ESI London 2024 Panel showcase: “Where to go after GO?”

Ahead of ESI London 2024 on June 13th, we take a look at one of the mainstage panels topics: the fate and future of Counter-Strike esports in the new post-CS:GO era.

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Image credit: ESL, Helena Kristiansson

It is hard to find a sports analogue for those momentous occasions where an esports scene is fundamentally altered by a new release in a video game franchise. It’s a distinctly esports thing — perhaps somewhat similar to a pivotal rule change in traditional sports, but on a far greater scale — that can upheave a game’s entire esports scene.

When Counter-Strike 1.6 was essentially replaced by Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) in 2012, some players and teams overnight became irrelevant while others laid the foundation for new empires (see: Ninjas in Pyjamas’ 87-0 winning streak).

The move from CS:GO to Counter-Strike 2 also brought key gameplay changes. A raft of technical changes were accompanied by an overhaul of how utility and grenades work, how the environment looked, and even the length of games themselves.

The highly anticipated launch of Counter-Strike 2 (memed about for years prior to its release) has come and gone, and there’s arguably been less dramatic upheaval this time around. But outside the game server, the start of the new Counter-Strike 2 era is ushering in broader changes behind the scenes in the industry.

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Most notably, Valve has announced that effective as of 2025, it will no longer allow tournament organisers to have “unique business relationships or other conflicts of interest” with teams. Valve said the new decision was because it wanted Counter-Strike to return to an open, level playing field — which it said the scene had “drifted away from.”

This sweeping move will force changes to the two ‘partner’ leagues that are mainstays of Counter-Strike’s esports calendar: the ESL Pro League and BLAST Premier. They both currently operate semi-franchised systems where partnered teams have permanent paid slots in the league, alongside a handful of non-partnered teams chosen through open-qualifiers.

The shakeup comes at a very important time for Counter-Strike. On the one hand, the launch of competitor VALORANT by Riot Games in 2020 has threatened Counter-Strike’s mindshare — and advertisers’ budget shares — as competition for eyeballs in esports has never been fiercer. And one of esports’ most important and lucrative regions, North America, is still struggling direly to be relevant on the global Counter-Strike stage (though NA legend Stewie2K is trying his best to turn that around).

But on the other hand, there are clear causes for optimism. Counter-Strike as a video game has never been more popular, breaking its all-time concurrent player count record shortly before the release of CS2 and continuing to ride high since. 

Counter-Strike Majors are also proving to be increasingly and extremely lucrative. Sticker money from in-game esports item sales generated $70m (~£54.8m) in 2022 according to Valve, jumping up to a staggering $110m in 2023 per a report by HLTV. Valve also appears to be aiming for regional expansion for the game; in November 2023, a Major was announced in Shanghai — the first ever Major in not just China but all of Asia, a potential boon for engagement and esports viewership.

Plenty of changes are afoot in Counter-Strike behind the scenes that will upend established practices. Now marks an important time for leading Counter-Strike stakeholders to gather to discuss where the game is going in the post-CS:GO era, and how those invested in the scene can ensure it is as fruitful as the era they’re leaving behind. Join us for the ‘Where to go after GO’ panel at ESI London this year to hear representatives from ESL FACEIT Group, BLAST, Team Vitality and Liga Ace Esports discuss the exciting future of one of esports’ most important titles.

ESI London 2024 takes place at BOXPARK Wembley in London, United Kingdom on June 13th. This year’s event will see the debut of An Evening With, an evening of fun dedicated to Counter-Strike and headlined by legendary player Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund. You can buy tickets to ESI London or An Evening With here.

Esports Insider