Toil and trouble: why Counter Strike should embrace its scene drama
From social media villains to deep-seated rivalries, Counter Strike has numerous storylines going on outside the server, which help enhance the games in interesting ways.
The Counter Strike scene can rarely go a month without some sort of controversy, whether it’s a team dropping players seemingly out of the blue, tournament organisers failing to pay teams prize money they’ve earned or spats on social media spiralling out of control. While these dramas are quickly forgotten, individual players that get embroiled in them are often not allowed to forget, instead becoming as known for their out of game behaviour as their performances on the server.
Professional players are expected to be the shining examples of the Counter Strike scene, but sometimes the rules in place are broken and the players are no longer allowed to compete at a top level.
The most well-known of these banned players are Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian and Gordon “Sf” Giry, whose VAC bans in 2014 saw Titan and Epsilon disqualified from the DreamHack Winter major. While only a handful of professional players were caught in this time, despite rumours and accusations being thrown around and players were told there would be more to come, the announcement led to little.
While the VAC bans remain, players can use a different account to continue to play in leagues or tournaments that don’t have rules against banned players. KQLY attempted to return to competitive play in 2017 on Vexed Gaming, but teammates Steve “jarod” Cohen and Leonard “Smyli” Michelino, refused to play with him. EFrog was founded by KQLY and is his current home alongside Kevin “Uzzziii” Vernel, a fellow French player, who was caught match-fixing in 2015.
Not all players who can no longer compete at a top level were caught cheating, others were involved in different controversies. To some, the banned players of iBuyPower are CS pariahs who deserved their fate for throwing their match. To others, they are NA’s lost hopes whose bans set the scene back significantly. Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham is one of the most popular players in the NA scene, having been a crucial part of Cloud9’s Major victory in Boston, but was famously part of the iBuyPower team that purposely lost their match against NetcodeGuides.com for skins. Due to no skins being sent to his account, Skadoodle was spared a ban and claimed to have known but not actively participated in the throw and remains a firm fan favourite for many.
The rest of Skadoodle’s former squad were banned from Valve-sponsored events for life in 2016, having been indefinitely banned in 2015. Each of the players took a very different path during this time, which culminated in ESL’s decision, and later DreamHack’s decision, to unban the ex-iBP players from their tournaments in July 2017.
The former IGL on iBuyPower was Sam “DaZeD” Marine. Having done some analysis and casting, the un-ban saw DaZeD playing on GX with two of his former iBP teammates, but DaZed’s competitive return did not last long. After only 10 maps in MDL with his team GX, he announced he was stepping down from competitive play due to not having the motivation and drive, despite saying previously how he wanted to compete like a top five team and become a top 10 NA player again. The community further turned on DaZeD following a gambling site video on his YouTube featuring poor acting following a clearly scripted moment was circulated, with many seeing the video as in poor taste and risky considering the skin site scandals that had preceded it in the scene.
While fellow ex-iBP player Josh “steel” Nissan has had a redemption arc, with Ghost Gaming making it to the ZOTAC Masters Cup and DreamHack Masters Stockholm, DaZeD is far from a hero to the vast majority of the CS community.
The rise and fall of Immortals saw Vito “kNgV-” Giuseppe become one of the most disliked players in Counter Strike, with the community maligning him after a number of incidents over the last two years.
Immortals had a decent 2017 leading up to the PGL Major Krakow. With some decent placings behind them and kNg on the rise as a talent for the roster, the team had potential, however Immortals were sitting in SK Gaming’s shadow and were widely overlooked. They were almost eliminated in the Group Stage of Krakow, but ended up pushing past BIG and Virtus.Pro to face Gambit in the grand final, a matchup nobody was expecting to see.
