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Episode 39: Undeniably Dying ft. Milan “Striker” Švejda and Meg Kay

Imad Khan October 21, 2020 66

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With 100 Thieves CEO Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag announcing the team’s exit from CS:GO, it calls into question the future viability of the scene in North America. While teams like EG have done well this past year, and with player counts still breaking records, it’s odd that North America isn’t faring as well as other regions. Part of that could be due to the pandemic, it could also be due to the competitive culture in NA.

HLTV’s Milan “Striker” Švejda joins the show to give his expert analysis. Švejda is a long time CS:GO reporter, and has been asking these very questions to coaches at NA teams.

And Worlds is still going on in Shanghai. All North American teams were eliminated early from competition, leaving two Chinese teams, one Korean and one European team in semifinals. Reporter Meg Kay jumps on the show to explain North America’s failings and give predictions on which teams she things will advance to the finals.


SPEAKERS: Imad Khan, Meg Kay, Milan “Striker” Švejda

Imad Khan  00:02

What’s up everybody, This is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this Undeniably Dying edition is HLTV’s Milan “Striker” Švejda

Milan “Striker” Švejda  00:10

Hey guys.

Imad Khan  00:11

And later on we’ll have freelance reporter Meg Kay to talk Worlds. But first CSGO. Last week 100 Thieves CEO Matthew “NadeShot” Haag announced that the organization will be exiting CSGO because of complications due to COVID. 100 Thieves CSGO roster is currently based out of Australia. And with travel restrictions posed by the pandemic, quote, “we felt we were in a position where our hands were tied.” But CSGO has been in declining state North America for years and has been the general trend for esports in the region with more attention going towards streaming. Former Cloud9 star Michael “shroud” Grzesiek said in a video, quote, “NA just died in CSGO hard, in my opinion, that’s a very big L to the community.” So Striker in the North American scene is clearly in flux. And this is after we’ve seen you pushes by ESL and Blast with competitive leagues. Before we get into that, let’s step back, when did things start going downhill for CSGO in North America?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  00:58

I mean, it has to start with the introduction of Valorant. And, I mean, obviously, that kind of coincided with COVID, and how that obviously regionalised everything, but basically, it’s the combination of those two things, I think March is essentially the, like the starting point that we have to look at, when regards to both of these factors that played into essentially what is going on now, seven months later, that, you know, led to North America losing so much in just a span of, let’s say, half a year.

Imad Khan  01:30

You know, it’s interesting, like, it’s not just CSGO I feel that suffering. I mean, if you look at League of Legends in North America is very weak compared to Europe, especially Asia, when you look at Overwatch, definitely the best talent is coming out of Korea. You know, to what extent do you feel that esports in general is on a decline in the United States?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  01:51

To be fair, like, my my expertise doesn’t really lie in esports. In general, I just I’m very much focused on CSGO. But obviously, I also watch League of Legends and competitively, I guess your rights. NA is generally not the best region, at least not in the not in the games that I follow. Pretty far from it, actually. But in CS GO, obviously, they there was a time where the NA was the best region for for short period last year, essentially, like in the first half of last year, when Liquid were on the on the top for quite a long time, actually for like five months in a row. And EG were also, you know, on the up and and improving. And they even they became the best team in the world at least for a couple of weeks. So I don’t I don’t really see how this is a whole widespread problem. In terms of esports in North America. You can look at the games and maybe somebody will prove me wrong in North America is is is the best region somewhere. If it is a game, it’s a game that I would probably don’t follow. But in any case, I yeah, like I said, My expertise doesn’t really lie with with esports. In general, it’s mostly about CSGO. And that’s I don’t think we’ve seen, I don’t think it’s fair to say that, that NA has been lagging behind in CSGO not anymore, at least, obviously today, it’s changing again. But I think in the last two years, the last two years have kind of proven that NA has been has been catching up.

Imad Khan  02:42

You know, another thing is financials. I mean, Andy Miller of NRG said pretty vocally about kind of how expensive it is to have a competitive CSGO roster and how the viewership and other sponsorship dollars just don’t justify the cost. You know, to what extent do you feel that and you know, shroud said this in his video too, with players making like $40,000 a month to what extent do you feel that the players in the scene are overvalued?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  03:39

I mean, I think that’s pretty obvious but I feel the same way in terms of esports as a whole again, I don’t really have that much that much information on what the salaries look like in other games outside of League of Legends. I think that’s relatively you know, some of the numbers in in League of Legends have been have been out there as well for example like that massive Vulcan buyout the Cloud9 paid some point last year, I think it was like two years ago. I don’t remember right now. But you know, I think it’s pretty obvious that essentially it is kind of a bubble that is created through, you know, this huge investment money that is coming into organizations that they didn’t necessarily earn. Not yet anyway. And it’s something that they’re still trying to do. So it’s just the result of that, I think and yeah. And this is, I guess, sort of a sort of a result of it.

