Balance in Counterstrike

The word “Balance” comes up in discussions around Counterstrike every day. What is balance and why is it important? To many it is such an abstract concept they don’t even know where to start. In this blog post, I’m going to attempt to provide a baseline for discussion on the subject.

Counterstrike is supposed to be a skill based game. The more skilled you are, either mechanically through quick reactions or mentally through learning strats and being adaptive, the more consistently you should be able to win games.

A typical Counterstrike game, consists of two teams playing 30 rounds. You would expect more skilled team to win the most rounds. Balance is a measure of how finely tuned the skill difference needs to be for the more skilled team to emerge victorious.

This is my personal interpretation.

Let’s say for example we have a map that favours the CT team, such that they always win 16-0. That means every game is a draw. The more skilled team would not win and their skill would not be apparent. This defeats the purpose of Counterstrike as a skill based game. Everyone is the same skill, even if they are not. Counterstrike should be aiming to measure skill as finely as possible to reward better players the most. With 30 rounds a game, a slightly skilled team should take an extra round (16-14) and deeply different skill levels could be reflected by the 16-0.

Every player in Counterstrike Matchmaking has a unique numeric score (sort-of) that represents their skill level. Each score or player sits inside a bucket (or range of scores) called a rank. We have 15 ranks from Silver I to Global Elite. If we had too many ranks, people would move up and down too erratically. We would question their true skill. If we had too few ranks, then people’s skills wouldn’t be reflected at all and each matchmaking game would be effectively random as the system doesn’t know what even teams look like.

In a game of counterstrike, the difference in the number of rounds you win by, 1 to 16 should be a measure of your skill against the other team. In the same vane as the previous paragraph, if the games are always close, we learn nothing of who is more skilled. If too varied then people have little confidence in the results being anything other than “general day to day randomness”.

Balance is the ingredient into a game that selects how much skill a team needs to win a round.

I said “maps” can be balanced or unbalanced but Counterstrike has many constructs that control balance. They include:

  • How many entrances to a bomb sites there are impacts how many players are required to hold it, or what strategies are required to hold it and whether it’s CT or T sided. How many angles a T has to clear.
  • How many cubby holes are around to provide CTs with hide-and-seek or one-and-done spots.
  • How many avenues the CT team have to retake a bomb site. Do they have back passages that simplify retakes?
  • Are the skyboxes open?
  • CT weapons are more expensive that their T equivalents. (e.g. M4 = $3100, AK $2700)
  • CTs must typically buy a defuse kit ($400) and it’s common to “double-eco” on CT side, which you don’t need to do on T side. Especially if you can develop a strat to “just get a bomb plant”.
  • The T’s have the tec-9 to run with. The CTs have the 5-7 to stand still with.
  • How long it takes the CTs to rotate between the bomb sites impacts how T/CT sided the map is or how viable retakes are.
  • The Ts have an advantage that their AK is a one-hit kill to the head. The CT requires a head-shot and a body shot, favouring the Ts.
  • How many angles on a bomb site to clear, how many effective after plant spots. For example, you can watch a bomb on Mirage from short on B site.
  • How long or short ranged the weapons are. Is the Deagle worth the $700 price tag etc

There are many more examples. Balance is all about tuning the number of rounds that separate slightly more skilled or heavily more skilled teams. This is always going to be a difficult feat as day-to-day people’s performances change. Their chemistry with a team can change day to day. You can have a bad day. As soon as someone finds a trick that’s 75% effective and exploits it, others change their behaviours to adapt and counter it. This is the games “meta” evolving and these changes in the way people play counterstrike over time can also work against the fine balancing work put in to maps, weapons and other things.

One point of contention, especially recently is that a fully bought team should have the edge over players just using pistols. The balance is in their favour. However many teams are finding themselves losing to force buys and half-buys suggesting weapon balance still needs work.

With the constantly evolving meta the question of balance will never be over.