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ESL Pro League may have just been killed by Valve

gabe newell esl pro league meme

Valve seems to be making active attempts to shut down franchised Counter-Strike esports leagues like ESL Pro League and BLAST.

The CSGO esports scene has undergone a radical transformation over the last few years. While Valve has largely encouraged open competition in both Counter-Strike and Dota 2 esports, CSGO in particular has seen things become consolidated. ESL, Dreamhack, FACEIT, and ESEA have all merged into one company which has direct partnerships with top organizations such as Team Liquid, FaZe Clan, Astralis, and more.

Valve has previously discussed taking action against this, but has done little to reverse this trend. Until now. 

Esl Pro League

In a post on the official Counter-Strike blog, the publisher demands some serious changes to the game’s esports scene. The move seems positioned to specifically break up ESL Pro League and Blast Premier, though it will have a serious impact across the entire esports landscape. It will also counter other paid initiatives between tournament organizers and esports organizations that have been revealed in recent weeks. 

Valve moves to end franchised leagues like ESL Pro League, BLAST

On August 3, Valve made three demands of the major stakeholders in the CSGO pro scene. These boil down to removing “conflicts of interest” regarding invitations to events and a clarification of the money paid by tournament organizers to teams.

These changes are set to go into effect by 2025. They effectively guarantee that esports in Counter-Strike 2 will look very different from what was seen in CSGO.

“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,” Valve said in the blog post.

The first component of this is that tournament organizers and esports organizations will “no longer have unique business relationships.” Tied into that, Valve stated that invitations to competitions must be based on its own ranking system or open qualifiers.

Finally, Valve also stated that “any compensation for participating teams” be made public to fans. This follows a report by esports journalist Richard Lewis regarding a paid social media incentive program between the Saudi Arabian government’s Gamers8 tournament organizer and teams participating in their events. Gamers8 recently ran the Riyadh Masters Dota 2 tournament and has a large Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament slated to start on August 16.

Nixing the biggest Counter-Strike leagues will have big implications for pros, fans

The dissolution of the current ESL Pro League and BLAST Premier series has major implications for all Counter-Strike tournament organizers, teams, pro players, and fans. It will also result in big changes to Counter-Strike 2 esports relative to CSGO.

ESL and BLAST will both have to make a significant pivot with this change. Details related to the partnerships between the leagues and teams aren’t fully known, but franchise fees are the norm in both esports and traditional sports leagues. 

Participating organizations will also take a hit to some degree, as these franchises are of monetary value to the organizations. This is notable for organizations that are suffering from financial distress like FaZe Clan, which is reportedly looking for a buyer.

Forcing a more open format should give more opportunities to pro players and smaller organizations. In 2020, ESL stripped 24 teams of spots in the ESL Pro League as it pivoted to a franchised format. This was a devastating blow for CSGO’s tier-two scene, particularly in North America.

The major drawback is how Valve’s new invitation policy would work. Left unchanged, the format could be difficult to climb in for teams in regions with lighter regional competition, such as Oceania, Asia, and North America. Valve has time to sort this out, as the changes won’t go into full effect until 2025.

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2. His work has previously been featured by Bleacher Report and The Washington Post, and he was an Assistant Editor at WIN.gg. You can follow him on Twitter / X at @srondina.

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