Recently there has been the now annual conversation about the death of Counter-Strike. Much needed changes to the way skins-trading works have seen a reported decline in player numbers and several organizations have stated they can no longer afford to support teams in the space. When happenings such as these are drip-fed down to a community who labors under the false belief that “Valve doesn’t care about this game,” a sentiment often repeated by professional players without much thought, we wind up with endless discussion about how the sky is falling and what a skyless world will look like. That’s too much to break down in the space of one column, but I can certainly give you some insight into why you should never take the word of opportunists as gospel.
There has been a series of North American organizations announcing that they will no longer support a Counter-Strike roster. Misfits, CLG, Selfless, 100 Thieves and now Splyce. I’m probably missing some but it’s too late and I’m too full of whiskey to dignify them with even a Google search. You will notice that all of these organizations that announce their withdrawal from CS:GO have one thing in common; abject failure.
Now, there are many different types of abject failure. It can be the “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” type of failure, where the team just slowly gets progressively worse and the management refuse to make the ruthless changes needed for success. CLG patented this method only making obviously needed roster changes when it was the equivalent of Chief holding the pillow over McMurphy’s face. Then there’s the high-risk gamble type of failure, like 100 Thieves, where they picked up three of the most unprofessional professional players, including an asset so toxic he needs a permit to go swimming, and it crashed and burned. Obviously, you’d not have a warm feeling towards a game that cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars and your team never even got to play a match.
Officially parting ways with our CS:GO and CS:GO Academy teams. We want to thank everyone that has been involved with CLG CS:GO for helping and competing for the team these past 3 years.
— Counter Logic Gaming (@clgaming) November 30, 2017
Our future in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pic.twitter.com/yRJsig6XDu
— 100 Thieves (@100Thieves) January 31, 2018
There’s the type of failure embodied by the likes of Selfless, a commitment to an ideal that can’t necessarily work in regularity; developing a team of entirely young players. The only way to make this viable is if they either go on to become world-beaters, or you can asset flip them for a high enough price to keep the organization self-sustaining. This type of failure teaches you that without a slush fund or revenue streams, this is a model that can only ever be semi-professional at best, as admirable as it might be on the surface.
Selfless Release CS:GO Team https://t.co/bDKjAQeJIi
— Selfless Gaming (@SelflessGG) April 7, 2017
Misfits was a typical type of ineptitude. Even their failure was mediocre. An organization with so much stock and interest in other games, they tried Counter-Strike but with no real sense of commitment. They never really knew who to listen to or who to put in charge. How else could a situation arise where their coach, the Brazilian wrecking-ball that is Luis “peacemaker” Tadeu, bench the team’s best player, Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan and replace him with a far inferior Brazilian import before the North American Minor? This, when you’ve already got one of the most widely regarded minds in Counter-Strike as your in-game leader in the form of Sean “sgares” Gares. Then, you don’t negotiate with the core of your team ahead of the biggest tournament on the calendar so the players are distracted thinking about contract offers when this is the last outing representing your brand on the biggest stage there is? It is ineptitude, but honestly it just reeks of management not giving a fuck, drooling over the prospect of franchises in leagues that reward failure and a lack of ambition by design.
Misfits Gaming | Farewell CS:GO
— Misfits Gaming (@MisfitsGG) February 13, 2018
And then there’s Splyce. Splyce is the most obvious type of abject failure. It is simply failure across the board. Every decision made is the wrong one. Every roster move is a disaster and an expensive one at that. This is an organization that, when it came to Counter-Strike at least, did zero homework and was basically throwing darts at a board hoping something worked. Hilarious when you then later consider that the mastermind behind this cash leak, Marty Strenczewilk, feels that he is imbued with enough knowledge about the lay of the land to write articles telling investors how they should spend their money. This from somebody who has created a bedroom organization with money, an organization that reputedly charges its players for the jerseys they wear if well-circulated rumors are to be believed.
— Splyce (@Splyce) April 28, 2018
Taking the time, as many of these owners now do, to stroke their own egos and get a mainline hit that validates their towering narcissism, he put out a video of him talking about the decision to drop out from the game that the organization was founded on. The reasonings are cloaked in vague language and pretense, making strange claims that the business is stretched too thin because they are applying to a franchise system for League of Legends. Distilling it all down to the basic message, it can be summarized thusly; “We spent time and money on a team that isn’t performing, isn’t well regarded, has a minuscule fan base and we’re bailing because it’s only about the bottom line for us.”
