From the release of Counter-Strike Global Offensive, North America has only housed a few teams that could ever challenge the best in the world. Despite having the most resources to work with, it wasn’t until 2019 that a North American team actually sat atop the world rankings. This long-overdue achievement was a great step towards increasing the overall level of play for the region, but the progress has come to an abrupt halt as 2020 winds down. A couple of unavoidable factors have left “NA CS” looking like a hollow shell of its former self.
The very best players in North America have always been concentrated among a couple of the top teams, while the rest often contained a mixed bag of veteran experience and unproven potential. With the introduction of Riot Games' new FPS, those veterans have jumped over to Valorant after being offered increased salaries and a more definitive future. It would be unrealistic to have expected them to hang around forever, but it’s those who still had a promising future in CS:GO who really put a dent in things.
Matthew "Wardell" Yu was one of the better AWPers in the region and is still only 22 years-old, but now is a prominent member of TSM’s Valorant lineup. Damian "daps" Steele, who was still among the better in-game leaders, left in recent weeks to re-joinNRG Esports with 18-year-old rifler Sam "s0m" Oh to also play Valorant.
Joshua “steel” Nissan left for Valorant after developing more players than anyone else, but he couldn’t be expected to do it forever with no chance at winning a Major.
It isn’t just those who had no other options in Counter-Strike leaving, it’s a wide array of skill and potential that have jumped the fence. When you make a side-by-side comparison of organizational support between the two games, who can blame them? In North America alone, Valorant has Sentinels, TSM, NRG Esports, Luminosity, 100 Thieves, and T1, all of which don't have a Counter-Strike team. There is no guarantee Valorant ends up being more popular or more feasible as an esport, but it’s clear by this positioning that many believe it will be.
Valorant isn’t the only reason for the sudden setback of North American CS:GO, the global COVID-19 pandemic only sped up the realization that CS:GO is a terrible investment. Salaries are too high across the board and no amount of sponsorship and prize pool winnings make up for the deficit, even after a fresh agreement with ESL Pro League that most teams signed. Unless you are flipping players in the most talent-rich region of Denmark like Copenhagen Flames, chances are your balance sheet is horrifying. The top teams are nothing more than fire-pit of venture capital investment, which only lasts so long.
With no one around to help develop young talented players, the region of North America will become more raw as a result. Good players will be harder to find when the Team Liquids and Evil Geniuses’ look to make a roster change. When presented with this conundrum, the idea of signing European talent will become more sensible. Before you know it there won’t be North American teams anymore, just teams with a couple of North Americans on it.
There is no rule that says North America should be a prominent force in the industry, but without its former structure, players like Jake "stewie2k" Yip, Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, and Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte aren't discovered. The fewer options that exist for players to make professional Counter-Strike a career, the less talent CS:GO gains overall. Any region that loses opportunity and talent is a loss for the community, it just so happens that North America is hemorrhaging the most.
It will take a drastic shift in the current tournament landscape or a tremendous increase in support from Valve to reverse the damage. Flashpoint is a small bright spot and the only tournament structure that makes sense financially long-term. However, the upfront buy-in necessary to partner-up makes organizations skittish. This is the beginning of a dark period for North American Counter-Strike and there is no end in sight.