It didn’t take long for the meme brigade to come out in full force in light of Besiktas’ female-only team’s complete collapse at DreamHack Open Rotterdam. It’s like the CLG Red discussion all over again, a regularly regurgitated pile of gunk where people conflate competitive integrity with invite-only spots.

So, Besiktas is not good enough to go up against regular DreamHack Open opposition – this has not been much of a surprise going into the event. The team, after all, has been struggling in ESEA Open¸ a fairly good barometer for their overall skill level. For some, their mere presence at the event seemed to be an affront, “wasting a spot” at the tournament at the expense of better sides.

It’s a tired old argument with little merit. No slot is being “taken” away by those imaginary tier 4 teams that are supposedly denied a chance for a breakout performance at a DreamHack Open: past events in the circuit all featured just the two regional qualifier spots, meaning an invite-only one was converted to the one which went to the winners of DreamHack Showdown Valencia.

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How low on the competitive ladder would critics like to go where they’d give TOs a free pass to invite a team based on marketing consideration instead of merit? Newsflash: it’s been going on at the very top of the scene. IEM Sydney has more Oceanian slots than the rest of the circuit, BLAST had the Iberian play-in in Madrid, Cloud9 still makes the occasional LAN appearance – the list goes on. What’s the practical difference between inviting weak domestic sides (like in the case of the Hungarian-only qualifier for the V4 Future Sports Festival) or fallen giants like or MIBR to your event in comparison with a Besiktas?

Besides, the arguments about the purity of competition would make more sense if we were talking about a slot at an event like The International or even “just” a top-tier CS event like the Pro League finals. Let’s face it: if you want to watch the best Counter-Strike gameplay, you wouldn’t even tune in to DreamHack Open today, with the Pro League games going on basically at the same time. At the end of the day, esports is marketing, in an environment where many are still writing blank checks in a hope that eventually there’s going to be a paying audience for their product. This makes it all the tougher to fund competition on the lower levels, and many other esports struggle with this way more than Counter-Strike does – especially the ones which revolve around a franchise-based system. Remember Overwatch Contenders, for example? Even Dota, the CS fans often tend to look at with envious eyes from an esports perspective, struggles with the lack of trickle-down-economics from TI, invariably choking off most of the non-DPC scene both financially and prestige-wise. See also: ESL One Mumbai.

It’s close to impossible to turn a lower-level team into a profitable business proposition by itself, and if you do sign up to the marketing-based approach, it quickly becomes apparent that the novelty value of a female-only team is worth more than the skills of a top 50 CS team by itself. The same logic led to CLG Red’s invite to ESEA Advanced. Was it the straw that broke the camel’s back? No, they were tested and they couldn’t pass, having relegated to ESEA Main. (As an interesting aside, Besiktas beat them in the finals of DreamHack Showdown Valencia to earn their chance to play in Rotterdam.) The fact that there’s a reliable avenue for female teams to play in a “proper”, if lower-tier LAN is a nice barometer to have to begin with, and it also worked pretty well as a marketing ploy. Think of it this way: how else could a DreamHack Open group stage opener generate this level of attention in 2019?

Photo credit: HLTV