I outline a plan to add an additional major each year while staying true to Counter-Strike's unique tournament schedule
There has been some discussion lately around the small prize purse of CS:GO majors compared to tournaments for other games. For example, Dota 2’s The International, another Valve-sponsored event, has a total prize purse in 2016 of nearly $20 million. This figure is set to break $25 million in 2017. Despite CS:GO having only 15% less players on Steam as Dota, and ESL One Cologne drawing half as many video views as TI 2016 viewers (10 vs 20 million)[1,2], last year’s 2 majors gave out prizes of $1 million each – a full degree of magnitude discrepancy. On the other end of the spectrum, games with much smaller competitive followings than Counter-Strike dole out similar sized prizes for their participants. For example, the Call of Duty 2016 world championship had a prize pool of $2 million despite having only half as many concurrent finals viewers as the ELEAGUE Major.
It’s clear that the prizes for the biggest tournaments of the year should be increased, but it needs to be done in a way that reflects the scene’s culture. The CS:GO community is largely against creating a TI-style annual tournament. There have always been a few different major tournaments every year, and having one tournament a year that outshines the others goes against the many-tournaments-a-year philosophy and background of competitive Counter-Strike. At the same time, having 8 “majors” a year not only tires teams out but also reduces the impact of each occasion. A major shouldn’t be an every month, run-of-the-mill LAN. Rather, it’s a spectacular tournament where teams go all out to win and fans can tune in to some of the most exciting, high-stakes Counter-Strike they’ve ever seen. Given the conditions above (and for argument’s sake), let’s say the ideal number of majors per year is between 2 to 4. I picked the middle value and planned a year of CS with 3 majors to prove scheduling and financial logistics behind it. The result of this planning is illustrated in the timeline below.
The timeline is divided by time into three trimesters, each punctuated with a major and separated with a break from CS. One thing to note is that the final third of the year, at almost 5 months, is longer than the others. I always liked the idea of the winter major being a little more prestigious than the others. Maybe it’s because the biggest CS tournaments of the year have historically been played in the winter (CPL Winter, Dreamhack Winter). Maybe it’s because contracts expire in January, and rosters are the most dramatically different after the holidays. Or maybe it’s simply the last tournament of the year. Whatever the case, teams usually have a little more reason to prove themselves during this major than at any other tournament. So the idea is to have a little more buildup and hype around the end of the year. It’s like the Masters in golf – any golfer would be overjoyed winning any major championship, but donning the green jacket is that much more special.
The timeline is then sorted vertically into 4 categories:
Major activities – Majors, major qualifier tournaments, and minors. There is one of each in each trimester. The total prize pool of each major should at least be doubled to $2 million, and ideally be tripled to $3 million. There are a number of ways Valve can do this - adding a portion of team sticker money to the pot, using a portion of CS skin sale profit, or simply putting up the money themselves (Valve is, after all, a multi-billion dollar corporation, and the growth of the sport is financially beneficial to them in the long run). This would put the total prize distribution from majors at $6-9 million for the year, which will make the prizes more appropriate when compared to other eSports (still slightly off, but the other tournaments should make up for it).
Sub-major (Premier) tournaments – These are tournaments that have enough top teams to be majors, but aren’t. Good examples are tournaments that have been majors in the past but might not be this year, like Dreamhack, MLG, and ELeague. There is one in the first two trimesters, and two premier tournaments in the final third. The prize pool for each of these tournaments should be at least $500,000.
Smaller LANs – These are either qualifiers for the premier tournaments or more local, one-off tournaments with only a couple top teams attending. Teams can opt into these tournaments according to their schedule and preferences.
Leagues – ECS, ESL, ELeague, etc. League matches fill up teams’ weeks when they aren’t at tournaments. In the ideal situation on the timeline, leagues would be run semi-annually, have a regular season that lasts for 3 months, and culminate with a playoff. Each playoff could be considered another big tournament. If leagues are only run once a year, they should still break at the same time as other leagues and have their tournament at the same time as the others. The prize pool for each season should be around $500,000.
Now let’s walk through the timeline in more detail.
Early-Mid January: Continuation of offseason. Rosters moves are still being made during this time.
Mid January: League regular seasons begin and continue for 2 months. Smaller LANs can be held, allowing teams to practice and compete under tournament conditions.
Early-Mid February: Regional minor tournaments to determine major qualifier participants are held. 1 Month should be enough time for tier shifts from offseason roster moves to sort themselves out.
Mid-Late February: First premier tournament of the year. This tournament should have a big prize pool, invite the best teams, and be a good preview for what’s to come at the first major.
Early March: The major qualifier is held. The Swiss format works pretty well and allows matches to take place throughout the week. Holding it early in the month means that teams that ultimately qualify will have a few weeks to prepare before the major.
Mid-Late March: League regular seasons take a month long break. LANs are not held for the rest of the month. The idea is to focus the whole Counter-Strike world on the major in the weeks leading up to it.
Late March: Major #1 occurs. Note that this will be 3.5-4 months after the previous major. Immediately afterwards, there is a 2 week long “Spring Break” period to give teams a quick rest before the next 4-month grind.
Early-Mid April: League regular season resumes for another month. Small LANs start to be held again.
Mid May to Mid June: Regional minor tournaments for the next major are held.
Mid-Late May: League playoffs are held. This can be just a bracket or have group stages like any other tournament. Winning a league should be a big deal for most teams and considered as prestigious as winning any other premier tournament (and have the prize pool to back it). If the majority of leagues decide to go year long, this can just be replaced with another premier tournament.
Early-Mid June: Premier tournament #2 should keep momentum and excitement up going into the major.
Late June: Major qualifier #2 is held.
Early July: Small LANs stop, to bring the focus onto the major.
Mid July: Major #2 occurs. This will be around 3.5 months after the last major, most likely the shortest time between two majors. Immediately afterwards, teams start a 3-4 week summer vacation. This break, which currently occurs in the month of August, has been widely agreed upon by top-tier teams.
Early-Mid August: LANs start up again. Regular seasons of semi-annual leagues begin and continue straight through for 3 months.
Late August-Early September: Premier tournament #3 is held. This should pick the CS hype back up coming out of the summer break. It will also allow teams who underwent roster changes during the break to show off their new tactics.
Early September-October: Regional minor tournaments occur. These can be spaced out more than before because of the increased amount of time in this trimester. Goal is to have the Euro qualifiers in late September bookended by the less popular regions.
Late October: Premier tournament #4 is held as a good preview of the major.
Early-Mid November: Major qualifier #3 is held. At this point, the CS hype train should be full steam ahead. Excitement and speculation for the major should be at its peak.
Mid-Late November: League playoffs are held. These should be the last big tournaments until the major.
Early December: Media week should advertise the major to a wider audience and bring in new viewers.
Mid-December: Major #3 is held. This will be around 5 months after the last major. Holiday vacation starts immediately afterwards and finishes out the year.
This timeline shows that three majors allows Valve and other corporate sponsors to inject a proportional amount of money into the tournament ecosystem while still retaining the many-tournament season of competitive CS. By outlining and maintaining a structure to the year, we can fit all the tournaments we need into it, keep a healthy ebb and flow of hype for each lucrative major, and give players the hard-earned breaks they deserve.
What do you think of this new proposed schedule? Let me know in the comments below
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