mockery for their ludicrous statement that “you don’t kill with abilities” in Valorant, the dirty secret about the game is that, with one or two broken exceptions, a casual player can run around and pop heads without even thinking about their abilities. This obviously isn’t true of some of the games it borrows from but it is proof that Counter-Strike remains the largest ingredient in the game’s recipe.

The in-game economy also borrows heavily from Counter-Strike in how money is accrued and withheld yet it is infinitely more generous. While there are still requirements that you will need to save money some rounds to ensure a better gun and armour in another, you can almost always buy something that makes you viable if you want to disregard that. It’s another area where Riot have simplified a concept that might not be understood by novice FPS players. 

Oh, and the buy menu and the way it works is actually the best of its kind that I’ve seen. Accidentally buy a weapon you didn’t want? Don’t worry, as long as you’re in buy time you can just take it back. Someone needs a gun bought for them? They request it via a button and you deliver it via a button. No more clumsy dropping a gun on the floor and risking someone else stealing it in pubs. You can request a buy three times, each time the voice line become more severe but after that you can’t request again, which stops irritating spam. I’d actually love to see Counter-Strike steal these features and implement them.

Overall I felt right at home in this game and I imagine most players will. It has stripped out a lot of the aspects that give CS its depth but what it gains in doing that is removes the intimidation factor. It has new player friendly heroes, it has clean gunplay, it is a pick up and play game that will have you settled in to the basics very quickly. Valorant also manages to throw up moments of pure joy, with abilities that require imagination and quick wits to use to their full ability.

Even in this closed beta phase I can tell you it has everything a game needs to have mass appeal and succeed in delivering those dopamine releasing moments that we all play for. Those of us from the Counter-Strike world may find it hard to disregard our elitist streak and not without reason but Valorant, upon release, will immediately sit alongside the best FPS games on the market. Go and look at all the other failed attempts down the years and tell me that isn’t an achievement. The long term success of the game will be determined by a steady stream of content and tinkering, which if Riot’s time in League of Legends is anything to go by will be forthcoming. At launch, the players will be there.

UP NEXT

Continuing my review of the game, the next segment will focus mostly on the competitive aspects of the game and what needs to be changed before it leaves beta. I will also talk about its viability as an esport and what the future could hold in terms of tournament play. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll return for more of my thoughts in a day or two.

CS:GO

Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 2)

Published: 14/Sep/2020 19:13 Updated: 14/Sep/2020 21:45

by Richard Lewis

Share


The second part of an exploration into MiBR’s legacy and their core players who were once the unquestioned faces of competitive CS:GO, but had their prestige eroded by skirting conflicts of interest, consistently poor performances, and more. (You can read the full first part of this post here)


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

Advertisement

Where we left off last time we were about to segue into another reason why the MiBR core had gone on to become so disliked by common fans; and that was their litany of excuses they come up with to explain away defeats. However, in the few days between publishing this second and final piece, something extraordinary happened.

The team’s long-standing coach and manager, Ricardo ‘dead’ Sinigaglia, was given a six-month ban from participating in ESL competitions for using an in-game bug to ascertain information about the opposite team. The offense, ESL said, took place during the Road to Rio competition places the violation squarely in the same timeframe as the team went off the deep end with public allegations made against Chaos and their young players, going into an apoplexy that ruined the reputation and compromised the safety of two young and upcoming players.

Advertisement

Of course, Singaglia went down the predictable route of feigned confusion and denial, claiming he had been sent a clip from the CS Summit 6 event that showed the bug in action against Triumph. The clip he made public was, of course, edited to make it look like it was a simple error that garnered them no advantage at all. When the full clip was posted it showed Singaglia not only following Triumph players around on a crucial pistol round but also his teammates then lying about the coach being AFK after the round was won.

Beyond The Summit took the decision to ban Singaglia from the next two of their events and retroactively disqualify MiBR from the event. Valve have also subsequently stripped them of all Regional Major Ranking points, which is less of a punishment as CS:GO Majors have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

With these latest sanctions issued against MiBR they are the only professional team in CS:GO history to have been caught and punished three times for cheating at major events. The timing of these revelations is too perfect and underlines everything stated in the first part: these players think rules do not apply to them while publicly masquerading as the only honest competitors in a rotten scene.

