Valve set to overhaul Counter-Strike esports ecosystem with major tournament rule changes

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Image credit: Valve

Game developer Valve has announced the introduction of stringent new requirements for holding Counter-Strike esports events, set to take effect in 2025.

The new rules stipulate that tournament organisers cannot have “unique business relationships or other conflicts of interest” with the teams in its tournaments, seemingly putting an end to the reigning semi-franchised partner team model dominating the scene.

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In a blog post published on August 3rd, Valve also said that invitations to all tournaments will have to use Valve’s ranking system, or utilise open qualifiers.

Additionally, any compensation that tournament organisers pay participating teams, both prize money and other revenue streams, will have to be made public — and be “driven by objective criteria that can be inspected by the community.”

The move is set to come into force in 2025 in order to let tournament organisers honour existing long-term commitments, Valve said.

The new rules will force an overhaul of how the Counter-Strike esports scene operates. Outside of standalone events like Valve-sponsored Majors, much of the Counter-Strike esports calendar is currently dominated by two semi-franchised esports leagues — the ESL Pro League, run by tournament organiser ESL Gaming, and BLAST Premier, run by rival tournament organiser BLAST.

These leagues operate a ‘semi-franchised’ model where partnered teams paid to receive guaranteed, permanent slots in the ESL Gaming and BLAST leagues, while remaining slots are up for grabs to non-partnered teams by way of open qualifiers.

These models would appear not to be allowed under Valve’s new rules, at least in their current format, in turn setting the stage for a major shakeup of the game’s esports model.

Ulrich Schulze, SVP of Game Ecosystems at ESL FACEIT Group, said in a statement on Twitter that ESL had already been working on adjustments to its events in order to implement the ‘vision that Valve shared with us’.

“We will shift our tournament revenue sharing model from selected teams to all teams participating starting in 2025. We will announce more details on this in the coming months.”

BLAST, meanwhile, put out a statement stating that it would “continue to communicate our plans” as BLAST Premier’s 2023 season comes to a close and it looks towards 2024 and 2025. “BLAST Premier will remain an integral part of tier 1 CS in this new open ecosystem,” the statement reads. “We are as excited as ever to continue to innovate the esports viewing experience and take our tournaments to all corners of the world.”

Valve said in a statement in the blog post that the move is an attempt to ensure its esports ecosystem remains open; “Counter-Strike is at its best when teams compete on a level playing field and when ability is the only limit to their success.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen professional Counter-Strike drift away from that ideal. The ecosystem has become gradually less open, with access to the highest levels of competition increasingly gated by business relationships.”

The game developer said the finer details of the rules were ‘still in progress’ and that the rules as announced so far are the ‘broad strokes’.

In June, independent journalist Richard Lewis reported that Valve held talks with ESL and BLAST during the recent BLAST Paris Major, where it voiced concerns about the companies’ closed-off ecosystems. Valve reportedly said something had to change if those tournament organisers wanted to continue receiving licences to operate tournaments, Richard Lewis reported.

“There will be some rough edges to the transition, but we’re committed to the long-term health of Counter-Strike as a sport and are looking forward to its bright and open future,” Valve wrote in the closing of its blog post.

Jake Nordland
Jake has worked at Esports Insider as a journalist and editor since early 2021. Now ESI's Media Manager, he continues to act as lead editor of print magazine The Esports Journal, and contributes his words to the website from time to time.