Most of the changes made in light of the global pandemic feel like downgrades and temporary solutions, the virtual equivalent of duct tape in the world of esports. However, “art from adversity” seems to apply to CS:GO broadcasts as well, and some of the innovations seem good enough to become permanent parts of future tournaments as well once we get our long-awaited return to LAN.
Long-time CS fans may remember the awkward moment when Deman was shoved into the Anders-HenryG duo in the grand final of ESL One Cologne 2015, which pretty much canned any discussion of tri-casting for the next few years. ESL’s already experimented with the observers’ occasional inclusion in Pro League group stage matches, but it was only recently that they really seem to have found their groove with the different setups.
Currently, it feels like a three-person cast lives and dies on the individuals’ chemistry, and the third wheel needs to have some sort of special insight, either in the form of play-by-play casting ability like stunna or strong analysis chops like SPUNJ. Luckily, everyone’s favorite Aussie brings a unique combination of insight and banter with the occasional Skybox-enhanced mid-game round breakdowns (another aspect which would be nice to see more of in the future beyond just the regular round replays), and it’s one of those cases where a third person on the broadcast has actively enhanced the experience. It certainly shouldn’t become the new normal but it can definitely work with the right setup.
Traditional sports and esports alike have struggled to find a way to keep fans a part of the live experience even as it became impossible to hold large gatherings, with varying degrees of success. In terms of esports, the live crowd’s financial impact is much lower at this point in time than you would expect in something like football, making this a bit more of an academic exercise. There are always going to be excited viewers ready to supply the rest of us with secondhand embarrassment regardless of whether they are personally in attendance or not, and as long their hijinks are broadcast-friendly and the image quality isn’t potato-like, why not make them part of the experience as well? You could perhaps even bundle that into a virtual pass of sorts to generate a bit of much-needed extra revenue.
Having found the way to incorporate fans in the experience from far away, tournament organizers can now also make fans and viewers a part of the experience even in the early stages. Fan cams seem like a great tool to introduce for group stages of larger events which are not yet open to the public, setting the stage for the real hype moments in the arena going forward. You can never have enough meme threads.
Usually, it’s a pointless shot of a fist bump through a webcam that production uses to highlight the key player of a specific round, but ESL’s current impact player graphic does a pretty good job of seamlessly conveying more information about their recent performance. It’s just one of many potential additions for a game that does much little with its slate of available data than other esports like Dota 2 – and who knows, with MonteCristo’s continued involvement with Flashpoint, maybe he can make good on his vision to make better use of this kind of information even if ESL doesn’t go full spreadsheet mode.
It seems the pandemic has also opened the floodgates to changing some of the fundamentals of the game as well. Different formats like MR12 began to crop up in real competition, showcasing there’s more to top tier CS than the usual first-to-sixteen affairs. Though that may not be the perfect solution to many of the issues cropping up in the world of tournament organizers, there’s certainly something to be said about streamlining matters somewhat. It’s not even MR12 itself that is the most exciting aspect of it all: the willingness to experiment is what makes this a relevant development.
Aggressively changing formats and innovating along the way is something we’ve seen more of in Dota, but it would be welcomed in CS as well: BLAST’s Bounty Hunt tournament has created interesting added incentives with its cash pool system, and the MoonduckTV crowd’s various tournaments like Midas Mode have also offered a unique take on the competitive experience both for the players and the viewers alike.
Though it goes without saying that we don’t want to be deprived of heavyweight clashes like 2018-19’s Astralis vs Liquid saga, a smaller pool of competitors serves well to establish distinct storylines and growth potential for up-and-coming sides. It feels like the NA quarantine has made MIBR’s downfall even faster, their play even more predictable to those they come up against a regular basis (though based on the tonking G2 gave them, maybe that’s just universal), while a team like Chaos could establish itself much faster against progressively better teams in their region off the back of regular playtime and a multitude of direct results and demos to compare and contrast.
Much like how the Euros or the Copa America is an event onto itself in football, it would be nice to see a set of high-profile regional tournaments complement the usual circuit in the future. Just like with the formats, there’s so much more we could do with CS than running the same exact tournament over and over again – and the current crunch might force tournament organizers to further innovate in order to differentiate their product.
Photo credit: ESL