How 2020 Resulted in The Downfall of North American CS:GO

How 2020 Resulted in The Downfall of North American CS:GO

Aditya Singh Rawat
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We witnessed many CS:GO tournaments throughout 2020 despite a pandemic shutting down everything across the globe. The competitive scene was a rollercoaster ride where no single team dominated the circuit. The organizers also had a tough time transitioning to an online format, which impacted the scene in various ways.

One of the most significant change that was observed during this period was a decline in competitive CS:GO in the North American region, as the focus quickly shifted towards Europe. We observed multiple esports organizations from the region step away from the game, and the community only hopes that things improve for the better this year. 

Let’s take a look at what forced these organizations to pull the plug and how exactly over the last 10-12 months did things deteriorate to such a low point that ESL themselves had to step in to “improve the situation.”

North American CS:GO Competitive Circuit: 2020 

Reasons Behind The Downfall

The first thing that occurred as a result of this online transition was that all the big CS:GO tournaments were split into several regional events. This led to the total prize pool being split between these regions. Europe received the largest chunk of this split as it had the most number of top-tier teams, followed by North America, and then an equal split between the remaining regions.

North American esports organization Triumph’s General Manager - Shawn Bischoff shared his opinion on the subject by saying that, “The move to online in 2020 resulted in large tournaments like IEM and Dreamhack being split up between all regions, resulting in much lower North American prize pools. I don’t believe that any region was affected as badly as NA in this manner, due to the nature of the top few NA team’s relevance in global competition.”

There was not much the TO’s, in general, could do about these regional tournaments. They tried to split the prize pool fairly and conduct all the tournaments to the best of their ability. Bischoff backs this statement by adding that, “You could argue that increasing prize pools in NA would have prevented some teams from relocating but it isn’t reasonable for NA to have the same prize pools as EU.”

As the year wore on, we saw cracks starting to form in the foundation of the CS:GO competitive scene in North America, as multiple teams from the region like 100 Thieves, Chaos Esports Club, and Gen.G Esports quit the game. With the main competition now in Europe, players wanted to relocate, but the organizations were reluctant to do so.

“The crux of the issue is inflated salaries. The top teams in CS have driven up salary costs and operational costs in CS to a level where the ROI (Return on Investment) is not really justifiable,” explains Bischoff, “With CSGO being one of the biggest esports in the world (maybe only second to League of Legends), most teams have overlooked their costs in order to stay competitive and at the top. I think the pandemic accelerated teams' decisions to cut ties and save money, and I still believe some of these companies will return once the global economy stabilizes.”

Valorant's Impact On The Region

Online CS:GO was not the only thing that affected North American Counter-Strike negatively. The arrival of Valorant was a major disruption as well and Bischoff puts it rather beautifully in a sentence, “Tier-1 CS remained the same but Tier-2 CS became Tier 1 Valorant”.

This is the brutal truth of the situation, with competitive CS:GO already facing a tough time in the region, many organizations entering Valorant signed these players. “If you look at the current top 15 teams in Valorant, you will find a huge majority of players that have migrated from Tier-2 CSGO. Many players were able to swap games and immediately be put in a position to make huge salaries on the top teams,” says Bischoff.

Future Of The Region

But even amidst this bitter and dismal situation if one were to take something positive away, it would have to be the rise of Tier-2 teams and players in the North American region. Bischoff shares a similar opinion on the subject and states that “2020 was the best opportunity ever for smaller teams and unproven players to be in the spotlight. Many Tier-2 teams like ours were playing regularly in large events that they would otherwise never qualify for.”

It might not be the best way to look at the situation at hand, but it is still better than nothing and things are not yet completely lost for the region as per Bischoff, who “expects things to return to normalcy” once pro teams move back to North America and start operating out of their own facilities.

In the meanwhile, Bischoff believes that “The recent changes to ESEA Premier/ESL Pro League are going to have a great effect on the North American scene. Putting more money into our region’s prize pools and consistent opportunities to make through to the EPL are certainly welcomed changes.”

2020 was hard on the competitive North American CS:GO circuit, and it did take a huge hit. Labelling it as the region’s downfall would not be an exaggeration, and at the same time, it would also not be entirely accurate. Hope that the changes being introduced help bring the region back on track, sooner rather than later.

Aditya is the in-house CS:GO writer at AFK Gaming. While his understanding of the esports space is not restricted by geographical borders, his current focus lies in the Asian region. Understands and follows almost all major esport titles.