Of course he’s got the nerve to say what they all say, like a soy-fueled T800… “[I’ll] be back” he says, “when the time is right.” Let’s analyze that statement shall we. When is the “right” time? The right time for all these organizations is when they can succeed either in terms of trophies or in terms of making a profit through reach for as little money and time as possible. If for some crazy reason the FaZe squad were the victims of an evil hypnotist and they stated they wanted to come and play for Splyce for a pittance, are we supposed to believe that the game would no longer be a good fit for the organization? No. What they want to do is succeed in an environment where there is no risk for failure. We know you’ll be back as soon as it suits you. That’s why these very public, pathetic farewells should leave a bad taste in the mouth of any fan who loves the sport.
Every organization thinks this way in North America. Jacked up on the idea of franchised leagues where return of investment is guaranteed in some form, where venture capital groups can be lured into the trapeze art of sizeable investments due to the very visible safety net, the owners who fail at business blame the game and focus on cozying up to leagues where they have good standing with their developers. They don’t talk about building anything anymore, they talk about “investing.” NA owners used to fantasize about their “moneyball” moment, now they just fantasize about the money. We’ve moved beyond the world of “acceptable losses” instead now judging viability on “immediate returns.” They think winning trophies is now just something to stick in a sponsorship deck… What other conclusion is there to arrive at when these brands would give their right arm to be in a league where they’re happy to finish dead last season after season as long as the revenue share comes in.
Be clear: they don’t care about this game or any game, no matter what they say to the contrary. A game is a conduit to brand recognition and that leads to profit–naturally I have no problem with that. We’d be in a shit state of affairs if we were still the amateur space we were when I stumbled into it. But a multi-gaming organization should be a series of checks and balances, of differing revenue streams, one success being capable of taking up the slack of the stragglers. If it doesn’t operate this way it’s not the game that’s failing, it’s you, especially during a time with record levels of investment into the scene and almost every entrepreneur eager to write you a cheque.
What’s wild is this doesn’t happen in sports anywhere else in the world. Imagine entire teams closing down after a couple of years because they weren’t winning enough or didn’t sell enough jerseys. Your fallow years are part of a history that you are writing, the first chapters in your rags to riches story. Do we still write those?
The good news is we shouldn’t really want organizations that think this way to be in Counter-Strike anyway. There is no gold rush here, no need to supplicate yourself to the holder of the intellectual property. Straight economics apply here… Intelligent marketing and decision-making works without the need for complex deceptions and pretense. The open tournament circuit has time and time again proven to be a great thing, an environment free from monopolies and blacklists, where competition leads to innovation and professional players always have options. When you invest in Counter-Strike, you’re not entering into some get-rich-quick asset flip venture capitalist wet dream. You’re getting involved in the pinnacle of team based esports, one of the titles instrumental in elevating us all to where are today and there is no benevolent dictator to force your hand in exchange for guaranteed success. It’s real.
This is why the organizations I respect in the space are the ones that have that history and a genuine love of the game. Try to imagine fnatic without any Counter-Strike team on the book. A brand that had one of the greatest rosters of all time in 1.6, survived the fall of that game, then built the best team in the world in CS:S, only to have that roster deliberately broken apart by the CGS money men, only to get them back, then lose them, then have the “Eindbazen” debacle and end up a roster of suspected cheaters, to winning the first CS:GO major and having one of the most decorated teams in that game. At no point was it ever a consideration that they’d bail on Counter-Strike in its entirety. You think they didn’t lose money for that some years? Fortunately, they balanced the books and never lashed out at a game synonymous with their development.
Ah but that’s Europe, right? It’s different over there. Well, look at compLexity. One of the original great rosters in North America, a brand so far ahead of its time in terms of content creation and team philosophy, a business that held out for a big sponsorship rather than take dozens of smaller ones, then sold to the ruinous CGS only for that to fail. After legal action to get the rights to the brand they built back, they have had a long period of being an “also ran,” barely even having outings at LAN events these days. Now, they are funded by the Dallas Cowboys and I’ll wager that 2019 will see them start to get back to their ways of old.
You see, if you support a team like compLexity you actually support something, not just another one of these cardboard cutout, identikit logo, cartoon brands that want to be the Yankees on day one. I see these people leaving Counter-Strike behind as a good thing. There’s plenty of sponsors and investors out there who want to be associated with one of the biggest esports in the world, even if the themes are adult and dark. This is a time for new organizations, maybe even genuine player created and owned ones, to emerge. This is a time for the so-called undesirables that developers reject to get in and snap up the talent that is going to waste on casual ESEA rosters and spamming pick-up games between smoking bowls. This is a time to resurrect old names and start to take pride in the one thing we have over all these pretenders – history. You can’t put a price on it and you can’t fake it either.
Don’t lose any sleep about these teams panicking and heading for the hills. Counter-Strike has proven itself to not be a fad and has endured for almost two decades without Valve aggressively steering the ship. Go and show support for the owners and organizations that are part of that history and not speculators or chancers. Support the builders and the risk-takers. Let the failures and the weak go to where they will be coddled.
This is Sparta.