Counter-Strike: Global Offensive celebrated the New Year by surpassing Dota 2 and establishing itself as the most popular game on the Steam platform. It was a fitting end to a magnificent decade for Valve’s first-person shooter, which has displayed remarkable longevity since it was launched in August 2012. It enters the 2020s in a strong position and it has a great chance of holding onto its status as one of the world’s biggest esports.
Counter-Strike was first launched as a mod for Half-Life all the way back in 1999. Valve realized it was onto a winner, so it launched Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Counter-Strike: Source in 2004. The premise of the series involves two teams of five trying to kill the opposition while completing a secondary objective, such as planting a bomb or rescuing hostages.
It had a reasonably large and passionate community by the time Valve unveiled the next instalment, CS:GO, in August 2012, but it was miniscule compared to the likes of Call of Duty and Halo. Why has CS:GO become such a juggernaut, while many rivals have faded away?
CS:GO was released when the esports sector as we know it today was in its infancy. Twitch had only just been launched as a standalone site and high-speed broadband was still a novelty. League of Legends, StarCraft II, Defense of the Ancients and Warcraft III were popular, but there was no first-person title owning that space.
To succeed as an esport, a game must have a high skill cap. If it is too easy to master, it will be impossible for a pro scene to flourish. A game must be accessible, but it must have enough depth for the very best players to be able to pull off moves that casual gamers could only dream of achieving. That is the only way to establish a minority of superstars that can entertain the masses with their prowess.
CS:GO has an extremely high skill ceiling. The pros can accurately control the spray pattern for multiple weapons, hold extremely tight angles, detect enemy positions from sound cues, consistently hit targets, glide across the map to gain advantageous positions and come up with extremely unique techniques.
That is because Valve has created such a complex and varied game. It also requires high levels of teamwork, strategy and communication, making it perfect as a team sport. Despite its complexity, it is really easy for beginners to follow the action, so it works perfectly in the thriving competitive gaming sector.
A Sense of Community
Millions of people love watching professional CS:GO tournaments and they are then inspired to go online and have a go themselves. That has helped Valve maintain a strong and steady player base for its flagship FPS title.
It allows friends to team up and pit their wits against opponents located all over the world, so there is a great social aspect to this multiplayer title. That is the beauty of the internet: everyone is now connected and gamers across the globe can enjoy a shared experience from the comfort of their homes.
CS:GO fans are highly active on forums, social media channels and blogs, and they love to share content. The rise of streaming has helped this game flourish, and it defies any stereotypes about gaming being an antisocial pursuit.
In fact, many schools now have CS:GO teams because they know it keeps students engaged and motivated. It helps them build up analytical skills, improve their communication and develop many more abilities that are useful in a range of situations, such as concentration and dexterity.
At the top of the community are the pros, who serve as ambassadors for the game on a constant basis. They stream content, engage with fans and serve up thrilling battles each week. There are more pro events for CS:GO than any other game: check out the CS:GO betting odds and you will see just how many big matches are taking place at any given time. This ensures constant media coverage and a huge presence on platforms like Twitch, which is great for CS:GO’s relevance.
No Barriers to Entry
It has also been a huge commercial success for Valve. It had sold 25 million copies by the end of 2016 and that figure continued to grow until it decided to adopt a free to play model in December 2018. That saw it follow in the footsteps of popular esports like LoL and Dota 2, which Valve also publishes.
There are now zero barriers to entry. Valve makes money by charging for in-game microtransactions and battle passes, but gamers are under no obligation to purchase them. You can simply download it and enjoy it for as many hours as you like.
Yet Valve does make a considerable amount of cash by charging for these passes and cosmetic items that personalize the experience, and it reinvests a significant chunk of this money in constantly updating and improving the game to ensure it remains fresh and exciting. That keeps players coming back, as it keeps the gameplay varied on an ongoing basis.
Vanquishing the Competition
Several pretenders to the throne have emerged in recent years. Chief among them are Overwatch and Rainbow 6 Siege, both of which follow a similar multiplayer FPS concept. Battle royale titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends have also emerged, intent on stealing market share. Yet that genre is not as well suited to esports as FPS, and right now CS:GO remains the leader of the competitive FPS scene.
Many players have already built up their skills and they are reluctant to abandon the game and start from the bottom of the ladder at RS6 or Overwatch. Their friends are still playing CS:GO, so they stick with it. These are some of the reasons given by players when asked why they remain so loyal to a game that is more than eight years old.
Yet their loyalty is simply a reflection of the game’s brilliance. It would have faded long ago were it not for the sheer majesty of CS:GO, which continues to outclass its contemporaries even as the field grows increasingly crowded.
The maps are beautifully designed, the mechanics are smooth, the gameplay is varied, the pace is fast, the need for teamwork is thrilling and the sense of achievement that success brings is extremely rewarding. It has a great chance of enjoying continued success throughout the 2020s.