Roster locks have always been a problem in esports, but time and time again they seem to get in the way more often than not.
Earlier this week, NRG Esports Counterstrike: Global Offensive team benched Damian “daps” Steele. In his place, the organization signed Canadian IGL Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz as his replacement. All seemed right with the move, and NRG competed in the Americas Minor Closed Qualifier for the StarLadder Berlin Major. NRG took home a guaranteed Minor slot after taking down Team Singularity, and stanislaw completed his second match with the team a mere two days after his signing.
Lions, Tigers, and Roster Locks
Unfortunately for daps, stanislaw and NRG, the team isn’t settled just yet. NRG will compete in the ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals, but they won’t be playing with the newly signed stanislaw; they’ll be playing with daps. EPL’s rules include a roster lock for the tournament, so stanislaw, who was signed well after the lock, is ineligible to play in the S9 Finals.
— Chet Singh (@ImAPet1) June 12, 2019
Fans and analysts took to Twitter to debate the merits and pitfalls of one of the most maligned institutions in all of esports: the roster lock.
The roster lock isn’t limited to just Counterstrike: Global Offensive, but it does seem to disproportionately affect Valve’s premiere FPS. There are two reasons for this: Valve’s unwillingness to take ownership of Counterstrike’s tournament circuit and the vast number of different leagues available to teams. Let’s start with Valve.
Valve's Hand's Off Mentality Hurts Counterstrike
In the free-for-all Counterstrike tournament circuit, many tournament organizers impose roster locks on attending teams. There are several good, understandable reasons for this. Firstly, TO’s don’t want teams qualifying for their tournament with one set of players and then, since at most tournaments the spot belongs to the players, selling or trading those players (and the spot) to another organization. Secondly, roster locks allow fans to measure their expectations because if fans aren’t sure if a certain player is going to be on a certain team, they’re less likely to tune into the said tournament.
Roster locks, while aiding tournament organizers in providing fans the best product possible, can also create the problems the scene is seeing today. NRG is only the latest example.
SK Gaming infamously ran into a roster lock snafu at the 2018 ELEAGUE Major in regard to Ricardo "boltz" Prass. Team Liquid had a similar problem at MLG Columbus when the roster lock forced the team to use Eric “adreN” Hoag instead of the newly signed Kenneth “koosta” Suen. In both these cases, both boltz and koosta had played in the qualifiers for another team and were therefore disqualified to play for any other team in the Major.
This is why fans often see the word “Rostermainia” after Counterstrike’s Major tournaments, of which there are two a year. Some teams make changes post-Major simply because they didn’t perform as well as expected. Other teams, however, make those changes post-Major because tournament roster locks prevent them from fielding their preferred squad in the actual tournament.
FACEIT and ESL Aren't Helping, Either
It’s not just the Majors, either. Both of Counterstrike’s two major tournament circuits, the FACEIT-run Esports Championship Series (ECS) and ESL Pro League, both utilize roster locks. Some other standalone tournament organizers do as well.
Over the years, we’ve seen articles and leaks from teams prior to a Major or large tournament that hint at the fact that a player will be leaving the team after the tournament. These leaks kill the team hype, pure and simple. What’s the point of tuning in to watch your favorite team if you know there’s no way they’re going to stay together after the tournament? Will NRG fans be excited to see daps play in the EPL Season 9 Finals when they know they might be better off with stanislaw at the IGL position? No.
It seems like the problems that the roster lock solves could be easily solved with separate rules. "No Selling Spots" is an easy thing to add into the rulebook. Additionally, the lack of a roster lock could even allow teams to be better than they currently are. What’s the point of watching tournament organizers force teams to field under-powered rosters while more dynamic players sit the bench? While the idea behind the roster lock makes sense, the problems it has caused over the years detracts from the sport that we all know and love.
Valve Should Take A Leaf From Riot's Book
League of Legends had an incident in 2018. The signing deadline, Riot's version of the Roster Lock, caused it. LCS team Echo Fox released three players mere hours before the signing deadline: mid-laner Kim “Fenix” Jaehun, bot-laner Johnny “Altec” Ru, and support player Adrian Ma. Since Echo Fox released these players so close to the deadline, none of them had time to pursue contracts with other teams. In response, Riot Games stepped up.
We are excited to announce a new LCS rule we hope will prevent a repeat of the problematic situation during summer split where Fenix, @AltecLoL, & @AdrianMaLoL were released on the eve of rosters being locked without enough time to find new teams. The new rule provides a 1/2
— NALCS Players Association (@NALCSPA) January 15, 2019
In January 2019, Riot instituted a new rule that allowed players released within 48 hours of the signing deadline an additional 72 hours to search for a team. While that’s not a carbon copy of the issue that Counterstrike currently has, it is a developer stepping in to fix a problem.
Valve, it seems, has no intention of doing that. And that fact hurts Counterstrike way more than it helps.
In-article Image VIA: Jesse Arroyo for FACEIT