Whether it is Valve’s tournament prize pools, updates to the game, match fixing bans or the disinterest from Gaben, the consensus amongst the CS:GO scene is that Valve has a favourite child. Do they have a point?Counter-Strike has long been heralded as one of the greatest esports of all time. It has it all: the skillful headshots, the round-winning clutches, the last-second defuses, the strategy played to perfection or the deceptive fake that leaves the opponents bamboozled. The combination of raw skill and tactical genius which brings drama, intensity, suspense and emotion all wrapped into one, leaving audiences enthralled, casters falling out of chairs, and players in tears, win or lose. Since its creation in 1999, Counter-Strike has provided some of the most epic moments ever seen in esports, and for the past seven years, Counter Strike: Global Offensive has taken it to a whole new level:With a low barrier of entry and an obscenely high skill ceiling, Counter-Strike is easy to pick up and understand the basics, but takes years of practise to truly begin to master. It enjoys a loyal fanbase, a long-standing and proud history of being a pioneering FPS that influenced an entire genre, charismatic and talented personalities across all levels of productions and yet… the CS:GO scene has for a long time now felt they it’s been neglected, unwanted, as if the game doesn’t get enough attention from Valve compared to its younger sibling, the fantasy MOBA Dota 2, and looking over with jealousy and accusing it of benefiting from more than just a little bit of favouritism from father Gaben. Just take a look at these heavily upvoted posts from the popular CS:GO subreddit r/GlobalOffensive over the past five years:
Most of the complaints revolve around the comparative disparity between CS:GO and Dota 2, despite both being fully owned by Valve. Whether it is Valve’s tournament prize pools, concerns about the frequency and scope of updates to the game, allegations of double standards surrounding bans for match fixing or the disinterest seemingly shown by its patriarchal talisman and President, Gabe Newell, the general consensus amongst those in the CS:GO scene is that Valve has a favourite child. Do they have a point? Let's take a look:
Show Me The Money - Crunching the numbers in Tournament Prize Pools
At a glance, both Dota 2 and CS:GO aren’t too different. They both have 5v5 format tournaments, a good combination of strategy, skill, and teamplay, and since their releases in 2011 and 2013 respectively both games have peaked at around 1.3m concurrent players. They’ve also had healthy viewing figures on Twitch, with well over a million viewers at their peaks.However, the collective figures for the amount of money awarded in official Valve prize pools in each game’s professional tournaments are where one notable difference lies. Just to clarify, tournaments, whether online or on LAN, have a prize pool which is distributed with the winning teams claiming the biggest shares. In CS:GO, a packed schedule of tournaments runs throughout the year at varying levels, organiezd by 3rd parties like DreamHack, Blast, ESL, etc. Every year, two of these are sponsored by Valve and designated as ‘Majors’. In Dota 2, there is one annual ‘Major’, The International, fully hosted by Valve, with various 3rd party tournaments taking place throughout the year, just like in CS:GO. Both The Majors and The International are considered to be the most prestigious trophies a player can win - The Champions Leagues of esports, and come with the biggest prize pools.
CS:GO and Dota 2's Total Tournament Prize Pools
Using data from Esports Earnings, we looked at the total prize pools awarded at all the tournaments that have ever been played for each game, as well as the total number of tournaments played and how it averages out between each one:$227.9m for Dota 2 (1444 tournaments, avg $157,836 per tournament)
$102.8m for CS:GO (5278 tournaments, avg $19, 489 per tournament)After one look at this graph, you can begin to sympathise with their grievances when the total tournament prize pool earnings for Dota 2 are more than double that of CS:GO’s.
Third-Party Prize Pools vs Valve-Sponsored Prize Pools
We have established that Dota earns more in prize pools than CS:GO, but how much of this is down to Valve?Let’s take a look at what happens when you compare the proportion of the tournament prize pools from Valve-sponsored events - The Majors and The International - to every other third-party tournament event that contributed to the grand totals we previously discussed:As you can see, the difference in prize pools sponsored by Valve is astronomical. Despite CS:GO having more prizemoney in third-party tournaments than Dota 2 does, Valve contributes next to nothing for the Major events in comparison. It seems to suggest that third party tournaments organisers and sponsors value CS:GO as an esport more than Valve themselves. This won’t come as a surprise to some, Duncan “Thorin” Shields recently made a point on By The Numbers that when tournament organisers like Flashpoint are offering just as much ($1million) for Tier 2 events in CS:GO that Valve offer for a Major, does CS need Valve to fund Majors anyway?While it’s a good point and shows the natural health of the scene, the key point is that while Valve offer the same for a CS:GO major as a Tier 2 tournament, Dota 2’s The International prize pool is upwards of $40 million and it puts into stark contrast how far behind CS:GO is in Valve’s priorities.
