The news spread rapidly yesterday regarding the announcement made by those behind the Arbalet Cup to discontinue operations indefinately, perhaps permanently. In doing so, they laid out their initial motive for getting deeply involved with the Counter-strike scene; they hosted privately-backed CS tournaments, and helped propel the Ukranian team Natus Vincere to the top of the international scene, simply to follow through on an goat of cultivating talent within their home region.
To me, the interesting thing about this story is the very unassuming approach that the Arbalet folks took towards the scene. This whole endeavor seemed, from start to finish, to be mostly just a lark for Arbalet and his partners. They had a well defined goal and reached it pretty quickly in Na’Vi, and now that it’s finished they don’t seem to have much justification to keep up what they were doing. It’s difficult to say definitively if Arbalet made any money from this, but considering that there’s no trace of any corporate sponsorship or advertising anywhere, it’s not hard to assume that it was a net loss.
But really, turning a profit never seemed to be the point; that’s what made the Arbalet Cups such a difficult nut for the scene as a whole to crack, and why this news is being misinterpreted as yet another ‘Chicken Little’ moment for CS. Arbalet was fundamentally different from any other tournament series, in that they didn’t present themselves as gaming’s next big thing, or as CS’s savior, or as some enigmatic entity that ‘really has this esports thing all figured out this time’ (just as long as everyone piles on board the snake oil bandwagon). They had one goal: to find a great CS team from Eastern Europe. Any other expectations or hopes that were hung on Arbalet were done by players, teams, and the greater community, not Arbalet.
So, while the rest of the gaming press simply regurgitates the news that there won’t be any more Arbalet cups in the forseeable future, and the forum-goers spout “lol cs is dead” incessantly, I hope that I’m not the only one that realizes that Arbalet turned out to be exactly who they said they were. But the larger lesson is this: Arbalet, in the end, is no different from most gaming leagues that pop up, the only difference is that Arbalet was actually upfront with their premise and their goal. Professional gaming relies on these sorts of people to keep running, people with deep pockets and no gag reflex at pouring in lots of money with no promise of return.
We can keep feigning suprise and dismay when the plug is pulled, or we can find ways to actually generate revenue. Gaming will always sit in fear of being left in the dark unless we do just that.