Pick Yourselves Up By Your Bootstraps

BY Andrew Miesner / February 6, 2009

So, what’s going on? I’ll ask again; what’s going on? From observing the seemingly growing collective mood, one might actually be convinced that professional gaming is on its deathbed. Or one might actually be inclined to believe that it’s all downhill from here because it’s clearly gone as far as it can possibly go. People are talking as if once in a lifetime opportunities for professional gaming have surely come and gone and won’t be making a return trip. Are they right, or are they wrong? The answer to that question is much too easy. They’re dead wrong, but I’ll get to why I think that is a little later.

If there is anything at all that people are going to rally behind, then it should be this. Be prepared to submit yourself to a healthy dose of reality. Chances are relatively slim that some deep pocketed knight in shining armor — in the form of a major corporate sponsor — will arrive in our hour of need and singlehandedly rescue professional gaming. Not that I think it needs rescuing in the first place, but for those who are still hopeful, I simply ask that you try to be cognizant of the real likelihood that some corporate entity, at great risk to their bottom-line in rough economic times, will step up to the plate and place the entire future of professional gaming on their shoulders. If I were a betting man, and I’m not, (except when it involves my nephew who I can sucker 10 out of 10 times) I most certainly wouldn’t take any chances with those odds. Professional gamers and professional gaming aficionados alike shouldn’t set up shop based on such bad odds either.

Because what it truly all boils down to is that professional gaming is a risk is it not? No matter the perspective it’s viewed from, it’s a risk. Just about anything — in one form or another — can be viewed as a risk. When some random guy out there decides that he wants to snowboard or play basketball for a living, do you think it isn’t obvious to him or the people around him that it’s possible he might fail or things may not work out exactly as he hopes they will? Its life and people have to be prepared to accept whatever life throws their way. I know people can relate.  When someone decides they want to become a professional gamer and compete against the best the country, or even the world, has to offer, there’s never any guarantee that things will work out. This is a risk that is also shared by the companies and individuals who decide to support professional gaming financially in hopes that their investment will prove to have been a smart one.

It is my belief that — as it concerns the long-term viability of professional gaming — the current situation or state of events — whatever you want to call it — is the best possible gift the professional gaming community could’ve ever been given.  I really do mean that. The professional gaming community has forcefully been granted the opportunity of a fresh start it so desperately needed. It has been granted the chance to re-evaluate just what it is that we as a community are suppose to value. Do we value the core aspirations that got us into this thing in the first place, or does money just trump all? 

The competitive gaming community has become a bit too pompous and obsessed with big prize money and lavish stage craft. Spectators and competitors alike have begun to lose sight of what should matter to them most. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the ball. That path only leads to disaster. Nobody seems to realize that what the community needs most right now, is something we already have in abundance. If the phrase “it’s the economy stupid” was the simple, yet so effective governing philosophy that was wielded so brilliantly in the political arena for the purpose of getting people to wake up to what was actually going on around them, then I say “it’s the community stupid” should be our version of that phrase. If competitive gaming were equivalent to a boxer, competitive gaming would be the kind of boxer that worked his way up from nothing only to forget where he came from when he finally became a champion. The boxer became self absorbed and entertained suggestions that he could afford to train half as much as he use to and still come away victorious. He was no longer a hungry fighter. He no longer fought just for the pride of calling himself the best pound for pound boxer around. He now fought solely for that next big pay day and ignored strong contenders simply because the money wasn’t good enough and believed strongly in the philosophy that when you’re on top, you don’t have to take risks. The boxer decided one day that he was going to take a risk against some upstart that talked a bit of trash. Fight day is upon us and competitive gaming got knocked out. Yes, competitive gaming has become Rocky Balboa from the first half of Rocky 3 when he got knocked out by Clubber Lane. So what I’m trying to say is that, competitive gaming has received a much needed trip right back to the competitive gaming ghetto and now it’s time to do a bit of soul searching.

To take a bit of inspiration from DJWheat’s show from about 2 weeks ago, who cares if you don’t get paid for a tournament? People have been not getting paid for a long time now. It’s nothing new. That isn’t to say that we should sit down and shut up about the fact that we didn’t get paid if we earned it, but always keep in mind that the competitive gaming community cares less about who won whatever sum of money and more about which individual beat which individual or which team beat which team. If a buddie’s team goes to a LAN and wins a $90,000 first place prize because they beat the pants off of some cal-o team that only managed to win 2 matches all season and I manage to take 4 col staff members to a different LAN and beat SK and EG.usa, but only come away with $300 in our combined pockets, who do you think has the bigger bragging rights? We wouldn’t have even been required to actually come away with a first place finish for us to look like the more accomplished team. Fret not though, such a formidable force will never actually be assembled. So you guys are safe… for now.

