The last piece to fall into place in this week’s shuffling of North American Counter-Strike players served to further highlight the problems that have plagued the region in 2015.
Spencer “Hiko” Martin had generated significant interest among the community as he looked for a new home after his stay with iBUYPOWER was cut short by a match-fixing scandal that decimated the team. But Martin’s ultimate decision to join Nihilum Gaming stands as an anticlimax for the former Cloud9 star.
Martin had initially sought to enter into a new team alongside Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, the American sniper who also managed to escape the iBUYPOWER fiasco without being disciplined. It was no secret that the two were to be considered a “package deal” on the free agent market.
But things change quickly in North American Counter-Strike, as do the nature of secrets. Following lackluster results for several domestic teams at the ESEA global final, a series of changes hit the top American squads. Through it all, popular players in the scene spoke with varying degrees of specificity on their streams and through social media outlets about the changes. Gossip, it seemed, was in far greater abundance than professionalism.
That lack of professionalism has cost the scene as a whole, both in and out of the game. It led to the region’s best team, a side that had beaten the best in Europe and established itself as being among the world’s truly elite, being broken up over match-fixing. And it has led to an obvious decline in play compared to the rest of the world.
That decline was most clearly on display in Dallas, Texas, when the four North American teams in attendance at the ESEA final failed to win a single game against their European counterparts. And while there are still more games yet to be played, American team Elevate has already found the same lack of success at the Faceit final in London.
These same problems were reflected in the latest reshuffling of domestic talents between various top teams. One organization, Cloud9, seems almost desperate to escape the muck that the region has found itself in. So eager were they to move on from it that they were willing to pay Latham what was necessary to secure his services independent from Martin. They also managed to lure Ryan “Freakazoid” Abadir back into the professional ranks.
While Cloud9 were securing exactly what the team they wanted, others seemed to be scrambling amidst the flurry of transfers. For example, Luminosity, who had acquired Swedish talent Jacob “Pyth” Mourujarvi, only secured Peter “ptr” Gurney after the sniper had been released by Counter Logic Gaming and was unable to catch on with Cloud9.
Martin, who was very public in expressing his frustration with Latham’s move to Cloud9 and the lack of options he was subsequently left with, wound up joining former Cloud9 teammate Kory “Semphis” Friesen at Nihilum.
It’s hard to imagine a great deal of foresight in the move. Friesen only recently became available after being released by Cloud9, and Martin had expected to find himself playing with a completely different group of players. In spite of their skill, there’s little doubt that Nihilum’s roster wasn’t what Martin had in mind.
Whether the acquisitions by Nihilum will prove a wise infusion of talent and experience or a desperate grab at the biggest names on the free agent market remains to be seen. But with Martin being so frank about Nihilum not being his first choice, it isn’t hard to imagine this squad going the way of so many other American teams who have tried and failed to make their mark in the past year.
With the ESL ESEA Pro League approaching and promising an unprecedented amount of money for competitors, there is hope that American teams and players can still be stirred from what have become old habits. But it won’t come easy, and it will take time. Time spent playing together and solidifying existing teams, not shaking down the scene repeatedly and letting players fall where they may.