With nasty businessmen and Saudi money on one side and enterprising youngsters and great camaraderie on the other, it’s been a long time since fans had so many reasons for visceral emotions about the teams and players running around in the servers. No matter where you stand, you can find the perfect fit to root for and some real assholes to despise – I know I certainly have.
From Flashpoint to, well, all of Thorin’s other ventures across the years, there have been many concerted attempts to “build up storylines,” and “create narratives,” and “show what the players really are about” when it comes to Counter-Strike tournaments. You know, the standard stomach-churning sports media stuff, taken up to eleven on the scale of hilarity with the keyboard-mashing black holes of charisma that made up the early generations of players in the venture capitalist money era.
Apart from cadiaN, no one really quite figured out how to maintain a presence and a personality while also staying relevant on the servers (players like smooya and kNg were good for a lark, but all that social media attention was worth diddly squat when it came to contract negotiations). So it should be of no surprise that the story-weaving attempts of tournament organizers and third-party content creators continue to resemble wringing water from a stone.
And yet, the movers and shakers of the business somehow keep on giving us more than enough to love and hate heading into the CS2 era, to the extent that I don’t think I have ever had this strong of a soap opera-like emotional investment about the rise and fall of certain teams and orgs, and I say that as someone who first got the bug watching the inaugural CS:GO Major in Jönköping (and actually learned how to spell the damn place since).
So I suppose we might as well start with the latest and most direct esportswashing venture from the Saudis, the one with the logo that looks more like a snapshot of a COVID-infected lung full of green snot than anything you will ever find in an ornithology book, fAlCoNs. Do I really need to explain why I have such a visceral dislike of the market-warping moneybags brought to you by the investment fund of a sovereign nation that murdered and sawed apart a journalist at an embassy?
Look, I’m not the only one, either. Look at this super scientific poll from HLTV, where a significant portion of the respondents are perfectly fine with Falcons, apart from the whole Falcons part.
Seriously, what is there to like about this? Any millionaire can make a Counter-Strike superteam with what amounts to pocket change in traditional sports, and the results rarely live up to the initial hype anyway. All the special bits of this project happen to be its insidious parts. What, national pride for the French squad they discarded like a tissue full of green, COVID-laced snot before even making sure that they actually got NiKo and co. signed? The support for all those nonexistent up-and-coming young Saudi talent? Their coach, Yogi Bear, who left his morals in a picnic basket?
It’s a project I will always root against, and I will enjoy every sign of their failures, no matter who they sign and which esport they get involved in. I’m on the record saying that esportswashing is likely to turn out to be a waste of money, much like the venture capitalists’ attempts were at making esports the Next Big Thing™ (bye-bye, Overwatch League, may you rest in peace), but that doesn’t make the efforts any less disgusting.
I suppose we should call aSsTrAlIS old money at this point in this fast-moving mess of an industry, but boy howdy, do they never seem to change no matter who’s at the helm. I remember the RFRSH days when they tried to pull a sneaky on us all with a multi-ownership conflict of interest ooga booga strategy before lucking into a group of generational legends to dominate the scene.
Of course, they burned them all out by prioritizing their own low-prestige BLAST tournaments over and over again, blackmailing them and pulling fast ones during COVID with some salary shenanigans, watching it all fall apart, then tapping up not one but two convicted cheaters to lead their new-look roster, getting into trouble with Heroic in the process.
Results have sucked ass ever since, but they went back to the same poisoned well again, dealing with the stabbi bunch to reorient their floundering roster. I wish them nothing but the worst of luck, and I cackled like a maniac after their elimination from, of all the places, the BLAST Fall Finals.
Not that I have much good to say about hErOiC, either. Like it or not, we never got a convincing explanation about the hUnDeN saga and who knew what and when about their coach’s continuous cheating and his inexcusable attempts to “ruthlessly manipulate” niko (the ESIC commissioner’s words, not mine) as he tried to get away with it. I also wasn’t super keen on cadiaN’s whole heel shtick, and at the end of the day, he and his team kept falling short at the business end of big LAN tournaments.
Honorable mentions go out to Cloud9 for years of mismanagement and funneling a big bunch of money to Gambit, Evil Geniuses, or to be more precise, their new management that drove them into the ground, and Team Liquid for their asinine attempts to become a run-of-the-mill European team, plus the fact that they will likely be the ones to put the first nail in the coffin of this awesome FaZe squad. None of them are deserving of the mEmEcAps treatment, but I haven’t forgotten about them just because it’s Thanksgiving. For those with long memories, let’s give a special shoutout to Nothing in PayPal, too.
In an era of partnered leagues and ever-smellier piles of bullshit, some teams and players can still provide a breath of fresh air. I love the orgs with the conveyor belt of talented youngsters, be it MOUZ or ENCE, or when five plus one plucky players just go their own way and soar to the skies like Bad News Eagles – well, okay, I guess they are called Guild Eagles now, which sort of defeats the point, but doesn’t take away from their heroic origin story.
I’m going to throw a bit of a curveball here and add FaZe Clan to this list, and while I have nothing good to say about the org, I do have a soft spot for big-brain in-game leaders (I remember using a different word a while ago…), and especially karrigan. Something something Tischtennis, he’s one of those special in-game leaders who isn’t wedded to a particular style and seems to find a way to make things work with any roster configuration, staying relevant in yet another iteration of Counter-Strike even as the years continue to tick on by. It will be a shame when conflict-of-interest issues will lead to this team getting torn apart – but at least we will have a few more CS2 matches to enjoy with this explosive and fun quintet on the servers.
So even as the seas continue to get stormier and the temperatures keep dropping amid the esports winter, at least take solace in the fact that we can still summon the burning fires of love and hate when we tune in to watch the action – and perhaps more so than ever before.