Is the Blast Pro Series style of tournament format and invites good for the CSGO Scene?

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The Blast Pro Series of events is a relatively new entry into the Counter-Strike Global Offensive esports scene. These series of tournaments are organised by RFRSH Entertainment which has a vested interest in the Counter-Strike esports scene. They already have a majority stake in the World’s best Counter-Strike team in Astralis. The past year has seen Astralis move from strength to strength as they have dominated the esports circuit in Counter-Strike. They won the IEM Katowice 2019 Major as well as the Intel Grand Slam culminating a year of key victories and dominance. The format and the nature of the Blast Pro Series of tournaments are exciting for the average viewer while not being as demanding on the teams and the players as some of the other events in CS: GO.

What is RFRSH Entertainment?

RFRSH Entertainment is a privately owned and operated esports media company. They provide winning commercial and marketing strategies for companies looking to enter and succeed in the wildly growing and challenging esports market.

 

They represent and run strategic and commercial operations for some of the best esports teams in the world and create the best possible conditions for our teams, so they can concentrate on being athletes.

The structure of the Blast Pro Series is the subject of this article. RFRSH has already organised around 7 tournaments in the calendar year, with each event featuring a prize pool of $250,000.  As such the future of the industry depends heavily on how RFRSH handles its future tournaments and the teams attending these events. Direct invites for their events ensure that RFRSH can always work with the very best teams in CS: GO and curate. Fans want to see the best teams in action against each other, and with Blast Pro Series events, they don’t have to wait for multiple days for the group stage to come to a conclusion. However, there is always a shred of a doubt when it comes to RFRSH and their handling of these events. Does RFRSH want to ensure a closed circuit with these invite-only events? Are teams contractually obligated to attend RFRSH events? What does this mean for the future of Counter-Strike?

The Blast Pro Series of Events

The 2019 season saw RFRSH partner with seven teams across the world. These teams have to participate in five of the seven tournaments organised by RFRSH in the year. This contractual commitment sees the top teams play against each other. At the same time, RFRSH is able to provide top quality Counter-Strike to its viewers. Viewers don’t have to watch through multiple days of (often meaningless) group stage matches. They skip right past the mundane matches into the juicy match-ups with Blast Pro Series. However,  these events feature Best of One round robin format. The top two teams then play in the Grand finals for the majority of the $250,000 prize pool.

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The entire tournament lasts just two days, allowing teams and their support staff enough time to rest and causes almost no scheduling problems. RFRSH has already laid down its schedule for the rest of the year. They are constantly in talks with the teams to determine their participation in future tournaments.

The format of these events is important because Counter-Strike has traditionally been an open market. Any tournament organiser could organise top tier events and expect participation from the best teams. The best teams are usually decided via online / LAN qualifiers.  However, RFRSH is ‘partnering’ with teams in an attempt to ensure participation in their events. Teams commit to playing in five of their tournaments in the calendar year. Right now, teams have the liberty to choose the tournaments they want to participate in. The fact remains, however, that the market is no longer a free market where merit triumphs over everything. Teams are choosing to partner with RFRSH and create a small group amongst themselves.

More Substance

Jordi Roig, VP of Commercial Development and Partnerships at RFRSH Entertainment was quick to point out the ‘substance’ in Blast Pro Series of events. This substance that he refers to is the quality of Blast Pro Series matches where we witness the top teams in action against each other. There are no mundane matches such as watching a Top 5 team play against a team ranked 45 in the world for a Group stage match. They want to provide quality Counter-Strike to their fans and are already working towards developing the 2020 schedule in some markets.

When asked about exclusivity in the Counter-Strike scene, his reply was ” Not right now, no.” This does indicate the possibility of future plans for the company when it comes to exclusivity in the scene. What does being exclusive mean in terms of Counter-Strike? It would essentially mean that certain top tier teams  [ the partner teams] would play only in Blast Pro Series events.

This would definitely affect their participation in other third-party tournaments. Without top quality teams in these third-party events, the viewership numbers would be much lower than today. With low viewership numbers, these events would not be sustainable in their current format. Blast Pro Series can slowly take on more of the calendar year creating an entire League for themselves via the network of tournaments.

Why do organisations want a closed circuit in CS: GO?

Counter-Strike has grown to its current stature organically. The growth did not come due to Valve’s involvement but despite their lacklustre attitude towards the game. A closed circuit would provide the organiser with control over the Counter-Strike scene. They would closely work with CSPPA in order to ensure a sustainable working environment and polished product for the final viewer. It makes sense from a financial perspective as the circuit could work on monetising their fan-base and providing quality Counter-Strike to the viewers.

It is somewhat similar to what Blizzard does with their Overwatch League. With the possibility of teams working together to form an exclusive league amongst themselves, it would mean control over the majority of viewership. Revenue sources would range from sale of merchandise to subscription models for viewing matches as well as other partnerships with big brands and companies.

