We often talk about the lack of true majors in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, something that definitely affects the level of competition and makes some suffer more than others.
In Counter-Strike 1.6 the majors have been most CPL Dallas events up until winter 2006, almost all ESWCs up until 2010, Intel Extreme Masters World Championships after season two and the WCG events after 2006.
Of course there have also been countless other events; e-Stars, WEG and WEM seasons, IEM Global Challenges, GameGunes, DreamHacks and WSVGs just to name a few of them.
What makes the former events stand out from the bunch is the prestige and the meaning they carry for the winners, as well as the hefty prize purses that were attached to them.
There is little doubt winning a truly global tournament with teams from Asia, both South- and North America and Europe, with a first place prize in the neighborhood of $50,000 means more than a GameGune championship.
That's not a shot at GameGune or any of the other events, which were also great as part of the series, but the fact is the major events have always been what made Counter-Strike so exciting.
Think back to the most memorable wins, and it's very likely they were at the majors, whether it's Pentagram's win over NoA with 6,000 live spectators in Paris or Na`Vi breaking out at IEM IV World Championship with a win over fnatic in the grand finals.
The difference for spectators
So far what we've seen in CS:GO's short history is teams peaking at different times. Virtus.pro's peak came at SLTV StarSeries V Finals in early April, NiP's probably at Copenhagen Games.
Quantic showed their best efforts at ESEA Season 13 Finals in late April, VeryGames' most impressive play took place in late June as they won the RaidCall EMS One Summer season.
As a spectator I want to see the very best go up against one another, in tip top shape. I don't want to see a tired NiP roster drop a series to a super motivated Virtus.pro.
I want there to be so much at stake that the only conceivable option for any competitive player is to do everything in their power to be in the best form possible, to peak simultaneously.
That is where the majors come in. Majors in Counter-Strike are like the final exams in school. You might do just enough to get by throughout the semester, but you'll likely ramp up your studying right before the all deciding exam.
You might say professional players should always be motivated and show up in the best form, but that's simply not a realistic expectation. These people aren't robots after all.
As a fan, I truly hope NiP, VeryGames and Astana Dragons all put in a hundred hours in the final two weeks leading up to DreamHack Bucharest and we see them all play the best they can, but will we?
A total of $15,000 will be given out in Romania, which means the winner will get close to one third of what NiP are favored to win in Dallas roughly a month earlier. Incentives aren't equal for all teams.
Astana Dragons will without a doubt put in as much work as possible to not only have a strong debut and impress their new Kazakhstani backer, but to show the world what they're capable of.
VeryGames are still looking for that elusive first victory over the Ninjas, and are likely more motivated as well, but who thinks NiP's motivation matches that of the others chasing their first win?
Did anyone truly feel like NiP played to the best of their abilities in Cologne? I didn't. I thought they were in average shape, and it wound up costing them the tournament win - that's why we don't rank VeryGames as number one in the world.
Any sport is the most fun to watch when the best are playing their best - that's why the playoffs are so interesting. Majors provide maximum incentives, pressure, and glory. It's all the best things about CS wrapped into one.
Majors as a player
As a player it was much more fun to practice for the major events, and if you had to sacrifice things like time with family and friends, it was definitely easier when you knew it was one of the big three (ESWC, WCG, IEM/CPL).
Different things motivate different people; for example I always looked forward to events in far away countries more, so if we were traveling overseas, it would also affect my motivation in some way.
Glory, prestige and money definitely affect every player. However, I don't think most players think of money in terms of its purchasing power, but rather as a measurement of the tournament's prestige. Here's Patrik "cArn" Sättermon's take:
"Speaking from my own experience as a player, the team and I always loved the hype around events that had teams from all the world represented. It was during these events that the fans had the opportunity to watch several styles of CS collide, and many talented players had their breakthroughs at these arenas where not only the best team of a region was determined, but the entire world," started Sättermon
Sättermon, a two-time major event winner and a member of the world's number one team at a couple of occasions clearly also preferred the major events over regular tournaments.
He also confirms my point from the paragraph above; only at major events are the world's best teams crowned. You can become the best through other events like fnatic did in 2007, but I can't imagine it being as rewarding.
Here is what one of the all time biggest winners on the grandest stages of tournaments, Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas with six major titles in Counter-Strike 1.6 had to say:
"I feel like we were the kind of a team always looking for a challenge, and big prize money. It's not like we didn't try to win at smaller events, we just loved the major ones, the audience, the pressure, the fame...
