Richard Lewis: Valorant – The Esports Review - Dexerto
Valorant

Richard Lewis: Valorant – The Esports Review

Published: 29/May/2020 16:45 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:19

by Richard Lewis

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In the first part of my Valorant review I focused on the gameplay, but now I want to consider whether Riot’s first-person shooter has a long-term future as an esport.

I’ve been covering esports since 2005, and have seen many games with great potential flop, whilst bad games inexplicably grow. There are consistent lessons that can be learned about what makes a successful esport and I’ll be applying them to Valorant in the second part of my review.

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Valorant is still in closed beta and is being updated at a rapid pace. What is true today almost certainly won’t be true tomorrow. Some of this review probably has parts that were out of date the second my fingers left the keyboard. I’ll try and update what I can, but if it happens to be out of date by the time you’re going to read it, it’s staying in. Use your judgment.

Riot Games
Valorant’s full release date is set for June 2.

The Core Elements Of An Esport

So, in no particular order, here’s what an esport needs to be successful. Let’s start with a fairly obvious one; deep, competitive gameplay. The game design absolutely has to include mechanics that have a significant distance between the skill floor, where everyone starts, and the skill ceiling, where only the elite get to. 

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This can be built into a game in a variety of ways, but to keep things simple, let’s just focus on in-game abilities. The truly great competitive games recognize that the difference in skill when using ability can’t just come down to a personal trait, such as reaction time, although that absolutely should be a component. More important is how an ability can be applied in the moment, and how speed of imagination and clarity of thought in pressure situations create game-altering outcomes.

Think Dota, for example. A new player knows that the character Pudge has a hook he can throw to bring a player to him and set up a kill opportunity. Landing hooks is hard. A new player might be able to land one from fog of war on a standing target. The more you play, the more you learn the timing of the hook, the length of it as it levels up, and how items can augment it.

Over time, you learn not only to factor in opponent’s movement to the hooks you throw, but high level players can predict flash moves, or combine it with other heroes abilities to create insanely powerful outcomes. A great Pudge can win a pub game by themselves, though a terrible one will almost certainly cost you the same game. There’s a reason the character is so iconic and in many ways the design is a perfect encapsulation of what you should be thinking about when making an esports title.

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By the same token, if your game is well balanced, there will be counters and outplay potential from other abilities. So, to use Dota as an example again, if the Pudge hook was an ability that had no counters, whoever picked him would be almost guaranteed to win, and it would make the requirement to learn any other character somewhat moot. However, Dota has a range of characters that have abilities that, again, when correctly applied both conceptually and mechanically, are more than capable of hindering a Pudge from taking over a game.

This isn’t just important for making the game enjoyable. It enables those who play and those who watch to determine who is better. Who can consistently apply an ability optimally? Who possesses the game knowledge to counter those abilities either through abilities of their own, correct itemisation, or strategy? Failing these qualities, which players have the ‘get out of jail free’ card of incredible reaction time and hand-eye coordination? Congratulations, if your game can spark a debate like this, you probably have laid the foundations for a successful esport.

Valve
A game needs to be well-balanced in order to make it into an esport.

By the same token, an esport has to include components that rewards repeated play, whether it’s memorization of spawn timings, map lay-out, headshot angles, environmental interactions, boosts, or whatever else is relevant. The competitor that practices often should be able to build up a wealth of information, much of it just small details, that will help single them out from a newer player or one who elects not to pay as much attention during their competitive experience.

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I’d also add if the game empowers you enough through all of this to make it feel like you are personally doing these things, then it has a huge advantage. When you score a goal, or throw a 60 yard pass, or dunk or someone, you did the thing and it feels good. Having input be connected to your real-life actions definitely enhances the game’s capacity to be embraced as an esport. Think auto-battlers for an example of a competitive gaming pursuit that just doesn’t really cut it when it comes to the esports label, despite ticking some of these other boxes.

The other component doesn’t involve the competitors at all. The emergence of streaming platforms helped solidify a point that only a handful of esports developers understood in the golden era, namely that your game also needs to be watchable and include tools that make spectating easy. It’s no coincidence that games remaining in the top tier of esports embraced this concept while aspiring esports that have flopped have failed to grasp the importance that viewers play in the modern landscape. 

