How the Player Break Has Shaped CS:GO Narratives
Over the years, the rise of CS:GO competitions have brought forward the need for a player break in between a long stretch of back-to-back tournaments. The player break has typically been through July, with a winter break sometime around late December to mid-January. While it’s been a necessary addition to the CS:GO calendar, it does has some unintended consequences. Throughout the last few years, the player break has reset some of the most infamous momentums in esports. Furthermore, it also acts as somewhat of a “reset point” for some teams, making them better – and sometimes worse – at the game for a brief period.
The 2016 Player Break
2016 was the first time the player break came into the CS:GO calendar. Players, team owners, event organizers and more got together to discuss the need for a break. CS:GO was growing at the time, and so the need to compete in more qualifiers and commit to international travel was growing. These parties came together and made a “gentlemen’s agreement”, creating a scheduled break straight after the ESL One Cologne Major, which remained in place in 2016 and 2017.
In 2018, the CSPPA (Counter-Strike Professional Player Association) formed, bringing on player representatives and other stakeholders to better discuss player rights in CS:GO. Since its creation, the organization has set up player break dates in advance for tournament organizers to set their events around. In 2020, the CSPPA even moved already established dates to adapt to the online era of CS:GO.
At the time, teams had risen and fallen with new teams creating their own dynasties along the way. The likes of NiP were all over the place after being dethroned years before, Fnatic’s era was coming to an end, and Astralis was born as a player-owned team. Meanwhile, the rising stars in Brazil, then known as SK Gaming/Luminosity (now known as MiBR) dominated the scene. With the Cologne Major’s conclusion, teams took time to rest, change their rosters and move on appropriately.
When teams came back in September, it was a new era in the competitive landscape. Many organizations throughout the CS:GO world had changed rosters. At the same time, the time off allowed other teams to rise with their recent rest fuelling them. The prodigal son in Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev left Team Liquid to join Natus Vincere, while Fnatic and GODSENT had traded players. All of this meant that ESL One New York, the first big event after the player break would feature brand new teams. Newly refined rosters and rested teams assembled at New York, where Na’Vi won the event with their new acquisition. Along their way, they beat former teammates, CIS giants VP and recent Major winners, SK Gaming. It was a sign the break allowed teams to rest and reshape.
Furthermore, a previously slumping EnVyUs (now Envy) managed to return to form and beat the likes of Nikola “NiKo” Kovač’s rising mousesports roster at the Gfinity Invitational. Even for the weaker teams, the player break allowed a time for players to get their act together. This otherwise may have not happened if they were forced to continue playing like in previous years. Both events were a sign that the player break was a reset point for CS:GO, which made room for rest, improvement and great storylines in the newest CS:GO season.
Mixed messages in 2017
In 2017, the winter player break came into effect as 2016 came to an end. When players came back from Christmas and New Years, many found their first event back was the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major. At the time, this was the first time a Major had come right after a period of designated rest. Either way, there was no Major upset, as it was essentially a continuation of the roller coaster that was CS:GO at the time. Every team had a realistic chance of taking a trophy, which made it a fun Major to watch. But this would soon become an outlier compared to other player breaks coming up.
Throughout the year, this trend continued largely, especially with the larger prized tournament belonging to either SK Gaming or the rising FaZe Clan. However, Major magic occurred as it was Immortals vs Gambit Gaming, with Gambit winning the title. The player break then arrived after that Major, ushering in a period of rest.
Post player break Majors
From 2018 onwards, the player breaks tended to come before a Major. The first tease we had of the break causing issues with player performances came at the ELEAGUE Boston Major. It seemed like FaZe Clan or SK Gaming were the two contenders for the Major, that was until SK Gaming found themselves playing with a stand-in. FaZe then became the number one favorites and almost managed to take the trophy, if it wasn’t for a Cloud 9’s miracle run that saw them 0-2 in the Swiss system coming back to take it away from FaZe in one of the greatest CS:GO series of all time. Perhaps the player break caused some rust at the most prestigious event for several teams at different points of the event.
Moving on from the ELEAGUE Boston Major, Astralis rose through the rankings and dominated the remaining period. Their path through the scene was unstoppable, and the FACEIT Major victory was in their sights. In September, the FACEIT London Major kicked off just after the player break. Astralis zeroed in on the trophy, and took it in fabulous fashion, showing the world their form was just as strong as before the player break. While that was not a surprise, the player break had an impact elsewhere in the event. The top eight of the event featured Complexity, Hellraisers, and BIG. These three teams were not exactly the type you would expect to see at the top of the world in 2018.