The team had managed to rub people the wrong way, but it wasn’t until DreamHack Open Montreal, where kNg and the Teles twins were late to Immortals’ grand final match against North, resulting in a single map game, that kNg became the true villain of the Brazilian scene. Following clashes on social media with FNS for which he refused to apologise, kNg left Immortals and soon, Henrique “HEN1” Teles and Lucas “LUCAS1” Teles followed, taking the Major spot with them. This perceived betrayal of Ricardo “boltz” Prass and Lucas “steel” Lopes was the catalyst for the beginning of the end for Immortals in CS:GO until the revival of the MiBR brand.
kNg and the twins were rumoured to be joining a team with Lincoln “fnx” Lau, who was kicked from SK Gaming in 2016 due to apparent ‘lack of dedication’ and was benched from Immortals in 2017 due to ‘internal issues within the team’. The launch of 100 Thieves saw kNg, HEN1, LUCAS1, fnx and Bruno “bit” Lima forming a team at the end of 2017, just before the ELEAGUE Boston Major. Whether they liked or disliked him, the community were excited to see what kNg’s unofficially title ‘Villa Mix’ team would bring, having been absent from the game officially but had been bootcamping in Europe to prepare themselves. A month after 100T’s announcement, before the New Legends stage of the Major, it was announced the team would be withdrawing due to visa issues and the roster was dropped without them playing a single official game. kNg was a big factor in this, as a now infamous outburst directed towards Duncan “Thorin” Shields saw him removed from the team a week before the withdrawal.
The Brazilian scene has more than one controversial figure, but only one coach has garnered significant levels of criticism. Luis “peacemaker” Tadeu is a Brazilian coach who has turbulently made his way from Games Academy, to Team Liquid, to NRG throughout 2016, before joining Misfits in 2017. Following internal issues there, peacemaker found a new home in Chinese team TyLoo. Many questioned how the team would manage to communicate with their coach and six months later, he departed the team and added another region to his list, becoming the coach of Scandinavian team Heroic.
While peacemaker’s rumoured clashes in his previous teams are numerous, his actions after departing TyLoo are perhaps the most widely known. TyLoo player Hansel “BnTeT” Ferdinand was struggling to acquire a visa for the ELEAGUE Major Boston following the Asia Minor and were unable to sign a stand-in due to the window of opportunity closing two days after said minor. Despite the Brazilian now with a new team, the time between the Minor and the Major meant he was still on the books as the team’s coach and their only option for a stand-in at the event. While it is unclear what exactly went down, discussions about sticker money were mentioned and in the end, TyLoo were forced to withdraw from the Major, to be replaced by the third place team from the Asia Minor, Flash Gaming.
peacemaker’s ironic legacy is mixed with the fact he clearly offers something teams find desirable and consider his talents worth the risk of future issues. When he joins a new team, many joke that they are simply waiting for him to end up leaving the organisation, yet many can’t help but watch and see what he can bring to whichever team he is with.
The Counter Strike scene in general is a relatively small pool of individuals. Many players that have been around since 1.6 and Source so have built strong relationships and mutual respect for each other. As a result, many newcomers have to face a level of hostility or frostiness when first breaking into the scene. Robin “ropz” Kool was called out by Jesper “JW” Wecksell before he was acquired by Mousesports and a 17-year-old Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev was infamously harassed on stream by Ryan “freakazoid” Abadir.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that sometimes, the young bite back.
Right now, a number of young rising talents are not only hitting shots in-game but are firing them out of the game too. The now infamous knife onto Andreas “znajder” Lindberg in OT during North’s Elimination match against GODSENT at the ELEAGUE Major 2017 was the big moment which showed Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke was not your average player, even in a situation where money was no issue and there was a mere three HP between the two players. His outspoken nature on social media combined with the words of rivals in G2 Esports calling North players arrogant led to many viewing the young Danish player as cocky as he is skilled.
After his removal from North alongside Rene “cajunb” Borg at the start of the year, the pair formed part of a Danish-American roster alongside Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz, Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan and fellow Dane and North Academy prospect Nicklas “gade” Gade. In April, stanislaw released a statement in which he detailed the Danish trio talking about the team in front of the other members in Danish, refusing to speak English when challenged, cajunb and k0nfig talking openly about offers from other organisations they were considering and used to go to coach ImAPet’s apartment to complain about the NA players. Despite a Tweet suggesting we would get k0nfig’s point of view of the drama, it never emerged.
