If you’re into esports, then you’ve probably spent a lot of the last few days talking about Riot Games, and for once, it’s for the right reasons. The Tencent-owned juggernaut already dominates the MOBA world with League of Legends, but this week they went all out with the announcement of a swathe of new titles aimed at the esports space. The company announced a card game and a fighter among other goodies, but it was their upcoming FPS ‘Project A’ that made most people sit up and take notice.
Depending on who you follow, Project A is the Overwatch killer, competition for CS:GO, or Paladins on Cache. The game is Riot’s first serious attempt at a first-person shooter, with early shots looking very reminiscent of Valve’s own FPS giant, right up until the point a character flies up into the air and throws spectral knives through the face of their opponent. Tactically, of course. But with the intersection between Overwatch and Counter-Strike, there exists an opportunity for the lost and the damned of the FPS land.
The list of people lost to CS and Overwatch is longer than you’d think, and contains a massive amount of talent. Crossover skill is far more common in console esports, with recent examples like Dallas signing Halo world champion Shotzzy to their Call of Duty roster proving that people in that sphere believe if you are nasty on a controller, you are nasty on a controller regardless. It’s less common on mouse and keyboard, but Project A could very well change that, opening the door for some lost boys to become the stars they were born to be.
For CS fans, one name will come to mind immediately in this discussion, and that’s Braxton Pierce. The man they call swag is undoubtedly the most famous person never to get to play top level CS, thanks to his time with the iBUYPOWER team that were banned for match-fixing (while swag was just a child, remember). While his part in that, and the punishment he received is debateable, it’s clear that he’s still got the competitive drive, as has his old teammate Josh ‘steel’ Nissan.
Like swag, steel was banned for throwing, and like swag, he’s clearly not done with FPS games yet, having worked both as an observer and analyst since, as well as continuing his player career with tier 2 and 3 orgs. In addition to his dedication, steel is considered one of the most accomplished and creative in-game leaders North American CS:GO has ever produced, often leading to comments that his ban may have been one of the biggest losses the NA scene has ever seen.
In fact, of the four banned players, one actually did make an attempt to play another game at the top level: Keven "AZK" Larivière made a fist of an Overwatch career when Blizzard released their ‘revolutionary’ new esports shooter. Things didn’t work out for him – as you’ll be aware if you follow either game –, but he remains further proof that he and his IBP brothers felt their skills were transferable, even to such a vastly different title as Overwatch. Project A could be yet another opportunity for them to do the same.
Now, before all you swag fans go out and get too excited, there is a spanner we must throw into the works, that being Riot Games themselves. For people like steel, swag, or Twitch star and former Overwatch pro Félix ‘xQc’ Lengyel, the new games looks great, but given the reasons for their exile from CS or OWL, they might not be welcome given Riot’s heavy-handed approach to player behaviour in their existing titles.
The internal standards Riot sets for their employees are one thing, but the way they deal with professional players is famously overbearing in comparison to CS:GO or the fighting game community. Where Valve had to be poked and prodded into action before the IBP players were investigated, let alone banned, Riot is happy to push their morals onto the playerbase whether they like it or not, like a manager farting in the face of an employee…
Of course we’ll have to wait and see, and none of these projects are close to alpha according to Riot, so many moons will wax and wane before we get an answer to the question of whether swag will get a chance to play at the top level again. It would be awesome if Riot did start with a clean slate policy, especially if it would mean that we finally get to see swag on stage, living the life he was supposed to live as a star of esports. Who knows? Project A might just be the vehicle he needs to make his dreams a reality.
Photo credit: Riot Games / IGN