Advertisement

Conflict Of Interest Violations

Speaking candidly I was surprised that ESL took action at all given that there was an even more egregious violation of competitive rules enacted by the Brazilians. On the 23rd of April 2020, in the North American Road To Rio competition for the Valve sanctioned CS:GO Major, MiBR took on another Brazilian team simply called “Yeah.” The brand name is another throwback to Counter-Strike 1.6 and thanks to some investors they were resurrected at the start of 2018. Now here for the potential to play in the biggest tournament in the CS:GO calendar, they were taking on MiBR for the first time since their return to action. This sounds like a great story, right? Well, if you look a little closer you’ll find plenty that will make you realize that this match should never have happened and would not have happened in any other professional sport.

Let’s start with those investors. Can you guess who they are? As the kids say “it’s ya boi” Epitácio ‘TACO’ de Melo and the aforementioned and freshly banned Singaglia. Both of them are in for a 25% share each, giving them essentially a controlling influence in the team through direct ownership alone.

mibr yeah gaming csgo esl one
ESL
MiBR and Yeah Gaming played a qualifier match in April for ESL One: Road to Rio.

You might recall that back in November of 2019 Valve said they were going to have a big clampdown on conflict of interests in the competitive CS:GO space. This came after years of work from beat journalists, myself included, having to catch multiple moneymen with their hands all the way in the monopolistic cookie jar. I’ve been doing it for years and at great cost to my bank balance, sanity and hairline (still not insisting broadcasts allow me to wear a hat yet though.) “Finally,” I thought reading this blog, “I have dented the financial membrane of Valve and got them to care about the thing that matters most to any competitive pursuit; its integrity.”

Advertisement

I must have temporarily forgotten I was referring to a game developer, which is easily done with Valve at times. In the grand scheme of priorities, the top three of which are all variations of “add gold to the hoard,” the matter of allowing player-owned teams to compete against the players that own those teams are so way down it’d give you vertigo to look at them. Combine that with the usual lack of communication (Valve’s philosophy is “we’ll tell you when something happens we don’t like or if it upsets China.”)

Incredibly this game was scheduled despite the fact that the players had disclosed ownership in writing prior to the competition. And to be fair, it was no secret to begin with. Yet there is something beyond distasteful about a team who have spent so much time complaining about how they are victimized by big tournament organizers seemingly oblivious to just what was being ignored here. Oh, and it gets worse.

Advertisement

The parent company of MiBR, the Immortals Gaming Club, are such suckers for all things Brazilian they’ve either bought all the businesses their players own or created working business relationships with them. So it is that the parent company of MiBR pays an annual fee to Yeah that enables them to buy any two players they wish from the organization at “an agreed-upon price.” This means that Yeah is in essence the academy team for MiBR. And they played against them in a qualifier. For the Major.

MiBR beat Yeah Gaming 2-0 in their opening match on the Road to Rio.

Incredibly the result still stands to this day and neither team has been disqualified. Valve completely bottled the issue when, in a statement to HLTV.org, they went back on their previous stance and instead said: “The sole requirement for ESL One: Road to Rio was that participating teams disclose existing conflicts of interest and that those disclosures be made public so that the community can have an opportunity to discuss them.”

I’ve been covering Counter-Strike now for over fifteen years. I’m qualified to say this. The average fan doesn’t even understand what a conflict of interest is, let alone grasp why it matters within the context of a tournament. While there was discussion in the CSGO community, these were punctuated with the usual moronic arguments; “why does it matter” or “are you saying that Yeah would throw a game just because they were told” or “But Yeah are so bad they can’t beat MiBR anyway.” That last one becomes especially hilarious when you consider their recent defeat against the team ranked 64th in the world Wisla Krakow.

