Playing With Firearms In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

I have sniped a Terrorist across the full length of A-Long. I’ve hidden behind the squeaky door on Nuke, unmoving, for almost two minutes before scoring an ace with a P90. I’ve won and lost last-minute nailbiters. But until the most recent Dreamhack tournament I’d never staked an AK-47 on a match before – and I’d never really got under the surface of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Hit the jump to commit to a competitive game

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a fantastic experience, but like anything it goes to another level when you have friends playing it – both for the matches themselves, and the out-of-game stuff like weapon trading. Dreamhack Winter 2013 was around a fortnight ago in the Swedish city of Jönköping – so one of the best-ever Counter-Strike teams, Ninjas in Pyjamas, was playing at ‘home’. As well as that, a few of my CS buddies are Swedish (big friendly hugs!). So you bet it was a big thing, but there was another reason.

Valve are devilishly good at adding value to their games over time, and hooking in the hardcore with extra-special treats. So it is with CS:GO. Since the game’s release there have been map packs, weapon sets, and this Dreamhack saw the advent of a new type of cross-promotional frenzy: drops for watching the games live on Twitch.

In theory it’s simple. You link your Steam account to your Twitch account, watch the games, and during the matches a random selection of viewers get a special item – but not everyone. The drop rate was proportional to the audience on a given stream, but I’d guesstimate your chances were about 1 in 50. That may be wrong (it probably is) but the point is they weren’t great unless you watched loads of Twitch. As bait-and-switches go, it’s a good one – and also led to a constant stream of dolts in chat typing ‘!drop!’ thanks to clever trolls.

In the bait-and-switch aspect, this was a classic Valve move. You can hardly resent free stuff, after all, and such is the reasoning behind those detestably desirable crates in CS: GO itself. It’s a balance so few developers seem able to hit, between cosmetic and investment, but one almost uniformly perfect across every recent Valve game. You don’t have to buy keys to unlock the crates, unless you want to unlock the crates. And yes dear reader, you bet I’ve put down money and prayed to Saint Gabe many a time. For all the good it does, because even science is not enough to warn me off such cravings.

The point is that this Dreamhack promotion, in the context of everything else Valve do with Counter-Strike, slots into some vulnerable part of any CS: GO player’s brain. Drops? There are going to be drops? It’s two days away but already I’m thinking about how to drop out of other commitments and ooh a drop would be nice wouldn’t it. It makes you think about guns a lot.

It was in this frenzied state that my friends introduced me to and the world changed. The CSGO Lounge is somewhere players gather together and trade weapons, but not only that – it also allows you to bet on the outcome of professional Counter-Strike matches using guns. These bets are organised through a fleet of bots that pop up, whisk away your ‘stake’, and then if you win turn up again to drop off the sweaty loot.

You link your Steam account, choose the team you want to back in a given match – like the Dreamhack final – and are queued up to ‘trade’. Anything from a few seconds to a few minutes later a bot’ll pop up and ask to trade (along with a security code you can check), you whack in up to four items, and that’s that. I’ve no idea how the odds are determined, but there are odds, and you can’t withdraw bets but can change the team you’re backing up until the match starts. If they come up trumps, a fleet of bots await to return your stake and all the lovely winnings. At first sight it was love; this is the future that science promised me.

It is also, incidentally, proof positive of why an open API like Steamworks is so important. It’s easy to call Steamworks ‘a good thing’, but this and the similar Dota 2 lounge are examples of the kinds of services that it makes possible – and CSGO Lounge is most definitely, despite the odd thread about scammers, a service to the players. It also has a button labelled ‘infinity scrolling’ at the bottom of its first page, and I’ve just wasted another 20 minutes looking at a StatTrak USP-S which vaguely resembles something Big Boss might use.

As I’m writing this there’s a tab open so I can listen in on a Universal Soldiers match (come on boys!), but Dreamhack was my first time. Over the course of the tournament I’d lucked into two Gabendrops, and the final match was Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) Vs Fnatic. Everyone else seemed to be backing NiP (a Swedish TV documentary about whom can be watched here with English subtitles), so the odds were a crazy 6 to 1 on Fnatic. I put the house on them. Incidentally, this match was the culmination of a tournament with a mammoth $250,000 prize pool, funded by Valve through the sale of those CS: GO crate keys, and over 140,000 people saw it live. It was the first time CS: GO has, albeit briefly, toppled LoL from the most-watched throne.