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Forget metrics to show to shareholders, and instead look at it purely from the perspective of grass roots. Maybe I am a player and maybe I’m not very good, but I’m not going to quit any time soon. How do I get better? The first port of call will be watching better players. How do I do that? Tournament broadcasts are great for excitement and celebrating the best, but outside of a handful of moments do little to help players appreciate what separates pros from amateurs.

Now if there’s a way to watch a demo file, or a live feed purely from a player’s perspective, this is a way to see all the little moments of mundane perfection that go towards making someone the best. If your game is good, it will create the thirst for knowledge. It’s up to you as a developer to have the tools in place that enable tomorrow’s professionals to quench it.

Still, you can hit all of these and even make a game that the average player would describe as “fun” and just simply not make it as an esport. There’s many other components, but this article will already run long as I lay out my rationale for if Valorant will make the grade or not.

Valorant As An Esport

Applying those lessons to Valorant, you can see immediately where the game succeeds in laying great foundations for esports success. The gunplay is the first thing players will get to grips with in their minds. Guns handle differently, some can be used situationally, even having enough money to get the gun you want at key times is something you will have to learn. In my game review, I spoke a lot about the guns essentially copying Counter-Strike, down to in-game price and recoil patterns, but over time that has changed – and I’m not sure if for the better.

It was always clear to me that Riot wanted the game to be something immediately familiar and then, as players came filtering in, they would slowly make it more of its own thing. It’s a solid strategy, especially when the marketing was very clearly aimed at disgruntled Counter-Strike players and their imagined grievances. In doing this though, it does feel that they are inadvertently lowering the skill ceiling.

Valve
Riot are trying to rival CSGO with Valorant.

Counter-Strike players understand that recoil control is as much a skill as the tap-tap crispness of one bullet aim. Indeed, the way the game works, it is optimal to use a spray to ensure maximum damage to the enemy. I still think the spraying mechanics in the game, with the long recoil reset time and random recoil patterns after so many bullets, hamper it having leap-out-your-seat moments where one player in a chokepoint turns a round. 

This in itself wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but if you are going to try and emulate the greats then understand why so many of us think they are great in the first place. The iconic AWP in Counter-Strike, amusingly called the “Operator” (OP) in Valorant, is iconic because in the hands of a player with pristine movement, aim, and the ability to quick-scope, it can defy the odds stacked against it. 

Currently, the one-shot kill sniper has a strange sludginess to it. I’ve seen 1v5 aces, of course, but they have to happen in a certain prescribed way, usually by bad players running slowly one at a time, peeking at stupid moments, or lining up for a considerate collateral. This feels true with very few exceptions. 

If this is a deliberate choice to make it so better players can’t just absolutely dominate the weak, you’re lowering the overall skill ceiling of your game and defying the fundamental “git gud” philosophy that is the beating heart of every esport. It’s great for casuals and pub games, but the CS players you’ve brought over are going to feel like something isn’t quite right and over time that sentiment will build.

Speed is something I’m divided on. I like the way it has a slower movement speed as it feels closer to the shooters I played in my youth. Equally, that slow speed, especially combined with the brutal tagging in the game, does make it feel that certain skills aren’t worth bringing over or developing if you want to be a high level player. Overall, I like that it punishes poor positioning and missing shots by making escape impossible, but it also makes certain positions and playstyles hugely advantageous, especially to the defensive team.

The game currently also feels incredibly favored to the defensive side, and there’s a few considerations I don’t think Riot factored in. Counter-Strike worked because it presents two teams with different problems – one has to plant and defend a bomb, the other has to stop them – AND with different tools to achieve this goal. On the early maps, defending was easier for the Counter-Terrorists, but they had to face a gun only available to the terrorists – the AK-47, which is a one-shot headshot kill. Suddenly, peeking around corners is dangerous for a CT, and yet, you need to do it for information, otherwise you might face a full, unstoppable bomb-site execute without time for your teammates to come and assist you, and the round will be over.

