MonteCristo on Flashpoint's role in the scene: "I think it's really important that one of the tournament organisers is based in NA"
The Flashpoint Commissioner on hosting a tournament without most of the league's partners, the plans for the RMR event and the prospect of a return to LAN for Season 4.
These are exciting times over in the Flashpoint camp. Created in early 2020 to shake up the status quo in Counter-Strike and offer a path to sustainability to both teams and players, the league lacked star power during its first year and could not really establish itself as an alternative to the ESL Pro League, in part because plans to deliver engaging storylines that fans could follow had to be scrapped, or at least placed on hold, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Season 3 will see Flashpoint head in a new direction. As the first Regional Major Ranking (RMR) event of the year in Europe, it will feature a level of competition not seen during the first two seasons, with five teams currently in the top 10 (11 in the top 20) in attendance.
It's the perfect opportunity for Flashpoint to deliver on its ambitions, but it won't quell the concerns about the future of the league, with only half of its eight member organisations currently fielding Counter-Strike teams (FunPlus Phoenix is the only one attending Season 3). Flashpoint Commissioner Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles understands such sentiments but insists that the league's inactive partners are still keeping tabs on the scene and will return when the time is right, possibly in Season 4. "I am hoping that, by then, the pandemic will be in a state and we'll be in a position where we can reevaluate the partner teams' participation," he told HLTV.org in an interview conducted after the Season 3 announcement.
MonteCristo also commented on Duncan "Thorin" Shields's departure from the project and what it could mean for the broadcast and stated his belief that Flashpoint can play a big role in the revival of the North American Counter-Strike scene: "If there isn't anybody in North America then I don't think that there's a lot of people to push for future events in the region."
What does it mean for a project like Flashpoint to secure the rights to host a Major qualifier in Europe, the biggest and most prestigious region in Counter-Strike?
We're very excited about being able to do the RMR and grateful to Valve that they chose us after we applied. I think a strength of Flashpoint's has always been our production quality and the content that we've brought to the broadcast. And we're really looking forward to having a more competitive field of teams to apply that same level of production and quality to.
You now finally have a really stacked field of teams to work with instead of just one or two top teams. Is it the dream scenario for a company like yours, with solid production capabilities and the drive to push narratives? Does it add pressure because you have to put on a show?
(laughs) I think we're pretty good at putting on a show. So I'm not terribly concerned about that, especially when we're going to be in the FACEIT studios in Los Angeles because it's a space that we have unlimited access to. So it's even easier in many ways to set up and make sure that we can provide really good value. Not to say that in Flashpoint 2 we didn't have good value, but it's just easier when we have a great partner like FACEIT who actually owns the space and we have more time to set everything up. So that's very exciting. And I think the dream scenario is that our partner teams own those teams that are at the top competitive level, but due to a variety of issues, especially with the pandemic, it's been really difficult for our partner teams to acquire rosters of that caliber. I think it's pretty evident what is happening right now in terms of the North American Counter-Strike scene and the difficulties that people are having retaining players when compared to VALORANT. Also, many of our partners are based in North America, with established facilities here in America, and it's very hard, with the pandemic kind of forcing all of the teams to go over to Europe to be competitive, to really utilize those facilities or the resources that they have here. So I think it became very challenging for them to operate in a way where they felt they could support their teams in the best way possible during the pandemic. So part of what's going on right now is our partner teams are re-evaluating how we're approaching the business with Flashpoint and what the future looks like. And it's great that in the interim, while this is happening, we can continue to run events and kind of show what we can produce with an RMR.
When did you start entertaining the idea of doing a Major qualifier rather than a normal Flashpoint season? Was the decision motivated by the apparent lack of interest from certain member organisations?
I don't think there's a lack of interest from our partner organizations. I think, as I said, that it's been really challenging for them to retain North American players, given the kind of swap that's been happening over to VALORANT and also because it was hard for them to utilize the facilities that they've built for these purposes in North America. And it's hard for them to attract European players at the current time with a long-term goal of being in North America because basically nobody knows what's going to happen with the NA Counter-Strike scene or how everything's going to shake out once the pandemic ends. So I think there are just many, many unknowns right now. Our partner teams are certainly evaluating options as they go forward, but in the absence of their ability to potentially field the most competitive rosters as a result of all of these factors, I think that it makes a lot of sense for us to focus on running an event that will be very popular with the fans, where we can really show to our sponsors and partners the kind of audience that we're capable of getting and the kind of production value that we provide on the biggest scale possible. So I think that, right now, this makes a lot of sense for us and we'll continue to evaluate it moving forward into the future.