Before the break, BIG was on the rise, which hit its peak at ESL One Cologne 2018. But they fell off soon after that and fell back down the world rankings due to inactivity. The Major seemed to give them a nice rest to get their performance back in shape on time. Meanwhile, Hellraisers went 3-2, beating Fnatic 2-1 in the final game of the Swiss System Legends Stage. The biggest shock of the three was Complexity, who went 3-0 in the Legends Swiss System stage, beating the likes of Fnatic, G2 and BIG. To put the shock of these results into context we’ll look at the world rankings. BIG was 11th in the rankings after going inactive. Hellraisers was 15th, being a tier 2 team that struggled to make it in top tier events, and Complexity was 30th, a team that was not even considered that great to begin with. In comparison to other teams that went out early, mousesports, Fnatic, G2 Esports and NiP were considered top 10, and they failed to outclass the aforementioned three teams. At this event, the player break rest combined with the unpredictability of the Swiss System seemed to favour the underdogs. Although, this was the last we’d see of these three teams, as they failed to create as big of a buzz at following top tier events in that period.
The mid-season Major outlier
It seemed like Valve had found a good spot where a tournament naturally slotted into the season. IEM Katowice 2019 held the first Major of the year, which had the typical Major excitement to expect. Plenty of the top teams at the time made it to the top eight, with the slight surprise of ENCE, the underdog that earned the hearts of millions. The Major magic had returned. There was no questioning here that teams were not ready, or that the player break had some impact on the results. The best of the best earned their way to the top at this event.
However, in the same month Valve announced that StarLadder would get the next Major in August, right after the 2019 summer break. At the time, Valve received criticism for their decision, with many involved in the scene calling it out as a mistake. Players and experts alike recognize that Majors right after breaks only cause stress for players. It was obvious from the reception that the StarLadder Berlin Major was only going to cause weaker CS:GO.
Team Liquid’s lost Major
Shortly after February’s Major, Team Liquid made 2019 their year. With Astralis taking the first season of the Intel Grand Slam after taking the title across a nine event period, Liquid upped them. Team Liquid took the second season of the IGS within 69 days, taking trophy after trophy all through the first half of the year. CS:GO was definitely in the Team Liquid era, and no one could stop them.
It turns out the one thing that could stop them was the player break. Team Liquid went off into the summer with a solid rest after dominating every team in the world at that point. Coming back into August, Team Liquid was the number one favorite for the Major. Yet, they entered the Berlin Major a shade of their former self.
Liquid had to go through all five matches in the Swiss System of the Legends Stage; that was the first biggest surprise, especially after the fantastic year they had. At one point, they were 1-2 in the Swiss System, so they had to come back on the brink of elimination to get into the Champions Stage. In that very stage, they were eliminated from the event in 5th-8th place by Astralis with a 2-0 loss. It seemed to be that the player break was the real killer of the Team Liquid era in 2019, it was just Astralis that was the nail in the coffin with the anti Liquid aura they had..
While the 2020 player break is nowhere near the Rio Major, there is still some element of craziness going on. So far in 2020, there have been two events: the DreamHack Open Summer event and ESL One Cologne which is currently ongoing at the time of writing.
2020 Is the year of COVID-19 causing almost all tournaments in the year to play out online. Naturally, the online era is causing a shift in results that is very different to professional LAN settings, where there’s much more pressure from the stage and fans watching live games. Even with the online era affecting results, the rest seems to have taken its toll on teams. So far in the ESL One Cologne 2020, the number one team in the world, BIG, were eliminated in joint last place. Meanwhile, the likes of Na’Vi were crushed 16-9 and 16-3 by NiP in the Lower Bracket decider. Clearly big teams can struggle on the return, but it still paves way for rejuvenated teams to begin their season right.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the likes of Chaos taking first place in the NA group over Gen.G, Furia, and 100T is unprecedented. They are a team on the rise in NA anyway. Perhaps the player break has given them the much-needed boost to breakthrough the group stage.
Unlike the issues explored in previous sections, this player break seems more in line with the narrative in 2016. Teams have had the chance to rest, and now the ones on the rise have made an even bigger splash on the return, or are really showing off what their new roster is capable of showing.
With the historical narrative of the player break contextualized, the rest period plays a part in CS:GO storytelling. When it was first introduced, it was the signal for a Major to end the unofficial “season”, whereas now it feels much more random due to Valve certifying different events as Majors. Because of this, it has had a significant impact on storylines, big events and more throughout the last two years. The player break is not a monocausal incident responsible for the beginning and the end of a teams’ rise or fall either. But it plays a part in the wild ride of narratives for plenty of CS:GO teams. There’s no doubt that this is one of the aspects that makes CS:GO an exciting esport to watch. If there is anything this helps highlight – it is the need for player breaks to only come after Majors, not right before.