The world’s finest CS:GO teams will land in Katowice this month to battle for fame and fortune at the Intel Extreme Masters. Thousands of fans will pack into the Spodek Arena to watch the drama unfold and they are sure to be treated to some exhilarating action.
A $500,000 prize pool is up for grabs and the prestige associated with winning a Masters-level tournament is huge, so each match should be ferociously competitive. There are millions of CS:GO fans spread across the globe, and many will stream the action live, piling pressure on the stars to flourish.
IEM Katowice will be the most important and lucrative tournament of 2020 so far, and the first event that attracts all the biggest names in the world. It will provide the perfect springboard for CS:GO to enjoy a huge year.
A Spectacular Rise
Valve launched Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to universal acclaim in August 2012. The esports scene was just starting to gain traction around the world, thanks largely to the rollout of high-speed broadband and the rise of Twitch, but there was a clear gap in the market for a dominant first-person shooter to emerge.
CS:GO instantly filled the vacuum. Gamers loved the depth of strategy, the high skill ceiling and the polished gameplay it offered, and an elite group of pros sprung up, dazzling fans with their virtuosity.
It has remained top dog ever since. Challengers like Overwatch and Rainbow 6 Siege have emerged, but CS:GO is still the biggest FPS in the competitive gaming scene and it continues to go from strength to strength.
A Thriving Pro Scene
More than 12,500 players have earned a cash prize for their CS:GO exploits over the past eight years, sharing a total of $92.2 million. No other esport comes close to having such a large base of pro gamers.
League of Legends is next, as 6,810 players have shared $73.4 million over the years, but CS:GO has the most tournaments and the broadest player base. It is also the second most lucrative esport. Dota 2, another game from Valve, leads the way thanks to the riches on offer at its leading tournament, The International.
However, CS:GO has the busiest calendar, with events of all different sizes taking place across the world on a daily basis. Many of them are extremely prestigious: there will be two $1 million Majors this year, the first of which takes place in Rio de Janeiro in May, along with big events like ESL One Cologne, the World Electronic Sports Games 2020, and the $1 million BLAST Premier Grand Finals.
Take a look at the CSGO betting page at a leading site like Unikrn and you will see just how regularly fans are treated to big tournaments featuring famous names. Viewers often love to bet on the action, as it adds greater excitement to the experience and offers them an opportunity to turn their knowledge into a profit.
A Strong Community
Major brands are also sponsoring the CS:GO scene, leaving it flush with cash. Intel, Audi and Pepsi are just some of the famous names that have sponsored CS:GO teams and events. Even the US Air Force sponsors the Cloud9 CS:GO team.
This has helped make CS:GO esports a lot more professional and better organized in recent years. The viewing experience is slick, and the leading players are treated like superstar athletes.
They have coaches, training facilities, agents, sports psychologists, dieticians, massive social media followings and healthy bank balances. Yet they are not as detached from the fans as their counterparts in traditional sports. Streaming channels and social media bring fans and players together in exciting ways, fostering a strong CS:GO community in which the pros depend on the fans and reward their support with great content and interaction.
Can Anyone Dethrone the Danes?
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the professional CS:GO scene in 2020 will be breaking Astralis’ dominance. The Danish powerhouse has breezed to victory in the last three Majors – FACEIT London in September 2018, and then both big events last year – cementing its status as the most successful team of the modern era.
It remains top of the HLTV rankings and it is the clear favorite to wipe the floor with its rivals once again at IEM Katowice. Zyp9x, dupreeh, gla1ve, device and Magisk are all wonderful players and they are blessed with a collective brilliance that is unrivalled in CS:GO history.
Team Liquid looked poised to dethrone them in 2020, but Astralis made a mockery of such projections by storming to victory at the Berlin Starladder Major and rattling off a number of high-profile victories over TL. They are now the five highest earning CS:GO players of all time.
It is unhealthy for one team to dominate any game, as viewers could grow bored and switch off. There is no equivalent in League of Legends or Dota 2 to Astralis, and many fans hope to see the Danes knocked off their perch this year.
Despite its success at Majors, Astralis is by no means infallible. It finished 10th-12th at its first appearance in 2020 – BLAST Premier Spring 2020 – after losing to Complexity Gaming and Natus Vincere. It only won eight of the 22 tournaments in entered in 2019, and it has suffered bruising defeats to teams like FURIA in recent times.
Its rivals must now find a way to overwhelm Astralis at Major tournaments. TL will still be dangerous in 2020, but FaZe Clan and mousesports might have a better chance of taking it down.
The latter is now up to second in the world rankings after winning the $250,000 ICE Challenge in London earlier this month. Towards the end of 2019, it won the CS:GO Asia Championships and the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals and finished runner-up at EPICENTER 2019.
FaZe has a magnificent CS:GO team and it looks perfectly capable of toppling Astralis if its stars fulfil their potential. NiKo and coldzera looked close to their best when they led their team to a thrilling victory over TL this month. The team is ambitious, having just received a C$30 million loan from one of Canada’s leading credit providers, and it is ready to bid for a return to the summit of CS:GO.
It will be thrilling to see if teams like FaZe, mousesports, Team Vitality and NaVi can seize the throne in 2020. Astralis is dominant, but vulnerable, and the scene is full of exciting, dynamic teams, so we should be in for another exhilarating year. It all begins at IEM Katowice and it promises to be an epic event.