The Rise of CIS esports: arenas built in basements
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Modern esports is a fantastic phenomenon. What we have previously seen in the books of science fiction writers, which was an integral part of the "cyberpunk" genre, now occurs regularly on our screens. Once a pure entertainment for young people, it transformed into serious business with huge prizes, as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators during tournaments.
Western videogame culture has existed since time immemorial, but the CIS situation was developing very slowly and viscously, encountering tobstacles like different mentality and lack of money among the population. Even nowadays the post-soviet older nation thinks that games are infantilistic and calls the Internet "something that won't help you in future to provide for the family".
While the young get_rights and zonics tried gaming, our boys and girls threw slate into the fire and watched Robocop's CGI like it was some fantasy stuff.
Today, we will recall how esports emerged in the CIS, who cemented the basement, and what difficulties have esport athletes experienced. As long as the Forge of Masters League is now on, the discussion will focus mainly on Counter-Strike discipline.
Setting the roadblocks
Since people from more or less wealthy CIS countries started purchasing computers, a new generation of video games began to seize the minds of young people. When these lads acquired a full-fledged multiplayer, the former excitement to become the one and only winner broke into their veins. Previously, it was fueled by victories over friends in some Mortal Kombat, but with the advent of shooters and full-fledged strategies, it all reached a whole new level. Still, other problems came also.
The first thing that young players had to face was a definite misunderstanding from relatives, teachers and university professors, who started creating obstacles.
The older generation saw computer "toys" (this word suits better to describe what people meant instead of "games") like an unnecessary thing, which, in their opinion, took away the opportunity to develop from children, the opportunity to grow rich, have wives, heirs and spending weekends barbequing and drunk-dancing. Computers for many were, as they say, "from the evil one."
Now you can turn on a video from the major tournament and say: "Mom, look, esports is popular, civilised, and represented by grown-ups in suits, and players are famous in the world." Omitting the fact that few become famous and successful, the message is clear.
In the early 2000s, the competitions were held thanks to pure players' enthusiasm and computer clubs administrators. Alexey "yXo" Maletsky’s catchphrase about "the games in the basements" almost entirely reflects the situation from that time esports. The clubs were set where they could, the administrators were not always sober, the players were not just addicted to their favourite game but were genuinely like-minded people, and for being rude to the enemy, one could take damage in real life.
Why do we all say this? This is what the path of most esportsmen from the CIS was like, and it cannot be compared with the trodden path of many Europeans.
CPL, WCG and the rugrats
1997 can be considered the year of esports foundation in the state we can see it now — the professional league in computer sports, called CPL (Cyberathlete Professional League), was founded by Angel Muñez. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas.
In the first CPL tournament called The FRAG, organised in the very 1997, there was only one discipline — Quake. Initially, there were no representatives of the CIS among the players, but with the development of the industry, the mates gradually declared themselves. Cooller, Polosatiy, Pow3r, b100.Death, LeXeR, PELE and many others began to appear on the scene. Now, these are already real legends of esports, which, at one time, proved that CIS people have their talents.
In 2001, CPL discipline list had an expansion — the very young Counter-Strike stood in, which unexpectedly replaced the ultra-popular Quake 3 for the tournament. The players from the CIS had another reason to break into the international esports scene. We will talk about the best fighting squads of those times below.
After the success of CPL, investors became interested in esports. So in 2000, the WCG was born. It was a kind of esports world championship, which was held annually with Samsung's support. For many players, World Cyber Games were something like the Olympics among other tournaments. The tournament even had the concept of medal standings for each country.
In 2001, the Russians who went to WCG managed to get two silver medals in the Quake III Arena discipline. In 1x1 duels LeXeR finished second, and 2x2 — b100.kik and PELE [PK].
Once CIS fighters succeeded on the international arena, both single players and entire teams began to emerge — they were eager to win.
But it was 2002 when happened something big, something that is still proudly remembered by the old-timers and basement veterans of the competitive Counter-Strike.
The revolutionary "Namedni" NTV program
At a time when the vast majority of people in the CIS did not even suspect esports' existence, one extraordinary event occurred — and changed the lives of all of us.
The Russian television channel NTV had the famous "Namedni" program — some kind of a summary of the most important news. And so, they suddenly reported about the Russian M19 team, who've won first place in the Counter-Strike discipline at WCG 2002. Journalists spoke about esports from an entirely new point of view: computer games are a lot of training, teamwork and substantial prizes. However, reporters did not miss the opportunity to hit the players with study issues they had, which alerted many parents. Try the video, if you want, but it's entirely Russian:
Nook, KALbI4, MadFan, Rado, Rider were the nicknames to instantly become famous among all who were at least aware of esports. Ordinary players began naming themselves with these nicks in computer clubs, and this hype was just unstoppable. Young people were inspired, began to believe that everyone can succeed in becoming an esportsman at the official level.
At that time people received primary information from television, so the world for many teenagers in the CIS turned upside down. They could go to the other side of the globe thanks to playing computer games (the tournament was held in South Korea, in the city of Daejeon). All this was supported by the fact that the lads have won some weighty sums, much more higher than an ordinary average CIS's citizen income at that time.
At the same championship, Russians have won gold in Quake III. uNkind was the best in Arena Duel, and in the 2x2 competition, Cooller and Death were the winners.
After the TV-story, esports in CIS countries received a second wind. New names began to appear, and more importantly — new tournaments.
ASUS Open and others
Perhaps, one of the main young esportsmen's boosters in the CIS is the ASUS Open tournament, which appeared in 2003. It was an annual computer games championship. Four times a year, the best esportsmen from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus gathered in the designated place to demonstrate their skills and earn some money.
