Team Falcons are a Saudi Arabian esports organisation, set on building the next Counter-Strike super team.
Many Counter-Strike fans may be not be familiar with Falcons due to their lack of competitive success in the series. On a wider scale, they’re the winners of Best Organisation, awarded by the Saudi E-Sports Federation in both 2021 and 2022. As well as having teams in Counter-Strike 2, they also participate in VALORANT, Rocket League, and PUBG Mobile. While they already had a Counter-Strike team after the BLAST.tv Paris Major 2023, they’re already looking to rebuild. CS2 has had mixed responses in professional play following its release, but Falcons are about to make the scene implode.
Investment in Sports
It would be wrong to discuss the investment Saudi Arabia are putting into esports without first talking about how they’ve already invested in traditional sports. The name you will hear most closely linked to sports from the region is the Public Investment Fund (PIF). They hold major investments in companies such as Uber, Capcom, Boeing, Meta (previously Facebook), Disney, and many more. So why sports? Part of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” is to become less economically dependent on oil revenue, therefore requiring revenue streams from elsewhere.
Newcastle United are an English football club playing in the Premier League. PIF’s purchase of the club was a major investment into sports that has since propelled the club from the pits of relegation to a Champions League side. They’ve also invested in F1 via Aston Martin, and are beginning their work in golf through the new LIV Golf International Series. Besides PIF, Aramco and NEOM also have sponsorships in multiple sports and esports.
Esports in the Middle East
Events being held in the Middle East are increasing year on year. This isn’t just in esports, as popular combat sports such as UFC and boxing are also being held there - the most recent example being Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou.
In Counter-Strike, the Global Esports Tour, BLAST, and Gamers8 have held big events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh over the last two years. December will bring esports back to the UAE with BB Dacha and the BLAST Premier World Final 2023. Events like these will help with Saudi Arabia’s goal to become the global hub for esports. We could see even more in the future, as ESL, arguably the leading tournament organiser for Counter-Strike, were purchased by the PIF in 2022. It would feel strange if the global hub for esports didn’t have a “home team” to support when competition comes to the region, even if the players are mostly European.
The Falcons CS:GO team originally started as an international mix, featuring the likes of Alexander "br0" Bro, Moustafa "BLACKEAGLE" Baghdadi, and Aleksandar "CacaNito" Kjulukoski. They were replaced in 2022 with a French roster, which has since included huge names like Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub. While the team were able to achieve some decent results in B-Tier competitions, their results in A-Tier and above have been poor. If you can’t beat the best, buy them.
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Signing the Greatest Coach of All Time
Danny "zonic" Sørensen has won more Majors than any other coach in Counter-Strike, both national and international. Falcons have begun their rebuild by signing “zonic” and giving him control to build the team. Signing him was a superb decision - now, not only can they beat the offers of the other teams, but they also have the appeal of playing under the most decorated coach in Counter-Strike. This is key in signing superstars who may not have found the success they were looking for in CS:GO. A fresh start in a new team and a new game.
What Problems could the Falcons Super Team Cause?
The other reason signing “zonic” is fantastic for Falcons is that it weakens their competition. This is going to be the case for a lot of teams they aim to sign players from, but this is where the problems start to unfold. While creating a super team provides great immediate appeal for viewership, the current superstars are quite comfortably contracted in teams that are performing very well. For Falcons to build a super team, they’ll have to pull multiple teams apart, leaving them with huge gaps to fill. There aren’t many, if any, players in the world G2 Esports could get to replace Nikola "NiKo" Kovač or that NAVI could get to replace Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyljev, for example. These are generational talents. Luckily for Falcons, their intentions have gone unnoticed with everything that’s happening with Heroic, Liquid, Cloud9, GameSquare, and many other teams making rosters changes in the early life of CS2.
Poaching players from other teams creates a snowball effect, where the teams that have been poached have to replace those players. While free agents and benched players are a possibility, I refer back to my earlier point of the lack of players who would be able to replace these superstars. Only superstars can replace superstars, resulting in more holes. Concentrating the best players in each role onto a single team can reduce competitiveness. This is one of the primary reasons that soccer regulators have implemented a system known as Financial Fair Play (FFP), in which a team can’t spend more than they earn. Applying something like this would be difficult for esports.
The appeal of “zonic” is greater than any other coach in the game, but money also plays a factor. Rumours will always circulate about how much a player earns and it could play a role in why someone would swap teams, especially if you’re being asked to take a pay cut. The issue with Falcons being able to put the best offer on the table is that it can create an unrealistic expectation for professional players of what they should/can be earning. Esports is financially volatile and unsustainable if handled incorrectly. Offering disproportionate salaries could make it very difficult for teams to appropriately negotiate fees and wages.
As previously mentioned, the immediate viewership will be great to see how well the team gels together. In the past, we’ve seen teams establish an era of dominance, and these teams usually set the meta of the game. Astralis are the key example, with viewers labelling their playstyle as boring and not interesting to watch. Tournaments are most exciting when several teams have similar chances to win, but a super team would remove that excitement and add a level of predictability to each event. This could have a direct impact on viewership.
The rumoured roster* for Falcons is as follows:
- Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer
- Nikola "NiKo" Kovač
- Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov
- Emil "Magisk" Reif
- Mohammad "BOROS" Malhas
If this is true, then it would directly impact four teams, three of which make up the current top three in the world (as of October 30). This would also impact the overall world ranking, something teams will want to avoid so they don’t miss out on invites to tournaments or qualification to the Major. Whether this ends up being the roster for Falcons or not, the impact will be the same regardless of where the players come from.
The overall impact of Falcons could be problematic for Counter-Strike 2, in its early life as an esport. It must be said, just because you put five of the best players in the world together, they won’t immediately start winning every tournament you send them to. The entire project could fall at the last hurdle, much like FaZe Clan did in the Boston Major Final. Like most, I’m excited to see who Falcons recruits, but there are definitely concerns for how it could impact Counter-Strike 2’s esports life going forward.
*At the time of writing, November 2.