On Tuesday we will see a major sporting event kick off in Ohio, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people watching online. No, it’s not MLB opening day or the Columbus Crew (but has a soccer fan, I would love to see a crowd of that size for a domestic game). No, I’m talking about the first ever Valve-sponsored Major for Counter-Strike:Global Offensive here in the United States, Major League Gaming’s Championship: Columbus.
While not the first Major, it’s the first one held in the States — all previous Majors have been held in Europe. The location isn’t the only notable change to the Major, as this also represents a record of four teams from the North American region qualifying, though a team from Europe — in particular, Fnatic — seem likely to take the championship. In addition to the solid North American representation in Columbus, Brazil is represented in team Luminosity Gaming, and if any team could challenge the EU region heavyweights, it might be LG. On top of the diverse lineup, the prize pool has been quadrupled from a notable $250,000 in previous Majors to an impressive $1,000,000 up for grabs, with $500,000 going to the first place team. Beyond the massive increase in the cash, Valve has also made changes to the gameplay, specifically the clock, and it is something that could play a role — for better or worse — in the upcoming matches.
While the nature of CS:GO is quite different than any traditional sport, the teams of five simultaneously playing offense and defense lend at least a quick comparison to basketball. Rather than outscoring the enemy team when the game clock reads 0:00, CS:GO instead is a race to be the first side to win 16 rounds. A maximum of 15 rounds per half will be played, so one could consider it a best of 30, in a manner of speaking. The first half consists of the Counter-Terrorists (CT) side defending two bomb sites while the Terrorists (T) attacks and attempts to plant a bomb. CTs can win by
A. Holding both sites for the full 1:55 each round (an uncommon way to win)
B. Eliminating the T’s before they can plant the bomb at one of the sites
C. Defusing the bomb once it has been planted
While that’s the quick and dirty comparison, Valve — developers and sponsors of this Major — have decided to toy with what effectively is the “shot clock” in CS:GO. For years and years, heck, even since I played Counter-Strike 1.5 and 1.6, the universal standard* for each individual round was 1:45, or if the bomb was planted, a 35 second timer would begin. Last December, Valve implemented a significant change, shifting to the longer, previously mentioned 1:55 round and increasing the bomb detonation timer from 35 to 40 seconds. The key thing is that neither planting the bomb nor defusing is instantaneous. It takes approximately three seconds for the T side to plant the bomb, and for the CT side, defusing it varies based on whether or not the CT purchases a defuse kit. Without the kit, it’s a full 10-second defuse but with the kit it’s cut in half to five seconds.
*Valve had a 45-second bomb timer in their official matchmaking until the December change, however this article is aiming to address competitive play.
While leagues such as ESL/ESEA Pro League have adopted the longer round time and 40-second bomb detonation time as have DreamHack tournaments, the change could absolutely affect rounds and thus matches. For example, imagine if the NBA changed a similar 10-percent increase in the shot clock, rather than 24 seconds it would get bumped to 26.4 seconds. Or overall game length from four 12-minute quarters to four 13:15 quarters. It isn’t hard to see just how drastically this would change things like player substitutions, shot selection, timeout usage and team fouls. Just like basketball, CS:GO is heavily reliant on the clock to force action. By changing what forces the action, I would argue the game has been changed as well.
Rather than worry about player substitutions or shot selection like in basketball, the thing being juggled — especially on the CT side of things — in CS:GO is the in-game economy. Instead of needing to purchase a defuse kit, now the CTs can opt to spend that cash elsewhere, be it an upgraded weapon, grenade, body armor etc., and still have what almost equals the same amount of time. By choosing to not purchase a kit, there is no real difference between a full 10-second defuse on the 40-second bomb timer versus buying a kit to cut the time in half to five seconds on a 35-second timer. The kit itself a relatively small price to pay, just $400 in-game dollars, yet that same amount of currency is the same as two flash bangs, one smoke or one high explosive grenade (with $100 left over). As one would suspect, this type of equipment can absolutely have a huge affect on how a round plays out as the longer bomb time opens up the CT arsenal considerably.
On top of the in-game currency falling under scrutiny, the million dollar prize pool is something to cover in detail as well. To be honest, the $1 million is technically correct for the tournament itself, but it fails to account for one thing: stickers. No, not actual, real life stickers, instead these stickers allow the purchaser to place the stickers on weapons if they so desire. The stickers cost just $0.99 with the money being split 50/50, half going to Valve and the other half to the teams.
For a glimpse of an older Cloud9 sticker, here is a screenshot of C9’s Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert in action in the MLG Columbus Qualifiers. The full highlight video can be found on Cloud9’s YouTube page.
Count on yours truly among those watching the streams as 16 teams representing 18 countries decide who will take home the title.