Even just that subtle difference creates enough leverage for the offensive side to have an edge if they play optimally. In Valorant, everyone has access to all of the same tools, down to weapons and abilities of the heroes that are available to them. As such, in the current meta at least, playing the defensive side is a lot easier. As the esports scene is slowly established, this might change, and maybe the game is actually perfectly balanced. 

I don’t play for a team nor ever will, and can only speak from my perspective. For the average pub player, the offensive side will most likely be a slog as people bait each other for kills without any cohesion and run between objective sites like headless chickens until you can maybe identify a weak link and isolate them. Even the tournament play I watched, with aspiring pros who had come over from other disciplines, had elements of this. There’s one map that kind of breaks this, and not exactly in a good way, but we’ll talk about that later.

Riot Games
Riot needs to make changes to the maps.

 A lot of the abilities are so centered on defence, it compounds the issue. Have an ability that shows where people are on the offensive side? Cool, I guess. They are probably somewhere you should smoke off anyway. Compare that to a defensive team knowing where you are all grouped up with 20 seconds on the clock. Or what about the broken-forever Sage? A 45-    second wall? Guess I can use that to boost or stop a flank offensively. It wins rounds on its own defensively.

There needs to be some tinkering, and I don’t know what direction Riot needs to go in. Introducing some side-specific guns has been done with success in other games, so maybe that’s something they can do but then balancing around that will be a new challenge. Maybe they can go a more complex route and balance every ability in the game so the ones that are clearly overpowered defensively suddenly aren’t as good, but can still play a part when used offensively. Maybe some abilities need to be outright taken out, or maybe it’s just because the maps absolutely suck that it feels stacked this way.

Regardless, to end on a positive note, there’s more than enough here for a hierarchy of players to establish itself, along with room for innovation, strategy, and mechanical excellence. The decision to not come out of the gate with too many different characters shows an intelligent restraint and will help with balancing, although Riot’s record of releasing busted new heroes in League of Legends is the stuff of the legends the game references (if you were there for release Xin Zhao you will never forget it). 

While it achieves the goal of being more welcoming to newer players than any MOBA or competitive FPS title on the market, there’s still nowhere to hide in terms of carrying your weight. Don’t know what your character does, can’t aim or control recoil, or don’t know map layout and callouts? You just f**ked your team. How you feel about those facts will define whether or not you can hang in an esport.

Game Balance

When I first saw another class-based shooter with MOBA elements, I said a silent prayer for the members of the development team at Riot that would have to balance the game. At Overwatch, they have mostly waved the white flag and got around a lack of balance via picks and bans. With such a small character pool to choose from in these early stages of Valorant, that really isn’t a viable option, but, with a few exceptions that I will come to, the balance of is mostly solid.

Conceptually, because “ultimate” abilities have to be earned, they aren’t some ever-present terror to be thinking about. Visual feedback on the UI shows you when opponents have them, and you can factor that into your decision-making process for the round. In general, the average ability that players can purchase represents some form of utility, a type of vision obscuring “grenade,” an ability that temporarily reveals positions, or something that temporarily blinds an opponent. These are all great and make for a game where you can have those outplay moments that every good competitive game factors in. They also add tactical depth offensively and defensively. Those concerned the abilities would overshadow the core gameplay needn’t worry.

Then there’s Sage. When the characters and their abilities were first revealed, I went over them on a livestream. My gut feeling was that she would be unbelievably over-powered based on her kit. Even in the game’s early stages, the high level players were complaining about Raze because of her rocket-launcher ultimate that instantly kills anything it lands next to. I have to congratulate Riot, as Sage being the most broken character in any class based shooter in the history of gaming is quite an achievement. 

Riot Games
Sage is ridiculously broken.

Forget my views on quick healing being antithetical to competitive shooting because of how it makes health trading meaningless and makes accurate calls impossible (“they’re hit for 113 but maybe Sage healed them…”). And forget how being able to resurrect a teammate at key moments will guarantee rounds that could be a coin toss are now yours, and that a 45-second long wall ability that cannot be boosted over or broken silently essentially can shut down executes and win 1v1s. Oh, and forget having two slows that shut down a rush instantly and make you move as if you’re being tagged by gunfire. There may be a place for these abilities in this game, although I’d rather some weren’t there. 