First up was Dust II, Global Offensive’s rejuvenating take on one of (perhaps the) greatest ever multiplayer maps. It’s the daddy. Nearly all of CS: GO’s maps theoretically favour the Terrorists (Ts) or Counter-Terrorists (CTs), and Dust II is T-sided, but the half-time changeover always balances things out overall. It’s an interesting counterweight to the usual mantra of symmetry when discussing FPS multiplayer design, but I digress. What you learn from watching the pros is how much asymmetry matters, because at the amateur level, theories are often just that.

In this match on Dust II, Fnatic playing as CTs started terribly and NiP took a huge lead. But even as the score climbed, from 9-3 to 10-3 to 11-3 and onwards, the commentators remained remarkably blasé about the situation. It seemed no big deal that the CTs were haemorrhaging rounds, but my head was down and those beautiful guns were bound for the abyss. Then to my unbelieving amazement, the theory played out in practice.

In the second half Fnatic made up the deficit as Ts in no time, suddenly outfoxing and outnumbering NiP in key positions. Soon enough it was 13-13, and the round that levelled it showed the kind of captain’s intervention you almost never see outside of professional play. After poking around a little, Fnatic’s Pronax ordered his team to suddenly punch through the weakly-defended Mid doors (usually a deathtrap). Their positions suddenly isolated, NiP were in disarray and then dead. With the wind in their sails, and players like Flusha sinking headshot after headshot, Fnatic took Dust II 16-14 and the underdogs were 1-0 in a best of three.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow of the last two matches, both of which were full of amazing plays although rather one-sided. But a theme that ran right through this final was that intersection of theory and execution – and how a special piece of individual skill can, just sometimes, snatch a win from defeat’s jaws.

There’s something in this that gets to the heart of Counter-Strike’s appeal, something consistent over time and its three main versions – the 1.6 version of the original mod, CS: Source, and CS: Global Offensive. In other FPS maps you memorise routes and chokepoints – or I do, at least – and learn good places to camp and nice sightlines.

That’s part of Counter-Strike too, of course. But with a map like Dust II, I could never see it again and I’d be able to tell you everything not only about where stuff is but also about how players will move through it – where and when they’ll enter areas during the first 30 seconds, whereabouts to shoot blind when rushing B, the best routes to take during any sudden rotations. I know every object’s placement and height in every part of the map simply through repetition, and on top of that I know where players appear like clockwork. This kind of intimate or granular knowledge is by no means exceptional; I’m a below-average Counter-Strike player, and that’s fact not false modesty.

Perhaps this kind of familiarity is simply a symptom of the game’s longevity – after all, you could have been playing Counter-Strike for fifteen-odd years by now. But it’s also at the soul of the experience. The matches are a kind of mental game around a location that all 10 players know incredibly well, matched up to an unforgiving test of precision skill. The ultimate thrill in CS: GO comes from predicting other player’s movements correctly, and ambushing them before they even know you’re around – there’s nothing like it. You weren’t just a good shot; you played smarter. You knew.

This thread runs right through Counter-Strike, whichever version you’re talking about. On that topic, the community seems to have taken CS: GO to its bosom, though of course there are those who swear blind by 1.6 and even Source. It is interesting, however, that many of 1.6’s most vocal supporters seem to regard it as some fixed and perfect creation rather than the product of continual iteration and tweaking by different hands over many years. This is the route CS: GO is heading and, with Valve’s long-term support guaranteed, that’s certainly where the competitive future for the series lies.

After that Dreamhack final I went straight to the CSGO Lounge. My winnings seemed grand indeed, a panoply of freshly-painted firepower, and after a minute or two the bot popped up to oblige me. Some StatTraks, a couple of finishes I hadn’t seen before, and one happy Counter-Striker.

Praise be to Fnatic, but we all know it would be wrong to talk about gambling without a cautionary note. I got hooked. I’ve been betting all of my guns on CSGO Lounge, today and yesterday and the day before that. Because of that rush Fnatic gave me, I bet on them big in the ESEA and lost almost all of my StatTraks and Souvenir guns.

