My first memory of Counter-Strike is on the map Inferno, which looked drastically different back in 2006. With a poor connection and no GPU to speak of, my Core 2 Duo could barely handle the FPS game. It should have been irritating, but surprisingly CS 1.6 offered the same competitive experience as the velvety CSGO does today. It’s tricky to pinpoint it, but Counter-Strike’s popularity is clearly not driven by occasional facelifts. It’s a matter of passion, emotion, and matchless competition.
Valve’s labor of love recently hit a new all-time high player count with a peak of over 1.3 million without any notable update or event. The new milestone is the ultimate clap back to all of those ‘Do people even play this game anymore?’ questions.
Seriously, why is CSGO still popular?
A game with a passionate and creative community as its bedrock is hard to kill. Valve made the 5v5 format cool with Counter-Strike, attracting a huge player base in the 2000s. The open circuit resulted in widespread esports, extending from North America to Africa and Asia. Back then, no mega esports title was so easily accessible to the masses in every corner of the world. CS, however, was the go-to in shabby gaming cafes in South Asia and for players with the best gaming PCs. Everyone was playing it. Valve didn’t know, but it created a legacy that would live on for decades.
Now, I am not saying that CSGO is popular and thriving because it’s nostalgia-inducing for older players. New games will keep coming, creating their own heritage as time goes by. But no one in FPS is doing what Valve is doing for CSGO. It’s letting players take the wheel.
The fan base has been handling the game for years, so Valve’s intervention doesn’t do much, which is both good and bad. Updates are nice, but their influence on player count is negligible.
A game by the gamers, for the gamers
Counter-Strike was initially a Half-Life mod, later acquired by Valve, and eventually developed by fans into a full-fledged giant. Valve sold CS with no frills, and the community bedecked it with mods – and it’s impossible not to treasure something you created with your own hands.
For this sole reason, new competitors can’t hold a candle to CSGO. Most big shots in 2023 are strictly controlled by the publisher. From the esports circuit to the in-game meta, the developer micromanages the ‘product’ for the sole goal of generating more revenue. The player is nothing more than a consumer, and consumers can be bought when a new, better product hits the store.
CS:GO doesn’t have consumers who are purchasing a pre-made product. Instead, it has creatives and die-hard fans who invest time and effort into the game. Unlike its competitors, CS:GO organizers have the freedom to set up platforms and events. I assure you that there’s a local CS:GO tournament happening right now somewhere around the world because Valve allows it.
ESEA, Faceit, and similar platforms owned by the community are shaping the game meta for advanced players because they have the power. Creative players are making top dollar through the skin market. A player base like that isn’t up for sale – they are the ones who run the market.
CS:GO is just mechanically better
Fan base and nostalgia aside, how many titles convinced gamers to duct-tape themselves to the ceiling just to enjoy the game? Zero. CS is just mechanically superior.
The 5v5 format, fast-paced rounds, impeccable gunplay, and game structure are the reasons that made the competitive experience between CS 1.6 and CS:GO more or less the same despite significant visual disparity. It’s a simple game: one quintet plants the C4, and the other must defuse it. The team with the better aim and strategy wins; no-nonsense.
For this reason, CS:GO has a high esports value. It’s easy to watch and even easier to get started with. Let’s take an example of the direct competitor Valorant. To dip your toes in Valorant, an FPS novice must unlock an agent that suits their style, learn weapons, and then dozens of abilities. CS:GO’s learning curve is much higher if you’re competing, but it’s the easiest game to start. You only need to learn a few pistols and rifles, and you’re good to go – at least until you hit Gold Nova.
This simplicity adds to an entertaining viewing experience. There are good guys in police uniforms and bad guys in random clothing. Shroud explained it perfectly.
“CS you watch, you understand smoke, molly, or grenade. It’s simple, right? [In Valorant] there is just an extra layer of complexity. Meanwhile, I’ve had my grandma watch Counter-Strike and understand it. It’s super simple to understand from a watching perspective for the first time,” he said – and he, if anyone, should know.
Counter-Strike didn’t blow up overnight. It had ups and downs, but fans kept it afloat. In 2023, CSGO has a rich history, healthy esports, and an intelligent fan base that knows they’ll see reports of “CSGO dying” about thrice a year, and it no longer baffles them. Each time a new competitor enters the fray, CSGO declines, only to come back with a bigger player count. It will keep happening, but loyal fans are at ease.
CSGO isn’t going anywhere; at least for another couple of decades or so.