CSGO: the best viewer experience, the worst schedulling
Counter Strike has been for the longest time uncontested when it comes to its viewer experience. It sits in a perfect balance of being quite easy to understand but extremely deep in its more advanced concepts. Most people will grasp the main objectives of the game even if they never played one in their life: the terrorists need to plan the bomb and/or kill the counter terrorists; the CTs must either defuse to bomb or stop it from being planted in the first place by killing the Ts first.
The viewer who never played a video game in their life or is completely unfamiliar with CSGO will understand this concept rapidly, yet, simultaneously, the more experienced fan who spent multiple thousands of hours playing and watching the game will still be entirely entertained due to the ever changing tactics and metas in the esports scene. Despite this gigantic head start compared to Mobas, RTS games or “Hero shooters” (Valorant/Overwatch), which have a much steeper learning curve upfront, CSGO’s scheduling is so all over the place that it is one of the hardest esports to keep up with.
Counter Strike has a considerably different esports scene to a Riot Game or even DOTA due to the overwhelming majority of the circuit being handled by the TOs themselves, with Valve only having any influence over the Majors (which were 2 a year pre-Covid). This has been both a blessing and a curse. In a game like League of Legends the entire circuit leads to two key moments every year: the Mid Season Invitational (MSI) and the World Championship. This format is easy to execute, but has a lot of downsides.
The two aforementioned tournaments are our only chance to see teams from different regions battle each other, with MSI having only one team from each region. This basically nullifies World Rankings and weakens a lot of the “best team of the year” debates. A team might win Worlds or MSI just because they peaked or had a favorable meta when those tournaments came around. Or, on the other side of the coin, imagine if NAVI were playing exclusively against CIS teams for the entire year destroying everyone and then choked at the Major. Would they even be in the debate for best team of the year?
The upsides of this centralized circuit are that you can easily follow your region and the international tournaments, even if you have a busy schedule in your personal life. Games have a set schedule, for example, if you want to follow LEC (the European League) you know you will have games to watch every Friday and Saturday between 5pm and 9pm (GMT). You want to follow LCS, the North American League too? Just change streams when LEC ends on Saturday and keep watching until 2am (GMT).
Now let’s see how you can follow CSGO’s League, the ESL Pro League (EPL). It starts with a clear caveat in comparison to League of Legends: since Covid forced ESL to change things up, the League is now fully international and pretty much works like a much longer tournament. It comprises 24 teams (a much higher number than LEC’s 10 or even the biggest league in LPL’s 17 teams) and EPL S14 lasted less than a month, a much shorter time frame than LEC’s almost three month duration. So yes, you need to dedicate a bit of your time for a much longer period, but it is only a few hours every Friday/Saturday.
Now if we take EPL S14 as an example, a massive League with most of the top teams in the world, the time commitment is reduced to less than a month, but it asks for an absurd amount of your day, almost everyday. Let’s try to imagine a plausible example. You want to religiously watch Group C, the one which has the biggest orgs on paper.
The Good news is you only need to allocate your time between the 27th and the 31st of August. It encompasses Friday and the weekend, it’s not so bad right? The massive problem is, you need to basically not do anything else in those days if you really want every game.
As you can see, you would need at the bare minimum— if you were exclusively watching the games and ignoring every other part of the broadcast— 6 hours of your day, every single day for almost a week to keep up with the group. If all the BO3s go to three games, it could take upwards of 9 hours even if you keep ignoring the rest of the broadcast. How is this feasible for anyone who watches the game as a hobby?
Developer monopolies like what Riot and Blizzard do isn’t healthy but neither is this.
TOs need competition amongst themselves, but total suffocation of the schedule is just a different kind of monopoly. The viewers can’t keep up, the broadcast product isn’t as good and no narratives can develop in the scene. 2022 has already been a year of big changes with the ESL/Face it merger, let’s hope the next changes to follow are positive ones. CSGO is the most brilliant esports ever made, let’s give it the scene it deserves.
Image via Valve.