The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in almost everything worldwide, including offline Counter-Strike. Instead of the Valve-sponsored ESL Rio Major starting next week as originally planned, it is tentatively scheduled for November. Many industry sources have explained that despite the date being moved six months down the line, it is unlikely the event it takes place in a crowded Rio de Janeiro arena. That leaves Valve with an extremely difficult decision to make.
The first obstacle is deciding which formats of play are on the table, which arguably has the most drastic effect on the legacy of the Major itself. Should it be moved online, it will forever have an asterisk as the one Major that was different than the rest. I won’t speak for the players here, but I’m quite positive they would prefer to wait until it can be played offline. No one wants to end up as the team that won an online Major; it just isn’t the same type of accolade.
If Valve agrees with the idea of keeping the event offline, the next obstacle is deciding where and how it will be played. Both of those decisions then subsequently have an effect on when the event is played. If the objective is to play the Major offline but as soon as possible, it will likely be played without a crowd and within a controlled LAN environment. While that would be a huge step forward compared to the past couple months of play, it is still a compromise.
We already know that ESL One: Cologne will at least be played without a crowd or possibly online. However, the reward of playing that event and all other non-Major events without a crowd outweighs that sacrifice. The world of Counter-Strike must keep turning and by doing so, we will be best situated to capitalize when the world slowly returns to something resembling normalcy. The tipping point is when it comes to the pinnacle of the game and sacrifice should be kept to a minimum. Major tournaments require performing at the highest level on the biggest stage, which completely changes when held in a studio.
Similarly to the asterisk that would exist if a Major was played online, one would still exist next to the name of a studio based Major winner. Playing in front of a crowd for the most prestigious trophy takes a level of poise that highlights the world’s best like no other event does. That level of emotion cannot be replicated artificially and it would be a let down to harm the prestige and legacy of the accomplishment out of impatience. It wouldn’t feel right to watch a crowdless Major, and I imagine it wouldn’t feel right to play.
I don’t like the idea of widening the gap even further between Major tournaments than already scheduled, but I think it would be viewed as the right move when we look back. Perhaps a timeline exists where the Major can take place with a crowd in November, but there are still too many unknowns to feel confident in that. It is my hope that Valve recognize just how special Major tournaments are and keep their legacy from being tarnished during this uncertain time.