Looking back on Counter-Strike’s nearly two-decade-long history, the ever-maturing scene has shown the supremacy and collapse of players, teams and nations across the many years and instalments. Once regarded as the best in the business much fewer pioneers of its competitive sphere during adolescent stages, one region strikes a peculiar question as to where its professional scene is today – the United Kingdom.
We set out to understand why a region that was so pivotal in Counter-Strikes competitive development has since fallen so far behind the rest of the pack in this week’s ESI Gambling Report, Powered by Thunderpick
Though it’s been a long time since the UK has fielded a formidable team in competitive Counter-Strike, there was a time when the nation boasted a glowing and thriving vista. The British-era in Counter-Strike was chiselled in Global Offensive’s predecessor, Source, where the nation stood at the forefront of the competitive trade. The sheer and uncut embracement of Source in the UK helped propel it to unimaginable new heights – frequent local gatherings with both celebrated and nameless players fostered a healthy platform for the game to flourish over time, and it did.
While the scene was relatively young compared to the sold-out arenas and global broadcasting events of today, the UK made do with what they had at the time while sporting players and teams at the top of the program. Initiatives of bottom-up tournaments assisted driving the community long before high-paying organisations and tournament facilitators were able to pick up the weight – however, their efforts did not go unnoticed. The early excitement around Source in the UK would ultimately lead to its downfall, though; the Championship Gaming Series of 2007 looked to raise the stakes of competitive gaming and test the waters of the new digital sport. Better known for his dynamic commentary and analysis of CS:GO today, Henry ‘HenryG’ Greer was one of those British players shipped to America to play in the ground-breaking gaming league. However, things didn’t pan out as hoped and the CGS would severely lack in viewership on what was thought to be the goldmine medium at that particular point in time for esports – prime time television.
“We played two seasons and it turned out no one really watched it in the UK, and this was prime time TV… It was very clear that esports wasn’t quite ready for the UK market then.” HenryG reflected on the experience. Being this was the first major push for mainstream esports in the UK, its nonfulfillment shied away investors and other support systems that had previously seen promise in the competitive gaming space. Thus, the premature entry into esports had left the UK at a great disadvantage in Counter-Strike while the rest of the world started to unravel organically.
New game, same struggles
To get a better understanding of the transition between Counter-Strike now and then in the UK, we reached out to ex-professional player and coach of British esports organisation Team Endpoint, Jonathan “Sheekey” Sheekey.
“It revolves around a few things, we have the skill to compete against tier one [teams] but what we lack is the consistency, commitment and dedication it takes to get there. People achieve things in the UK and think that it catapults them to the top of the world by playing 40 hours over 2 weeks and people don’t use their time wisely so they become stale and do not improve.” Sheekey told Esports Insider.
One of the largest criticisms with Counter-Strike in the UK is that while they’re able to produce sensational players such as Owen “smooya” Butterfield and Rory “dephh” Jackson, they fail to harbour British teams able to compete with the upper echelon. Having fired up through the world rankings from 150th to 50th between July and September of this year, Team Endpoint is an important part of this conversation to which Sheekey believes the milestone will help propel CS:GO in the UK to new heights. “It was a HUGE milestone for a UK team and Endpoint. Endpoint has been trying for a long time to be that organisation that houses the best UK team and achieves top 30 on HLTV. They are close and will achieve it in due time.” he says. “it shows the rest of the scene it’s possible, but it’s no easy task.”
The future of CS:GO in the UK
The introduction of Valve’s Minor system has helped stimulate and nurture smaller teams aiming to come up through the pipeline with opportunities to qualify for larger offline tournaments. This ecosystem makes the Counter-Strike dream possible for the masses, but only for the players and teams that are willing and able to sacrifice time, energy and money without the backing of established organisations. Today, leading esports organisations provide everything from housing, food, training facilities, salaries and everything in between – an arrangement that is simply not possible for UK-based CS:GO teams at the time being.
Despite featuring two British players for the first time at the FACEIT London Major (also the first Major on UK soil), one of the breakout individuals, Dephh, attests to the UK’s system failing its competitive space: “Me and smooya making top eight might change a few opinions, but I don’t think the core of the problem has been fixed… A lot of organisations have strayed away from the UK scene and players. A lot of the younger kids have no guidance. There are no cores sticking together because people are jumping around teams looking for more money.” Again, financial backing is a focal point flaw of the UK being able to make significant strides towards the presence their nation used to have in Valve’s first-person shooter.
Not to take away from its success though, the UK is making movements to shape a healthier future for competitive Counter-Strike in their country; dedicated venues constructed by Gfinity and ESL have improved the perception and allure of the nation, establishing they have a committed audience as impassioned as the next. It’ll take much more than a few players qualifying for Counter-Strike’s most paramount stage though, rather, it’ll take years of culture shift, commitment and sacrifice to achieve stardom again in this arena. By no means will this be an easy feat, however, it’s a conquest Sheekey is optimistic about. “We are already catching up people just don’t see it from the outside yet. Once the UK esports world grows as a whole and all the new, young and hungry players overtake the current players that’s when you will see the rise of a few teams in my eyes.”
It’ll be a long and undeniably hard-fought process for the UK to resume its predominance in Counter-Strike – however, with proper cultivation and tenacity from its community, this venture is feasible.