Imad Khan  04:31

You know, to what extent do you feel that. Yeah, I had Wim Stocks of Collegiate StarLeague on a few weeks ago and he was talking about how colleges have been still very hesitant to embrace CSGO, mainly because of the violent nature of the game. It definitely doesn’t help the scene in North America. To what extent do you think kind of Valve’s and the scenes doggedness to keep this like highly violent game without any kind of modification contributing to its potential decline?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  04:59

I mean, To be fair, we’ve never really we’ve never really needed universities or like a massive, massive grassroots structure for the game to live. And to be and to be improving and or like increasing in terms of reach or in terms of player base and stuff like that we’ve been, we’ve been rising for a long time, CSGO has had, you know, numerous peaks in terms of player base throughout this time throughout COVID. So I don’t think we really need, you know, universe-, like a university structure where they’re going to be the ones bringing up new people into the or bringing new people into the game. So I feel like that’s not really, not necessarily a factor of people will. The universities are not a place where people will, will find the game where they’re going to start playing it. So I don’t see that as a problem, to be honest.

Imad Khan  05:45

You know, what’s interesting is that in shrouds kind of rant he talks about how, in North America, when teams would scrim, they would just scrim to win instead of scrim to learn. If you felt that it was a cultural problem in North America too. You know, in based on reporting, you’re speaking to players. Do you feel that the way North American players go about practicing and competing, is incongruent with actual growth for a competitive scene?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  06:10

I mean, that seems to be what people think, even and even the players in North America, as you said, as you mentioned Shroud specifically, but it’s it’s a topic that’s been that’s been around for a long time. So there has to be something to it for sure. Just because we’ve heard it too many times, not for it not to be partially true, at least. So yeah, I definitely think there’s something to that. To what degree it’s actually hampering this the region? I’m not sure. Like I said, like, last year, we had two very, very competitive teams at the top of CSGO. And they obviously found a way to practice a little bit more efficiently because they played very, very solid CS, at least liquid did I think, EG were a little bit more shaky, I guess. But in terms of Liquid. Liquid, I think it was pretty obvious that they found a way to improve even with how it’s always been kind of a problem to practice well, in North America. So yeah, certain teams have have been able to go past that. But I do think that there’s a there’s a certain level of a problem on a widespread scale. And in North America, for sure.

Imad Khan  07:13

And, you know, based on your understanding and analysis, if you had, you know, if you could pull the strings of the CSGO region in North America, whether it be on the game dev ed and or the team and you know, what little changes would would you make here and there to try to help bolster the scene?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  07:29

In North America I assume you mean. Well, I there’s something that that I talked to Moses, now Liquids coach, but obviously previously, previously a castor. About, I think about a year ago, where I asked him pretty much the same thing. And I personally don’t really have a massive, massive view, just because I don’t have enough enough depth into my knowledge into like, the grassroots scene in North America, but from what he was saying, and from what I’ve kind of gathered from people, it just seems like there isn’t enough happening at the lower tier where you know, where teams or players are still only getting into the game and into the competitive side of it. And outside of things like ESCA. And it’s it’s structured with the open league into advanced into into MDL, and stuff like that. But besides that, I don’t think there’s much of a way for teams to for players or even teams to enter, enter the space without first playing, you know, getting noticed by some some bigger team in the region. So I feel like there’s, I guess there’s a lack of like, smaller tournaments such as, like a Fragadelphia that that is going on, I think a couple of times a year, and things like that, I think they just need more of these regional tournaments as of so that people can notice how they can, how they can get into the competitive side of the game, and how they can improve that way. I think that’s just just comes down to more of a better grassroots structure wherever there are more tournaments going on,

Imad Khan  09:00

You know, I look at how Riot Games or Overwatch or even Psyonix with Rocket League, they all have these kind of development leaks, you know, whether it be a high school structure or a college structure and that the goal is that you know that that talent kind of leads you into pro, but because Valve has just been so hands off with esports for so long and has been really unwilling to jump in you know to what extent is this decline just part of Valve not supporting it seemed correctly?

