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What is CS:GO aka Counter-Strike: Global Offensive?

Scott Robertson

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a tactical shooter that emphasizes teamwork, strategy, and gunplay. Getting kills in CS:GO comes from recognizing and holding angles, using grenades in a smart manner, and effectively communicating with your team. Winning a game requires extensive teamwork, as well as personal economy management.

CS:GO

One of the most popular and important multiplayer shooter titles ever. Image via Valve.

CS:GO released in 2012, but Counter-Strike as a series has been around since 1999, as has its competitive scene. Since the release of CS:GO, the competitive scene has grown from small competitions in conference rooms to global competitions in sold-out arenas. The prizes have increased from a few hundred dollars or a keyboard up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pro players earn lucrative salaries on top of prize winnings and represent large esports organizations with global reach.

Team Liquid have now won five consecutive events in their path to forging a new dynasty (Photo courtesy of Blast Pro Series)

The LAN days, before the online times. (Photo courtesy of Blast Pro Series)

Players can equip cosmetic weapon skins to any rifle, as well as knife skins, player model skins (called agents), and stickers. These items can be earned via random drops, or by opening weapon skin crates via purchasing keys. These skins can also be directly bought and sold via the Steam marketplace, with some rare, elite skins worth thousands of real dollars. This “skin market” was bolstered by the betting of skins on pro matches early in CS:GO’s history, but this has slowed down since various changes were made by Valve starting in 2016.

Coming up on nine years since its release, CS:GO has steadily increased its player base over the years, due in part to the success of its esports scene and its switch to a free-to-play model in late 2018. It reached all-time highs for peak players and monthly average in April 2020, with 857,605 average players and a peak of 1,305,714. That success has continued into 2021, with monthly averages over 700,000 for most of the year, and hitting a peak of at least 1 million players at least once a month.

What are the CS:GO game modes?

CS:GO’s primary game mode for its casual and competitive queues is bomb defusal. Each round, a team of terrorists must take the bomb and plant it on one of two bomb sites. The team of counter-terrorists are tasked with stopping them from planting, or defusing the bomb after it’s planted. If the bomb explodes, or if the terrorists kill all the CTs, then they win the round. If the CTs kill all the terrorists before the bomb is planted, or defuse the bomb after its planted, then they win. A CT can defuse the bomb even if other terrorists are still alive. If the bomb isn’t planted and players from both sides are alive at the end of a round, the CTs win that round.

At the beginning of the round, each player has to buy their equipment, consisting of weapons, armor, and grenades. Players can choose between full or half armor, a handful of grenades, and several weapons. Players will earn money each round, and can earn additional money for killing players and fulfilling objectives like planting or defusing the bomb. We have a full guide on understanding the CS:GO in-game economy here.

Trust Factor has been a part of the matchmaking in CS:GO for the better part of a year now, but has it made a difference?

One of the counter-terrorists tasked with locking down a bomb site. Image via Valve.

Bomb defusal is used in the competitive game mode adopted by the pro scene. In CS:GO’s competitive mode, the teams play 15 rounds before switching sides, and the first team to 16 rounds win the map. If the map is tied at 15 each at 30 rounds, it goes to overtime. The first round of each half is referred to as the pistol round, as players only have enough to purchase a pistol and/or armor. In later rounds, players will be able to purchase some of the more widely used rifled, like the terrorists’ AK-47 and SG-553, the CT’s M4 and AUG, or the AWP sniper rifle on either side.

Outside of bomb defusal, players can also play competitive and casual matches with the hostage rescue game mode, although this mode is significantly less popular and not used in pro matches. In this mode, CTs must rescue one of two hostages from the terrorists and extract them to the hostage rescue zone by their spawn.

There are a plethora of other game modes as well. Wingman is a dedicated 2v2 mode where two teams of two fight for control of just a single bombsite. There are multiple modes within the War Games playlist. Arms Race is a take on Gun Game in a team-based deathmatch. Demolition is a shortened version of bomb defusal, with players progressing to a different weapon each round. Flying Scoutsman lets players use the lesser sniper rifle, the Scout, and jump around in low-gravity. CS:GO also has its own battle royale mode in Danger Zone.

A brief history of CS:GO esports

The pro players of Counter-Strike 1.6 and Source didn’t jump into CS:GO on day one, but when they finally did they quickly established a foothold at the top of the mountain. The first CS:GO titan was Ninjas in Pyjamas, a Swedish roster of former 1.6 players who set an 87-0 map record at LAN events, which to this day remains untouched. Even after that streak ended, they cemented their legacy with a win at one of the Valve-sponsored majors; the pinnacle of success in competitive CS:GO.

Other teams have reigned supreme over CS:GO esports over the years. The first dynasty in Fnatic, Brazil’s rise to prominence via the Luminosity/SK roster, the ascendance of Astralis. Other teams have had shorter but somehow more magical moments at the top. Team Liquid’s unstoppable summer of 2019, Gambit’s improbable victory at PGL Krakow, and the magical Cloud9 win in front of a red hot home crowd at the ELEAGUE Boston major.

Cloud9

North American Counter-Strike’s defining moment. (Photo courtesy ESL)

Like much of the world, competitive CS:GO had to change in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infamously, the IEM Katowice tournament had its permission to host a crowd revoked just days before playoffs, and Natus Vincere ended up lifting the trophy in front of an empty arena. Between the pandemic and the rise of a direct competitor in Riot Games’ VALORANT, CS:GO has taken a slight hit, mostly felt in the North American professional scene. But soon, LANs and crowds will return, and with that should be renewed excitement for CS:GO esports. The first major since late 2019 is scheduled for October 2021, where the first CS:GO titans rose, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Scott Robertson
Scott Robertson

Freelance writer primarily focused on CS:GO and VALORANT. Big dreams and bigger memes. Too embarrassed to reveal his VALORANT rank.

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