Gaming is perhaps one of the few hobbies that have remained mostly unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is not the case for those who play video games professionally or the spectators. Since the pandemic started, local Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) tournaments (or “LANs”, Local Area Network) have been either cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Most big tournament organizers chose to still hold their tournaments in an online format, but this has caused some unpleasant scenarios for players and teams.
The first issue is something that many gamers are familiar with, the infamous “lag”. When your internet connection is not working as it should, or there is too much online traffic, your connection will slow down or in the worst-case scenario, shut off completely. This has been an issue for some professional players who happen to live in locations that don’t have high-speed fibre broadband connections available. These connection issues have caused many delays, which affect everyone involved, from the players to the production crew and the fans watching. And even if all players had reliable modern internet connections, physical distance is still an issue. For this reason, most tournaments have been forced to separate themselves into regional divisions (Europe, North America, Asia etc.). Many top-level CS:GO teams have players from different countries around the world and this is something that some teams must address one way or another.
As an example, Team Complexity has players from Europe and North America and the team decided to compete in Europe (As Europe is considered the region with the highest level of competition at the time of writing this). As a result, the North American players were forced to relocate to Europe indefinitely. Unfortunately for the team, this change was too much for the up and coming 17-year old player Owen “oBo” Schlatter, who made the difficult choice to leave the team so he could return home as the pandemic was getting worse globally. This decision put Complexity in a difficult spot where they had to find a replacement on short notice. It is yet unclear how oBo’s career will be affected by the situation, but for a rising young player, the consequences could be severe, if he is unable to resume competition.
With travelling being discouraged or limited, some teams have had to permanently set up camp abroad to make sure they can stay competitive with the best teams. As a result, many top-level teams have migrated to Europe, where most of the top-level teams compete. This creates an unfortunate scenario for not just the players, but for the spectators as well. With the teams divided between regions, it raises the question: “Who is the best?”. With limited competition, there is no efficient way of determining which team is the best in the world. Teams like Heroic, Vitality and Astralis might be the best in Europe at the moment, but they haven’t had the chance to compete against the likes of Team Liquid and Furia from the North American division. As a fan, it worries me that isolation might cause the level of competition to suffer in some regions. I believe that Team Liquid has the potential to be the best team in the world. But as the situation stands, they have not played against the European teams in a while, and this makes me worry for the team’s future. What happens when they eventually go back to International tournaments? Can they maintain their level while not getting any practice against their European colleagues?
As a spectator, it is not only the level of competition that has had me feeling uneasy, but the viewing experience itself has not been the same since the “online era” started last spring. LAN Tournaments that culminate in big arenas filled with thousands of fans cheering for their favourite teams – This used to be some of the best weekend entertainment I could think of. There is something so exciting about watching your favourite teams battling for glory while the crowd roars as a player is eliminated and the casters’ voices echo in the arena, bringing the spectacle to life for hundreds of thousands of people watching around the world. But for now, it is just a memory of a better time.
When every tournament is played online, the viewing experience quickly becomes mundane when the same production studio is used for multiple events, and the players are seen in the same webcams in their homes from one event to the next. This change made it so that the first game of the group stage feels the same as a grand final in terms of atmosphere, and I find it difficult to get excited about watching the games or even cheering for my favourite teams. It is a sad and unfortunate situation we find ourselves in. But for now, all we can do is be patient and hope for a positive change that will eventually allow us to return to the big arenas to celebrate and experience the best that Esports has to offer. Good Luck, Have Fun!
Title image from Steam Store page, promotional material for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Link to CS:GO Store page on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/730/CounterStrike_Global_Offensive/
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