ECS Season 4 finals bring CS:GO players to paradise

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CANCUN, Mexico -- The brochures might look photoshopped, but the resort is everything it says it is.

The ocean matches the photo's crystal-clear shade of blue. The white Caribbean sand, its fine grains immaculately manicured every morning, makes treading near the ocean feel like walking on a pillow. These are just two reasons why some here are calling this place paradise.

Those are two reasons people call this place, the Hard Rock Hotel and Resort in Cancun, paradise. There are plenty more.

This weekend, eight Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams competed in the ECS Season 4 Finals, each trying to get their hands on the $250,000 top prize. And while this premier tournament was important to the players and fans, the talk of the town so far has been where the tournament is being hosted.

Michele Attisani, co-founder of FaceIt and director of the tournament, knew that there would be a lot of questions as to why he and his staff chose Cancun.

"In the first place, when we came up with this idea, we were not entirely sure if this was crazy," Attisani said. "We didn't know if we were crazy or if this made sense. We then started engaging some of the stakeholders, like the teams and players, and started to talking to them about this concept, and they really loved it."

And it wasn't just the fact Attisani knew the players would love the atmosphere in Cancun that helped pushed him toward this locale. There was a business side to it as well.

"We wanted to try and experiment and do something a bit different for this final considering the time frame with this being the last big tournament before Christmas break," Attisani said, "so we started with two things. Knowing that all the players are tired this year having traveled and played a lot, we figured they are pretty burned out. This type of environment gives them time to relax and play and gives us a very unique ability to get some fun and quality content for the broadcast."

Other factors helped players and their teams loosen up following a strenuous yearlong CS:GO schedule, too. There were no crowds. No signings. No sponsor obligations. Sure, there was money on the line, but players could simply hit the resort and play when it was their time slot. This event, unlike many this year, was an LAN played behind closed doors.

"Right now, you are coming from so many arenas, so many fan meetings -- obviously that's why you play Counter-Strike to get to those big arenas, but going to a tournament like this once or twice a year, that's amazing," FaZe Clan's Finn "karrigan" Andersen said. "I hope the fans understand sometimes we need time too. Me and my team are just blessed to be here with the chance to relax but also win a tournament and some money."

While karrigan and many of the players at the finals gave overwhelmingly positive responses regarding the location, there was some debate as to whether holding a tournament in a place like Cancun allows for the usual focus on gameplay.

"I think Cancun is a good and fun idea, but the only thing I dislike is that it moves away from the competition," said Fnatic's Jesper "JW" Wecksell, whose team finished in third-fourth place along with Astralis. "I'm not sure we will see these eight teams play their best Counter-Strike."

JW's concerns were rooted in the resort's "all-inclusive" atmosphere where a laundry list of distractions were at play. Aside from the beach and pool area being mere yards from the hotel, food, drinks and alcohol were free throughout the resort. There wasn't any kind of "Animal House" late-night rager during the tournament, but one source at the event joked, "whichever team is less hungover will probably win this thing."

One of North America's most prominent CS:GO players, Tarik "tarik" Celik, one of the newest members of Cloud9, agreed with JW.

"The hard part is staying focused," tarik said earlier in the tournament. "There are a lot of distractions out there, and this tournament might just come down who is the most focused."

In fact, tarik's Cloud9 squad didn't manage to make it out of groups. FaZe Clan and mousesports made it to the finals, with FaZe winning a tightly-contested three-game series in overtime.

"This tournament is something we have needed," Astralis' Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander said. "We have been through a lot this year so being able to relax a little bit will actually help us play better."