DeKay Scope: Valve's 180 on Conflicts of Interest in CS:GO Is As Puzzling as it is Troubling

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL
Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL

Last September I published a report that documented ESL’s attempt at restricting teams that signed their ESL Pro League agreement from playing in other leagues. As a response to this report, Valve published a blog post two weeks later called “Keeping Things Competitive.” In the post, Valve expressed it had no interest in providing a license for the game to those attempting exclusivity of any kind and required all teams, players, and organizers to work to resolve any existing conflicts of interest.

This isn’t the first time Valve expressed their distaste for ownership conflict of interest, having previously required FACEIT to introduce a rule that prohibited player and team conflicts in the FACEIT London Major rulebook. Before that. in early 2017, WESA announced a new rule that disallowed multiple team ownership but allowed teams an 18-month grace period to comply. It was never known publicly if this rule was encouraged by Valve, but at some point the announcement of the rule disappeared from the WESA website. So while no rule disallowed conflicts of interest from the start of professional CS:GO, efforts were made from multiple angles to prevent them over the years.

Everything changed earlier this week when Valve provided HLTV with a statement about why they were letting MIBR and Yeah Gaming play against one another in the ESL One Road to Rio Major Qualifier tournament, despite the glaring conflict of interest. In the statement, a Valve representative explained that the only requirement was that "participating teams disclose existing conflicts of interest, and that those disclosures be made public so that the community can have an opportunity to discuss them." In just over six months, Valve went from prohibiting conflicts of interest to allowing them so long as they were disclosed publicly.

Why make such a questionable change? If CS:GO was a smaller game title with a professional scene hanging on by a thread, I could then at least understand the U-turn out of desperation. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I would understand the motive. But CS:GO is still setting all-time player records as we speak. So why have they decided to allow everything they battled to prevent for the last few years?

I can’t imagine how upset those are who missed an opportunity to play professionally as a result of Valve’s previous stance. Countless players had discussed an opportunity to play for academy teams when they were still in CS:GO, but never got the chance because of the conflicts of interest that existed and rendered those secondary teams almost useless. Similarly to those players, many have had to offload shares and conflicting ownership in an effort to comply with the previous approach. Not only have Valve made a questionable decision here, but they influenced many to make decisions that many coming after them now don’t have to make.

Conflicts of interest confuse people because many believe a conflict does not exist until something bad happens and can be proven. But that's not the point. A conflict of interest means there's even the possibility wrongdoing could occur, and that needs to be eliminated. The thought of asking one team to lose that is owned by the same party or individual, shouldn’t ever be an option. While I trust almost everyone in professional CS:GO, there shouldn’t be a possibility for anyone to make a potentially poor and damaging decision that affects the integrity of the game.

Valve allowing the community to “discuss” these conflicts of interest is hardly of any value because those who understand how damaging they can be will reiterate it, like I am here. But those who are actively participating in them will continue to remain silent and refuse to acknowledge the negative precedent they set. There is a reason just about every other sport in the world prohibits conflicts of interest, specifically in regards to team ownership. Why should esports be any different?