There was something different about the first edition of the ESL ESEA Pro League finals. It was a tournament full of upsets, and those upsets carried with them a very particular theme.
In the final, North American side Cloud9 lost three games to one to European side Fnatic. It was a good showing for the Americans, and in fact teams from the North American region had tremendous success at the event—even if they didn’t dominate. Instead, their results provided for an event that was equal parts unpredictable and entertaining. It was a true throwback to a different era of Counter-Strike, in which such mixed results were often expected.
Many fans of the game have either forgotten those days or simply weren’t there to see them, but prior the massive talent drain that came with the introduction of the Championship Gaming Series and the split of the playing community between the original Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source, teams from different regions around the world were guaranteed to have a say at the biggest tournaments and events.
The best teams in Europe weren’t just challenged by the biggest North American names either. Teams from South America and Asia regularly made their mark in what was truly an international game. This changed nearly a decade ago, however, as professional Counter-Strike was largely restricted to Europe. But things are changing again now, and we may be on the precipice of a competitive scene in which teams from around the globe are viewed as true equals.
The Pro League final spoke to this possibility. Right from the start, three of the four opening matches were won by teams from the North American region. American side Cloud9 defeated Envy in three consecutive games and nearly bested Fnatic in a tense final. Counter Logic Gaming upset Fnatic in the group stage, and Brazilian team Keyd Stars defeated Team SoloMid to ensure that one of the world’s two top-ranked teams would be ousted before the playoffs had even gotten underway.
This unpredictability has been missing from the game for some time. Such teams as iBUYPOWER and Complexity seemed poised to reintroduce it last year, but a match fixing scandal proved a difficult setback for American teams in particular.
The introduction of the ESL ESEA Pro League, the expansion of Faceit’s professional Counter-Strike league, and the continued ramping up of such leagues as those offered by CEVO have provided international teams, particularly in North America, with further opportunities to grow and develop.
The success of Keyd Stars has shown that this development can extend beyond the top American teams. Australian side Renegades proved while playing under the Vox Eminor banner that they too were ready to make an impact on the international stage. Further experience will only bring the Aussies that much closer to making a deep run in a field of the world’s best.
Even when teams fall short, that experience goes a long way. Fellow Australian side Team Immunity disappointed during much of their stay in Europe earlier this year, but the tour unquestionably left them better prepared for their next shot abroad. American squad Team Liquid stands as a great example of the value of experience, as the group went from looking like a virtual walkover in the first international showings to beating such top teams as Fnatic and Natus Vincere in their most recent excursion.
There will likely be setbacks. Renegades may again fail to pass through group stages. Keyd Stars may struggle to live up to the bubbling hype. Cloud9 may not always have Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek in peak form. And other regions such as Asia still have a long way to go when it comes to producing teams that can compete on the world stage.
But the ESL Pro League final served as a reminder of what could be when Counter-Strike is again made a truly international game. And given how exciting it was for fans to watch the results play out and the interest in the game those unpredictable results drove, one can only hope it’s the start of a trend that will continue—this year, and beyond.
Screengrab via ChampionZine
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