Smothering with love: The inundation of Australian online leagues

Max Melit Columnist

By Max Melit, Max Melit is a Roar Expert


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    Fostering domestic Australian esports growth is essential.

    The Australian CS:GO community looks to be receiving more support than ever as tournament organisers slowly reveal their 2017 plans and new sponsors crop up to help fund the vibrant domestic scene.

    Australian Counter-Strike has the talent, personalities, organisational backing and community infrastructure required for sustainable and organic growth. However, one way of hampering this growth is by smothering the scene with online leagues.

    It seems counter-intuitive to think that a higher quantity of games – regardless of the environment – would lead to a net negative for the scene as a whole, and that’s because on the surface it is. Theoretically, more tournaments means more chances to play and improve ones skill, whilst also offering more opportunities to inject money into the scene via prize pools and increased brand exposure.

    While the latter might be true, for Australian CS in particular, semi-pros and pros don’t just need to play each other more, they need to play each other more on LAN.

    The Australian scene has a group of six to eight top teams, with three clear top teams within this group. Between all these teams, scrims and official online play is frequent. They all play each other regularly, constantly developing specialised tactics and approaches against each other, essentially, creating a micro Meta in the Australian scene.

    This is fine within the scope of domestic play, but these specific tactics and deep understanding of an opposing teams minute tendencies disappear on an international stage.

    Simply relying on knowing for example that player X plays exactly in this spot and likes to push through smokes when behind because you have competed against them countless times in ESEA, FPL, Intradark, Officials and Scrims is a crutch that doesn’t exist against teams abroad.

    The clear solution to removing this crutch and increasing Australian teams chances internationally would be to develop more top-tier talent in the Australian scene, or move top teams to America/Europe where they can play against fresh opposition. Both of which are easier said than done.

    Developing talent is a natural process that relies on readily available tools and pathways to channel time into, with the end goal being on or becoming a top level pro team. The necessary ‘tools’ and pathways to becoming a pro exist in Australia, it’s just a matter of time, and waiting for the correct teams/players to go through these pathways – like Dark Sided have recently done. It’s something that is diffcult to force artificially, and relies on the natural progression of players coming together and going apart over periods of time. As such, instantaneous talent development can be ruled out as an immediate solution.

    International travel is expensive and clunky if managed poorly. While you have the blueprints, mistakes and ideas of both Renegades and Winterfox to help, for Australian organisations which generally diversify across multiple games, sending a CS:GO side to either live overseas or go on a big tournament tour is financially unviable.

    Grassroots esports scenes matter just as much as the international circuits.

    What’s more, the hope of an Australian roster being acquired by an NA one seems unlikely considering most of the top talent in the scene is already signed to orgs. Also while it is ideal to go overseas, removing five elite Australian players simultaneously dilutes the talent pool directly available in Australia.

    So if talent development and international travel won’t work in trying to improve the quality of Australian CS consistently, then what will?

    LAN play and having choice in where you play, plain and simple.

    Online leagues that end in a LAN are great – CyberGamer’s four seasons in 2017, ESL Australia’s ANZ League with three seasons, ZEN League, WPGI Female League, and one Australian team going to America at the end of ESEA-P. While all these leagues present lucrative time on LAN at the end of them, they also have an average of seven weeks of online play before it, a massive amount of wasted time, especially in the world of eSports where 7 weeks can be the lifespan of a roster.

    Top North American CS has two big leagues, ECS and EPL each split into two seasons giving a total of four online seasons. Top Australian CS has two distinct leagues, CGPL and ANZ with one split into four seasons, the other into three, combined with ZEN and ESEA-P for a total of nine online seasons.

    Every single top team looks to compete in all these different leagues because there is no other way – in the present at least – to reach a LAN stage. In the eyes of many pro’s (as can be seen in my interviews with erkaSt and MattCD), this is counterproductive for growth in the Australian scene. The online leagues don’t develop, but rather, simply add to the echo chamber of top Australian play.

    LAN play mightn’t actually diversify the field of top teams playing each other, but it does diversify the environment of play, which can be just as important for creating better players and teams. If you don’t take LAN play seriously it shows, any shadows of casual competition are removed instantly when you move players out of their bedrooms and onto the stage. LAN play can make teams and players act differently and in a manner more true to themselves.

    This is why teams so desperately want LAN play, and why they’re willing to play seven weeks of pointless online CS to get there.

    The dream scenario would be to have only one of these online leagues to keep players sharp between a series of small, medium, and big sized LANs with Bo3 single bracket online qualifiers, or even better small, integrated LAN qualifiers. Importantlly though, this should also be done while maintaining the grass roots leagues like CGi and CGm to continue to develop talent naturally through an online setting.

    Being able to pick and choose different sized LANs would not only increase the diversity of the scenes talent through a constant change in environments, but it’d also reduce burnout as a whole. Whether it be for the viewer, player, or organisation no one would feel an intense obligation to watch/play/manage countless online games. Rather, they’d be given the option to pick and choose between LAN tournaments and online qualifiers for these LANs, allowing time off when needed.

    In saying all that though, I’m empathetic to the tournament organisers. Online leagues have a low overhead cost to run, produce many games overall and can be the bedrock of funding for massive events. They’re a financially viable model whereas big LANs cost a lot of money and carry with it plenty of risk – especially in Australia where tournament attendance isn’t as concrete as it is overseas.

    However, as with most good things in life there is a trade-off. We can either continue the slew of online matches, and be content with the LAN finals at the end of each league, or take a risk for the long-term future by creating a better level of play and consistent growth in Australian CS through more independent LANs.

    While on-paper the route of just having ‘more LANs, all the time, everywhere’ might be ideal, it does not come without its drawbacks whether that be financial or otherwise.

    So for the time being, Australian players should truly savour and appreciate the chances they have on LAN, not just so that they might win, but so that Australian CS can one-day win as well. With whatever that ‘win’ might be.

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