Smoke Trick: Astralis, Rune Magic, and CS:GO’s Ragnarok

Hey guys I wanted to give a little intro to this article. I’ve been playing with the idea of making an eSports conspiracy news show. This is my first quick shot at an idea. Let me know what you think, if it’s funny, etc. Thanks!

In the wake of Astralis winning the ELeague Major, we’ve seen a whole mess of roster moves in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene. Organizations are sparing no expense to build what fans and analysts alike are calling “Super Teams.” We’ve got FaZe picking up NiKo. The old Fnatic lineup, by far the most dominant team in csgo history, getting together. Newly established North is bringing back their old Dignitas comrade Aizy. Felps got the call to join the big league signing with SK. The North American scene blew up with Stanislaw and Hiko changing teams. We’ve also got KennyS and Shox finally playing together on G2 making what could be the best French team in history. We are in a new era of CS:GO, an era where nobody knows who is going to win that next event. It’s almost supernatural…..

Because it is. Did you notice anything strange about Astralis at the Major? Take a close look at this pic of Gla1ve.

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Notice anything strange about it? Look at the keyboard. That’s not a Razer logo. Yeah that’s a ancient Viking rune on his keyboard. That rune belongs to a cult of Fenrir, the wolf from Norse mythology. He’s the son of Loki and the giantess Angrboða and one of the major catalysts for Ragnarok aka the Twilight of the Gods aka the end of the world; a era where the greatest of warriors will do glorious battle with the strongest going on to fight in Valhalla for eternity.

I know it sounds crazy, but think about it. Gla1ve is the new guy on Astralis’ roster and is feeling the pressure. He had to fill Karrigan’s IGL shoes, a pretty massive job, on top of breaking the team’s choking curse (put on them by Na’vi and their cult of Baba Yaga). With all that weight on his shoulders, Gla1ve caved in and succumbed to his Danish history with rune magic. You see Gla1ve comes from a long line of Gothi, ancient Norse priests. By tapping into his mystic history, Gla1ve channeled the power of the the Fenrir rune guaranteeing victory at the major. But this rune magic comes with a cost. Gla1ve has triggered CS:GO’s Ragnarok. That’s why we’ve been seeing all these super teams rising. The Gods are gathering their forces for the final battle. Think about it.

We’ll have to see what happens at DreamHack Vegas. Does Gla1ve’s rune magic hold up, or will the onslaught see another Super Team rise to Odin’s side in Valhalla.

Blizzard’s tight lips might sink the Overwatch Sponsor-ship

There’s no denying that Overwatch, the team-based hero shooter from Blizzard Entertainment, is poised to take the eSports world by storm. On top of being a supremely fun and deep shooter, both keys to creating a good eSport, Blizzard has revealed plans to run an international league featuring a major and minor league, relegation, salaries and benefits for the players, an off season, and teams tied to cities for a regional connection like traditional sports. Dubbed The Overwatch League, this new competition, slated to kick off Q3 of this year, is basically offering everything traditional sports has.

Sounds good right? I thought so too when I first saw the announcement at Blizzcon back in November. Well it’s January now and we still haven’t gotten any more info from Blizzard about the league, and it’s starting to affect Overwatch eSports scene.

Last week Reunited, a European Overwatch team that has posted some good results including a 2nd place at ESL Overwatch Atlantic Showdown, announced they are shutting down operations citing a lack of money as the cause. I’m sure you’re all saying “yeah that makes sense… you don’t have enough money you can’t have a team. What’s the problem?”

Well the problem is Reunited has been in talk with sponsors for a long time, but according to a blog post by team founders Frederik Kragh Christensen and Christian Jantzen, “Earlier this fall, the news surfaced that we were in talks with several large sports entities, however, none of these were successful due to the uncertainty surrounding the acquisition of league spots.”

What they are saying is, because Blizzard hasn’t revealed any new information regarding the Overwatch League, (you know, things like: How you secure a spot in the league? What infrastructure will teams need to provide to be in accordance with League standards? When is the league set to kick off? What cities will be the home bases for the teams? You know just small things like that) sponsors are hesitant to put money into the scene. And rightfully so! If I’m the Cleveland Cavaliers and am looking to jump into eSports with Overwatch, why would I start throwing money behind teams that may not be included in the league? And since we’re talking about money, rumor has it that it’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars to secure a spot in the league. Who’s going to invest that much money on something that hasn’t been proven yet?

What makes this all very puzzling is the fact that Blizzard has a pretty good track record of communicating their plans for their other eSports. For example this past December Blizzard announced their entire plans for the 2017 StarCraft II World Championship Series. You can look the whole thing over here and I suggest you do so you can see what I mean when I say they communicate EVERYTHING. Granted, the WCS system is established and not nearly as ambitious as the Overwatch League (no franchised teams, no combine system, etc.). That said, what’s stopping them from communicating. I mean going back to StarCraft, Blizzard’s lead designer David Kim is always on the forums or Reddit discussing balance or potential changes with the community. I mean David Kim is so prevalent he’s become a meme in the community. Where are the Nate Nanzer, Global Director of Overwatch Esports, memes?!?!

