Online CS: How much is too much?

A look at the online CS:GO leagues and qualifiers and how the companies running them are oversaturating the market.

Photo Credit: (ESL Helena Kristiansson)

38 official matches in 18 days. That’s how many times G2’s Counter-Strike team played from October 4th to October 22nd. G2 are taking part in both ECS Season 6 and ESL Pro League Season 8, which are online Counter-Strike leagues that have most of the best teams in the world taking part for a chance to go to the finals on LAN, and have only taken a small break from the online action to travel across the world to play in cs_summit 3 in California.

G2 are struggling and looking at their schedule you can quickly see one reason why. They have a packed online schedule that leaves little to no free days to fix their issues. On the 16th of October G2 started off the day facing LDLC in the GG.BET IEM Chicago Qualifier where they lost 2-0. Then they had to face Windigo in ESL the same afternoon. They won Dust II 16-14 in a back-and-forth affair but stumbled badly on Overpass falling to Windigo 16-3. This would have been a great time to take a look at the four maps they played that day and go over what went wrong and what they did well. They didn’t get that luxury. Next up was two maps against the very best in the world, Astralis, for ECS that very same night. They lost both, unsurprisingly.

That’s just the story for G2, a Tier 1 team in terms of status, if not on the server as well. Teams that aren’t even in ESL Pro League still have MDL or ECS matches as they try to get promoted to ESL Pro League or find a way to get top four to even get a chance on LAN for ECS. OpTic Gaming has had so many matches rescheduled in MDL that before they head off to Summit they must play four matches in four hours on October 28th to try to get caught up as they fight for promotion to ESL Pro League. OpTic’s coach, Ruggah, put it best on Twitter:

When you take a step back from the player and coach perspective and try to view it from a tournament organizer perspective, it doesn't make much sense there either. Why are ECS and ESL so desperate to compete against each other that they have matches overlapping on the same day? Why split the already dwindling online CS viewership even more? Is it a time issue? The time between major cycles being shortened certainly hasn't helped what is already a cramped CS calendar. Astralis were crowned champions of the FaceIt Major on September 23rd in London and less than a month later on October 19th teams like Imperial and Vitality began the next major cycle by playing in the IEM Katowice open qualifiers. That's crazy when you really think about it.

These crazy schedules have led to a watered down product for organizers as well. You see sloppy mistakes and bad decisions you wouldn't normally see from top teams that leads to completely unpredictable results. I'm all for competition and giving lesser teams the chance to compete against the best, but I don't think these online leagues are a good indicator of who is better than who.

You could make the argument that this is what the players are paid so much to do, but I don't buy it for a second. Players sometimes get less than 10 minutes between leagues to somehow mentally reset before it's time to hop back in the server and do it all again. This also leads to very sporadic and fractured practice schedules. Teams have to somehow find time to get good practice in and fix their issues while these online leagues are running before they have to play their maps for the night. And that's just their CS obligations. I can't imagine what it's like trying to have some semblance of a social or family life during the online seasons. I want to see good, competitive CS, not just CS to market whatever ESL is trying to sell me on Facebook.

I don't claim to know the perfect solution. Someone much smarter and with way more experience in esports than me certainly has to though. Is it franchising? Is it a UEFA Nations League style system? Is it simply ECS and ESL running their leagues at opposite times of the year? I don't know what's best, but it would sure be a shame to see the esport we love suffer anymore from oversaturation.

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