CS:GO - The Grand Unified Theory of Counter-Strike
In science, there is this search for a theory that would unite the various forces within physics into one all-encompassing force from which all other originate, a "Grand Unified Theory". Think of it as a grand-scale version of what James Clerk Maxwell did when unifying electricity and magnetism into the more elegant theory of electromagnetism, proving that the two were simply different aspects of the same force.
Now, in the world of Counter-Strike, two very similar forces have existed that, from a distance, seem to be the same thing, but for whatever reason have failed to be merged into one grand and unified force. These two forces, these two communities, CS 1.6 and CS:Source, have long since decided to go their separate ways and interact as little as possible with each other. But there is a theory on the horizon that will attempt to merge the two communities into one large and united force: “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive”.
When asked directly if unification of the two communities is part of its goal, Chet Faliszek from Valve only says that they themselves believe that CS:GO is the best version of Counter-Strike, but that the players are free to make up their own mind on whether they agree. That’s a very cautious position to take; normally developers will say almost anything to hype up their title. But such a careful stance is a pretty wise one considering the conservative nature of the Counter-Strike community. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, let me get you up to speed.
In the early 2000s, Counter-Strike engulfed the competitive gaming world with its team-based tactical depth and high individual skill ceiling. It spread like wildfire and at its prime was the foremost eSport with the highest prize pools and most media attention. But by 2004 the game had begun to look dated, and in November that same year, CS:Source was released. CS:Source used a brand new engine and maintained the core mechanics of the original game, but unsurprisingly it was not quite the same. The original Counter-Strike had five full years of constant tuning and polish behind it, and as a result it was carefully optimized for competitive play. CS:Source did debut a new engine that looked great, but it was far from being as tightly tuned as its predecessor, with notorious hit-box issues among its prime problems at launch.
This resulted in a community divide, with the the professionals and stern competitors generally preferring the old 1.6 and new and relaxed players preferring the loose but more modern CS:Source. It was a near perfect split down the middle, and one that would ultimately lead to the steady decline of Counter-Strike. With no real growth, the 1.6 community slowly faded in numbers, having a hard time attracting new players to an old game whose players had already mastered it. The CS:Source community was able to attract new players, but it could never quite reach the same level of refinement in order to establish itself as the go-to version of Counter-Strike, and thus never truly took off.
This leads us to our current situation in 2011 where both camps are fading away to the sands of time in unison. It is a bitter pill to swallow for the loyal and longtime members of the Counter-Strike community, and in all likelihood they will continue to shout "If it's not broken, don't fix it!" from the top of their lungs on de_dust2. But the sad truth is that their game is no longer as relevant as it very well may deserve to be. Their only foreseeable hope to re-conquer the world at the moment is CS:GO. The question is, will fight it tooth and nail, or accept it as a necessary evil? That they will admit to actually liking it is fairly unlikely, at least not in public, but if they could accept it, that alone would be a huge step.
Change of any kind is almost guaranteed to be unpopular among the Counter-Strike community, known for taking mastery of the game very seriously. Although it may be a quick game to learn, its true charm lies in the pursuit of perfection. The strive to merge raw skill with tactical movement and teamwork has such depth that over a hundred-thousand players still practice it on a daily basis via Steam. But if you add or remove elements to this mix, that mastery is in danger of being disrupted, and thus the reflexive action of the community has for over a decade been that of shouting "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!". After all, how do you improve on something that’s already near perfect? Not even the two creators of the game, ‘Gooseman’ and ‘Cliffe’ were allowed to perform updates without loud complaints on how they were ruining the game, ultimately resulting in Gooseman leaving Valve back in 2008 to start a new project that would allow him to be creative again.
But perfect or not, keep in mind that CS:Source is seven years old by now, and the original retail Counter-Strike is eleven, old enough to be in 6th grade and study algebra. To drive the point home, the first version of the iPhone had more than four times the processing power and ten times the RAM recommended to run the original game. So in short, these are not new games by any stretch of the imagination.
Yet still to this day, more often then not, they both somehow still have the most active amount of players during peak hours on Steam. They both average 50-60 thousand players regardless of what day, month, or year it is. Their community is still very much alive, as they manage to mop the floor with most of the new titles that hit the Steam store on a weekly basis. It doesn't matter if it is Modern Warfare or Mass Effect 2, Counter-Strike will have a higher peak of players even with its player-base split down the middle, thus seemingly beating the new games twice, if by accident.
There is plenty of potential within the Counter-Strike community to once again light the world on fire, but for it to happen the two forces need to stop cancelling each other out and work together to make CS:GO the game they both want. Don’t get me wrong, the dedication of the hardcore Counter-Strike players is admirable, but there comes a point when they need to realize that their love for the game is hurting it more than helping it. Legends from the scene such as HeatoN, ksharp, and cArn have already come to that realization and are eager to assist Valve in getting it right.
When asked to describe CS:GO in one word, Chet Faliszek from Valve responded: “Competitive”.
A promising answer for everyone who loves Counter-Strike.
Written by Joel 'Offsajdh' Hakalax, Counter-Strike player from Beta 4.0 to Source.