OWL 1-42, CSGO 87-0
A sense of humour is a vital tool to have in your kit if you want to succeed as a public figure, and that has been true for many a decade. In the 1980 Colgate-Palmolive Masters, Lithuanian-American tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis broke a 16-game losing streak against American heel Jimmy Connors, and offered what would become an immortal line about what had changed to make him successful on this occasion, simply stating that “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row." Seeing the humour in his own situation was one thing, but Gerulaitis was also celebrating a victory he had worked so hard for, against one of the greatest players to ever pick up a racquet.
Esports shares many things with traditional sport, and records exist to be broken in both, but sometimes a system can create records that reflect poorly on the scene overall. Last night saw Shanghai Dragons, of the Overwatch League, take their first win in 43 attempts, to much twitter acclaim and general celebration. While it is a great achievement for the team, the existence of that record does go some way to exposing an essential weakness in ‘franchise’ leagues, where spots are bought rather than earned. It also stands in stark contrast to the cut-throat nature of open ecosystems, such as Dota 2 and CSGO, and the results they can produce.
High-water marks that never fade
In the early years of CSGO, Sweden ruled the roost, and the first set of Swedes to really dominate the great FPS was Ninjas in Pyjamas. The team of f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, friberg, Xizt and Fifflaren played together from 2012 or so, and from August of that year until April 2013, they went undefeated, winning 87 straight maps against all and any challengers from across the globe. To this day no team has come close, which is partly logical given the way the meta has evolved, but that record still remains a landmark in esports history and the players involved will forever be remembered as gods of the game.
Eventually, it was Fnatic that dethroned their compatriots, and set their own mark of excellence, once again completing an incredible string of tournament results that saw them defeat teams from across the world. The open system that existed then and persists to that day meant that they played against the teams good enough to meet them in bracket, all of which were earning spots rather than buying them, and while the likes of Virtus.pro may have dined out on invitations long into their decline, that persists in 2019 with nothing bought and everything earned in Valve’s shooter.
There are complex points you can make about resources available to teams, and how you can to some extent ‘buy’ a spot at the top of a game, but records like 1-42 can’t really exist in an open system, as you wouldn’t be given 42 consecutive chances to lose in elite competition. The same is true of European sport to a greater extent, with relegation meaning a team would be long gone before losing 40 matches in a row, and not accepted back into the top division until they’d proven themselves good enough to compete.
It’s fantastic that Shanghai won, as we already said, but if they hadn’t managed their victory over Boston Uprising they would have been allowed to continue on, to 0-50, or 0-60 maybe, due to their owners having paid the price of entry. How you feel about franchises versus open systems will come down to more than just the records that are set by the participants, but the fact is when you pay to play, there is no real obligation to win, making endless losing streaks not just possible but way more probable.