With the recent ESL Pro League Finals taking place at the O2 and the Esports Championship Series to conclude in the SSE Arena Wembley later this month, it’s clear that UK Counter-Strike is on the rise. At the ESL Finals, two of the UK’s most recognisable CS casters, Henry ‘HenryG’ Greer and Lauren ‘Pansy’ Scott, shared their thoughts on watching their home scene develop.
Television vs. streaming
Henry ‘HenryG’ Greer is a caster/analyst for Global Offensive, usually partnered with the Canadian Matthew ‘Sadokist’ Trivett.
Though the UK scene is only just finding its feet in comparison to the mainland majors of Cologne and Katowice, this wasn’t always the case. In the days of Global Offensive’s predecessor, Source, the UK was up there with the best, fielding mighty teams like London Mint, Birmingham Salvo and 4Kings. While most tournaments at the time were smaller grassroots events, the Championship Gaming Series of 2007 hoped to up the ante with a bigger, more professional environment, acting as part of a push to have CS shown on national television. As a player for London Mint, Henry was directly involved in the first real drive, and subsequent failure, of mainstream esports in Britain.
“They put hundred and hundreds of thousands of pounds into it and obviously we weren’t ready for it at that point,” says HenryG. “This was when I was playing, we got flown over to America and we got to play in these amazing leagues. We played two seasons and it turned out no one really watched it in the UK, and this was prime time TV... It was very clear that esports wasn’t quite ready for the UK market then.”
While television may have seemed like the logical end goal ten years ago, the advent of streaming services such as Twitch has completely revolutionised esports media, freeing providers from the constraints of standard broadcasting services. Beyond the tournaments themselves, many players run successful (and lucrative) personal streaming services. For the dedicated, this offers the chance to directly connect with and support their favourite players.
Lauren ‘Pansy’ Scott is an ESL-employed caster for Global Offensive as well as other titles such as Battlefield, World of Tanks and Dirty Bomb.
“Originally back in the day, if you wanted to get to know these players it was through frag movies where you’d watch one clip and be like “that person is awesome”,” Lauren says. “I think it’s so great that you can be so personable with the players now. You can go to their Twitch chat, you can go and talk to them. Back when I started playing I thought “well, I’ll probably never get to speak to this player”. Now I can go and subscribe to them and they’ll probably be quite thankful and humble.”
“[Ten years ago] you had to have the game installed and connect through that to watch,” says Henry. “Getting 5000 viewers was a big deal. Selling that to a large sponsor company is difficult. Twitch has made that accessible. Everyone can watch on their phone or laptop wherever you are in the world. I feel like that’s the reason esports has got to where it has.”
As for for television? “We just don’t need it” Henry says. “We’re so past that, why is it the ultimate goal? We’re not restricted by adverts, we’re not governed or restricted. We do our own thing.”
As competitive gaming continues to soar in popularity, the changes are finally starting to take place, with dedicated UK arenas being established by both Gfinity and ESL. Clearly testing the waters, early events saw CS:GO sharing space with other titles such as Call of Duty and Super Smash Bros Melee at Dreamhack London. Since then the success of competitions like the ESL Pro League Finals have sent a clear signal: the UK has a committed audience for CS, and they are as passionate as they come.
“The UK having events like this, pulling in an audience without any other games, I love that,” Lauren says. “It’s a unique thing and it seems to be getting better and better. CS is a massive thing in this space and it’s dominating it pretty well. The audience is actually very unique, very different and I love that about them. You get a different vibe at different events you go to and I think the CS one has a hell of a lot of personality and it’s awesome to see it here in London.”
“Gaming as a whole in the UK has had this stigma attached to it in the sense that it’s quite nerdy and geeky,” says Henry. “But now people are starting to realise that it’s actually quite a cool thing to do, it’s actually quite exciting. With these kind of events we’re raising awareness slowly but surely.
“People travel every weekend to see their favourite football teams, and now we’re having that same thing for their favourite esports players,” he continues. “ I think that’s really cool. We’re building up personalities and getting celebrities. It’s all coming together through platforms like Twitch.”
Where are the UK teams?
CS:GO broadcasting is overflowing with British talent. From Duncan “Thorin” Shields to Alex “machine” Richardson, you’re all but guaranteed to see a UK face at any large event. Despite this, the UK has been painfully slow to establish itself in hosting tournaments. It’s hard not to think that this is, in large, due to the lack of any presence from a local team. While the ESL audience showed no end of love for the French G2, a home side could draw an entirely different level of attention. Despite this it has been difficult to draw interest in sponsor support for a UK side. As a former player, this is clearly a topic close to Henry’s heart.
“The problem with the UK CS:GO scene right now is that there are great players, but there are no great teams,” Henry explains. “You can tell the fans are hungry for it. They want their hometown heroes. They want their Fnatics, their NiPs like the Swedes have. I mean you look at teams like Virtus.pro, even when they’re losing at Katowice they have the whole crowd behind them. That’s what the UK wants.”
“[Last year] I had my own company and set up a British team to go to events and we sent them to Dreamhack London,” continues Henry. “That was the first time a British team had made it to a big event. They took down the Australian Team Renegades. In London, taking down one of the bigger names for the events, it was a fairytale story. The problem is, once we finished that event we had nothing else to play for. We hadn’t been invited to any big events and the team stagnated and dropped off. That was about a year ago and the scene has changed so much since then."
Valve has since introduced the Minor system in order to encourage and nurture smaller teams. Accepting only sides which have not previously participated in Majors, the Minors offer both a $50,000 prize pool and the chance to compete in the offline Major qualifiers. So with the support finally in place, and increasing attention being diverted to hosting, is it finally time for a stable UK side to emerge? On that front, the jury is still out.
“I hope so,” offers Lauren. “I won’t say it’s going to be any time soon if I’m honest. I think there’s still a long way to go. There are some incredibly talented players, it’s just that the UK scene has a horrible history of rotating the same players in and out of lineups. Someone doesn’t get on, or there’s no support. They don’t want to put in the work without the money being there. There’s no middle ground for it. I think eventually the younger scene will break in, they’ll get there and make it, but it’s a long way.”
“When my team was playing we didn’t have [the Minor system],” says Henry. “So I feel like maybe not 2016, but 2017 we’ll have something, just one team we can be proud of. They don’t have to be winning events, just to be competitive.”