Richard Lewis shares his derailed train of thought with the wider world in his regular column feature, Gonzorreah.
Read Richard's last column " A Missed Opportunity "HERE
This column is the sole opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of Heaven Media Ltd or the opinion of any affiliates.
ESWC threw few surprises my way. Having attended last year I wasn’t surprised by the small play area, the poor organisation or the lack of press access for what is labelled the “World Cup” of e-sports. The one big surprise came when, in between interviews and trying to follow the action as best we could, players started telling us that Valve representatives were at the event.
These days most companies that have an e-sports model know that having a presence at an event is the smart thing to do. It gives you hands on access with the people at the top of the scene, the people that effectively encourage other aspiring gamers to pump hours into improvement, and it allows you to absorb the spectacle itself, directly absorbing what needs to be changed in order to improve the experience. As such, you’re just as likely to bump into a RIOT employee at a League of Legends event as you are to bump into an overweight nerd in a Teemo hat…
But this is Valve, a company who have always first and foremost focused on making great games, rather than necessarily engaging with the community who play them. E-sports has typically been something that has sprung up as by-product of their games depth rather than any intention on the part of Valve. Understandably really – they have for the most part been bemused by the reaction of the communities they have given birth to. The Counter-Strike community has always laboured under the delusion that they have been successful not because of Valve’s input but despite them. It’s like the employee at a Rolls Royce factory who applies the final coat of wax to the car stating that without him ne’er a car would be sold. Every time Valve attempted to make a change the backlash would almost certainly get it changed back, or at least bring in commands to make it optional. “We don’t want THESE changes” they would screech “we want these ones”. On the few occasions Valve listened they were told in no uncertain terms they’d attempted the right changes but had got them resoundingly wrong.
So they gave up trying and even if they’d never admit that is how it happened you only have to look at the history of the game to see that’s pretty much how the jigsaw looks when you lay all the pieces flat. They went and made games where the resulting communities were more accepting of change, mostly because they game never remained stagnant for any period of time. Team Fortress 2 became the hat simulator we all know and love, a hotbed of micro-transactions and user created items. Left 4 Dead sprung a sueprfast sequel that supposedly nobody wanted but outsold the original and introduced weekly mutations and different play modes. DotA 2 has as much in common with these titles as it does with the original game.
CS:GO was the first time they had proactively courted the community. As a piece of intellectual property the Counter-Strike format should be a jewel in the crown. However the fractured relationship between players at the highest level clearly needed some addressing and the overall numbers of the game – obviously not helped by the fact that it will never be compatible with the same sort of rig currently playing a game created in 1998 – haven’t been what they’d hoped for since leaving beta.
The moment NiP won ESWC
Their attendance at ESWC was something of a curiosity but proof that their new direction isn’t a means to dupe the competitive community. Clearly this was a genuine change of tack and one that showed that the Seattle invitation and Q & A sessions in New York – now distant memories in the minds of many a fickle e-sports enthusiast – were not the end of the partnership, as some jaded luminaries had publicly expressed. Usually before promoting the very game they had slammed of course. That’s the power of money.
Yet what was interesting was that Valve were not interested in having anyone really know about their involvement except the players. When I was told they were throwing a party for the players, an opportunity for feedback and discussions of plans for the future, I had assumed the press would be invited. After all, if a tree falls and there’s no reporters around to talk about how awesome the guy who pushed it over is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred that tree is going to stay upright. Yet I was told in no uncertain terms press were not welcome to attend.
Which isn’t to say the event was a secret. It was being openly talked about amongst players, ESWC staff and even some spectators. However it was clear that the press would not be invited to the function, nor would Valve be courting their input beyond what had already been going on behind closed doors.
Incredibly what came out over the next few days, through accounts of those who did attend, was a fascinating insight into the history of the Counter-Strike franchise, the mindset of Valve, plans for the future of the game and a new level of attention being paid to the competitive community for the first time in Counter-Strike history from the people that made the game as popular as it became. Here’s what happened according to the testimony of the players and managers who were there. Obviously, their statements are published anonymously.
Valve Recorded Promotional Videos Of Players For Use In An ESWC Film
During the meeting Valve were taking players to one side, mic’ing them up and recording promotional footage relating to what they do within their teams and how the play the game. The purposes of this was to be used in a video inter-spliced with footage of the ESWC LAN event itself, although it wasn’t clear where or when it would be released or indeed for what purpose.
Will we be seeing a Valve video like this one for ESWC and other CS:GO tournaments?
“They asked if we would be willing to make some pro tip videos” one player explains “similar to what had been done before as part of CGS. They basically asked us questions and we talked about what we did in preparation for games, or what to do in certain situation while filming us.”
“I had a mic on for ten minutes and was talking shit for a good while. We had to do introductions on each video where they would just film us directly talking to the camera, saying what our names were, our in game aliases, our role, and asking us what we thought of the tournament. Obviously talking to Valve we were mostly positive even though not many people had a lot of good things to say in private.”