Quake III, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Warcraft 3 were the main disciplines at ASUS Cup tournaments in 2003. Counter-Strike joined them in 2004, and it was then that the forge of CIS talents for this game was born.
Others who saw the prospects in esports also tried to keep up with the major tournament organisers. Well, if at the ASUS Cups the participants could receive an impressive cash prize, especially for those times, at some other competitions the winners could easily be handed a box of beer.
It should be mentioned that the players went to most LANs using their own money. The concept of sponsorship in those times was so vague that it was easier to lay out your hard-earned cash than to persuade someone to pay for you. And also there's the fact that some tournaments had a fee to be paid if you wanted to participate, which also hurt the pockets.
For example, FlashBack Counter-Strike Open 2003 was such a tournament. The Ukrainian team GSC.GameWorld has won it, including Alexei "yXo" Maletsky and Alexander "ZeroGravity" Kokhanovsky. The prize fund of the championship was $5000, which was fabulous money in those times.
Gradually, more and more people expanded the list of famous people besides the WCG 2002 winners, and they were widely heard by anyone who was at least somehow interested in competitive Counter-Strike.
The list of tournaments that gave a boost to our teams includes the ESWC (Electronic Sports World Cup). For most professionals, winning ESWC cost a lot more than winning WCG. The fact is that the latter was arranged mostly for the show, and at the tournament itself, only national teams had the right to play. ESWC also allowed teams to participate in any desired roster, which was often a mix of players from different countries.
Electronic Sports World Cup organisers introduced regional qualifications to determine the best team. This team received a ticket to the world LAN final. Nobody wanted to miss such a chance, so most of the clantags were preparing for this particular tournament.
The period from 2002 to 2005 can be called the moment CIS esports rise. It should be remembered that, unlike Western players, CIS lads faced a problem with financial support, passports and banal conscription.
At the same time, esport organisations began to appear on the horizon, giving rise to legendary clantags. Pay attention to the names of the players in rosters, and many are still popular.
Virtus.Pro is a Russian organisation that was founded in 2003.
pro100 is a Ukrainian team, whose glory peak was in 2005-2008. You will recognise these youngsters as the legendary Natus Vincere.
Russian Moscow Five has been severely stormy throughout its existence. The tag itself was born in 2001, but in 2005 the organisation faded. It was revived in 2011 by Dmitry Smely and immediately took third place at WCG 2011, which was a massive achievement for a CIS esports team.
The fact is that apart from Virtus.pro's bronze medal at ESWC 2004, first place at ACON 5 and the aforementioned victory of M19 at WCG 2002, the Russian teams at the world championships did not grab any medals.
A-Gaming is a Ukrainian team that appeared in 2005. For three years they successfully competed in major tournaments with other teams.
The list of famous teams can be prolonged much: KerchNET, k23, DTS Gaming, forZe, etc. All clantags actively participated in Counter-Strike's esports life. Many lads who played for these rosters remained in esports. Someone as players, someone as coaches, and someone became managers or commentators.
This moment just needs to be taken out separately. After another esports' stagnation at the post-soviet CIS, well-known philanthropist Murat "Arbalet" Zhumashevich decided to intervene in the situation. Now we can say that this person made an invaluable contribution to the CIS esports.
In 2009, Murat created a series of tournaments called the Arbalet Cup. They were not something brand new in the world of professional Counter-Strike; they did not offer players huge prizes and did not seek to surprise the audience with a colourful show. The task of the championship was quite different: to raise CIS players' professionalism so that they could fight back at the world level. Forge of Masters League pursues same goals: to provide players with the opportunity to participate in a tournament with a good prize pool regularly, train and jump to a higher level, where same clantags have been sitting around for a long time.
It was the "Arbalet" who gave birth to Natus Vincere. We can talk about their history until the world ends. Long story short, the golden team have beaten the most dominant teams of the planet and took a lot of gold medals to their treasury. At the moment, this organisation is perhaps the only one that represents the CIS esports in Tire-1 tournaments.
Recently, other rosters try to speed up with them, for example, Gambit, AVANGAR and other teams sometimes show themselves, but this is not enough. The dominance of European, and now American, Australian organisations on the professional scene can be seen with the naked eye. Gradually, the Chinese are sneaking up to the top-level, and with the example of Dota 2 pro-scene, we all know what that means.
Considering the massive population of the CIS countries, we want to believe that our teams can do much more, and a bright future is not far off.
This section could be attributed to the "Setting the roadblocks" part, but when everything comes up against the law, it becomes doubly sad.
A big surprise for the public was the recognition of esports as an official sport in Russia. It happened on July 25, 2001. Rozhkov Pavel Alekseevich, the head of the State Sports Committee of Russia, gave the order.
So most of the players and the people involved breathed out. They decided that now it would be easier to explain to your friends and relatives the occupation of your activities. Also, many hoped that the government would help with participation in tournaments and travel arrangements. As it turned out, they wouldn't.
Leadership turnover and growing bureaucracy did their job, and in early 2006, esports were excluded from the sports register because it did not meet the necessary criteria. Up until 2016, the question remained open until the discipline was again assigned by order of the Ministry of Sports.
In Ukraine, esports was officially recognised on March 31, 2017. In many ways, this was influenced by the fact that Kiev was chosen as the venue for one of the largest Dota 2 tournaments.
In Kazakhstan, esports became the official sport on June 25, 2018.
In 2017, the Belarusian Cybersport Federation was established in Belarus, who promise to promote the development of computer sports in the country as another type of competitive activity.
Perhaps, if all these steps had taken place much earlier, and computer games were not considered pampering for young children, the situation with esports in the CIS today would have been entirely different.
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