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Watchlist, July 29, 2016: ELEAGUE

Watchlist, July 29, 2016: ELEAGUE

The Pitch:

Four top European teams will cross assault rifles this weekend for the first ever Counter-Strike: Global Offensive championship broadcast on a major American television network. Established teams Fnatic, Na’Vi and Virtus Pro will share a stage with surprise semifinalist Mousesports, but the real underdog here will be TBS, the latest in a long line of linear media titans attempting to make televised esports profitable.

When and How to Watch:

Friday, July 29, 5:00 PM EST
Saturday, July 30, 4:00 PM EST
Watch on TBS or online for free at www.twitch.tv/eleaguetv

The Details:

The word for today’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) scene is “volatile.” Top teams like NiP, Fnatic, and Na’Vi no longer loom above the rest of the pack, but it’s not clear whether that’s because the rest of the teams have caught up or these frontrunners are simply disintegrating from within. NiP flamed out in the ELEAGUE quarterfinals and is widely expected to undergo roster changes in the near future. Fnatic’s glowing ELEAGUE bio calls them “the best team in the world,” but they were eliminated by Team Liquid at ESL One: Cologne, G2 Esports at the Esports Championship Series, and Astralis at MLG Columbus; they haven’t won a tournament since snatching victory from the (now defunct) Brazilian Team Luminosity in March at the IEM World Championships. 

But the volatility extends far beyond power rankings. SK Gaming, a Brazilian team led by Counter-Strike legend Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo, was booted out of ELEAGUE when its players switched organizations (at the time they were the top-ranked team in the league). The most recent Major, ESL One Cologne, was an absolute disaster from a production perspective. Sleazy item gambling and betting sites, many of which are key sponsors of Counter-Strike organizations and tournaments, are embroiled in a pernicious web of lawsuits and controversy. And on top of all that, there’s a miasma of fear and frustration festering throughout the community: fear that CS:GO’s time as an esport is limited, because of bugs, developer mismanagement, and upstart competitors like Overwatch, and frustration that Valve isn’t doing more to address the risk.  

ELEAGUE, with its fantastic production value and cultural prominence, is a stable ship in an otherwise unruly sea. There’s an air of professionalism to ELEAGUE that many esports tournaments lack. In that way, the tournament’s appeal isn’t just that it’s likely to feature some of the highest-caliber Counter-Strike played this year; it’s special because it feels like a vision of a promising future, a world in which esports events are sponsored by Arby’s instead of websites that prey on the wallets of twelve-year-olds, and commentator Richard Lewis never, under any circumstances, puts his hands around a non-consenting human being’s neck.

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