So, even though there are multiple pathways in which a match between these two teams could be compromised, the “resolution” was for Valve and ESL to come to an agreement that as long as MiBR divest themselves before the Major itself in November (which, let’s be real, isn’t happening anyway) it is perfectly fine for any matches prior to that, such as qualifiers for that tournament, to be compromised. Man, people really do pick on those MiBR guys, don’t they?

Why Does Everybody Pick On The MiBR Guys?

There are few groups of players as humorless as the core of MiBR who’ve shown themselves to be over their careers. Despite the numerous examples of clearly preferential treatment they have received over their careers they seem to remain utterly convinced that everyone is out to get them. The record shows them to be some of the most widely praised players in the history of the game, their dominant era seeing them rightly showered with plaudits. By the same token, there is a significant blind spot in the community when it comes to behavior that would see other entities “canceled” in the current environment. I won’t get into the fact that the players have openly supported Jair Bolsonaro because, frankly, we should all be tired of playing the very American ‘gotcha game’ that the Twitterati have made a national pastime. However, there are some actions that usually carry consequences.

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant momentum in carrying its message to a much wider global audience. This brought with it a wave of corporate statements keen to capitalize on positive messaging at this time. MiBR were no different. On the 1st of June they posted a message to their official Twitter account in both Portuguese and English. It read: “No to fascism. Yes to respect. No to racism. Yes to diversity. Killing? Just in a game. In real life, just life. The only acceptable supremacy is respect for our differences. The differences unite us, and the respect doesn’t separate us.”

 

Fernando ‘Fer’ Alvarenga streams on Twitch regularly by professional player standards. During a broadcast just two days after MiBR’s statement about respecting differences and rejecting notions of supremacy, Alvarenga made comments to a viewer that his straight hair was “good” and that the viewer’s Afro-textured hair was making them angry. This also has significant cultural overtones given Brazil’s long-standing history of racism towards the country’s population that are of African descent, including a period in their history where they implemented eugenics to increase the European descended population. The message in and of itself is horrendous with this analysis but the timing of it, the way it actively contradicted MiBR’s public stance, meant that it would be almost impossible to ignore. Almost.

MiBR’s response was to put out an apology only in Portuguese, one would assume to avoid the wider world noticing their acknowledgment of the player’s culpability. There was nothing directly from Alvarenga.

As is the usual strategy for the organization their statement went to great lengths to explain how words can sometimes be divorced from intent. “We all know, sometimes, language or phrases have, if taken to the extreme, a set of implications or meanings disconnected from the speaker’s intention” their apology read. “However, it cannot be an excuse to hide behind it. Fer knows and recognizes this type of language feeds a narrative that is wrong and deeply damaging. Instead of hiding, he faced the problem and apologized.” The story did the rounds but, despite it being the worst possible thing to say at the worst possible time, nothing really came of it. Weird, given the extreme amount of bias and hostility that the players believe they face.

So, I’ll just state it plainly: had this been someone from any other team, broadcast or media company, they would have been fired and on an indefinite vacation. Inflammatory, racially dividing statements at a time when people were addressing systemic racial inequality would have been, rightly, viewed as inappropriate for any other professional. When you factor in that Alvarenga had been banned from Twitch previously for using racial epithets to describe who he was playing within America it’s hard to fathom how MiBR players think they have anything other than an incredibly privileged position in the esports landscape.

Despite MiBR’s claims that the player had been fined and warned it doesn’t seem that the player learned any significant lessons about expressing bigotry on his platform. The same month, following the aforementioned dispute with Furia, Alvarenga went on a tirade about the Furia players that made some charged comments about “taking it in the ass” and “not being a man.” This was ignored by all parties.

kNg – The Law Unto Himself

Vito ‘kNg’ Giuseppe is a relative newcomer to top tier Counter-Strike. He has, however, wasted no time in establishing himself as belonging squarely in the company of his fellow teammates when it comes to both talent and consistently unprofessional behavior. There isn’t a single person in the Counter-Strike scene who isn’t aware of his meltdown at DreamHack Montreal while representing Immortals but I’ll provide a summary. The Brazilian roster, then a top ten team in the world, was late to a competitive match against CLG. The admins gave them a warning but took no further action. They won the match and made it to the final where they would face North. Having a few hours of downtime between matches they went back to their hotel rooms and somehow managed to sleep through the call time. This being their second late showing the admins made them forfeit the first map. They would go on to lose to the Danes.

