CS:GO cemented its status as one of the world’s most popular games by racking up more than 400 million viewing hours on Twitch in 2018. Valve’s flagship first-person shooter has gone from strength to strength since it was released in 2012 and that has largely been fuelled by its burgeoning competitive gaming scene. The rise of eports is a cultural phenomenon and CS:GO is one of the most important games. Only League of Legends enjoyed greater viewing figures than it last year, leaving CS:GO ahead of Dota 2, Overwatch, Hearthstone and other extremely popular titles.
The Counter-Strike series began on Windows all the way back in 1999 as a modification for first-person shooter Half-Life. It was well received by critics and gamers alike and it sold 250,000 copies across the globe within six months of its release. The Xbox version of the game went on to sell 1.5 million units and its roaring success inspired Valve to produce multiple sequels. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero was released in 2004 and Counter-Strike: Source hit shelves eight months later. After a long wait, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive came out in 2012 and it has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence.
By 2016, it had sold more than 25 units, making it the bestselling PC game of all time. Updates have corrected faults with the initial release and it has captured a place in the hearts of gamers across the world thanks to its thrilling, polished gameplay that completely outclasses its rivals. Yet the competitive gaming scene is what keeps a seven-year-old title so fresh and relevant. Multiplayer online battle arena titles like LoL and Dota 2 are a crucial part of the mix, while Epic Games is desperate to make Fortnite into a leading esport and it has dedicated $100 million to the cause. But CS:GO is arguably the most important esport of all, as first person shooters are beloved by gamers and it is now the undisputed king of the genre.
CS:GO tournaments attracts millions of viewers across the world, while people pack into stadiums to watch the action unfold live. The leading lights are now millionaires with huge social media followings and sponsorship deals. Their exploits are dissected by commentators, journalists and millions of fans, while forum posts and social media streams blow up after major tournaments. They may not carry the huge prize pools seen in Dota 2 and Fortnite, but they attract more fans and that is down to the enormous popularity of CS:GO among gamers.
Competitive gaming is a relatively new experience and it remains a bit of an unexplored terrain, but Valve has just taken some important steps towards creating a mature, professional scene. It has provisionally set the dates for the next four CS:GO majors, taking place in 2020 and 2021. They will take place May 11-24 and November 2-15 next year and May 10-23 and November 1-14 in 2021. Valve always put a lot more effort into organizing the Dota 2 calendar, while CS:GO was largely ignored and that led to incoherent, chaotic seasons in which big tournaments came after player breaks and the rhythm was off.
Now it has taken a huge step in the right direction by setting out the dates for the next four majors and allowing tournament organizers to plan events around them well in advance. Now the likes of ESL, FACEIT and ELEAGUE can work with the players to put together an intuitive, consistent, rational CS:GO calendar for the next two years. It will allow proper breaks for players, so that leading teams do not skip as many important tournaments. Contracts can be negotiated in a more organized fashion, built around the majors. Valve can trial new maps well in advance of majors, ensuring the competitive balance is not skewed.
If the tournament organizers can put aside their squabbles and work collegiately alongside Valve, it could spark a far more professional scene that ensures the longevity of CS:GO. That will attract more investment from sponsors, push prize pools up and create a more lucrative scene that is more appealing to players and fans alike.
One issue is the utter dominance of Danish heavyweights Astralis, who have topped the world rankings for more than a year, captured 15 titles and romped to victory at the FACEIT London Major in 2018 and the recent 2019 Katowice Major. They are the clear favourites in the Unikrn esports betting at every tournament they enter as they form such a well-drilled, effective unit. Esports require strong levels of competition to retain interest among viewers, and it will be important for the likes of Liquid, NaVi and FaZe Clan to kick on and mount a serious challenge.
FaZe showed promise by toppling Astralis at BLAST Pro Series Miami last month and they need to discover a measure of consistency, while the magnificent talents of s1mple keep NaVi competitive and if they can match Astralis’ professionalism and scientific approach to training they could also seize the mantle. There is enough interest in the CS:GO scene and enough talented stars to ensure that a team can eventually usurp Astralis in the world rankings, and the game can continue to go from strength to strength in the years ahead as esports continues to mushroom in popularity.