I’ve already placed a few bets in advance for today. All I want is a couple AKs and maybe a Glock because it’ll get the use and then I’ll stop, I swear. Is that so crazy? I like looking at the paint jobs and I’m wondering whether I should pay Gabe for a nametag to really make them mine and… ah. You caught me. I don’t think about CS: GO’s gun cosmetics all the time, or gambling with virtual weaponry. Honest. It’s only really when I’m not playing CS: GO.


  1. amateurviking says:

    I realise Rich’s spirit is too wild and free to be chained to a single outlet for long, but please can we have more from him please.

  2. SuicideKing says:

    This is, perhaps, the longest and most entertaining article I’ve ever read about CS.

  3. Synesthesia says:

    I like these sort of pieces. I wish you guys did something like this about dota 2 tournaments! Maybe get an outside writer for that?

  4. Skiddywinks says:

    Right, I do love GO and feel like it is more like 1.6 than Source (definitely a good thing). And I also spend a lot of time on this game. It is well worth the cost, even at full price.

    However, claiming Valve added value by putting in terrible and boring skins, and charging you £1.50 for the pleasure of unlocking each crate you find (that’s one skin per crate), is fucking asinine. Especially when you consider such things were free, more interesting and more varied before they locked down custom skins. Granted, these skins were only viewable by the user who installed them, but what do I care what someone else sees in the first place? I mean we used to have custom sounds and animations, if the model was even meant to represented t the gun it was replacing in the first place. These are literally just paint jobs.

    Valve took something the community loved, barred it entirely, and now want us to pay for a inferior (but globally viewable) replacement. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could have custom skins that I see that I could download as usual (Workshop would have been amazing for this), and then also pick from drops that everyone else will see, but no.

    As it stands the skins are gash and if they think I am paying one fifty for the chance of a semi decent skin then they are sorely mistaken. Never again will we see the Magic Bullet AWP or Jennifer’s M4.

    • jama says:

      I get the impression that Valve is trying to give back to that part of the community that tries to add additional value to their games (weapon skins and maps in CS:GO). Even people who just *play* the games do that, albeit on a smaller scale. You know, you can sell those weapon skin drops and probably make a couple extra quid with that. You would’ve played the game anyway, but now you can get a little extra (steam wallet) money out of it too.

      At first, video games were just products. Then video games turned into a (developer) service what with games expanding over the years (e.g. most of Valve’s multiplayer games, MMORPGs, …) and all of that. And now video games are slowly becoming a community service. At least, that’s what I think Valve thinks will be the future. And I’m kind of happy they’re doing this for us.

      • HadToLogin says:

        Actually, I went back to previous CS because of Valve closing CSGO to modding – those ugly animations, yuck.

        This days, I only start CSGO to run in background on idle server – it already paid for itself thanks to Bravo cases.

      • Skiddywinks says:

        Cases sell for 8p on the marketplace. Some skins maybe go for a couple of quid, but to be honest I would gladly lose the ability to get drops if it meant I could use custom skins again. I mean, it’s limited to like 4 (I think?) a week, and then you have to wait 7 days for the drop rate to reset. Most of the time you only get cases. In about a month or serious playing (and therefore getting all drops I can) I have got one skin that is worth a quid, and the rest are as worthless as the crates.

        Let’s round up and assume I sell everything that drops and make that £2 a month. Sure, the game could be paid off in half a year or so, but I was happy with the cost being sunk money. I would glady swap making £2 a month for the ability to have much better custom skins, animations and sound effects. The workshop had me pumped after all the texture corruptions and conflictions I had when installing a skin for every weapon. When a quick google showed no skins, I figured it was just a matter of waiting before Valve opened the gates for the truly talented people from Source and 1.6 to get creative. Then they released the Arms Deal update and I quickly realised everything was lost and it was just a way for Valve to make more money off us. And the skins are weak sauce as well. I mean really, the skin I have that is worth a quid is literally a flame paint job for the UMP. It is terrible. I don’t mind the weapon but it isn’t exactly seen often unless you’re playing demo or something.

        If we had custom skins it would be a much better quality model, with some slick as animations and probably some custom sounds. If it was a UMP at all. There were all sorts of options for skinning weapons. So long as timings and values (magazine size, reload time etc) were kept consistent, you could have whatever you wanted in that gun’s position. This (link to was the AWP skin I had, for example.

