With the sudden success of the Overwatch League and the decision by Activision to start one of their own with Call of Duty, rumors now indicate that Valve is thinking about starting a franchise league for Counter-Strike Global Offensive. We'll explore why this would be a very bad idea and discuss potential alternatives.
Franchising Hurts Small Teams
Part of what makes CS:GO so great is the fact that smaller teams have a chance to show what they can do on the biggest stages. In most sports, the teams with the most money tend to dominate every year, with smaller teams having a fluke here and there. In CS:GO. this does happen to an extent, but there has been a long list of instances where a team that qualified for a major or other big event stunned the entire field despite not having the same level of backing. For smaller teams, even making it past the qualifying stages for a big event changes their future and it already happened at the Berlin Major.
Before the Berlin Major, CR4ZY's (formerly Valiance & Co) best accomplishments to date were their victory at United Masters League Season 1 and a 2nd place finish at DreamHack Open Tours 2019. As a result, CR4ZY would first have to battle it out with established CS:GO teams like Big, Fnatic, Mousesports, North, and Optic, along with ten other teams, having to secure a top-eight spot in order to advance to the next stage of the major qualifier. From there, they would have to secure one of the top two spots at the Europe Minor Championship or face another stage of the qualifier.
They managed to do both and went on to stun the likes of NIP and Faze, helping them to secure an 11th place finish and New Challenger status at the next major. With this, they were able to forgo the qualifying stage the next time around. As a result, they went from an organization on the verge of bankruptcy to a one that has had increased sponsorship chances and offers from established teams to purchase their players.
While the qualifying stage is difficult, it gives smaller teams like CR4ZY a large amount of exposure and allows them to compete with the best teams in the world. If CS:GO were to franchise, teams like Crazy would never have the chance to play on the biggest stage as the buy-in amount would be too expensive for most young teams. We would be left with the same 16-20 teams every year, each trying to outdo the other and each taking away young talent from teams who don't have the funds to compete. Sure, there would be upsets, but nothing like what was there before. Each year there's a team that comes out of nowhere to shock the CS:GO world and that's part of what makes big tournaments so much fun to watch.
Teams Would Become Predictable
Another element of CS:GO that many people tend to overlook is the fact that it would cause many teams to become predictable. Currently, teams must adapt to one another and constantly change the way in which they play depending on the opponent they are facing. When a new team like Crazy comes into the fold, many teams don't have enough information about them to effectively counter-strat them, leading to upsets and changes in the game's overall meta. Each team, depending on their home region, has a specific way of playing the game, which helps to keep it fresh and exciting.
For example, when Tyloo started making its way to major tournaments, most teams played a slow and methodical version of Counter-Strike: GO, with the likes of Navi waiting until 30 seconds or less to execute onto a site. Tyloo, being based in Asia, played in a scrim-like style that was customary for their region, moving at a much faster pace than most top teams were used to seeing and catching them off guard. Soon after, you saw legendary teams like Liquid adopting some elements of Tyloo's playstyle into their own, helping them to eventually earn the top spot as the best team.
With franchising, we would see dynamic gameplay changes like this less often, with most teams simply counter-stratting one another and doing the same executes repeatedly. Soon, viewers would be able to easily predict how a round might unfold before it has even started, leading to a loss in interest.
The Right Way To Do It
If, as rumors suggest, Valve goes ahead with franchising, changes need to be made to current models in order to ensure the game's success. Rather than have buy-ins, Valve should institute a format that is like most majors for the inaugural season and allow teams to compete against one another to earn a spot in the league. They could use the same tournaments and assign points to each, which would then help to determine who would move into the league.
As for the league, the next step in the process would depend on how many teams Valve ultimately allows, but let's just say there are twenty teams. Those same twenty teams could be split into two divisions of ten and then must earn a certain number of points within league play in order to maintain their spot. The ten lowest point earners would then have to take part in a relegation tournament whereby they would battle it out with a yet to be determined number of teams who have earned enough points from various tournaments to have their chance at earning a spot in the league. The league itself would play out much like ESL Pro league, being separate from all tournaments, having its own season and its own prize pool. Majors could still work in their current format, with points being assigned to current league holders that can be earned by teams who aren't in the league if they happen to defeat one of the league teams.
In this way, the league would simply become another chance to earn income for teams, rather than being the only place where teams have a chance at winning a major. Valve would also have to select a certain number of tournaments that each league team would have to participate in, using the results of each tournament to determine how many points each league team is assigned at the end of the season and thus, impacting their overall position within the league at the end.
Additionally, each team within the league would have to qualify for the select tournaments in the way they did before, with the league itself having no effect on their position at the start of a tournament. At the end of the CS Go season, Valve could hold the relegation tournament for the league, followed by the league's championship, thus ensuring that new teams have the time to secure new sponsors and funding before the next year of play.