But the fact that ALL of this is offered by ONE character is the stupidest design choice in this entire game. It’s madness. At the time of writing, you simply have to have a Sage on your team, and the game is generally decided by which one is better. Don’t pick one and your opponent does? You lose. Before the game comes out of closed beta, this hero needs to be reworked completely, like Mercy was in Overwatch, or deleted.

Were it not for Sage, the premise of Cypher would get a lot of critique from me instead. A big part of a competitive FPS is outthinking your opponent, and timing flanks for maximum damage. His tripwires render that skill somewhat meaningless. Even an obvious tripwire does the job because they have to be shot, reveal your position, and provide a sound-cue. It takes little skill to use this ability, and yet it negates much higher. They should implement some type of punishment system for Cyphers whose tripwires get shot – either it does damage, or it temporarily stuns him.

At the other end of the scale, Viper could use a buff. When the reveal video of her ability came out, everyone was like, ‘Oh lawd, look at that broken s**t!’ but in reality, it never panned out like that at all. At the time of writing, she feels like the weakest character all round. Being able to consistently and safely plant the spike simply isn’t enough advantage to justify including her in your team, especially when others have similar abilities. She’s primed for a rework, as her kit, with the fuel mechanic behind it, just isn’t all that great.

Omen feels a bit weak, too. He’s in a weird spot where it feels like his kit was designed with offence in mind, but all the other factors just make defending too strong. Perhaps when other aspects of the game are balanced he will come into his own, but currently he is one of those characters that doesn’t seem to do much when called upon.

Other than that, most characters feel well rounded, and that is great work from Riot. You can learn the basics of most characters after a few matches, and no matter who you pick they make a solid contribution provided you play them well. There are some that are effective without being mechanically intensive, and there are those that actually are a detriment in the hands of players who aren’t skilled enough to use them. This is an esport functioning exactly as it should, as it feeds into the skill ceiling concept without excluding anyone. The balance team deserves to be recognized for this because many class-based shooters haven’t come out of the gates with characters this tightly clustered together in terms of parity.

Map Design

Time for the elephant in the room – the maps. They’re awful. I’ll outline why in a moment, but let’s just explain why it is important. You can have all of the successful elements of an esport in place, but if the environment they are applied to is either not fit for purpose or actually antithetical to the competitive elements the game establishes at its core, then it is likely to fail.

Take the porting of a Team Fortress Classic map over to Team Fortress 2 in the form of 2fort, for example. That map was widely despised by the TF2 community for a variety of reasons: the map was cramped with brutal chokepoints for the offensive team, its defensive layout meant that sentries and snipers could just rack up kills with little risk, the water… Well, go and Google what a pyroshark is. And because the way the game is designed means that you must play both sides, it would often lead to dull stalemates that were exercises in tedium rather than tactics. Fun for trolling and unlocking certain achievements, but as a competitive map, an absolute bust. Now imagine all the maps at launch for TF2 were like this.

Valve
Maps in an esport game need to be great, otherwise there’s no point.

In general, this first wave of maps have fallen into a trap that I’ve seen a few times. They focus on chokepoints and pathways to duels, they give defenders – who, as we’ve established already have an advantage – lots of nooks and crannies to hide in and around, they are claustrophobic and restrictive in how much you can move around on either side, and even implementations of map-specific gimmicks like zip-lines and elevation don’t do enough to change it up. Despite that, the maps seem so insanely convoluted, containing lots of landmarks but ones that all fulfill the same function. On a creative level they are very uninspired. Equally from a mechanical perspective, they actually restrict the freedom that players want to have when it comes to using their characters.

I could see these maps being utilized in a tutorial because they are so basic and obvious. Like, “smoke here to stop the sniper” or “flash round this corner because defenders always hold this spot” and so on. If these maps are the ones that are going to make up the bulk of the gameplay upon release, it is going to get stale very quickly for players and spectators alike.

