I’m going to attempt to explain the appeal and popularity of Counterstrike: Global Offensive and its niche within the wider collection of first person shooters. Counterstrike: Global Offensive has roughly 11 million monthly players, (excluding Asia) and typically reaches 500,000 concurrent players each day. I can’t speak on behalf of the 11 million but I’m sure their reasons overlap with mine. I’ve have been playing Counterstrike for 2 years now.
Most games are supposed to be fun. A way to distract and entertain you. What do people find fun? Well it’s typically winning. The sea of first person shooter games includes titles that appeal to their audiences by making them feel good. It’s easy to run around and get kills in these titles. There is aim-assist, unlocks, medals, power-ups and multi-kill announcements that trigger all the drugs in your head that slot machines do. In case you were wondering, I’m talking primarily about the Call of Duty and Battlefield series of games. Further more, what appeals to players is being emerged in something big. All out war with dozens of players per team and war-like chaos. A rich sea of targets to get lost and absorbed in. These games are fun and their success is not luck or marketing.
Counterstrike goes in a different direction. It’s main game mode is just five players versus five players. The games start slow and methodical, no one wanting die, and the tension escalates into an adrenaline and tension fuelled one versus one “clutch” scenario to take the games next point or possibly two. You don’t reappear when you die, you sit out until the next round. In Counterstrike, it’s better to escape to fight another day than go out all guns blazing. With only five players a team, every player has a crucial role. It’s not just the final kill that matters. The first kill matters just as much, if not more so and each engagement shapes the rest of the round. When you get that first kill.. you don’t pat yourself on the back, your mind goes into overdrive.. should I push forward and capitalise on the unguarded map? should I retreat, regroup? What is the impact of this kill? If a team mate dies, do I run over to fill the gap or do I give up this part of the map?
Going in the opposite direction from other titles again, rather than embrace randomness to create “unique battlefield moments” that other titles strive for, Counterstrike strips back the randomness providing a platform on which developing your own skill has a direct result on your performances and outcomes. With small, closed, repeatable environments, Counterstrike encourages people to practice and develop their skills so they can be repeatedly used. The results of players’ games are fed into an algorithm which determines their “matchmaking rank”, an accurate portrayal of their skill compared to the rest of the games’ players. Counterstrike players are venomously hooked on practising, learning, analysing and trying to improve their competitive rank. They invest themselves in the game and it rewards hard work. This in itself is a drug. YouTubers make full time livings helping to explain the game to its’ player base.
Unlike other casual titles, which are only now adding friend-based features, Counterstrike has always been based around team play and built to enforce it. The guns in Counterstrike have recoil that makes it difficult to kill multiple opponents at once. Two players on a team, with good communication, peeking out from cover to both kill a single opponent heavily favours the two, regardless of how talented the single player is. There are few heros in Counterstrike who can single-handedly carry a team to success on their own. Counterstrike is a team based game and the synergy that comes from a good team is incredibly rewarding. It moves away from solely mechanical skills and quick reactions (that most 12 year olds excel at) and toward team based play (that most adults excel at).
Valve don’t really deserve all the credit for this novel game. Counterstrike is twenty years old and people have been taking their PCs to “gaming parties” and playing it together in a competitive setting for years. Now, in it’s maturity, and re-enforcing it’s skill based environment, Counterstrike has become the de-facto “Esport”, broadcasting top level professional games on television in America, Sky in England and on Twitch to millions of viewers. Counterstrike games tell stories about teams, their stars and their dynamics. It draw in players “to learn the best strategies to try themselves” and is a full ecosystem in itself. The game itself features a demo viewer and “gotv” player to watch professionals too.
Why not watch a professionally casted game and enjoy it for yourself!