Concerns and speculations about RFRSH Entertainment’s conduct, the BLAST Pro Series and Astralis’ handling of their own era reached a fever pitch after a recent By The Numbers episode. In many ways, this feels like déja vu, with a company trying to aggressively carve out the largest possible niche to themselves, except they’ve actually got something done about it before the community backlash began to form. Since this controversy isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, we’ve put together a timeline of commentary and community reactions for you, which will hopefully serve as an interesting time capsule later down the line.
Suppose you own the best team in the world in CS:GO and they just happen to skip three premiere events in four months while maintaining a 100% attendance record at your in-house tournaments with smaller prize pools and a less skill-testing format. This conduct has began to attract a lot of scrutiny as of late, starting with a Twitter discussion between Thorin and zonic. “It’s their own era they’re putting at risk”, said the former, questioning the Astralis coach’s insistence that the Danes weren’t skipping events to prioritize the BLAST Pro Circuit. His response revolved around health issues and time commitments but only fueled the controversy further.
Sadokist also spoke out against the arrangement on Twitter, calling it “the closest to an exclusivity push […] since PEL”, highlighting how dev1ce’s health issues didn’t stop the Danes from attending BLAST Pro Sao Paulo despite having to travel three days for a two-day event. He’s also mentioned rumors about a revenue split.
The recent episode of By The Numbers then featured extensive takedowns of both Astralis’ conduct and their parent company’s business practices, raising the theoretical possibility of bad-faith behavior at BLAST events. “Conflict of interest”, much like “collusion”, is one of those scary buzzwords that have little meaning without specificity. It’s already been lost in the maelstrom of Twitter conversations that the issue of BLAST potentially influencing the results of their own event while also having their own team attend them is currently nothing more than an abstract argument – the real issue with RFRSH’s conduct is not this as of now but the stealthy push towards exclusivity.
The following day, Jordy Roig – RFRSH’s VP of Commercial Development and Partnerships – gave an interview to HLTV which didn’t exactly assuage community concerns. Astonishingly, when asked about the idea of exclusivity, he responded with “not yet”. Whether that was a quirk of editing or an unfortunate verbal tic remains to be seen, but if his answers to HLTV’s Lucas Aznar Miles are to be taken at face value, the company’s behavior has to be a concern to the wider community.
One of his arguments – repeated a ridiculous number of times throughout the discussion – was that since the teams only have to attend five BLAST events per their agreement and they only take up a weekend, their in-house tournament circuit doesn’t take up too much time on the CS:GO calendar. HLTV’s Benja blasted through this discussion point in a Twitter thread that raised many interesting points even if the conclusions were based on slightly suspect math.
If I were a betting man – and I’m writing for Rivalry after all –, I’d suspect that Astralis would not be attending the next BLAST event for reasons that will not convince anyone. The Danes’ 100% attendance record at a series that is held all around the world already looks bad, especially when you consider the fact that they’ve also been present at all pre-2019 iterations as well when the circuit was a lot less formalized. If RFRSH's CEO is to be believed, zonic is the one ultimately responsible for deciding which events to attend – if everything is above board, then it just seems like spectacularly poor judgment on the coach's part.
Of course, it would be a mistake to paint the company as a conglomerate of moustache-twirling villains. Their event is impressively effective at attracting spectators and is overall a welcome addition to CS:GO’s third-party scene. Any supposed coercion also loses a lot of impact if Astralis' stature in the game recedes, which can potentially happen if they avoid top-tier competition on the current scale. That being said, RFRSH's disingenuous PR spin and Astralis’ partial withdrawal from the circuit in 2019 are certainly things the community is understandably pushing back against.