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Luci Kelemen
Luci Kelemen

Writes about way too many things. Has way too many opinions. Wants to tell all the interesting stories in the world.

January 13th, 2021

For the public, it all began with a seemingly innocuous delay to a match between mousesports and Vitality, but the disagreements quickly spiraled out of control and into the public eye, turning in to a multifaceted civil war between supporters of the CSPPA, ESIC, the various TOs and the different teams. Nobody knows what’s next, except that things can’t continue the way they’ve been so far.

Delaying an explosion

What a mess. Let’s try to untangle this web by starting with the incident that sparked it all, then zooming out further to the wider scene. The first match of BLAST’s Premier Fall Finals event between mouz and Vitality was held up for two hours as the players refused to join Teamspeak. The dispute was over the way BLAST handles and manages their comms recordings for the broadcasts and beyond, spearheaded by the CSPPA. It was a historic moment, the first strike action in competitive CS:GO.

The very next day, all partnered teams involved signed a joint statement that the issues were “[already resolved] … on November 23rd”.

To begin with, there was the question of why the players’ association took the hammer to a tournament organizer they aren’t involved with in the first place, and why they didn’t target their own employers – the teams – instead if they were unhappy with the terms they agreed for them with BLAST. The technical term for this is “clusterfuck” and there are still a lot of unknowns in this story: however, it served as the spark for the explosion on Twitter and beyond as seemingly all stakeholders jumped at each other’s throats, raising further concerns about the behavior of the CSPPA, the efficacy of ESIC, the greed of ESL, the passivity of Valve and the looming threat of VALORANT. Many bridges were burned.

The CSPPA’s track record

Announced in July 2018, the Counter-Strike Professional Players' Association is “the worldwide representative association for professional Counter-Strike (CS:GO) players”. Though they rarely engage with the endemic esports press directly, a look at the list of press releases on their website serves as a good barometer of what they deem the most important out of their activities.

On January 16, they’ve released details of their framework agreement with ESL over their Pro Tour. On January 20, another press release announced the association’s leadership, with the appointment of Mads Øland as full-time CEO and a board comprised of professional players: Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth (as chairmain), Jonathan ‘EliGE’ Jablonowski (as vice-chairman), Chris ‘chrisJ’ de Jong, Epitacio ‘TACO’ Pessoa, Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik, Nathan ‘NBK’ Schmitt and Jordan ‘n0thing’ Gilbert.

Finally, on January 27, a statement on “recent events”, namely the Pro League changes which led to multiple association members losing their spots in the upcoming season, stating that “there are business decisions and commercial aspects of such leagues/tournaments which the CSPPA cannot dictate”. Indeed, the lack of major action on this issue and multiple other pertinent concerns (like Jamppi’s ban or the MIBR/Yeah controversy in the first RMR event) is one of the main sources of criticism when it comes to the association.

The CSPPA also hasn’t involved itself with the recent coaching bug controversy or the stream sniping allegations covered by ESIC. The association’s acting as a player representative back in July was also seen as a potential source of conflict of interest – recently, their license has also come under scrutiny as it signs over exclusive IP rights for five years with no power to terminate for any reason.

The CSPPA also got in hot water with Flashpoint over unfulfilled obligations, which led to the tournament organizer withholding a previously agreed upon payment. Combining two of these popular conceits – namely, that the association only cares about the big teams and that they did a horrible job with their ranking system, maybe there’s a holistic alternative to consider: if the CSPPA isn’t willing to help you out (see also: HAVU, Chaos et al), you clearly belong in tier 2.

CS:GO
BLAST Pro Series, Bahrain, and ‘esportswashing’
CS:GO
ESL vs FLASHPOINT: the war told through tweets

ESIC: the malnourished watchdog

If you google the acronym of the Esports Integrity Commission, you will have to go to the dreaded second page of search results to find their website. That’s the size of CS:GO’s esports watchdog, an entity that’s only recently managed to hire someone to manage their PR and press releases. Yet, they’re the ones who deal with the biggest controversies in the scene, handing out bans which are then mirrored by most tournament organizers. The commission was established in 2016, helmed by Ian Smith, previously a legal director and then the COO of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations. Alongside his role as ESIC’s Integrity Commissioner, he is a consultant on sports integrity in the traditional sports space.

ESIC has been responsible for the wide-ranging (and still ongoing) investigation of the coaching bug, handed out bans for the MDL Australia betting scandal and also hammered forsaken with a five-year expulsion. The commission is not entirely without blemish in the eyes of the community: their investigation of NiP didn’t yield any sort of smoking gun and many criticized their decision not to take action on past stream-sniping incidents. With limited resources available to them, ESIC’s ability to police everything CS is limited, and the fact that ESL’s parent company was responsible for the initial seed investment that got the project going makes certain operators skeptical of their independence, even if nothing credible has emerged to suggest any sort of impropriety.

TOs, players, Valve and VALORANT, oh my

The beef between these entities and the controversies swirling around them are just one part of the bigger storm around CS:GO esports. It’s player versus caster (see chrisJ and launders on Twitter), a multitude of cheating (or at least unfair-advantage-gaining) allegations, old friends like Richard Lewis and SirScoots going up against one another, ESL being blamed by other TOs for dominating the calendar, Flashpoint’s organizers courting controversy with their breached COVID bubble and an atrocious scheduling of the grand final at the expense of OG and their lower bracket run… the list is long.

(Incidentally, Twitter is not the place for these discussions. So much context gets lost, you can’t follow a back-and-forth in detail in a convenient manner. Every line of thought has to be artificially shortened and chopped up, wrecking the discourse before it could even begin. Say what you will about Dota and its talent pool, but at least their preferred medium for big pronouncements is Medium, not TwitLonger.)

CS is in an odd place right now, with regular player numbers through the roof and the viewer count staying strong on streams, but sustainability issues have never seemed more pertinent than today. It seems the various stakeholders are either unable or unwilling to play nice in this uniquely open playpen, and Valve are not looking to intervene anytime soon – then again, seeing how they manage Dota, it may still be for the better. There is, however, a juggernaut on the horizon in the form of VALORANT: say what you will about Riot Games, they know how to manage an esport. North American orgs have basically all jumped ship already. There’s a lot to do, and few who seem willing to do it.

CS esports may be growing but it still remains a small world – it would be a shame if we ripped it apart for ourselves. Just for a few months, can we all try playing nice for a change?