With the conclusion of ESL One New York so close, and the Berlin Major still fresh in the memory, the age-old topic of best-of three vs best-of 5 in grand finals of big events has come up again, mainly due to the fact that the aforementioned American event decided to go with the longer format while StarLadder kept it tight for their first Major as hosts. But which is the better option overall? There are many pros and cons to consider…
There are a lot of good, and obvious points to be made in favour of the longer format, the first of which is that in theory it shows you who is the better team overall. You are tested on five of the seven maps in the game, with just a single ban for each team to work around. There is no doubt that the teams are tested in more of Counter-Strike this way, and it also provides the audience with proof of which is the most robust, with the most gaming stamina.
In sport, tennis is most famous as the game that offers best-of-five when things really matter – although only on the men’s side of the draw at present –, and the extra level of test has produced some of the greatest games in the history of that sport. When you pit Nadal against Federer in the longest format, you are going to have a good time, and even if it is a stomp and Roddick replaces Rafa, you can still show that the loser had plenty of chances to turn things around.
On the other hand, some folk find the longer format grindy, and argue that you don’t see good CS:GO with the lack of teams that can realistically play more than three maps well and the long day taking a toll on performance. These are both valid points, with only really Astralis and maybe Liquid able to play good CS on almost all of the maps right now, but these concerns should lose relevance as the pro scene continues to evolve over time.
If you view the veto as a key part of CS:GO, you are probably going to come down on the side of best-of-three, as that rewards tactical thinking in the map ban stage and preparation on in a way that best-of-five series never can. There is no argument in favour of the longer format if this is how you model the game, and we’ve seen recently at ESL One NY the effect intelligent map picks can have, with the likes of FaZe totally lost on Vertigo after having it sprung on them.
It also makes for a more compact final day if you are a TO, which can make a huge difference to events that only have permission to be loud/open until a certain time of day – although that is less of an issue in 2019. Many would argue the standard of play is also higher, as you only get to see teams play on maps they know, and therefore see them at their best level throughout the biggest games.
The obvious con of a best-of-three title decider is the fact the final doesn’t really have anything ‘special’ to differentiate it from the rest of the event, as you could see from the Major where the last day was over in no time, with Astralis cruising to a 2-0 win. It also limits the options if a TO wants to give an advantage to the team coming from winner’s side in double elimination events, but that is a more complex conversation. You preference over single- or double-elim in the first place opens a whole different can of worms.
In many ways, your choice between best-of-three and best-of-five reflects on how you think of professional CS:GO. For my money, best-of-five is the winner, purely based on the ‘perfect world’ theory. If Liquid face Astralis in a Grand Final – so much for that! –, and both are playing their best, I want that to go on for as long as possible, and I think I’m not alone with that.
Photo credit: HLTV