The general feeling seems to be that Valve will be releasing a series of highlight videos that not only showcase certain players but also show the highs and lows of an event. It was stated by some that these videos would be released through the CS:GO via the newly integrated news feed.
The Silencer Will Be Returning To The Game
For reasons that seem to me inexplicable one of the big sticking points for the community has been the fact that the silencer had been removed. Despite there being not one credible argument for its inclusion other than “we like it” it does seem that Valve will be relenting and including in future iterations of the game.
“They talked to us for about fourty-five minutes about the changes that were coming in the game and were very keen to address the silencer issue” I was told by one attending player. “One of my team-mates had already said to them that the silencer had to be brought back and I think that’s why they talked about it so much. They kept saying that it was a low priority compared to other things but it would definitely be making a return.”
One team told me:
“The guys we spoke to kept telling us that they felt CT was really overpowered right now on most maps, which wasn’t what we felt at all. They said that was the main reason for dropping the silencer because it gave the CTs yet another advantage and they felt it was one too many. They know how the community feels about it but they said it was a balancing issue. Even then they reassured us that it would be back, just as soon as they could figure out how to fit it in without it unbalancing the game further.”
They Consider CS:S To Be A “Bigger Game” Than 1.6
Although it might seem a bizarre statement given the conventional wisdom, there were several surprised accounts that said that the Valve employees had stated that CS:S had been the more successful game. Often the word “bigger” was used in this qualification of success, although several players had conflicting accounts of what the term bigger meant.
Perhaps mostly succinctly it was given to me by a team manager:
“We talked with them at length and they said that there was no doubt that CS:S had been the bigger game for them. They talked about how Steam stats were often cited by the 1.6 community as being conclusive proof that CS:S hadn’t succeeded but they said that Steam stats were not to necessarily be trusted if you didn’t know how to interpret them properly. The big thing they said that peak players was not the same as a total player pool and, in my opinion, they were intimating that CS:S had more overall players than 1.6 but they spaced out their playing preventing as big “peaks”.
They didn’t really go into a lot further than that but they did say that the reason they had looked to get so much CS:S input was because the game had been so successful for them. In global terms CS:S had been a lot more appealing to a lot more people. 1.6 was primarily played in a few specific geographic locations. Worldwide more countries had a higher concentrations of Source players than 1.6.
It seemed really weird given that for years we’ve had it rammed down our throats that 1.6 is the better game, the template for e-sport success. I did feel like asking why Valve hadn’t made this information public as if they had it might have changed e-sports history but it felt like it’d be a bit of a mood killer.”
"But Valve are lying. They pay everyone to drop 1.6. 1.6 HAS TO BE THE BIGGER GAME!!!"
Other accounts included players and some enthusiasts who simply got talking to them stating that Valve weren’t worried about the progression of CS:GO as the first month of CS:S only had peaks of 4,000 players, so the newer game was much more healthy.
“They were really open and honest with us Source players” one told me “and they wasted no time in telling us good things about the game. We were surprised that they were telling us Source had more players than both 1.6 and Global Offensive combined but that is what they said. It didn’t seem real but why would they make that up?”
Molotovs Will Be Changed
Valve were aware of the big issue surrounding molotovs and incendiary grenades at the time of ESWC. They made a point of telling all the players that they would be changing them if necessary but they first wanted to see how they would pan out in competitive play. ESWC was the first real test of that as far as they were concerned.
“Valve said that the molotov issue was something they would look at” one of the invitees explained “but were just telling them over and over that they wouldn’t work. In the end I think they took us seriously and they even gave us e-mails to keep in touch with them. Since then they’ve replied to us a few times so it wasn’t just something to say. They’ve told us they will be changing how molotovs behave based on what they saw at ESWC.
Valve Believe The Community Needs To Be More Proactive
While faced with lots of competitors who were asking questions about balancing the maps, Valve said several times that they felt the community should be stepping up and implementing the changes that help shape the game. This includes those running tournaments as well as the players who enter them. The prevailing sentiment was that they didn’t feel it was their role to balance maps when the community had the modding tools available to them, or that they should remove weapons from the game when tournaments could simply ban them. They also reiterated that they had no plans for a tournament the size of The International any time soon as they felt if enough tournaments supported the game in the right way there was as much opportunity for CS:GO players as DotA 2 players over the course of a gaming year.
“They ended our talk by saying they hoped the community, including us, would be more hands on” I was told. “That they wanted to focus on making a great game but it’d be up to LAN organisers and online leagues where the game really went. They said that if they got involved with every little thing they’d not be able to make the fixes and changes we all wanted. They did say that they would continue to go to events and interact with us though, so we were all really positive coming out of ESWC for the future of the game.”
To summarise, with e-sports becoming not just a niche concern but a solid marketing model to draw further life out of a game and to encourage those who play them to pump both their time and money into them. Valve, a company who have made some of the best games of the last decade, are finally starting to move into this new way of doing business. The only question that remains is whether the community they are courting is finally ready to work alongside them.