What does this mean for the future of Flashpoint? Each organisation invested $2 million to be involved, but most of them are not even going to participate in this edition. Are they getting their money's worth?
It's not that they can't get their money's worth under a different model because they still benefit from any revenue created by the league, So even if they're not fielding a team, they are still an ownership entity that will be deriving revenue from sponsorship sales or the success of the overall product. So I think for the partner teams right now, it's just taking a step back and saying, 'What is the best way to operate this business under the current conditions?' Because I think everyone is surprised. When the company was formed, we didn't know the effect that VALORANT would have on North American Counter-Strike. We didn't know about the pandemic. We didn't know that as a result of the pandemic, a lot of this competition would be shifted to European online play, for example. So there have been a lot of challenges, and I think it's going to take us some time to take a look at these challenges and figure out the best way to approach them once everything has stabilized and the pandemic starts to recede. Things have changed quite a bit. We are not the only ones who have been affected, the entire Counter-Strike scene has been affected. And I think all the fans know that it's especially the North American Counter-Strike scene that has taken a big hit.
In our previous interview, you said that you were working more with the teams. But right now, only four of them have active rosters. Have your suggestions and input fallen on deaf ears?
Well, I think you can see that FunPlus Phoenix purchasing the GODSENT roster is going to be one of the teams that we directly invite to our main event, so we're excited to have them there. Dignitas' roster has been improving recently and, and especially from the European side of things, the organizations that have European teams — for the most part — have retained those teams and have continued to improve. So I think there is still a commitment. It just depends team by team on their overall strategy and where they are looking to recruit players or locate them.
Thorin left Flashpoint before this RMR tournament and has been very critical of the direction in which it is heading and of the owners of some of the partner teams. You two are obviously still on very good terms and you appear on several podcasts together, like 'The Four Horsemen'. Did you understand his reasoning?
Yes, Thorin and I are still on fine terms. I totally respect his desire to no longer be with Flashpoint. I'm sad because I think he was a great contributor to the creative vision as the creative director, and to a lot of the success of the content. I think he will be missed and his absence will be keenly felt. I think that right now, in terms of the changing vision that we have, it's hard to argue that this is going to end up somewhat differently than what he signed on for. And he was on a year-long contract and took some time to evaluate whether he still wanted to be on board if this project trended in a different direction. And he decided that he didn't. As for myself, I still wanted to be on board. I think that having a league owned and operated by teams is very important. I'm hoping that in the future there'll be more opportunities to grow the North American Counter-Strike scene and make sure that it can be vibrant for years to come. So I think I'm just more optimistic than he is (laughs).
(Photo by Simeone Sergio Spagnoli/FACEIT)
Thorin played an important role in bringing new faces to the broadcast, and he also was involved in creating the format and the content for the first two editions. Can you speak to the impact of his departure?
He did contribute to the format before he left, so this 16-team double-elimination bracket was an idea of his that we worked out and that I think is very good and exciting for an event like this. So his legacy will live on in the product, right? The tone, the vision and the type of content will be coming back from the previous versions of Flashpoint. We're going to bring back many of the people that you've already seen at Flashpoint and that he was instrumental in bringing on to the broadcast. I think you're going to see a continuation of that legacy and the ideas that he brought. I'm taking over many of the talent decisions that he previously made and a lot of the creative direction. I had a lot of creative input previously. I mean, the hype videos have a lot of my directing and ideas. The other thing about Flashpoint 2 is that we took the talent's ideas and implemented them, and I think that's part of the reason why casters really enjoy working with us because if they have ideas, we do our best to make sure that those ideas appear on the broadcast. We really value their creative contributions. The talent wrote all of the skits last time, and by bringing back many of the same people, we're going to retain a lot of the creative energy that we had. Now, I do think that Thorin added flourishes that will be missed. He's just fantastic in a lot of the skits and being an on-camera personality. I'm not going to say that his absence won't be noted, but I do think that a lot of his ideas will continue without him because they're just strong ideas that we want to continue to use.