Now allow me to ask a serious question. What is it that makes a competitive gaming event a big competitive gaming event? These days, it’s unfortunate to say that many – whether they admit it or not – believe it to be the amount of prize money that is up for grabs. How many are guilty of joining teams, to join leagues, to play a game they don’t like just to compete in events they wouldn’t compete in otherwise, but are doing just that because the money looks good?
It has, rather unfortunately, been the case that whenever big money was a key component of the equation, it wasn’t always that a person truly enjoyed playing with the other members of their team. Or as for the sole purpose of an extra example, It wasn’t always because they actually believed the team they were playing with had a real shot at going all the way. I suppose now that there is no more appropriate an example to use than the now deceased CGS as a shining example of the fact that just because a particular individual, or set of individuals, were competing in a particular game, it didn’t really mean that they actually enjoyed playing the game in question. It might not seem like such a bizarre thing due to how atrociously off track things have gotten with the ever growing influence of big money and how people have allowed it to dictate their priorities, but that’s a pretty big problem. It, outright, flies in the face of the very reason that people should be competing in the first place. If someone is competing in a game that they don’t truly enjoy playing on their own time, then what are they doing exactly, other than contributing to the goal of shredding every ounce of credibility that professional gaming has, or hopes to gain? A person is playing a game professionally that they personally find so appalling that they can’t even bring themselves to play it just for fun? There’s something inherently wrong with that. How good the person is, despite this fact, doesn’t change a thing.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim that getting all excited by the amount of money or the kind of prizes being offered is a bad thing, because it’s not. I’m also not going to say that it’s this terrible thing for someone, who may know very well they aren’t quite as good as everyone else, to try their luck. After all, their lack of ability to compete doesn’t make them any less deserving of the right to be there should they manage to meet the minimum requirements or qualify based on effort put in.  With that said, what truly makes a competitive gaming event big is the quality of competition that attends. The money that you win at an event should be seen as a bonus; the real prize is the right to call yourself the best. The true prize should be the right to see someone say that their favorite team managed to beat this or that top team on their way to finishing in first place. It hasn’t just been big money tournaments and sponsors that have managed to keep the Counter-Strike scene as exciting as it’s been for so many years – although I’d be a fool to claim they didn’t play an important role — it’s been the strong community aspect of the game. 

No lack of obvious big money tournaments to look forward to could hope to change that. No league, no matter how big, closing its doors for good will change that. It’s the strength of the community and what the community deems to be worthy of being held in the highest regard that has attracted money to professional gaming, and what will continue doing so in the future. When a sponsor decides to sponsor a team or some major pro gaming event, what do you think it was that convinced them to do such a thing? Perhaps because individuals that have followed the competitive Counter-Strike scene for so long have become fairly accustomed to this kind of thing, it’s entirely possible that we’ve developed a lack of appreciation for what it really means. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but there’s a, not so insignificant, number of people that are more than just a little bit interested in what kind of gaming accessories and computer hardware professional CS players use, and they usually go out of their way to purchase the exact same brand and model don’t they? Teams and individual gamers have their fans and those fans, even if they don’t claim to be, usually go out and buy whatever they see a top player using.  Why the sudden ,and out of nowhere, obsession with the Microsoft Intellimouse 3.0 immediately after it was confirmed that it was Heaton’s preferred mouse a few years back?  People want to know what mousepad they use, they want to know what headset they use. People saw top players using two mousepads simultaneously in a picture and suddenly they had an epiphany. They were now so certain that they had found the missing piece to the puzzle as to why this player was as good as they were. They went out and doubled their mousepads as well. Some even tripled them. This might sound incredibly silly, but it happens.

A player casually mentions that he changed his mouse sensitivity and suddenly people feel if they change their sensitivity to the exact same setting, it will make them play better. I could go on and on.  It is the competitive gaming community that attracts the money and sponsors. The community is the reason that sponsors feel professional gaming is worthwhile. An important fact to keep in mind is that the gaming industry, in general, is one of the fastest growing industries out there. Why wouldn’t it make sense to test the waters of professional gaming or show it some love? Even with the economy in the state that it’s in, and with the fact that Microsoft has recently cut 5,000 jobs, which aspect of their business is one of the biggest and brightest stars right now? The Xbox 360. It’s actually pretty ironic that when the economy was looking good, the Xbox brand wasn’t doing all that hot for Microsoft and now that it’s in dire straits, the Xbox 360 is really hitting its stride, but that’s not the point because the state of the economy is totally unrelated to the 360’s current success. I was just pointing out something I thought to be interesting. Still, there’s a point that I’m trying to get at here.


