As step four of my quest to become the nerdiest nerd I can be, I’ve been rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the fourth or fifth time. I can’t seem to get enough of it. The writing is magnificent, of course, but one of the things I like the most about the books is that, at the very end, the characters go home.
This might seem like a small consideration over the course of an epic tale featuring dwarves, elves, wizards, and magical rings. It’s not. There just aren’t many stories where the heroes return to their beginnings. Star Wars never did it. Ditto for the Matrix and just about any other science fiction story I can think of. The end of their stories, and I think most modern fiction, is the moment the good guys triumph … the Death Star is destroyed, Vader is cast down, the Architect is revealed to be a pompous jerk with a massive superiority complex, etc, etc. When Tolkien’s characters return home, it emphasizes how the journey changed the heroes in a very fundamental way, and how the world they left kept growing on a different path.
I hope the parallels to the current state of Counter-Strike aren’t lost on everybody.
For the last eight weeks, many of the heroes of the 1.6 community have come “home” from their crazy journey in the perilous wilderness of Counter-Strike: Source. I don’t think they slew any dragons along the way, but EG did play in the last season of CEVO, and the new compLexity squad has joined them in CEVO 1.6. Slightly less prominent, though still very well-known, names like Cyrus “org” Habibi and Ryan “phamtastik” Pham have rejoined the ranks after playing in the CGS, as well.
Their returns were exactly what many people were not-so-silently hoping for while the CGS was still alive. 1.6 fans wanted their stars back, and they wanted the deeper talent pool that would ultimately lead to better competition, better tournaments, and more exciting results. I can’t blame them. I think everybody wanted those things; we just couldn’t agree on what version of CS we wanted it to happen in.
At this point I should admit that despite being a Source fan I still have a fondness for 1.6. I’m not sure which game is better for the future of gaming, and I’ll personally continue to play Source more than 1.6, but as a fan I’m excited to see what the returning players can do. There’s no question that 1.6 is a bigger stage now that the CGS is gone.
But it also raises the question: after such a long journey can we ever really go home again?
That’s what fans were really hoping for, right? We were looking fondly back at the days of 3D’s dominance, of compLexity’s rise, of SK’s domination, and saying “this is what Counter-Strike competitions could be. If only we could get there somehow.”
I’m not so sure that’s a realistic expectation.
Let’s face it, the players are different than they used to be. It’s not just a matter of readjusting to the game and catching up on months of missed metagame (though the initial struggle does take the shine off their return). It’s also things like the missing faces of Ksharp, grt, shaGuar, tr1p, and (thus far) Rambo. The game and the people that play it are different now, and I would even argue that the playstyles of the returning players are irrevocably changed by their experiences in Source. Most of the tricks won’t translate, and some will translate into bad habits, but I don’t think you can play both games for a long period of time without finding one or two things that cross over.
In that way the journey has changed our heroes. But what of the world, and even us?
I, for one, know that I don’t see the eSports world the same way as I did before the CGS started. This is for two reasons. The most obvious is that even though it was filled with more problems that I can address in one writing (though I’d put a lack of communication, hubris, and being too possessive of the players at the top of the list), the CGS did a lot of things well. And I miss those things. I miss the match casting. I miss the intricate storylines behind each game, and what each performance might mean for the future.
I was reminded of just how deeply I miss those things while I was watching compLexity’s CEVO Main match last night as your regular spectator in HLTV. While there will obviously be casting for bigger contests and LANs, it’s beside the point. More than anything, I think the CGS opened my eyes to what could be. There could be casting for every match. There could be something huge on the line for every game, and every round. Experiencing (and imagining) that, and then watching your regular old CEVO match is a little bit of an adjustment. This isn’t anybody’s fault, it’s just another way in which I, and I think many other people, have changed in the last two years. For all its issues, I don’t think anybody can say the CGS didn’t, at the very least, make people wonder what the future could be like.
But most of all, I think eSports is in a different place now than it was. When you say that out loud it seems obvious; of course things will change over the course of two years. Still, I can’t help but feel a little bit of a disappointment. I’m excited to see the new teams. I’m excited to see them play the talent that sprouted up while they were away. I’m excited to see how the US will fare against international competition in 1.6.
Yet it’s not the idyllic moment I had imagined, either. There’s no sense that the community is suddenly whole again, that sponsors will come flocking back and tournaments will come out of the woodwork to support the “better game”. We’re still dealing with the same lack of public awareness and everything that comes along with it, still competing with other games for the limelight and wondering if anybody will actually break through. Though we’ve made progress the same basic problems remain, and the only difference is that we’re two years older now.
Like it or hate it, for my money the CGS’s regular season was ten times more interesting than a regular eSports LAN. It was longer, the drama escalated as the season progressed, and even though that season was too short and too fast, LANs have the same problems to an even larger degree. They’re over in the blink of an eye, and then we have to wait interminable weeks or months for another competitive gaming high.
I’m not saying there aren’t reasons to be optimistic or hopeful for the future. There are plenty of those. I just I don’t think we should delude ourselves into thinking this will be some golden age of Counter-Strike simply because the CGS ended and players came back to 1.6. In time, competitive gaming might still grow to be something incredible, and incredibly popular. In my heart of hearts, I think we will get to that point.
But it’s not 2005 anymore. The good old days are just that, and for better or worse we cannot ever go back.