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PGL Major Antwerp Brings Back the Excitement

Nikhil Kalro

The world was still reeling under COVID-19’s third wave when PGL Major Stockholm 2021 came around. It threw a spanner in the works of a number of competing teams. Some faced a personnel crunch; others were embattled with form and inability to train together in the build-up.

ppl major Antwerp g2

Image Credit: PGL | Joao Ferreira

For a tournament like this, the build-up was muted; there was hardly any buzz. When the event started, it appeared as if teams were going through the motions, with COVID-19 fears overriding any other aspect. Life was bigger than any sport.

Those were gloomy times, but the sun is shining now. COVID-19 fears are no longer at the peak that they were at this time last year. They have moved on to being almost an afterthought now. And the esports world has rebounded superbly.

Valve announced this year’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major in Antwerp will be played through LAN. It’s a welcome return, one that has been built-up for a while. Such has been the build-up that organisers Valve haven’t had to go out of their way to look for good PR. The excitement is palpable. From autograph stickers to holograms and in-game capsules, the organisers have done different things to attract fans, sponsors and broadcasters, and new stakeholders. The players are, naturally, excited. The buzz is back, as are the dollars, with prize money on offer going up to $1 million.

That it returns in a LAN format is significant. Hours and hours of testing have been carried out, months’ worth of technicalities have all been efficiently solved in days to get all systems up and running. The organisers aren’t leaving anything to chance. Not after how they’ve seen past events fizzle out at the first sign of turbulence. Remember 2021? UK’s first CS:GO LAN post-pandemic ended in disaster. Something similar happened at PGL Stockholm 2021. The event was marred with tech issues, caster drama, controversial decisions, including lack of women’s representation on the broadcast, having talent working remotely, and allowing some teams to play one of the stages of the competition from their rooms.

Eventually, the two competing teams had to split the prize pool money due to a multitude of technical and logistical difficulties. What was billed as a show match ended in a whimper. It tells you why LAN leagues require that much more sync and precision. Yet, despite all these issues, the competition produced high-quality matches and compelling storylines. The CS:GO community’s appetite was whetted after two years of online action. If not for the hunger of fans to see the return of in-person competition, the Stockholm Major may have perhaps been looked at in a different light. 

For things to get started in Antwerp, massive tech upgrades have been undertaken. Organizational hassles have had to be resolved at different steps. COVID-19 protocols have meant recalibration of existing plans – it’s all to ensure things are foolproof.

PCs with the latest graphic cards; stage designs of the highest quality; high-end speakers at a considerable distance from the players so that it isn’t jarring; top quality IT infrastructure; internet setup and configurations that have seamless turnaround time; back-up internet connections; generator sets capable of firing immediately at the first sign of voltage fluctuations – it’s no joke.

PGL Studios in Bucharest has been a beehive of activity for the past fortnight, trying to address these issues and more. Only the playoffs will take place at the Antwerps Sportpaleis Arena in front of fans expected to come in by the thousands. The other stages will take place in a studio environment. 

In trying to make this truly a global celebration, the city council has undertaken a number of activities to spread CS:GO’s wings and popularity. You don’t need to be a gaming fan to understand how big this event has gotten into the consciousness of the people in the city. In what is a first-of-it- kind celebration, the city of Antwerp has celebrated the arrival of the CS:GO Major by creating a special map called the Antwerp Harbour based on the city and its major landmarks. They conducted a special offline launch that was attended by thousands of fans, corporates and stakeholders. The map is available for all players across the globe. 

Additionally, Antwerp has also announced an offline activation at gaming booths across different shopping malls in the Belgian city. The community has appreciated these brilliant ways of immortalising the city in a virtual form within the game for everyone to soak in. 

There have even been requests for the map to be included as part of the tournament show match, which seems a terrific idea in principle. PGL has seen their own organisational capabilities evolve over time. This is, after all, their third Major after Krakow 2017 and Stockholm 2021. Their long history of having organised CS events – the Romanian Championships ran for over 30 seasons – with hundreds of teams in participation is a testament to their commitment to the sport and its players. 

From taking small steps, they made a giant leap in 2015 with the launch of the CS:GO Championship Series (CCS), a European league sponsored by Twitch. While the popularity of the tournament was unparalleled, it went on for just two seasons. It was yet another reality check for the Bucharest company, who were looking to revolutionise the CS:GO landscape. 

They learnt lessons from others, such as when ESL more than doubled the prize money of its Pro League in 2016, while FACEIT made a splash with its headline-grabbing $3.5 million Esports Championship Series (ECS). When ELEAGUE entered the fray, they revolutionised CS:GO action on TV screens in North America. 

These examples have forced PGL to innovate and look for fresher ideas. Their decision to diversify their portfolio and become more hands-on in other esports titles stemmed from this. From Dota 2 to Hearthstone and FIFA, they put together a bouquet of events that ran highly successfully. 

Since 2016, PGL’s name has almost diminished from the CS:GO event calendar. Now, even as Antwerp prepares to host the 17th Major in CS:GO history, only one company has more Majors in its portfolio than PGL – ESL with six. The Romanian company is also only the second tournament organiser that will be running back-to-back Majors after ESL, which was done in 2014 and 2015. That they’ve managed to clear such organizational hassles to get this far, and into a position from where they aim to pull off the biggest competition so far without a hitch, speaks volumes of their drive and strength. May the games begin!