It’s almost like we’ve traveled back in time to a more innocent (and more annoying) era of Counter-Strike.
Sometimes I get a strong sense of déjà vu when I sit down to watch the day’s Pro League matches. In a way, it’s a testament to Counter-Strike’s enduring success that the core gameplay experience remained the same for so long, and a proof of the professional contingent’s talents that many of them are still around to fight it out at the highest levels after all these years. Still, with all competitive play happening online, coaches doing odd shenanigans and many lower-level teams being investigated for matchfixing in ESEA MDL and the like, I can’t shake off the sensation that I was transferred back to 2015. Every time JW does something like this only compounds my suspicions that a time machine was involved in this somehow.
Depending on how you look at it, the scattered esports landscape of 2020 either shows the inherent fragility or the durable nature of our industry. Many competitions which revolved around LAN play are shuttered and struggling, yet the large boost in viewer count at the time when the whole world ground to a halt – including traditional sports – highlighted the massive growth potential of the scene even to those who were forever skeptical about the idea of watching people play video games.
And yet, these newly converted CS:GO fans won’t appreciate the irony of how far we were knocked back in terms of production levels and the sort of problems we’re facing. High-stakes games are once again played online with all the issues which accompany that sort of thing – with the notable exception of constant DDoS attacks – while teams and players on the lower rungs of the ladder are thrust into an even more desperate situation than usual, which no doubt played a part in the re-emergence of matchfixing allegations in ESEA MDL and the like.
And then there’s the whole issue with coaches doing things they probably shouldn’t, to the extent that there’s now a real worry that Valve may once again crack down on the role of the sixth man behind the curtain in a bid to make pro play look more like the regular affair. It’s become much harder to argue with a straight face that no shenanigans are going on in the background once you consider how long this bug was apparently an open secret among the competitors and how widespread its use was over the years. It’s not quite Devilwalk gleefully admitting that they kept the infamous olofboost a secret instead of reporting it to Valve live on air, but it’s clear that there are still many who value short-term benefits to long-term stability in CS:GO esports. To them, all I can say is what moses tweeted out a few days ago in so many words: you’re fucking this up for everyone.
Speaking of feeling like it’s 2015, Valve remains just as passive and inscrutable as ever. Except now this attitude is costing people more money and livelihoods are at risk because they can’t be bothered to communicate properly with the community. We’re in the middle of perhaps the biggest cheating controversy in top-level CS with the whole coach bug kerfuffle just as we’re still trying to figure out whether the biggest Major in the game’s history will get the go-ahead in the COVID-ransacked hellscape of late 2020. So far, all we’ve got from Valve is the patch notes. It also took community members to identify the smoke grenade exploit, and all the outrage in about the Yeah/MIBR situation got us is that Valve merely wanted us to discuss it in the open instead of properly enforcing the pretty harsh conflict of interest rules they put in place a while ago.
It’s not just the teams but the TOs as well that are getting the silent treatment – and it’s a sword which cuts both ways. Thorin’s recent tirade on By the Numbers pretty much confirmed how Flashpoint’s second season is adversely affected by all the unknown unknowns on the calendar, but if you go back further, Valve also dropped the ball at the Berlin Major with their non-handling of the StarLadder DMCA controversy. At this point, even knowing whether we’ll have a Major this year or not seems to be too much to ask for. If, like me, you hoped that Valve will start treating CS:GO better now that it overtook Dota by so many metrics, it seems you’re sorely mistaken.
Then again, maybe we should be careful what we wish for. It only takes a quick glance at the Dota world to realize how things could actually get even worse than this. Just look at Dota’s barren August and the limited clarification this blog post has brought a few days ago. For what it’s worth, at least they are quite consistent now in the way they handle their two big esports titles: complete radio silence and neglect regardless of the specifics. One step forward, circa twenty backward.
Many of Counter-Strike’s hypest moments owe their commentary to Henry Greer, one of the few CS pros who successfully made the transition to the other side of the silver screen. We already know from traditional sports that most ex-players are relegated to short analytic snippets or a drama queen role in the studio under the guise of “analysis”, and it’s a testament to HenryG’s dedication and skillset that he gave such a good account of himself both as a player and as a commentator over the years.
His casting style was a breath of fresh air after years of false equivalency and fake hype in one-sided clutch situations. Will the CT clutch the 1v4 retake? Everything is possible! Oh wait, he’s just saving. Listening to Henry calling it like it is, even if he didn’t have a 100% track record – let’s face it, no one does – was a nice change of pace from the early years of CS casting, and those rare occasions when the player pulled off the impossible were made all the more memorable by his genuine astonishment as things were turned around.
Now it’s our turn to be astonished by the abrupt conclusion of a stellar casting career. It’s not the ending we wanted but perhaps it’s the one we deserved: no swan song at a Major, just a short interview instead. His next adventure at Cloud9 as their general manager will serve as a fascinating contrast with moses’ efforts – and regardless of how it ends up, someone who’s seen and done it all more than deserves it to be able to quit on his own terms, a legacy well and truly secured.
Photo credit: HLTV