Milan “Striker” Švejda  09:29

no it’s certainly not a surprise that they aren’t just because of that’s that’s kind of been their their philosophy the the entire time as to how much it’s actually impacting the scene. I don’t know what the thing is, Valves approach has has its upsides and quite obvious downsides considering you know, there’s there could be certain improvement from damage to like you were saying something else to what what Riot Games is doing, or even other other other game developers as to what they’re trying to do with a grassroots scene. Obviously, they could do more, but we know that that’s not going to happen. So I’m not sure whether they have to be at fault for that. They’re obviously trying to trying to reach as big of an audience to the game as possible, through other ways, just like through casual play. And that’s been they’ve been pretty successful at it just from, from the numbers that I was talking about earlier. Like we’ve had several player peaks in CSGO throughout these last seven months or so. And we we kept peaking, peaking and peaking with with bigger and bigger numbers. So I don’t think I don’t think that’s necessarily the way I should, like, there’s a, there’s something that that could be done from their perspective in terms of competitiveness, or it’s in terms of competitive structures, as I was saying before, but I think with, with the way they’ve handled the game, I don’t think that’s coming anytime soon. And I’m not sure it’s even, it wouldn’t even be advisable to be honest. Just because we’ve always we’ve always been able to work it out in terms of the on our own without the developers being too hands on so I don’t think there’s a there’s too big of a problem. I think it’s more of a North American issue in specific.

Imad Khan  11:13

you know, you bring up a really good point it’s not that Cisco overalls and decline because it’s player counters have just been breaking records throughout the year, which had it is a very Curious Case of like, You know why, why, you know things just aren’t going better for NA or as well as they should given given the numbers. But you know, with that, thank you so much for jumping on Striker.

Milan “Striker” Švejda  11:32

No problem.

Imad Khan  11:33

And now I’m joined by reporter Meg Kay. Worlds 2020 is underway in the midst of a global pandemic. Even with small flare ups in China. The tournament has not seen any emergency shutdowns in Shanghai. Even then it’s not been without its surprises. Last week, G2 Esports was able to eliminate Gen G. Top Esports bested Fnatic, Suning bested JD Gaming 3-1, and Damwon dominated DRX 3-0. But before we get into playoff predictions, let’s step back. League of Legends has been struggling as a scene in North America for some time. And this was most evidenced by Liquid, TSM and Flyquest, all being eliminated in groups. Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne said on Twitter after elimination that quote, all our teams need to reevaluate how we operate as this is not acceptable, end quote. So Meg, where did things go wrong for North America at Worlds?

Meg Kay  12:18

I definitely think that part of what went wrong was people’s expectations going into the tournament. And that sounds incredibly harsh. But I also think it’s kind of true. Like you had Flyquest drawn into a group with a team that many people thought were going to win the whole tournament, you had Liquid drawn into a group with G2, who made finals last year and stuning, who have shown up so much better than I think anyone expected. I think the fact that they were able to be able to get games is actually a lot more impressive than people are giving them credit for. And I think TSM were the only team who really genuinely underperformed and I personally think that’s an issue with how NA seeds are sorted into pools. I personally don’t think that NA’s first seed should be a pool one team. I know that’s possibly not the not the most pleasant thing for North American fans to hear. But I think you just kind of have to accept after how the region has performed internationally for so many years. That just kind of has to be taken into consideration that pool one maybe is not the best place for North America’s first seed.

Imad Khan  13:25

I mean, when you look at kind of player accounts for League of Legends in North America, especially when compared to China and South Korea, you know, the player count is down. Excitement is starting to wane for League of Legends in in North America. I mean, is the scene kind of dying here? I mean, do you think that is where the scene is headed?

Meg Kay  13:42

I don’t think it’s unsavable. I definitely think that there are some kind of entrenched endemic issues with the PC gaming scene as a whole in North America that come down to kind of the availability of PC gaming and where PC gaming is not technically a meritocracy in North America, just because the resources that are needed to get really, really good in PC gaming are incredibly expensive and not massively accessible. But I also definitely think that esports organizations in the US could be doing a lot more to help kind of even out the meritocracy of esports and make esports more accessible to Yeah, whether it’s making these PC gaming sessions that are accessible to young kids and stuff like that, so they can get a taste for these games at a young age. And think for me, okay, this is something I want to get into. And then they have the clear goal of saving for a PC or finding a place they can access a PC in order to practice and stuff like that.

Imad Khan  14:42

Well, you know, Trent Murray of the Esports Observer wrote that, given the attention that each worlds gets every year with more and more viewership going up when an NA team just gets eliminated so early. Those are that’s millions of potential views just kind of down the drain for you know, a Team Liquid or a TSM. And this is a huge problem financially or business wise for, you know, their sponsors to just see all this potential revenue that they’ve invested. It seems kind of just flutter away. I mean it clearly something needs to change. And I think you’re right. Right, right on that and I think jack and maybe the rest of the North American teams need to kind of figure out how they can continue to compete against a very, very competitive Asian and European market. But let’s jump on over to the actual semi finals. Right, so going to semi finals, we see Suning Top Esports, G2 and Damwon all competing. The I think a lot of North American fans or European fans will definitely be rooting for G2. And the G2 roster has an excellent team this year, as you said earlier that you know, they were in the finals last year. And they’re being headed by mid laner, Rasmus “Caps” Winther. So against dem one, how well do you think G2 can perform?

