Harley Örvall – Asian Pro League – Building CS:GO in Asia

Counter-Strike Global Offensive has been widely popular throughout Europe and North America, but has struggled to find the same foothold in Asia, where mobile games and MOBAs dominate. Combined with a lack of frequent tournaments, CS:GO’s place in the Asian esports ecosystem is in question.

We spoke to Harley ‘dsn’ Örwall, an ex-pro player who has now transitioned into working with the Chinese organisation, B.O.O.T. as well as working with website CSGO2Asia in developing a league for Asian players. The Asian Pro League is hosted on the FACEIT platform and has been running since November 2018.


Esports Insider: Let’s talk about the Asian Pro League, which is now in its fourth month. What was your involvement with that?

Harley ‘dsn’ Örwall: Basically I’m working together with Nikhil from CSGO2Asia and FaceIT. Our idea is just to create a platform for people interested in improving their game. We have prize pools that incentivise players in the region to be competitive and hone their skills and solo queue allows for fair matchmaking and not allowing pre-made teams to run up against a random group of players. The FACEIT platform has seen great success in Europe and now North America with FPL and we wanted to recreate that experience for players in Asia. By dipping our toes here, we can hopefully prove to FACEIT that Asia deserves its own FPL officially.

ESI: Have you seen any tangible results since the creation of the league? We’ve seen players that consistently perform well in FPL get picked up by top teams and go on to become great players.

dsn: Yeah, that’s also one of our goals with the platform. We have a few teams already in the Pro Division, but the lower division allows amateurs and budding professionals to move up if they perform well, hopefully getting recognized and picked up by the teams. We’ve only completed three seasons, so we’ve only seen six players move up to the pro division. I think in another few months we’ll start to see some stand out players and begin to see some pickups.

ESI: Have you seen any problems that have plagued FPL or ESEA’s S-Rank in terms of matchmaking in the Pro Divisions?

dsn: No we haven’t, but there are other platforms, so perhaps players that have those issues have gone on to those places. But we welcome the competition because the more areas that players can play the better. However we have our own challenges, Asia is much bigger than Europe and as a result our servers can only accommodate players from certain regions. We don’t enjoy the same luxury as FPL in Europe that have servers in Germany that most players can reliably play on. We’ve had to split our servers for the East Asian players and the Southeast Asian players, so Hong Kong and Singapore are our divisions and where the two groups congregate. We’ve put in a server vote so players from India and Pakistan can also have a say in where they play, as long as everything is fair.

(Note: APL recently announced they were closing down their Hong Kong servers indefinitely after the start of their fourth season. Harley released a statement following the closure: “We closed the HK division for the time being due to issues with activity. The biggest market for the HK server is Mainland China, and due to firewall issues with the FACEIT client within the country, we decided to take some time to evaluate our strategy for East Asia instead of being happy with the status quo and declining activity due to technical issues. Our goal has always been to provide a premium experience for our subscribers and we will continue to strive to do so.”)

ESI: What are the long-term goals for the league, do you plan on hosting tournaments down the line?

dsn: We definitely have some plans. We’re currently working on getting sponsors and partners so we have a budget to work with. With that in place we can attract more players and provide more incentives for players to come over and play on our platform. We also don’t want to make too many drastic changes so that our base can stabilize and we can properly gauge how many players consistently play through the months. We definitely have bigger plans for APL in the future.

ESI: Coming into 2019, what’s your outlook for CS:GO in Asia?

dsn: There are quite a lot of teams in Southeast Asia, China and Japan that support CS:GO with salaried teams and players. I’ve heard rumors about other teams that aren’t currently in CS:GO looking to invest in some teams, so that’s good news. However I think ultimately CS:GO will continue to be behind the mobile games by quite some margin, but I hope it gets bigger. When it went free to play I heard there was quite a few players that got into [CS:GO] in China.

So I’m hopeful for the future, especially because what we can see is that these big international tournaments that didn’t used to have Asian qualifiers now include them. That means that Asian teams compete in the big tournaments and those opportunities are very important because it gives these teams a goal to compete. It makes it more interesting for them because every month or two they have a chance to qualify and compete against the best teams in the world. I think the big tournament organisers will continue to do that and hope that they expand on it, giving Asian teams another slot. I know IEM Sydney is the only tournament that has three slots for Asian teams to qualify, and that’s because of the location I guess.

It’s a difficult question to answer and know exactly how many players will play CS:GO, but I think we’ll see some teams get better this year. I know Tyloo was thinking about going to Europe to bootcamp, which could propel them to top ten, which would be a great achievement. There are a handful of other Chinese teams that are waiting in the wings and could be more competitive this year as well.

ESI: With organisations like ESL and ONE getting into the Southeast Asian esports scene, is there a fear that CS:GO isn’t picked as one of the games they focus on?

dsn: Well I think any investment in the Asian scene is a good thing, having local events with big organisers can draw top teams to it and have a great turnout I think. I think ESL is used to running Counter-Strike tournaments so I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose CS:GO or DOTA, since they’ve run some DOTA tournaments in SEA already.

I don’t know much about ONE, but they shouldn’t be too opposed to violence, so CS:GO shouldn’t be a problem *laughs*. From a more realistic standpoint there are more games in the region that may make sense. Mobile games are growing in popularity in SEA so they could choose that instead. I think League of Legends is out since a lot of the teams are wrapped up in the Riot leagues, so if they pick a MOBA it would have to be DOTA 2.

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