Now, as a point of information, it was widely stated by many attendees at the event that three of the players from the squad, Giuseppe being one of them, had been seen out drinking late the night before. The sheer volume of people claiming this never gave me cause to doubt it as being true but if you harbor any doubts in your mind the team captain at the time, Lucas ‘steel’ Lopes, said that while he didn’t think they were partying hard or that they went to a club, he said they were at the hotel bar late the night before.

As always what was fed back across the internet was likely an exaggerated version of the truth. Equally, these players, despite claiming it was jet lag that made them late, clearly weren’t feeling those effects bad enough to have an early night before must-win matches.

Anyway, CLG’s in-game leader Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta tweeted a joke that it sucked to lose to players who were hungover and Giuseppe lost his mind. In a tweet that has now gone down in Counter-Strike history, he resorted immediately to death threats. “You’ll prove it or I’ll kill you” he said. It would transpire this wasn’t a quaint turn of phrase. Giuseppe was actively seen trying to find Mehta with the intent to assault him.

CSGO pro KNG’s response to FNS. The tweet has since been deleted.

The CLG captain had to avoid being in the hotel while people actively tried to calm down the Brazilian and even in the aftermath he stated he would never apologize for what he did.

While this ultimately set of a chain of events, that not only saw him removed from Immortals but also ended up having a huge negative impact on the upcoming Major, there was never any formal action from DreamHack. For a company that is on the record publicly as having stated that everyone must feel safe at their events, when a competitor tried to assault another one they took absolutely no action nor even addressed the matter publicly.

Of course, if they were being consistent, the player would have been banned from attending their events for a period of time and, in line with the code of conduct guidelines in the handbook, would have forfeited a percentage of his winnings. Instead, he was issued with zero penalty from the tournament he disgraced.

Hello Violence My Old Friend

We can all agree that there is no place for violence spilling over from what should be a spirited competition. Giuseppe’s Montreal incident is widely regarded as the worst of its kind, although Singaglia and de Melo threatening Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev’s life over a throwaway in-game knife could just as easily be brought to the discussion. However, what isn’t talked about as much publicly is when one of the Brazilian entourage that was brought to the PGL Major in Krakow actually assaulted a professional player at the event’s after-party.

Although I wasn’t personally in attendance the story has been told to me many times by those who were. It has mostly been covered up due to the combination of embarrassment and obviously the fact that there should carry some form of reprisals. Removing any embellishments from the story, here are the consistent facts that all present parties have repeated independently.

Esports after-parties generally tend to take place before the event has finished because it’s cheaper to do so. In this case, the event took place the day before the final, which featured the Brazilian team Immortals taking on the Kazakhstanis of Gambit. Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye, then playing for Astralis who had beaten the other Brazilian team of SK Gaming 2-0 in the quarter-finals, approached the group of Brazilian players from both teams who were together.

He made some seemingly disparaging comments that downplayed the likelihood of Immortals playing in many more finals in their careers, a comment that is often paraphrased as “enjoy the final you probably won’t play in many more” and a fracas ensued where one of the group assaulted the Danish player. This is widely accepted as a brother of one of the SK Gaming’s squad, although in the subsequent squabble it seemed even Kjærbye himself was unsure of who had done it. It is also worth noting that depending on who you ask the assault varies from a full-blown punch to the face or a finger being poked close to the eye of the player.

A now-deleted tweet from Kjærbye confirms the incident as having taken place, although due to his reputed intoxication it seems he aimed the tweet at a German racing driver. Fellow Dane Mathias ‘MSL’ Lauridsen also made light of the incident with a tweet at the time, with some fans who claimed to have witnessed the incident responding to him.