You might be thinking what does the Xbox 360 have to do with this discussion or any other gaming console for that matter? If it isn’t already obvious, I’ll explain. We know that if we were to look at the install base across the entirety of the Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS Lite, or PSP, we ‘d probably come away with the obvious fact that the majority of those gamers aren’t professional gamers or probably don’t follow it. But that is of zero consequence here. A bad economy hasn’t done a thing to stop the growth of this industry.

A bad economy hasn’t stopped the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360 from showcasing impressive year over year growth and I’m completely leaving out the fact that the DS sold over 3 million units in the month of December alone. The PS3 showcased a year over year decline, but that has much more to do with the fact that Sony has been in serious need of a price drop for quite some time in order to better compete with the more mainstream pricing of the 360 and the Wii. Now, think about this for a second. From a business standpoint, to anyone observing the amazing growth of the games industry and the incredible sales figures month after month, if there were even the smallest of possibilities for any company to benefit from a crossover effect as a direct result of an investment they’ve made in the competitive gaming community, wouldn’t their investment have to then be deemed a smart move?

Think about it, who else could be more heavily invested or deeply rooted in the incredible growth of the games industry than a large community of individuals who very clearly take their games seriously and, by that token, must clearly already be occupants of the very crossover market that any business would love to have showing a similar kind of enthusiasm towards their products as they obviously already are for products in the games industry? It seems to be escaping everyone’s realization that this strong and vibrant community is the biggest trump card we’ve got. As long as it exists, the ball will never leave our court.

If you don’t believe that to be the case, then tell me this. Exactly what would’ve come out of the, now legendary, first encounter between 3D and Made in Brazil at WCG 2003 were there not a strong community in place waiting to eat up every bit of the drama and excitement that resulted from that unbelievable match? Within seconds, Brazilian flags popped up all over Gotfrag. Some were real Brazilians and many others obviously weren’t, but whether they were all real or not was beside the point. The message was heard loud and clear. The Counter-Strike community now had a top Brazilian Counter-Strike team that was capable of taking on the best out there and we would be seeing much more of them in the future. There was excitement. There were arguments. In the hands of the community, the match would never be forgotten and it hasn’t been. Keep in mind also that it was arguably THE match that would make the nuke ramp room flash bug famous. Imagine if the extent of the people who actually watched or cared about the outcome of that match were limited to just the people who attended the event? Would it be anywhere near as memorable a moment?

Would an ambitious Jason Lake and Complexity’s baby steps from the very bottom to the top of the CS scene seem anywhere quite as impressive had the community not been right there from the beginning to experience it all? I remember it; you remember it, who could forget it? What significance would the name Jason Lake or Complexity hold if the community hadn’t served as witnesses to it all? I will confess that I was among the many who truly thought Jason, when he just came onto the scene, was almost certainly biting off more than he could chew. I won’t even pretend to beat around the bush about my beliefs then, because I’m quite sure, with my almost psychotic forum habit, it has to be well documented. One thing I can say without even the slightest of hesitation though is that I’ve never been more proud to be proven wrong about anything, because with Complexity’s growing success, it never once occurred to me that Jason’s ego ever grew along with it. The way I saw it, and still see it to this day, is that the success did more to humble and mature Jason Lake than it did otherwise. I guess when it really sinks in that you’ve managed to accomplish exactly what it is you set out to accomplish in ways that I just have to believe surprised even Jason himself, then one of two things must happen. You either allow your ego to grow wildly out of control and start dropping the “I told you so” speech and just generally try to be as much of a pain in the “you know what” as possible, or you do what Jason did.  You do the opposite. You use the opportunity to rise to the occasion and really show people that may have gotten the wrong idea about what you’re all about that, even when provided the perfect opportunity to do so, you chose not to pour salt on an open wound, but instead chose to be magnanimous and above the fray. It wasn’t middle fingers that were extended, but Olive Branches. Prior to that point in time, I thought if I had seen one, then I’ve just about seen them all.  Once someone tasted success, even for a brief moment, especially if it was at the expense of a rival team, they didn’t know how to handle it and squandered whatever goodwill that could’ve been gained. Instead of squandering his goodwill, I think Jason seized on it and used it to build bridges to the point that he became the kind of person who, once you came to know him, you wanted to see succeed as much as possible. I think this is something that even Jason’s biggest critics had to acknowledge. A level of respect that — up until that point — I only ever felt Craig Levine and Team3D was deserving of, became impossible to deny Jason Lake and a Complexity team he literally poured everything into.