The last time we spoke, you promised that Flashpoint 2 would have the best features made during the pandemic. Are you looking to create that same kind of content?
We did have (laughs). I wasn't bullshitting. I didn't just mean that about Counter-Strike, I meant that in all of esports, and I think we really delivered. We are planning to do on-location shoots with the players and teams once again, so we are going to be sending out local camera crews to meet up with the players, to conduct interviews and do some content on-site with them, just like we did in the previous version of Flashpoint. We're planning on bringing back the skits, we'll have talent out here a week before the tournament starts to film a bunch of this kind of content. We're going to do another hype video, which is very exciting because I love doing those. I think that it's one of the things I love the most about all of esports and esports history. We already have a very major musical artist who has agreed to let us use their track. The band in question was personally interested in being part of this project, so that's super fun for us. We continue to really push the envelope on the music front, and FACEIT's producer, Mike Bembenek, has done a great job of developing those relationships. We'll be doing a lot of the same kind of aesthetic where we have an artist drawing all of our players once again, and we'll be releasing all of those art assets to the public for you guys to meme with, or make comics with, or do whatever you want with. Because we can't obviously do the photoshoots with all the teams, given the current situation, we've found creative ways in order to get around that. We're doing all of that again. I think that the content is still going to be very good. A lot of my work in the coming weeks is going to be fleshing out the questions for all of these player interviews and making sure that all the material is distributed to the local camera crews and then working on scheduling times for the teams in order to capture all of that information. It gets crazy. Credit shoutout to Andrew Hibbard, who also works at B Site, and again, Mike, the Executive Producer from FACEIT, because scheduling these shoots around all over Europe to happen all in like one week is really hard.
What are the plans for Flashpoint 4? Do you think that it will be possible to do it on LAN?
We're really hoping that we can do it on LAN in Los Angeles at the FACEIT studio. I am hoping that, by then, the pandemic will be in a state and we'll be in a position where we can reevaluate the partner teams' participation. Again, a lot of this depends on factors with the pandemic and when it is going to die down enough. One of the things that people don't understand is that, under the Biden administration, professional athletes cannot come to the United States unless an exemption has been granted to a specific league by the American government. We don't know when that's going to be lifted. So in order for us to even bring in players on these visas, we would have to apply to the US government to be exempted as a sports league, and we don't know if that would be successful. There are so many factors right now that make it really, really difficult.
There has been a lot of criticism directed at Flashpoint since it was launched. Given the current state of the scene, what are your thoughts on the role played by your league? Do you think the scene would be worse off without your project?
I think that the Counter-Strike scene is richer. I'm not sure it has to be Flashpoint, right? But I think that the more really solid tier-one tournament operators who are committed to high production quality, like BLAST, like ESL, like Flashpoint, the better it is for the overall health of the ecosystem. We've always said this, but I think that competition is good for the scene. I wouldn't want to have a monopoly on the scene because I think that both ESL and BLAST push us to be better. And I like competition. I've been in esports for 15 years and it's because I'm a very competitive person. So I don't like a lack of competition, I don't find it particularly fun, and I think it breeds complacency. I think it's really important that one of these companies is based in North America because if there isn't anybody in North America then I don't think that there's a lot of people to push for future events in the region because we would like to do stadium events and big LANs that fans can attend. If a lot of these organisations and these tournament operators are based in Europe, I don't know much action there would be in North America, and I think that would be sad for the continued development and the resuscitation of the North American Counter-Strike scene. I do think it's important that all of these entities are kind of located in different places, and ESL, while they've previously done events in North America, have announced that the majority of their events are going to be taking place in Malta this year. So even if they have the occasional event here, it's not the same as being kind of a North America-based organization that is consistently holding these events. At least with our partner teams, we've previously provided places for the players to live and train and practice in the United States, which obviously really helps the level of competition in North America. If we don't have North American teams with teams living and practising in North America, then basically you're forced to go to Europe in order to practice, right? And then there's no presence in North America and there's no way to develop North American talent. So I would argue that it's pretty crucial to the success of Counter-Strike as a global esport and not as a kind of a European and CIS esport.