Meg Kay  15:57

I am of the unpopular opinion that I do not actually think ShowMaker is as good as people say he is and that’s gonna sound insane. But essentially, ShowMaker is an excellent player show omega is very, very strong, but he is not the greatest laner in the world. If you watch in the final series, where was DRX versus down one, there was this very, very interesting dichotomy of what the two mid laners were trying to do, where Chovy was trying to win the lane, and ShowMaker was trying to leave it. If he has the option to simply not lane into his opponent and go to another lane or go to his jungler and have these early 2v2 3v3 skirmishes, he will always take that option rather than choosing to fight in lane. And if Caps is able to shut down that roaming potential, obviously G2 can cut off some of his options in pick bans taking away the things like the Galio, the TF, that he’s had so much comfort on maybe the Syndra they can kind of shut down his core way of playing that way. And I think in just a pure learning 1v1, I think caps can get the better of ShowMaker. On the rest of the map. I think Wunder versus Nugiri is an absolutely fascinating matchup, I genuinely have no idea who I think comes out on top in that matchup, because they are both such incredibly strong players, I think. Just kind of going off gut feeling. I think that’s a case of Wunder wins lane Nugiri wins game, but then everything can change on the day. I think bot lane, both teams have the bot lane is the weakest part of the map for them. So I think that will just kind of be a case of which botlane can survive the best and avoid possible jungle attention because I think once a jungler comes bot lane that will heavily sway that matchup in the favor of one team. And then I think Canyon is in arguably a better player than Jankos right now in this current matter. But I also think that Jankos can do some clever stuff around his lanes to kind of break that much open. So in a roundabout way of answering your question, I think that Damwon may still take it but I definitely think that gt will be able to give them a run for their money and I think it will be a five game series.

Imad Khan  18:19

And then on the other side, sending in Top Esports What are your predictions?

Meg Kay  18:22

Ah, this is so hard because I love Suning. But Top have looked just so strong. I think, ironically, that the main difference maker for them is the exact opposite of the Damwon G2 series. It’s going to be the botlane, one thing is a very, very young AD carry, but he is incredibly talented. And both huanfeng and JackeyLove have very weak laning phases. It’s kind of the trademark of the LPL that the ad carries are perhaps not the best laners in the world, but their team fighting is absolutely unparalleled. Like there is nobody in the world who can teamfight like a Chinese ADC. And I think I’m kind of loath to say this, but I do think Top will take it but I do also think that Suning can put on a much better showing than we’ve seen in that matchup against Top in the past.

Imad Khan  19:15

And then let’s step back, let’s go and talk about the bubbles. So Riot has created kind of this semi permeable bubble for Worlds in Shanghai. You know it because of how well China has handled the pandemic, people are able to come and view matchups. I mean, how is the battle working out for for Worlds right now? Have there been any real instances where there were emergencies?

Meg Kay  19:39

Um, no, I think Riot’sactually done a really, really good job of, obviously the quarantine is going to suck like, it’s gonna take a real toll on the mental of certain players. And I think we kind of saw that with the Mad Lions. I think that was one of their key issues was that they weren’t mentally equipped for how much of a strain that lockdown was going to put on them. But I think the bubble systems worked fantastically. And one thing that I’ve been particularly impressed by is how they’ve managed to keep the press engagement with things like the press conferences, the postgame interviews, all remote, like everything’s been online. And I think they’ve really, really taken the safety of their players and employees into account. And I think it’s I personally think it’s worked incredibly well.

Imad Khan  20:21

I mean with 2021, it’s likely that you know, the virus will still be around and that the worlds will still be in some kind of bubble form. Do you feel that Riot will allow press in into the actual bubble next year?

Meg Kay  20:33

I don’t know if that’s a question that could be answered now. I think it’s all going to be dependent on what the virus looks like next year, and more importantly, which countries press are coming from. I’m living currently in one of the worst COVID areas in the UK. And like, I personally would not want to go to a tournament like Worlds knowing that I am coming from such a high risk area, I would not want to put others at risk. So I think it’s going to have to be something that’s looked at on a case by case press by press basis to see which press they believe are safe. And also it will be a case of are these people working in the press willing to give up two weeks of their lives purely to quarantine just so that they can be that cover Worlds when it is something that could be done remotely.

Imad Khan  21:18

Well with that, Meg, thank you so much for jumping on.

Meg Kay  21:20

It was really lovely to talk to you. Thank you for having me.

Imad Khan  21:23

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you enjoyed the show, please rate subscribe and share. Your support will help our show grow. If you’d like to follow Stryker on Twitter and keep up to date on all things cs go find him @StrikerHLTVorg on Twitter. If you’d like to follow Meg and the work she does at Dot Esports and Ginx, you can find her at Megito_GG. To follow my writing over at the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere find me on Twitter @Imad. Audio production and Research Help came from Ron Lyons. With that, we’ll catch you guys next week.

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