Monster Energy sits down with Major League Gamings own Adam to discuss the MLG Counterstrike Major.
Q: Major League Gaming has been established for a long time, done a lot of games. When did you start talking about CounterStrike: Global Offensive becoming part of the circuit?
A: So, we started with a very console heavy focus, that was our shtick back in the day. We eventually added StarCraft 2 to the circuit, then World of Warcraft, and we then started to pursue a “Well, let’s just run the best esports games” plan. We just wanted to sanction competition and operate the best games out there. You couldn’t deny the growth pattern that CS:GO was having. Beyond the numbers, there were a lot of great aspects that we enjoyed about the game. There a ton of touchpoints for participation. There’s a lot of competition. There’s sport — there are fans who will travel to go and see it played. There’s the digital collecting around it, so there’s an economy. There’s a gambling scene. There are just a ton of parallels to traditional sports that really interested us in CS. So when we had the chance to run it at Winter X Games Aspen and then start our CEVO partnership, we just wanted to jump on the chance and jump into the game.
Q: Majors have always been the pinnacle of competition. With MLG always seeking to push the highest level of play, when did you start talking about running a Major?
A: So, we ran Games and we ran a few CEVO events, but we didn’t really have the audacity to think that we were deserving to run CS just yet. So, we wanted to learn how to run the game first. We wanted to learn how to run it in our studio, find places where we could innovate, places that we could operationally execute more efficiently than some of the other events out there. We took a lot of stuff from our peers in the space, with so many great companies running great events out there. Once we reached that point, we reached out to Valve and said “Hey, when there’s a opportunity, we’d love to run the first Major in North America.” Thankfully, there’s always been a great relationship between the Valve team and MLG, so they wanted to hear what we had to say. We pitched them Columbus, they loved it, and that’s really all there is to say.
Q: MLG is the defining North American organization. With CounterStrike historical having a European bias, how important was it for you to run the first NA major, for the fans and players from the region?
A: It was very important for us to run the first Major in North America because we are the number one operator in the region. It made sense that if there was going to be a “first” for any major esport, that we would love to be the runs to run it and bring it here. CounterStrike has a very large European split in terms of player base, viewership, etc. And so that overall pie is growing bigger and bigger every year, so as that pie grows, we want to do what we can to make the American slice bigger as well. So when we have a million people watching online, that’s going to help this grow. We’ve always prided ourselves as being the leaders here in North America, so it just made sense for us to operate CS here.
Q: MLG have always been on the leading edge of esports production. What aspects of the production this weekend are you excited for?
A: We’ve always stressed a few things. Anything can go out and pay a million dollars for a set, or buy 30 cameras, or just throw money to buy things that will make a good show. I mean, you can throw 300 moving lights in the air and it’ll look good, sure. But for us, it’s always been tournament first. The sanctity of the tournament and the rules that it sits on has to be good. It has to be good for the player and the fans can’t question any results. They need to know that this amazing show is proper. The second thing is operational efficiency. So, as an example, with StarCraft, we had two sets of soundproof booths. We were the first ones in the West to have soundproof booths, and then we added another two. That way, when the players in the first set were playing, we could already have the next set of players getting ready in their booths. No downtime. We did something similar in the studio this week, where we had Best-of-Ones, which are usually nightmares for organizers. You end up having to set up new gear for ten new players every single hour. It doesn`t matter how fast you are, you’re just going to run into issues that way. So we wanted to cut down on that downtime. So, the operational efficiencies that we’ve created and implemented to reduce downtime and fill that downtime when we do have it is the best things that we’ve done to address any weaknesses in CS.
Q: Obviously when you run an event with this many matches and on this large a scale, there are challenges that crop up. What challenges have thrown you for a loop or been something that’s been difficult to address?
A: I think the one thing that we were very wary of was simply that a stadium experience is so much different than watching at home. You’re in a stadium, with terrible seats — probably not comfortable to sit in for any more than 6, maybe 8 hours — food is expensive, it’s just an experience that’s meant to be consumed in short bursts. Traditional sports is usually consumed over a period of 3 to 6 hours. But then, you can have an esports day of 10 plus hours. So our first thing was how do we maintain our operational efficiency, in a stadium, on stage, while still having it be action packed and enjoyable for the audience. One of the first things we did was — after talking closely with player, fans, Valve — move one of the quarterfinals from Friday to Saturday. We engaged with the community and that was a major push in the decision to move that quarterfinal back a day. We didn’t feel that it was right to potentially have a 15 hour day of competition, not counting possible overtime, technical problems or disaster scenarios. So we moved the quarterfinal and resolved the issue. It’s mostly just been rolling with the punches and making sure that we can scale up the operational efficiency we have.
Q: You’ve always been very visible on social media. You’re always very forthcoming and very open on Twitter and Reddit, constantly engaging with the fans. How important do you think this has been to the success of the event?
A: I think it’s super helpful. It might just be the number one, most important thing you can do in esports. You can assume you know what the community wants, but unless you actually engage them, read what they say, and engage with them, you actually don’t know. If you just go to the event, execute what you think they want, and it’s off, the community will criticize you. So, from the beginning of the planning process, this was just supposed to be a two day stadium event. We had planned for semis on Saturday, Finals on Sunday. The community said “No”. So we added Friday for the Quarterfinals. And then, like I said, we shifted a quarterfinal to Saturday since the community expressed concern that it would be too long of a day. It’s been a collaborative experience with the community. I think it’s important that you produce a product that you can knock out of the park, but it’s also definitely something that they want. You do have to compromise. You can’t do everything the community wants, because sometimes it’s just unreasonable, but you also can’t just force what you want down their throats. You find that middle ground by engaging them.
Q: What are the plans for going forward with CounterStrike? You’ve seen some great feedback from the community, viewer numbers have been high, and the attendance has been incredible. Do MLG plan to keep going forward with Counterstrike?
A: We would love to run a few of these stadium shows every year for CS if we could. We would love to have a Columbus Major around this time every year. ESL have a great event in Cologne, DreamHack have a great event in Winter, and then you have other amazing producers out there like PGL or FaceIt. I think that if we want to continue with a recurring North American Major, we would love to be the ones to do it. Columbus seems to be working great for the community, so we would love to continue.
Interview courtesy of Monster Energy