Franchising in CS:GO Might Be Closer Than You Think
One of the most appealing aspects of Counter-Strike as a top-tier esport is the open-circuit system that is prevalent through most of the tournament organizer’s formats. A team from nearly any established region can work their way through the open qualifiers to the closed qualifier to sharing the stage with some of the best teams in the world. Copenhagen-based RFRSH Entertainment infamously sought to break that tradition with their own tournament system, BLAST Pro Series. They held some qualifiers, sure, but for the most part the same contracted teams attended most of their events between 2017 and 2019. The community voiced their concerns and, thankfully, BLAST will be a much more open-circuit moving forward in 2020. Apparently undeterred by the BLAST backlash, another league that has much more of a franchised esport feel is potentially on the way. After the most recent Major in Berlin there have been a string of North American-based organizations took to social media to declare their interest in either spending bigger than before on their Counter-Strike teams, or announcing their intentions to re-enter the scene altogether. At first I was just happy to see organizations like 100 Thieves, Dignitas, Cloud9, and Evil Geniuses willing to make big commitments to the esport we all love. Then after speaking with multiple people behind the scenes, I started to realize that the orgs investing big money weren’t just doing this for the love of Counter-Strike. Now I’m not naive enough to not understand that they are running a business with investors and have to be able to show that they are least working towards profitability. My concern is how sources say they may plan to do this in Counter-Strike. Around a month ago, CS:GO journalist Jarek “DeKay” Lewis mentioned on his stream that there was a new league in the works that would need to fit in the schedule alongside ESL Pro League and ECS that take up a chunk of space on the Counter-Strike schedule already. Multiple sources have told me that this is indeed in the works and will involve a majority of the big names in North America along with a choice few European brands as well. Here’s where the exact details of the format get a bit fuzzy. Some sources have stated that from that it will be a six week LAN league, but I also had one source state the league’s format will be more like League of Legends with two splits spread out over the course of the year with one to be hosted in North America and one in Europe. The exact format isn’t my biggest concern, though we will certainly update the story if more concrete information becomes available. What I’m more concerned about is that sources say the teams involved are setting up a BLAST-esque format with the teams owning seemingly permanent spots in the league and sharing a significantly higher share of the profits from the league’s earnings by making it closed-circuit. Sources also stated that teams participating will be expected to prioritize the new league and may be forced to skip some big events in the Counter-Strike calendar to fulfill their obligations to the league. I’m not against tournament organizers making money in the scene. I’m also not against new and innovative ideas for league formats and tournaments. However, I am against a closed-circuit system that can leave parts of the rest of the Counter-Strike calendar missing some of the biggest names in the scene because they are participating in the league they have created. In September, Valve made a statement titled Keeping Things Competitive addressing concerns with exclusivity and shared ownership in leagues or tournaments. One of the big takeaways was that Valve is against any leagues that restricted teams from attending other organizer’s leagues and tournaments. That’s all well and good, but it’s a bit vague for my liking. Astralis, for example, could just simply say they are turning down the invites to other organizer’s events for one reason or another and the league would skate around the issue without putting an official rule on paper saying they must skip certain events. Valve further made their position on shared ownership loud and clear: “We consider a conflict of interest to be any case where a tournament, team, or player has a financial relationship with any other participating team or its players. This includes multi-team ownership, leagues with shared ownership by multiple teams, or essentially any financial reason to prefer that one team win over another.” This is a strong statement that would seemingly kill this potential new league before it even got started if any of the teams in the league owned a percentage, but sources say that’s not the case, yet. Multiple sources have stated that the league plans to operate with support from FACEIT. Just how involved FACEIT plan to be and how the teams plan to get around Valve’s desire for no shared ownership isn’t clear at this time. There’s been so much discussion about the good and bad sides of franchising over the last few years in esports. The LCS has been wildly successful in North America, even if those teams rarely put up a fight on the world stage. The Overwatch League has had some growing pains, but benefits as a product from having the best players in the world all based in its league and not spread out all over the world. The upcoming Call of Duty League will certainly experience some serious growing pains, not least which is the obscene fee Activison was asking for a spot in the league and just how any of the organizations involved will get a return on their initial investment. Counter-Strike has, so far, avoided the pains of franchising. However, I would bet the vast majority of organization owners and investors would prefer a more traditional sports franchise model in Counter-Strike even if it alienated a large portion of fans. It’s worth noting that a source sent me a current list of teams that were planning to participate in this new league if it gets off the ground. All of the organizations on the list except one currently operate at least one team in esports that have franchised leagues. As organizations and tournament organizers continue to operate at a loss, my fear is that franchising will arrive sooner rather than later in Counter-Strike. Rush B Media reached out to FACEIT for comment and were provided with the following statement: “At the moment we don’t have any changes to the format to share, but should that change we’ll let you know.” We will update this story as more details emerge.