If Blizzard really wants the Overwatch League to be this shining example of how eSports should operate, they should start including the community on their League conversations. Otherwise we’re going to start seeing more stories of teams like Reunited falling apart.

Millennial Sports: What eSports and the UFC can learn from each other.

The 2000s saw the rise of two fringe competitions, eSports and mixed martial arts. As a fan of both of these communities I’ve noticed some parallels surface over the years. There’s the surface level comparisons, things like; both sell out stadium around the world, both have had a meteoric rise in popularity amongst the 13-35 male demographic, and ultimately, at their cores, both revolve around competitors having a monk like dedication to their craft so they can be the best. But beyond these basic comparisons, one can draw a deeper connection between the two sports through the themes of their content. For example, both MMA and eSports focus their non-competition content around the stories of the competitors, the human side of the pursuit of glory. Both require extremely knowledgeable and personable commentators and casters to act as your guide through the events. But despite all these similarities, there are still several lessons eSports and a MMA organization like the UFC can learn from each other.

One of the UFC’s most popular shows is The Ultimate Fighter. Essentially TUF if a reality show where a group of hopeful MMA fighters move into a house together and are split up into two team. Each team is lead by an all-star in the UFC who coaches the prospects and gets them ready for the UFC treatment. Each episode two of the prospects have to fight and the winner stays while the loser goes home.

Can you imagine how cool this would be in eSports? You could take an organization like Fnatic, somebody who is looking to put together an academy or farm team, run a combine-like contest online to get prospects, have them move into a house and have the real Fnatic roster coach them. Not only would this give eSports fans a scouting report on up and coming players, but it also would let us see the personality of these prospects and pros. It would be like combining the best moments of streaming with the drama of a big event. The best thing about TUF is that it has given us some of the biggest names in the sport; guys like Anthony Pettis, Max Holloway, and Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Who knows what eSports super stars are just waiting at the gate for a shot at the big time? The only way to find out is to create a stage for them to shine on.

Another piece of content I feel like the UFC is ahead of the curve on is the Dana White’s Looking for a Fight show. Essentially this show is just Dana White, head of the UFC, and a few of his friends going around the world and watching smaller MMA fights. At its core it’s just a reality show mixed with a scouting report, but what really sells it is the personality of Dana White and his friends.

Now imagine if we took this idea and moved it into eSports. You could have beloved community figures like Tasteless and Artosis (SC2 commentators for the GSL) or Anders and Semmler (CS:GO casters) traveling around the world, checking out smaller lans and internet cafes, and scouting new prospects. It would be another way for the community to gain access to the established personalities they love as well as learn more about the competition and the new prospects coming up.

That said, I do feel like there are some things eSports does better than the UFC, mainly sponsorship. One of the most divisive changes in the UFC came in July 2015. Essentially the UFC signed a deal with Reebok that gave the sportswear company exclusive rights to branding in the ring. That means that the fighters, who have been surviving off of personal sponsorships – things like logos on their shorts or carrying out banners full of sponsor logos when they win a fight – can’t accept these deals any more. Can you imagine what would happen if ESL signed a deal with Logitech and then said that teams could no longer have any other peripheral company’s logos on their jerseys? This is why the whole exclusivity debate between PEA and WESA is so important. They are essentially trying to build a league they have 100% control of, much like how the UFC has 100% control over the fighters and their sponsorships.

But beyond the whole exclusivity issue, the UFC is really killing it on the content side. One thing I think eSports really could learn from is the UFC Fight Pass. The Fight Pass is like Netflix for MMA. You pay a fee per month to gain access to the entire library of UFC and their subsidiary’s fights. I can hear the complaints already, “But we already have Vods and they’re free!” I get that. But what’s cool about Fight Pass is that it curates the fights to what you’re interested in. You’re a fan of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson? We’ll here’s all the formative fights that made him the legends he is today. Right now we don’t have that in eSports. You have to dig through hundreds of forum and Twitter posts just to figure out what’s going on. How cool would it be if you wanted to get into CS:GO but didn’t know where to start. Well just sign up for the eSports Pass and you’ll be shown what the major storylines in the scene were and where they’re going today.

Obviously there’s some problems with the eSports pass, mainly the fact that there are so many different Leagues and games these teams are playing in. It would take either take some company buying all the rights to the broadcasts or ESL/PEA getting what they want and forcing exclusively on a region. That said, Turtle Entertainment owns ESL and Dreamhack, the two biggest event hosts in the eSports ecosystem. If anyone could make this happen it would be Turtle Ent.