        I mean, you could skin almost everything. The chickens on Italy. The grenades. I had a bomb skin that had you poking a little puppy in the stomach to arm it, and instead of beeps each press it yelped. You could skin your HUD. You could skin any and all doodads on any map. One office server I frequented had loads of motivational posters strewn about the actual office section.

        And all that is gone, with the option instead to pay £1.50 for a random shit paint job, probably not even for a gun you care about. The stat-trak ones are kind of cool. But again, would drop them in a heart beat for the old options.

        • HadToLogin says:

          Just FYI: it’s one gun and one crate per day and two guns and two crates per week. And there are Bravo cases, which apparently don’t count to limit, but drops completely random.

          • Skiddywinks says:

            Ah thanks for that man. I wasn’t quite sure on the specifics. So Bravo crates are unlimited, and the Gun Crate 2s are limited to two per week? Do eSports crates count towards the two per week? Or are they lumped in with Bravo?

    • Serpok says:

      a) You can still mod csgo however you want outside of official servers.

      b) I see new workshop not as a lockdown of modding community, but as a way to give modders opportunity to be rewarded for work they used to do free.

      • Skiddywinks says:

        How would I go about that? I used to use the usual sites like fpsbanana and cs-nation for skins, but no matter where I look, there is nothing. And I don’t think I have ever found a non-official server while using the browser, but in fairness I haven’t exactly been looking.

  5. Godwhacker says:

    That was wonderful, thanks Rich.

  6. Johnhoes says:

    Excellent article. I’m glad competitive CS is finally starting to catch up in viewers and gamers alike compared to more popular games.
    One thing though, there’s no squeaky door on mirage. Actually there are no doors at all. Maybe you were talking about nuke or cache? lol

    • Richard Stanton says:

      Hahaha you got me dead to rights! Sometimes at 3AM all the map names blend into one, and I’m sorry it bled into the piece – thanks for the correction & glad you liked the piece!

      • HadToLogin says:

        That’s the worst thing you could say: either CSGO maps are so bland they are practically one map, or you’re not fan(atic) enough to write such texts without looking like phony – you know, as real fans would be able to describe whole maps woken up at 3AM before they would recall what’s their name :P

  7. ado says:

    I’m head over heals in love with CS:GO. I haven’t played CS before this game (apart from a few rounds some 10+ years ago) and I can see why CS has such lasting power – it’s the best MP FPS I’ve ever played, hands down.

    Anyway, this was a fantastic read. Glad to see the game getting some coverage on RPS.

  8. Snargelfargen says:

    I didn’t actually know there was map and gun DLC. How much can one expect to pay for the full game then? I was thinking of picking this up, but sounds like I should wait for a sale.

    • Skiddywinks says:

      Gun DLC is just updates to the selection of weapons in crates. I think we are on Bravo Crate’s second series right now, and I don’t know if the eSports one’s have been updated since introduction.

      Operation Bravo itself was a few quid, and I got it on sale for about £1.50 I think. It’s now down to less than a quid (suggests under it to buy another pass, for which I have no frickin’ idea why that would be worth it), so it’s really not that bad.

      TBH though I don’t even play them, or much other than the offshoot queues, period. I can be having an amazingly good time and then the usual “half the opposing team has AWPs” round begins and I just can’t be fucked anymore. There really need to be queues for people who want the AWP and Auto-sniper blocked (like the vast majority of servers I ever came across in 1.6 and Source were). Just the option for the people like me. Obviously for the comp scene they will keep it, because, well, it’s the comp scene. But when I just want to play and have fun the last thing I want is a one shot kill weapon with a scope.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Thanks, that is a reasonable DLC system. Valve are good at that, it seems.

        And hey, a silly game of scouts/knives or instagib was fun back in the day!

  9. Kobest says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article and the video. I’ve never really watched any pro game, but wow, this match was fantastic!

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    phuzz says:

    This was a really great article, and I ended up getting drunk watching the entire video. It was nice to feel my memory of Dust2 coming back.
    I think if someone built a real version of de_dust I’d probably be able to walk round it with my eyes closed.