April 22, 2020

How COVID-19 Changed Counter-Strike

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world drastically. Plenty of esport events all around the world have been canceled or postponed, while others changed to an online format.

Even the first Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major of 2020, which was supposed to start in May, has been postponed to the Autumn Major dates. 2020 will therefore be the first year since 2013 with only a single Valve sponsored event.

While postponing the event has resulted in a lot of trouble for many fans who wanted to come and watch the event, it also has it’s upsides. For the first time ever, a CS:GO-Major will offer a combined price pool of two million USD. Additionally Valve has introduced a brand new regional major ranking that will decide who is going to participate in the ESL One: Rio Major 2020.

Regional rankings: Who gets invited to the next major?

As foundation for the new rankings the results of the last Major in Berlin were used. For example, for Oceania there is only one reserved slot for the “Contenders” stage, formerly known as “New Challengers” stage. Europe and the CIS region on the other hand each have two slots for Contenders. In total, eleven of 24 teams at the Rio Major will be from Europe, five from the CIS region and North America, as well as one team from South America, Asia and Oceania.

Each of the six regional major rankings (RMR) offers an additional price pool based on the number of participating teams. The European RMR events will offer 115,000 USD for the 16 teams that either qualified by playing in the Berlin Major or were qualified for the European Minor. North America on the other hand only offers 60,000 USD for the twelve participating teams.

This also means that for the first time ever, no team will be directly invited to the Major, instead each and every one must earn their spot. Even four times major winning team Astralis, who have won the last three Majors in a row, will have to earn enough points in the European regional ranking to qualify for Rio.

Back to the roots: Online games take the playing field

While the changes to the major circuit are great and highly anticipated by the community, the COVID-19 pandemic has also stopped 2020 from being a great year for Counter-Strike and its esport scene. At the end of 2019 Flashpoint and the ESL Pro League went head to head competing for the honor of being the best CS:GO-league. Both decided that only a LAN league will be able to take the crown and created formats that had the teams facing each other directly and onside.

But both leagues fell flat due to the pandemic and had to switch to online matches. For teams like Astralis and Natus Vincere, it was the first time since 2018 that they had to play a match online. Natus Vincere struggled hard in the first two matches to show the same level of performance as during their dominant win in Katowice just a few weeks before.

The difference in performance is one of the many obvious reasons why leagues decided to ditch online matches. And while the idea of regional major rankings based on event performances is great, for the time being these events will most likely be played online. No matter how good the new major format is, it will always suffer from the randomness of online matches.

Photo Credit: ESL – Helena Kristiansson
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