While we still have a ways to go before eSports or MMA are as mainstream as Football and Basketball, we do have most of the ground work laid out. If eSports can take the personality-focused reality shows the UFC has so much success with and make it their own, we would have another content and revenue stream to help grow the scene. Hell, we might be worth $4 billion like the UFC one day. On top of that, if we had a Fight Pass system in place we would have a tool that effectively lowers the barrier of entry for new fans coming into eSports. Now if only we could get the UFC to rethink that Reebok deal….

The Immortals get new Investors

Today the eSports organization Immortals announced a new round of investments headed up by the film studio Lionsgate and billionaire Michael Milken. These two parties join previous investors Steve Kaplan, cofounder of Oaktree Capital and co-owner of The Memphis Grizzlies basketball team; investor Gregory Milken; Third Wave entrepreneur and founder of Machinima Inc. Allen DeBevoise; and CrossCut Ventures.

This is huge news for the Immortals. It’s crazy to think that this organization was founded in 2015. In just one year they’ve gone on to be a top contender in League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, and the Fighting Game scene.

Personally I’m a huge fan of the Immortals, not just because they field great players and seem to treat them very well, but because the owner Noah Whinston. This guy is only 22 years old and he is already at the head of one of the most powerful teams/brands in eSports. Personally I got to work with Noah on setting up the Immortals CS:GO House Tour I produced for Machinima. He was super excited to have us check out the house and hang out with the players on Immortals.

Speaking of the players, I’m so happy for the Immortals CS:GO team. With this round of funding they should have a solid base for the rest of their Counter-Strike careers. They’re a great bunch of guys who, despite only hanging out with them for a day, still come up to me when they see me at events to say “hi” and shoot the shit.

I am a little concerned about this Michael Milken guy however. While researching this dude, I found out that he made his money in the Junk Bond industry, earning himself the nickname the “junk bond king.” What’s really interesting to me is that he was convicted on felony charges of racketeering and securities fraud in a 1989 insider trading scandal. Now this was not exactly hidden; in fact its the 2nd paragraph of his Wikipedia page. Plus it was almost 30 years ago and you don’t become the 488th richest person in the world by following the rules. I just hope that Milken’s shadier days are behind him and that he doesn’t taint the Immortals organization with his involvement.

Over all, I’m happy for the Immortals. I’m just curious what kind of content Lionsgate is making if they’re dropping money on eSports…..

Tyloo roster drama!

*UPDATE:

Hey guys, just had a thought last night about this post and wanted to update it. What happens to the visas Tyloo secured a few months ago for these players? Will Tyloo need to acquire new visas for their stand in players?

 

Today word got out that the most successful CS:GO team in China, Tyloo, has removed two players, a fired coach, and suspended another player due to contacting other teams while under contract.

YuanZhang “AttackeR” Sheng and YuLun “fancy1” Cai, and the team’s coach QiFang “Karsa” Su has been removed from the organization, while HaoWen “somebody” Xu is only suspended for the time being.

Apparently Tyloo found out that AttackeR, fancy1, Karsa, and somebody were reaching out to other players and teams in hopes of building a new organization. With this info out, it’s going to be hard for these players to find a new organization, especially considering they’ve received bans from WCA, Pro Gamer League, ESL, and WESG for this transgression. Thankfully these bans are not for an unreasonable length of time. They’ll be lifted once the whole situation clears up. The bans are in place due to Tyloo attending the WESG 2016 World Finals in just 3 days.

The Chinese org has already announced the three players who will fill in at the event:
Zhen “HZ” Huang
LiKan “ryk” Luo
Lei “bottle” Mao

The removed players and coach released a statement on Facebook:

First of all, the players never actually had a contract in writing with TyLoo. The organization promised that the players would have the same basic salary for every single player but they failed their promise. DD, and fancy1 were later offered more salary but were told to not tell this to other teammates. DD accepted, fancy1 refused.

This caused resentment for attacker, somebody, and karsa. The organization didn’t keep their promise to pay everyone the same salary so players decided to leave. Then TyLoo made an alliance with the event organizers to ban the players.

We will give HLTV.org a more detailed statement on January 11.

To which Tyloo responded with their own statement:

Since TYLOO CSGO team returned to China after the E-League Major Qualifier, team coach Qifang Su (Karsa) and player Yulun Cai (fancy1) have been contacting with other organization, while still in the contract period, and also persuaded teammates to join the other organisation. The behavior has not only damaged the good relationship with the company, but also stimulated internal conflicts in the team.

After serious consultations, the company has make the following decisions:

1. Discharges Qifang Su’s (Karsa) position as team coach.
2. Yulun Cai (fancy1) and Yuanzhang Sheng (AttackeR) into inactive status, banned to represent TYLOO participating any events.
3. Haowen Xu (somebody) into suspension.