When it comes down to how I should view this incident, I am conflicted. I’ve been around sports my entire life and I’ve seen how quickly adults can behave like children when emotions are running high. Mix alcohol in with that and we all know what it can lead to.

I was raised on legends from the Welsh rugby team tours of the 80s and 90s, the insane antics of American wrestlers, and the rivalries of the golden age of the Premier League. As such, a part of me wants to file this story away on a mental shelf next to all of these, something to be saved for an esports speaking tour or a book. Yet by the same token, I know that violence is completely inexcusable and has no place at an event.

Competitors shouldn’t need to worry about being assaulted over trash talk or banter, which Counter-Strike fans agree is a part of what makes our esport stand out from the more sanitized, developer-controlled ones out there. It also cannot escape my attention that the most notable incident of an assault at a sizable Counter-Strike event just so happened to involve players who have actively threatened to assault other players. The fact that everyone with knowledge of the incident has a silent agreement to essentially never speak of it again may very well show a sensible maturity, but what would we say if another incident were to happen involving the same figures? We’d probably ask why they hadn’t been banned.

The answer to that is simple. We have collectively agreed to treat those with a certain level of status in our scene preferentially. As I can attest to personally, as someone who has been publicly smeared and castigated for five years over an act of self-defense, not all of us get to feel that benefit.

Excuses By The Bucketload

Another thing happened while I was working on this article. I was sent a thread from the forums of CS:GO’s leading coverage site HLTV.org. It was an update of an earlier thread that hadn’t attained much notoriety entitled “MiBR excuse list.” While I had planned to address some of the excuses as another example of how the players had tarnished their own legacy, this thread did include a few that even I had forgotten about. Sure, the thread does include some unsourced claims that I wouldn’t take as being the gospel truth but it shows that the fans are becoming increasingly cognizant of the lack of accountability the players display. After the latest round of drama, the thread has now been updated an additional five or six times.

Rather than rehash a forum thread here let me simply select some of the choice examples that have come from the team’s in-game leader Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo. Like a lot of great former champions, he seems to have fallen into the trap of believing in his mind that there are always explanations for losses that go beyond simply understanding that you weren’t good enough. Right now, you would hope that they would be waking up to that reality as, at the time of writing this, the team has lost matches to rosters that fall outside of the top fifty ranked teams in the world. This includes a loss to Copenhagen Flames who are ranked #75. Few excuses have been forthcoming lately but let’s take a look at some of Toledo’s greatest hits.

There’s the obligatory reminder that he claimed players were cheating when they lost to Chaos worth repeating as his fans peddle the lie he never directly accused anyone. At the 2018 Boston Eleague CS:GO Major, the schedule meant one team would have to play twice in one day. It was randomly attributed to his team. He peddled a conspiracy intimating that Eleague had somehow been biased towards his team, relating it to their disqualification for moving organizations partway through the inaugural season.

When they lost to Astralis at IEM Katowice 2018, it was because the PCs were randomly tabbing out in-game. At the same tournament, he said the headsets were so uncomfortable it was unplayable. After having gone on a poor run of losing pistol rounds around this time he publicly said that one pistol in particular, the CZ, was too overpowered and should be removed from the game. Even though there was nothing stopping them from using it too, it wasn’t a gun that their squad naturally gravitated towards. Just a coincidence.

During the FACEIT Major in London, where they had an early scare by losing against TyLoo, he complained about the tournament PCs not performing well despite the spec being in line with what most tournaments use. When they lost to TyLoo at the Asian Championships in 2019 it would be the flu, not PCs, that was to blame. Oh, and most recently, when they failed to beat Mad Lions after they choked in the finals of the Flashpoint League earlier this year, the reason they lost was that the tournament system didn’t give them more of an advantage for having been undefeated prior to that point. This is especially hilarious given the caliber of the team in the league and the fact that it was the easiest lay-up in the world for them to take the title.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and only spans the last two years. It is also only Toledo’s excuses and, take it from me, the other players on the roster have all learned from the best when it comes to explaining away defeats as being circumstances beyond their control.