How Do They Compare to the Rest of Esports?
Is it all doom and gloom for CS:GO though? If you compare both Counter-Strike and Dota 2 to other esports, they come out as the two top dogs. As you can see below, they’ve both dished out more tournament winnings than the next two biggest earners: Fortnite ($97.7m since 2017) and League of Legends ($81.3m since 2009), and completely blow esports like Rainbow 6 Siege ($12.2m), Overwatch ($26m), Starcraft 2 ($33.9m), and PUBG ($24.1m) out of the water.
Counter-Strike is clearly doing well when compared to other esports, but what must frustrate everyone so much is the potential CS:GO has to have more, like a child that unwraps a small chocolate tray for Christmas while looking over at the sibling who gets given the keys to the entire chocolate factory.
You might think that CS:GO beating both Fortnite and League of Legends in tournament earnings is pretty surprising considering the quite frankly ludicrous player numbers that Fortnite and LoL both have (over eight million concurrent players each), but we have to remember the history and pedigree that Counter-Strike has on its side. It also proves that player base does not necessarily equal esports popularity, as games like FIFA can attest to. The next question has to be - why is Dota 2 so far ahead?
Looking for answers: Why does Dota get more prize money?
Since the first International, Dota players have been able to contribute to the prize pools with the in-game purchase of the Compendium battle pass, and the prize pools have only gone up since. While the first CS:GO major was partly crowd-funded through the sale of in-game stickers, there has been nothing for CS:GO on the scale of the crowd-funding potential that the battle pass offers. Gabe Newell himself has made personal appearances at The International too, something he has never done for CS:GO. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and consider the reasons behind Valve’s decision making:
Some have hypothesised that the reason for the large prize pools invested into Dota by Valve is to fend off the direct competition from League of Legends. Given they are both MOBAs with similar gameplay mechanics and League is incredibly popular all around the world, Valve might be concerned that giving it free reign on the MOBA market could end up leaving Dota 2’s esport scene redundant. Could Valorant provide an impetus for support just as LoL did for Dota 2?
CS:GO’s Branding Problem
Counter-Strike is a game of Counter-Terrorists vs Terrorists. You might be able to see why the idea of crowds cheering on the terrorists shooting someone with an AK-47 and blowing up a bomb might be a little problematic in the current day and age, even within the confines of a fictional game. This has been identified as a branding problem by notable members of the scene, including an org who dropped their CS:GO team because of this problem. This could be a reason for Valve’s aversion to going the whole hog when it comes to Counter-Strike.When you look at the game’s history, Counter Strike has lasted for 20 years with a healthy competitive scene featuring a multitude of tournaments with modest prize pools - so you could argue it’s never really been about money. Then again, considering how much Valve earns from CS:GO’s in-game purchases, wanting a little bit of that money reinvested back into the scene isn’t unreasonable.
Match-fixing is a growing issue in esports, particularly this year as everything has moved online and the matches have become harder to police. Valve has often been accused of being overly harsh and inconsistent when it comes to match-fixing and in the past slapped a slew of lifetime bans on players found match-fixing, even for a first offence.The Esports Integrity commission in 2017 released guidance for the “appropriate sanctions for cheating” which laid out that for first offenses of match-fixing, the punishment should include a maximum of a five year ban.
Let’s take a closer look at Valve’s record:
In 2013, Dota 2 player Alexey "Solo" Berezin admitted to fixing a match and was banned from StarLadder events for three years. However, he never received any punishment from Valve and even competed in The International after his StarLadder ban was served.In 2014, the CS:GO scene was shocked to the core by a match-fixing scandal involving a game between iBuyPower and NetCodeGuides.Starting in January 2015, Valve enforced a slew of match-fixing bans:Valve slapped seven players in total from the IBP/NCG scandal with an indefinite ban and, while nobody is condoning match-fixing, the severity for a first-time punishment, particularly for the young Braxton "swag" Pierce who a lot of people feel was led into the situation naively, was felt to be extremely harsh by most of the community, with a widespread campaign to “#FreeBrax”.In February 2015, Valve banned 19 more CS:GO players and a month later banned Team Redemption, a Dota 2 team. In 2016, five Peruvian players were banned, with a single line email informing them of the ban the only communication they ever received from Valve.
