Astralis just had their worst performance at a tournament in a long time.
I hate to kick a team when they’re down, but there are bigger problems for the world No. 1.
Renowned Counter-Strike: Global Offensive commentator Matthew ‘Sadokist’ Trivett recently drew attention to the fact that Astralis plays in tournaments hosted, owned and run by its parent company.
That's highly ignorant of the fact that talent works as a team of a much larger size, have to sync with production, work far longer days, AND represent the game to the public.
I'm all for taking brakes, but I'm just pointing out the obvious conflict of interest here.
— Matthew Trivett ???? (@Sadokist) April 13, 2019
The original discussion was about Astralis not attending more prestigious tournaments in favour of going to BLAST events, but the Astralis coach’s claims of looking after player health were questioned by many.
The fact that Astralis and BLAST are part of the RFRSH family has been known for a while, but it only recently became a hot topic in the aftermath of Sadokist’s tweets.
Why? The Danes are skipping IEM Sydney at the end of this month and instead saving themselves for BLAST Pro Series Madrid.
At least one team, Ninjas in Pyjamas (NIP), is already confirmed to be attending both events. And with the prize money being the same for both tournaments – US$250,000 – it does seem a little strange for Astralis to choose one over the other.
After that, the team will take almost an entire month off, skipping DreamHack Masters Dallas, maintaining their reputation as the professional team with the lowest level of tournament attendance.
This is not inherently a bad thing.
After all, Astralis is the most successful CS:GO team of the current era. This method of choosing one’s battles is clearly working for them.
Going into a handful of events with time to scout opponents and prepare their own strategies clearly has its merits.
Well, it does if we discount their disappointing showing in Miami.
It’s also not a new thing for Astralis. The Danes skipped tournaments last year for similar reasons.
The health issue surrounding Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz is not a new one. As someone who suffers irritable bowel syndrome myself, I can certainly empathise.
But when you throw the RFRSH ownership into the mix, the whole situation looks a little bit dodgy.
To be clear, the fact that RFRSH owns both BLAST Pro Series and Astralis does not negate these issues.
It’s likely that Astralis keeps a lighter schedule than most teams for good reason. You can’t argue with the results.
However, one company owning the tournament and the team that goes into the tournament as favourites is a conflict of interest, whichever way you slice it.
Sorry, Astralis fans. Sorry, Zonic. This is as cut-and-dry a case as one can possibly imagine.
It doesn’t matter that so far nothing bad has happened because of it. The whole point of conflicts of interest being punishable in every other professional walk of life is because of the chance that something bad might happen.
This shouldn’t need explaining, but I’ve read a lot of people saying, “So what?” or even, “It’s not a conflict”.
In other sports, even in other esports, this kind of thing simply isn’t allowed. It happens of course, because of capitalism, greed and corruption, but it’s not supposed to, and with good reason – it undermines the integrity of the sport.
Even if the entire community is 99 per cent sure RFRSH did nothing to improve Astralis’ odds of winning their tournaments, that one per cent chance still damages the reputation of both parties.
How these conflicts arise in CS:GO – and Astralis is far from the first – is a strange quirk of the unique way in which Counter-Strike is run.
With no overarching competitive structure or proper governing body like RIOT and Worlds or Blizzard and OWL, anyone with the finances to do so can run a tournament.
It also means that, unfortunately, anyone can own a team.
“But, Mike,” I hear you type, “BLAST Pro Series is one of the least respected tournaments anyway. Its format is a joke and only six teams get invited. Surely its competitive integrity is already dead in the water”.
That may be true, but there is one other issue here that I find troublesome – something Sadokist brought up in the Twitter conversation linked above.
BLAST Pro Series is about putting on a show, right? The competitiveness of an invite-only tournament is always going to be problematic, but it attracts viewers well enough.
But if the best team in the world is linked to a tournament organiser, it’s only natural that said organiser isn’t going to want its headliner drawing views to other tournaments too often.
Am I implying that RFRSH leans on the players and coaching staff off Astralis to keep them away from other tournaments? Not necessarily, but it must be extremely tempting to at least whisper in their ears from time to time.
Again, the problem here is not what is happening but what can happen. As long as Astralis is owned by the same company that organises a large part of its own tournament calendar, these questions will linger like a bad smell.