We now know the end to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's FunPlus Phoenix, Heroic and Flashpoint saga.
On Thursday, Bad News Bears, a sub-30 HLTV-ranked North American team, will compete under the FunPlus Phoenix banner in Flashpoint just two weeks after the 18th team in the world, Heroic, did the same.
What we don't know is what the future of this Heroic roster will be. They don't have a slot in ESL Pro League after Heroic, the organization, forfeited it amid negotiations to sell their lineup to FunPlus Phoenix. And with the planned departure of Patrick "es3tag" Hansen in July for Astralis, the sale to FunPlus Phoenix ultimately fell through, meaning the roster's chances to compete in Flashpoint did too.
With a CS:GO event calendar that's shrinking because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 18th-best team in the world might not compete in events for months. Meanwhile, a low-tier North American team will get that opportunity on Thursday in Flashpoint.
To put it frankly, Bad News Bears should be nowhere near this league. Casper "cadiaN" Møller and his team should be. And Es3tag should not take any blame here, nor should Astralis. He's doing what's best for his career, joining one of the best teams in the world. It's not cadiaN's or any of the other players' faults, either.
It is, however, the fault of FunPlus Phoenix, Heroic and Flashpoint -- they all deserve blame because of negligence in handling the roster transfer.
In an interview on The Eco, a weekly ESPN Counter-Strike: Global Offensive show, Cloud9 president and Flashpoint director Dan Fiden -- a former executive of FunPlus who led the recruitment of FunPlus Phoenix into Flashpoint -- said the league could've vetted the situation better.
Fiden said that as far as he understood, a deal between Heroic and FunPlus was more or less finished when the Danish roster of Heroic debuted, sporting FunPlus Phoenix gear, on March 15. Fiden, however, admitted that Flashpoint did not dig deeper into the transfer. The team-owned league didn't question whether the Heroic players had signed new contracts with FunPlus and took the franchise's word for it.
Flashpoint was negligent. That's how we got here in the first place. The league should have confirmed those contracts were signed, and if they weren't, made FunPlus Phoenix forfeit their first matches or moved the matches in the calendar to accommodate.
This wouldn't have happened in franchised, publisher-run ecosystems, such as League of Legends or the Overwatch League; all Flashpoint partners participate in one of those leagues and have to adhere to contract rules and league approval of contracts before a player gets to see any competition time with the team. And although Flashpoint's stakeholders might grimace at the thought, this contract debacle probably wouldn't have happened in the ESL Pro League, either.
This happened because the eight teams of Flashpoint have taken on too much to handle alone and in areas outside of their expertise, and the organizer, FACEIT, isn't as in charge as it was in the Esports Championship Series before this.
That has been the problem with Flashpoint from the beginning: communication.
Before the league was even announced, executives from member teams made media appearances to discuss Counter-Strike economics and throw jabs at ESL, all the while lacking any material to distribute about Flashpoint itself. For several weeks, people thought the league would be called "B Site," which is the team-owned entity that runs Flashpoint, and several of its commentators went on Twitter and conducted interviews to grandstand about the product, even though it wasn't ready to launch.
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The night before Flashpoint moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles, commentator and creative lead Duncan "Thorin" Shields went on Twitter and bragged about being the only offline league in esports -- while Flashpoint executives were in the midst of deciding whether their league should move online. Less than 24 hours after Thorin's initial posts, the league announced it was moving to an online-only format, and the tweets were deleted.
"The team owners of the league had been discussing this for some time, taking the precautionary steps, not just making sure that everyone has a facility but also making sure the connectivity is there," Gen.G vice chairman and Flashpoint director Kent Wakeford said in an interview shortly after the league announcement. "I don't know the backstory of that tweet, but from a founder team perspective, we've been discussing this and took actions relatively quickly."
Another, more recent example: Before Bad News Bears agreed to fill in, Flashpoint announced FunPlus would field the roster of Swole Patrol. According to Fiden, FunPlus and Swole Patrol couldn't see eye to eye on branding and compensation, and Swole Patrol was nixed in favor of Bad News Bears. That didn't stop a press release from going out about Swole Patrol filling in, though, even before their participation was locked down.
Internally, Flashpoint has been fly-by-the-wind in league officials communicating among themselves and their teams, and the product has been disorganized as a result. The league already gets enough flack for the teams being subpar (only six of HLTV's top 30 organizations compete in the league). It doesn't need the additional scrutiny for multiple public-facing mishaps like these.
Sure, there are economic reasons to run the league the way Flashpoint is. League organizer FACEIT won't get a significant profit cut in the way ESL and WESA will from the ESL Pro League. Flashpoint's teams will be entitled to more profits in the long term, and if Flashpoint succeeds, then that agreement will certainly pay off for those organizations. But rushing FunPlus' participation in the league is bad optics for the Flashpoint during its ever-crucial launch window.
Frankly, FunPlus Phoenix should be disqualified from this season of Flashpoint and not be given another chance to field a roster. Concessions will be made because Flashpoint needs to continue to run normally. But hard decisions like these are ones that third parties have to take.
When the decision-making tree is muddled by team ownership, it's hard to make tough calls. But there's a time and place for organizers to put their foot down, and if Flashpoint wants to do the right thing, that time should be now.