"I remember that before last IEM in 2012, we just knew that we needed to play our hearts out. All of us knew that it would be the last major event of CS 1.6 and we wanted to prove a point, which I hope we did. I love emotions, and when I see people cheering for us, it just gives me extra power, and joy to play the game. It makes it 'beyond the game' - you might know the song," said Wojtas.
That basically sums up what I've spent almost 900 words trying to explain. Wojtas' teams were a classic example of people able to elevate their level of play and peak at the right times.
Heading into ESWC 2007 they had struggled for a while, only to pull off a major victory. Same goes for ESWC 2008, and World Cyber Games 2009 where they won their second gold medal.
Even as late as 2011 and 2012 when the Poles were much more consistent as a whole, they still managed to win both WCG and IEM, only to struggle in the coming months.
If you followed the scene back then, it's clear the level of play didn't rise - it was simply a case of there not being enough incentives for the competitors to put forth their best effort.
Another team known for winning multiple major events is Natus Vincere, who won all three of them in 2010, and added one more, the most competitive of them left, in 2011.
A player from Na`Vi who has stepped up with some clutch plays at the right times is Arseny "ceh9" Trynozhenko. This is what he had to say regarding major events:
"Well, a big tournament is a big motivation. Because when you are getting older you begin to think about future, family things that are connected with money especially if you are a professional gamer, a guy that lives on tournament prizes and salary that a cybersport organization pays you.
"And it's really important for your motivation to play in HUGE championships because in your mind and in the heads of a lot of fans these tournaments will always be remembred. You can ask a lot gamers what tournaments they remember and they will answer WCG, IEM, ESWC.
"Great tournament - a big responsibility, easier to practice, better feelings when you reach a goal. It is easier to find a common ground with teammates because everyone knows that the next tournament will be very serious and all the five guys will try to find a compromise, because the stakes are too high and you can not go wrong," added Trynozhenko.
Remember the time Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund cried after their grand final loss at WCG 2009? Or when the Poles shed some tears of happiness while Alesund kneeled on the ground after the semi-final of IEM V World Championship?
Recall how Natus Vincere broke out in the scene with their consecutive major tournament wins at IEM IV World Championship and ESWC 2010? All of these things happened because the matches in question were at major events.
You don't see people crying because of how much effort they've put in and how disappointed they feel after a $10,000 tournament, with the next one already looming ahead in a month. It just doesn't happen.
These kinds of emotional outbursts, which Michal "Carmac" Blicharz said reminded him of real sports, only happen when everything is at stake and the next comparable event is months away. At the majors.
It doesn't seem like anyone is willing to shell out enough cash for a major tournament, and for all we know we might never get another major unless viewership rises.
Although impossible, I would actually argue it'd be better for the scene to combine four events à la RC EMS One into one grand major, with over $100,000 up for grabs, as there would still be enough other events for the calendar year.
"I appreciate that the fault or problem doesn't solely lay on tournament organizers. In today's eSports, game developers are required to participate and interact with the community in order to make it as a successful eSport title, and I truly think that has been a failing from Valve with their release of Counter-Strike:GO," said Sättermon.
As fnatic's Chief Gaming Officer, the tournament structure is surely something Sättermon also thinks about, and I tend to agree with him that Valve holds all the keys to Counter-Strike's success.
The fact smaller tournies with more exposure spread all year round would never combine is why even a fraction of DotA2's support from Valve shifted towards their marque FPS game could make such a massive difference.
Imagine if Valve conservatively hosted four tournaments with a $100,000 prize purse, $50,000 for first. That wouldn't even be one fourth of their stake in a single The International event.
With IEM clearly having passed up on Counter-Strike for a second straight year and ESWC fallen into relative mediocrity compared to their golden days, we currently have no savior in sight.
"It's quite frustrating to observe how tournament organizers whom used to run global scale events in Counter-Strike, are now backing away from supporting Counter-Strike as much as they used to do," finished Sättermon.
Events like ESEA and DreamHack are doing a great job, but even their events can't be considered majors. The only logical choice to play host to a major event right now is Valve.
We need Valve to step in and offer CS:GO even a small piece of the pie that is eaten by DotA2 right now. We need it, and we need it soon. These events already blend in together.
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