With the ECS Finals taking place December 9-11, the teams took some time to answer questions from members of the press. Throughout the session, there were some major themes that underlined the majority of the responses from the players.
The line between North America and Europe is fading away
Look out, world. North America is here to stay. Over the last couple months, North American Counter-Strike teams have risen in prominence, which is certainly a welcomed change of pace. While SK Gaming technically plays in North American leagues and resides in California, the players are from Brazil and are widely considered to be in a league of their own. (Almost every time a player was asked who they thought was the best player in the world, a player from SK was named, showing the respect that they've garner despite recent miscues) But Cloud9 and OpTic Gaming are "legitimately" from North America and are now showing the world who's boss.
OpTic is fresh off wins at the Northern Arena Montreal and ELEAGUE Season 2, while Cloud9 owns a big win over SK Gaming at the ESL Pro League Season 4 playoffs. Before that, though, those teams never really performed at a level seen from some of the European powerhouses. The narrative has certainly seemed to change, just judging from the players attitudes. During the ECS Media Day, even Astralis had to admit that they didn't take OpTic as seriously as they should have in the ELEAGUE Season 2 grand final. They added that they certainly will take them more serious in the opening match of the ECS Finals on Friday, though.
The fact that we've got teams admitting that they slept on the NA juggernauts a bit just goes to show how sudden this shift is. It's not something that many probably would have seen coming. But now that the EU has had a good snooze on NA, it's time wake up or get left in the dust.
On the road again
The end of 2016 has been paved with a multitude of tournaments that span the globe. While this is certainly great news for the fans, it has been coming with some mixed reviews from the players. There was a certain air of exhaustion that was running through all of the teams at the press conference. Well, all the European teams, that is. The teams who live in the states - like SK, who reside in Newport Beach - looked extremely upbeat and well-rested. The European teams looked and sounded beat.
FaZe Clan in particular seemed to be completely out of it, and in need of some real R&R. Finn "Karrigan" Andersen said that there was a period of time in the last couple months where they were only home for a stretch of 10 days before having to head out again. When you add that to the fact that the players are traveling across the globe, it adds a level of exhaustion that isn't even seen in traditional sports mediums.
Apart from the physical exhaustion, it also takes a toll on their practice schedules. Karrigan said that since he's been on the team - he joined in October of this year - he's played more actual matches in a tournament than he has practice matches with his team thanks to the travel grind. This certainly gives teams like SK a major leg up due to the fact they've had to travel less with many of the tournaments taking place on this side of the pond.
The likely result of this rigorous schedule is that teams will be more selective with what events they choose to compete in. Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen confirmed during the conference that Team Dignitas will likely attend less events next year to give them more time to practice up and be at the top of their game for the events they do attend. He also said that the prize pool is a huge factor in which tournaments they pick to attend. This could certainly lead to a trend where some of the smaller tournaments with smaller purses not fielding the best teams in the world. Only time will tell how this could change the professional Counter-Strike scene.
ELEAGUE is in a league of its own
The rise of eSports has brought along the natural comparison to other professional sports leagues like the NBA or NFL. That conversation is largely centered around what makes a sport a legitimate sport in the eye's of most people. Is it the skill level? Is the level of physical activity? It's a debate that will likely continue for quite some time. Apart from that, though, is the issue of playing conditions.
Apart from the occasional wet floor at an NBA game or poor field conditions during an NFL game, these players are largely given the best possible conditions at which they can play. The same can't always be said for eSports event. One of the biggest events of the year, IEM Oakland, was plagued with some less than stellar conditions. Multipleplayerstweeted about the poor conditions they were forced to play in during the event. One might expect this kind of thing from an event at your local cyber cafe. But IEM Oakland was one of the biggest events of the year, and saw a prize pool of $300,000 alone just for the Counter-Strike side of things (a League of Legends was held the same weekend). Surely the event organizers should have had better conditions than this.
With those conditions in mind, a question was asked to each of the teams during ECS' Media Day about their favorite event to attend all year. With the exception of a couple teams, there was a consensus on what the golden standard was for eSports events. That golden standard resides down in Atlanta at the ELEAGUE studios. By all accounts, the staff at the event treated the players extremely well, which is something that can't be understated when it comes to these events. As detailed above, these players are traveling all over the world for long periods of time, so for them to come to an event that treats them so well is a big deal. The fact that all of these players were asked the same question and immediately came upon one answer is telling.
Other event organizers surely need to look at what the people at ELEAGUE have been doing so that every event these players attend can have the seemingly pristine conditions that ELEAGUE provided. Until that can happen, eSports will likely be unable to reach the peak that it surely has the potential to.