It’s good to see the wider community recognizing it for what it is. No sports fan likes competitors that can’t be gracious and humble in defeat. This is because in many ways it is the ultimate insult to the victor, a way to strip their moment of its luster and make it about yourself. Whatever you do though, don’t ever criticize them publicly about this or imply they might have lost their hunger.

A Fundamental Inability To Accept Criticism

As a public figure, criticism will come your way. Not all criticism is valid. A lot of it is coming from people that aren’t in any position to offer informed critiques because they are profoundly ignorant as to what they are talking about. Think the sports fan who is absolutely adamant about how they can fix the team they support without knowing anything about how the players train or interact with each other. They express themselves as you’d expect… Red-faced morons whose ignorance is only eclipsed by the confidence that they are right. You’ll have to hear those people, but you don’t have to listen to them.

However, in sports, there are those whose job it is to critique what you do. Many players feel these people are as equally clueless as the angry fans, and that is true in some cases, but certainly not the majority. Commentators, analysts, pundits and journalists religiously watch the games and are also privy to information shared behind the scenes. We know when a team is breaking down due to in-fighting. We know when in-game leaders are looking for someone new to add to the squad. We know when contracts are expiring and when players want to get a better deal. We know when orgs are shopping around a star player they can no longer afford. All of this gives insight and perspective that players sometimes don’t take into consideration when it comes to putting out an opinion.

Most players do understand that it is part of the business though. The MiBR guys have consistently lashed out at anyone either criticizing them or even making lighthearted jokes at their expense. It was this behavior towards Chaos, a team containing a young player whose reputation has been ruined by their claims, that was the last straw for me. The MiBR core enjoy an unbelievably privileged position in the esports landscape. They are, seemingly regardless of how badly they act, national heroes. They bring huge viewing numbers whenever they play, meaning tournament organizers and broadcasters will look to accommodate them in ways that other teams do not have the luxury of. They are paid a huge salary, one of the largest in Counter-Strike, without even the expectation to achieve results commensurate to their reputation and ranking. There is no oversight when they step out of line. Their coach is a lifelong friend and business partner. Their employer is also in business with them on several projects. They are completely untouchable and can act with impunity.

Because of all this, it leaves an especially bad taste in the mouth when you lash out at a young social media manager for implying that, due to bad results, you might be missing a legendary former member of your squad. It is beyond petty to take to Twitter to lash out at a broadcaster who says that you appear to have lost the hunger you had in 2016 (which would be an understandable reality by the way) and whine endlessly about how hard you work. The truly mean-spirited would point out if you’re working so hard and failing so consistently it might be time to quit. There were no such suggestions here because people still remember the Brazilian core of old.

We remember the team that came from nowhere to shock the world and win the country’s first CS:GO Major. We remember the style and swagger, the never-say-die attitude that meant until 16 rounds were on the board you could never be counted out of a match. We allowed the gamesmanship because it came alongside a healthy dose of showmanship. And we remember the gestures of giving back to the scene such as streaming to raise money for South African team Bravado because of their desire to come from a scene hampered by a lack of economic opportunity but go on to be among the best mirrored your own journey.

Since joining MiBR this has become a distant memory. Now what remains is a group of players too egotistical to see their own faults and labor under the delusion that everything else has changed while they remained the same. You’ve shown spite to your fellow pros, including youngsters who aspire to be like you. You’ve cheated while accusing the innocent of cheating themselves. You’ve diminished the achievements of teams that right now are better than you. In doing all of this you have taken a brand that should be a source of national pride and turned it into a bad joke, one that will never recover from the reputational damage you have all done to it. When your old colleague Lincoln ‘fnx’ Lau said “if MiBR comes back it will be a joke in my humble opinion, they will ruin a name that was once well represented” he couldn’t have known how right he would be.

Regardless of whether or not this farce is allowed to continue by the people that sign the checks after two years, it is too late to change what you’ve turned your legacy in to. It could have been one of the greatest stories esports had ever seen. Instead, it has become the all too typical one about unchecked power, ego and greed, and we had plenty of those already.