So Rio joined Kraków and Boston as one of those Majors. With all top teams falling short, an upset result was guaranteed from the quarterfinals onward, and it marked the first time in CS esports history that a grand final was played in a library.
Pandering to the crowd is nothing new in our scene. The people in the Spodek are always the best of the best, the congregation in the Cathedral of Counter-Strike is always highlighted as special. We’ve seen dodgy home crowds before, and we’ve had to deal with unsporting behavior. (Hello Denmark!) But never has the audience become the main storyline. Their antics, their nationality, the local announcers and all the bullshit ended up overshadowing what was supposed to be yet another celebration of Counter-Strike.
Gosh, I’m glad this is over with. What an odd way to feel about a Major! Part of this is due to the stacked calendar – as we’ve discussed here, the back-to-back-to-back Pro League and the RMR and the Major was simply too much for me – but the neverending frustration and fatigue about the venue and the audience and the soap opera and aaargh.
Think back to Stockholm and Antwerp. As we slowly stammered back towards a semblance of normalcy after the pandemic, the Majors served as a celebration of the resilience of CS:GO esports and the community as a whole.
The post-pandemic Majors were a big celebration of the scene: first, a sendoff of sorts to the old guard of casters and desk personalities who carried events on their backs in the formative years of this version of the game. Much-maligned as it was (and with good reason) due to endless technical issues, it was still primarily about Counter-Strike. Antwerp gave way to the new generation of talent and proved to be a fresher, more polished product, with great storylines and intricate gameplay, with a crowd that was supportive all along no matter who was on the stage.
And now we have this mess where it was all about Imperial and 00Nation and the crowd and gaules and the X-ray and the chants and FURIA and the noise and the fan events and the empty seats and the why so quiets and the library KEKWs and just get me out of here.
The antics of the crowd and the permanent will-they-or-won’t-they-show-up nonsense took the sheen off the gameplay. As many have commented, these fans loved Brazil, not the game, and acted accordingly during the matches. I pegged this accordingly back in the Challengers Stage – though I still retained hope. Turns out I shouldn’t have. An excited crowd can enhance a tournament broadcast in more ways than one, but when they overtake the main event in terms of importance, it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I wasn't the only one, apparently: after breaking records in the early matches, viewership declined in the Challengers Stage, and the Rio Major ultimately ended up with worse viewer metrics than Stockholm and Antwerp did.
In US politics, there’s a term of art: the “asterisk election.” Give me a moment, I promise this will make sense. It refers to the rare midterm elections where the governing party doesn’t get wiped out in Congress two years after the president’s election. Since this is such a rare occasion, these examples – 1934, 1962, 1998, 2002 and now 2022 – are always mentioned in a footnote when discussing general trends.
In a similar vein, we have our asterisk Majors in the form of Kraków and Boston, and now Rio will join the list. With truly unexpected winners emerging again, the question is now whether Outsiders will live up to the top billing they’ve earned or will they fizzle out Gambit/Cloud9-style.
Of course, they are now the best team in the world, with Heroic right behind them, at least according to HLTV. Clearly. FURIA is now also better than FaZe. Just imagine if HLTV ran the world football rankings. It’s 2004 and Greece is now the best football team in the world, joined by Porto as the strongest club side. There’s an inherent element of variance and unpredictability in knockout play, and the volatility of the ranking system (and the somewhat arbitrary pre-player break event inclusion/exclusion) often makes for an odd reading.
So instead of the HLTV rankings at the time of Major wins, let’s look at title credentials elsewhere in the circuit – with the caveat that it is as closed today as it has ever been. Back in 2017, Gambit scored playoff finishes in the previous Major and at DreamHack Master Las Vegas right after, but they followed this up with a super-disappointing 12-14th finish at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3.
They then attended a couple of lower-tier events, winning a DreamHack Open and finishing second at the inaugural cs_summit tournament. The indictment, if there is one, is that they haven’t even made the semis at any elite-tier event afterward with the roster, and the org’s next S-Tier tournament win came with the now-C9 lineup in 2021.
Speaking of the sky blue outfit, a similar trend emerges. The team finished fourth in consecutive S-tier events and failed to make it out of the groups of the ECS Season 4 finals heading into what would be known as The Miracle of Massachusetts, and the org hasn’t won a single tournament from then on until IEM Dallas earlier this year. There’s a good reason why both teams are seen as “undeserved”, for lack of a better word, Major winners, no matter their HLTV ranking at the time.
Not all upstarts fade away, either. Neither Fnatic nor Luminosity were seen as favorites heading into their era-defining Majors, but they were both knocking on the door at previous CS:GO matches and remained relevant in the circuit after their wins as well.
Outsiders’ lineage is tougher to trace because of the sanctions and the roster changes. Awful showings in Pro League’s previous season and the Antwerp Major, then a 13-16th stinkout in Cologne. Back in June, the team was playing in the ESL Pro League Conference. It remains to be seen whether they can live up to their Major win, but there’s little reason to expect so.
Another way to look at these Majors: so far, they both led to a tweak in the format, a tacit acknowledgment that this was about more than just a Cinderella run. After Kraków, the number of teams was expanded from 16 to 24, and once Boston was in the books, partial seeding was introduced for the Swiss stages. It wouldn’t be a surprise if adjustments were to be made again.
With another weird, one-off Major in the books, all eyes are now on BLAST to close out the year with a bang. Then, it will be time to exhale.
Photo credit: Gabriel Oliveira