ESL One Road to Rio has already provided a lot of excitement for CS fans, but perhaps the most interesting consequence of the changes forced onto the calendar was the emergence of The International’s tournament format in a top-tier Counter-Strike event.
A round robin group stage followed by a seeded double elimination playoff bracket. Does this sound familiar to you? Though it isn’t present in the other regions, the European portion of ESL One Road to Rio offers the single most skill-testing playoff bracket we’ve seen to date at a blockbuster Counter-Strike event. It’s a setup that’s already been tested at multiple TIs and it’s always been positively referenced by CS:GO pros and personalities, and it is certainly a welcome sight at this event.
In fact, through a combination of happenstance and necessity, the Valve-involved part of the CS:GO circuit has become a lot more like the DPC just as Dota begins to move away from that kind of a format. Of course, Counter-Strike’s third-party tournament circuit is infinitely more robust than Dota’s, with events like ESL One Cologne carving out a relevant niche of their own regardless of the Major status and the like, but a system where a set of highlighted tournaments determine the eventual invitations to the showpiece tournament looks a lot like what Dota’s Pro Circuit used to be with a leadup to The International.
Though that system had a lot of flaws (it didn’t reward consistency and was a strain on both the teams’ schedules and the rest of the calendar), the potential introduction of the TI format to top-tier CS:GO tournaments would be a fantastic step forward.
Though there are real concerns about round robin in CS:GO, it still remains the most thorough way off assessing the relative skill levels of teams in a group, and offering many multi-tiered playoff spots ensure that there are little to no dead rubbers or games where only one team cares about the outcome. There is little to no argument about EG’s inability to reach the playoffs after they’ve played every other contender and failed to clear the bar.
Similarly, double elimination playoff brackets serve to provide one chance to rebound from an upset loss by a top team, creating lots of exciting storylines in the process with lower bracket runs and high-stakes rematches later down the line. StarSeries & i-League Season 8 has also featured this kind of a format, and the grand final rematch between EG and an ascendant Fnatic was one of the most interesting grand finals in recent memory.
It works fantastically for Dota, so why not give it a go in CS?
We’ve all seen the news of Counter-Strike breaking Dota’s longstanding all-time player peak numbers, and the trajectories of the two games both in terms of general playerbase and esports interest levels suggests that Valve might finally start to pay more attention to CS:GO. With thorny issues like MIBR’s conflict of interest concerns, there’s certainly a laundry list of nasties to take care of.
The existing Major format has a lot to answer for, and if anyone really complained about Valve’s tentative steps in changing them recently, it was all about the conservative nature of the adjustments. The automatic Legend re-invites allowed teams long past their prime like Virtus.pro or outliers with no other notable showings in the circuit like HellRaisers to take a spot from more deserving sides, and the unseeded best-of-one Swiss bracket of the ELEAGUE days were also a stain on the competition. Slow and steady wins the race though, and it seems like Counter-Strike might finally reach the pinnacle of Valve’s in-house competition, and with it, possibly the rest of the esports landscape as well. Learning the right lessons from Dota would be yet another tentative step in that direction.