NiP will not play a part in the first CS:GO Major of 2018, ELEAGUE Boston, and for many this is a subject of considerable contention. Valve awards eight “Legend” spots in each major to the teams who finished in the top eight at the previous major, with the rest of the field being made up of the eight “Challengers” who manage to make it out of the notoriously touch-and-go open qualifiers. But here’s the thing – Ninjas in Pyjamas are undisputedly CS:GO legends. NiP is an unforgettable name, and not just because it’s so silly. They played a huge role in forging the early Counter-Strike scene, winning the first international CPL and going on to form the original SK Gaming roster. Even on current form, NiP is among the very best teams in the world, having recently swept aside the competition at IEM Oakland. The fact that legend status is based solely on getting results at Majors is ridiculous – after all, there are now only two of them in a year. And NiP are not the only victims here: fans are missing out too. An invite system that results in the most storied team in CS:GO history being left out in the cold is an invite system that needs to be seriously looked at.
A flawed system
The current system employed by Valve wants the best of two different worlds. Opening a bunch of spots via the Minors is, on the surface, a sign of healthy competition. In theory, any team can participate in the online qualifiers, go the Minor and make it to the Major. No big name required, no history of bygone glories necessary: just win the qualifier and you get to play with the big boys. Sounds good, right? The problem is that the qualifiers themselves are flawed. The Swiss format is a great way of handling huge tournaments like the online qualifier, but best-of-ones are problematic, especially online. Ignoring the spectre of cheating that haunts online Counter-Strike, there are many reasons why best-of-one matches are unsuited for such high stakes tournaments. Take the example of NiP: in the most recent online qualifier they lost their first game to Team5. Never heard of them? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. If those two teams played a hundred times, how many maps do you think Team5 would win? Still, NiP recovered and almost made it anyway. They eventually fell to Pride – a decent Polish team, but certainly not Major material. Again, it was a best-of-one, and again NiP was punished for making a slow start to their first game of the day. I’m not saying they would have definitely won the following two maps in a best-of-three, but I know where my money would have been in that case.
Legend: an empty title?
You can argue that NiP should have been more prepared, or that best-of-one gives lesser teams more chance of an upset. The online qualifiers are more egalitarian in that way, you might say, but even if you think best-of-one qualifiers are fine, the legend system itself is still flawed. The most obvious issue with the current system, given the impermanence of rosters, is exactly who a legend spot belongs to. This has been a problem with French teams in the past, but recently Immortals drew attention to it. The Brazilians claimed a legend spot after making a surprise run to the grand-final of PGL Krakow. The team parted ways with the Immortals organisation after a sensational bust-up but the players, not Immortals, retained the spot. That seems a little strange compared to other sports, where the organisation, not the players, is viewed as the important entity. It sets an awkward precedent as well: in the case of Immortals, the fact that most of the players stuck together makes things relatively simple, but what would have happened if all five players went their separate ways? Valve rules state that a team must retain three of the members which earned a spot in order to keep hold of it. Ex-Immortals fit that criteria, but they could have easily just split up. What happens to the legend spot then? Even assuming that legendary teams continue to neatly maintain at least three members of their rosters, there are other problems with the system. The open qualifiers are supposed to allow lesser-known teams to qualify on merit, but the legend system sings from a different hymn sheet. Yes, legends have to maintain a certain standard to retain their spot, but with so few Majors, is it really fair that a team should be automatically qualified for the next event based on their performance at the last? Take Virtus Pro, for example. A legendary name, just like NiP, but unlike NiP their form in 2017 has been up-and-down to say the least. It’s questionable whether or not they would make it through an online qualifier if they had to, especially given their history of poor performance online. STill, VP will be at the next Major while NiP will not, despite having recently won IEM Oakland and being ranked four places above the Poles by HLTV at time of writing.
Looking to the future
It’s clear that the current system isn’t working. Valve wants to preserve the big names to boost viewing figures, but wants to promote robust competition at the same time. It’s a nice idea but not a workable one. I’m not breaking new ground when I say the Major system needs a rework and changing the legend system is part of that process. Getting rid of it altogether would be my preference, but if it has to stay, just give one spot to the defending champions. That puts a lot of weight on the qualifiers, which is probably something Valve wants to avoid. It might be a necessary evil if they want the Majors to be as illustrious as they are supposed to be, though. Keeping the online qualifiers is a must, either way, but they too could do with some freshening up. Making every game a best-of-three might mean the qualifiers take weeks instead of days, but if it promotes healthier competition it is worth it. Ideally, more of the qualification would be played offline, but Minors cost money. Sadly, there is no easy fix, but Valve needs to find a solution sooner rather than later.