The Hanging Uncertainty of "Indefinite" Bans
One of the issues of giving indefinite bans is that players don't know if they will ever be reinstated or if the bans expire, leaving a cloud of uncertainty over their heads surrounding any chance of redemption in their careers.All the bans above were “indefinite”, but with the exception of five of the 19 CS:GO players who were reinstated that year after further investigation, the indefinite bans are essentially viewed as permanent and don’t look likely to ever be reviewed.In January 2016, Valve even released a statement confirming the permanence of the lifetime bans of the iBuyPower players. In that statement Valve said:“While bans can be disruptive and painful to some members of the community, they are sometimes necessary. We sincerely hope that we won’t have to issue more in the future.”It seems like they stuck to that final sentence in the most Valve fashion possible. Despite many teams and players being banned for match-fixing by tournament organisers in both CS:GO and Dota 2 since 2016, Valve have not issued any more bans for match fixing themselves. Not only that, but Valve seems to handle each case with an astounding lack of transparency. They haven’t informed players they are being investigated and often the punishments come with very little explanation as to why the punishment is what it is.
Regarding the severity of the iBuyPower bans, ESIC stated:
“Whilst the players are clearly culpable and should have known better, the rules surrounding this sort of activity were not clear at the time, no education had been provided to the players and the procedures used to sanction them were not transparent and did not comply with principles of natural justice.”As they say, the players had committed first time offences in a rapidly emerging and evolving market of esports betting and Valve were not transparent enough in their sanction process.Coming back to the argument of CS:GO vs Dota 2, if you put aside one isolated case of Dota’s Solo not being banned for match-fixing in 2013, it seems that Valve have universally been bastards to both Dota 2 and CS:GO scenes when it comes to handing out punishments for match-fixing. They spent a 16 month period between January 2015 and May 2016 throwing a banhammer down all around them and handing out extreme punishments that weren’t in line with the rest of the scene, then disappeared into thin air to leave everyone else to pick up the pieces.
Gaben the Deadbeat Dad:
In episode #138 of By the Numbers on Wednesday, Duncan “Thorin” Shields told a story about Gabe Newell attending a CS 1.6 event in 2011, where Na'Vi were on the brink of winning their fourth major and in an interview, Gabe’s response when asked about Na'Vi was: “It's amazing to just watch their skill level. They're just so much better than we ever imagined people to get. What we would love to see is like, get one of these teams to take on the internet, see how many people would have to come in to take them down. Would it be 20 people? 100 people? It would be an incredibly exciting thing to see."Let’s digest that for a moment. Proposing that one of the best teams ever assembled in Counter-Strike should be tested against 100 random players. Anyone who has ever played Counter-Strike knows what a strange and frankly, condescending notion this is to test the limits of a team’s skill, let alone a legendary 4-time Major winning one, akin to a novelty stunt on a Japanese TV show. Imagine if the head of FIFA said in 2018: “Let’s see how good this 4-time Champions League winning Real Madrid squad really are by putting them up against 100 Sunday League players.” For context, Valve had owned the Counter-Strike franchise for around a decade at the point of that comment. They had developed a series of sequels and spinoffs. It was the all-time most popular multiplayer game on Steam and for the man in charge to be so ignorant of how the very fundamental basics of the game works is criminal. To this day, Gabe has not attended a single CS:GO Major and his lack of care and interest for the game shows.
Is there hope for CS:GO?
You cannot doubt that the Counter-Strike scene has a good reason to feel let down and neglected by Valve when comparing itself to Dota 2. Less updates, less investment, less cameo appearances from Gabe himself.Valve is notorious for taking a hands-off approach when it comes to almost everything it touches with its laissez-faire approach, but this has sunk into such unprofessional levels of transparency, particularly when it comes to esports and the huge sums of money involved.With all the recent drama and scandal surrounding the CS:GO scene, the tension between the CSPPA, ESIC, Players, TOs, production talent, fans,and all the people in between rising to a fever pitch, people are crying out for Valve to step in to help resolve some of the key issues.However when you look at Valve’s track record and after the way they handled the different punishments for match-fixing, you might worry about them handling it poorly again. Maybe they know that they can’t handle things and that’s why they take a step back. Looking at how Valve approaches esports in general and from rumblings around the scene about how it views the way esports works, this might not just be a fight between Dota 2 and CS:GO, but between Valve and all of the esports community.Should the CS:GO scene worry? After all, CS:GO attracts vast prize pools and is by far and away the most successful FPS esport in history. Perhaps the emergence of Valorant will do to CS:GO what LoL did to Dota and spark Valve into doing more to fend off the competition. Perhaps it doesn’t matter in the end what Valve do. Perhaps it could be worse - you could be a Team Fortress 2 fan. We hope you've enjoyed our newest feature. Kindly support us by following Esports Heaven on Twitter and keep tabs on our website for more interesting content.Follow the author on Twitter.All data and figures accurate as of November 2020.
Feature image credit: joinDOTA
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