Haven is the worst by a long distance. I don’t know if the idea came from Xzibit’s “Pimp My Ride” (we heard you like bombsites so we put a bombsite between your bombsites so you can access a bombsite while on another bombsite), but the gimmick of an additional bombsite adds absolutely nothing to the game. Interestingly this is the one map where if you can get a plant as the offensive team, you should automatically win provided you have equal or greater numbers.

The map is so vast in terms of distance, it has to be covered by defenders and with it, the amount of corners to be checked that if you get a plant on A, there is probably no point in even going for it if your remaining defensive players are on C. Naturally, vice versa applies. The mid area is a disaster of design with just so many stupid tight corners to clean out offensively. If you cut out a third of this map, you might have something to work with, but for me it is the worst one by some distance.

Strangely enough, the community seems to agree that Split is the worst map. Not for me, but I see the arguments. After all, the mid area has the same ridiculously convoluted layout but doesn’t have a bombsite there. But guess why you can’t ignore it? Because Split wants to defy the conventional wisdom of having two access paths to a bombsite as well as some sort of mid area to control, and instead has one access point to each bombsite with the mid area, that remember defenders have all the advantages for being the other access path. This essentially allows defenders to rotate without any risks, unless the offensive team can afford some sort of delayed lurker to push from behind, which based on what needs to be expended just to get on a site, they probably can’t. So we are 0/2 for maps right now. They are both objectively terrible. 

Riot Games
Haven and Split both need a lot of improvement.

The third and easily the best option is Bind. It does suffer from some of the same issues, but they feel mitigated due to the B site actually feeling like an execute can consistently work on it if people hit their shots. There are less points for the offensive team to clean out, and very obvious rotation paths. A site is harder, but still viable provided you have the tools. Crucially, what makes the map interesting is the teleporters that can be used for outplay and fast rotations. I’d still make some changes, but out of the three this is the only map I would want to see survive come launch day on June 2.

If this criticism feels brutal, I would just say this. Counter-Strike didn’t even launch with the game mode that would go on to define it, and the early maps were awful too. No-one talks about de_fang or de_railroad, and hopefully in a few years, that will be the fate for the current iterations of Split and Haven. They can be reworked and salvaged, but I feel a fundamental shift in design is going to be required in order for anyone to even admit fault. Currently, the maps are the worst thing about the game and will be its biggest hurdle to clear if it wants esports success.

A Competitive Future

The best esports have a healthy grassroots scene as well as the pro game. For me, League of Legends was at its best when when Riot Games worked with partners such as MLG and DreamHack to create tournaments that captured people’s imaginations and helped the game blow up. Once the game had achieved its popularity, however, Riot took the game in-house, offering ‘roadshow’-style tournaments to tournament organizers which had taken risks to support it… I didn’t like that. I believe in long term rewards for partners who take risks alongside you.

I see some similarities with what is being proposed currently, and it does make me wonder if history is about to repeat itself. Riot have already said that the game can be used for tournaments provided those running it adhere to their guidelines. Still, they have at least had the good sense this time around not to single out any competitors games, much like they did with Dota 2.

I will also give them credit in the sense that they are willing to let these companies grow an ecosystem for them, a move that will ensure a healthy amount of competition and value in having a grassroots scene. Activision Blizzard didn’t and still don’t care for any of these things, and currently we are watching their Overwatch League wobble like a game of Jenga being played by two drunks.

Riot might have been ruthless in how they built the LCS and other regions, but there’s no getting away from the fact it is the most successful league of its kind. The open circuit Counter-Strike uses might be the ecosystem I prefer, but I can tell you it has a whole bunch of problems with it, ones that manifest every six months or so as one of the many stakeholders make a power play.

Riot have a real opportunity to take their game and build a rich and storied league, featuring teams and players from around the world, and with players who already bring their own mythology from other titles. If done right it will be compelling. I think we’re about 18 months away from it even being a viability, and there will be a lot of bumps in the road. Still, having watched so many forced attempts at creating esports by developers who view it as just another way to make money, I’ll say Valorant is the first game in a while I’m confident will stick the landing and still be around years from now.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.