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CS:GO
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Playing nice: how RFRSH is scrambling to retain their prestige in CS:GO

As their events went from interesting little distractions to a clandestine plan of discreetly monopolising the top-tier competition of professional Counter-Strike, so did the community’s opinion of RFRSH plummet over the course of 2019.
With multiple PR catastrophes behind them – ranging from “Blastralis” to a disastrous AMA – they’ve failed to shake the image of a cartoon villain in the process, and while there are positive examples of how you can salvage your reputation in the scene, it still feels like Nikolaj Nyholm and co. are not yet truly aware of what’s wrong with their behaviour.

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The first few BLAST events felt like an interesting experiment, even a breath of fresh air: a short burst of CS:GO with the focus clearly being placed on the LAN crowd in attendance instead of the viewers at home, taking big-name teams to new audiences. Back then, we didn’t know that the big teams signed contracts which forced them to attend five out of seven events in the season, strategically placed around other prestigious tournaments in the scene. Similarly, it wasn’t yet leaked that the BLAST circuit is slated to expand even further in 2020. And while it was already somewhat weird to see Astralis compete at events organised by the company with a controlling share in the team, at least they were kind enough to show up elsewhere as well and crush everyone along the way.

Fast-forward to 2019 and now the company’s reputation is basically in tatters. Astralis lost their crown and their latest event in Los Angeles couldn’t even fill what was widely derided as a furniture store after they unexpectedly changed venues, moving from The Galen Center to the HD Buttercup Building, touting a “Front Row experience” while simultaneously jacking the prices of the base tickets from to . They remained tone-deaf, both literally and figuratively: some executives held a barely advertised AMA on Reddit shortly before the tournament, which quickly devolved into Downvote City. Meanwhile, the broadcast of the Los Angeles event decided to reveal coaching strategies to the whole world by listening in to Janko "YNk" Paunović's speech at half-time of a game. Allegedly, they also messed around with the crowd noises to make up for the fact that they only had around two hundred people in attendance – whether that’s true or not, they definitely made sure not to feature crowd shots for most of the stream.

Meanwhile, their proposed separation from Astralis seems like little more than window dressing for those with a keen eye on the business side of things. There’s also the small fact that it looks like they won’t be able to follow their own rules with regards to the Global Finals: with three events to go and slots handed out to teams like ENCE and Vitality (or local qualifiers) on an individual basis, they literally can’t achieve the parity set out in the contracts where each team participating in the circuit will appear at exactly five events. There aren’t enough slots to go around.

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Transparent cartoon villainy it is then. It’s not like rehabilitation is impossible in the CS:GO community: ESL also thrusted itself into this role a few years ago with similar ham-fisted attempts at monopolising the top teams with their league, and now they’re considered by far the best third-party tournament organiser with great formats and prestigious events. From a purist’s perspective, even the BLAST circuit itself would have been a lot easier to stomach if the format was better (high-variance, low-quality best-of-one games where the teams sometimes paying little to no attention once they were out of top two contention). I’ll even go one further: even if they were to stick with their current setup, it would actually prove very interesting with tier two teams. Give sides like Grayhound, CR4ZY, Complexity or AVANGAR a consistently organised series of events to prove themselves at. Its prestige would easily surpass the levels of a DreamHack Open if done right, and the laxer schedules of these teams would allow for a regular tournament circuit without actively disrupting the wider calendar for the best of the best. While it’s clear that the company is gunning for the top teams and top returns on revenue, the catastrophic attendance rates at their Los Angeles event could very well force them to go down this kind of a route at some point.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way – however, the continued aloofness of the company doesn’t bode well for the future. It’s pointless to expect any sort of a public apology, but as long as the people at RFRSH keep using A Narcissist’s Prayer as their guideline, they won’t be making new friends in the community anytime soon.