We also want to thanks to Hui Wu (DD) and Ke Liu (Mo) for trusting the company in any situation.

Personally I hate to see these kinds of problems. When I was competing THE GOAL was to be signed by a big organization. period. It’s like being in a band and getting signed to a big label, or having that script you’ve been shopping around Hollywood get some buzz at a studio. It’s the first step in turning the gig into a career. But much like the music or film industry, you have to be careful you don’t get your shit taken and exploited. I have the feeling this is what playing for Tyloo is like. The whole secret raises thing in the player’s mentioned in their post oozes the kind of shadiness an team would try. I figured in 2017 that kind of thing wouldn’t fly, but maybe I’m just thinking about Western CS:GO.

That’s the interesting thing about Tyloo, they’re from China. China traditionally doesn’t play FPS games. The fact that Tyloo was able to compete internationally truly is a testament to how good these players are. Basically they’re in a wasteland in China where they can’t get good practice partners to save their lives. Yet they were still able to show up to international events and take games off of some very good teams. I remember being at IBuyPower Masters a few months ago and seeing the Tyloo guys there. Maybe it was the fact they were in America and don’t speak English but they team seemed really tightly knit to me. After every game, all the players would go outside and smoke cigarettes and discuss the match together. It just really bums me out to see this great squad broken up over some drama.

That said, the cut players are not without blame. I mean it’s shady as hell to go behind people’s backs and try and build a new squad. But then again… is there ever a good way to break a team up? Maybe we really need an established off season or a players union so that these kinds of issues can be taken care of in a cleaner fashion.

ESL Pro League Exclusively on YouTube

Today eSports journalist DeKay posted an article stating that ESL and YouTube Gaming have partnered up to make YouTube to exclusive home to ESL Pro League’s next season. This marks a shift in ESL’s distribution. Before this announcement, EPL was broadcast live on Twitch with VODs uploaded to YouTube later. With this move it looks like YouTube is trying and challenge Twitch’s dominance over live eSports distribution.

Season 5 of ESL Pro League kicks off on Feb. 7th, with games being streamed on YouTube every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The season will end with a live finals in Dallas TX June 3-4.

While I have yet to find confirmation from ESL or YouTube, DeKay is a reliable voice in the community with a proven track record of getting the scoop before anyone else, so I’m taking his word. What really interests me about this story is the battle over distribution platforms. I used to work with Lester Chen, Head of Global eSports partnerships at YouTube Gaming, at Machinima. He’s a super smart guy who knows eSports, and this move shows it.

Twitch already has a CS:GO league that it runs in conjunction with FACEIT; the eSports Championship Series. It only makes sense that ESL would shop their show around to other live platforms and I’m happy YouTube picked it up. EPL is a great product that brings new fans into the scene as well as providing a stable environment where larger story lines can grow out of it. With this partnership, both ESL and YouTube have made moves in the right direction. ESL gets a foot in the door with an Alphabet Inc. subsidiary and YouTube gets exclusive eSports content that is as true to eSports as possible. I mean what are you really missing out on by not being on Twitch besides racist chat and walls of Kappas?

PEA Players Vote EPL Over PEA

Today longtime eSports personality and elected voice of the PEA players, Scott “SirScoots” Smith Tweeted out

scoots-1

This comes after days of fighting between the PEA team owners and their players regarding league exclusivity.

Basically PEA, or the Professional eSports Association, is an organization of 7 North American based teams; Cloud 9, Team Liquid, compLexity, NRG, TSM, Immortals, and CLG. The intention of PEA is to make a North American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league that would run in direct competition to the current top dog ESL’s Pro League. This is where the drama starts.

The players under the PEA owned teams were understandably upset by this considering they were told that the PEA league would be non-exclusive, meaning you could play in both EPL and PEA. This seemed especially disrespectful considering one of the main tenets of the PEA was to be as transparent as possible and to represent the wishes of the players.

So currently, according to Scoots’ tweets, the PEA players have unanimously decided to play in EPL over PEA. Scoots went on to Tweet out some of the reasoning:

scoots-2-2
Note: I re-ordered the Tweets so you can read them top to bottom.

Personally I’m glad to see the players side with ESL on this one, not because I think ESL is a saint (we all know how dirty their tactics are, their intention to have a monopoly on eSports, and how awful the conditions were at EPL Finals Sao Paulo) but because I hate the gangster-esque tactics PEA is using. Sure PEA may be able to grow eSports in North America, but would you really trust an organization who tries to strong arm not only their competition but their own players!

The real people who are doing this whole thing right are the folks over at ELeague. They came into the scene offering something no other league could, higher levels of production and wider distribution including national Television, something that brings along the oh so coveted advertisers who make this whole eSports thing possible. What ELeague isn’t doing is bullying the competition and using the players as pawns in their negotiations.