Why Schalke 04 Need To Overcome The Cultural Fear Of CS:GO eSport

Max Melit

Counter-Strike: Global-Offensive as an eSports title, is currently operating in a very unique position. Constantly nibbling at the toes of League of Legends to hold primacy in power, and battling down it’s FPS rival Overwatch. Whilst it doesn’t necessarily boast the immediate massive viewing figures of LoL, it does boast many other long-term benefits. Despite the surface level cultural stigmas that massive organisations like Schalke 04 avoid to pre-emptively escape the plague of PC police, the reasons for not investing go much deeper, as do the reasons why they should invest into the CS:GO space.

Using German Bunderliga Club Schalke 04 as our example, let’s first look at the reasoning for a sports club not investing in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive:

Cultural Problems

The affect of culture affecting an organisation’s decision to invest in CS:GO is potentially the least important factor, yet the sheer nature of CS:GO as a game that pins police officers/counter-terrorist forces against actual terrorists in gun battles, seemingly causes problems for sports biggest names.

German Theatre Shootings Source: Variety

This is especially prevalent in ultra-progressive and socially sensitive countries like Germany and Canada, where massive organisations are often beholden to social media boycotts and campaigning hashtags. However, in countries like France and the United States where issues of shootings and terrorism run deep, there have been no big public allegations or movements against organisations in the space, leaving questions around potential owners using the stigma as an excuse:

“In my point of view, something like the guy in Munich has nothing to do with eSports or with gaming – not at all

“But, it is hard for a big organisation like [Schalke 04] to be connected to a game like Counter-Strike, for what is ‘Terrorists’ vs ‘Cops’.

“It’s not about the ‘shooter’ thing, it’s more that there are things like terrorists vs cops [in the real world] and the political landscape these days is difficult.”

Tim Reichert, Schalke 04 Head of eSports

Source: CLICKON eSports

Counter-Strike, since it’s inception, has always been put under the media’s spotlight as a motivator of violence and a school-shooter creator. Whilst there have been no studies that support this claim, and this stigma has mostly disappeared given the meteoric rise of eSports and the traditional media now looking to invest into the space, traditional sports clubs like Schalke clearly hold traces of doubt about the issue.

Lower Investment Security

Ask any of the newly converted fans from League of Legends to CS:GO and a recurring comment will be about how confusing CS:GO can be to follow. Rather than have the convenience of scheduled games, with the option to watch a league in your time zone, the CS:GO tournament circuit is stationed across the world and in no particular order. Whilst this is great for hardcore fans, players freedom and organisation potential, it does send one clear message to team owners. The franchise model isn’t really going to work.

Source: ESL

ESL, PEA, WESA, ESFORCE, and a further alphabet soup of acronyms have all made attempts at owning and franchising league spots – with the eventual goal of positioning for lucrative TV rights down the track. However, not only as players rights/unions become more apparent – which puts roadblocks in place for owners – but also community outrage pressures them into leaving the quasi-free tournament market, quasi-free.

Especially for traditional sports organisations like Schalke 04, the thought of having no clear security of investment in fielding a top team is terrifying. The only clear way to have assurance in the space is to own one of the best rosters in the world, all of which are currently locked in with organisations, and even then assurance isn’t guaranteed.

Source: Schalke04 Twitter

This is in stark contrast to League of Legends, where franchising seems to constantly be on the horizon and consistent brand exposure is guaranteed throughout the regular split. Even in spite of some of the positives outlined below, this safety of investment alone is enough to convince clubs like Schalke 04 to go with LoL over CounterStrike.

Lack of Developer Infrastructure

This free market of tournament organisers has allowed for the top end of CS:GO pros to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars through regular 250k+ tournaments, and allowed analysts/fans to maintain deeper storylines, and support for their favourite sides. This model is largely created by the lack of intrusion or oversight from Valve into CS:GO as a competitive title, only occasionally stepping in to ban match fixers and pick a third-party to host the Majors.

Source: ESEA

Having essentially no developer in the space means that there are some key pieces of infrastructure that are non-existent or created by third-parties in the scene. There are no official channels for owners to go down during conflict resolutions and has seen – especially in the lower tiers of play – room for corruption, contract disputes and player rights abuse.

This importantly also means that there is no monthly stipend for owners to sustain themselves from. All of a teams revenue in CS:GO has to come from the hustle of the decision makers to secure sponsors, and the capability of the player’s personal brands outside of the game, and their ability inside it.

What CS:GO Has To Offer

While the lack of security is the scariest part about the space, it is also what makes the scene so promising. With the right mix of players, and a strongly defined management structure, a team can – in the space of three months – go from nothing to the best team in the world. CS:GO history is littered with examples like Heroic in the back-end of 2016, Tyloo post-Dreamhack: Malmo, and the entire Brazilian scene. The barrier to entry for greatness is greatly reduced.

Source: HLTV

Outside of just the teams playing each other, CS:GO as an overall eSports title is the clear next successor to become the most popular title in the world.

Following it’s second eSports season, League of Legends exploded in popularity and has looked for title hegemony of the eSports market. The publisher behind the title, Riot Games, has looked in every corner of the globe for new markets, launching a successful campaign in Asia, and have a staff of hundreds working around the clock to maintain League of Legends as an eSport. Until LoL tries to make a break for TV audiences, it’s safe to say that in the present, the title is firing on all possible cylinders.

CS:GO on the other hand has unimaginable growth potential ahead of it. Free-to-play titles like Crossfire dominate the Asian FPS market at the moment, due to the PC café culture that traditionally shies away from titles with a pay-wall.  However, CS:GO is slowly taking roots in regions all around Asia – most noticeably in south-east Asia and India. So while we mightn’t see CS:GO reach the same popularity as LoL in Korea, in places like China, where population and spending power is so large, only small percentages in increased popularity will make a difference.

Source: Kespa

So while there is still much room to grow in Asia, in the west, the CS:GO space has been making leaps and bounds. With ELEAGUE going two seasons and a Major strong and with more planned on the horizon, the TV audience has been critical for seeing CS:GO explode in popularity. What’s more, investors are slowly starting to realise this and dump money into the space, helping historically underdeveloped regions like Australia make CS:GO their primary game and focus.

The best part about all this is that the process to creating this vibrant scene with massive potential has been how organic it is. Shams and frauds have slowly been weeded out over time, and the current competitors in almost every part of the scene is exceedingly strong and industry leading. This means that not only is the entire space self-sustaining – unlike League which relies on the benevolence of Riot – but can also push itself forward.

The only thing that is missing is a bigger audience, and for organisations like Schalke 04 they really missed out on a chance to help get it to that point.

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