Esports News

Luci Kelemen
Written By: Luci Kelemen

Telling tales of esports, one word at a time, six years and counting

August 19th, 2023

I tried to gather some thoughts about Gamers8, but all I got was some discombobulated threads of the whole money thing. I suppose that is the point.

Imagine Mbappé in esports!

I can’t really pinpoint why (Kappa), but I’ve got the sordid, yet hilarious saga of Kylian Mbappé on my mind, thinking about how it would play out in the esports space, especially in our game.

For those not in the know, the French superstar is locked in a high-stakes contractual non-dispute with Paris-Saint Germain, the capital’s club sportswashed to hell and back by its Qatari owners. After spurning Real Madrid’s approaches at the last moment and signing again with PSG for a reported 250 million euros and a lot of decision-making power, he seemed hellbent on seeing out this new contract with PSG instead of signing another one and getting sold afterward for a fee, looking to picket a hefty signing bonus for himself in the process instead of forcing his suitors to pay PSG for his signature.

Right now, the drama seems unresolved, though the latest reports seem to suggest that the Qatari-funded gigaclub might get its way again at the expense of some additional megabucks. It’s just one of the many examples of how the beautiful game has been warped by untold sums of sportswashing money, and how there still seem to be limits to that approach.

Over in our land of Esportsia, we’ve devoted gallons of digital ink to the presence of Saudi money in esports (and the proliferation of attitudes unwelcome in the space, and the controversy of people changing their minds about getting involved with events, et cetera. In certain circles, there’s a resignation that we’ve been captured, we’ve become a plaything, that a vision’s been corrupted.

BLAST Pro Series, Bahrain, and ‘esportswashing’

Maybe they are right. But here’s the thing: what if it just doesn’t work, and this is all just a big payday, even if a yucky one?

Esportswashing – does it work?

The whole idea of the concept is that by bankrolling big events and successful teams in the space, you will generate tacit acceptance and support for your not-so-savory political behavior. Relying on the tribalism of sports fans, you softly and not-so-softly get them on your side in the political arena as well, or at least sand off some rough edges at the cost of a couple billion dollars.

Now, I’ll lead the discussion of its overall efficacy in better-informed hands. That said, I certainly don’t see Putin stans tracing back their thoughts to the 2018 World Cup, and most have already forgotten how China’s also paid tons of money to big-name football players past their best, which turned out to be such a waste of money that the state has effectively banned the practice. Color me skeptical.

Returning to Esportsia, however, the same sort of sensibilities that burned so many venture capitalists over the past year about competitive gamers seem to make it a poor fit for the concept of esportswashing as well. Our audience is unwilling to pay for broadcasts, and the always-online nature of it all at least offers an opportunity to be better-informed of world affairs than what is afforded to the average footie fan.

“Worse” still, fans are loyals to players, not orgs, making it even more difficult to engender the same sort of tribalistic support the concept relies on. How many kennyS stans are rooting for Falcons at this point now that he's been kicked to the curb, let alone two years into the future? Any FalleN fan still rooting for Keyd Stars, Luminosity, MIBR in CS matches, let alone in another esport?

Also, it’s becoming quite clear that the game’s developers and publishers are the real top dogs in the business, not that this doesn’t bring its own set of financial entanglements along the way. But again, it’s just one reason against engaging in esportswashing: you have more efficient ways to hold people by the balls.

One more thing. As we’ve seen before, it’s tough to differentiate tournaments when the gameplay is essentially always the same, playing out on the same maps on the same engine of the same title. Mucking with the HUD a bit and forcing out odd crowd chants won’t get you there by itself.

So, what if all this is just a waste of time (and money)? I won’t go as far as to suggest that the participants are Robins of the Hood type, but I can’t help but feel that esports will turn out to be an even poorer investment for the Saudi Public Investment Fund than it did for most venture capitalists in the West.

Dota 2
Who wants to be a Dota 2 millionaire? (the non-TI edition)

Oh yes, about Gamers8

Yeah, there’s also that tournament thing going on, and it is profoundly silly. Gamers8 is such an odd epilogue to CS:GO esports. At some point, we expected Cologne to be the first CS2 event. Then the last CS:GO event. Now, we’ve marked it as the last „big,” the last „meaningful,”, the last „not-held-in-the-land-of-sportswashing” set of competitive CS matches.

Instead, it’s now all eyes on a single-elimination knockout bracket for a lot of money and not a lot of meaning, all behind a brand and a locale with a more than shady underbelly, with half of the participants going home after a single best-of-three. No wonder the viewership numbers are poor.

Can we finally get CS2, please? The eleventh anniversary of CS:GO can’t come soon enough.