Article by Graham Candy
The following is a community-submitted editorial and does not necessarily represent the opinions of GotFrag or its advertisers
The Hierarchy of Counter-Strike
Most Counter-Strike players who are involved in league play today probably don’t remember the so-called ‘good-old days’ of the Domain of Games league. This was in the early years of the development of competitive CS, and the average player could scrim with the best of them and get to know the players at the top. Contracts were unheard of and sponsors nonexistent, with the possible exception of servers and web space. CS was in its youth and many players today look longingly back, wishing they had hopped on board back in these formative days. So what has happened since then? When did CS and its participants become locked in this rigid hierarchy of power? This small report will examine the evolution of the hierarchy of CS, look at its consequences and suggest possible paths for the future of competitive CS within this framework.
How does a hierarchy evolve?
The hierarchy that evolved in CS is similar to ones made from the evolution of many other sports. As CS became increasingly popular, the population of the community exploded – especially in those players who were coming into contact with the competitive aspect of the game. This was the first necessary step to a hierarchy of power. With a growing population, the league aspect of CS found it necessary to expand its divisions as an ever-growing number of teams wished to compete. The Domain of Games league proceeded to become the Cyberathlete Amateur League. The league became flooded with teams and over the seasons it became necessary to expand and include the Open, Intermediate, Main, Premier and Invite divisions. Along with this, new leagues opened their doors, some more successful than others. Similar to all major sports, one league eventually came to eclipse the rest, at least up to the current time.
The expansion of league play led to a growing distance between teams of various levels of skill. This began the segregation of teams that was encouraged by a growing separation of teams from the bureaucracy of CAL. No longer were teams working so closely with the league in its development, but rather many new teams saw it was simple to sign up and expect that things would proceed smoothly from there during the course of a season.
As league play continued to grow, more companies began taking an interest in the game. Sponsorship for the best teams expanded beyond servers and web hosting into product sponsorships, limited at first but growing along with the market. LAN centers began to sponsor teams. With more money and players flowing into the game, competition became stiffer and stiffer to reach the top. The basic structure for what we see today had formed and the results are still evolving today, but there are some common consequences which many people reading this will understand all too well.
With the hierarchy in place, how does it function?
Many people would argue that this division of power has now reached an offensive point. The thousands of players in CAL Open often find it impossible to even talk to the players at the top of the league, let alone scrim them. It has expanded far beyond this point, however, and those in CAL Open, Intermediate or Main may even find themselves unable to play against teams with a better record than their own. To be sure, this often has to do with teams wishing to play only teams in their skill bracket, but it also has much to do with keeping oneself associated only with those at or above your current level.
Much to the displeasure of many people who are out to enjoy the game, whether competitively or not, this hierarchy results in a lot of unpleasantness. Conversations on IRC or in-game will often quickly turn to insults about what level of league play an individual is in among many other offensive comments. As a result there is rampant lying by individuals and by teams about what league they are in or what previous experience they may have. By doing this it can temporarily let teams or players compete at a slightly higher level than normal. Of course, a system has been set up by the league to limit this as much as possible by creating keyed channels for teams of a certain level to advertise for scrims.
The problems in this hierarchy result from the fact that, by virtue of being a video game, CS is what anthropologists call a ‘liminal space’. A liminal space is one where an individual can go into, take part in, a completely different role than the one they perform in real life, and then return to their normal life afterwards. What this means is that we get lots of people, such as the stereotypical “nerdy” and skinny player becoming a massive ‘E-thug’, or the normally quiet student making prank calls on Ventrilo.
Unfortunately, many of the players at the top of the league are stuck inside this discourse of the hierarchy. The people at the bottom emulate the actions of the players at the top, and those at the top are happy to act out their role as a powerful agent, where they may not be close to one in real life. A similar thing has happened in professional sports such as hockey and had to be addressed, such as players in the minor leagues emulating the enforcers of the NHL and causing serious injuries to other players.
In the end, many people fed up with the game turn to cheating. There are certainly many reasons for players cheating, which I hope to address in another report later, but one is inherently connected to this power ladder. Cheating offers some disgruntled or immature players a vehicle to experience brief interaction with the top players or even make it to the top of league play and garner respect and power. This was demonstrated dramatically in season thirteen of CAL play this year.