It is things like these that hold more value for competitive gaming than simply the amount of prize money being offered.  What is it that has really made CPL a success over the years? What is it that has really made WCG or ESWC successes? It’s all about the teams that have competed and done so proudly, but it’s even more about the community support, interest and eventual reactions to those events. Have those exact same events take place with the same exact teams, but remove the community aspect of the CS scene and see what you have left. You’ve got nothing. What would the scene be if people didn’t care to watch? What if there wasn’t a large community just dying to get onto that HLTV? Just dying to check out the scorebot? Just dying to post their reactions about what took place? I haven’t even touched on the obsession with downloading POV demos or CS movies yet.


Take away the people that actually care and you’ll find out very fast just how much the sponsors care. For all the people who are bummed about the current state of things, the community is exactly what hasn’t been lost. It is still here, alive and well. As long as that continues to be the case, the sponsors and big money events will always come back, but if you’re just sitting around waiting for that to happen before you actually believe it to be worth the effort, then whether you quit 6 months from now or right this very moment is really of no consequence is it? Quit immediately, save yourself the trouble. Too many people have forgotten that this thing is suppose to be about having fun. People were having plenty of fun before the 1st place prize money started getting bigger. This isn’t really the time for big teams to continue believing that they are, somehow, beyond competing at a “no name” LAN event just because the money isn’t at the level they feel is deserving of their presence.
I don’t deny that prize money and the prospect of traveling and staying at beautiful places played an important role in attracting top teams, but take away the teams that actually made those things interesting to watch and what do you have left even with all the money in the world? You have nothing. All it would take to get things on the right track is cooperation between teams and/or managers to hold a LAN event where the top prize would be something small like $2000, but the real draw would be that all the teams worth talking about actually show up just for the sake of being able to say they beat the best the event had to offer. Such a thing, by itself, would be bigger than any big money event. If the competition is good enough to give the community something good to talk about, the rest takes care of itself. I said earlier that the community has become pompous and obsessed with big prize money.

Do I think things like CGS contributed to that? I absolutely do, but do I think CGS has been bad for the competitive gaming scene? No way. I think when you really look at it, it has to be seen as a catalyst for bringing about some much needed changes. What if CGS never happened? It’s possible that all the same teams and individuals that have dominated the upper echelon of the CS scene in North America would still be virtually the same, only with a few roster rotations here and there.

I look at CEVO P and Cal-I now and see quite a few teams that I’ve honestly never heard of. Once upon a time, that just wouldn’t be the case. Of the ones I do recognize, I remember specifically that when I myself was actively playing 1.6, I managed to come across quite a few of these same teams and players in cal-open, cal-intermediate or cal-main. In some more specific cases, I’ve even come across one or two at a LAN or played on teams with them. Special shout-out to Millipede from Team 34. It’s a lesson that if you take your eyes away for even a moment, you’ll notice that when you come back, there may be a few other up and comers to keep an eye out for. Even though there are still a number of familiar faces who are still as good as they ever were, it doesn’t change the fact that there are a number of new teams and individuals that serve their purpose of being a vital breath of fresh air.

Anybody has to be aware that were it not for a good number of the top CS teams and players in North America devoting themselves to the CS:Source side of things in CGS, that the conditions might not have been quite so attractive or favorable for new up and coming teams and players to emerge in the 1.6 scene. I won’t go as far as to suggest that a number of the players that are where they are now, weren’t always good enough to compete at the highest level possible, but it has commonly been the case where it didn’t matter one iota how good you were if you were simply never given the chance to show what you could do. In some cases, all it ever takes for a set of new top players and/or teams to emerge as serious contenders is for them to actually get a good taste of what it’s like to play and compete against the best there is and build up their confidence. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Counter-Strike doesn’t also have a strong mental component. Many times, a team totally skilled and organized enough to compete with another may already be handed a loss well before the Live on 3 even takes place due to confidence issues. They see Method, they see Spawn, they see Frod or Ksharp and that’s usually all she wrote. The match is already over before a single pistol round shot is fired because a team of players can convince themselves they aren’t good enough to win and then go out there and prove it.

The competitive gaming community will have its – I say – much needed ups and downs, but never once – not once — has the most crucial aspect of what keeps this ship afloat, ever truly been threatened. So with that, I leave you with just a small bit of advice that if people don’t wise up to what’s in front of them, then professional gaming’s little blessing in disguise will, in due time, quickly turn into a curse.