Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has established itself as one of the world’s most popular esports thanks to its thrilling, varied and intricate gameplay. A flourishing competitive scene has sprung up and that has ensured it remains the most popular first-person shooter on Twitch by a considerable margin.
It is accessible and exciting to watch, but it also has a high skill ceiling and it can be fascinating to watch the leading proponents of CS:GO strut their stuff in big tournaments. It generated revenue of $414 million for developer Valve in 2018 and the decision to make it free to play should ensure its popularity endures long into the future.
It is fair to say that this game has exceeded all expectations. The Counter-Strike series was already popular, having begun life all the way back in 1999 as a modification for Half-Life. It saw two teams – terrorists and counter-terrorists – lock horns in a range of exciting locations across the globe while trying to complete a secondary objective, either rescuing hostages or planting a bomb.
Counter-Strike stood out from the crowd by featuring permanent deaths, which forced players to sit out the action until the next round began if killed, and offering the ability to purchase weapons and accessories before each round with currency earned through frags and wins.
It proved to be a roaring success. Half-Life publisher and developer Valve Entertainment snapped up the intellectual property and hired the mod’s creators, Minh Le and Jess Cliffe.
It then released Counter-Strike for PC. Gamers lapped it up and Valve sold 250,000 copies worldwide within six months of its release. An Xbox version sold 1.5 million units and this inspired Valve to turn it into a series. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Counter-Strike: Source, released for PC in 2004 and 2005 respectively, cemented the series’ strong reputation among gamers.
Staying Ahead of the Game
In 2010, Source was still going strong on PC and the development team at Hidden Path Entertainment began to port it for consoles in a bid to broaden its appeal. Call of Duty had enjoyed great success on PlayStation and Xbox, and Valve wanted a piece of the action. During the process, Valve realized that the port could become a full game in its own right – offering an opportunity to reboot the series – and it set about developing the title in conjunction with Hidden Path.
It used a new and improved engine, with vastly better graphics than the previous games, while various tweaks were made to improve long-standing issues. Valve saw a golden opportunity to lower the skill floor in a bid to pull in more gamers in a casual mode, while significantly raising the skill ceiling to cater to professional players.
At the time project lead Ido Magal – a UC Berkeley computer science drop-out turned artist who joined Valve in 2001 – revealed that there was no great ambition to turn CS:GO into an esport. “That requirement doesn’t exist,” Magal said. “If it happens, that’s nice.”
Little did he know that it would become an absolute titan in the world of esports. It was released on a closed beta to 10,000 key PC fans and pros on November 30, 2011. Valve took feedback from the community on board and continued to tweak the game over the next 10 months, progressively opening the beta to more and more people over that time. It was launched to great fanfare on August 21, 2012, and it received generally positive reviews.
The Birth of CS:GO
CS:GO achieved reasonably strong sales upon its launch, but it displayed exceptional longevity and sales continued to climb on an on-going basis. By 2015 it was the dominant title on Steam and the developers did a great job of continually updating the game to balance competitive play an over the ensuing years. The sheer variety of its gameplay is a big factor in its longevity, but its success in the world of esports is the driving force behind its enduring popularity.
The Counter-Strike series already had a low-key competitive scene, but esports lacked a dominant shooter title until CS:GO came along. It boasted long series of rounds, in-depth strategy was required and it was easy to follow across rounds.
Valve must also be applauded for linking players’ Steam and Twitch accounts and rewarding the leading lights, as this helped spark a thriving professional scene. It has gone on to become one of the three most important esports, alongside League of Legends and another Valve title, Dota 2.
CS:GO and the Esports World
LoL and Dota 2 are multiplayer online battle arena games, while CS:GO is by far and away the most important shooter in competitive gaming. Danish powerhouse Astralis has recently dominated proceedings, storming to the top of the world rankings and securing all manner of trophies, including the last two Majors. Xyp9x, dupreeh, glaive, device and Magisk are now millionaire superstars as a result of their exploits in CS:GO. But there are some fantastic teams bidding to knock the Danes off their perch, including Liquid, FaZe, ENCE and Natus Vincere, led by the legendary s1mple.
The title was named Esports Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2015 and it has continued to grow. Prize money for big tournaments is rising and the calendar is becoming more professional and better organized all the time.
This burgeoning professional scene has helped CS:GO remain extremely relevant by keeping the community engaged and enthused. Wagering on CS:GO matches and tournaments has become enormously popular and top esports betting sites like Unikrn offer a huge range of markets on the game.
Blue chip companies like Intel sponsor the tournaments, the leading players boast massive social media followings and it is now a phenomenon in the gaming world. By 2016, it had sold more than 25 units, making it the bestselling PC game of all time. Updates have improved the gameplay and it has captured a place in the hearts of players across the globe. It went free to play in December 2018 and it continues to win new fans on a weekly basis, so it will be fascinating to see how CS:GO develops in the years ahead.