Where will Counter-Strike Go Now that Gambling is Gone?
Many people who follow Counter-Strike: Global Offensive closely knew that there was something shady about gambling websites. Minors had easy access to them and were specifically targeted, and streamers were obviously playing with house money. When the CS:GO gambling industry was involved in a number of scandals, it was not a big surprise. Putting an end to delinquents and bringing gameplay back to Twitch is all well and good, but how exactly will the loss of the gambling companies affect CS:GO as an esport is a big concern that has not crossed many minds.
Tournaments and teams alike were sponsored by gambling sites. CS:GO Lounge, a site where one could bet on professional CS:GO matches, owned a team, and that was after their website was part of multiple match fixing incidents. It may be morally correct to no longer have these companies involved with CS:GO as an esports community and as a community where children are present, but there is no questioning that these gambling sites have provided a large amount of money to support the game we love.
Many teams will soon fall apart and tournaments will fade away. StarLadder, for instance, was sponsored by CS:GO Fast. Now that they are gone, what will StarLadder do? They cannot invite less teams to the LAN finals and they cannot make up for it with charging money for tickets.
Look at IEM Katowice. Part of the reason why that arena was filled is because admission was free. Lowering the amount of people willing and able to attend tournaments would not look good to sponsors and viewers, which brings up another point of arenas. They may be able to help stop this cascade with smaller arenas, as arenas can be very expensive to rent, but that may also show the shrinking of the scene and lead everyone to start calling CS:GO a dead game. Downsizing on the physical event may not be enough, but something has to give.
The way that this will probably end up is that some teams are going to die away. Small tournaments like GameAgents, which were almost entirely supported by gambling money, will have to cease operations. Most of the people watching such competitions were either friends and family or people who bet money on those games anyways.
However, the fact that the CS:GO scene has been inflated by gambling remains. The CS:GO gambling industry has provided a way to make the viewers more valuable by providing a service that many people are interested in and pay for. The sad fact is that the reason why CS:GO has been able to compete with the other esports popularity wise is not for its gameplay but its third-party gambling features. When the loss of gambling money is fully realized, CS:GO and competitive shooters will already have sunk down to the depth of esports.
Teams and tournaments will lose much of their funding and die away, but that is not as bad as one may think. Teams like Penta will go away but big, successful organizations will not. Gambling sponsorships for everyone will go away, but as big orgs ask their non-gambling sponsors for money, they will see more reason to provide the money to Virtus.Pro than to a team like Penta because Virtus.Pro is actually going to LANs and showing off the sponsor’s brand.
There is a slight problem with this to those who appreciate the highest level of Counter-Strike. As small teams fall apart, it will be harder for up-and-coming talent to filter up into the top teams because there will be a lack of a platform for such players to show off their abilities. Leagues like ESEA Premier have provided a place where a young player could learn the basics of how to play on a team, so when a weak and aging player needed to be replaced, there were options. Now, it will be harder for such teams to find the talent they are looking for because teams supporting and motivating these players through such a grind will no longer exist.
When talking about losing sponsorship, many say that they will quit because of a lack of motivation. However, the best teams and players do not quit. The team that is now playing under Virtus.Pro has not always had stable sponsorships. Many a time Filip “NEO” Kubski and Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas had to play on their unsponsored team AGAiN, yet they managed to be the best. The best teams and players will still be around, it will just be a bit harder for them.
Viewer count is perhaps the greatest concern of CS:GO fans. A number of people believe that most of the viewers of big tournaments like ECS and the Majors are there to see how their bets turn out. If not that extreme, then such a concerned person is confident that gambling is something that makes the games more exciting and interesting to many people who would not have been drawn to watch the games otherwise, and they would not be wrong.
It is true that wagering money on the outcome of a match can be very exciting; it not only tests one’s knowledge, but it adds an emotional aspect to a game when it may have been lacking one. Without gambling, CS:GO will experience a drop in viewer numbers during day-to-day operations and at the big events. After all, there were streamers and viewers purely interested in gambling who dominated the Twitch CS:GO section.
Unfortunately, we are forced to reflect on the status of our beloved game. Is the only reason that CS:GO got as big as it is because of gambling and not the gameplay? Is CS:GO nothing more than a cockfight where the players are nothing more than fodder and we who take it seriously are delusional idiots? I do not think so.
I think that there is value and a high level competition in competitive esports such as CS:GO. We have never needed the approval of others to enjoy our favorite pastime, video games, and just because some fellow gamers trivialize our favorite game does not mean that we have to submit to such notions. What are a few uninterested gamers compared to governments and hordes of angry parents?
All that matters is that you enjoy yourself. If some other people enjoy it with you, that is great, but it is not the end of the world if they do not. Counter-Strike will survive this bubble as it has before, and for any doubters who say that it will not survive and that ESL One Cologne 2016 was the last Major event, then at least we have been able to enjoy ourselves for the time that it has been around.
Photo credit: HLTV, Lazygamer, Elevate
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