Getting revenue from Merchandise sales, VIP seating and creating a storyline around the tournaments would ensure that viewers value the Blast Pro Series of events. We have seen attempts in the past when PEA and ESL tried to create a closed circuit of events. The efforts did not bear fruit as the Players Union led by SirScoots ensured the sovereignty of the CS: GO Scene.

Currently, Counter-Strike teams are often bleeding money due to the high salaries and lack of revenue opportunities. With the rapid growth of esports, there is more and more investment into esports. However, in order for the esports industry to start being sustainable, it is important for teams to start searching for other sources of revenue. Eliminating competition is one of the best ways to secure revenue for an exclusive set of teams.

Blast Pro Series: The Good & the Bad

Blast Pro Series is a big part of the CS: GO circuit. There are good things regarding the tournament for fans as well as teams. However, there is always the fear of the creation of an exclusive league within Counter-Strike. We are still unsure how it will impact the overall growth and the nature of the CS: GO market.  Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for Blast Pro Series.

The Good

  • Shorter tournaments, allowing teams with flexibility with their schedules
  • Tournaments of substance: Top tier teams competing against each other
  • Locations all over the world, ensuring quality Counter-Strike for fans all over.

The Bad

  • An Invite-only tournament, meaning we won’t see the best Counter-Strike at all times
  • Best of One format for the Group Stage, Luck can be a huge factor.
  • No transparency on which teams receive invites to their tournaments.

We have had top tier talent calling out RFRSH for their double standards. They want to promote fair-play, however, they are moving towards an exclusivity clause, something that will hurt the Counter-Strike scene in the long run. The vague nature of their replies leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Will Blast Pro series increase the number of tournaments in the coming years? If they increase the number of tournaments,

In fact, Sadokist goes on to suggest that there is shady business going on with respect to how RFRSH operates.

While Jordi Roig mentions that there is no pressure on the teams to play in their tournaments, they are contractually obliged to participate in at least five events. This can hurt their participation in other events, some of which are the flagship events for other major Tournament organisers. The contracts would definitely provide some monetary compensation to the teams for participating in the Blast Pro Series.

This is already laying down the foundations of an exclusive league, although RFRSH does not use the word right now. They have not ruled out exclusivity for the future which provides a small insight into their future plans.

Efficiency and Sustainability

The fear of exclusivity stems mostly from previous attempts to control the Counterstrike scene. Valve does not take an active interest in controlling the CS: GO esports scene, not even as much as it does for Dota 2. However, for tournament organisers and teams, they need to find out new revenue sources and provide quality entertainment to their fans.

Blast Pro Series takes place over two days and the event is over within a few days of the players landing at the venue. It allows the organisers to cut costs and be extremely efficient with their scheduling. In order to cut the production time, teams are asked to do the map-vetoes before the start of the first match itself. Teams can then use the downtime to prepare their playstyle for the upcoming. There is a storyline wherein we can see the progress of top tier teams throughout the events in the year.

The CSPPA is the only thing that can stand as a deterrent to anything that harms the CSGO Scene.

We do not have details of the agreement between RFRSH and the teams. However, it will not be far-fetched to assume there is some kind of revenue sharing going on. It makes sense for organisers to go this route, however, it is also something that has been shunned in the past in Counter-Strike. With three members of the CSPPA board participating in these events, it does seem unlikely that the Blast Pro Series could be the start of exclusive leagues in CS: GO. Unless Valve steps in to maintain control and continue with the open market in CS: GO, Counter-Strike is slated to move towards a closed circuit. If RFRSH is able to form a closed circuit, we might also see other tournament organisers follow through. After all, ESL did make an attempt in previous years to form a closed and exclusive circuit within Counter-Strike.

This would break the scene into multiple smaller scenes. Teams would have to sign contracts with tournament organisers, which would often limit them to play in one league or the other. This would also mean that we might not see the best teams play against each other if they are not a part of the same League. Counter-Strike has grown due to fans wanting to see the best teams rise to the top. In a divided CS: GO Scene, the best teams would not be allowed to compete against each other.

The end of Online leagues in Counter-Strike

Regardless of the future, it is a fact that online leagues are no longer sustainable for top tier teams. Online leagues often feature matches for multiple days of the week. It becomes impossible for a top tier player to practice as well as travel across the world for LAN events. With events such as Blast Pro series of events providing a similar prize pool and far less commitment on the part of players, the choice is easy for many.

In the future, we will see even less number of online matches. This should help the teams get adequate rest and practice time. Tournament organisers might rely more on invites than qualifiers. This is especially true when they have a chance to field the best teams in Counter-Strike. With Valve already announcing the schedule for the CS: GO Majors and RFSRH working with teams to ensure their participation in the upcoming year, the CS: GO calendar year is almost set in stone. The next Blast Pro Series event is the Blast Pro Series Madrid starting on the 10th of May 2019. It will continue for two days and all the matches will be streamed live on their Twitch channel here.


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