What If Covid Had Never Happened? An Alternate Reality For 2020 CS:GO
March 1st, 2020. The Grand Finals of IEM Katowice are soon to commence in the Spodek Arena. Astralis and G2 Esports have made it to this last stretch after beating Natus Vincere and Fnatic in the Semi Finals, respectively. Unfortunately, NaVi’s newest roster addition, Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy, had struggled to post consistent results against top teams, which is no shame, considering that he had never played at this level before. Just like during BLAST Premier, Perfecto underperformed in the Semi Finals of Katowice and the heroics of Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev were not enough to turn things around, so Astralis grabbed a close victory and made it to the Grand Finals. Facing G2 Esports, however, they finally met their match. The French team had signed Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač and Nemanja "nexa" Isaković just a few months back. The two Eastern-Europeans took this opportunity to dunk on Astralis in three close maps and dispatched them with relative ease. The first big event of the year has definitely delivered on its promise… at least in our imagination.
None of that happened, because the exponential surge of coronavirus cases all across Europe forced the venues to close and the playoffs of IEM Katowice 2020 had to be played out without an audience on site. Arguably, this changed the outcome of the entire event. Would Perfecto really have secured a 1.05 rating against Astralis with 10,000 screaming fans on-site? A man this young and inexperienced at such a high level may have choked under the pressure. Obviously, these are just hypotheses, but it’s nice to entertain the thought of how 2020 could have played out in a normal, pandemic-free world.
ALL THE CRAZY ROSTER MOVES
So many things would and would not have happened. We might not have seen Astralis recruit new players, as Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth might not have suffered from burn-out without the relentless online competition. Then again, Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen and Patrick “es3tag” Hansen might not have become the players they are today. Would Cloud9 really have gone for the latter if he hadn’t displayed such potential under Astralis?
NIVERA JOINS VITALITY
This move was a long time coming, even without the pandemic playing into it. Vitality wanted to write CS:GO history as the first team to really implement a six-man setup. While his first official match under the organisation was a great success even online, imagine how this debut would have gone down if the BLAST Premier: Fall Regular Season had taken place in their designated studio. The crowd would have gone wild as the new gun slowly proved his worth against the best of the best. In the Finals of Group B, Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom secured a 1.39 rating for the two maps he played, out-performing even Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut. This would have sent shock waves through the scene if it had taken place at a LAN event. But because of the constant stream of online tournaments and matches, this quickly got to be just another part of Covid CS:GO history.
THE RISE OF NORTH AMERICA
At IEM Katowice, the 100 Thieves managed to make it all the way to the Quarter Finals, where they lost out to Fnatic on two overtime maps. All throughout 2020, Chaos have emerged as a competitive North American team with their young prodigy, Nathan “leaf” Orf, out-playing even seasoned Brazilian veterans. Even the likes of Gen.G. and Team Envy had some mid-tier offline events to look out for, which might have brought them closer to the other top teams of their region. Towards the end of 2019, Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz and his Evil Geniuses suddenly emerged as contenders for big trophies, beating the likes of Astralis and Fnatic in Grand Finals. At the start of 2020, the North American scene looked better than ever before, with so much potential for even more improvement. Now, it is close to dying.
Several high-profile organisations have pulled out of CS:GO. Players left and right have transitioned to VALORANT, and unlike in Europe, these aren’t just washed-out veterans who hope for a second life in this new game. In North America, VALORANT has attracted some of the biggest names of the scene and has left it severely understaffed in its fight against a mass of European teams that has only got more competitive.
Without Covid, would the Thieves or Chaos have retreated from CS:GO? Arguably not, and we might still have the likes of Sam “s0m” Oh, Nick “nitr0” Canella or Joshua “steel” Nissan as part of the scene. While they have obviously all found their footing in VALORANT as well, the North American Counter-Strike space is on its knees and suffering from wounds that may take years to heal. Now that leaf is rumoured to sign with Cloud9’s VALORANT division and Paytyn “junior” Johnson is apparently on his way to the Brazilian FURIA roster, the arguably last prodigies of NA CS might vacate the scene. Evil Geniuses and Liquid are all that remains and there is virtually no way for them to stock up with new talent now.
All of ESL’s efforts to now help sustain the North American teams will do little to compensate for the losses that the scene has already suffered. Even if the player base should stop from drying out, it might take years for another leaf-like prodigy to emerge. Now that virtually all decorated North American in-game-leaders have gone, there is almost no one there any more to guide the way. Would any of this have happened without Covid?
Who knows where all these teams would have ended up. Maybe Chaos would have won a bunch of DreamHack Open events as the North American representatives. The 100 Thieves would have continued their great form and with EG rising up to compete with the likes of Astralis, we might have seen them make deep runs at ESL One Cologne or events of similar size. The Majors would have given these teams great opportunities to prove themselves, but obviously, none of that has happened.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Even if mass vaccinations will eventually bring this virus to its knees, we’re still a long ways away from big stadium events. The 2021 Spring Major has already been preemptively cancelled by Valve, as they don’t expect this tournament to be feasible in four months time. But there is actually an upside to an entire year (maybe even more) with no offline competition. While we may all feel some fatigue from the constant online events and re-matches, all of that will be gone once we can see these teams compete on offline soil again.
The Vitality and Natus Vincere rivalry will be a delight to watch at an ESL One Cologne or in a similarly huge arena. Players like Nivera and Bubzkji will have to prove their worth all over again, as they still haven’t demonstrated that they can sustain the pressure of an actual stadium event with thousands of spectators. The eventual return to real offline tournaments might revitalise the scene and the viewers’ interest in a way we have never seen before. If IEM Katowice 2020 managed to break viewership records after moving its playoffs to the online realm, imagine what unprecedented figures a hypothetical Katowice 2021 could achieve as the return to offline events...
Images via ESL | @AstralisGCSGO