The postponement of the Rio Major, however disappointing and necessary, will bring along many ramifications we haven’t even considered yet. That said, it’s clear even on the day of ESL’s announcement that the increased timespan between the previous Major and the next will have a huge impact on player transfers are concerned, with teams now expected to keep the majority of their squads intact for a 14-month period if they want to keep their invitation to what is now 2020’s only Major tournament. With so much money dumped into the game as of late, this could be a real issue – but there may also be a silver lining to this cloud.
We’re already in an odd period in Counter-Strike when it comes to professional teams: so much money has been poured into the scene so quickly that buyouts skyrocketed to ridiculous levels, with few orgs having the stomach or the purse to force a transfer. Expectations are quite ridiculous from both sides. Say what you will about Astralis’ controversial signing of es3tag, an $800 000 price tag on a contract which expires in three months is a level only seen in the highest echelons of football. The closer you get to a free transfer the faster the contract’s value diminishes because each party knows you can just wait it out. While that doesn’t excuse the way Astralis handled the situation, it’s valuable context to consider.
Flareups like these between orgs only make up a small chunk of the larger realignment that is currently underway in the CS talent pool. With many veterans leveraging their brand for a new lease of life and a plethora of young talents making a huge impact in the servers in their wake, the time feels just right for wholesale roster changes for the floundering teams. The Rio Major would have served as the perfect release valve, with what would have likely been a massive shuffle after the event.
Instead, we’re stuck with online CS, many teams in transition and a long wait until the next Major, with teams jostling for their spot at what will now definitely be the biggest event on the calendar. The financial and roster implications of this are going to be immense for all concerned, and no doubt it will force many gamblers to fold their hand. Just consider how much c0ntact (an org which already owns teams in the Call of Duty World League and the Overwatch League) was willing to pay for a seat at the table, buying the remnants of the CR4ZY lineup who made their mark in Berlin.
They supposedly forked out over $1.5 million for a team in FLASHPOINT (plus the spot in that league) and no pending LAN invites based on what we’ve seen in the circuit before the coronavirus crisis, and now they have to keep the plates spinning until November at least if they want to see any real return on that investment.
Though c0ntact is an extreme example, we’ve already seen the likes of MIBR struggling to make the roster moves they were originally looking for, and with the current worldwide uncertainty, it’s likely many will have to make do with what they have right now, especially if they want to hold on to that coveted Major invite. In fact, quite a few of the Berlin top 16 will have to face difficult choices.
Some of the teams are already locked into their current core (unless they decide to bring back a player they already kicked) with at least six months to go before the next Major. Of course, NiP already had to go through the meat grinder of the European Minor qualifiers, but some other teams are also teetering on the edge. MIBR are already down to Fallen, fer and TACO from their Berlin side, while ENCE may still have four out of five of their players from the last Major, but they are catastrophically poor and one has to wonder whether just one additional roster move gets them back on the right trajectory. Similar concerns swirl around Vitality and arguably FaZe Clan as well. Meanwhile, G2 and North are also out of potential roster moves if they want to keep the majority of their squad from the previous Major.
Cloud9’s situation serves as a cautionary tale: the North American org opted to abandon their invite spot to build upon their squad at the time, with RUSH going on record that they "think that it's more important to have a roster that can compete than just having a spot in the Major". Five days after Astralis triumphed in Berlin, RUSH joined Complexity, after spending most of the summer on the bench of C9.
This wasn’t the sort of 2020 orgs and tournament organizers had in mind, and though CS:GO’s open circuit seems fairly resilient in light of the coronavirus outbreak, there’s no doubt many are looking to readjust their plans for the year. Not everyone will make it, and there will be many ‘what if?’ stories emerging the next few months.
However, necessity breeds invention, and recent successes suggest there are other ways to get more out of a squad than just cutting players, much like VP did in their heyday. With the growing impact of coaches, a high-profile experiment with a larger roster at Astralis, players like kennyS and JW (and their respective teams) reinventing themselves and former elite squads like NiP looking to find a new equilibrium, this deep freeze we’re seeing right now could herald the beginning of a new approach to roster-building in CS.
With a growing input of coaches and multiple teams realizing (often at the cost of 20+ HLTV ranking slots) the importance of a good in-game leader as a foundation, the tactical aspect of CS:GO may come to the forefront more than ever before. If you’re stuck with the same puzzle parts you had in the past, you’ll finally see the value of those who can put them together in a new way to form a different picture.
Photo credit: HLTV