As the issues between the Danish side of OpTic and stanislaw were emerging, British AWPer Owen “smooya” Butterfield said on stream about the situation:
‘If I was getting flamed in another language while going for dinner with someone, I’d punch their f***ing teeth in, especially if they look like f***ing k0nfig’.
There is irony in smooya being British as no other player can be described so accurately as Marmite than himself, with many loving or hating him as a player. According to Nikola “NiKo” Kovac, smooya was involved in leaking FaZe Clan’s practice server IP which revealed suspected roster changes early, with other figures in the scene jumping onto the thread to voice their criticism. Smooya also has multiple ESEA bans on his account for his behaviour in-game, with five such bans in the last two years, while most other professional players have none. With BIG’s stunning run at ESL One Cologne 2018, smooya had performed well on the biggest stage in Counter Strike after many had doubted him and his team before, but smooya didn’t forget what was said about him, firing back at Janko “YNk” Paunovic and other figures who then congratulated him and BIG after making the grand finals.
Rokas “EspiranTo” Milasauskas, the MVP of DreamHack Open Summer where The Imperial managed to take down heavy favourites OpTic in the final, overthrew his IGL Kevin “kRYSTAL” Amend and added kRYSTAL stickers to his weapons afterwards in his next official match without him. This came after the teenager had been benched for barely speaking in practices with kRYSTAL, poor attitude and eventually gave the team an ultimatum to pick either himself or the IGL, with the organisation falling on his side less than two weeks later as kRYSTAL took his place on the bench. While many had hailed EspiranTo as yet another FPL prodigy, his attitude was reminiscent of a handful of other young players who have egos bigger than their trophy cabinets should allow.
Players like EspiranTo, k0nfig and smooya are part of a young generation of players who are not part of the entwined group of veterans and long-term scene members. They are unafraid to speak their minds, which seems part passion and part arrogance frequently coming across as disrespectful regardless of intention. When players who have spent years playing with or against each other interact, they know which lines they can and can’t cross, but the players who are newcomers to the scene and are interacting with players who do not know them, the feelings behind what gets said can be hard for some to fully interpret. Others seem to not care, feeling their talent and skill means they don’t have to respect the legends of the game who made it what it is today.
What it brings
Tension, drama, rivalry and a sense of history helps make all events more interesting and this definitely applies to CS:GO. While it is one thing for a player to face former teammates or an old organisation, it is another thing when teams of players with tension or history meet again on the server with money, playoffs and pride on the line.
When players have left or been kicked from organisations, the reactions of the community are almost always strong. If a player is seen to ‘abandon’ a team, they are seen as a traitor, as Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye was when he left Astralis for North, or Tarik “tarik” Celik’s transfer to MiBR from Cloud9, with later released promos showing him in his new jersey while competing for C9 at ESL One Cologne. This helps create not only creative a narrative around a particular player, it is how rivalries are born. When G2 player Kenny “kennyS” Schrub called out North and k0nfig responded with ‘Good luck Kenny, I’ll f**k you up’, a playful rivalry between the organisations and players was started. This helps make Counter Strike feel more alive, with a far richer history than simply being a matter of event after event and roster after roster being all that is remembered.
Pro wrestling crafts the hero and villain figures in their shows to provide a storyline. The showmatch from ELEAGUE Major Boston seemed to take from this and while a manufactured drama for the stage of an event works, it is something that can be played upon when real dividing lines have been drawn and public controversies have taken place. When legendary organisations meet for the fortieth time, it is a significant event and the same could be said for when organisations with players who have done noteworthy things to each other meet too. Cloud9 facing MiBR was the most viewed game of ELEAGUE Premier as a group elimination match over the actual final between Astralis and Liquid. Fans know when there is more than a playoff spot at stake and while there are clear lines players should not cross, there are plenty of ways to make already good Counter Strike great by allowing the roots of past issues grow into their own interesting storylines.
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