North American CS:GO scene is going through very hard times. COVID-19 pandemic seriously damaged the local scene: most of the top local clubs have left the discipline, and Valorant is actively luring not only CS players, but also spectators. Let’s break down the state of NA CS scene and what needs to happen in order for to improve the situation.
North America has a rich history in Counter-Strike
North America is one of the most iconic regions in Counter-Strike history. Each version of the game had at least one iconic local team that achieved international recognition: in the early versions of CS it was Complexity Gaming, Team 3D in CS: Source and Team Liquid / Cloud9 in CS:GO.
In terms of the average level of play, North America never reached the level of Europe. That’s why a famous meme “NA CS” appeared at the dawn of competitive CS:GO scene: this phrase was always spammed in chats during tournaments, when American teams were losing or simply making ridiculous mistakes. However, since 2016, attitude towards North America have begun to change.
Liquid became the first team from North America to reach the Major final
In the early days of CS:GO, North America's main favorites in the discipline were first iBUYPOWER, and then the original Cloud9 roster with n0thing and shroud took its place. The fans had high hopes on them, but both teams did not succeed in the largest championships. The turning year for the region was 2016, when Team Liquid became the leaders of the region with s1mple as its main firepower.
Liquid was incredibly close to rewriting history during both 2016 Majors, but the team was always one or two steps away from victory. Liquid has lost twice to Brazilian teams led by FalleN (Luminosity / SK Gaming). The most iconic performance was in Cologne, when Liquid reached the final: British journalist Duncan Thorin Shields even suggested calling it “The Run” to immortalize it in the history of the game.
Cloud9 is the first and only Major winner from NA
However, the biggest triumphant in Counter-Strike among the North American teams was not Liquid, but Cloud9. In January 2018, the team won in the dizzying final of ELEAGUE Major: Boston 2018 against FaZe Clan. The roster had full support of the entire Agganis Arena: this was the first and currently the last victory of the NA team at the Major.
Unfortunately, Cloud9 did not consolidate their success, and Team Liquid came in their place again, but with a brand-new roster. In the first half of 2019, no one could match Liquid: the team had an amazing streak of six victories at top international championships and won the Intel Grand Slam trophy. In the summer, journalists even started talking about the so-called “Liquid era” (perhaps this is the best recognition of the team's merits on stage), but the team quickly lost its stability. By the end of the year, Liquid were no longer considered the main favorites in the championships. And at the beginning of 2020, a terrible thing happened.
COVID-19 pandemic nearly killed NA CS
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene was completely unprepared for the global quarantine. Unfortunately, Valve's two main disciplines are international: the most prestigious championships are held on LAN in various countries with teams from all over the world. And this system fails because of pandemic
To credit tournament operators, most of the planned events were not canceled, but moved online instead. Due to problems with logistics, regional competitions began to take place instead of international ones: but historically they have always been not so interesting to the public.
By the end of 2020, tournament operators realized that it was simply pointless to hold the same tournaments in different regions: sponsors are always interested in only the top-ranked championships, and during a pandemic they include only those where European teams play. Few people interested in the local battles of Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, MIBR and FURIA.
Several S-tier championships were held for teams from North America last year, but none are planned for 2021 yet. Most of the North American clubs that still rely on CS:GO have already moved their teams to Europe (mainly to Serbia), while the rest have disbanded their rosters and seem to have left the competitive game scene for good.
Now teams from North America only have local events, and the biggest of them are DreamHack Open championships. They have always been considered the main tier-2 tournaments of the scene, but now there are less and less popular teams participating in it. And viewership statistics of the last DH Open in NA is pretty sad.
DreamHack Open March 2021 results and viewership statistics
Last DH Open for NA teams was quite modest both in terms of prize pool and the names of the participants. The only big team at the event was Team Liquid and it caused the greatest excitement among the fans.
