Mike Stubbs, December 27, 2016

Looking Ahead to CS:GO Esports in 2017

2016 has been one of the most important years in Counter-Strike’s life, especially in the world of esports. The Majors offered more money than ever, a changing of the guard saw teams from the Americas challenge EU giants on a regular basis, and serious investment arrived from the likes of Turner and Twitch. There have been bumps along the way, but 2016 was when CS:GO’s esports scene really started to challenge League of Legends and Dota 2, and established itself as arguably one of the top two esports in the world.

But what is even more exciting is looking ahead to what we can expect in 2017. Pretty much as soon as the new year starts we are straight into the action with the ELEAGUE Major, and after that things show no sign of slowing down. In-game changes, more competition and teams, more investment and more mainstream attention should all come the way of CS:GO over the next 12 months, so let’s take a proper look at what we can expect in 2017.

The ELEAGUE Major

What better place to start than the ELEAGUE Major, which takes place in just a month’s time. 16 of the world’s best teams will head to Atlanta to battle it out for a share of $1 million and of course the coveted title of world champions. Combine that with the stellar ELEAGUE production, which has undoubtedly resulted in the best broadcasts in the world of CS:GO in 2016, and we know we are in for something special.

The ELEAGUE studio

What makes it even more exciting is that we genuinely have no idea what will happen when the teams load into the game. Since the last Major it seems like a different team has won every large tournament - in fact, so many teams won top events after Cologne that not all of them even made it to the ELEAGUE Major.

We have also seen that anyone can beat anyone and that teams who just a few months ago were struggling have finally found form at the right time. Former champions SK Gaming certainly don’t go in as favorites after a roster change, Na'Vi and Liquid have failed to find consistent form since s1mple switched teams, and Fnatic have crumbled since the massive roster changes. We can’t predict who will come out on top at the Major, but it’s probably a safe bet to say it should be one of the best competitions of all time.

The rise of Asia

At the start of 2016, some predicted that this would be the year that Asia finally became a major player - if not a Major player - in CS:GO, and while the region found some success with teams and tournaments, that prediction probably came a year too early.

Over the second half of the 2016, Asian teams have started to prove they can compete with some of the tier two teams from the west, and importantly they have started to play more. With more matches against western, teams they will improve, as we saw with the Brazilian scene, and sooner or later they will pose a real threat. It may only be this time next year that we truly consider some Asian teams as potential Major qualifiers, but it would be surprising if they don’t pull off a few upsets in 2017.

But it is not just the Asian teams we will see more of in 2017, because the chances are there will be a lot western teams heading east to compete. As we saw with Fnatic Academy at the 2016 China Top, you can bring back a lot of money if you make it to an Asian LAN, and, with western events being more competitive than ever, it presents a good opportunity for lower-tier teams to bring in some cash and also get in some much-needed LAN experience.

The return of Inferno

When the big Inferno and Nuke switch was made earlier this year it divided opinion among the pros, but one theme that was constant, no matter who you spoke to, was that Inferno is one of the most iconic maps in CS:GO history.

Inferno

Countless finals had come down to the map, even casual fans could recognise every corner, and most matches were incredibly close because everyone knew how to play it. That did lead to it becoming a little stale towards the end, so changes probably were warranted, but CS:GO hasn’t felt quite the same without Inferno being played by the best in the world.

2017 should see the return of the iconic map, albeit with more than a few changes. It isn’t unrecognisable, but it is different and that is incredibly exciting. When a new map is introduced it always changes things, but Inferno coming back will be a special case as everyone will want to be the best on it, as it has often turned out to be crucial in major events. We wait for Inferno’s return with bated breath, knowing that once it comes back CS:GO will feel complete once again.

The most competitive year yet

If you have kept up to date with the CS:GO scene at all over the past few months, you will have noticed two things. The first is that the big names, such as Fnatic, SK, NiP and Na'Vi have all had difficult times, barely winning anything. The second is that the teams that do win big competitions seem to change on a weekly basis. This has led to unpredictable and exciting tournaments, and that looks set to continue in 2017.

OpTic, Astralis, Cloud9, Immortals, the former Dignitas roster, Virtus.pro and EnVyUs have all won large events recently and all seem capable of beating each other, and you can throw in the likes of G2 and mousesports as well. When you look at the sleeping giants, some of them are returning to form. SK have failed to get it done when it mattered, but looked good with their new recruit at ECS; NaVi haven’t really competed in all that many events since winning ESL One New York, but that should change in 2017; Fnatic finally seem to have found a roster that works together; and while NiP failed to make it to the Major, they have proven that on their day they can win any event.

This should mean that the start of 2017 will be when the big names start to show up again, and compete against the new upstarts who have deservedly taken their place at the top of the scene in the meantime. With so many top teams right now, making any predictions about who will be the best team in the world this time next year would be foolish to say the least, but we do know that for a team to get to that position there will be a lot of incredible CS:GO action, making 2017 one of the most exciting years for Counter-Strike fans ever.

Mike Stubbs

Mike is a UK esports writer who writes for MCV, Red Bull, VICE, PC Gamer and many others.