The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making a major push to take over the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports scene, with FACEIT and ESL merging and being absorbed by the Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Gaming Group.
The news was revealed in a statement on a new website held jointly between the two companies. The merger combines FACEIT’s significant role in cultivating and highlighting new talent with ESL’s presence as one of the largest tournament organizers in esports.
Savvy Gaming Group is owned by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The Public Investment Fund has established Saudi Arabia as a force in the tech sphere, with significant investments in Uber and various other companies. It is also aggressively looking for avenues into sports, notably purchasing Premier League football club Newcastle United.
These investments have generated controversies due to human rights abuses both in Saudi Arabia and abroad. The Public Investment Fund’s buyout of Newcastle United became an international incident that involved British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Premier League teams voicing concerns that the league’s brand would be hurt by an association with the Saudi regime.
The Saudi government has still been growing its presence in esports. It worked with Riot Games to host a League of Legends event in 2019 called The Nexus. It was also famously repelled from a partnership with the LEC, the top European League of Legends pro league, and CSGO’s BLAST event series to promote NEOM, a developing autonomous region in Saudi Arabia designed to be a tourist attraction. The construction of NEOM has reportedly been at the center of several human rights abuses.
While this company merger comes with several ethical concerns, it could also be good news for dedicated CSGO grinders. FACEIT is currently the most popular third-party matchmaking service for Valve’s tactical shooter. The Electronic Sports League is one of the biggest third-party tournament organizers for CSGO. The combination of the two could lead to greater integration between these major players in the CSGO space.
For example, FACEIT’s top-level competition is the FACEIT Pro League. The online matchmaking system is currently the premier way for rising talent to get noticed. It’s also one of the few ways for aspiring players to earn a paycheck outside of tournaments. FPL gives out $20,000 to top-performing players in the exclusive matchmaking pool. Several CSGO stars, including Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov, got their start on the FACEIT platform.
ESL entering the fray can only mean good things for skilled but lesser-known players. ESL is a dominant host for CSGO esports. ESL could start a draft league with unsigned FPL players. It’s possible that FPL could host more amateur events to serve as a gap between itself and ESL’s biggest tournament. And there’s always the simple route of raising the FPL prize pool.
This merger could also change the way that casual players interact with the matchmaking service. A company rarely purchases another with the intent of letting it operate the same way. ESL’s plans are not yet clear, but this could change the way that FACEIT operates. The free services will likely remain, but Premium could become more expensive or gain even more features. With such an important merger, only time will tell how it impacts the CSGO scene.
Also featuring contributions from Kenneth Williams.