At first glance, it seems that the tournament showed relatively good statistics for a tier-2 competition: at its peak, the event gathered more than 105K spectators. However, the average audience for DH Open March turned out to be much less impressive with only 30K people. For comparison: DreamHack Open Summer, held in August 2020, peaked at almost 161K people, and the average audience was more than 53K.
At the same time DH Open March was only interesting to the audience because of Team Liquid, whose three matches became the most popular in the competition. By a giant margin it became the most popular team of the tournament: 71.3K spectators on average watched its matches. This is 1.8 times more than RBG Esports, which second most popular team of the tournament.
The winners of the competition (Team Extra Salt) were only the fifth most popular DreamHack Open March team. Their matches on average attracted around 18.3K viewers: this is almost four times less than Liquid's audience.
The most interesting thing is the event’s statistics sorted by languages: the official English-language broadcast accounted for less than 25% of the total amount of hours watched.
The overwhelming majority of the spectators of the tournament are Brazilians. The Portuguese-language stream, which was hosted by Gaules, accounted for more than 70% of the total hours watched, and the peak number of viewers was more than 80K! For comparison, no more than 20.7K people concurrently watched the English-language stream.
One can blame the pandemic for the problems of the North American, but another extremely important factor influenced its decline. And that's Riot Games’ Valorant.
CS lost competition to Valorant in NA
Long before the release of Valorant (when the game was still called Project A), it was named as the main competitor of Counter-Strike. The games’ mechanics are similar, the abilities of agents in Valorant affect the outcome of battles to a lesser extent than accurate shooting, and Riot also lured a map designer under the nickname Volcano known for Cache map in CS:GO.
Unlike Valve, Riot Games is building the esports ecosystem of its games by its own: and it is paying off. When scandals and various controversial situations occur in CS:GO, everything is usually remained unsettled, since Valve usually doesn’t take part in the decision-making processes. Everything is different in Valorant.
Riot Games has long and successfully operating offices around the world, including the CIS. If earlier they were mainly engaged in the development of League of Legends, now this applies to Valorant. At the end of last year, the developers successfully held the first major series called First Strike, and it showed very good numbers by viewership statistics.
The new Valorant Champions Tour series is taking place all over the world right now. All the competitions are tied to specific regions, and, unsurprisingly, North America is among the leaders: all top NA organizations and multiple former CS:GO players are quite interested in the discipline.
The fact that Valorant defeated CS:GO in North America is clearly demonstrated by a comparison of regional championships’ viewership statistics in 2021. In addition to the March DreamHack Open, we also included the January tournament, which showed even more modest results.
As one can see, the first Challengers series tournaments in VCT were ahead of DreamHack Open in terms of the average audience. In the case of Challengers 3, where all the top organizations of the region played, the difference in average viewership with DreamHack Open March is huge. At the same time, do not forget that the CS:GO championship was mainly watched by Brazilians, while VCT is mainly watched by English-speaking viewers.
Note that in the comparison we did not show the statistics of the VCT North America Stage 1 Masters, the first really important tournament in the region in the 2021 season. Its viewership statistics are even more impressive, but we will talk about them later in one of the materials dedicated to VCT.
Is it possible to save NA CS?
So far, the prospects for the development of CS:GO in North America are quite absent. Surely, ESL mentioned that it will do its best to maintain competition in the region, but its efforts will clearly not be enough. Now all the hardships of the development of the regional Counter-Strike scenes fall on the shoulders of third-party tournament operators, but if the ESL cannot help NA, then no one can.
There’s no reason to count on Valve's support. Yes, the prize pool of the next major has doubled (up to two million dollars), but in the modern esports world this amount is no longer as impressive as it was several years ago. Discipline needs drastic changes, but there is simply no one to implement them yet.
There are very few CS influencers left in North America, and they are very important for the popularization of the game. Almost all popular esports athletes in the region have been competing in Valorant for a long time, there is simply no one to promote CS.
The competitive scene of Counter-Strike is now tied only to Europe, CIS and Brazil. And this trend will continue until the usual international LAN competitions return, but no one can say when this will happen, unfortunately. Let’s hope it won’t be too late.